Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 102 – ‘Acceptance’

The emperor's clothes

The emperor’s clothes

The scene everyone remembers from “Acceptance” is the one where the grieving Miss Ellie goes on a rampage in the Southfork kitchen, smashing every dish in sight before tearfully collapsing onto the floor. This is a big, dramatic moment and it never fails to give me chills, but it’s not the only great performance we get from Barbara Bel Geddes in this episode. The quiet moments that come before Ellie’s breakdown are just as moving. They deserve to be remembered too.

More than anything, “Acceptance” is about the journey Ellie takes before she comes to terms with Jock’s death. It begins when Ray visits Ellie on another rainy night at Southfork and suggests she forgive Donna for wanting to write an unflattering book about Jock. Steve Kanaly’s monologue consists of more than 350 words, and he delivers every one beautifully. I also love how Bel Geddes holds her own against Kanaly, even though she is almost completely silent. The look on Bel Geddes’ face tells us everything we need to know. Ellie isn’t really mad at Donna. She’s angry because the husband she loved has died and left her alone.

Virtually every scene that follows demonstrates how Bel Geddes can say more with a smile or a furrowed brow than most actors can with a script full of dialogue. Watch how her expression changes in the scene where Punk invites Ellie to accompany him and Mavis to the Oil Barons Ball. Bel Geddes is so sweet in the way Ellie politely declines Punk’s invitation, but once he tells her about the plan to introduce a memorial scholarship in Jock’s name, her expression shifts to shock, hurt and sadness, all within a matter of seconds. How does she do that?

The poignant moments keep coming. A pensive Ellie strolls around the Southfork grounds, recalling the walk she takes in the classic “Ellie Saves the Day.” She visits the stables and lovingly strokes Blazer, Jock’s horse. “You miss him too, don’t you?” she says. And the biggest heartbreaker of all: when Ellie stands in Jock’s bedroom closet and gently touches his clothes. (In a nice touch, the producers appear to have stocked this set with pieces from Jim Davis’s “Dallas” wardrobe, including the powder blue suit he memorably sported in “Runaway” and the white-dotted bathrobe he wore during the third season.)

Of course, as good as Bel Geddes is, she gets plenty of support from director Michael Preece, who always brings out the best in the “Dallas” cast, and Will Lorin, whose script is full of details that ring true. My favorite of these moments comes in the second act, when Lucy enters Ellie’s bedroom to announce Punk’s arrival. “Tell him I’ll be right there. Offer him a drink,” Ellie says. Offer him a drink. It’s a small line, but it tells us so much about Ellie’s devotion to keeping up appearances, even when she’s in mourning. This is exactly what we expect a woman of Ellie’s generation and stature to tell her granddaughter when company arrives.

Ellie’s struggle reaches its crescendo when she has her breakdown in the kitchen. The sequence begins with the Ewings gathered in the Southfork dining room. As the other characters chatter (listen closely and you’ll hear J.R. and Pam being cordial to each other), Preece slowly zooms in on Ellie’s face as she notices Jock’s empty chair at the other end of the table. Quickly and quietly, she excuses herself and goes into the kitchen, where she orders Teresa to leave. Suddenly, Ellie is overcome with emotion and begins smashing the dishes.

When I interviewed the wonderful Michael Preece last month, he told me Bel Geddes didn’t want to do multiple takes because the material was so gut-wrenching. When you watch the scene, you can tell the actress is taking care to hit her marks. In hindsight, her sense of caution works well. Yes, Ellie is a woman exploding with grief, but she’s also someone whose instinct is to always remain composed. Of course she’d hesitate a little before knocking over a stack of plates.

(Watching this scene, I’m also reminded of a famous sequence from the 1970s sitcom “Good Times,” when Esther Rolle’s Florida Evans, another matriarch in mourning, slams a glass punchbowl onto her kitchen floor. The dialogue is similar too. Florida: “Damn, damn, damn!” Ellie: “Damn you, Jock!”)

In “Acceptance’s” final scene, Ellie visits the Krebbses and gives Donna’s book her blessing. It brings to mind the final moments in the fourth-season episode “Ewing vs. Ewing,” when Ellie stands in Ray and Donna’s living room and asks Jock to forgive her for almost destroying their marriage. That scene, one of the last times Bel Geddes and Davis appeared together, ends with their characters declaring their love for each other. This time around, the moment of satisfaction comes when Ellie finally acknowledges that her husband is dead. “I know that Jock’s not coming back, but I have my memories of him,” she says. “And my memories are forever.”

So are great performances like this.

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Forever

Forever

‘ACCEPTANCE’

Season 5, Episode 25

Airdate: April 2, 1982

Audience: 29.1 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Will Lorin

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Miss Ellie accepts Jock’s death and gives Donna’s book her blessing. Afton tries to comfort Cliff after Rebecca fires him. J.R. romances Sue Ellen. Bobby helps the police catch Farraday’s killers. Mitch moves to Atlanta.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Phyllis Flax (Mrs. Chambers), Jonathan Goldsmith (Joe Smith), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Bob Hoy (Detective Howard), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Leigh McCloskey (Dr. Mitch Cooper), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Tom Stern (Detective White), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson), H.M. Wynant (Ed Chapman)

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

Comments

  1. Fantastic post! One of your best. I also feel the same way about Bel Geddes performances as Ellie. The hurt, anger and pain she feels are so real. And I love how you noted that the dish smashing scene was very calculated. I think we’ve all tossed something out of anger in our lives, but some people are reserved and it’s just not in their nature to give the place a total thrashing! lol.

    • Thanks Lady G.! I enjoyed writing this one. It’s always interesting to watch BBG and study what she does in her performances.

      As always, I appreciate your comments!

      CB

  2. barbara fan says:

    Fantastic review of one of the best episodes ever on Dallas and so many great scenes. BBG dominated that episode, it belonged to her and she lived up to every expectation.
    She didnt need words or a script, she was a class act when it came to non verbal expression and no one came close to her.
    There wasnt a dud scene all episode and you could really sense her pain, her anger, her hurt, her frustration and her sadness.
    Eat your heart out TNT! This is Dallas at its best! Something they will never know!
    A cast and a script that was perfect – not to forget the acting!
    And if i were BBG I’d be very irritated by the jokers on the set, flicking a pea/roll/whatever at me during the dining room table scene!! There is a time and a place and that wasnt one of them!
    thanks again for a lovely write up, BF x

    • Thank you, BF! I agree: This is one of the highlights of the fifth seasons. It’s been so much fun to go back and watch this year of the show. It’s so much better than I remembered, and BBG is especially good. And I’m with you: I’d be irritated with those jokers too!

      Thanks again for your feedback. I always appreciate it.

      CB

  3. I love all of season 4 (also known as season 5 in the d.v.d. selections). Leonard Katzman said in interview that as Kristin Shepard’s death by drowning in the Southfork swimming pool opened the season, he and the producers waited to roughly halfway through the season to end Jock’s character on the series. Mr. Katzman explained it would have been too much for the audience to deal with both Kristin’s untimely death and Jock’s untimely death if the writers wrote the season-opener to eliminate both characters at the same time. As far as Ellie and the episode “Acceptance” is concerned, my eyes welled-up when she was at the stables with Jock’s horse. You just look at the animal’s eyes, and you could sense the sadness. Especially when she whispers to the horse “He’s not here”. Unbelievably sad scene that just completely draws me into the television. Barbara Bel Geddes at her best.

  4. I love especially the scene with Jock’s horse. The complete dialogue she said to him: “Blazer….You miss him too….(her voice breaks a little) I wish I had some sugar for you. (puts head on Blazer’s and kisses his muzzle) He’s not here.”

    To me that soft sad scene hit home more than the kitchen one which while great I found the dishes a bit silly. I liked the subtler scene with Blazer. I think it hit home for her then even before the kitchen. You could almost hear the unspoken words after “He’s not here” being “He’s not coming back.”

    Jenny

  5. Garnet McGee says:

    As much as I love the TNT version, I do think the producers of the new show need to be reminded that Dallas wasn’t all about dirty tricks, action sequences and family rivalry. Dallas is always spoken of in popular culture as if it was this trashy, glitzy soap. Clearly a show that had scenes like the ones with BBG was not like that. I think people who have never seen it imagine that it was like Dynasty. Did you notice that look she gives Ray when he walks into the room? It’s like she notices his arrival but doesn’t want to see him. She does all that with her eyes and facial expression. Thank god there was not botox in the 1980’s like there is today. All the plastic surgery and botox actresses have done inhibits their ability to expresss emotion.

  6. So if the dishes are all being broken C.B., what do they eat on at Ewing BBQ’s & at the supper table, paper plates? Of course its the Ewings & as they are bluebloods it would have to be nothing less than Royal Chinet boy!

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Dallas’s” fifth-season episode “Acceptance,” Ray and Miss Ellie (Steve Kanaly, Barbara Bel Geddes) sit in the Southfork living […]

  2. […] 3. Ray’s tribute. Ray (Steve Kanaly) tries to make Miss Ellie accept Jock’s death by reminding her of his humanity. “He was a man, just like anybody else. He had friends. He had lots of friends. But he had enemies, too. He was human, ambitious. He knew that the oil game was rough, hardball all the way. But he wanted what was best for his wife, and for his sons. And he did what he thought was right.” The most honest eulogy Jock ever received. (“Acceptance”) […]

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