Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 108 — ‘Jock’s Will’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Jock's Will, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy

Let the games begin

At the end of “Jock’s Will,” the Ewings gather in the Southfork living room to hear Harv Smithfield read the family patriarch’s last will and testament. Everyone is present — even Gary, who has flown in from “Knots Landing” for the occasion. The scene is tense, dramatic and historic. Besides being one of the few times we see almost all of the original cast members in the same place at the same time, this also marks the beginning of “Dallas’s” greatest storyline: J.R. and Bobby’s epic battle for control of Ewing Oil.

The scene, which lasts about seven minutes, is also a showcase for Michael Preece, one of the original “Dallas’s” most skilled directors. He begins with a wide shot of the actors positioned in front of George O. Petrie, who sits at a desk that seems to have magically appeared in the living room for this scene. (I suppose the desk is like the Ewings’ television set, which only pops up when the plot calls for someone in the family to watch it.) Only four actors here have dialogue: Barbara Bel Geddes, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy and Petrie, who delivers almost 700 words, far more than any of the others. Even though the rest of the cast is silent, we never question what their characters are thinking, thanks to Preece’s reaction shots. When Harv announces Gary’s inheritance comes with strings attached, we see Ted Shackelford clench his jaw. Charlene Tilton’s eyes bulge when Lucy learns she’s become a multi-millionaire. Victoria Principal’s jaw drops when Pam realizes Bobby is going to have to fight J.R. for the company.

Bel Geddes gets the most dramatic response. When Ellie hears Jock’s line that Ewing Oil can only be run by “the man that wants it the most,” she furrows her brow and whispers gravely, “Oh, Jock. No.” I wonder: What are Preece and scriptwriter David Paulsen are trying to convey here? Is Ellie afraid Jock is about to return control of the company to J.R., whom she recently ousted from the president’s chair? Or does she sense — even before Harv announces it — that Jock is about to pit their sons against each other?

(In 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, thank you” — leads us to believe Jock has left him the company. In “Jock’s Will,” the audience finally catches up and learns what J.R. did: that Jock wants him to compete with Bobby for control of Ewing Oil. So why does J.R. thank his daddy? Is he so confident he’ll beat Bobby that he considers the contest a mere formality? Or could it be that J.R. simply loves a good fight, and he’s thanking Jock for giving him one?)

As far as the contest itself: Some might see Jock’s decision to not choose a successor as a copout, but I believe it fits his character perfectly. Of course the old man would want his sons to duke it out to determine, once and for all, who is the better businessman. The contest also ends up producing some of the best storytelling seen on “Dallas,” as well as “Knots Landing.” (But don’t take my word for it: Hill Place, an always-interesting TV and movie blog, recently published a thorough examination of the long-range ramifications of Jock’s will on both shows.)

There’s also quite a bit of poignancy to the end of the will-reading scene. Jock’s final words are ominous: He declares that if J.R. or Bobby die before the contest is over, the remaining son will automatically take over the company. This prompts J.R. to turn to his younger brother, raise a glass of bourbon and say, “Well, Bobby, to your good health and very long life.” Three seasons later, after Duffy’s character had been killed off, J.R.’s toast seemed prescient. Now that Hagman is gone, the line feels bittersweet. I also can’t help but note the parallels between Jock’s will, which leads to the high point in their rivalry, and the letter that Bobby reads at the end of the new “Dallas’s” second season, which effectively brings their warring to an end.

The other highlight of “Jock’s Will” is the courtroom scene where the Ewing patriarch is declared dead. As the judge announces his decision (“The judgment of this court is that John Ross Ewing Sr. died in a place unknown, in the jungles of South America”), Preece gives us a tight shot of each Ewing seated in the gallery: First Pam, then Bobby, J.R., Sue Ellen and finally Ellie. Everyone looks stricken — and none more so than Mama, whose tears flow freely — but don’t overlook Bruce Broughton’s mournful background music, which also lends this scene power.

