Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 120 — ‘Crash of ’83’

Bobby Ewing, Crash of '83, Dallas, Patrick Duffy

Welcome to the dark side

At the beginning of “Crash of ’83,” the corrupt energy commissioner George Hicks tells Bobby he’ll “never” vote to revoke J.R.’s permission to pump more oil than anyone else in Texas. Bobby’s response: “Hicks, never say never.” The line, which Patrick Duffy delivers with his trademark breathy seriousness, sets the tone for the rest of the hour. Bobby does things in “Crash of ’83” that he probably never dreamed he’d have to do, like using a hooker to snoop into Hick’s private life and then blackmailing the man when his secret addiction to cocaine is discovered. It makes me wonder: Does the title of this episode refer only to the climactic crash of the Wentworth jet, or is it also meant to describe Bobby’s descent into moral morass?

It might seem surprising to see Bobby pulling dirty tricks, but when you think about it, this isn’t altogether out of character for him. Remember when “Dallas” began, Bobby was Ewing Oil’s “roadman,” specializing in spreading around the three “b’s” — broads, booze and booty — to help the company curry favor with state politicians. Bobby also demonstrated a flair for wheeling and dealing when he took control of Ewing Oil after J.R.’s shooting, including turning the tables on devious Sally Bullock after she cooked up an insurance fraud scheme with J.R. That incident reminds me a lot of Bobby’s blackmail of Hicks in “Crash of ’83.” Yes, Bobby sets up a public official, but Hicks isn’t exactly a saint. Bobby is merely reshuffling a deck that J.R. stacked against him.

Indeed, it’s pretty easy to forgive Bobby his trespasses in this episode, even if Bobby has trouble forgiving himself. But even if you don’t like Bobby’s behavior, you can’t deny that Duffy delivers another outstanding performance. Like Barbara Bel Geddes, Duffy has mastered the ability to let us know what his character is feeling with a mere sideways glance or furrowed brow. In this episode, watch his face when Hicks tells Bobby, “Ewing, I gotta give you credit. You’re just as dirty as your famous brother.” Duffy’s pained expression lets us know how much these words sting Bobby. By the way: It’s terrific to see Duffy perform opposite Arlen Dean Snyder, whose smarminess as Hicks contrasts nicely with Bobby’s indignation. (Snyder made a career of playing sleazy southerners. Besides Hicks, my favorite Synder role is Ray Don Simpson, the gold chained jerk who makes the mistake of trying to pick up Julia Sugarbaker in the “Designing Women” pilot.)

Other “Crash of ’83” highlights include the scene where Bobby confesses his sins to Pam, who offers him no sympathy. Victoria Principal is especially good during this exchange, which mirrors a recent scene from TNT’s “Dallas” when Elena expresses her disappointment in Christopher after he crosses over to the dark side. I also admire how Linda Gray ever-so-subtly lets us know that Sue Ellen is a little jealous of Ellie’s friendship with Clayton, as well as the sense of desperation that Audrey Landers brings to the scene where Afton rushes to Southfork to tell Pam the Wentworth jet has crashed with Rebecca aboard. It’s also fun to see J.R. conduct a clandestine meeting with Walt Driscoll alongside a Texas back road; I wonder if this is the same gravelly path where J.R. and Alan Beam used to scheme together?

My other favorite “Crash of ’83” moment occurs when Pam and Rebecca bring Christopher to Cliff’s new townhouse. Pam holds aloft the child and reminds Cliff that he’s never met him (although didn’t Cliff show up at Southfork with an oversized stuffed animal under his arm for his nephew during the fifth-season episode “Waterloo at Southfork”?). Ken Kercheval then picks up little Eric Farlow, the child actor who plays Christopher, and proceeds to mug his way through a scene of Cliff feeding the baby his bottle. This moment is utterly charming, and also very revealing: Only Ken Kercheval could upstage a baby.

