Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 118 — ‘The Reckoning’

Dallas, Barbara Bel Geddes, Miss Ellie Ewing, Reckoning

Ewings divide!

Few moments on “Dallas” stir as many emotions for me as Miss Ellie’s testimony at the end of “The Reckoning.” Ellie, who is trying to overturn Jock’s will because it’s dividing her family, reads aloud one of the last letters he sent her before his death in South America. The words are sad and sentimental, written at a time when Jock was ill and missing his wife. When she’s finished, Ellie’s lawyer Brooks Oliver asks if she believes the letter shows Jock lacked mental competence at the end of his life. The Ewing matriarch tries to avoid answering the question, but Brooks persists. Ellie swallows hard. “If that’s the legal term you need to break the will,” she says, “then yes, Jock was not mentally competent.”

Does Ellie genuinely believe this? Scriptwriter Will Lorin keeps things ambiguous, which helps lend this scene its power. On the one hand, we learn from Jock’s letter that he was under the weather when he wrote the codicil that established the divisive contest for Ewing Oil. On the other hand, sick or not, pitting J.R. and Bobby against each other feels very much like something Jock would do. Is Ellie deluding herself when she declares otherwise? This wouldn’t be the first time she’s put on blinders where her late husband is concerned. Or could it be that Ellie is so desperate to end her sons’ rivalry that she’s willing to publicly question Jock’s mental competence, even though she knows deep down that he wasn’t delusional? Either way, I feel sorry for Mama at this moment.

Regardless of Ellie’s motivation, Barbara Bel Geddes does a nice job conveying her character’s torment. The actress uses her trademark halting delivery during the testimony, which works well because it suggests Ellie isn’t sure if she’s doing the right thing. Bel Geddes also allows her tears to flow freely, demonstrating again that she’s one of “Dallas’s” best criers. The testimony is also poignant because the letter that Ellie reads makes Jock seem more human than we usually think of him. He writes about getting older, using an expression — “I’m really feeling the years” — that sounds like something a man from Jock’s generation would say. You have to go back to “Dallas’s” ninth episode, “Bypass,” to see the character acknowledge his own mortality with such candor.

More than anything, this scene seems to offer a tribute to the courage that Jim Davis brought to his final days in the spring of 1981. Jock’s letter conjures images of him soldiering on through the jungle, just as Davis persevered when he continued to film scenes for “Dallas” despite the terrible toll cancer was taking on his body. Back then, the producers didn’t write Davis’s illness into the script because they wanted to give the dying actor hope that he would recover and be able to continue playing his character. Now, seeing Ellie read Jock’s letter in “The Reckoning,” it’s almost as if Bel Geddes is finally giving voice to her late co-star’s grit and determination. It’s quite touching.

This episode also shows us how Bobby is becoming more like J.R. as their battle for Ewing Oil rages. After learning that Gary and Ray would lose most of their inheritance if Jock’s will is overturned, Bobby tries to use the information to manipulate Pam into persuading Ellie to drop her legal challenge. Pam thinks Bobby’s suggestion is ridiculous and lets him know it. “Oh, Bobby, you know your mother. Never in a million years would she hurt Gary or Ray,” Pam says. Bobby can only sigh in exasperation.

“The Reckoning” also shows us a different side of Sue Ellen. She’s played the role of J.R.’s supportive spouse throughout his fight with Bobby, but twice in this episode she demonstrates some independence. In the first instance, while J.R. and Sue Ellen are alone in their bedroom, he muses how it would be good for him if Pam had a fling with Mark Graison, thus creating a distraction for Bobby. Sue Ellen is mortified. “J.R., I don’t want anything bad happening to Bobby and Pam’s marriage,” she declares. (Foreshadowing alert: Sue Ellen then adds, “Can you imagine if somebody did that to you and I?”) Later, during the courthouse sequence, J.R. stands in the hallway with Bobby and Sue Ellen and points out Pam and Miss Ellie, standing a few feet away. “Well, I see your little wife over there, giving aid and comfort to the opposition,” J.R. huffs. Sue Ellen’s response: “Opposition? J.R., that’s your mother.”

A final thought: “The Reckoning” is the first of two “Dallas” episodes helmed by Bill Duke, who would go on to become one of television’s most prolific directors. (Duke, a great character actor, also plays the sharecropper whom Jock befriends in “Dallas: The Early Years.”) “The Reckoning” is one of Duke’s first directing gigs, and his gifts are evident. Besides eliciting wonderful performances from Bel Geddes and the rest of the cast, Duke does two things during the courtroom scenes that I love. First, as each character testifies, we see the bailiff cross off that person’s name from the witness list. Duke also shows us periodic close-ups of the court reporter’s fingers as she rhythmically punches the keys of her typewriter. These are small touches, but they add so much to my enjoyment of these scenes.

I also like how Duke ends this episode with a shot of Ellie emerging from the courtroom after the judge rules against her. The other Ewings follow her lead, evoking memories of the freeze frame from “Bypass,” when everyone coalesced around the wheelchair-bound Jock as he departed the hospital. One difference: In the earlier shot, all the Ewings face forward. Now they’re all headed in different directions, a family together but no longer united.

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, Reckoning

The ‘D’ list

‘THE RECKONING’

Season 6, Episode 15

Airdate: January 14, 1983

Audience: 22.1 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Will Lorin

Director: Bill Duke

Synopsis: A judge rejects Miss Ellie’s attempt to overturn Jock’s will. J.R. tells Mark that Pam is interested in him. Rebecca urges Cliff to lay off the Ewings for awhile. Donna fails again to persuade her fellow commissioners to rescind J.R.’s variance. The cartel weighs whether to uncap the Wellington property or buy out Bobby’s share.

Cast: John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Fred Carney (Judge Howard Mantee), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Laurence Haddon (Franklin Horner), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), James Karen (Elton Lawrence), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Julio Medina (Henry Figueroa), Donald Moffat (Brooks Oliver), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Arlen Dean Snyder (George Hicks), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

Comments

  1. Miss Ellie was wrong to interefere in a healthy competition. Jock owned Ewing Oil, it was his decision to set up the fight 4 it & the strongest man should survive that fight. And besides, don’t all family’s squabble?

Trackbacks

  1. […] “The Reckoning,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode, Brooks (Donald Moffat) questions Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel […]

  2. […] handle that.” In the end, though, my favorite quip comes from Sue Ellen, who is aghast when J.R. criticizes Pam for giving “aid and comfort to the opposition” during the hearing to overturn Jock’s […]

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: