Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 105 — ‘Where There’s a Will’

Dallas, John Baxter, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Robin Strand, Where There's a Will

Let us prey

Larry Hagman has no scenes with his main co-stars in “Where There’s a Will,” but this is still a terrific hour of “Dallas.” The fun comes from watching J.R. scheme to sneak a peek at Jock’s will before the document is unsealed for the rest of the family. Usually when J.R. hatches a plot like this, it takes a few episodes to execute it. Here, J.R. puts his plan in motion in the first scene and completes his mission right before the closing credits roll. The efficient storytelling reminds me of “Dallas’s” earliest episodes, before the show became serialized.

J.R. has two foils in “Where There’s a Will.” The first is Harv Smithfield, the Ewings’ ethical consigliere, who refuses J.R.’s demands to see Jock’s will. In one of George O. Petrie’s many great scenes during his long run on “Dallas,” Harv removes his pince-nez spectacles, looks his bull-headed client in the eye and tells him: “I was your daddy’s attorney before you were born, J.R. My allegiance is to his memory. I will follow his instructions to the letter. No one will see that will until such time as it is read to the entire family.”

J.R. pretends to respect Harv’s decision (“I admire your loyalty to my daddy. Believe me. I’ll never mention that will again.”), but the glint in Hagman’s eye lets us know J.R. isn’t going to give up that easily. Enter Foil No. 2: John Baxter, Harv’s new son-in-law and the latest addition to the Smithfield & Bennett law firm. After Harv turns J.R. down, we see J.R. call John and invite him to lunch at 1 o’clock. Seconds later, J.R. places a call to someone else — we don’t see who it is — and instructs the person on the other line to meet him at the same restaurant at 1:05. “You know what to wear,” J.R. says.

Once we see J.R.’s favorite call girl Serena show up at the restaurant and pretend to be an old Ewing family friend, we have a pretty good idea of what J.R.’s up to. Sure enough, J.R. is conveniently called away from the restaurant, leaving John and Serena alone. The next time we see them, they’re at the Ewing condo, where J.R. walks in on them in bed together. Leonard Katzman, who wrote and directed “Where There’s a Will,” gives this scene enough humor to amuse the audience without letting things devolve into slapstick. “I’m a firm believer in the sanctity of marriage — and I’m damned disappointed in you,” J.R. says before the shirtless John scoops up his clothes and dashes out of the room.

In the final act, J.R. summons John to the restaurant where this scheme began. (These scenes appear to have been filmed in a real-life white-tablecloth eatery with impressive views of downtown Dallas.) J.R. tells John he’ll keep his fling with Serena secret — if John shows him Jock’s will. Guest star Robin Strand is terrific in this scene. The boyishly handsome, fair-haired actor loosens his necktie as his character begins to feel the weight of J.R.’s pressure. When John tells J.R. that showing him the will would be “betraying a trust,” Hagman licks his lips and waits a beat before delivering J.R.’s next line: “Now, what do you call cheating on your wife? Or more to the point, what would Harv call that?”

Other highlights of “Where There’s a Will” include the scene where Ray tells Donna he’s decided to send money to his Aunt Lil, who is caring for his ill “father” Amos. Steve Kanaly does a nice job conveying Ray’s conflicted feelings, but I also love what Susan Howard does with Donna’s line, “You’re not going to call her and talk to her?” If another actress delivered this dialogue, it might make Donna seem like a nag, but Howard never makes her character seem like anything less than a wise, caring spouse. Patrick Duffy also does a nice job in the scene where Bobby politely brushes off Carl Daggett, the harmlessly sleazy chap looking to drum up business for his escort service.

This episode’s other highlight is the final sequence, when John brings Jock’s will to the darkened Ewing Oil office after hours so J.R. can finally see it. We don’t discover what the document says in this scene, but after we see J.R. smile, cast his eyes upwards and thank Jock, we know whatever’s in the will makes our hero happy. And by golly, hasn’t he earned it?

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, Donna Krebbs, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Susan Howard, Where There's a Will

The good wife

‘WHERE THERE’S A WILL’

Season 6, Episode 2

Airdate: October 8, 1982

Audience: 19.2 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: J.R. blackmails Harv’s son-in-law into showing him Jock’s will before the document is unsealed for the rest of the family. Lucy tells Pam she’s pregnant and that she’s decided to have an abortion. Sue Ellen visits the Southern Cross. Marilee offers Cliff a job. Ray learns Amos has fallen ill in Kansas.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Stephanie Blackmore (Serena), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Alice Hirson (Mavis Anderson), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Joseph Miller (bartender), Charles Napier (Carl Daggett), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Robin Strand (John Baxter), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Aarika Wells (Millie Laverne), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

“Where There’s a Will” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. missiea5 says:

    I have to admit I never really appreciated the genius of this episode until recently. Having watched these for the first time as re-runs I had the benefit of knowing what was in the will, but looking back, most viewers probably took the “thank you Daddy” as a sure sign JR was getting it all. Really well played!

    • But that’s what’s brilliant about that scene in retrospect. You’re right, J.R.’s reaction makes you assume that Jock must have left him Ewing Oil. Then when the Will is officially read and everyone finds out about the contest that Jock set up between J.R. and Bobby. you think back to J.R.’s reaction and you realize that, as far as he was concerned, this was just as good as Jock giving him the company. In J.R.’s mind, there was absolutely no way Bobby could beat him in the oil business, so his victory was a foregone conclusion. That’s suck an insight into J.R. Ewing’s character. The confidence/arrogance that he had in himself.

  2. I like this episode for the same reasons you all mentioned above, but to me, there’s something else:
    Pam rocks!! 🙂
    It was about time somebody talked turkey with Cliff. I loved how she pointed out that he didn’t even try to take responsibilty for what he did, that all he could do was feel sorry for himself, while his mother, by firing him, just did what she had to do (even if it broke her heart!)…
    Pam’s speech felt so good after all the “Ooooh, poor little Cliff, I feel sooooo guilty!” phrases by Afton and Rebecca and even Sue Ellen, who seriously regretted not having given him the 4 million dollars??… *shake head*
    I also liked the conversation between Sue Ellen and Afton, when Sue Ellen honestly tells Afton she wishes for her and Cliff to be happy. And that she’s afraid of what will happen if she remarrys JR – and what will happen if she doesn’t.

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Where There’s a Will,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode, John (Robin Strand) is dressing in the Ewing condo while […]

  2. […] J.R. (Stephanie Blackmore, Larry Hagman) complete another scheme in this 1982 publicity shot from “Where There’s a Will,” a sixth-season “Dallas” […]

  3. […] the same spirit, the announcement of the contest forces us to reconsider the end of “Where There’s a Will,” when J.R. sneaks a peek at Jock’s will. In that scene, J.R.’s reaction — “Thank you, Daddy, […]

  4. […] to begin dating Hicks so she can dig up dirt on him. (The seeds for this subplot were planted in “Where There’s a Will,” which introduced the terrific character actor Charles Napier as Daggett, an old friend of […]

  5. […] that has befallen his family since Amos Krebbs’ funeral a year earlier. The shot echoes one from “Where There’s a Will,” the sixth-season episode where Ray and Donna stand in the same spot as he debates whether to attend […]

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