Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 86 – ‘Five Dollars a Barrel’

Keep your grin up

Keep your grin up

In “Five Dollars a Barrel,” Cliff takes over J.R.’s bank note and offers him an extension on his loan – in exchange for ownership of the oilfield that split up Jock and Digger’s partnership decades earlier. J.R. all but laughs Cliff out of his office when he hears these terms. But by the end of the episode, with J.R.’s confidence fading, he goes to Cliff, hat in hand, and signs over the field to get the extension. “I can’t believe it,” Cliff says as he reclines in his chair. “After all these years, I finally whipped J.R. Ewing.”

It’s a measure of the power of the J.R. character that we don’t feel happy for Cliff at this moment. Quite the opposite. We feel sorry for him because we know he hasn’t whipped J.R. at all. This is a temporary defeat. J.R. is going to come roaring back – and when he does, he’s going to make Cliff pay for trying to humiliate him.

Watching Larry Hagman in this scene makes me appreciate how good he is, not that I need the reminder. When Ken Kercheval delivers Cliff’s line about “finally” whipping J.R., Hagman responds with a single, slight smile. It’s more unnerving – and oddly more satisfying – than any dialogue the writers might have come up with.

There’s also a lot of humor in “Five Dollars a Barrel,” and almost all of it flows from Hagman’s deadpan delivery. In the second act, J.R. is working at his desk when Sly buzzes him. “There’s a Mr. Cliff Barnes here to see you,” she announces. “Who?” J.R. responds.

In another scene, Ray arrives home after dropping off Donna at the airport and finds J.R. waiting for him in the yard, his boots propped up on the Krebbs’ patio table. “You getting good mileage on Donna’s car?” J.R. asks through a big grin.

It’s pretty remarkable that the same smile that seems so sinister at the end of the episode is so hilarious here – but that’s Larry Hagman’s genius.

Grade: A


Splendor in the grass

Splendor in the grass


Season 5, Episode 9

Airdate: December 4, 1981

Audience: 22 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: Gary visits and gives his voting shares to Lucy, while Ray rejects J.R.’s offer to bail him out of his foundering deal. With the cartel’s help, Cliff takes over J.R.’s bank note and extends the deadline on his loan in exchange for ownership of one of the original Barnes-Ewing oilfields. Farraday agrees to sell Christopher to Bobby.

Cast: Robert Ackerman (Wade Luce), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Peter Brandon (Greer), Lee de Broux (McCoy), J.R. Clark (Earl Holiday), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Art Hindle (Jeff Farraday), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Sally Kemp (Mrs. Rogers), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), Leigh McCloskey (Dr. Mitch Cooper), Pamela Murphy (Marie), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Ted Shackelford (Gary Ewing), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Robert Symonds (Martin Porter), Aggie Terry (Lori Rogers), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), David Tress (Walter Sher), Edward Winter (Dr. Frank Waring), Gretchen Wyler (Dr. Dagmara Conrad)

“Five Dollars a Barrel” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.


  1. J.R.’s quips can be a lot of fun. I like the one about Donna’s car. He never lets up.

    • I remember you were in the room with me when I re-watched this episode to write my critique. We both laughed hard when J.R. said that. No one can deliver a line like Larry Hagman.

  2. kirksroom says:

    “I just can’t believe it. After all these years, I finally whipped J.R. Ewing.”
    – Cliff Barnes

    I have made no secret of my belief that this season started off slowly, but these last 4 episodes have been a return to form, and they have been nothing more than build-up for this, a tour-de-force of brilliant drama.

    Brilliant scene after brilliant scene played out, gluing me to the screen, thoroughly enraptured. The drama is written brilliantly, and the tone expertly captures the sense of distress and urgency as everything in J.R.’s world is about to come crashing down.

