Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 85 – ‘The Split’

Mind games

Mind games

Sending J.R. and Dusty to the Cotton Bowl for their big showdown at the end of “The Split” doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but who cares? The sequence is a logistical feat, and Larry Hagman and Jared Martin deliver terrific performances. This is one of those moments from the classic “Dallas” series that fans still talk about.

Leonard Katzman, who wrote and directed “The Split,” opens the scene with J.R. arriving at the stadium in his Mercedes. He drives through the gate, down the ramp and parks at the edge of the AstroTurf. This is the sort of thing Ewings can get away with. As J.R. gets out of his car and walks onto the field, we hear whirring, and then Katzman switches to a wide shot as Dusty’s helicopter floats in from the Dallas skyline and touches down on the 50-yard line.

The arrival is another example of how the Farlows are constantly one-upping the Ewings. Southfork is grand, but the Southern Cross is grander. Jock’s relationship with his sons is full of angst, while Clayton and Dusty get along just fine. One family spends years obsessing over the birth of their first grandson, and after he finally arrives, the other family ends up raising him.

Interestingly, J.R. doesn’t summon Dusty to the stadium because he wants him to turn over John Ross. No, this is about Sue Ellen. J.R. wants his wife back, and he knows to get her, he must first drive a wedge between her and Dusty. Why else does J.R. go to the trouble of insulting Dusty’s manhood and insinuating Sue Ellen and Clayton are sleeping together? This whole sequence is confirmation that J.R. still loves Sue Ellen.

As for the setting of the scene, the only reason to have it take place at the Cotton Bowl is for metaphorical value. J.R. and Dusty are a couple of gladiators, after all. And while I’m generally not a fan of excess – please note this site isn’t called “Dynasty Decoder” – there are times when big moments are called for. J.R.’s confrontation with the man who stole his woman is one such instance.

You also have to admire “Dallas” for going to all this trouble, as Martin recalls in Barbara A. Curran’s “Dallas: The Complete Story of the World’s Favorite Prime-Time Soap:”

“[T]he chopper had to arrive on time and touch down at the right spot, the light had to be constant, with no wind, Larry and I would be standing on the right spot, with the cameras rolling and in focus and if either actor came up dry all the elaborate step-by-step mechanics would need to be repeated – at great cost.”

TNT’s “Dallas” memorably paid tribute to Hagman and Martin’s scene at the end of its first episode, “Changing of the Guard,” when John Ross went to Cowboys Stadium to meet with Marta del Sol. Having those characters meet in that setting made no more sense than having J.R. meet Dusty at the Cotton Bowl.

But I loved it all the same.

Grade: A


He'll take his wife, please

He’ll take his wife, please


Season 5, Episode 8

Airdate: November 27, 1981

Audience: 23.5 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Jock divides control of Ewing Oil among the family. Bobby decides against running for re-election. Donna’s book about Sam Culver is published, while Ray’s development deal hits a snag. Afton stops moonlighting for J.R. and spills his secrets to Cliff. J.R. tells Dusty he’ll never make Sue Ellen happy.

Cast: Bernard Behrens (Haskell), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Art Hindle (Jeff Farraday), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Andy Jarrel (Neal Hart), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Ted Shackelford (Gary Ewing), Barbara Stock (Heather Wilson), Robert Symonds (Martin Porter), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), David Tress (Walter Sher), Joan Van Ark (Valene Ewing), H.M. Wynant (Edward Chapman), Gretchen Wyler (Dr. Dagmara Conrad)

“The Split” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.


  1. I remember this one. I was unaware of any of the behind the scenes efforts. I thought they met there because that was a place that was public enough where both men could feel safe. The Farlows are the opposite of the Ewings, I never thought about it that way. JR lusted after many women and Dusty, because of his “condition” looked at women much differently.

    • Good observation! Thanks for commenting Jump. I appreciate it.

    • I still think the scene should have been shot at Texas Stadium. For one it would have been less open-air than the Cotton Bowl. Second, by then Texas Stadium would have been a more prevalent arena than the Cotton Bowl.

      • I wonder if the producers were unable to get access to Texas Stadium? It could have been a production issue. Regardless, Texas Stadium would’ve been cool.

        Thanks for commenting, Jimmy!

