Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 12 – ‘Venomous Creatures’

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, TNT, Venomous Creatures

Changing course

The boldest thing about the new “Dallas” isn’t the salty language or randy sex scenes – it’s the show’s willingness to let J.R. grow as a character. Larry Hagman’s iconic villain threw audiences for a loop last year when he returned ownership of Southfork to Bobby, and he surprises us again in “Venomous Creatures” when he fights to keep Sue Ellen out of jail. No one expects “Dallas” to turn J.R. into a full-fledged hero before he heads into the sunset later this season, but you must admit: Every time he becomes a better man, this becomes a better show.

Aaron Allen’s “Venomous Creatures” script gives Hagman some of his richest material since the new “Dallas” began, and the actor makes the most of it. J.R.’s most revealing moment in this episode comes near the top of the hour, when he tries to buck up Sue Ellen after her electoral defeat. “The best decision you ever made was the day you walked away from me,” J.R. tells her before ticking off a list of her achievements since their divorce. When Sue Ellen informs him the state prosecutor wants to indict her in the bribery scandal, he offers to intervene on her behalf, but she refuses. “I broke the law, and I wouldn’t learn my lesson if I tried to squirm out of this,” she says. J.R.’s winking response: “That’s why you have me, darlin’. I never learn my lesson.”

You don’t have to be a fan of the original “Dallas” to appreciate what’s happening here, but it helps. J.R. Ewing, the scoundrel who once tossed his wife into a sanitarium, has become the savior who’s eager to fight for her freedom. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen him use his power to help someone else, nor is it the first demonstration of the love J.R. feels for Sue Ellen (who has experienced her own share of changes over the years). J.R. had moments like these on the old show too, but they occur more frequently now. This makes J.R. more sympathetic, but it also makes him more believable. It’s as if time and circumstance have humbled him, the way they would any man who has lived a life like his. No matter what J.R. says, he has learned a lesson or two.

By embracing J.R.’s softer side, “Dallas” is taking a creative risk. For almost 35 years, this has been the villain audiences love to hate. Do fans want to see him acting heroically? I hope so. If nothing else, J.R. and Sue Ellen’s “Venomous Creatures” scenes – including the infinitely sweet moment when he shows up on her doorstep and receives that peck on the cheek – allow the new show to capitalize on the radiant warmth between Hagman and Linda Gray. And does it really matter if J.R. is using his power for good or evil? Isn’t seeing him triumph the thing we enjoy most?

Besides, it’s not like all the devilry has been exorcised from this character. J.R. keeps Sue Ellen out of jail not by hiring an army of lawyers to defend her, but by blackmailing the prosecutor into letting her off the hook. “Venomous Creatures” also shows him urging John Ross to embrace his dark side, including that delicious scene before the opening credits when J.R. finds his embittered son watching Christopher and Elena canoodling in the Southfork driveway. “Love. Hate. Jealousy. Mix ’em up and they make a mean martini,” J.R. says.

Later, in my favorite scene from “Venomous Creatures,” J.R. reminds Julie Gonzalo’s character of his track record when it comes to ridding his family of women named Pamela Barnes. This is a wonderful homage to one of the all-time great “Dallas” rivalries, but it also offers another hint of how J.R. has changed. When he tells Pamela to stay away from Ewing Energies and she points out he isn’t “part of that company,” he responds: “No, but I’m part of that family.” Usually when J.R. claims he’s protecting the Ewings, he doesn’t mean it. This time, I believe he does.

Hagman supplies “Venomous Creatures” with most of its great moments, but not all of them. The sequence where John Ross storms off the elevator to get to Pamela is electric, evoking the famous “Body Heat” scene where William Hurt smashes the window to get to Kathleen Turner. Pairing J.R.’s son and Cliff’s daughter is inspired, and it doesn’t hurt that Josh Henderson and Julie Gonzalo have undeniable chemistry. I also love how director Steve Robin stages the beginning of the scene, with the two characters circling the room – never taking their eyes off each other – as they dicker over the terms of their alliance. Also: How great is it that Pamela is the one who summons John Ross back to the penthouse to, um, seal their deal?

More highlights: The crosscutting in the scenes between Sue Ellen and Ann at Southfork and J.R. and the prosecutor on the golf course is beautifully executed. I especially love when Sue Ellen compares being tempted by the glass of wine to the temptation to allow J.R. rescue her (“For the first time in his damn life, J.R. was the lesser of two evils”). Meanwhile, Jesse Metcalfe and Jordana Brewster continue to charm as super-couple-in-the-making Christopher and Elena, even if the outcome of his annulment hearing defies logic.

The other fun moment in “Venomous Creatures” is the introduction of Judith Light’s character, Judith Brown Ryland. In my interview last week with Allen, the “Venomous Creatures” scriptwriter, he predicted “Dallas” fans will love watching Light “swing for the fences” with this role. I don’t doubt it. Light is irresistibly watchable in her “Dallas” debut, but she’s not the only reason this scene works. Pay attention to Patrick Duffy, who keeps Bobby’s confrontation with Judith rooted in reality. Our hero’s indignation is righteous, but it’s also nicely measured.

It takes a great actor to hold his own against a scene-stealer like Light, but if anyone is up to the task, it’s Duffy. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, Judith Brown Ryland, Judith Light, TNT, Venomous Creatures

Swing!

‘VENOMOUS CREATURES’

Season 2, Episode 2

Telecast: January 28, 2013

Writer: Aaron Allen

Director: Steve Robin

Audience: 2.9 million viewers on January 28

Synopsis: Following Sue Ellen’s defeat in the gubernatorial race, the state prosecutor threatens to indict her, but J.R. blackmails him into letting her off the hook. After the Ewings agree to make Elena a full partner in Ewing Energies, Pamela and John Ross become lovers and form a secret alliance to snag a piece of Christopher’s share during the divorce. Christopher discovers Becky was part of Pamela and Tommy’s con. Bobby learns Emma was kidnapped by Harris and raised by his mother, Judith Brown Ryland.

Cast: Amber Bartlett (Jill), Devin Bonnée (courier), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Akai Draco (Sheriff Derrick), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Barnes), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Jason Kravitz (Pamela’s lawyer), Judith Light (Judith Ryland), Alex McKenna (Becky Sutter), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Liz Mikel (Judge Rhonda Mason), Natalie Quintanilla (John Ross’s secretary), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Faran Tahir (Frank Ashkani), Todd Terry (State’s Attorney Peter Bedford)

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

Comments

  1. GREAT episode! I agree with your assessment of J.R. becoming more humble over time, as most people do. I like it when J.R. fights for Sue Ellen.

  2. I felt JR really meant, “Thank you Ms. Barnes for giving me one more opportunity to stick it to your daddy.” I thought it was the best, when JR took matters into his own hands when dealing with the prosecutor. the thing about JR is that he always felt he was doing the right thing. Yes J.R. does look like a hero. He also looked like a real scary monster when he stood next to John Ross in one scene.

  3. I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with Chris here:
    “When he tells Pamela to stay away from Ewing Energies and she points out he isn’t “part of that company,” he responds: “No, but I’m part of that family.” Usually when J.R. claims he’s protecting the Ewings, he doesn’t mean it. This time, I believe he does.”
    I think JR is once again only giving lip service to being family. He believes he has a deal with John Ross to be cut into Ewing Energies at some point and is acting to protect his future interest in the company. He may soften around the edges where Sue Ellen is concerned but he’s always going to be out for #1 first and foremost. The last thing he wants is for Cliff Barnes, via proxy Pamela Rebecca, to own Ewing Oil/Engeries again and in the case of Ewing Energies he sure doesn’t want Cliff owning it before he gets to himself!

    I’m also not sure he motives for helping Sue Ellen are entirely good. Yes there is a soft spot here. But I fully expect this will be held over her head when it will be to his advantage. I see her being blackmailed into calling in the loan she has made to Elena in order to get Elena to vote John Ross’ way at Ewing Energies. This will create an crippling stalemate at Ewing Energies and help John Ross get his revenge over Christopher by driving a huge wedge between Christopher and Elena.

    Just my personal prediction. But JR has always been a snake and he is going to die a snake.

    • I agree that JR is still the same old snake he always been…and still a very venomous one. However, I have to go with Chris on this issue. I think what he did for Sue Ellen was one of the few selfless acts we have seen from JR. He did it because he loves her and because he knows what she did was solely to help their son. I don’t see him trying to use it against her at all.

      • Dan in WI says:

        Hel,
        I’ll clarify a little bit. I’ll agree his helping out Sue Ellen is starting out selfless. I can’t check right now, but I think at the time he squashed any potential prosecution he didn’t know the ownership of Ewing Energies was going to change to all four partners being equal. So at that point he couldn’t have been thinking leverage. But now that the partners are equal I fully expect him realize he can capitalize on that (originally) selfless act and get Sue Ellen to apply leverage on Elena.

    • “He may soften around the edges where Sue Ellen is concerned but he’s always going to be out for #1 first and foremost.”
      Dan in WI, I think you are right about J.R.

      Although I do agree with Chris that when J.R. said he is protecting the Ewings, he does mean it. J.R. HATES the entire Barnes family. The very last thing JR. would ever want is any Barnes to have anything to do with anything Ewing. That means doing whatever it takes to keep Southfork from being sold to Cliff Barnes, or some Barnes family member owning anything Ewing. JR does feel what he is doing is the right thing to do. I am sure that JR will convince Sue Ellen that helping their son gain control of Ewing Energies is the right thing to do. Remember that Sue Ellen leant the money to Elena last season to help John Ross. It does not matter what part of the show the idea came out to make Elana an equal partner. Having the shres split evenly could of been JR’s idea all along. I feel that John Ross and JR are in “deep cahoots” when it comes to gaining control of Ewing Energies, even if it appears that they are fighting against each other.

      • I totally believe that JR is going to try to help convince Sue Ellen to help John Ross get control. However, I don’t think he will use his help with the State Attorney as leverage against her. 1) I believe he did it because he truly wanted to help her 2) He is not a stupid person by any means. And trying to manipulate Sue Ellen……who is one of 2 people (Bobby being the other) who is completely aware of all of his tricks etc……..would be very stupid of him. She would not tolerate it from him whatsoever and would throw him out of her house/office. 3) JR wants to rekindle his relationship with her and trying to blackmail her or any such thing would end any remote chance he has with her.

        His getting her to help John Ross will be completely independent of what he did for her.

      • Jumpsteady…you are right about JR. He does HATE the Barnes family. I think he merely despised them for years because 1) he thought they were losers 2) he didn’t like that they badmouthed his precious Daddy all those years.

        However, his feelings became super personal after Cliff slept with Sue Ellen during his first marriage and then dated her while they were divorced. He went from merely wanting to keep the Barneses away from his family and their money to wanting to DESTROY Cliff. He graduated to pure hatred of Cliff. He destroyed Cliff’s legal and political career. He drove Cliff to attempt suicide and didn’t feel an ounce of regret over the situation. He stomped on him viciously so many times over the years. Cliff is almost masochist. He would always find a way to come back and start crap with JR over and over.

        The original feud started over Ewing Oil and Ellie. Cliff and JR kept it alive because of Sue Ellen. (LOL….last season the scene with JR/Sue Ellen/ and Cliff was priceless. JR and Sue Ellen have been divorced for 22 YEARS and JR still nearly had a conniption fit when he realized she was going to LUNCH with Cliff) While the 2 men fought over deals and such…..the feud would never have continued at such a intense level of hatred if Sue Ellen had never seduced and slept with Cliff so she could hurt JR all of those years ago.

        I do think that JR and Cliff both are going

    • Hi everyone. Sorry it took me so long to weigh in, but I want you all to know I’ve been following this thread and I love it!

      I always hoped Dallas Decoder would become a place for fans to have discussions like this, and I’m so glad to see it happening. I feel like a proud papa right now. Thank you all for being so polite and thoughtful.

      You’ve all given me a lot to think about. I’m going to keep this thread in mind as I write the next episode critique.

      Thanks again.

      Chris

  4. Bah! Where did all these J.R. skeptics come from?

  5. Margaret Krebbs says:

    I waited so long to read these critiques, and they have not disappointed!

    In this episode, I wonder why Pamela Rebecca ever did fall in love with Christopher. He’s mean and nasty and self-righteous and bullying. Not that he doesn’t have reason to hate Pamela Rebecca. But there doesn’t seem to be any conflict there, no introspection, no doubt about who he is and what he is capable of. His threats seem like schoolboy threats against what the likes of Pamela Rebecca will do to him.

    Hated Ann getting sedated in her bedroom. Can’t a woman feel her feelings without being put to bed? Can’t a woman feel her feelings without collapsing under the weight of them? I get it, repressed memory, something so painful she couldn’t tell the truth to herself or her husband of many years overwhelmed her to break down. But I would have preferred a different reaction, maybe a more self-abusive one – she gets addicted to tranq’s again – or she gets super involved in Pamela Rebecca’s pregnancy.

    • Margaret Krebbs says:

      I just had a revelation of sorts. Is Christopher the new (old) Cliff Barnes?? The perpetual loser? The two steps behind guy? The one who looses deals and women and family? That could be interesting.

      • Ha ha. That had never occurred to me, MK. The comparison really kind of works, doesn’t it?

      • cliff is not PERPETUAL loser. OK, he loses often, but had some great victories.

        -keeping Ewing 6 from JR’s hands
        -becoming “oiler of the year” in 1983 (even if it would have been more justify in 1984 than in 1983)
        -gold canyon 340, who bot it more rich than EO
        -the gas field with dandy dandridge
        -winning EO in 1990
        -becoming one of the richest man on earth on 2012
        -at the end of the old serie, the winner was cliff and the loser was JR

    • Margaret, you’re in for quite a ride with Ann’s storyline in Season 2. I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts as you watch these episodes. It’ll be run to re-live the season through your eyes!

      • here’s come Judith ! ALL the Ryland family roxx. Pileggi has stuck me the first time I see him. What a good bad guy, I said at this time, and since, I haven’t change my mind. This guy, actor & character is wonderful. I love the way he use what he have on scene, (the way he plays with his pen, for exemple). Judith is maybe the more malefic character since… since Katerin?
        And the controversed Emma, I luve it ! she plays everything, from the Oxbridge girl on her horse to the sex and drugs bitch !

        in this episode 2, I like particulary Julie Gonzalo. I prefer her in her “bad girl” role than in the “loving chris” role.

        As you said, Chris, I dislike particullary the “CGI view” of ewing energy windoms. AWFUL. This sky blue-white is so depressing.

        A last not : is bobby have orders to ALWAYS be angry ? Where is the old bobby, always smiling and djocking ? (the same question, all in the season 2 could be ask to cliff, the man who were supposed to end the feud in 1987) (and I hate his dress, this sweater is awful, were is his shirt+jacket style ?) (and, last thing, as JR, I dislike the way they are ALWAYS smiling, I would like to see them SOMETIMES more stressed (cliff) or silently furious (JR), as the old show point them.)

        BTW, I can’t wait to read your advice about the wonderful storyline of gold canyon 340, wich offers to us the greatest actoring of kercheval (the fridge/afton scene, the office/high-stress scenes, and so on ! 🙂

        (sorry to write all those things on episode 2 comments, some of them are off-topic)

      • Thank you, Antoine. I agree with you: I love Mitch Pileggi and Judith Light, and I think Julie Gonzalo does a terrific job playing the “bad girl.” Also: I’m looking forward to reviewing the Gold Canyon 340 storyline too!

        CB

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Venomous Creatures,” a second-season “Dallas” episode, J.R. (Larry Hagman) visits Pamela (Julie Gonzalo) in the […]

  2. […] 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 Biggest Loser” and “The […]

  3. […] confrontation between J.R. and Pamela (Larry Hagman, Julie Gonzalo) in “Venomous Creatures,” one of this week’s new “Dallas” episodes on TNT, was an instant classic. The scene […]

  4. […] 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 of episodes before his death […]

  5. […] Lines,” the first half of tonight’s two-hour opener, will be posted tomorrow, while my “Venomous Creatures” review will be available Wednesday. I’m taking a break from critiquing the classic series for […]

  6. […] 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 […]

  7. […] Damage,” one of the standout episodes from the new “Dallas’s” first season, as well as “Venomous Creatures,” the second half of the two-hour season premiere, airing Monday, January 28 on TNT. I spoke to him […]

  8. […] Ross and Pamela: What’s next? At the end of “Venomous Creatures,” the second half of last week’s two-hour season premiere, Pamela (Julie Gonzalo) agreed to give […]

  9. […] 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 audience soared to 3.7 million when […]

  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 from the number […]

  11. […] 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 from the number […]

  12. […] pours herself a glass and contemplate it for a few moments, just like she did with the wineglass in “Venomous Creatures,” an earlier second-season episode. On that occasion, J.R. arrived on her doorstep and gave her the […]

  13. […] for John Ross and Pamela’s relationship. These two bring out the warmth in each other. The passion they ignited at the beginning of the season has turned into something deeper, which is why the […]

  14. […] Emma’s parking garage encounter, Harris’s Komodo dragon speech and the moment lusty John Ross storms off the elevator and into Pamela’s […]

  15. […] scene, which appears in “Venomous Creatures” (Season 2, Episode 2), brings to mind one of the famous moments from the original “Dallas:” […]

  16. […] covered up his mom’s death. Elsewhere, John Ross somehow inherits half of Southfork; Sue Ellen loses the election but continues to tangle with Governor McConaughey (Steven Weber); Emma (Emma Bell) sleeps with […]

  17. […] said. Meanwhile, Nicolas persuaded Peter Bedford (Todd Terry), the state’s attorney whom J.R. once blackmailed, into showing him and Elena the files from the Mexican police’s investigation into J.R.’s […]

  18. […] as well as Todd Terry, who returns as hapless State’s Attorney Peter Bedford, one of the last people to have the honor of being blackmailed by J.R. Ewing. Speaking of J.R.’s victims: The […]

  19. […] character is listed as “Rebecca Sutter” and voters are asked to consider Light’s work in “Venomous Creatures,” a second-season episode that falls outside this year’s eligibility time […]

  20. […] p.m. In “Venomous Creatures,” J.R. saves Sue Ellen from going to jail and Judith Light discovers a taste for “Dallas” […]

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