    Cliff meets with the members of the Cartel and convinces them to buy cuts of Ewing Oil that J.R. will be forced to pay off, a sheer impossibility given how quickly the price of oil begins to drop. And Cliff meets J.R. in order to inform him of this news and taunt him. In the final scene, J.R. comes to Cliff, pure cold fury in his face, and agrees to a 10-day extension, but only so that Cliff and the Cartel shall receive more of the company. And as J.R. signs the contract which will give Cliff and the Cartel full property of Ewing Oil if the loans are not paid off in 10 days, Cliff cackles, “I just can’t believe it. After all these years, I finally whipped J.R. Ewing.” Ken Kercheval perfectly masters just the right amount of pure sadistic glee and happiness in Cliff.

    And J.R. has tried to sell the oil to a broker, but due to the price drop, he won’t buy it, and informs J.R. that no one would except for one person — Clayton Farlow.

    And J.R. continues to underestimate his brothers. He attempts to manipulate Gary and Ray into giving him their voting shares, and fails miserably both times. And Ray reminds J.R. that if he and the other family members who control the voting shares could oust J.R. as president of Ewing Oil if they see fit.

    Indeed, this episode is nothing but a long parade of misery and torture for J.R. And we cannot help but enjoy it. We cannot help but to enjoy Cliff’s own glee ourselves at J.R.’s fate. Now, the big man has fallen, and there appears to be no way up. All the misery and torment he inflicted upon under businessmen and people now becomes his own.

    And the mystery with Bobby investigating the trust fund set up for Kristin is handled well, although perhaps it should have been given more time and made to seem more important than it was, but these are minor flaws. The clues come together well, and the mystery is ultimately solved, at least to an extent. J.R. did pay off Kristin, certainly – but it is still unclear whether it is really his child.

    And Ray – Ray is in a tight spot here. I must say I am happy to see the boring storyline with Ray’s failing real estate plan finally becoming an interesting dramatic storyline, although it only becomes this by merging it with J.R.’s scheme to get the voting shares. However, this was, I believe, a good move, and well done.

    But this episode was not perfect. There is a subplot where Dusty, tormented by the videos of his rodeo days, starts riding his horse again, just to prove he can. That’s right. Do any of you remember way back to February when Dusty was so wounded from the helicopter crash he had to stay in a wheelchair and had been told he could never walk again? Well, forget that. Now, not only can he walk, he can ride a horse, too.

    But if you ignore this storyline (or better yet, skip over this), this was a very good episode. In fact, this is probably the quintessional episode of Dallas. This is the episode that people consider this whole show to be. And what’s more, it was the best episode of Dallas in a long time.


    – I suspected Gary would give Lucy the loans. J.R. really underestimated Gary, thinking he would give him just what he wanted.
    – Does Bobby always recite whatever he’s reading out loud, even when he’s by himself? Then again, I do that myself often, so who am I to complain?
    – How will Ray pay off the loan now?

  3. When Sly buzzed to say Cliff Barnes is here and JR replied “Who???” I laughed so hard. Was not expecting that reaction lol


  1. […] “Dallas’s” fifth-season episode “Five Dollars a Barrel,” Cliff (Ken Kercheval) is seated on the edge of his office desk when J.R. (Larry Hagman) […]

  2. […] Ellen and Clayton (Linda Gray, Howard Keel) are seen in this 1981 publicity shot from “Five Dollars a Barrel,” a fifth-season “Dallas” […]

  3. […] 14. Poor Cliff. When his latest crooked deal goes awry, J.R. is forced to sign over ownership of one of the original Ewing Oil fields to Cliff. “I can’t believe it,” Cliff says as he reclines in his chair. “After all these years, I finally whipped J.R. Ewing.” It’s a measure of J.R.’s power that we don’t feel happy for Ken Kercheval’s character at this moment. We feel sorry for him because we know this is a temporary setback for J.R. To wit: When Kercheval delivers the line about “finally” whipping J.R., Hagman responds with a slight smile. It’s more unnerving – and oddly, more satisfying – than any dialogue the writers might have come up with. (“Five Dollars a Barrel”) […]

  4. […] getting good mileage on Donna’s car?” – J.R.’s cheery query to Ray in “Five Dollars a Barrel” cracked me up. Only Larry Hagman could turn a throwaway line into a hilarious […]

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