Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 117 — ‘The Ewing Blues’

Dallas, Ewing Blues, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Don’t box him in

“The Ewing Blues” includes one of “Dallas’s” cleverest scenes. J.R. appears on a local TV talk show to tout his new chain of cut-rate gas stations, which is turning him into a hero in the eyes of the public. Cliff is watching the interview from the living room of his new townhouse, where a deliveryman arrives with the Chinese takeout he ordered. As Cliff reaches for his wallet, the man notices what’s playing on Cliff’s TV. “That’s J.R. Ewing, ain’t it?” he asks. “I tell ya, if he ran for president tomorrow, I’d vote for him! I would!” Cliff is left shaking his head and muttering, “So much for the intelligence of the average voter.”

With this scene, “Dallas” has a little fun with its audience. For years, viewers — present company included — had been treating J.R. like a hero. Now fictional fans like Cliff’s deliveryman were doing the same thing. The line about voting for J.R. even brings to mind the “J.R. for President” buttons and bumper stickers that cropped up during the summer of 1980, when “Who Shot J.R.?” hysteria was in full swing. (I also wonder if the dialogue reflects the era’s political realities. When “The Ewing Blues” debuted in January 1983, Ronald Reagan’s approval rating had sunk to an astonishing 35 percent, the lowest level of his presidency. In those months before Reagan’s popularity rebounded, perhaps Americans really would have voted to replace him with J.R.)

J.R.’s talk show appearance also offers another reminder of Larry Hagman’s genius. J.R. tells the host, Roy Ralston, that he’s cutting gas prices because he believes the oil industry has gouged consumers for too long. We know J.R. is lying because earlier in “The Ewing Blues,” he tells little John Ross that he has become the oil industry’s version of Robin Hood (“take from the poor and give to the rich”). Yet as J.R. talks to Ralston about how “the American public deserves a better hand than they’ve been dealt,” the sincerity in Hagman’s voice kind of makes us want to believe his character. How did Hagman do that?

More than anything, I love Hagman’s scenes with Linda Gray in “The Ewing Blues,” especially J.R. and Sue Ellen’s exchange in their bedroom. After Ray punches him during a Southfork cocktail hour, J.R. sits on the bed, holding an icepack to his swollen lip as Sue Ellen caresses his face. He tells her that he’s nervous about his talk show appearance in a few days and hints he’d like her to join him — and of course the onetime Miss Texas leaps at the opportunity to take another turn in the spotlight. This might be one of the sweetest gestures J.R. ever makes toward his wife. Think about it: J.R. never loses his confidence. He’s only pretending to be anxious so he’ll have an excuse to invite Sue Ellen on the show and involve her in his life. As he puts it, “We’re partners, aren’t we?”

David Paulsen, who wrote and directed “The Ewing Blues,” doesn’t just show us a softer side of J.R.; he also lets us see Bobby’s edge. To compete with J.R.’s cut-rate gas plan, Bobby wants to uncap the Wellington field, one of the Ewing Oil properties Bobby controls during the contest for the company. The problem: The cartel members are partners in the field, and they want it to remain capped. With help from lawyer Craig Gurney, Bobby tells Jordan and Marilee that he’s prepared to exercise a clause in their contract that requires them to either uncap the field or buy out Bobby at five times market value. “That’s armed robbery!” Jordan huffs. Gurney’s response: “No, that’s Paragraph 17A, Section F.” It’s one of my favorite exchanges during the episode.

The other great scene in “The Ewing Blues” comes at the end, when Ellie and Pam visit Brooks Oliver, the lawyer who agrees to help Ellie try to overturn Jock’s will. Ellie is quite timid at the beginning of the scene, clutching the letters that Jock wrote to her from South America. Oliver predicts their lawsuit will turn ugly and wind up in “the newspapers,” which prompts Pam to rebuke him for upsetting her. “She has to know exactly what she is getting into if she wants to go to court,” Oliver explains. This is when Ellie’s fighting spirit bursts forth. “Mr. Oliver, I don’t want to go to court. I don’t want to do any of this,” she says, slapping her hand on the desk. Besides Barbara Bel Geddes’ dramatic delivery, pay attention to the gentle strings that play in the background of this scene. The score, which helped composer Bruce Broughton win an Emmy in 1983, reminds me a little of the music Rob Cairns delivers on TNT’s “Dallas.”

