Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 91 – ‘Denial’

Sympathy for the devil

Sympathy for the devil

With Jock dead, J.R. goes through “Denial” deeply depressed. He shirks his duties at Ewing Oil and barely takes time to insult Cliff when he runs into him at the Cattlemen’s Club. The only time we see J.R.’s old spark in this episode comes during the final act, when he confronts Sue Ellen over John Ross. “I’m going to get that boy back,” J.R. tells her. “And until I do, you’re not going to know one moment’s peace on God’s green earth.”

As menacing as Larry Hagman is in this scene, he’s also remarkably sympathetic. Moments before J.R. delivers his threat, he backs Sue Ellen against a wall while recalling his complicated relationship with Jock. “All my life, I tried to make that man proud of me,” J.R. declares. “And because of you, he died thinking I’d let him down. He died thinking I allowed you to take my son off Southfork forever. You think I’m going to let you get away with that?”

This is Hagman at his most complex, but don’t overlook the moving performances Barbara Bel Geddes and Patrick Duffy deliver during “Denial’s” final scene, when Bobby sits with Miss Ellie in the Southfork kitchen and tells her the family must have Jock declared legally dead. Ellie, who has spent the whole episode refusing to deal with the loss of her husband, lets Bobby know she’s not ready to let go. “This house is still Jock’s house,” Ellie says, sobbing. “This family is Jock’s family. You’re Jock’s son. And I’m Jock’s woman. And the rules we live by are the rules he made.”

The drama here comes not just from the words and the way Bel Geddes delivers them, but also from her body language. Watch how the actress moves around the kitchen set during Ellie’s monologue. She rests her palms on the counter when she declares, “This house is still Jock’s house.” She pivots and takes a defiant step toward Duffy when she says, “You’re Jock’s son.” The choreography is riveting. It’s like a ballet of grief.

By the way: I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this scene, like all of Bel Geddes’ scenes in “Denial,” takes place in the kitchen. “Dallas” didn’t introduce this set until after Jim Davis left the show, so it’s the only room at Southfork where Jock’s ghost doesn’t linger. Keeping Ellie there symbolizes the protective cocoon she wraps herself in after his death.

Bobby and Ellie’s conversation also demonstrates why Duffy is “Dallas’s” most underrated performer. I love when the actor brings his hand to forehead and looks down when Bel Geddes begins tearing up. By glancing away for that split-second, Duffy lets the audience know Bobby is having a hard time facing his family’s turmoil too. Yet still he soldiers on.

In another good scene, Donna comes home excited after attending an “autographing party” for her book, only to find a depressed Ray getting drunk in their living room. Ray tells Donna her publisher called to inform her the book has cracked the bestsellers list, and Susan Howard’s eyes light up – but only for a moment. The actress knows Donna wouldn’t allow herself to bask in her own glory while her husband is struggling.

Like Duffy, Howard is a quiet force on “Dallas.” Their performances are so subtle, you sometimes forget to notice them. That’s what makes them so great.

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The good son

The good son

‘DENIAL’

Season 5, Episode 14

Airdate: January 15, 1982

Audience: 25.3 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Linda Elstad

Director: Victor French

Synopsis: Bobby tries to persuade Miss Ellie to have Jock declared legally dead but she’s in denial, while J.R. and Ray both slip into depression. Cliff tries to reconnect with Sue Ellen. Roger offers to help Lucy become a model.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Stephanie Blackmore (Serena), Lindsay Bloom (Bonnie), Peter Brown (Tom), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Phyllis Flax (Mrs. Chambers), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Dan Hamilton (Eric), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Diane McBain (Dee Dee), Leigh McCloskey (Dr. Mitch Cooper), Jim McKrell (Henry), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dennis Redfield (Roger Larson), Dbbie Rennard (Sly), Ray Stewart (Mr. Hamilton), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

“Denial” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. You create the most amazing insights and connections. Who would have thought that about the Southfork Kitchen. And love how you describe the understated, yet wonderful performances by Duffy and Howard. I get the same feelings with Steve Kanaly too. And that scathing line by J.R has to be one of my favorites! Wow.

  2. barbara fan says:

    Great review – but i hate the line “Im Jocks woman” I didnt think it was Miss Ellie ish at all
    On a side note I was lucky to spend time on the Dallas set in 1983 as a very star struck teenager and Steve Kanaly told me that Barbara “was instumental in getting them to build a kitchen at SF” as thats where a lot of people spend most of their time.
    Its intersting watching JR crumble with out Jock and how he is coping following his death
    Always hoped that I would never have to see John Ross cope after the death of JR

    • Oh, that’s good insight about BBG being instrumental in getting the kitchen built. How wonderful that you got to visit the “Dallas” set! I also agree with you about the “Jock’s woman” line. I had written a whole paragraph about that line but ended up dropping it from my critique so I could focus on other aspects of this episode.

      Thanks so much for your comments, BF. I appreciate your contributions!

      CB

      • That line did come out of left field. All they had to do was change it to “I’m Jock’s WIFE” and you are his son…etc. etc. Maybe they thought it would make a bolder statement. And just to think about the juxtaposition of the time periods- Feminism was starting to rear itself, women were creating their own identities, going to work, etc. etc. But Miss Ellie still represented the old breed, and she had always been somewhat content with that. To say she’s Jock’s WOMAN, is like saying she belonged to Jock in every way and now that he’s gone she’s lost. I can understand her feelings. I hope I’m making sense. lol

      • Yes, absolutely. That’s essentially what I wrote. Now I wish I had included that paragraph.

        Thanks for weighing in, Lady G.!

  3. You’re welcome! And I always say, when in doubt…EDIT! haha. But that would drive readers crazy, wouldn’t it? And I just love the phrase ‘ballet of grief.’ One day I’ll have to use that. It’s beautiful.

  4. Margaret Krebbs says:

    Miss Ellie would have NEVER said, “I’m Jock’s woman,” when Jock was alive. She says it in this episode as more of a possessive ideal. Even though Jock is gone, she is still HIS woman – it’s almost primal and full of denial.

  5. Margaret Krebbs says:

    One more thing about that interesting line – who is Miss Ellie without Jock? She doesn’t want to face that reality and so hides in the one identity that feels most comfortable and reassuring and is the most basic. She’s more than a wife, she’s a woman, she’s more than Jock’s wife, she’s his woman. I think it is rather touching and self-aware and not as chauvinistic as I originally thought.

  6. Have u noticed C.B. that both J.R. & Donna are the only actual 2 Texans by birth in the cast. So when they talk Texas & the hurt they feel for Jock in J.R.’s case & in Donna’s, the lack of support over her book from Ray, u know they are talking raw emotion! From the gut, honest & strong acting with feeling like it might actually be real!

  7. The scenes that were memorable to me in this episode was what each character remember mostly about Jock.

    Pam – Jock’s talk about the Ewings to her after her first miscarriage.
    Bobby – Jock chastising him about who owns Ewing Oil and about true power
    Sue Ellen – Jock accusing her of running around and being drunk the time JR was shot
    Ray – Jock giving him a piece of Southfork land before knowing he was his son
    Miss Ellie – Jock talking about not being a good father and his love for her
    JR – Jock’s approval of the birth of the first male Ewing heir.

    The only ones that had really good loving memories were Ray and Miss Ellie, how ironic. If Gary was there in that episode you know his memory of Jock would not have been good.

    By the way the director Victor French is he the one that played Mr. Edwards on Little House On The Praire?

  8. OOPS, I meant to post the above in “The Search” episode.

  9. Dan in WI says:

    It really is unsettling seeing JR this shaken up and this far off his game but at the same time it is totally relatable. We are talking someone who is a serious contendor to the title of Mr. Unshakeable. But we’ve all lost people in our lives we were that close to. It really does make you into someone completely unrecognizable to even your closest of friends.
    For me the most interesting aspect of the JR threatening over her taking John Ross from Southfork is something you have dig a little deeper than just what JR said out loud to get at the heart of. Yes he spent his whole life trying to please his Daddy. (The fact that he made himself fabulously weathy in the process shouldn’t be forgotten but that is besides the point in this grief stricken moment.) I don’t see this as the sole moment of his old spark showing up in this episode at all. I see this as him having his guard so far down that he’s displaying his most closely guarded secret for the world of viewers to see: insecurity. It’s well documented that both Ewing parents had their favorite children. (Jock had Bobby. Miss Ellie had Gary.) This is something that has always eaten at JR but this is one of the few moments he’s ever displayed it. After all, he is the first born. He is the one that has worked side by side by Daddy for all those years. He is the one that ran Ewing Oil since Jock’s retirement (with the exception of when he was incapcitated) and did so (morals aside) very sucessfully. Where was Bobby? Out sowing wild oats, doing the college football star thing and bringing the Barnes family onto Southfork. Where was Gary? He was a drunk. He couldn’t be a businessman to save his life. He brought a commoner completely unfit to be Ewing onto Southfork. How could JR possibly not be the favorite of Jock? In his eyes it just wasn’t fair he wasn’t the favorite. It was something he never really talked about but I believe always bothered him. That was the emotion I believe was truly spilling out in that moment of rage toward Sue Ellen.
    The Jock’s Woman comment: Here’s my take. In some wierd way it both is and isn’t Ellie to make such a statement. No doubt about it she is of a generation that did see the female as insubordinate and she did buy into it at times. Let’s not forget the time she almost gifted Southfork to prodigal brother Garrison. But she was also quite independent. There were a few times she overheard Jock making “the woman’s place is in the home” type statements and she usually let him have it. There was the divorce storyline showing her independent side (albeit with other mitigating reasons behind that.) On the whole I see here as more independent than submissive so I write this statement off to the overwhelming grief of the death. Again we see just about everyone off their game in this episode for a very understandable reason. We shouldn’t be surprised that out of character things are said.

    • Great observations, Dan. Every time I read your comments I want to go back and watch the episode. I also want to rewrite almost all of these older critiques, but that’s another matter all together. Thanks for commenting.

      • Dan in WI says:

        Chris,
        Someday you’ll finish up all the critiques. At that point you can go back to the beginning and make pass #2 refining what you have. For me Dallas is a show I have watched one episode a week every week (on Friday like it should be) ever since I recorded the entire run off Soap net. It takes 7+ years to make a complete run through the show that way. I’m on the third lap using this method. So it won’t be tomorrow but you can always start the next lap someday.

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Dallas’s” fifth-season episode “Denial,” Bobby (Patrick Duffy) enters the Southfork kitchen, where Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) holds a […]

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