“Dallas’s” fifth season was dandy, save for a few disappointments.
Barbara Bel Geddes delivers one tour-de-force performance after another as the grieving Miss Ellie. Everyone remembers the scene where Mama smashes the dishes in the Southfork kitchen, but Bel Geddes also shines in quiet moments like the one where Ellie takes that mournful stroll across the ranch. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Bel Geddes can say more with one look than most actors can with a whole script.
Runners up: Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy both break my heart as the brothers Ewing struggle – in very different ways – to deal with Jock’s death (J.R. falls apart, Bobby falls in line). Meanwhile, Linda Gray does a beautiful job conveying Sue Ellen’s conflicting emotions as a recent divorcee. I understand her confusion: It’s nice to see Sue Ellen on her own, but I also want her to reunite with the soul mate she’s left behind at Southfork.
I love to watch J.R. scheme his way back into Sue Ellen’s heart. This is another fascinating performance from Hagman, who keeps us guessing about J.R.’s motivation: Does he really love his ex-wife, or is he merely trying to get his hands on John Ross’s Ewing Oil voting shares? My guess is it’s a little from Column A and a little from Column B. One thing is certain: Seeing J.R. pick off Sue Ellen’s suitors (Dusty, Clayton, Cliff), one by one, is a hoot.
Weakest storyline: Pam’s mental breakdown. Victoria Principal does a nice job depicting her character’s despair, but this isn’t the heroic Pam I fell in love with during “Dallas’s” early years. Thankfully, she gets her groove back toward the end of the season, when she lays down the law to creepy Roger and helps Bobby solve the mystery of Christopher’s paternity. And while we’re on the subject: They may not be Nick and Nora, but isn’t it fun watching Bobby and Pam figure out that J.R. didn’t father Christopher? (The season’s best plot twist, by the way.)
“Adoption” is one classic scene after another. Donna socks it to Bonnie. Bobby asks Sue Ellen to sign the affidavit. Sue Ellen tosses the necklace at J.R. and proclaims their relationship is “sick, sick, sick!” This is another great script from Howard Lakin, but don’t overlook Hagman, who sat in the director’s chair for this episode and once again proved he’s as gifted behind the camera as he is in front of it.
My least favorite episode: “The Maelstrom,” in which Lucy discovers Roger’s shrine to her and responds by making love to him. Come on, “Dallas.” Charlene Tilton deserves better. So do we.
This is always the toughest category to choose a winner, and Season 5 is no exception. Among the contenders: J.R. and Dusty’s Cotton Bowl showdown, Ellie’s confrontation with the cartel and J.R.’s soliloquy in front of Jock’s painting. In the end, I’m going with “The Search” scene where the Ewing sons break the news to Mama that Daddy isn’t coming home. I don’t know who moves me more here: Bel Geddes, Hagman, Duffy or Steve Kanaly. Beautiful performances all around.
No one impresses me as much as Audrey Landers. This is the season Afton breaks J.R.’s grip and comes into her own as one of the show’s heroines. There’s no doubt she deserves a better mate than Cliff, but I love how Afton humanizes him – and you can’t deny Landers’ chemistry with Ken Kercheval. As an added bonus, Landers delivers several hot musical numbers this year, including that sultry rendition of “All of Me” in “The Phoenix.”
Runners up: Morgan Brittany, who debuts in Season 5 as scheming Katherine Wentworth and begins laying the groundwork for the havoc she’ll wreak in later years; Fern Fitzgerald, whose Marilee Stone becomes J.R.’s equal in every way; Barry Nelson as Sue Ellen’s sympathetic lawyer Arthur Elrod; Claude Earl Jones as Wally Hampton, J.R.’s co-conspirator in the plot to sabotage Cliff’s career; and Lindsay Bloom as Bonnie, the sad-sack barfly who beds Ray.
Virtually every “Dallas” diva sports a fur coat during Season 5, but the full-length number Susan Howard dons during Donna’s barroom brawl is the most meaningful. Among the dudes, no one wears suits better than dapper Howard Keel. I especially love when Clayton shows up at Sue Ellen’s townhouse in pinstripes and an open collar shirt, the same look Josh Henderson often sports on TNT’s “Dallas.”
At the other end of the spectrum: What’s with Sue Ellen’s culottes during Season 5? You get the feeling the character spent every episode standing in front of her closet, trying to decide between skirts and pants and choosing to compromise by wearing both. No wonder she became a politician.
“You getting good mileage on Donna’s car?” – J.R.’s cheery query to Ray in “Five Dollars a Barrel” cracked me up. Only Larry Hagman could turn a throwaway line into a hilarious putdown.
What do you love and loathe about “Dallas’s” fifth season? Share your comments below and read more “Best & Worst” reviews.