  2. The Farlows do seem to use their chopper more than the Ewings. Are there ever times when they take cars that taking the helicopter would have been a better idea?

  3. J.R.Ewing says:

    I love this episode. This is J.R. at his vilest. He plays on every insecurity Dusty has and then suggests Sue Ellen was sleeping with Dusty’s dad. Added to which it seems that was the only reason he asked to meet him, just to totally humiliate the man. I bed Dusty wishes he’d stayed in bed, er maybe not!

  4. The show has well gotten over Jock Ewing’s death by now, and the most dramatic storylines have ended, but there are 9 episodes left in the season. This episode felt slower and more awkward than most, as a result of this fact. But it does a good job of creating more storylines, or enlarging them to become interesting, but it overall only works on the 2 major plots, leaving all the minor B-plots to seem boring and pointless.

    Not that it was entirely bad. I was shocked, however, at how nosy J.R. is. Having a man watch Sue Ellen’s house 24 hours for Cliff, making his best effort to destroy Cliff’s career. What right does he have to do this?

    But this episode is largely about jealousy, and the irrational feelings it produces. I enjoyed watching Afton see through J.R.’s attempt to turn her against Cliff and tell him off for being jealous of Sue Ellen and Cliff, asking “How stupid do you think I am?” That’s a thing about J.R. He constantly thinks that he is so clever, and that he can fool everyone with the slightest tricks, and yet he is so often mistaken.

    And yet in the very next scene Afton goes to Cliff’s house, demanding to know what he is doing with Sue Ellen, and he bluntly tells her. When she asks if he does not wish to be involved with her anymore, he replies, “Yeah.” And Afton leaves, furious in her jealousy, warning Cliff over and over again that J.R. will break him, and he will not get away with a relationship with Sue Ellen.

    Afton never cared about Cliff while they were together. She called him a loser and all statements about her attraction to him seemed mostly to get what she wanted, and yet the idea of someone else being able to have something which she cannot infuriates her. That is what this episode was all about, this human emotion.

    Similarly, Lucy separated Mitch, and yet she is devastated by his dating an older woman. Of course, it is none of her business, though, and Mitch bluntly calls her out on it. The characters in this episode are so jealous they are incapable of seeing how nosy and outlandish their actions are, until they are called out on it.

    One of the things I enjoy most about Dallas is how well the characters are developed. J.R.’s statement that Sue Ellen can’t stand being alone has only been proven true with every episode. She hasn’t gotten over Dusty yet, and refuses a strong relationship with Cliff because of this, (Cliff only spent the night because he got drunk and fell asleep on the couch, an unfortunate tragedy given what J.R. is planning for him) and yet she is so lonely and depressed at home all by herself, when she hangs up the phone with Clayton, who is flying to see Dusty at a rodeo, but offers to visit Sue Ellen, instead, which she refuses, and the babysitter declines her offer to stay and play baccarat. In her boredom and depression, she sees a glass of wine in the cabinet and walks toward it and opens it, but promptly closes it again, unwilling to fall off the barrel again.

    But this episode did have some very glaring flaws. For example, why was the wine there to begin with if Sue Ellen has completely given up alcohol? And Lucy’s photographer’s romantic advances on her are so sudden and awkward as to be laughable, and it is ridiculous how little Lucy reacts to it.

    And the lack of interesting material was so plainly obvious at the beginning when Pamela goes to an aerobics lesson with her friends which serves no point to the plot and has pointless dialogue with her friends before. And I was again annoyed by the blatant sexism in the writing, as Pamela tells her friends she merely waits for Christopher to wake up once he goes to sleep for hours on end, and refuses to go back to work until Christopher is grown when Bobby brings it up. For God’s sake, this is 1982, post women’s lib and the feminist rebellion. Why are these blatantly sexist attitudes allowed to persist so shamelessly as this?

    And J.R.’s scheme to persuade Donna to convince Ray to give up his voting shares was fairly blatantly added for dramatic tension, but my main disappointment is that it was not continued well, but in pointless scenes of Donna and Ray.

    But the episode was largely interesting, and the dramatic tension was excellently ratched up in the Bobby’s adoption plans storyline, which was expertly written. The attorney Bobby consults tells him they will hold a trial to get custody of Christopher, but first they will have to post an ad for the father, just so the courts will see they’ve done all they can to locate him, they won’t post in a major newspaper, the father will never read it. But what if J.R. does? is obviously Bobby’s biggest worry.

