The Best & Worst of TNT’s Dallas: Season 2

The second season of TNT’s “Dallas” was even better than the first. Here are my laurels, along with a few darts.

Performances

Woman of the year

Wonder woman

She spent Season 1 on the sidelines, but Linda Gray became “Dallas’s” star player this year. After losing the election, Sue Ellen maneuvered her way into Ewing Energies, then fought tooth and manicured nail to save the company. Her determination took many forms: She flirted with Gary and later Ken, proving a woman in her 70s could still be playful and alluring, and blackmailed Governor McConaughey with a smile, demonstrating just how much she learned from her ex-husband. Speaking of J.R.: Gray shined brightest at his funeral, where Sue Ellen took a heartbreaking tumble off the wagon, then delivered a mesmerizing eulogy for the man she called “the love of my life.” It was a magnificent, unforgettable performance – and if there’s any justice in the world, Gray’s next big speech will be at the Emmys.

Storylines

The “Who Killed J.R.?” mystery was terrific because it allowed viewers to slide into J.R.’s boots and try to piece together the puzzle he left behind. The gun! That letter! Those cocaine shoes! How were the clues connected? This was “Dallas” at its most fun – and as an added bonus, it finally resolved Pam’s storyline and gave the character the redemption she deserved. (Pam may be dead, but please let Katherine live.) The season’s least satisfying storyline: Vicente Cano’s ambush on Southfork and the hostage crisis that ensued. This storyline did little to advance the season’s main narrative – the fight for Ewing Energies – nor did it give us much new insight into the characters. On the other hand: at least nobody made Sue Ellen sing.

Episodes

Tears of the son

Tears of the son

The beautiful, elegiac “J.R.’s Masterpiece” is landmark television. From the mournful version of the “Dallas” theme music that played under the special opening titles through the moving gravesite eulogies, scriptwriter Cynthia Cidre and director Michael M. Robin made J.R.’s death feel achingly real. This is their masterpiece. At the other end of the spectrum: “Ewings Unite!,” an uneven hour marred by J.R.’s silly will reading and Gary and Val’s drive-by reunion.

Scenes

Almost two months after watching “J.R.’s Masterpiece,” I’m still haunted by the memory of Sue Ellen getting drunk in her ex-husband’s bedroom on the night before his funeral. As Tara Holloway’s soulful rendition of “The Bottom” played, we watched Sue Ellen move around J.R.’s bed, caress a framed photo from their wedding and finally drown her sorrows with glass after glass of his bourbon. This was two-and-a-half minutes of exquisite agony. (Among the season’s other great scenes: Ann’s spellbinding testimony at her trial, Harris and Emma’s parking garage encounter, Harris’s Komodo dragon speech and the moment lusty John Ross storms off the elevator and into Pamela’s arms.)

Twists

Raw deal

Raw deal

The police discover Tommy’s body and murder weapon. John Ross warns Pamela, who frantically begins preparing to skip town 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 surprising twist. The silliest: At J.R.’s will reading, Miss Ellie somehow takes half of Southfork from Bobby and gives it to John Ross. Howzat, Mama?

Traditions

Season 2 gave us a Southfork swimming pool scene, the return of the old Ewing Oil building and even a reference to Westar, but where were the barbecue and Oil Baron’s Ball (er, “Cattle Baron’s Ball”) episodes? On the other hand, we did get “The Furious and the Fast,” the fantastic racetrack-set episode that marked the “Dallas” directorial debut of Rodney Charters, the show’s ace cinematographer. Perhaps racecars will become a new “Dallas” tradition? I’m ready for another spin.

Villains

Evil dad

Evil dad

Steven Weber played McConaughey to smirking perfection and Mitch Pileggi and Judith Light were delicious as the evil Rylands, but Ken Kercheval scared the bejesus out of me as Cliff. The scene where he orders the destruction of the methane rig is chilling. Yet somehow, the brilliant Kercheval made sure we never lost sight of Cliff’s humanity, especially when he was arrested for J.R.’s murder. Make no mistake: Season 2 was the performance of Kercheval’s career.

