Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 119 — ‘A Ewing is a Ewing’

A Ewing is a Ewing, Dallas, Holly Harwood, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Lois Chiles

It’s complicated

The most unsettling moment in “A Ewing is a Ewing”: Holly Harwood arrives for an after-hours meeting at J.R.’s office, where he chastises her for telling one of Harwood Oil’s top customers that J.R. has become a silent partner in the company. Holly expresses regret — not for letting the cat out of the bag, but for going into business with J.R. in the first place. She turns her back to him. J.R. approaches from behind, reaches around and slowly begins to unbutton her jacket. “No, J.R. I don’t want this,” she says. He pulls the jacket off her shoulders. “You won’t enjoy it,” she continues. His reply: “You better make damn sure I do.”

The scene ends here, but there’s no doubt intercourse occurs. (Later in “A Ewing is a Ewing,” Holly pulls a gun on J.R. and tells him what transpired in his office will never happen again.) The question is: Is this rape? I can’t decide. On the one hand, Holly tells J.R. “no,” but he has sex with her anyway. How can that be anything but assault? On the other hand, I wonder why Holly makes no attempt to run away or to fight J.R. when he begins disrobing her. This woman is no shrinking violet, as the gun scene later in the episode demonstrates.

Given the ambiguity, perhaps a better question is: What did the people who made “Dallas” want the audience to think when this scene was broadcast 30 years ago? It seems shocking to think that a network television show would allow its lead character to rape a woman (this was CBS in the 1980s, not AMC today), so I wonder if the producers and writers merely saw this as another example of J.R. running roughshod over one of his enemies? Could it be the people behind the scenes didn’t grasp that this might be construed as an act of sexual violence? To be fair, society has a greater understanding of rape today than it did three decades ago, but it’s not like nothing was known about these kinds of crimes back then. Perhaps these two facts are telling: None of the producers listed in the “Dallas” credits during the 1982-83 season are women, and of the 28 episodes produced that year, all but one were written by men. (Linda Elstad wrote “Requiem,” which aired three weeks after “A Ewing is a Ewing.”).

Regardless of what this scene is supposed to depict, I dislike it. I’m usually willing to forgive J.R. his sins, even when my conscience tries to tug me in the other direction. I’m an unapologetic J.R. apologist. J.R. is cheating in a business deal? I say: He’s just trying to make his daddy proud, and who can’t sympathize with that? J.R. is cheating on Sue Ellen? In my mind, he’s merely revealing his foibles. But even I can’t justify my hero’s behavior in this scene. Make no mistake: This is not one of J.R.’s sly seductions. I hate how he how he stands in the doorway of his office and beckons Holly into the room by saying, “Come on, hon. Come on.” He treats her like a child or worse, a pet.

The scene invites comparisons to another disturbing “Dallas” sequence — this one from the 10th episode, “Black Market Baby” — when J.R. angrily pins Sue Ellen to their bed and forces himself on her, despite her repeatedly saying, “I don’t want you.” I don’t like that scene any more than the one with Holly, but keep in mind: It was filmed in 1978, before Larry Hagman had perfected the smiling warrior routine that made him so endearing to fans like me. Other soap opera icons have similar skeletons in their closet — Luke raped Laura before they became a couple on “General Hospital,” while Blake forced himself on Krystle during an early episode of “Dynasty” — but once Luke and Blake were redeemed, their shows were loathe to remind audiences of the characters’ past sins. Why would “Dallas” want to risk the affection that fans had for J.R., unless the show was feeling long in the tooth and trying to recapture some of its earlier edge?

Of course, no matter how distressing I find J.R. and Holly’s scene, I still appreciate how good Hagman and Lois Chiles are in it. Hagman, who also directed “A Ewing is a Ewing,” wisely avoids any hint of mischief, choosing instead to play J.R. as purely menacing. Chiles, in the meantime, makes us feel Holly’s sense of trepidation when she arrives for their meeting, as well as the disgust that grips her when J.R. begins unbuttoning her jacket. Hagman and Chiles are also terrific in the scene where Holly pulls the gun on J.R. I like how he snickers when she produces the weapon, only to breathe a private sigh of relief the moment he exits the room. Frankly, it’s cathartic to see J.R. scared.

I think it’s also worth considering how J.R. treats Sue Ellen in “A Ewing is a Ewing.” At the beginning of the second act, he “confides” in Sue Ellen that he needs someone to refine his crude and suggests she could ask Clayton Farlow to do it on his behalf. Sue Ellen resists this idea, so J.R. exploits her Achilles heel: He suggests that without Clayton’s help, he might lose the contest for Ewing Oil, thus robbing John Ross of his birthright. “It’s funny, isn’t it?” J.R. says. “The one thing I need to beat Bobby, to secure our future — the future of our little boy — is in the hands of a man that despises me.”

This is the second time in recent episodes that J.R. has used Sue Ellen as a pawn in the battle for Ewing Oil: In “Fringe Benefits,” he asks her to host a dinner party for Gil Thurman, even though he knows the lecherous Thurman will make a pass at her. That scheme ends disastrously, and Sue Ellen’s appeal to Clayton in “A Ewing is a Ewing” doesn’t turn out much better. Clayton feels she’s taking advantage of their friendship by asking him to help J.R. and storms away. It makes me wonder: Was this J.R.’s goal all along, to drive a wedge between his wife and Clayton?

