Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 121 — ‘Requiem’

Dallas, Pam Ewing, Priscilla Pointer, Rebecca Wentworth, Requiem, Victoria Principal

Goodbye, Mama

Rebecca Wentworth swept into “Dallas” like a character from a Douglas Sirk movie, so it’s only fitting that she leaves in the same manner. Her death in “Requiem” is pure soap opera. In the scene, Rebecca lies in a hospital bed after being injured in a plane crash, but except for the white bandages that frame her face, you would never know this woman had just suffered major trauma. With soft strings playing in the background, Rebecca makes Pam promise to take care of Cliff. “You’re my good girl,” she says. Through tears, mother and daughter declare their love for each other — and then the monitor flat lines, the music swells and a medical team rushes into the room. “Mama? Mama”?” Pam cries.

Larry Hagman directed “Requiem,” and I love how he pulls together all the technical aspects of this scene — the tight close-ups of Priscilla Pointer and Victoria Principal, Bruce Broughton’s dramatic underscore, the monitor’s extended beep — to create a moment that tugs at the heartstrings without apology. Pointer and Principal deserve praise too. The tears from both actresses flow freely, but neither one goes overboard. For an old-fashioned Hollywood death, the weeping feels quite real. (According to Barbara A. Curran’s “Dallas: The Complete Story of the World’s Favorite Prime-Time Soap,” Pointer’s daughter, the actress Amy Irving, was on the set the day this scene was filmed and cried along with her mother and Principal.)

The only thing more emotional than Rebecca’s death is the scene where Cliff finds out about it. It begins when Afton arrives at his townhouse and finds him curled up on the sofa, sleeping off a hangover. He doesn’t know Rebecca was in an accident, much less that she’s gone forever. As Afton breaks the sad news, Hagman slowly zooms in on Ken Kercheval’s face until it fills the frame. His anguished expression recalls the one he wore at the end of the recent “Ewings Unite!” episode of TNT’s “Dallas,” when Cliff orders the explosion of the Ewing Energies oil rig, even though he knows his pregnant daughter Pamela is aboard. Both expressions stir strong feelings: In the 1983 scene, I want to reach through my television screen and give Cliff a hug; in 2013, I want to wring his neck. Is there any doubt Kercheval is one of “Dallas’s” most gifted actors?

Other “Dallas” cast members shine in “Requiem” too. This is the episode that brings back Morgan Brittany after an extended break (before “Requiem,” her most recent appearance came in the 101st episode, “The Investigation”), and the actress gets to show us new shades of Katherine’s persona. I believe the character’s tears are real when she comes to Southfork to comfort Pam, although we’re also left with the impression that Katherine still harbors a crush on her sister’s husband. (“Pam, it must be such a comfort for you to have someone like Bobby,” she says.) We also begin to see Katherine’s knack for duplicity. She’s nice to Cliff when Pam’s around, but the moment Katherine and Cliff are alone, Katherine unleashes her venom and blames him for their mother’s death. “You did this! You killed her!” she screams.

The other highlight of “Requiem” is Rebecca’s funeral, which is one of “Dallas’s” grandest. Hagman opens the sequence with a wide shot of several limousines arriving at the cemetery. Next, we watch as the door to each car opens and the various Barneses, Ewings and Wentworths exit. They all march slowly into the cemetery, along with secondary characters like Jordan Lee, Marilee Stone and Punk and Mavis Anderson. There’s even a handful of reporters present to cover the action. This feels like a funeral fit for a queen, although the emotional kicker comes in the next scene. J.R. is in his office, watching TV news coverage of the burial, when Mike Hughes bursts into the room. Hughes, whom Rebecca was on her way to see when the Wentworth jet crashed, is furious because J.R. has decided to back out of his deal to buy his refinery. Since the point of Rebecca’s trip was to talk Hughes out of selling to J.R. in the first place, this means she died in vain, no?

“Requiem” also includes the famous scene where Miss Ellie speaks to Sue Ellen and predicts the Ewing grandsons will one day inherit their fathers’ rivalry. When this episode debuted 30 years ago, most viewers probably didn’t pay much attention to this scene, but since the debut of TNT’s sequel series, it’s come to occupy a prominent spot in “Dallas” lore. The conversation begins with Sue Ellen drawing a parallel between Rebecca’s death and J.R. losing his variance to pump more oil than anyone else in Texas. Ellie tells Sue Ellen the comparison is ridiculous. “Think 25 or 30 years ahead,” she says. “I won’t be here then. And the fight won’t be between J.R. and Bobby. It’ll be between John Ross and Christopher. Think carefully, Sue Ellen. Your loyalty to your husband is a wonderful thing, but you’re a mother too. And where will this all end?”

The most interesting part of Ellie’s speech isn’t her prediction about her grandsons, but the challenge she lays down to her daughter-in-law. “I won’t be here,” she tells Sue Ellen. The implication: But you will be, and it might be up to you to keep the peace in this family. Are you up to the task? Indeed, to watch this scene now is to see how much Sue Ellen has changed — and how much she hasn’t. In 2013, our heroine is John Ross’s biggest champion, just like she stood in J.R.’s corner three decades ago. But Sue Ellen has outgrown many of her other tendencies. Can you imagine her making the kind of shallow observation that she does in “Requiem,” when she equates J.R.’s business setback with Rebecca’s death? Make no mistake: Sue Ellen still has her share of struggles, but she’s come a long way. Witness the recent scene where she seemed to echo Ellie’s concern about the destructive patterns within the family Ewing.

Mama was right about a lot of things in 1983, but I bet even she couldn’t have predicted how wise Sue Ellen would become.

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval, Requiem

Good grief

‘REQUIEM’

Season 6, Episode 18

Airdate: February 11, 1983

Audience: 15.4 million homes, ranking 16th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Linda Elstad

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: Rebecca dies from injuries sustained in the plane crash. Katherine arrives for the funeral and blames Cliff for their mother’s death. Pam decides to take Christopher and leave Southfork. When the Texas Energy Commission revokes J.R.’s variance, he joins forces with Driscoll to secretly sell oil to Cuba.

Cast: John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Jane D’Auvray (nurse), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Alice Hirson (Mavis Anderson), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), John Ingle (surgeon), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Richard Kuss (Mike Hughes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Ryan MacDonald (Casey), Ben Piazza (Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Arlen Dean Snyder (George Hicks), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

Comments

  1. Stephan says:

    This is an episode that really had the A coming, since it is already featured in several Dal-lists although it’s nowhere near cliffhanger zone where standout episodes are mostly to be found. In fact, this instalment is so well done that I can even pardon the spoiler in the episode title: At the end of the previous episode, Rebecca might also have survived, so the announcement of a “Requiem” rather kills the suspense there. However, this episode is less about WHAT happenes than HOW it’s done, and the execution is flawless, as you rightly point out.
    I am not quite sold on the degree of character development that you ascribe to Sue Ellen: While she has definitely come a long way from her superficial society queen days, a new Miss Ellie she is not. The scene from “Blame Game” that you reference shows clearly that she understands the problem, but in that same episode she fuels further family fighting by joining Ewing Energies at the side of John Ross. I guess it’s natural to find it easier to SEE what the right thing to do is than to actually DO it. Having said that, I think I prefer that conflicted Sue Ellen to a perfect peace-maker. The version we have now makes for more interesting television.

    • Dan in WI says:

      The episode title isn’t that much a spoiler in that back in the first run day the episode titles weren’t common knowledge.

    • Oh, yes. You are very correct, Stephan. She is no Miss Ellie, although I think she has the potential to become one. Like you, however, I’m not ready for that day to come. Her inner conflict makes for great television.

      Thanks for your comments!

      CB

  2. Dan in WI says:

    Interesting take on the upspoken part of Miss Ellie’s talk with Sue Ellen. Chris see’s it as implying Sue Ellen may have to step into Miss Ellie’s role of peacekeeper. I’m not sure anyone would have thought Sue Ellen would ever be capable of that of such a thing at that point in her life. Face it we’d never seen her be anything but selfish to that point. I was took Ellie’s warning to be more along the lines of “Without a mediator like me the family will destroy itself. Do you want that on your conscious?”

    • Good point, Dan. But I wonder: How much of a conscience did Sue Ellen have in 1983?

      • Dan in WI says:

        That’s exactly what I’m saying. I would argue in 1983 Sue Ellen’s conscious was near zero. We’d see one later but it was a ways off in ’83.

  3. Does anyone know if Priscilla Pointer wanted to be written out of DALLAS at this point or did the writers just think her story arch had added all it could? It seemed like they suddenly thrust her together with Clayton, then dropped that idea, then she was gone.

    • Nick, I’d love to know the answer to that question too. My guess is this wasn’t Ms. Pointer’s choice. As far as Rebecca and Clayton, I wish the show had explored their relationship (and the triangle with Miss Ellie) more fully.

  4. Barbara fan says:

    It was a great episode and I love your scene of the day
    What struck me at the time though as a teenager was Rebecca dying with full perfect make up and not even a smudge lol
    I remember at the time I didn’t cry when she died – she wasn’t a BF fav, but with hindsight they wrote her out too soon. Im sure there could have been more mileage for her character.

  5. I believe Priscilla – a veteran – tried the seize the moment financially. She saw her increased role in the show and tried to negotiate. And the powers that be, perhaps Hagman and BBG, shut it down real fast.

  6. Garnet McGee says:

    Kercheval does an amazing job in this episode. His facial expressions and anguish seem so real. I suppose they had to kill Rebecca off so Cliff would always be the underdog. He lost an influential backer in his mom. Sue Ellen’s witchiness seems to come out of nowhere. One moment she is compassionate and the next she is small minded for no reason. It is frustrating when the new writers do this to her character but at least its in keeping with her history.

  7. Walt Driscoll is a god damned snake boy! But he owed J.R. the favour since J.R. got his wife out of the drunk driving charges. Of course ol’ Walt being broke & not knowing J.R. set up Mrs. Driscoll in the 1st place was the perfect guy to manipulate here.

  8. I was not sorry Rebecca died, it was like a funeral fit for a queen but she was not much of a mother or “queen”. Rebecca caused it on herself being on that jet to help Cliff seek revenge on JR. She was stupid to support Cliff in what he caused on himself (JR manipulating him) because he to was stupid and greedy. Rebecca should have listen to Pam to let Cliff fight his own battles. Cliff made a dumb mistake to decide to get involve with Sue Ellen knowing JR would not stand for it. Then Cliff chose a cowardly way of dealing with his misfortune and attempt suicide, instead of regrouping, using his brains and let Afton help him.

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Requiem,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode, Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) comes to the Southfork kitchen […]

  2. […] decision to leave is triggered by the death of her mother Rebecca, whose will reading delivers this episode’s other monumental moment. The […]

  3. […] honors the tropes of daytime dramas and Douglas Sirk movies (witness Rebecca Wentworth’s weepy deathbed scene a few episodes earlier). This is something I’ve always admired about the show. The homage […]

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