Finally, some casting notes: Oliver is played by the wonderful character actor Donald Moffat, possessor of the fiercest eyebrows this side of Larry Hagman. Moffat is one of several familiar faces who pop up in “The Ewing Blues.” Gurney is played by Lane Davies, who would later star on the soap opera “Santa Barbara,” while another daytime television veteran, John Reilly (“As the World Turns,” “General Hospital”), plays Ralston, the talk show host. The most significant addition to the cast, though, is John Beck, who joins “Dallas” in this episode and begins a three-season run as Mark Graison. I had forgotten that Mark was introduced as an old Ewing family friend. In one scene, when he calls Southfork and Bobby answers the phone, the two characters chat like old chums. It’s surprising to witness, but I know the glad tidings won’t last long.

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Ewing Blues, Miss Ellie Ewing

Mama means business

‘THE EWING BLUES’

Season 6, Episode 14

Airdate: January 7, 1983

Audience: 21.4 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: David Paulsen

Synopsis: J.R. appears on a TV talk show and is lauded for his efforts to cut gas prices. After J.R. threatens to ruin Harwood Oil if Holly doesn’t cancel her refinery contracts, she turns to Bobby for help. To get the cartel to uncap the Wellington property, Bobby threatens to exercise a legal loophole in Ewing Oil’s contract with the cartel members. Mark Graison gives Brooks, his family’s attorney, permission to take Miss Ellie’s case, and Mark grows smitten with Pam when he meets her. Cliff moves into his new townhouse, while Afton grows frustrated with the way he treats her.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Al Checco (deliveryman), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Lane Davies (Craig Gurney), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Bobbie Ferguson (Terri), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Donald Moffat (Brooks Oliver), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Scott Palmer (Farley Criswell), Robert Pinkerton (Elliot), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), John Reilly (Roy Ralston), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

“The Ewing Blues” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. From the very beginning JR did everything he could to keep Bobby out of running Ewing Oil. Now Bobby is ready to take full control of the company. Jock told him he would never be given power he would have to take it. The trouble is JR Ewing knows he was born to run Ewing Oil. Now Bobby has to focus all of his attention on the company at the expense of his marriage. Mark Grayson, the real character not the dream character, is after his woman.

    I remember Sue Ellen having a talk with Pam telling her in one episode that she will be second place to the whore Ewing Oil.

    • Jump, I don’t remember that conversation between J.R. and Pam. Sounds like a good one! Maybe it’s coming in one of the episodes I haven’t critiqued yet?

      • I was talking about a conversation between Sue Ellen and Pam. I think it took place outside infront of the house on South Fork. It was years ago when I saw it.

      • Oh, right. Sorry. I mis-read what you wrote. I need to find that scene and take a look!

  2. Garnet McGee says:

    I gasped when I saw Mason Capwell! Lane Davies is such a brilliant actor. What a treat seeing a strong Miss Ellie and Pam. I don’t think JR was faking his nervousness. I hate the condescending high handed way JR treats Holly. Afton and Cliff have one of the more realistic relationships on the show.

  3. The fake sincerity Hagman delivers here is amazing. I actually believed he wanted Sue Ellen on tv with him.

  4. Maryann says:

    This is the episode where we are first introduced to that arrogant, rich jerk Mark another Alex Ward version that the writers tried desperately to play him off like savior to rescue Pam and her next love interest (may be because PD gave notice he will soon be leaving). I did not buy it then. He was just another wealthy horny dog with his tongue out determine to get into Pam’s pants which they tried to make the viewers believe was a decent guy. He was just a rich jerk who thought all he had to do was buy expensive things, flowers and trips to woo a woman because he did not have much else to offer and did not know what a real relationship was about. They then try to make us feel sorry for him by giving him a terminal disease. OH please he could never replace Bobby as Pam’s true love or leading man like PD!!!!!!! When they saw their plan was a failure they were ready to get PD back at any cost which was to me great by having that Season 9 a very bad dream!!!

Trackbacks

  1. […] “The Ewing Blues,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode, J.R. (Larry Hagman) stands in front of his bedroom mirror, […]

  2. […] drops by Ewing Oil with a bag full of fan mail for J.R., who enchanted Ralston’s viewers after appearing on his show, “Talk Time.” (I wonder: Was Hagman’s real-life fan mail used in this scene?) […]

  3. […] her print skirt in “Brothers and Sisters” and Afton’s navy blouse/white skirt combo in “The Ewing Blues,” but my favorite fashion statement is made by Susan Howard, who sports a striking red hat when Donna […]

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