Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 11 – ‘Battle Lines’

Battle Lines, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, TNT

The last hurrah

“Battle Lines” is the first hour of the new “Dallas’s” second season and the beginning of Larry Hagman’s last hurrah as J.R. Ewing. The actor filmed this episode about two months before his death last fall, but you wouldn’t know he was nearing the end of his life by watching him here. Hagman looks thin and sounds a little raspy, but the light in his eyes hasn’t dimmed. Not one bit.

J.R. appears four times in “Battle Lines.” Predictably, they are the best scenes in the episode. In the first, John Ross strides through the reception area at Ewing Energies and is greeted by his assistant, who apologizes for the unexpected visitor waiting for him in his office. “Don’t worry about it. I know how slippery snakes can be,” John Ross says, and as he enters the room, we find J.R. with his boots propped up on junior’s desk. “Is that any way to talk about your father?” the old man asks with a smirk.

The first time I watched “Battle Lines” and saw Hagman sitting there, I almost got teary. But as the scene played out, with J.R. and John Ross plotting against Bobby and Christopher, I saw how much fun Hagman seemed to be having, and pretty soon, I was enjoying the ride. J.R.’s dialogue is a little corny (“Just remember my boy, vengeance is a dish best served cold”), but that’s OK. What J.R. says has never mattered as much as how Hagman says it, and his delivery here is flawless. Every line drips with equal parts honey and venom.

Hagman also supplies “Battle Lines” with its most poignant moment, when J.R. hangs his head in sorrow after watching the TV news report about Sue Ellen’s Election Day scandal. The actor also gets two scenes with Patrick Duffy, and both sequences cast J.R. as the impolitic octogenarian and Bobby as his eye-rolling straight man. Here’s J.R. explaining the reason for his visit to Ewing Energies: “I came over to deliver some muffins to the pretty little secretaries. Who could’ve guessed so many would turn out to be men?” And here he is offering his prescription for dealing with Cliff Barnes: “We should hire some roughnecks, take him for a long ride.” Cue Bobby’s exasperated reaction, and then J.R.’s kicker: “I’m just putting it on the table, Bobby.”

But even though Hagman is the best thing about “Battle Lines,” he isn’t the only good thing. Josh Henderson looks like he’s having as much fun as his on-screen daddy, although if the younger actor feels any temptation to imitate Hagman, he’s wisely resisting it. Hagman swaggers, but Henderson struts. J.R. is confident, but John Ross is cocky. Both actors have charm to spare, but Henderson is giving John Ross his own brand of cool. He gives me hope for the post-J.R. era of “Dallas.”

The other actor to watch in “Battle Lines” is Julie Gonzalo, who transforms desperate Rebecca into driven Pamela. Gonzalo gets an assist from costume designer Rachel Sage Kunin, who has skillfully traded Rebecca’s cheery dresses for Pamela’s dark suits, but the wardrobe change isn’t the only reason this metamorphosis succeeds. Gonzalo now carries herself with unflinching resolve, although she offers enough of a hint of vulnerability to suggest Pamela’s quest for revenge has more to do with her own broken heart than her daddy’s vendetta against the Ewings. It’s a clever performance.

I also appreciate the classic “Dallas” shorthand that Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner drop into their “Battle Lines” script, including Pamela’s references to her namesake aunt and mother Afton, as well as the mention of Westar during Elena’s business meeting. (And is that the old Oil Baron’s Club building I spot through the office window in that scene?) The other “Battle Lines” highlights are Christopher and Elena’s sexy romp in the Southfork swimming pool (turns out the new show’s first pool scene was worth the wait), and the introduction of Christopher’s racecar subplot, which is an intriguing way to continue last season’s alternative fuels saga. I also like this story because it gives the underappreciated Jesse Metcalfe something to do besides reacting to Henderson. Metcalfe looks like he’s having a lot of fun in those racetrack scenes. Isn’t it nice to see Christopher smile for a change?

Not everything in “Battle Lines” works. Director Michael M. Robin does a nice job bringing the sleek Ewing Energies set to life, but the CGI skyline outside the windows looks, well, like CGI. (I’m not buying that logo on the outside of the Barnes Global building either.) More bothersome: the plot holes in Brenda Strong’s storyline. I’m glad we now know Ann’s secret – when she was married to Harris, they had a daughter who was snatched from her stroller at the Texas State Fair – although I’m not sure why Ann kept this from Bobby, or why Bobby wouldn’t know in the first place. Don’t the Ewings ever check out the people they marry?

The revelation of Sue Ellen’s blackmail scheme doesn’t ring true either. She learns the medical examiner has ratted her out while watching a TV news report that includes a sound bite from her gubernatorial opponent’s camp. Shouldn’t the reporter have contacted Sue Ellen for comment too? And while we’re on this subject: I had hoped Sue Ellen’s campaign would become a metaphor for the character’s redemption after her scandalous behavior on the old show. Imagine if the car accident that led to Mickey Trotter’s death had become Sue Ellen’s Chappaquiddick, or if the new series had used her past affairs to say something about the double standard that so many women politicians encounter in real life. Think about what Linda Gray could have done with material like that.

Or maybe don’t think about it. Season premieres are about moving forward, and that’s what “Battle Lines” does. This episode feels like the work of storytellers who are more confident than they were at the outset of last season. They seem to have a better understanding of what they want “Dallas” to be, and also what diehards like me want to see. More and more, those things don’t seem mutually exclusive.

Grade: B

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Battle Lines, Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, TNT

Revelations

‘BATTLE LINES’

Season 2, Episode 1

Telecast: January 28, 2013

Writers: Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner

Director: Michael M. Robin

Audience: 2.9 million viewers on January 28

Synopsis: Rebecca reveals she is Pamela Rebecca Barnes, Cliff and Afton’s daughter, and tells Christopher she wants partial ownership of Ewing Energies. Christopher brings Tommy’s sister Becky to Dallas to testify at his annulment hearing, but she secretly aligns with John Ross, who wants to use Pamela and Becky to maneuver Christopher out of the company. Ann tells Bobby she and Harris have a daughter, Emma, who was kidnapped as a child, but when Ann tracks down the young woman, Emma rejects her. Sue Ellen’s blackmail scheme is exposed on Election Day.

Cast: Amir Arison (Dr. Varun Rasmussen), Emma Bell (Emma), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Brett Brock (Clyde Marshall), Caitlin Custer (Brandee Cartwell), Jason Douglas (Erik Allen), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Marlene Forte (Carmen Ramos), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Barnes), Eddie Gossage (himself), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Sean Hennigan (Robert Cartwell), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Alex McKenna (Becky Sutter), Glenn Morshower (Lou Bergen), Tammy Nguyen (Charlotte), Marco Perella (Mark), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Natalie Quintanilla (John Ross’s secretary), Ricky Rudd (himself), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Faran Tahir (Frank Ashkani)

“Battle Lines” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. Dan in WI says:

    I didn’t catch any Dallas lore discontinutities in this episode. But now the writing staff seems to have moved on to real life discontinuities.

    Chris points out that it is very unlikely Sue Ellen would have learned about the medical examiner turning on her via the news. He’s very correct in stating the media would have attempted to call the campaign for comment first. I missed that one. Good catch Chris.

    The one that jumped off the screen at me is the NASCAR subplot. I don’t know whether or not there is any kind of methane technology that could power a car be it a competitive race car or otherwise. But I’ll accept that within the fiction of the story since the rigs and methane extraction isn’t likely as far along as the story would have us believe either. But I can’t accept a NASCAR racer using that technology. NASCAR is very notorious for being behind the curve on technology. The rules only allowed them to start using unleaded gasoline within the past five(ish) years. That’s right the rest of the US had outlawed leaded gasoline decades ago but not NASCAR. The rules also still mandate push rod engines. That is something else extremely rare these days and certainly not anything cutting edge. I’m a racing fan but an ex-NASCAR fan. I gave up on them about 10 years ago. I don’t know their currently rulebook front to back, but I’d bet very heavily they would not allow that car. They allow their specified fuel and their specified fuel only. Now there are racing series that do allow cutting edge alternative energies. Chief among them is sports car endurance racing. I’m sure the writers went with NASCAR because it is well known and sport car racing is not. But again, NASCAR would not allow it.

    • Dan, thanks for this comment. I’m afraid I know next to nothing about NASCAR, so I really appreciate your input here. It’s stunning — and disheartening — to hear NASCAR is so behind the curve. Yikes.

      Thanks again.

      Chris

  2. Henderson and Gonzo are definitely the future of this show.
    I also would’ve liked Sue Ellen’s campaign to last long, even if they were going to have her lose. But I have to remind myself that, unlike the original series which often and 30+ episode seasons, the new show only had 10 last time and 15 now. So they just don’t have the luxury of expanding all the storylines, and so things must move faster. Like, I would have also dragged out the “Will they or won’t they have sex” between John Ross and Pamela for a few more episodes but, again, they just don’t have the time.

    • That’s a really good point, J.R. I’ve knocked the show for moving too fast, but I suppose the limited amount of episodes each season kind of requires the writers to quicken the pace. Isn’t it incredible to think shows like “Dallas” and “Knots Landing” used to churn out 30 episodes or more each year. The cast and crew must’ve been exhausted by the end of each season.

  3. I have to say that I agree with this paragraph – “Hagman also supplies “Battle Lines” with its most poignant moment, when J.R. hangs his head in sorrow after watching the TV news report about Sue Ellen’s Election Day scandal. The actor also gets two scenes with Patrick Duffy, and both sequences cast J.R. as the impolitic octogenarian and Bobby as his eye-rolling straight man. Here’s J.R. explaining the reason for his visit to Ewing Energies: “I came over to deliver some muffins to the pretty little secretaries. Who could’ve guessed so many would turn out to be men?” And here he is offering his prescription for dealing with Cliff Barnes: “We should hire some roughnecks, take him for a long ride.” Cue Bobby’s exasperated reaction, and then J.R.’s kicker: “I’m just putting it on the table, Bobby.” ”

    This is Dallas. JR hates Cliff Barnes. Cliff Barnes hates JR. My initial reaction to seeing Hagman caught me off guard too. The message from the cast, before the show started was very nice. I thought it was so cool that JR took matters in his own hands when it came to Sue Ellen. JR and Sue Ellen is the most imaginative, interesting, and entertaining television couple ever! Based on this episode alone, I feel that this season is going to be even better than season 1

    • And I love this line from your comment: “JR and Sue Ellen is the most imaginative, interesting, and entertaining television couple ever!” Beautifully stated and I fully agree! Thanks so much for commenting, Jump.

      CB

  4. I loved the opening scene with John Ross! Just when I was feeling disappointed that he was turning into an average sleazy playboy, the business wheeling dealing comes to light! I like sneaky John Ross. But I’m not that impressed with him and Pamela Rebecca sleeping together… I’d like to see her a little stronger, tougher than that. Plus, will it continue when she starts to really show? When are those twins due anyway?
    I loved seeing J.R. and Sue Ellen together.
    Liked the Anne/bobby/ Emma story, but yes, it seems odd that bobby would not
    know about a daughter.
    Hope the season continues to be as good as the season opener!

    • Dan in WI says:

      John Ross and Pamela hooking up seems to go against the Barnes/Ewing fued doesn’t it?

      • When you stop and think about it, Pamela doesn’t seem to have any strategic reason to align with John Ross. She doesn’t really need him for anything. Perhaps she’s been attracted to him from the beginning and has formed this pact with him as an excuse to get close to him?

    • It’s going to be interesting to see Julie portray Pamela as a pregnant hellion! I’m not sure we’ve seen that on television before. Could be fun. And like you, I enjoy the sneaky John Ross too.

      Thanks for commenting Morgan. I appreciate your feedback!

      Chris

  5. Great review, Chris B. I enjoyed readin it!

    The shows were great I thoroughly enjoyed watching them. Lol…I think I have rewatched some of the scenes 10+ times. As you noted, Larry was exceptional. I also have to give equal kudos to Linda Gray. She was incredible. While she does not get a lot of stand out quips…she really gave a knockout performance in every scene.

    I get what you were saying about the Ann storyline. I wonder if there is more to learn on that line or if was addressed and was cut for time. It doesn’t bother me too much, tho. Bobby is certainly the type of guy who would never go inspecting his love ones past. But I am interested in that backstory and what will happen going forward. Judith and Harris are wonderful and they both are plain creepy. Glad that Harris and Emma will be around permanently.

    The Sue Ellen story. You know, I had not a problem with that. I automatically assumed that if the ME and Ryland were doing that to her they would be using a reporter/station that would not have qualms with publicly sandbagging her without getting her side. Of course, the next scene mentioning it was JR3/Elena/ Chris when JR3 says she lost the election and tons of media were sitting on her lawn. Sad we didn’t get to see some of the interim strife. But I know that this show timing does not allow for that. Btw…I hope she does get part of EE and keeps it for herself. I would love to see her involved in that storyline…

    I think the writers are especially pitch perfect on the SE /JR story and dialogue. They have captured magic. I have said it before…but I love your critiques of all the old Dallas… It has been a great refresher course on Dallas. But think of the story arc of the JR & Sue Ellen relationship over all these years. What the writers have written feels so right and fitting in that arc. And Linda and Larry make the words wonderful.

    Btw.. I love the way the director choose to tell Sue Ellen’s temptation. Her chat with Ann interplayed with JR doing his thing…loved it. I also think that JR got some redemption. How often have we seen JR do something that is totally selfless?

    Also, I love to see the continued friendship of Ann and Sue Ellen. This time it was Sue Ellen giving Ann the strength. I have to say that I find it odd that some find Sue Ellen to be wishy washy and weak. I see her as someone who has a tremendous amount of strength and character. She still has vulnerabilities but she knows it and deals with it. It would not make sense for her to be superwoman…it would be boring and flat and out of character.

    Of the younger cast….Josh and Julie stand out for me. I think it is clear how good they are. However, I think Jordana is very good as well…she gives a much more subtle, nuanced performance. I liked her and Chris together more than I thought. Chris is much more at ease and happy in their scenes. I have to give some credit to Jesse. He can turn Chris from a sweet happy person into a sanctimonious child instantly. Put him anywhere near John Ross and watch… He gets bashed a lot by some fans but I enjoy him…even if my enjoyment means I want to smack him at times. LOL

    Can’t wait for next week!

    BTW…did you notice that Sue Ellen started trending worldwide on Twitter last night? I would think that the producers would notice!

    • Also, I liked that JR and Ann inadvertently were supporting each other with Sue Ellen. I think the JR / Ann sub story could have been vastly different from any other of JR / in law. Her past gives her a different perspective on JR than any other SIL had. I also think JR kind of digs Ann…lol..she kinda scared him last year but he knows she loves Bobby.

      • Yes, I agree! I loved how J.R. urged Sue Ellen to visit Ann because she was feeling down. Also, I don’t know if you’ve seen the new “Dallas’s” first season DVD, but the deleted scenes includes a fabulous exchange between Larry Hagman and Brenda Strong. It demonstrates how J.R. and Ann have a deeper appreciation for each other than we’ve seen on the show. Plus, I think you’re right: She kind of scares him!

    • I did not notice Sue Ellen trending on Twitter. That’s fantastic. I love it!

      Thanks for your feedback here. It sounds like you and I are on the same wavelength. I loved the crosscutting between J.R. and the prosecutor on the golf course and Sue Ellen and Ann at Southfork. And I love, love, love that Sue Ellen and Ann are friends. It’s just plain nice to see two mature women on a show like this being supportive of each other. It’s one of the new show’s best relationships. And like you, I think the writers are doing a terrific job exploring J.R. and Sue Ellen’s relationship. Larry Hagman is wonderful as always and Linda Gray has never been better. Great actress, fascinating character.

      I’m also glad to hear you like Jesse. I think he does a really nice job on this show.

      Thanks again, Hel. I always appreciate hearing from you.

      Chris

      • Anonymous says:

        Yes, Sue Ellen started trending during the almost drinking scene 2 / JR3 /JR/ SE….she moved up some by the time her and JR met at the door.

        LOL…funny thing was that her trending prompted Ellen Degenerous fans to start tweeting in concern for Ellen….they thought someone was suing Ellen D….then it was like OMG…it is the Dallas Fans!

        RE: Ann and JR….in the scene last year when JR signs the deed, Carmen comes to the door to tell him ‘Mr. Bobby’ wants to see him. JR kind of freezes and looks at her worriedly….Carmen then says..its okay he is by himself… that made me laugh hard…JR being scared of one of his sisters in law!!!

        And yes, I did see that deleted scene. It was wonderful.

        Like you, big fan of the Sue Ellen/ Ann relationship. I hope that it continues.

        BTW…that scene with the 2 of them and Ryland was dynamite. fab acting from all of them.

      • Twitter and Sue Ellen…she started trending during the scene where JR and JR3 interrupted her from taking that drink. She went up more by the time her and JR had that door scene.

        Funny thing: her trending got Ellen Degenerous fans to start tweeting. They were all concerned that someone was suing Ellen. Then they realized that it was the Dallas fans!

        I too love the Sue Ellen and Ann relationship. I think it is one of the best of the new series as well. Wonderful way to interweave the families.

      • This is funny stuff, Hel. I love that the Ellen Degeneres fans rushed to her defense. Hilarious. Thanks for sharing.

        CB

  6. A great season opener and a great review. Thank you for pointing out the significance of Larry Hagman’s acting when J.R. watches the TV news about Sue Ellen’s scandal. “Poignant” is the word.
    Actually, that also holds true for Josh Henderson’s expression when John Ross is rejected by Elena in the Ewing Energies offices. His almost welling up really touched me, while it also showed that there is still another layer to his character – even after his return to ‘the dark side’.

    • Great observation, Stephan. Thanks for sharing it. I’m glad to see there’s still a little “good” left in John Ross. I hope the show will allow us to see that side, even as he continues to embrace his dark tendencies.

      Thanks for commenting.

      CB

  7. Margaret Krebbs says:

    I am finally watching season 2. Everything looks better. Everyone looks better. Is it the wardrobe, hair and make up, set styling, lighting? Whatever it is, it feels more authentic and necessary. Love the sweeping camera work that lets us know this is a BIG story, an epic, a continuation of a mythic family.

    I totally agree with you on what works. And I totally agree with you on what doesn’t. Sue Ellen’s governors race defeat: she stands in the middle of her campaign headquarters surrounded by staff and signs (why isn’t she out on the stump, surrounded by her voting public???) and looks surreptitiously to her right and then her left and that is supposed to signal her defeat. That’s it. I liked in original Dallas when Donna was barraged by reporters outside about Ray being arrested for pulling Mickey’s plug. That was exciting. That was a reaction for the character and the audience. We were all shocked.

    Sue Ellen’s defeat, by comparison, seemed anti-climatic, neat and clean. It made me think Sue Ellen didn’t deserve to be governor if she wasn’t going to defend herself, fight for her office, or make any kind of a statement. Truth and honesty, real change for Texas, more empty slogans. She just opened that bottle of Chardonnay…and then didn’t. (How I wish she did! Falling off the wagon now would make sense and could have been a one-off, not a beginning of more.) Then she went to comfort Ann.

    Ann’s story is interesting – what defines original Dallas but the search for a parent, a revelation of lineage, a lost relative showing up out of the blue – but played out badly, like they way the writers wrote lots of Pam seasons, whiny, weepy, weak. I can’ decide if it’s the material as written or the way Brenda Strong decided to play the material that’s bothering me. And Bobby’s reaction? Kinda weird. I get that maybe he understands the memory was too painful for Ann to share with him, that she tried her best to block out the event. But really…as a spouse, you think he might get a little angry and wonder what else she is keeping from him. Do something inappropriate, Bobby, just once. Yell at her. Be selfish in your reaction. Blame the victim. Anything to give Bobby dimension.

    • Margaret, I always love to read what you have to say. I’m glad you agree with my thoughts about this episode. The thing that bothered me about Ann’s “revelation” is how it caught Bobby off guard. Shouldn’t he have known that his wife had once had a child abducted from the state fair? Even in the era before “Amber alerts,” wouldn’t the abduction of a child have been big news across Texas in the early 1990s? Did Bobby not read the newspaper back then?

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Battle Lines,” the new “Dallas’s” second-season premiere, Frank (Faran Tahir) escorts Bobby and Christopher […]

  2. […] tends to be lighter. This week’s premiere – which actually consisted of two one-hour episodes, “Battle Lines” and “Venomous Creatures,” that were telecast back-to-back – faced fresh episodes of “The […]

  3. […] J.R. gets lots of screen time in the extended premiere, which is actually two one-hour episodes (“Battle Lines” and “Venomous Creatures”) that TNT will telecast back-to-back. Larry Hagman filmed a handful […]

  4. […] I did last season, I’ll review each new episode and highlight one notable scene. My critique of “Battle Lines,” the first half of tonight’s two-hour opener, will be posted tomorrow, while my “Venomous […]

  5. […] are the questions we’re pondering as we await tonight’s telecast of “Battle Lines” and “Venomous Creatures,” the first two episodes of “Dallas’s” second […]

  6. […] “Battle Lines,” the first episode of the new “Dallas’s” second season, Pamela (Julie Gonzalo) reveals […]

  7. […] the character so convincingly human. Ann’s tears during her reunion with Emma at the end of “Battle Lines,” the second-season premiere, seemed to exceed what the moment called for, but I never get that […]

  8. […] healthy boost from DVR users. The two-hour season opener – comprised of back-to-back telecasts of “Battle Lines” and “Venomous Creatures” – was seen by 2.9 million viewers on January 28, although the […]

  9. […] DVR users are giving “Dallas” a big boost each week. The two-hour season premiere was seen by 4 million viewers within a week of its January 28 debut, up 36 percent […]

  10. […] DVR users are giving “Dallas” a big boost each week. The two-hour season premiere was seen by 4 million viewers within a week of its January 28 debut, up 36 percent […]

  11. […] newest villain: Governor McConaughey. (McConaughey appeared briefly in the second-season premiere “Battle Lines,” when he was played by Jason Douglas.) In “Ewings Unite!,” Cliff told Harris that one of the […]

  12. […] report about Sue Ellen’s imploding political campaign at the end of the second-season premiere, “Battle Lines.” Some trivia: When TNT sent a preview of that episode to critics and bloggers, Douglas was […]

  13. […] forward to “Battle Lines,” the new “Dallas’s” second-season opener, when Ann comes home and tells Bobby something she […]

  14. […] take care of that now, and then hurry back to your TV or tablet to watch the second-season opener, “Battle Lines,” in which Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) learns his wife is really his cousin. […]

  15. […] then when we pick up in Season 2, as Pamela she’d completely dropped the innocent act and now got to be a driven conniving […]

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