Critique: ‘Knots Landing’ Episode 55 — ‘Daniel’

Daniel, Knots Landing, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Surprise

J.R. Ewing is sitting across from Abby Cunningham in his hotel room, where he’s invited her to join him for a seafood lunch. Of course, J.R. wants more from Abby than her company. She promised to sneak him a copy of Val’s soon-to-be-published novel about the Ewings, but Abby sent only a handful of chapters. When J.R. tells her he wants to see the whole manuscript, Abby says she can arrange it — if J.R. lets her know what Gary’s going to inherit in Jock’s will. J.R. tries to charm his way out of giving up this information, but Abby won’t hear it. She fixes a steely gaze upon J.R., picks up a crab leg and — crunch! — cracks it in two. Our hero has met his match.

This is one of several terrific scenes in the “Knots Landing” episode “Daniel,” although my favorite moment comes later, when Abby returns to J.R.’s hotel room with the missing chapters from Val’s book. J.R. keeps up his end of the bargain too, telling her that Gary will soon come into “big money” courtesy of Jock’s will. J.R. then launches into a story about how a teenaged Gary spent one summer working at Southfork to earn the motorcycle he desperately wanted. That September, Jock took him to the showroom, where Gary picked out his bike, revved it up — and drove it through the dealership’s plate-glass window. The purpose of J.R.’s tale: He wants Abby to keep Gary out of his showroom. “Your showroom?” she asks. “Keep him out of Dallas,” J.R. responds.

The metaphor isn’t all that elegant, but no matter. I love watching Larry Hagman in this scene. He delivers every word of J.R.’s speech with a downhome, folksy charm. In J.R. speak, the word “motorcycle” becomes “motor-sickle.” Next to the parable about the blind horse that J.R. shares with John Ross during an early episode of TNT’s “Dallas,” this might be Hagman’s most memorable monologue. It makes me wish he had taken this act to the stage. Imagine: a one-man show where Larry Hagman tells stories, in character as J.R., about growing up on Southfork. It could’ve been this generation’s “Mark Twain Tonight.”

Donna Mills doesn’t have much to do in this scene, but she holds her own against Hagman nonetheless. In J.R.’s previous visits to “Knots Landing,” when Abby was still a new character, the writers tried to elevate her to his level by having him fawn over her (J.R. to Abby in “A Family Matter,” a second-season “Knots Landing” episode: “You know, you are the most delicious conniver it’s been my pleasure to encounter.”). In “Daniel,” with Abby’s bona fides established, we see her and J.R. try to outmaneuver each other, which proves much more entertaining. I especially like when J.R. tells Abby she wants to be “queen” of the Ewing family. “No. I’ll settle for princess,” she purrs. J.R.’s response: “You’ve got it. You get the ermine and the jewels. But the crown stays in Dallas. Because the crown is mine.”

“Daniel” also includes a terrific scene where J.R. shows up unexpectedly on Val’s doorstep. Hagman and Joan Van Ark are always electric, especially when J.R. is pretending to be nice to Val. His “compliment” on her recent redecorating (“I just love what y’all have done with this room. It’s … it’s really you.”) is sublime. As an added bonus, this scene also features a brief encounter between J.R. and Lilimae, which reunited Hagman with Julie Harris, his co-star in the 1959 Broadway production of “The Warm Peninsula.” The best exchange, though, comes when J.R. is introduced to Val’s book editor Joe Cooper, played by Stephen Macht:

J.R.: Her editor? Oh, well it is true, then. You know, there’s been rumors flying all around Dallas about a book called “Corn Crude” or “Crude Porn” or “Corn Pone.”

Joe: “Capricorn Crude.”

J.R.: Yeah, that’s it!

“Daniel” was written by John Pleshette, the great actor who played Richard Avery on “Knots Landing.” Besides J.R.’s appearance, the episode is probably best remembered as the segment where Richard wrecks his car while driving pregnant wife Laura to the hospital, forcing him to deliver their child in the backseat. I watched it with my mom on the night it first aired, but the only thing I remembered were the credits rolling over a shot of Laura holding the child, whom she and Richard name “Daniel.” Seeing the episode again recently (it isn’t available on DVD, but you can find recordings online), I was gripped by the childbirth sequence. The baby isn’t breathing when he’s born, so Richard must force air into his lungs. It’s a touching performance and a reminder that on “Knots Landing,” even jerks like Richard can occasionally be heroes.