Returning Favorites

Audrey Landers’ return as Afton in “Guilt and Innocence” was a hoot. Robert Rovner’s script gave Landers plenty to do, and she made the most of it: During the course of the hour, we got to see Afton badmouth Cliff (“He’s a mean drunk, that man”), flirt with John Ross, shoot daggers at Christopher and sweetly serenade Pamela with her favorite childhood lullaby. I also liked Ted Shackelford and Joan Van Ark’s return as Gary and Valene (even if Van Ark didn’t get enough to do), as well as the familiar faces who showed up in “J.R.’s Masterpiece,” especially Mandy and Cally (Deborah Shelton, Cathy Podewell), whose reminiscing about their romances with J.R. proved surprisingly poignant.

Newcomers

Welcome to Southfork

Welcome to Southfork

Each episode of “Dallas” clocks in at 42 minutes sans commercials, making screen time a commodity. It’s tempting to knock the producers for expanding the cast in Season 2 – except the newcomers are all so good! I was especially charmed by magnetic Kuno Becker, who was both smoldering and sweet as ne’er-do-well Drew, while Emma Bell knocked me out as Emma, who shifted effortlessly from sheltered princess to a pill-popping sexpot. Is there anything this actress can’t do?

Supporting Players

Like the original “Dallas,” the new show is beginning to feel like its own world, thanks to its growing population of reliable recurring characters. My favorites include steadfast Sheriff Derrick (Akai Draco), dutiful lawyer Lou Bergen (Glenn Morshower) and of course loyal private eye Bum (Kevin Page), who charmed me in his scene with Sue Ellen and moved me when he confessed his role in J.R.’s master plan. Season 2 also introduced two promising additions to the Ewing Energies secretarial pool: perky, sneaky Jill (Amber Bartlett) and statuesque Stacy (Natalie Quintanilla). The other great addition: lusty city transportation chief Alison Jones (Annie Wersching). Could she become this generation’s Marilee Stone?

Costumes

Man of style

Man of style

“Dallas” doesn’t just have TV’s best-dressed cast; the actors are also smartly dressed. Everyone’s “look” fits their character perfectly. Case in point: J.R., whose western jackets, dark suits and Butch Dorer hats made him Season 2’s most dashing figure. My favorite outfit: the classic pinstripes he sported in “Venomous Creatures” when he blackmailed the smarmy prosecutor. A tip of the hat to costume designer Rachel Sage Kunin. Thanks to her, our hero went out in style.

Music

The music on “Dallas” is a mix of familiar tunes like Merle Haggard’s “My Favorite Memory,” which played during J.R.’s memorial service, and oh-my-gosh-what-is-the-name-of-that-song-I-must-own-it selections like “Liar,” an unreleased number from the Unknown that was heard in “False Confessions” and “Legacies.” My favorite: “My Time Has Come,” the driving rock anthem from the Bowery Riots that played when Bobby did that cool slow-motion walk away from Cliff at the end of “Love and Family.” It was the ideal song to showcase Bobby at his badass best.

Props

Ugly truth

Ugly truth

I’m tempted to choose Christopher’s Miller Lite bottle or all those Microsoft Surface tablets as best props, but instead I’ll go with J.R.’s handsome bourbon decanter, which the three people he loved most – Bobby, Sue Ellen and Christopher – all drank from after his death. Worst prop? That’s easy: The awful painting of J.R. unveiled at the end of “Legacies.” Where’s J.R.’s nose? What happened to his right shoulder? My plea to the producers: Fix this before Season 3 starts.

Hashtags

Since so much of my “Dallas” viewing experience now takes place in the Twitterverse, it seems appropriate to honor the hashtags of Season 2: #BubbaNotEarl #ByeByeCloudDrive #Clonazepam #ContinuedLegalSubterfuge #EminentDomain #FentonWashburnEsquire #HighImpactPressureMoldedCocaine #HighVelocityBloodSplatter #HornedFrogsVsMustangs #HotelColon #JudgeRhonda #KomodoDragons #MoralsClause #NuevoLaredo #PatriciaBarrett #RickyRudd #RIPKatherine?

Quips

This category is always the toughest and Season 2 is no different. What to choose? Sue Ellen’s putdown of Afton (“She’s drama, John Ross.”)? Val’s greeting to Sue Ellen (“Once a bitch, always a bitch.”)? Vicente’s observation after realizing the Ewing cousins have traded romantic partners (“You Ewing boys share after all! I love it!”)? John Ross’s not-fit-for-print philosophy on romance (“Love is for [kitty cats]”)? In the end, I’ll go with the master. J.R.’s encounter with Pamela: “You’re not the first Pam to fox her way into the henhouse.” Oh, J.R. We’ll never stop missing you.

What do you love and loathe about the second season of TNT’s “Dallas”? Share your comments below and read more “Best & Worst” reviews.

Comments

  1. Oh, Chris. I love this posting. I have to agree with you with everything except Gary was my favorite returnee. I did like the others a lot. But I was very happy with the Gary visit..the only down on this was the tiny amount of time we saw him and Val together.

    By the way, I love the pic of JR at the golf course… I like the full wide version.. The photo was setup perfectly. The framing of the hat and his hand reaching for the camera from the caddy in the background. JR looked great in the pinstriped suit and that Stetson. And man he looks menacing, doesn’t he?

    And….YES…JR’s Masterpiece was a Masterpeice in itself. In every aspect, this creative team brought their ‘A’ game. They gave JR the sendoff he deserved….we got a whole picture of what JR was…a larger than life man who had the Mayor, the owner of the 5th largest sports franchise in the entire world, the owner of a another well known sports franchise all show for his funeral and talk about what kind of person he was. His exes show up to remind us that yes, he was 1) a sexy devil 2) and he was a liar and cheat. His family showed up to remind us that he was the insult king. They reminded us that JR had those who loved him but still was the guy who could drive a lot of people to the point of murder! That he was all of those bad things but that he still was loved dearly by SE, JR3, and Bobby…..and that Ray, Lucy, and Chris loved him on some level. And we got Cliff show up at his memorial to cause a scene….I still say that it was great how Cliff looked a little undone by the end of that scene.

    Plus…this episode gave us a beyond beautiful performance by Linda Gray. Did you read the interview by Mike Robin on shooting the bedroom scene? He said that he knew Linda had a lot of fear about doing that scene. They rescheduled once and were about to do it again…but then he said no…they were doing it. They only did two takes. The scene we saw was one of the two takes shot in it entirety. The writing for Sue Ellen in this episode was perfect….from the very beginning you can see her slowly starting to lose it and it just slowly builds. That bedroom scene still just amazes me. No words…just her slowly fluttering around that room and finally giving into her demons and then sliding down into that chair. That scene at the grave….just raw,awkward, poignant, exposed, emotional. Simply amazing.

    As you have said, Linda gave a great performance all season long. She lit up the screen every single time she was on it. Her scene after losing the election when she was talking to JR&JR3 was great and I LOVE the door scene with her and JR. She had some great scenes with Ann, Bobby, JR3, Gary, Bum, Harris and the Governor.

    Also have to echo you on how great Ken was as the older, crazy Cliff. He brought a new crazy, serious edge to the character but still managed to be ‘Cliff’. I am reminded that Ken often didn’t like how Cliff was written in the past….but still always tried to make the character interesting. He clearly seems to be enjoying how Cliff is written now. He
    has had some incredible performances this season as well.

    I alos think that Patrick had some great work this season as well. I like that Bobby is still a very solid good guy but has loss some of his tolerance. He had some great scenes with JR this year. That scene before JR’s funeral with Ann really stands out…it was very emotional. It was very intense and I felt so sorry for both Bobby and Ann.

    The younger cast also put in some great work. This season was very emotional for the characters…they lost fathers, a mother, and babies. Josh, Julie, and Jesse all gave some wonderful performances as they dealt with their grief. Jordana had her best work when she was dealing with Drew. I loved them together. I hope that we still get to see JR3 and Chris getting along next year. I like them better when they are not ‘in hate’ with each other!

    I can’t end my post without mentioning the whole Ryland family. They were delish in their warped view on life, family, and love. The actors were so great and even chilling at times. Some of my favorite scenes of the season come from this family!

    • Good stuff, Hel. Love your description of Sue Ellen’s drinking scene in “J.R.’s Masterpiece.” And yes: Cliff’s behavior at the memorial service is very revealing. I appreciate what you have to say about the “four J’s” too. Thanks!

  2. joesiegler says:

    You’ll probably hate me for the idea, but this kind of season recap post would be cool to do for the classic series reviews, too. 🙂

  3. Thank you for this reminder of how excellent the second season of TNT’s DALLAS has been. Not enough can be said about the amazing contribution from Linda Gray to the finished product. She really nailed every scene she was in, and thankfully there were way more of those than in 2012…
    As far as storylines go, I can understand your disappointmment with the hostage crisis since it seemed to go nowhere and resulted in nothing but the death of Vicente who had been reintroduced only for that particular purpose. However, I for one will say that I emjoyed the interaction of so many central characters all in one place and the claustrophobic atmosphere of Southfork. I also think that in the original plan there must have been more to that storyline that had to be abandoned in favour of J.R.’s masterpiece, after Larry Hagman left us. Who was in that helicopter that came to pick up Vicente and his hostage and then left before it had landed? Also, why was the Ambassador/Consul watching Vicente’s departure from his premises so surreptitiously from his window? Open questions like this lead me to believe that there would have been more to come in this storyline.

    • I think you’re right, Stephan. I remember thinking the same thing about the consul when I watched that episode in February. On a related note: I believe I read there was a scene from “J.R.’s Masterpiece” where John Ross went to the prison to confront Vicente’s henchman, whom he suspected of being behind J.R.’s murder. I believe the scene was cut because the episode ran too long. Does anyone else remember reading that, or did I imagine it?

  4. Dan in WI says:

    Not a lot to add here.
    I’m going to disagree on the scene of the year. I have to go with JR’s final take down: Frank Ashkani. Look at the way Frank was played. He was introduced as the coolest and most calculating henchman in Dallas’ history and probably should be on many all time most dangerous henchman lists. But despite all that he was absolutely no match for the cagey veteran JR https://dallasdecoder.com/2013/02/06/dallas-scene-of-the-day-its-a-rare-and-beautiful-thing-when-enemies-share-the-same-enemy/. That scene was the end of Frank. He was never the same afterward. Just watch Frank’s expression as JR delivers this line “Well, I’m retired, but not by choice. Getting pushed out of my place at the table stung like hell. But you know how that feels, don’t you Frank? After all the jams you’ve gotten Cliff out of, to be treated like a lapdog by that spoiled princess? “ You could see the life drain out of him in the time it took JR to speak that. So in a season of lasts this was my favorite because it was the last time we saw JR destroy someone in person.

    As for the worst of the season I again have to go with continuity. It’s improved. But it’s still a 50/50 propsition that anytime the classic series is addressed that something is gonig to be messed up. I’m not going to rehash here. I’m just going going to repeat the plea: Please hire a continuity guru.

    • joesiegler says:

      That scene also contained the oddly hilarious “..sneak up on a super ninja” line. 🙂

      • Joe, I love that line too: “You lost a step, Frank. It’s a sad day when an old man can sneak up on a super ninja.”

    • I have to agree with you about Frank. He got a full dose of J.R.’s venom.

    • Thanks Dan. I appreciate your commitment to continuity. If ever the writers have a continuity question, they’re always welcome to weigh in at the Dallas Decoder comments section. We’ll be happy to answer any and all queries.

  5. I have to say that any mention of South Fork mineral rights continued to be a disaster in season 2. The lengthy pregnancy of Pamela Rebecca that was not even long enough to allow the babies to live outside of the womb.

    Ann Ewing shooting Harris Ryland was a very strong scene.

    Bum becoming a Ewing insider is great.

    Cliff Barnes giving the go ahead on the explosion after learning his daughter is on the Ewing Rig was an eye opener.

    Linda Gray shined all season. I feel that if there is one thing that will move Dallas forward, it is Linda Gray’s outstanding performance all of Season 2.

  6. that portrait of JR was so laughably bad I don’t understand how it made it. Don’t they have computer programs that can make a picture look like painting? One of those on a blanket would have been better. I agree with it all, except you like Drew more than I .
    Also glad in this season Christopher and skinny are having problems bc those two were getting Boring.

  7. @ Chis B I just adore your writing style, so crisp and engaging.

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Dallas” hit its creative stride in the second season, which was shown on Monday nights opposite hits like NBC’s “The Voice” […]

  2. […] Charlie Wade and sent her to live with his parents in Rome; and of course Cliff Barnes, who blew up the Ewing Energies rig, even though his pregnant daughter Pamela was […]

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