The Best & Worst of Dallas: Season 4

“Dallas’s” fourth season was the show’s most-watched. Is it also the best?

Performances

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Lows and highs

In Season 4, J.R. recovers from an assassination attempt, learns to walk again and suffers a humiliating exile from Ewing Oil. Through it all, Larry Hagman never misses a beat. The actor takes us deeper into J.R.’s psyche, revealing vulnerabilities we never dreamed the character was capable of. If you love Hagman’s complex performance on TNT’s “Dallas,” re-watch the classic show’s fourth season. This is where those seeds are planted.

Storylines

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Leslie Stewart, Susan Flannery

Blonde ambition

“Who Shot J.R.?” turned “Dallas” into a global phenomenon, so you might expect the show to spend Season 4 playing it safe. Instead, it takes a creative risk by tackling sexism. This theme is best personified by pioneering PR whiz Leslie Stewart, but the gender wars are also seen when Miss Ellie calls out chauvinistic Jock, Lucy gets a career and Donna emerges as the top choice for a state senate seat. Who says “Dallas” isn’t progressive?

Season 4’s weakest subplot: Mr. Ewing goes to Austin. I love the idea of “Dallas” delving into politics, but Bobby’s conduct as a member of the state senate strains credibility. Shouldn’t Senator Ewing have recused himself from the legislature’s hearings into his parents’ fight over the Takapa Lake development – or its inquiry into J.R.’s foreign affairs? Where’s an ethics committee when you need one?

Episodes

Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Here comes the son

“The Fourth Son” is one of the finest hours of “Dallas” ever made. The episode, beautifully written by Howard Lakin (his first script for the show) and directed by Irving J. Moore, officially brings Ray into the Ewing fold and reminds us why Jock is such a revered figure in the “Dallas” mythos. Father-son relationships are integral to “Dallas” – especially on the TNT series – and no episode explores that theme better than this one.

To demonstrate how uneven episodic television can be, one week after “The Fourth Son” debuted, “Dallas” gave us “Trouble at Ewing 23,” which is easily my least-favorite Season 4 entry. I never know what’s worst: the cringe-inducing special effects when the oil field goes up in flames – or the fact Luther Gillis sheds not a single drop of blood after J.R.’s hired guns pump him full of lead.

Scenes

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Scene from a marriage

How do you know when a “Dallas” scene is classic? When you only need one or two lines of dialogue to describe it. By that standard, the show’s fourth year probably offers more great moments than any other season: “It was you, Kristin, who shot J.R.” “He’s not your daddy. I am.” “You are my mother.” “Real power is something you take.” “Don’t make me see myself in your eyes.” “Mama, you didn’t take any licorice.”

Any one of these scenes qualifies for “best of” honors, but my sentimental favorite remains the “New Beginnings” moment when J.R. and Sue Ellen reminisce about their courtship. Next to J.R. and Bobby’s sibling rivalry, J.R. and Sue Ellen’s love affair is “Dallas’s” most enduring relationship. If you want to understand why these two can’t stay away from each other, watch this scene.

Supporting Players

Dallas, Leslie Stewart, Susan Flannery

Pioneer woman

No surprise here: I love Leslie. The oh-so-cool Susan Flannery was the ideal choice to play the character, whose business savvy, scheming ways and unapologetic sexuality make her J.R.’s equal and the template for prime-time divas like Abby Cunningham and Alexis Carrington. “Dallas’s” writers seemed to lose interest in Leslie after awhile, but before her storyline peters out, no character in Season 4 is more fascinating.

At the other end of the spectrum lie Alex Ward and Clint Ogden, the utterly forgettable characters who romance Pam and Sue Ellen during the second half of the season. Don’t blame Joel Fabiani and Monte Markham, who are both fine actors; blame the writers, who colored Alex and Clint in shades of plain vanilla.

Costumes

As much as I love the iconic dresses Sue Ellen wears in “Who Done It?,” nothing compares to Jock’s lion’s head medallion, the perfect accessory to symbolize Jim Davis’s role as father of the Ewing pride.

Some might consider Pam’s perm to be Season 4’s worst fashion choice – but those people are wrong because that ’do is awesome.

Quips

Best: “If you were on the side of the angels, you wouldn’t need Leslie Stewart.” – Leslie’s droll observation during the well-written scene where she persuades J.R. to hire her.

Worst: “My own son, letting some little no-account alley cat swing you by your big toe.” – The most memorable line during the tongue-lashing Jock gives J.R. after Leslie costs Ewing Oil a big deal. Watch it, Jock! That’s our Leslie you’re talking about.

What do you love and loathe about “Dallas’s” fourth season? Share your comments below and read more “Best & Worst” reviews.

Comments

  1. barbara fan says:

    Great synopsis, I wasnt a Leslie Stewart fan and out of the first 6 seasons (original numbering), i think its the weakest after all the hype of who shot JR it fell a little flat,
    Agree re 4th son and sad to see Jim Davis deteriorate as time went on, he really was the King of bling on Dallas!
    Clint and Alex were dull and agree with the special effects re Trouble at Ewing 23, also one i fwd quickly and watch the BBG bits!!

    • I think I’m the only “Dallas” fan who likes Leslie Stewart!

      BBG had some great scenes this season. Next to Hagman, no one was better. I especially liked her performance in Jim Davis’s next-to-last episode. She was gold.

      Thanks for commenting BF!

      Chris

      • Kyle Willson says:

        I also liked Leslie…A good challenge for J.R. but I would’ve liked to have seen her go at him for another season and really get her claws into him….if she had’ve made more inter-connections with the Ewing family (or the Barnes’) she could’ve done much more damage. Would’ve been great to see her play J.R. and Cliff at the same time but in different ways (do I smell a fanfic coming on??) Also – I could never decide whether her hair was blonde or prematurely white….At first I thought she was much older then ‘ol J.R. was bound to be interested in.

      • Kyle, I like the way you think! A J.R./Leslie/Cliff triangle would’ve been fascinating to watch. It’s not too late. Make it happen, TNT!

  2. the_lost_son says:

    Great reading, thanks a lot. Season 4 is not my favorite, but you’re right – it had numerous outstandoing scene. You described and analyzed them perfectly.
    Outstandind job!

  3. Kyle Willson says:

    Chris, this is a totally off-the-wall comment/question and it’s off topic so pls forgive me, but have you ever noticed in the early season that 9 times out of 10 the ladies on Dallas always wear pantyhose instead of just bare legs? This is especially jarring when they’re wearing a one piece bathing suit (I’ve noticed this most with Little Lucy)…It’s not very noticable until you see their feet and realize they’re not bare…lol. Also – I’ve never seen so many women wear high heels by the pool then at Southfork. Maybe I just don’t get out enough?

  4. Aside from the “Who Shot J.R.?” resolution, which I thought was weak, I remember Season 4 as being a good season, better than the third. I liked Leslie Stewart. I liked J.R.’s story. And that scene between J.R. and Sue Ellen where they recall how they fell in love was really good television. Made me really appreciate their relationship as a real, complex thing.

    • Yeah, I think Season 4 is better than I remembered. I gave out two “A+” grades this season — that’s a pretty good indication of the season’s overall quality!

  5. I liked Leslie Stewart too, but was so disappointed in the way they tossed her off after all that buildup. I think I commented on this once before, but perhaps they felt she was too much of a challenge for J.R. He didn’t seem his usual, conniving and powerful self when around her. She made him a bit weak in the knees. Speaking of weak, the love triangles with Sue Ellen and Pam were so boring, and I couldn’t stand to watch that drawn out fight between Mrs. Ellie and Jock. Seeing Bobby on the Senate was actually a little fun for me. I can totally see a young idealistic Duffy nailing a role like ‘Mr. Smith goes to Washington.’ But that’s just me. It did have a bit of a happy, contrived ending. But Bobby reacted the way I thought he would, stubborn as a mule – he gets it from Miss Ellie!

  6. Paul Adams says:

    I agree Series 4 falls a bit flat about half way through; Leslie Stewart’s character, after a promising start becomes a bit tedious by the end – I think in this most macho of Soaps there’s a limit to how strong in business the female characters are allowed to be. ( witness the “Dream Season” when after a certain point Pam essentially throws in the towel as JR’s partner at Ewing Oil.)
    Also the storyline of Miss Ellie and Jock’s strong marriage nearly breaking up over a land deal seems unrealistic.
    Worst of all is the awful perm that is inflicted on Pam/Victoria Principal for a few episodes, I was only a baby in the early 1980s so maybe this was the style back then?
    Not the best Dallas season – the season before and after were much better – in fact Season 5 is a contender with 6 & 7 for best Season of all, look forward to your critiques of these series.

    • Yeah, that permed hair was faddish back then. As I recall, my mom and sister both thought Victoria Principal looked great with those tight curls. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see that style come back someday!

      Thanks for commenting Paul. I appreciate your feedback.

      Chris B.

  7. When you mention Flannery is “the template for prime-time divas like Abby Cunningham and Alexis Carrington,” that’s a fair comparison. But don’t forget daytime diva Stephanie Forrester, who she later played on Bold and Beautiful.

  8. Chris B. One thing I have noticed and reinforced in watching this season and even earlier seasons, the scoring was incredible. I feel the music enhanced all the key scenes, it was once stated “Jaws” without the score, was just a huge fish in the water that did not scare anybody. IMO, that is one element of the new show that was lacking, I did not care for the Johnny Cash or pop songs used, especially in every Finale. Go back and watch those first 3-4 seasons and tell me, does the music support the scene, the answer is yes!

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