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Christopher Ewing, Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Eric Farlow, Ken Kercheval

Say uncle

‘CRASH OF ’83’

Season 6, Episode 17

Airdate: February 4, 1983

Audience: 20 million homes, ranking 5th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Howard Lakin

Director: Bill Duke

Synopsis: Bobby blackmails Hicks into voting to rescind J.R.’s variance. J.R. rejects Driscoll’s offer to get involved in an illegal oil deal. Miss Ellie grows closer to Clayton, who decides to sell the Southern Cross ranch. Lucy defends Mickey to Ray. Cliff is outraged to discover Afton slept with Thurman. Rebecca takes Cliff’s place on a flight aboard the Wentworth jet, which crashes.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), April Clough (Wendy), Jack Collins (Russell Slater), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), 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), Kenneth Kimmins (Thornton McLeish), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Charles Napier (Carl Daggett), Ben Piazza (Walt Driscoll), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), John Reilly (Roy Raltson), Albert Salmi (Gil Thurman), Arlen Dean Snyder (George Hicks), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

“Crash of ’83” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. Yes, Patrick Duffy was great in this scene, and many others. My brother and I have talked about this since the TNT Dallas funeral episode, how it made us realize how REALLY good Duffy is as an actor. He just sort of got upstaged by Larry Hagman all those years, so he was taken for granted.

  2. Jennifer Irons says:

    I have been watching Dallas literally since I was about 8 years old(I’m 41 now) and I have always known how great an actor Patrick Duffy was and is still. I think he is even better now in the Dallas TNT than in the original series and he was awesome in the CBS version! Not to mention how very handsome he was and stil is!! 🙂

  3. I also love the small scene where Clayton drops Ellie off and makes a date with her for dinner- the look on Sue Ellen’s face is priceless. Linda Gray has said that she modeled Sue Ellen on Southern women who “fight with their eyes” which as a Southern woman I can say is 100% true- never more than in this scene does she really show how fantastic she is at that!

  4. Garnet McGee says:

    I was sorry to see another strong woman character bite the dust. I hope the killing of Rebecca Wentworth is worth the storylines they get out of it. Making Hutch Mckinney Pam’s birth father was certainly not worth it.I should have suspected she was going to be offed when they kept on recycling her wardrobe. The photos Bobby took of HIcks were almost identical to the one’s taken of Ricky Lobel by Marta in the new series.

    • Poor Ricky Lobell.

    • Couldn’t agree more Garnet… I liked Rebecca a lot & in hindsight think her presence as “matriarch #2” could’ve saved DALLAS a bit longer when the show was having problems with Barbara Bel Geddes’ health etc. The reasoning back then was that it provided Katherine an excuse for her to come back to DALLAS but I think another one could’ve been devised while keeping Rebecca alive & well. It seems at times that the show only valued women that could be utilized at providing drama in bed & not just if they were solid actresses. Rebecca had a quiet dignity about her (attributed to the actress I’m sure) & it’s just sad that they decided to kill her off before her character was allowed to make a big enough splash to be more memorable. Actresses of Priscilla Pointer’s calibre do not grow on trees so I think more effort should’ve been done to keep her on the show…

  5. Cliff did indeed bring an oversized stuffed bear II the ranch II meet his new adopted nephew in a previous “DALLAS” episode. But I thought C.B. he was asked II leave or Christopher was out with his mama at a Dr’s appointment or shopping or some other endeavour!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Eric Farlow aka FAT Christopher!

  7. Couldn’t agree more Garnet… I liked Rebecca a lot & in hindsight think her presence as “matriarch #2” could’ve saved DALLAS a bit longer when the show was having problems with Barbara Bel Geddes’ health etc. The reasoning back then was that it provided Katherine an excuse for her to come back to DALLAS but I think another one could’ve been devised while keeping Rebecca alive & well. It seems at times that the show only valued women that could be utilized at providing drama in bed & not just if they were solid actresses. Rebecca had a quiet dignity about her (attributed to the actress I’m sure) & it’s just sad that they decided to kill her off before her character was allowed to make a big enough splash to be more memorable. Actresses of Priscilla Pointer’s calibre do not grow on trees so I think more effort should’ve been done to keep her on the show…

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Crash of ’83,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode, a sullen Bobby (Patrick Duffy) enters his bedroom late at […]

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