Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 14 – ‘False Confessions’

Dallas, False Confessions, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, TNT

J.R. Ewing here

You can feel the hate in “False Confessions.” This episode takes an unapologetically dark view of the Barnes/Ewing feud, which is fitting since the conflict has been going on for so long now it seems Biblical. The epic scope of Taylor Hamra’s script makes this one of “Dallas’s” most satisfying hours this season, which is a real achievement when you consider Larry Hagman appears in just three scenes, and never once does he come face to face with Ken Kercheval. Since Cliff isn’t expected to resurface until J.R.’s midseason funeral, this probably means we’ll never see these old enemies clash again. A sad thought, but one we better start getting used to.

More than anything, “False Confessions” demonstrates how much Cliff has changed. Yesterday’s needy neurotic has become today’s guileful Godfather. How? Why? When? The new “Dallas” has never spelled this out, which makes it tough for longtime fans to figure out what turned Cliff so … evil. I suppose it’s up to each of us to fill in the gaps ourselves, so here’s my theory: After the original “Dallas” ended and J.R. slipped into depression and isolation, Cliff lost his biggest distraction in life, liberating him to focus on building an empire of his own. He’s become one of the world’s richest men, but he’s still hell-bent on beating the Ewings for the same reason Mitt Romney kept running for president – because after you’ve conquered the rest of the world, what else is left?

Whatever the reason for Cliff’s metamorphosis, there’s no denying that “Fatal Confessions” turns him into “Dallas’s” most tragic figure. Cliff pulls out the stops to protect Pamela from prosecution – probably because he loves her, but also because she’s so crucial to his plot against the Ewings. To make matters worse, he forces his “son” Frank to fall on his sword, again to keep his revenge scheme moving forward. It’s hard to not see the parallels with Cliff’s father Digger, who relied on his son to settle his scores with the Ewings, just like Cliff has done with his own children. Of course, Digger was a broken drunk, while Cliff is global titan – but that only makes Cliff seem smaller.

This much is certain: Kercheval is as watchable as ever. I loved his flamboyant performances on the old show; you never knew how Kercheval would approach a scene, which made him “Dallas’s” most electric actor. Now, as the more restrained Cliff, Kercheval turns out to be just as fascinating. Consider the tense scene where Cliff persuades Frank to “do the honorable thing” and kill himself. I would never have dreamed Cliff could be this cold and calculating, but man, does Kercheval sell it. (Credit also goes to costume designer Rachel Sage Kunin, who has cleverly replaced Cliff’s flashy pocket squares with dark jackets and turtlenecks. It’s like an outward manifestation of the darkness that has consumed him.)

Not that Cliff is altogether unrecognizable in “False Confessions”: When he sees the TV news report about the police recovering Tommy’s body, his response (“Son of a bitch!”) brings to mind some of his exasperated reactions to J.R.’s one-upmanship from long ago. We also see a flash of the old Cliff’s shortsightedness in the great scene where John Ross comes to him, offering to betray J.R., only to be turned away because Cliff would never trust a Ewing. Contrast this with J.R. himself, who in the previous episode didn’t hesitate to enlist Frank in his plot against Pamela. Cliff might be richer, but J.R. will always be smarter.

Speaking of J.R.: Hamra deserves much praise for giving Hagman something to do besides deliver zingers. The exchange where J.R. comforts Bobby (“No baby brother of mine is going to spend his twilight years in jail”) showcases the effortless warmth between Hagman and Patrick Duffy, while once again casting J.R. in the unlikely role he’s come to play so well: defender of the family. Something similar happens in the equally wonderful scene where J.R. chastises John Ross for wanting to use Bobby’s misfortune for their gain. Not only does this echo a sweet moment from the original series, when J.R. told little John Ross it would be wrong to take advantage of Uncle Bobby after his shooting, it also recalls my favorite J.R./John Ross scene from last season. Back then, the roles were reversed: John Ross was the one who pleaded with J.R. to show “a little decency” where the cancer-stricken Bobby was concerned.

Hamra’s script includes many other nice touches that summon the show’s history and enduring themes of family and honor. I love when Sue Ellen recalls for John Ross how she was “nearly destroyed” when she got caught in the middle of J.R. and Cliff’s war. I also love the line where Cliff tells John Ross he only agreed to see him out of respect for his mother. There’s also Faran Tahir’s surprisingly heartbreaking performance during Frank’s jailhouse meeting with Cliff, as well as Judith Light’s big scene, when her character Judith comforts the comatose Harris. I know this one is supposed to creep me out, but heaven help me I find it kind of touching.

Stephen Herek, a first time “Dallas” director, makes “False Confessions” a technical achievement as much as anything. The autopsy-triggered musical montage is superbly executed, culminating in the new “Dallas’s” best fakeout (the cops were coming to arrest Frank, not Pamela!) since the end of “Changing of the Guard,” when we discovered J.R. was in cahoots with Marta. I also love the crosscutting between the scene where Ann finally admits to shooting Harris and the moment Harris wakes up and fingers Bobby for the crime.

While we’re on the subject of Bobby: His top-of-the-hour confession to shooting Harris has all the casualness of someone admitting to leaving the cap off the milk carton. I’m also bothered by Ann’s response, which is to say she has none. As difficult as it is for me to accept that this strong, loving wife would resort to shooting her ex-husband, it’s even harder for me to believe she’d allow Bobby to take the rap for it. I’m glad when Ann finally pipes up at the end of the episode, but I wonder if this is going to be enough to make the audience forgive her.

When I asked Brenda Strong about this last week, she expressed her confidence in the show’s writers to redeem Ann, saying they “are holding the big picture in mind.” I suppose that’s enough for me to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, they haven’t done much to disappoint me this season.

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cliff Barnes, Dallas, False Confessions, Ken Kercheval, TNT

Changed man

‘FALSE CONFESSIONS’

Season 2, Episode 4

Telecast: February 11, 2013

Writer: Taylor Hamra

Director: Stephen Herek

Audience: 2.4 million viewers on February 11

Synopsis: To protect Ann, Bobby confesses to shooting Harris. Later, Bobby recants his confession, but when Harris emerges from his coma, he tells the police that Bobby was the shooter. Drew fires Bubba, the foreman that John Ross bribed to sabotage Elena’s drilling project. After Frank digs up Tommy’s body and tells J.R. about John Ross and Pamela’s relationship, J.R. orders his son to stay away from her. Cliff has Tommy’s murder pinned on Frank and persuades him to commit suicide.

Cast: Amber Bartlett (Jill), Kuno Becker (Drew Ramos), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Brett Brock (Clyde Marshall), Pam Dougherty (Judge Barbara Hirsch), Akai Draco (Sheriff Derrick), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Alex Fernandez (Roy Vickers), Mike Gassaway (Henry Mott), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Barnes), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Danny Hunter (Judge Leonard Knox), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Judith Light (Judith Ryland), Marcua M. Mauldin (Detective Ronnie Bota), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Matthew Posey (Bubba), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Faran Tahir (Frank Ashkani), Brian Thornton (Detective Miles Danko)

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

Comments

  1. Random thoughts

    I loved the scene when Sue Ellen cautions John Ross about the dangers of engaging with Cliff behind JR’s back. Wonderfully done. very evocative of a lot of old memories from the original. I have always maintained that Sue Ellen was the catalyst for the utter hatred between JR and Cliff. Both were embroiled in their respective Daddy’s feelings for the other family, but it was their fathers’ fight. Sue Ellen changed that by using Cliff to hurt JR. Of course, JR went nuts on her and destroyed Cliff (over and over and over). I also love that she tells JR3 that she thinks he forgets that half of him is her. I have wanted her to say that for the longest time.

    The Judith

  2. sorry interrupted post.

    Judith and Harris. weird, bizarre, and revolting but oddly compelling. LOL. You know, Harris is such a complete bastard of a villain. Finding out he has some very acute Mommy issues is very interesting. Casts a whole new light on him.

    I am going to miss Frank. I really liked him. I don’t know if Becky Sutter is dead though. Do you thing she really is? Pamela was floored by his confession. I too loved the crosscutting of the scenes with Pamela and the police. I was fooled too.

    I liked the Ann/Sue Ellen scene. Ann couldn’t face Sue Ellen when they were talking about Bobby. Only when the conversation turned to their kids could she turn and look at her. Sue Ellen had that ‘I am so worried but I am trying to buck you up’ look on her face and feel to her voice when she was trying to comfort Ann. It reminded me of me of the past a lot.

    BTW…Cliff still has the pocket hankie…but it is no longer brightly colored. It is dark and somber. LOL… Also, during the show the other night, someone tweeted to Ken K. a complaint about Frank not being in the original. He tweeted back..are you sure? I was like…What???? LOL..

    .This episode had some really great scenes. So much happens in one episode. I have to watch it at least twice if not more. It was very good. I enjoyed it.

    • I loved the the Judith/Harris and Ann/Sue Ellen scenes too. Good observation about how Ann didn’t face Sue Ellen. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who watches each episode at least twice. This might be the densest show I’ve ever watched. (And I mean that in the most complimentary way.)

  3. Great review! And what a great episode! I too kept thinking ” what happened to the slightly goofy Cliff?” Now he just seems to powerful and mean. But it’s still believable, you can tell its still Cliff Barnes, just evolved over 20 years. This makes him a little more interesting to watch than some other characters. I stll want to see him eat Chinese food though.
    Oh and Frank! Wow, bad deal for him! I feel sad for him. He was so cool and collected last season, and now, what a 360. I’ll miss him. Weird courtroom scene though. Sometimes I just want Christopher to shut up! I don’t know why, but his character just annoys me!
    Also, why wasn’t Christopher a suspect in Tommy’s disappearance/murder? Really, he should have been.
    Judith and Harris ? Yes, creepy, but I want to know more about why she’s that way. How did bobby and Ann know Harris would accuse bobby? Am I missing something there? Somehow the shooting story line didn’t keep me as interested as it should have.
    John Ross and Pamela. I like to see him being sneaky and mean(like JR), but it’s interesting to see a soft side, he kind of wears his heart on his sleeve. (Like Sue Ellen?) he is way more emotional than JR! I love his character, but don’t like watching him risk it all over Pamela. He’s got to get the upper hand there. I don’t want him to be in love with her!! Any thoughts?
    The Elena Drew story looks like it could get good. I don’t know about him….
    Can’t wait til next week!

    • I don’t think Bobby and Ann knew they would accuse Bobby. I think Bobby confessing when the police showed up was just a total gut reaction for Bobby. He had just found out what she had done then went downstairs to talk to the police, and had Ann almost confessing over his shoulder. Bobby intantly got the total ramifications of her actions and just jumped in to save her. I think the Rylands accused Bobby because they are sadistic and like messing with Ann’s head.

    • straightinccopouts says:

      It is a great review! I also like the Elena and Drew storyline.

      • Thank you! Yeah, the Elena/Drew scene was good. I meant to mention it in my critique but ran out of time and space. I have a feeling I’ll more opportunities to write about them as the season progresses.

    • Yes! Why wasn’t Christopher a suspect? As far as the police are concerned, he had more reason than anyone to kill Tommy.

      As far as Bobby and Ann: I think it was just coincidental that Ann piped up and confessed at the same time Harris was fingering Bobby for the crime.

      And like you, I’m eager to find out what Drew is up to.

      Thanks for commenting, Morgan!

  4. Frank may be like a son to Cliff but that does not compare to carrying his grandchildren. Even though Frank admits to a double murder, I think Becky Sutter is alive. Digger Barnes fell in love with Miss Ellie Southworth, Pamela Barnes married Bobby Ewing, and Cliff’s daughter married Christopher. In season 1 Cliff wanted to buy Southfork. One of Cliff Barnes’ last lines in the origional Dallas is something like “Don’t even change the name! I love it! EWING OIL!!!” Cliff Barnes also wants control of Ewing Energies. Yes Cliff Barnes is wealthy. I like to think this quote explains Cliff’s behavior – “A son can bear with equanimity the loss of his father, but the loss of his inheritance may drive him to despair.” -Niccolo Machiavelli

    The courtroom scene was great. Christopher is faced with losing his children and shares of the company he founded. He also witnessed a suicide and Pamela Rebecca get away with murders. Christopher got himself into a tragic situation with a cold blooded crazed monster.

    The scene of John Ross with Sue Ellen was great. She told him things that he should take to heart. It is clear that John Ross needs Pamela Rebecca Barnes to stand a chance of taking over his rightful claim to Ewing Energies.

    The look on J.R.’s face, the one in the picture for “Scene of the Day”, is priceless.

    Drew Ramos has made some enemies and is getting himself into trouble. I look forward to seeing how this unfolds. I enjoyed the scene where he is arguing with Elena.

    The scene with John Ross and Cliff Barnes was great. I think, in the future the respect Cliff Barnes has for Sue Ellen, as he mentions in the scene, will be leveraged. It also looks like Cliff Barnes will be kind to John Ross because that crazy story happened to be true.

    Judith Light was great. The storyline Harris Ryland getting shot is quite interesting. Bobby admits to doing it. One thing about Bobby Ewing, he understands crazy. I wonder what JR has in store for Harris Ryland? I look forward to seeing how this storyline undolds. Who will represent Bobby Ewing, now that his attorney resignwed andmay be awitness to the case? Will there be a Sue Ellen vs Judith Ryland showdown?

    I really enjoyed reading this review and I agree with the A rating and I do not think I would argue with an A+ rating either!

    • I like the way you think, Jumpsteady! A Sue Ellen/Judith showdown would be amazing. And I love that Machiavelli quote. Quite appropriate!

      Thanks for your kind words and your good insight. I appreciate it.

      CB

  5. AngelaDALLAS-FAN says:

    Great review! For me though this episode at times was too over the top..the double/triple cross can be overwhelming…punky JohnRoss & the way he speaks to JR – and what he did to JR -painful to watch! I know the character of JohnRoss is pissed @ his childhood, etc and that’s why he treats people, JR in particular the way he does…maybe it’s Josh Henderson’s delivery…I just find it soooo hard to enjoy him & Jesse’s performances! as well as Jordana Brewsters…wooden would best describe her..sorry not trying to be meanspirited…just don’t feel they got the casting right…esp when it comes to Ann!! sooo not feeling her and a Bobby connection…of course us die-hard Dallas fans will forever be hung up on Pam & Bobby…I just couldn’t help but cringe when Bobby threw himself under the bus for her!!! Cliff stole the show! loved! LOVED when Cliff said to wannabe big bad JohnRoss I only agreed to see you as a favor to your mom! that was great!

    • Yes! I loved that line from Cliff too. Ken Kercheval was fantastic in this episode.

      Sorry you’re not enjoying some of the other performers. I’ve really come to appreciate the new cast, although the original characters and storylines (Bobby and Pam!) will always hold a special place in my heart.

      Thanks for commenting Angela!

      CB

  6. Dallas_france says:

    I feel strange that Christopher didn’t notice John Ross in the courtroom. He could have asked him what the hell is he doing here? As I believe he came for Pamela (and he left after he understand she would be safe).

  7. I just watched the episode and was really taken by the music at the end during the morgue scene. I think the lyrics were “Dead bones alive”. Does anyone know who performed the music for this track? Who wrote the lyrics? I would love to find out more on this musician and track.

  8. I’m telling you, Katherine has had her hand in Cliff’s transformation. She has had 20 years to warp him. The cool willingness to have Frank kill himself…that is a seed of Katherine (I hope). I mean, she was not above killing her own. Cliff was.

  9. I’m a little late to this thread but here are my observations:
    The Christopher character shows some growth in this episode. The whiney and self-centered person some make him out to be never would have calmly allowed his father to be falsely arrested without an outburst of some sort. But here we see him blindly trust his father has some sort of plan.

    I’ve commented elsewhere that season 1 left a lot of great stuff on the cutting room floor. This episode takes the opposite approach. Did we really need to see Frank in the act of digging up the body? Not only was there a certain ick factor to that scene but as fast as this new show moves that is time that could have been better spent actually developing a plot or a character. It just wasn’t crucial seeing the body dug up.

    That really was some outstanding interplay between Christopher and John Ross in the Ewing Energies offices. Well played and very comfortable between the two actors. But the ending was the best. Christopher totally calls that John Ross is about to make a call plotting against him.

    That really was a tender final scene between Bobby and JR. It feels very real and comfortable. It also feels strangely familiar. Yet at the same time I’m trying but not coming up with a scene quite like it in the show’s history. Yes Bobby and JR have occasionally shared some feelings as they emerged from some life and death type struggle. But I can’t recall a time they were just sharing a drink and pouring out their hearts. What makes it even better is that they poured out there hearts but needed so few words to do it.

    In this episode Cliff backs off the 30 year history with Frank a bit. Now it is only “over” 25 years ago. Still even if exactly 25 years ago it still isn’t believable. This relationship never could have developed during the run of the original show. For several reasons, this is something that really could only have happened between the two shows.

    I’m also struggling with Cliff the Godfather. I’ve said it before: there could very well be a reason/chain of events between the two series that changed Cliff so dramatically. We need to know what it is. Does anybody out there really believe the old Cliff would have ordered a suicide of close family member?

    Finally I too miss the signature Cliff pocket hankies. He may still have a small understated one but I miss the loud ones of the past.

    As for Frank himself, I’m going to miss him. Up until JR approached him to make a deal he was cunning and intimidating. But somewhere in the middle of that great scene they shared he changed somehow. This episode he felt out of character pretty much the whole way. I may not like his problematic back story. But I think they made a mistake getting rid of Frank.

    Is it just me or does John Ross refer to his father by name way too much? I’ve almost never spoke my dad’s given name in my life yet his is constantly saying JR.

    The scriptwriter and/or director were obviously going for creepy in that scene with Judith over the comatose Harris. Again I ask why? I’ll tell you another thought I had. (And for the record I’m not predicting this, it just crossed my mind.) We’ve already had Tommy and Pamela pose as siblings but turn out to be something quite different. That Judith soliloquy is just not something a mother would say to a son. What if there really weren’t mother and son?

    • Dan, you’re so correct about the J.R. and Bobby scene. Your description is beautifully expressed. Thank you.

      I agree with you about Frank too. He was a great villain, and he seemed to change after his encounter with J.R. I’m going to miss him.

      If Harris and Judith turn out to be something other than son and mother — oy vey! I’m hopeful that won’t happen.

      CB

  10. So I’ve been searching….and searching…for the song in the arrest scene. Sounds like “devil’s a liar”. Glad to see other people want to know who this artist is. I emailed through TNT website. I’ll come back and post if I get an answer. Meantime, anyone else for ideas?

  11. I think it’s called Liar by The Unknown (no S), but I can’t seem to find it anywhere either. It played in Franks arrest scene in “False Confessions” and then Ryland’s arrest in “Legacies”… I want this song something fierce! Soundhound and Shazam can’t seem to find it, though it does find the episode itself…

  12. You are correct, Matt: It’s “Liar” by the Unknown.

Trackbacks

  1. […] “False Confessions,” a second-season “Dallas” episode, J.R. (Larry Hagman) is standing at his bedroom window, ending […]

  2. […] telecast of the latest episode, “False Confessions,” was seen by 2.4 million viewers on Feb. 11. The audience grew almost 10 percent from the previous […]

  3. […] are the questions we’re pondering as we await tonight’s telecast of “False Confessions,” TNT’s latest “Dallas” […]

  4. […] Will the police believe Ann or Harris? In last week’s episode, “False Confessions,” Bobby (Patrick Duffy) tried to protect Ann by confessing to shooting Harris. Meanwhile, as Harris […]

  5. […] the audience to 2.9 million viewers, while DVR users pushed the audience for the fourth episode, “False Confessions,” to 3.1 million viewers over a three-day […]

  6. […] the audience to 2.9 million viewers, while DVR users pushed the audience for the fourth episode, “False Confessions,” to 3.1 million viewers over a three-day […]

  7. […] Pamela and John Ross: Is it over? Two episodes ago, when it looked like the police were closing in on Pamela during the investigation into Tommy’s […]

  8. […] moments using bits and pieces from other recent scenes. The shots of him on the phone come from the “False Confessions” exchange where Frank calls J.R. to inform him that John Ross and Pamela have become lovers. (The […]

  9. […] her unborn twins in “Guilt and Innocence.” This is even more heinous than when Cliff made Frank kill himself a few episodes ago. Now that Cliff has become a monster, it’s hard to imagine the show redeeming […]

  10. […] know the song I’m talking about. It was first heard in “False Confessions” when the police arrested Frank Ashkani (Faran Tahir) for Tommy’s murder. The song played again in […]

  11. […] out to a reprise of “Liar,” the bluesy number from the Unknown that was previously heard in “False Confessions” when the police arrest Frank for Tommy’s […]

  12. […] as the police arrive with guns drawn. But wait! They’re not coming to arrest Pamela; they’re after Frank, who has been framed by Cliff. It was a classic “Dallas” fake-out and the season’s most […]

  13. […] “False Confessions,” one of TNT’s second-season “Dallas” episodes, John Ross meets with Cliff Barnes to tell him […]

  14. […] “False Confessions,” one of TNT’s second-season “Dallas” episodes, Bobby is once again involved in a shooting — […]

  15. […] parallel sequence is found in the 2013 episode “False Confessions.” This scene also takes place in a dive bar, where the principals sit across from each other in a […]

  16. […] The next four episodes are a murder-a-thon, so brace yourself. Frank (Faran Tahir) offs himself in “False Confessions,” Brenda Strong kills it during Ann’s testimony scene in “Trial and Error,” Vicente bites the […]

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