Will it surprise you to learn that I like “Legacies”? Probably not, judging by some of the comments I’ve received on this website and others lately. Some of you seem to think I’m too generous to the new “Dallas.” If I am, it’s only because I genuinely love the show. I’m also the first to admit it isn’t perfect, as “Legacies” demonstrates. This isn’t the finest hour in “Dallas” history, but it does a nice job resolving the “Who Killed J.R.” mystery and giving his death meaning. Ultimately, isn’t that what all of us want when we lose a loved one?
The episode’s best scene takes place in the Southfork graveyard, where John Ross and Christopher listen as Bobby finally reads aloud the letter J.R. left him. We learn J.R. was dying of cancer and put his master plan in motion because he wanted to end the Barnes/Ewing feud. The plan itself: J.R. had Bum shoot him so Cliff could be framed for J.R.’s “murder.” Outlandish? Sure, but there’s also something profound about the idea that J.R., the ultimate warrior, died wanting to make peace. It’s not out of character either. This is who J.R. was at the end of his life: a kinder, gentler scoundrel who wanted to protect his family, especially when it gave him an excuse to dig into his old bag of tricks.
The letter to Bobby is the centerpiece of Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner’s script. Even though Patrick Duffy and Jesse Metcalfe take turns reading the words, Larry Hagman’s voice is the one I hear. In my favorite passage, J.R. acknowledges the “terrible, hurtful” things he did to Bobby over the years, then adds: “I hope in the quiet place in your heart, where the truth lives, that my jealousy, as powerful as it was, was nothing compared to my love for you.” This isn’t the first time we’ve heard J.R. declare his love for his youngest brother, but it might be the first time Bobby has heard it. (In the past, Bobby was “dead” or unconscious when J.R. poured out his heart to him.) Anyone who has loved and lost a brother will find meaning in this moment.
The gravesite scene also gives us two unforgettable performances. The first comes from Duffy, whose tears move me like nothing else I’ve seen on “Dallas” this season. Bobby is usually such a pillar of strength; to see him lose his composure is touching. I’m also impressed with Kevin Page, who chokes up when Bum tells John Ross that he was the one who ended J.R.’s life. If you buy the premise that J.R. arranged his own death and that Bum pulled the trigger, it’s probably because Page is so convincing in this scene. Did you ever imagine you’d want to give Bum a hug?
“Legacies’” other big revelation comes at the top of the hour, when Christopher learns: a) his mother died of pancreatic cancer, and b) Cliff paid her doctor to create the illusion she was alive so Christopher couldn’t inherit her shares of Barnes Global. I wanted Victoria Principal to return to “Dallas” as much as anyone, but I also appreciate how this twist honors “Dallas” continuity. We last saw Pam in 1988, when we learned she had months to live. Now we find out she died in 1989. The math works. Much more importantly, this scenario redeems Pam. It always seemed out of character for her to abandon her family, so Cidre and Rovner’s script reveals Pam was undergoing experimental treatments so she could reunite with them. If nothing else, the new “Dallas” deserves credit for making sense of Pam’s absence, which was always one of the old show’s biggest blunders.
“Legacies” offers no such redemption for Cliff. To make the J.R.-killed-J.R. twist work, “Dallas” had to turn Cliff into a monster; otherwise, there was no chance the audience would accept the idea of the Ewings framing him for J.R.’s murder. A lot of fans are having a hard time believing Bobby would go along with this. I understand their incredulity, as well as their frustration with the historical rewriting that went into Cliff’s transformation. (His scheme to defraud Christopher must have started toward the end of the original show, when Cliff had become a pretty good guy.) Still, given the severity of Cliff’s crimes, is there any doubt he belongs in jail?
Even if you don’t like what happened to Cliff, you can’t deny Ken Kercheval gave the performance of his career this season. In “Legacies,” Kercheval makes you feel Cliff’s desperation and anger when the police drag him away in handcuffs (“I did not kill J.R.! I did not kill J.R.!”). There’s also something poignant about the scene where Bobby visits Cliff in that dingy Mexican jail. Here’s a son of Jock, giving the son of Digger one last chance to make peace. Confess to your real crimes, Bobby says, and I’ll help you beat this murder rap. But Cliff is defiant to the bitter end: “I have never done anything that the Ewings asked me to do, and I’m not going to start today.”
