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.
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)