Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 82 – ‘The Sweet Smell of Revenge’

Saved, for now

Saved, for now

I’ve always considered Pam’s mental breakdown in “The Sweet Smell of Revenge” to be out of character for her. The woman who tries to jump off a high-rise rooftop in this episode isn’t the strong, spirited heroine I fell for when “Dallas” began. On the other hand, the show deserves credit for taking a creative risk with this storyline – and Victoria Principal deserves praise for delivering a gutsy performance.

Mental illness wasn’t depicted a lot on television during this era – and when the subject was addressed, it was often played for laughs (see the patients on “The Bob Newhart Show”). “Dallas” breaks a little ground with Pam’s storyline, even if some of the language in Linda Elstad’s “Sweet Smell of Revenge” script – psychiatrist Dr. Conrad suggests depressed people are consumed with “self-hatred” – doesn’t quite jive with how we think of the disorder today.

For the most part, though, this episode feels progressive, especially when it comes to the reaction of Pam’s family members to her diagnosis. None of them judge or mock her (not even J.R.!), nor do they pity her; they just want her to get better. Above all, I appreciate how “The Sweet Smell of Revenge” stops trying to link Pam’s depression to her fertility problems, even if the show later reverses course and once again presents motherhood as the cure-all for Pam’s crisis.

Regardless, the best thing about “The Sweet Smell of Revenge” is Principal, who does some of her finest work on “Dallas” in this episode – particularly in the scene where Dr. Conrad meets Pam after her suicide attempt. Principal goes through an emotional gamut here – from numbness to anger to despair – yet she never goes overboard. It’s a really good performance.

Watching this scene, I thought about how Pam was one of television’s most popular heroines when this episode aired in 1981. I don’t know if Principal had qualms about the writers sending her character into such dark territory; maybe she welcomed the challenge. Whatever the case, the actress gives it her all. It’s hard not to admire that, no matter how I feel about the storyline itself.

Grade: B





Season 5, Episode 5

Airdate: November 6, 1981

Audience: 22.3 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Linda Elstad

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: Bobby has Pam committed to a sanitarium after she tries to jump off a building. Later, he receives a call from a man who wants $2,000 for information about Kristin and her infant son, Christopher. J.R. schemes to cut off the oil supply to the Farlow refineries. Ray and Punk consider a new real estate deal. Dr. Waring offers Mitch an internship.

Cast: Barbara Babcock (Liz Craig), Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Deborah Benson (secretary), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), J.R. Clark (Earl Holiday), Patrick Duffy (Senator Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Laurence Haddon (Franklin Horner), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Art Hindle (caller), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), David Tress (Walter Sher), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson), Gretchen Wyler (Dr. Dagmara Conrad)

“The Sweet Smell of Revenge” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.


  1. I can’t say much any better than you have in this post. Very out of character, but a terrific performance by Principal and all involved. And that’s a great catch- nobody mocked her. I never thought of that. I still think that Pam getting the baby as a cure-all was far-fetched. Though there are cases where people can suddenly ‘snap out’ of their depressions. To me it was more like an acute case of ‘adult-onset spoiled bratism.’

  2. What I found odd about this episode is that the meeting between Miss Ellie and Rebecca seems to be too short. These women obviously have a shared past, they are connected to each other more than by their children’s marriage. Rebecca abandoned her children because she could not live with Digger’s drinking, something partially brought on by Miss Ellie’s rejection of him. Also, on his deathbed, it was Miss Ellie Digger wanted to see. Had it not been for his confession to her, Pam would never have sought Rebecca out. It just seems as though that needed to be addressed.

  3. I think the writers wrapped up this story too neatly and quickly. They should have explored it a little longer and deeper. Rebecca should have been called in to a session with Pam and the doctor. I think it was her feeling of abandonment by Rebecca and her inability to carry a baby full-term without having or fear of having a miscarriage was the cause of her depression. This story should have done better and VP did a great job.

  4. I agree with your review and the other comments. Victoria Principal was wonderful but the story was not given the depth it deserves and needs. If Christopher’s arrival helps her cope with her depression, fine, but it makes no sense for her mental health issues to disappear when he comes into the picture. Her sessions with Dr. Conrad should have dug deeper and they should have portrayed her as continuing to need therapy in the subsequent weeks and months. Seems like Sue Ellen’s time with Dr. Ellby was given a more realistic treatment.

  5. Beatrice says:

    The fact you think Pamela’s suicide attempt was out of character for her really surprises me. No one has suicide in their ‘character’, depression can happen to anyone even Pamela Ewing! I agree with you that the episode was handled brilliantly and wonderfully acted by Victoria.


  1. […] “Dallas’s” fifth-season episode “The Sweet Smell of Revenge,” Pam (Victoria Principal) is sitting in her bed at Dallas Memorial Hospital when Dr. Conrad […]

  2. […] (Patrick Duffy) rescues a suicidal Pam (Victoria Principal) in this 1981 publicity shot from “The Sweet Smell of Revenge,” a fifth-season “Dallas” […]

  3. […] Big Shut Down’s” other subplots feel just as familiar. In “Dallas’s” previous episode, “The Sweet Smell of Revenge,” the show seemed to go out of its way to suggest Pam’s depression wasn’t linked to her fertility […]

  4. […] storyline: Pam’s mental breakdown. Victoria Principal does a nice job depicting her character’s despair, but this isn’t the […]

  5. […] to find her sitting in the baby department, holding a music box and lost in her thoughts. Then, in “The Sweet Smell of Revenge,” Pam goes to the roof of a tall building and contemplates jumping off. Bobby rescues her and brings […]

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