As far as I’m concerned, Cliff has to stay in jail for the duration of “Dallas.” If he gets out, J.R.’s master plan will fail and our hero’s final “victory” will be nullified. Of course, this doesn’t mean Kercheval can’t continue to appear in jailhouse scenes like the one we get at the end of “Legacies,” when Cliff anoints Elena (of all people!) as the Ewings’ latest antagonist by revealing J.R. cheated her father out of oil-rich land. This is an interesting twist, although the scene ends with a silly sound effect: After Kercheval delivers the last line (“Make the Ewings pay for the sins against your family”), listen closely and you’ll hear Hagman’s cackle mixed into the background music. (While we’re on the subject of poorly executed J.R. tributes, the painting of him revealed at the end of this episode is atrocious.)
“Legacies” director Steve Robin also gives us two memorable musical montages, one of the new show’s best signatures. The first sequence depicts the daughters of “Dallas” betraying their daddies: While Pamela plants the gun in Cliff’s trunk, Emma spikes Harris’s pancake batter, knocking him out long enough to sneak into his safe and swipe the evidence of his drug trafficking. These scenes play 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 murder.
The second “Legacies” montage, set to the Mavericks’ “Come Unto Me,” shows Elena visiting the heavily guarded compound of Joaquin, a mysterious friend from her childhood. Meanwhile, John Ross visits Emma, who gives him the rest of the papers she stole from Harris. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of John Ross cheating on Pamela, but once I saw the Hagman-esque glint in Josh Henderson’s eye and heard him deliver the scene’s kicker – “Just don’t tell my wife” – I was sold. (On a related note: Is that J.R.’s watch on John Ross’s wrist?)
Does “Legacies” have plot holes? You bet. It appears the police exhume J.R.’s body, pull the slugs out of the chest cavity (shouldn’t this have been done before the burial, by the way?) and match the bullets to Cliff’s gun, all in the time it takes Cliff and Pamela to fly from Dallas to Mexico and check into their hotel. That’s mighty swift police work, even by TV standards. Also, if the police decide to check out Cliff’s claims that he was framed, they could start by talking to the people who work at the bank where John Ross and Pamela planted the belt buckle in Cliff’s safe deposit box.
I suppose finding flubs like these is its own kind of joy, but I got a much bigger kick out of playing detective and trying to solve the “Who Killed J.R.” mystery. Don’t forget: This storyline was created on the fly by people who were working under tight pressure while simultaneously mourning the biggest star “Dallas” will ever know. All things considered, I think Cidre and company did a hell of a job. This was the most fun I had watching television in a long time. Isn’t that the point?
Season 2, Episode 15
Telecast: April 15, 2013
Writers: Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner
Director: Steve Robin
Audience: 2.9 million viewers on April 15
Synopsis: Christopher learns Pam died in 1989 and that Cliff has been paying her doctor to create the illusion she’s alive to prevent Christopher from inheriting her third of Barnes Global. Vickers is killed on Cliff’s orders. After John Ross and Pamela plant evidence to lead the police to Cliff, he’s arrested for J.R.’s murder. John Ross and Christopher persuade Bobby to read J.R.’s letter, which reveals he was dying of cancer and had Bum shoot him so Cliff could be framed. Harris is arrested after Emma exposes his role in the drug trafficking. Cliff sends Elena documents that prove J.R. stole oil-rich land from her father, prompting her to visit someone from her past named Joaquin. John Ross cheats with Emma, who brings him documents from Harris’s safe.
Cast: Sam Anderson (Dr. David Gordon), Emma Bell (Emma Brown), Karen Borta (reporter), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Cody Daniel (deliveryman), Akai Draco (Sheriff Derrick), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Alex Fernandez (Roy Vickers), Marlene Forte (Carmen Ramos), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Barnes), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Annalee Jefferies (Carina), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Marcus M. Mauldin (Detective Bota), Benito Martinez (policeman), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Kevin Page (Bum), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing)