Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 97 – ‘The Maelstrom’

Old habits

Old habits

Oh, these Ewing women. How they confound me. Every time it seems like they’re about to find happiness on their own terms, they fall back into frustrating old patterns. This usually means falling back into the arms of men who are no good for them.

In “The Maelstrom,” after Sue Ellen puts the kibosh on reconciling with J.R., she sleeps with Cliff. You can’t blame Sue Ellen for being reluctant to get back together with her ex-husband, but why is she taking up with Cliff again? The last time these two had a fling, things didn’t go well: Sue Ellen wanted to leave J.R. for Cliff, but Cliff dumped her because he feared their affair would ruin his political career. Nice guy, huh? (If you haven’t watched the great scene in the second-season episode “For Love or Money” when Cliff breaks up with Sue Ellen, check it out. Linda Gray will break your heart.)

This time around, Sue Ellen is divorced and Cliff is out of politics, but they’re no better suited for each other now than they were then. It’s pretty clear Sue Ellen only wants Cliff because she knows it will make J.R. jealous. Witness “The Maelstrom” scene where she calls Cliff and, as J.R. listens, tells him how much she enjoyed spending the previous night with him. I also don’t believe for a second Cliff loves Sue Ellen. He’s chasing her for the same reason she’s chasing him: to upset J.R.

Lucy’s latest romance is odder still. Earlier in the fifth season, she sleeps with Roger, the photographer helping her get started in her modeling career, only to decide later she wants to keep their relationship strictly professional. Fair enough. But in “The Maelstrom,” obsessive Roger reveals the shrine to Lucy that he’s built inside his studio, which ought to send her scurrying from the room. Instead, Lucy and Roger fall into a passionate embrace and have sex. Huh?

The absurdity of it all makes “The Maelstrom” one of the season’s weakest entries, but the hour isn’t a total loss. Patrick Duffy, the episode’s director, delivers several clever shots. I especially like how he pans his camera above Charlene Tilton and Dennis Redfield during their love scene and zooms in on one of the glamour shots of Lucy plastering Roger’s wall. Sue Ellen’s shadowy arrival at Cliff’s apartment is also cool, and it’s nice to see Bobby and Ray branding cattle, even if the footage is recycled from the second-season episode “Bypass.”

Speaking of Ray: “The Maelstrom” scene where he breaks up with Bonnie is the episode’s highlight, thanks to sensitive performances from Steve Kanaly and Lindsay Bloom. This feels like a conversation between two people who’ve made bad choices but aren’t necessarily bad people. I also like when Donna calls home and speaks to Ray, who thanks her for sticking with him through his depression. The fact that Donna interrupts Ray while he’s shaving is significant since the stubble he’s worn since “The Search” had come to symbolize the dark cloud that enveloped him after Jock’s death.

J.R. and Katherine’s exchange in “The Maelstrom” also holds up well, and not just because this is the first time master villains Larry Hagman and Morgan Brittany appear together on “Dallas.” In the scene, Katherine, a local TV reporter (she does have a job, you know), is doing person-on-the-street interviews about the Dallas restaurant scene’s recessionary struggles when she comes across J.R., who says the economic downturn hasn’t affected his eating out habits. “My eating in habits haven’t changed much either,” he cracks.

Watching this scene recently, it occurred to me: Three decades after “The Maelstrom” was produced, people are once again watching their wallets when they go out to eat. Who knew an old “Dallas” episode could be so timely?

Grade: C


Ready for her close up

Ready for her close up


Season 5, Episode 20

Airdate: February 26, 1982

Audience: 30 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Will Lorin

Director: Patrick Duffy

Synopsis: Ray sobers up and bids Bonnie farewell. Sue Ellen sleeps with Cliff, upsetting J.R. J.R.’s lawyer informs him the child that Bobby and Pam are adopting might be J.R.’s son.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Lindsay Bloom (Bonnie), Peter Brandon (Lowell Greer), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Bruce French (Jerry Macon), 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), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Leigh McCloskey (Dr. Mitch Cooper), Pamela Murphy (Marie), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dennis Redfield (Roger Larson), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Joey Sheck (waiter), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Ray Wise (Blair Sullivan)

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


  1. Great observation about Ray’s beard and its shaving as a symbol. Sue Ellen and Cliff are annoying together, and I agree he probably doesn’t love her at this point.

  2. kirksroom says:

    All my complaints about the season’s continuation feeling pointless have been put away as this episode expertly ratchets up the tension to keep us coming back for more.

    This episode was about, at least somewhat, beginning relationships with the object of your affection solely to get revenge upon their exes. And I enjoyed seeing Sue Ellen’s conscience hit her, as we see she really is a good person. When Clayton confronts her and tells her what she is doing, she realizes the error of her ways and immediately ends her relationship with Cliff, who albeit first suggesting she has feelings for Clayton, quickly respects her decision and agrees to it. Something J.R. might never do, yet again highlighting how Cliff may actually be a better person than J.R. in a lot of ways.

    And I enjoyed her refusing to be intimidated by J.R., calling Cliff and inviting him for a date right in front of J.R., and Cliff’s utter calmness in the face of J.R.’s threats.

    And also Lucy’s realization that she has been stringing Roger along purely to make Mitch jealous, which he himself calls her on. And then we see just how much she has hurt him, when he takes her into a room filled with nothing but pictures of her lining the wall, and he pushes her onto the bed, kissing her, telling her he thinmks about her constantly and likes feeling her around him as he sleeps.

    This scene was profoundly creepy and expertly filmed, and adds much-needed drama to what has been a wearing and pointless storyline.

    And yet the selfish revenge thing seemed tacked on, purely to have a theme for the episode, and was very blatant, although the main flaw is that it was not purused for the majority of the episode and done clumsily. But this was a very good episode, as I said before.

    The scene with Pamela meeting Farraday at the aerobics salon was expertly done, as was the whole Farraday plot, although he is much less recognizable without his glasses and mustache. But what does he want with Bobby now, and why is he so mysterious? The show has ensured we will keep coming back for more.

    Many scenes in this episode were very well-filmed and written. Although I missed the previous episodes depicting Ray’s affair, it is good for his likability to have him break it off with her, and the scene with him telling Donna how much he loves her on the phone and her “Really?” was very touching and well-acted.

    And I loved when Miss Ellie is in front of her mirror and sees Jock’s picture and stares at it, still unable to come to grips with her emotions.

    And the episode leaves us sure to tune in for the final 6 episodes as the advertisement Bobby placed for the father of Kristin’s baby is discovered by a man working for J.R., who informs J.R. of Bobby’s call asking for the father of Kristin’s baby, and J.R. tells him to look for information on Kristin’s baby, saying “I’m real interested in that little baby” as he stares at Christopher playing with Bobby, Pamela, and Miss Ellie in the living room.

    All-in-all, this was an excellently written and performed episode that ratchets up the tension and leaves us sure to come back for more.


    – J.R.’s obsession with Sue Ellen dating Cliff has turned into paranoia. Seriously, Bobby dating Sue Ellen?
    – I really enjoyed Bobby telling J.R. “none of your damn business”. He’s so right.
    – The fan service is so blatant now. There was no point to watching those women do aerobics.
    – Seriously, what the hell does Farraday want?
    – It makes me so angry seeing Lucy so hostile towards Mitch’s girlfriend, as if she’s actually done something wrong. She broke up with Mitch. Why should she be angry about him getting a new girlfriend?
    – That scene with J.R. and Katherine was strange. Is J.R. trying to start a relationship with Katherine?
    – I loved Clayton coming in and seeing Cliff with Sue Ellen.
    – It was a good idea for J.R. to have his men stop watching Sue Ellen’s house. Nothing but trouble if he keeps them there.
    – Glad we got to see Miss Ellie again.

  3. Garnet McGee says:

    I love Clayton and Sue Ellen’s relationship. She needs to surround herself with people who have her best interests at heart and stay away from JR, Cliff and others who don’t. I see parallels with Pamela Rebecca in Dallas TNT. Pambecca gets in trouble when she enters into relationships based on revenge. The Lucy/Roger storyline is going on too long and really makes Lucy look bad. Thankfully this episode gave us a classic Barbara Bel Geddes moment when she touched her shirt as she was looking at Jock’s picture.

    • Yes, I love that scene with Miss Ellie too. Like Linda Gray on the new show, Barbara Bel Geddes doesn’t need any dialogue to convey her character’s feelings. She can do it all with a look, a touch, a sigh. What amazing actresses.

  4. Katherine Wentworth, can u imagine if J.R. started her up on tv show of her own as an anchor? She could then use that platform to annihilate Cliff & try & gain leverage over Pam & Cliff’s Wentworth assets & other things.

    • Yes! That’s a brilliant idea. Katherine Wentworth could become a Fox News-style host, railing against her brother Cliff to millions of viewers each night. Hilarious!

  5. I really enjoyed watching an unsuspecting J.R. show up at Sue Ellen’s and get a hostile reaction from Sue Ellen (who finally came to her senses after remembering that J.R. had cheated on her with Kristin). J.R. didn’t know what he was walking into there!

    One thing I’ve been wondering about is why J.R. has seemed to show no interest at all about Kristin’s baby after she died. He seemed to believe it was his child since he didn’t want her charged for shooting him and he was sending her monthly checks. It seems to me that after Kristin died J.R. would want to get his son but J.R. has seemed completely uninterested (until the end of this episode when he began to suspect that Christopher might be Kristin’s baby).

    I’ve been watching these shows in order from the beginning and I’ve enjoyed seeing two of my favorite character actors show up: Ray Wise, as Blair Sullivan, has been popping up this season. I enjoyed him in Twin Peaks and in one of my favorite Star Trek: Voyager episodes. Another of my favorites, William Windom, played Ray’s father in a previous season.

    As always, Chris, I really enjoy your reviews.

    • Thanks, Geoff. I appreciate your kind comments. I really like Ray Wise and William Windom too. Amos Krebbs, in particular, is such a loathsome, memorable character.

      Thanks again.


  6. >>”…obsessive Roger reveals the shrine to Lucy that he’s built inside his studio, which ought to send her scurrying from the room. Instead, Lucy and Roger fall into a passionate embrace and have sex. Huh?”
    I agree this is weird, but I try to find ways to believe that her reaction makes sense. Maybe since she has never really had a healthy relationship and since she grew up spoiled and accustomed to being the center of attention, she doesn’t realize that Roger’s Lucy Shrine is creepy.


  1. […] “Dallas’s” fifth-season episode “The Maelstrom,” Ray (Steve Kanaly) approaches Bonnie (Lindsay Bloom) at the Longview bar, then leads her to a booth […]

  2. […] least favorite episode: “The Maelstrom,” in which Lucy discovers Roger’s shrine to her and responds by making love to him. Come on, […]

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