Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 92 – ‘Head of the Family’

Down and out

Down and out

In “Head of the Family,” J.R. is depressed over Jock’s death and getting drunk in his bedroom when Bobby barges in and tells him to snap out of it. J.R. all but ignores his brother, so Bobby yanks him off the bed, drags him across the room and makes him look at himself in the mirror. “Daddy didn’t build this company just for you and me,” Bobby says. “He expected it to be around for his grandkids. Maybe their kids too.”

This is the most pivotal scene in one of “Dallas’s” most pivotal episodes. Until now, this has been a show rooted in its own past: Almost everything that happens to the Ewings and the Barneses can be traced to Jock and Digger’s falling out decades earlier. With “Head of the Family,” “Dallas” begins to move beyond its backstory and look toward the future.

No character demonstrates this shift better than J.R. Since the scene in “Digger’s Daughter” where he gleefully tells Jock about his scheme to bribe Pam, we’ve watched J.R. struggle to make his demanding daddy proud. In “Head of the Family,” with Jock gone, J.R. is forced to find new motivation. Instead of trying to impress Jock, J.R. decides to become Jock. Just as the older man devoted his life to building a legacy for his sons, J.R. sets out to do the same thing for John Ross.

This change – which will drive J.R. for the remainder of the original series – is symbolized in “Head of the Family’s” final scene, when a beaming J.R. watches John Ross climb into Jock’s empty chair at the Southfork dinner table. The child replaces his grandfather as the source of J.R.’s ambition.

Since the first season of TNT’s “Dallas” revival focused so heavily on the relationship between J.R. and his son, “Head of the Family” now feels a little like a template for the new show. Other themes from the TNT series are also present. J.R. is immobilized by depression in “Head of the Family,” just like he is when the new “Dallas” begins. Bobby spends this episode taking charge of the Ewings, just like he does three decades later. And when the newly single Sue Ellen’s first dinner party ends in disaster and she turns to Cliff for comfort, does it not presage the two-steps-forward-one-step-back pattern she comes to exhibit on TNT?

Even without these comparisons, “Head of the Family” remains one of the strongest hours from the classic show’s fifth season. This is the second “Dallas” script from Howard Lakin (“The Fourth Son” was his “Dallas” debut), who once again demonstrates a firm grasp of the show’s mythology. Patrick Duffy also does a nice job in his second turn in the “Dallas” director’s chair; I especially like Duffy’s overhead shot of Sue Ellen’s living room during the dinner party sequence.

Duffy shines in front of the camera too. The actor delivers some of his finest performances on “Dallas” in the episodes that deal with Jock’s death, including this one. In “Head of the Family,” Duffy brings to mind the best of his TV parents: He’s as commanding as Jim Davis and as compassionate as Barbara Bel Geddes. Watching Bobby struggle to keep the Ewings together is moving.

Of course, no one touches me in this episode quite like Larry Hagman, who is downright heartbreaking when Bobby confronts the depressed J.R. At the end of the scene, J.R. slumps onto the edge of his bed and tells his younger brother, “It’ll never be the same, Bob.” Thirty years ago, the line was merely sad. Now it feels prophetic.

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Seat of power

Seat of power

‘HEAD OF THE FAMILY’

Season 5, Episode 15

Airdate: January 22, 1982

Audience: 25.3 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Howard Lakin

Director: Patrick Duffy

Synopsis: Bobby tells J.R. he must pull himself together to secure John Ross’s future. Ray alienates Bobby and Donna, whose publisher wants her to write another book. At her first dinner party, a friend’s husband makes a pass at Sue Ellen.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Stephanie Blackmore (Serena), Lindsay Bloom (Bonnie), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Diana McBain (Dee Dee Webster), Jim McKrel (Henry Webster), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dennis Redfield (Roger Larson), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Barbara Stock (Heather Wilson), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Ray Wise (Blair Sullivan), Lynn Wood (Ms. Bruce), H.M. Wynant (Ed Chapman), Gretchen Wyler (Dr. Dagmara Conrad)

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

Comments

  1. Excellent review! Reading this makes me wonder about the fate of the new show. John Ross was just learning the business and the series ended with him demanding his father teach him every trick up his sleeve. With Hagman gone, that learning period for John Ross will have to be sped up. I hope it’s believable. We all had looked forward to watching JR’s life and oil lessons for his son. But now…:( I hope Josh Henderson is up to the task of taking over. Somehow I feel the character is simply not ready.

    • Thanks Lady G.!

      If John Ross isn’t ready, that could make for good drama. Seeing him stumble and have Sue Ellen or Uncle Bobby come to his rescue could be interesting. We’ll have to wait and see!

      • Yes definitely. I was just thinking aloud, and wondered if that would affect the ratings. But I think people will tune in for exactly that reason. To see how John Ross takes the reigns and in this crazed high tech world today, how much worse than J.R he could turn out to be!

  2. Oh and considering J.R was already about 50 when he actually took over Ewing Oil…John Ross has a ton of catching up to do at his young age.

  3. the_lost_son says:

    It’ll never be the same, Bob.

    That line is so sad and yet so true. JR caused so much damage, but if you can’t pity him, you must be out of stone. It’s just heartbreaking.
    It feels so good seeing JR back on top in the next episode when he takes his son to Ewing Oil. “That’s your uncle Bobby’s office where he does – whatever he does around here.” When you knew JR is back again.

    Another outstanding review! Thank you!

  4. barbara fan says:

    Been away for weekend and catching up, such a great episode and i love when Bobby drags JR infront of the mirror and gives him a few home truths. Also loved the dishevilled JR in bed when Miss Ellie stops by.
    Scene of the day – its a tie for me with the one you have chosen and the scene at the end, when little John Ross sits in Jocks chair “Hes sitting in your daddys chair JR< just the way you used to! yes he really is a Ewing says JR beaming with pride
    Still cant believe that Larry is no longer with us – so sad

    • I love both those scenes too, BF. Thanks for commenting!

      • Garnet McGee says:

        I must be made of stone. I still don’t pity J.R. Every problem he has ever had he brought on himself. Clearly Cidre and the TNT writing team watched this episode carefully. Just as J.R. decided to become Jock, John Ross has decided to become J.R. Not only does he not have his Daddy’s experience he is much more impulsive. His status inside the family is not as elevated as JR’s was. He still has Uncle Bobby to contend with. He is also dealing with a much larger entity on the global stage instead a business that is mainly a Texas business. Also, his wife is powerful in her own right. Patrick did an outstanding job in this episode. The Sue Ellen dinner party scene was really maddening. Was North Texas society really so limiting and sexist toward single women in the 80’s? Maybe just upper crust society where there were fewer professional women? I loved the Donna and Miss Ellie scenes. Donna is the most realistic female character on the show.

      • Garnet, we’re on a similar wavelength here. The dinner party scene was indeed maddening. And like you, I love Donna and Ellie’s scenes.

      • Might I remind u & Andrew of the following C.B. President Abe Lincoln, Republican-Illinois was in the absolute pit of depression from which there seemed like no escape, but just like J.R., he rose out of it to command the Union to total victory over the Confederacy. A possible DALLAS Parallel for you!

      • I love it! Thanks, R.J.

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Dallas’s” fifth-season episode “Head of the Family,”  J.R. (Larry Hagman) sits on his bed drinking when Bobby (Patrick Duffy) enters and holds open the […]

  2. […] “Dallas’s” future, I keep coming back to the classic scene from the fifth-season episode “Head of the Family.” J.R., depressed over Jock’s recent death, tells his youngest brother, “It’ll never be the […]

  3. […] 4. Mourning Daddy. Jock’s death sends J.R. into a deep depression. He stops shaving, stops showing up for Ewing family dinners and even stops showing up for work. Finally, Bobby (Patrick Duffy) has enough. Barging into J.R.’s bedroom, Bobby yanks him off the bed, drags him across the room, makes him look at himself in the mirror and reminds him their Daddy built the company not just for them, but also for their children. “It’ll never be the same, Bob,” J.R. responds. Hagman’s delivery of this line never fails to move me. Before this moment, we’d seen J.R. break a lot of hearts. This time, he broke ours. (“Head of the Family”) […]

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