Like J.R., Bobby shows he’s also willing to use people to get what he wants in “A Ewing is a Ewing.” (No doubt Bobby’s emulation of his brother inspired this episode’s title.) When Bobby discovers J.R. is in cahoots with energy commissioner George Hicks, Bobby hires Wendy, one of Carl Daggett’s prostitutes, 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 Bobby’s.) In “A Ewing is a Ewing’s” memorable final scene, Pam arrives for dinner with Bobby at an out-of-the-way restaurant, but she’s unaware the only reason he asked her out for the evening is so he can spy on Wendy and Hicks, who are drinking on the other side of the room. Bobby isn’t just using Wendy; he’s using his wife too.

I suppose I should be disappointed in Bobby, but I’m not. It’s rather satisfying to see him shed his good-guy veneer, at least for a little while. Or maybe it’s just that after everything else that goes down in this episode, seeing Bobby dabble in prostitution and blackmail doesn’t seem so bad.

Grade: B

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

A Ewing is a Ewing, Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy

Yep, he’s a Ewing

‘A EWING IS A EWING’

Season 6, Episode 16

Airdate: January 28, 1983

Audience: 22.3 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Frank Furino

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: After J.R. pressures Holly into having sex with him, she pulls a gun on him and declares their relationship is now strictly business. Bobby discovers J.R. is in cahoots with George Hicks, a member of the Texas Energy Commission, and hires a prostitute to set up Hicks. Clayton reacts angrily when Sue Ellen asks him to refine J.R.’s crude and leaves for Galveston, where he spends time with the vacationing Miss Ellie. The cartel buys out Bobby’s share of the Wellington property. Cliff urges his party to recruit J.R. as a candidate for office. Mark continues to pursue Pam.

Cast: John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Ion Berger (detective), Robert Burleigh (Harry), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), April Clough (Wendy), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), John Dennis (Ned), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Paul Mantee (General Cochran), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Charles Napier (Carl Daggett), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Arlen Dean Snyder (George Hicks), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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

Comments

  1. Yes, what he did here with Holly, and the other scene you mentioned with Sue Ellen, was rape. So is the time in a later season when he blackmails a woman into having sex with him, in exchange for keeping Clayton out of jail. And don’t forget the time he slapped Sue Ellen in the face, after she taunted him with the idea that Cliff might be the father of her baby. Violence against a woman. Not cool.

    But only defense is that it was the 80’s. Public attitudes were different, and so were TV standards. Heck, I can think of a scene in the movie “Revenge of The Nerds,” which qualifies as rape, but was just thought of as funny @ the time. It sucks, but you just have to put it in context. Like when I, a lifelong comic-book fan, as come across old comics from the 40’s and 50’s, and see latent racist imagery. I can’t hate Captain Marvel because he once put on blackface to disguise himself, or Superman because, during WWII, his comics encouraged readers to “Slap a Jap”

  2. I was a kid, but honestly until the term date rape when I was about 14 came into use, non violent rape had never occurred to me. I knew what Rape was because of early to mid eighties because we had only one TV so I would see the news. It was only about violent rape then. This is the worst thing J.R. ever did, but I would like to think it would not be something anybody with today’s knowledge would ever fathom to write for him. He was very mean, but mostly in a fun way. Bad to the bone, but not close to pure evil. This feels very wrong on him. The early scene with Sue Ellen isn’t great to see now, but it can be argued that they played it (slightly) more ambiguously that time.

    • Beautifully stated, Mike. “Bad to the bone but not pure evil.” Love that. Thanks.

    • if like me you watched dallas from start to finish, you would actually see jr ewing rape at least 5 women. it was never “cool”, it was part of the plot and integral to the character of jr ewing.

  3. the_lost_son says:

    I’ve seen this ep. many times, but your review made me thinking again.
    A great read like always.
    It’s highly appreciated.
    Thanks for your effort and time.

  4. Chris,
    When Miss Ellie and Clayton meet in the restaurant in Galveston, is the waitress the same actress who plays Mrs. Scottfield ? (aka… the woman who brought down Ewing Oil by supplying information to Jeremy Wendell.)

  5. Garnet McGee says:

    I fast forwarded through the Holly scene. I know that later she has consensual sex with JR and it disgusts me. There is something inherently misogynistic in philanderers anyway especially if they have one standard for themselves and another for their wives or girlfriends. The early scene of JR slapping Sue Ellen and forcing himself on her were open to interpretation but also disgusting. But instances lend credence to the argument that JR abused Sue Ellen. Everything that Holly says when she pulls a gun on JR is true. Hilarious to see that Erica Kane was publishing a magazine with JR on the cover as Tempo was the name of her fictional magazine on All My Children,

  6. Well the prostitute thang by Brother Bobby was needed. “Hook”er, line, & sinker. It got the job done, it got Hiccks. It gave Bob a tactical advantage.

Trackbacks

  1. […] “A Ewing is a Ewing,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode, Holly (Lois Chiles) arrives in the darkened Ewing Oil […]

  2. […] down, my least favorite scene: In “A Ewing is a Ewing,” J.R. comes on to Holly and she tells him “no,” but he has sex with her anyway. Was this really […]

  3. […] J.R. about Holly Harwood’s contract to supply the military with fuel, in the sixth-season episode “A Ewing is a Ewing.” He later became a regular on “Cagney & Lacey” and […]

  4. […] and fondling each other as distasteful as seeing J.R. force Holly Harwood to have sex with him against her will, which is what happened in a 1983 episode. Now that was […]

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