    I am again annoyed by Bobby’s lying to both his lawyer and Pamela. The situation which led to Christopher being adopted by Pamela is ludicrous and would never have taken place in real life. And yet now that we’ve gotten past that, at least they’re trying to write the storyline well and realistically. I’ll respect them for that.

    All-in-all, the dramatic tension was fairly good in this episode, and it contained some very good scenes, but it contains a few glaring flaws, and is overall just a so-so episode of Dallas.


    – That aerobics session with the women was so blatantly fan service. And yet I’m ashamed to admit that a large part of me wishes it had gone on longer.
    – Funny how Mitch cuts his speech off a good 5 seconds before Lucy begins talking.
    . Katherine is a completely pointless and unnecessary character. All she does is have awkward sort-of conflict with Cliff.
    . Rebecca was only in one scene in this episode.
    . Miss Ellie wasn’t in this episode at all. I missed her.
    . Love how J.R. assures his son at the end that he and Sue Ellen will be back living with them soon. He’s so sure that he’s J.R. Ewing, he always gets what he wants.

    • Good insights, Kirksroom. Thank you. Jealousy is such a strong, recurring theme on “Dallas,” isn’t it? I’m glad you pointed out all the instances of envy in this episode. Regarding Sue Ellen: I get the impression she keeps alcohol on hand for her guests, although you’d think she wouldn’t want to tempt herself.

      Thanks again for your detailed analysis!


    • As for the aerobics stuff… Victoria Principal was really into fitness, maybe she wanted her character to share that interest? But primarily the aerobics scene is meant to lead up to Bobby purchasing a studio for Pam to run. (They retread this idea later with Jenna, who has a very different reaction than Pam!)

  5. Anonymous says:

    Chris, So you don’t think JR summonned Dusty over the custody of John Ross? I know he says it’s not about John Ross but I don’t believe him. I think the reason to drive the wedge between Dusty and Sue Ellen is now three-fold and none of them have anything to do with Sue Ellen at this point. The first two reasons are old news at this point:
    1. Both JR and Jock want John Ross back at Southfork and the key to that is first getting them off the Southern Cross. As JR says Sue Ellen is no good on her own. Once she has left Southern Cross he figures he can manipulate her to Southfork.
    2. He is sitting on that oil he can no longer aford to sit on. Once John Ross is back he has a buyer.
    And the new reason:
    3. John Ross is worth an added 10 voting shares. Now that Jock has split up voting shares during his South American mission, JR is at a bit of a disadvantage. The initial split leaves several different coalition combinations that could potentially oust him. John Ross is a big step in tipping the scales in his favor.

    He’s been saying too much negative about Sue Ellen lately. I just don’t see where a change of heart (and make no mistake about it, he does do this from time to time) would be coming from at that point in time.

    • It’s been awhile since I’ve watched this episode, but I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. J.R. has a lot of reasons for wanting John Ross back.

    • Dan in WI says:

      I’ll take responsibility for this anonymous post. My brower got cleared out and I didn’t realize it was submitting as anonymous.
      Anyway once again I just saw this so my memory is fresher no doubt. Can I proove JR was lying when he said it wasn’t about John Ross? No. It’s just my interpretation.

  6. Dan in WI says:

    I have to disagree that the Cotton Bowl scene is any kind of confirmation that JR still loves Sue Ellen. Yes from time to time JR has the occasional moment of clarity when he feels some of the old good feelings. That said JR has always run hot or cold for her. When he’s running cold I don’t see any residual love. During this scene I believe you can insert your favorite cliche about him as cold as possible for JR.


  1. […] “Dallas’s” fifth-season episode “The Split,” a helicopter lands on the football field at the Cotton Bowl. Dusty (Jared Martin) exits and walks […]

  2. […] Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) bikes home after retrieving the mail in this 1981 publicity shot from “The Split,” a fifth-season “Dallas” […]

  3. […] is expressed through jealousy: Recall how he tried to drive a wedge between Sue Ellen and Dusty in “The Split.” And at the beginning of “My Father, My Son,” notice how rattled J.R. becomes when he spots her […]

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