Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 88 – ‘Waterloo at Southfork’

Woman of the hour

Woman of the hour

Miss Ellie is the woman of the hour in “Waterloo at Southfork.” She wheels and deals with Clayton, takes the cartel to the woodshed and keeps J.R. from dragging Sue Ellen’s name through the mud in court. Ellie’s only defeat occurs when she tries and fails to oust her eldest son as Ewing Oil’s president, but no matter. By the end of the episode, J.R.’s respect for his mama has deepened. So has ours.

To no one’s surprise, Barbara Bel Geddes is wonderful every time she appears in “Waterloo at Southfork,” which is a lot: This episode has 29 scenes, and Bel Geddes is in more than a third of them. Choosing my favorite is tough because they’re all so good.

In the scene with Clayton, Ellie sits on a patio at the Southern Cross and offers to sell him the oil J.R. diverted from the Farlow refineries. Clayton agrees, telling her he’ll buy it for $33 a barrel. “That’s very fair,” Ellie says, shaking his hand. Taking a beat, she adds: “I would have taken 32.”

The scene with the cartel is just as terrific. With J.R. in the background, Ellie stands in front of his desk and chastises Vaughn, Jordan and the others for taking advantage of Ewing Oil during J.R.’s reckless war against Clayton. “I don’t apologize for what my son did,” Ellie declares. “It’s a family matter. We may be wrong and we may be right, but we’re Ewings. We stick together – and that’s what makes us unbeatable.”

This most revealing moment in “Waterloo at Southfork” comes near the end of the episode, when J.R. promises Ellie he’ll behave when he and Sue Ellen go to court for their divorce hearing. He’s lying, of course, but it seems like Ellie is going to give him the benefit of the doubt. Wrong. When the hearing begins, she enters the courtroom and takes a seat in plain sight of her son. The moment J.R. sees his mama, he abandons his strategy to embarrass Sue Ellen.

I don’t know if J.R. has learned his lesson, but Ellie has learned not to trust her son. Better late than never.

Grade: A


Mama's watching

Mama’s watching


Season 5, Episode 11

Airdate: December 18, 1981

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

Writer: Linda Elstad

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: Miss Ellie sells J.R.’s stockpile to Clayton, persuades Bobby to return to Ewing Oil and chastises the cartel for taking advantage of the company’s misfortune. Pam embraces motherhood. Ray takes a loss on his real estate deal. Sue Ellen leaves the Southern Cross and wins custody of John Ross during her final divorce hearing.

Cast: Robert Ackerman (Wade Luce), Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Paul Comi (Dr. McWright), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Don Hamilton (Eric), Wiley Harker (Judge James Berwin), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Leigh McCloskey (Dr. Mitch Cooper), Patricia McCormack (Evelyn Michaelson), Barry Nelson (Arthur Elrod), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Herbert Rudley (Howard Barker), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), David Tress (Walter Sher), Gretchen Wyler (Dr. Dagmara Conrad)

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


  1. In the light of your opening statement it may be interesting that this episode was actually called “Miss Ellies Stunde” (i.e. “Miss Ellie’s Hour”) in Germany. The evaluation really is spot on.

  2. LOVE this episode! It makes me wonder why they didn’t feature Miss Ellie’s business savvy more often.

  3. It’s always a pleasure to see Miss Ellie take the reigns and pull her family back to their senses…at least for a moment. Awesome post! And Miss Ellie really stuck it to the Cartel in the end. I think that quote probably defines the entire show. It’s a classier way of saying “Love us, or hate us, we’re here to stay…on your television!” lol

  4. barbara fan says:

    Such a great episode and so many great scenes with Barbara – she must have been happy to get her hands on this script which gave her a much bigger piece of the action. Its sad she was so underused in later years – its easy to see why she won the Emmy and Golden Globe awards – Momma rocks! Great review as always and great episode

    • Thanks BF. I’ve been trying to decide what my favorite “Mama episode” is. I still love “Ellie Saves the Day,” but “Waterloo at Southfork” is a great one too. Her scene with the cartel is so good. It still gives me chills after all these years.


  5. Margaret Krebbs says:

    Yeah, this is totally Miss Ellie’s episode but I think one of the best scenes in the episode is when Donna and Ray fight over breakfast. All those pent up frustrations boiling up to the surface just waiting to combust. There was something about that argument that was so raw and frustrating and angry and real. I believed every word of it.

    • Totally agree. Great scene. Donna is so stupid not understanding her man. All she was doing, is self-indugently says “men-are-stupid”.

  6. I liked how Miss Ellie was able to take charge when necessary. Shame it didn’t work for her when she tried to intervene in the “Battle for Ewing Oil.” Makes that sting all the more I think.

  7. Garnet McGee says:

    JR does the decent thing for once in his life. I think this is only the second time JR has done the right thing since the series began. The other time was when he was trying to be nice to Sue Ellen after John Ross was born. I love it when JR is scared of his Mama. I look forward to seeing if any of their dynamic is mirrored in the Sue Ellen/John Ross dynamic. JR lied and tricked his parents but he was frightened of them. He stood up straight when they were around. Let’s hope Sue Ellen’s boy is the same towards his mama.

  8. When I c this episode C.B., I get the sensation that J.R. smells his own blood in the water. He c’s that Miss Ellie has transferred from her Southworth blood some of the meanness & the tenacity & the fire of the great Jock Ewing! That’s why J.R. backs down, not b/c its mama, no b/c he sees she has actually made a deal that will allow him cash reserves for other crooked deals. So she’s actually if u analyze it allowing J.R. to become even worse by her actions (thank God!)

  9. ScoRich223 says:

    Perhaps I’m a bit dumb, but something about this episode confuses me. If JR took out a $200 million loan, and Ellie sells the oil back for $33/barrel, then they only made $165 million (since it was 5 million barrels). Therefore, how could they have paid the loan back with interest?

  10. This episode has created an unsettling feeling in me that Miss Ellie doesn’t love her eldest son. 😦 It’s not that she is stopping him in his tricks – she’s doing the right thing. But it is somewhat about _how_ she’s doing it. At any rate, J.R. is her son, and he is experiencing a very hard time now – and it seems that she isn’t supporting him at all. If only she would say something like: “Look, I know how you’re feeling, having lost your wife and son and all, it’s all very hard for you – but, please…”
    Unconditional love is what we expect from mother to her son – and Miss Ellie doesn’t show it at all. If her feelings for J.R. were such for all those years, I begin to understand why he has grown so narcisstic. 😦

    • Nataly, near 2 years after your comment, I STRONNNGLY agree with you. Ellie was a good mom for Gary and Bobby and an ugly one for JR.


  1. […] “Dallas’s” fifth-season episode “Waterloo at Southfork,” J.R. (Larry Hagman) stands behind Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes), who has summoned Vaughn (Dennis […]

  2. […] (Leigh McCloskey) speaks to a patient this 1981 publicity shot from “Waterloo at Southfork,” a fifth-season “Dallas” […]

  3. […] 10. He’s got your back, Mama. Hagman often said he only accepted the role of J.R. after the “Dallas” producers told him they had cast Barbara Bel Geddes as his mother. I believe it. Every time these two appeared together on camera, you could feel Hagman’s reverence for her. (Fun fact: Bel Geddes was just nine years older than Hagman.) In this terrific scene, J.R. stands behind Miss Ellie as she chastises the cartel for taking advantage of one of Ewing Oil’s misfortunes. Hagman doesn’t have a single line of dialogue here, but he doesn’t need one. Sometimes great acting means knowing when to let your co-star have the spotlight. (“Waterloo at Southfork”) […]

  4. […] J.R. even delivered potentially damaging testimony against his daddy at Jock’s trial, although he declined to drag Sue Ellen’s name through the mud at their first divorce hearing. Who says miracles […]

  5. […] Ellie’s defense of J.R. in the fifth-season classic “Waterloo at Southfork,” this is another example of the Ewings circling the wagons against outsiders, one of […]

  6. […] with an oversized stuffed animal under his arm for his nephew during the fifth-season episode “Waterloo at Southfork”?). Ken Kercheval then picks up little Eric Farlow, the child actor who plays Christopher, and […]

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