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Constance McCashin, Daniel, Knots Landing

Special delivery

‘DANIEL’

“Knots Landing” Season 4, Episode 2

Airdate: October 7, 1982

Audience: 14 million homes, ranking 28th in the weekly ratings

Writer: John Pleshette

Director: Joseph B. Wallenstein

Synopsis: J.R. visits Knots Landing and wishes Val success on her novel, then secretly buys the company that published the book. After J.R. tips Abby off to Gary’s inheritance, she sneaks him an advance copy of Val’s manuscript.

Cast: Tonya Crowe (Olivia Cunningham), Kevin Dobson (Mack MacKenzie), Hank Garrett (Frank), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Julie Harris (Lilimae Clements), Lisa Hartman (Ciji Dunne), James Houghton (Kenny Ward), Robert Jayne (Brian Cunningham), Kim Lankford (Ginger Ward), Michele Lee (Karen Fairgate), Claudia Lonow (Diana Fairgate), Stephen Macht (Joe Cooper), Constance McCashin (Laura Avery), Richard McMurray (Glen Needham), Donna Mills (Abby Cunningham), Harry Northrup (Wayne Harkness), Pat Petersen (Michael Fairgate), John Pleshette (Richard Avery), Danny Ponce (Jason Avery), Marcia Solomon (Masha), Ted Shackelford (Gary Ewing), Joan Van Ark (Valene Ewing), Lesley Woods (Martha Needham)

Share your comments about “Daniel” below.

Comments

  1. The scene with J.R. and Val was classic J.R. to me. He gets a lot of joy making Val explain to him that she and Gary are separated even though Richard had just revealed that to him in the previous scene. You could tell Larry Hagman was having a great time playing J.R. even when it was on another show. I also loved an earlier Knots episode with J.R. in which he was constantly interrupted by Abbey’s children while trying to make a toast. It’s interesting that his character had the flexibility to be used for laughs as easily as the darker qualities, something that would never have worked with any of the other characters on Knots or Dallas. Definitely an attribute to the talented Hagman.

    • Robbie, that’s a great observation about how J.R. forced Val to explain that she and Gary were separated. And yes, Hagman was equally adept at playing comedy and drama. What a great talent.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Chris

      • Let’s not forget, Hagman did come from I Dream Of Jeannie, so he definitely had a knack for comedic-timing.

      • Very true, J.R. Do I dare suggest he got better comedic material on “Dallas” and “Knots Landing” than he did on “I Dream of Jeannie”?

  2. Raja Kalsy says:

    The episode “Daniel” in Knots Landing was wonderful. I liked the storyline involving JR Ewing who sneakily bought the publication company producing Valene’s book “Capricorn Crude”, which is based on Ewing family. Around that time, Donna Krebbs was working on a book relating to Sam Culver & Jock Ewing. The episode before showed Abby sending the copy of the drafts to JR.
    It was emotional episode when in the back seat of the car Richard delivering the baby Daniel, and Laura crying & both being happy after Richard was able to save their baby Daniel life after childbirth. At the end credits I like the music & picture photo of Laura holding Daniel. This was episode of Avery’s getting back together, but sadly not for long.

    • Thank you, Raja. Richard and Laura are an interesting couple. I always thought of them as the J.R. and Sue Ellen of Seaview Circle. He was ambitious, she was unhappy and their marriage was quite stormy. Fortunately, she pulled herself together much more easily than Sue Ellen did.

      • I always assumed that J.R. would try & worm his way into a % of Val’s book profits. Its money, he wouldn’t care b/c an expose could show folks what a great businessman he is & his ruthlessness could get them even more money. There’s no such thang C.B. as “bad publicity” only “publicity.” Any way J.R. can get it, both he & the Ewing Oil Company Limited of Dallas, Texas are making money!

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Daniel,” a fourth-season “Knots Landing” episode, Abby and J.R. (Donna Mills, Larry Hagman) are in his […]

  2. […] and Abby (Larry Hagman, Donna Mills) have a meeting of the minds in this 1982 publicity shot from “Daniel,” a fourth-season “Knots Landing” […]

  3. […] Critique: Knots Landing Episode 55 — ‘Daniel’ […]

  4. […] Lucy Ewing’s other grandmother, on “Knots Landing” from 1980 until 1987. (The 1982 episode “Daniel” briefly reunited her with Larry Hagman, her co-star in the 1959 Broadway production of “The Warm […]

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