Other good scenes in “Jock’s Will” include the sequences set in Kansas, where Ray’s struggle to connect with cocky Mickey strains his relationship with Donna. I also like J.R. and Sue Ellen’s night on the town (especially the nifty overhead shot that Preece gives us of Hagman and Linda Gray on the nightclub dance floor), as well as the scene where the couple sets the date for their second wedding. Or, to be more precise: J.R. sets the date by presenting Sue Ellen with an invitation to their first wedding, with the original date (February 15, 1970) scratched out and the new one (December 3, 1982) penciled in.

I can’t help but think there’s plenty of room on that invitation for a third wedding date. How sad that we never got to see it.

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Barbara Bel Geddes, Bobby Ewing, Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Donna Krebbs, Gary Ewing, George O. Petrie, Harv Smithfield, J.R. Ewing, Linda Gray, Larry Hagman, Lucy Cooper, Miss Ellie Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Sue Ellen Ewing, Susan Howard, Ted Shackelfod

Gang’s all here

‘JOCK’S WILL’

Season 6, Episode 5

Airdate: October 29, 1982

Audience: 23.6 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: The Ewings have Jock declared legally dead and learn his will sets up a yearlong contest between J.R. and Bobby for control of Ewing Oil. J.R. and Sue Ellen set a wedding date. Ray and Donna bring Mickey home with them to Southfork. Pam urges Lucy to snap out of her depression.

Cast: Robert Ackerman (Wade Luce), Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), George Cooper (Lee Evans), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Phyllis Flax (Mrs. Chambers), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Alice Hirson (Mavis Anderson), Peter Hobbs (Judge Karns), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Kenneth Kimmins (Thornton McLeish), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Dale Robertson (Frank Crutcher), Ted Shackelford (Gary Ewing), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

Comments

  1. I think originally Jock had given JR the company completely and that the writers rewrote that after Jim Davis’s death and the death of Jock for a great storyline.

  2. Dan in WI says:

    Chris, For the record I’ve always believed Miss Ellie’s “Oh, Jock No.” was her figuring out exactly where the codicle was going and knowing what it would do to the family.

    • I tend to agree with you, Dan. She knew her husband pretty well, didn’t she?

      • When she challenges the will she doesn’t seem surprised that she was originally listed as sole owner of pretty much everything and while unknown to the audience she had been reading his letters which clearly showed emotional strain so perhaps her “Oh no” was because she realized he had made a major change under poor circumstances. Maybe she didn’t know the specifics but she knew any change regarding the company could only end in problems.

      • Oh, excellent insight, missiea5. Thank you!

  3. Barbara fan says:

    I think Miss Ellie’s response is exactly because she knows how low down and dirty the boys can be in business – She isn’t daft! and she was right!!! It is such a great episode, full of suspense and nice to see Gary back at SF. Harve was great – just the right level of drama
    I also liked BBGs scene with Mavis, Punk and Frank in the restaurant – Dallas right now! well its perfect!

    • Good points, BF. I like those scenes in the restaurant too. How did you feel about the Frank Crutcher character?

      • Barbara fan says:

        hi Chris
        I didn’t mind Frank but I’m glad Miss Ellie ended up with Clayton Farlow. Howard Keel was a wonderful addition to the cast – I just loved him
        BF x

      • BF, I agree. Howard Keel was a gem. He made a great leading man for BBG.

  4. I would have preferred J.R. to win Ewing Oil outright, but the factnthat he’s forced to share with Bobby equally when the Canadian deal comes in makes me laugh. We can see he’s upset, but still happy Bob would let him share. C.B., we can also see the gleam in his eyes, he’s still plotting to try & seize the company from Brother Bobby! I love it, Brother J.R. never, ever gives up! This is a dude I’d definitely want in my corner, how about u boy?

  5. Dan in WI says:

    During a recent viewing of this episode a tiny little detail caught my eye. We have Lucy (post-abortion) moping around in her room in nightwear and her bed a torn up disaster. Yet, her face is fully made up. In fact she is wearing more make up than my wife typically wears when going out.

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Jock’s Will,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode, Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes), J.R. (Larry Hagman), Bobby […]

  2. […] scriptwriter Mann Rubin keeps the spotlight on Gary, whose storyline dominates this episode. In “Jock’s Will,” the “Dallas” segment that sets up “New Beginnings,” Gary learns his late father left him […]

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