Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 123 — ‘Brothers and Sisters’

Brothers and Sisters, Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval

Sad as hell

In the best scene from “Brothers and Sisters,” Pam watches as Cliff finally unleashes the guilt that’s been consuming him since Rebecca took his spot aboard the doomed Wentworth jet. “I was supposed to be on that trip! She died and I lived!” he screams. Director Larry Hagman shoots Ken Kercheval in a tight close-up, with the colorful window in Cliff’s living room in the background. It reminds me of Howard Beale delivering one of his jeremiads in front of the stained glass that adorns his news set in “Network.” This homage probably wasn’t intentional, but the comparison fits nonetheless. Kercheval is every bit as mesmerizing as Peter Finch was in that movie. (Coincidentally or not, Kercheval has a small role in “Network.”)

In this scene and others, what impresses me most about Kercheval is his fearlessness. He never holds back during Cliff’s most dramatic moments, seemingly giving the role every ounce of energy he possesses. The result is a character who feels utterly human. Cliff and Pam’s conversation in “Brothers and Sisters” lasts just two and a half minutes, yet during that span Kercheval manages to convey a full range of emotion: depression, anger, self-pity, insecurity, love. The actor achieves this not only through the way he delivers his dialogue, but also through his body language. To see what I mean, watch this scene with the sound muted. Focus on how Kercheval carries himself: the hunched shoulders that demonstrate Cliff’s tension, the downward glances that telegraph his guilt, the way he presses his hands to his chest when Cliff finally gives voice to the rage within him. It’s fascinating.

I also love how Kercheval always seems to bring out the best in his co-stars. This is something I never thought much about until I heard Patrick Duffy praise Barbara Bel Geddes during the audio commentary on the DVD for “A House Divided.” Duffy says he always stepped up his game when Bobby had a scene with Miss Ellie, and it seems like Kercheval had a similar effect on his fellow performers. In “Brothers and Sisters,” Victoria Principal has to work hard to keep up with Kercheval, but she gets the job done. Pam goes toe to toe with Cliff during their shouting match, although Principal’s best moment comes at the end of the scene, when Pam holds her brother in her arms and reminds him how much Rebecca loved him. Principal is the saving grace here; she allows a display of raw emotion to end on a warm note.

The best subplot in “Brothers and Sisters”: Katherine asks Bobby to meet her for lunch at a Dallas restaurant, knowing Pam will be there with Mark Graison. It feels like the kind of thing Abby would have orchestrated on “Knots Landing,” which might be why I like it so much. (Not every great soap opera scheme must involve a multi-million-dollar business deal, something the “Knots Landing” writers knew better than anyone.) Indeed, Katherine’s stunt demonstrates how smart the “Dallas” producers were to bring back Morgan Brittany, who filled the void created when Afton went from troublemaking vixen to put-upon heroine. I especially like how Katherine’s shenanigans lead to Bobby and Pam’s crackling confrontation at the end of the episode. “You know, I wonder whatever happened to the phrase ‘for richer or poorer, for better or worse’? Do you remember any of that?” Bobby asks. Pam’s response: “I wonder what happened to the Bobby Ewing I said those words to?”

The other great moments in “Brothers and Sisters” are small but meaningful. The kitchen scene where Donna realizes Ellie is nervous about her date with Clayton is sweet, and so is Mickey and Lucy’s conversation by the pool, where she tells him she isn’t ready to start dating again. I also love seeing Sly and Phyllis arrive together at the office, chatting about the latter’s date the night before. It’s a throwaway line, but isn’t it nice to know these women have lives outside the office? The next scene is equally revealing: Phyllis enters Bobby’s office and discovers him asleep on the sofa. Rather than wake him, she quietly returns to her desk, buzzes Bobby on the intercom and lets him believe she thinks he merely came to work extra early. Nice of her not to embarrass the boss when he’s sleeping off a hangover, huh?

I also get a kick out of the scene where TV host Roy Ralston 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?) Ralston urges J.R. to run for office and to treat his show as a platform for his candidacy. This pre-sages what happened in real life nine years later, when another famous Texas, Ross Perot, turned a string of guest spots on “Larry King Live” into a presidential campaign. I doubt the “Dallas” producers ever seriously considered giving J.R. a career in politics — it would have upset the balance of power on the show — yet it’s tantalizing to consider nonetheless.

Mr. Ewing goes to Washington. Imagine the possibilities!

Grade: A


Brothers and Sisters, Dallas, Katherine Wentworth, Morgan Brittany

Here comes trouble


Season 6, Episode 20

Airdate: February 25, 1983

Audience: 21.2 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Will Lorin

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: Katherine schemes to drive a wedge between Bobby and Pam. With Pam and Christopher gone, Bobby throws himself into the fight for Ewing Oil. Holly discovers J.R. is shipping oil to Puerto Rico, unaware the real destination is Cuba. Talk show host Roy Ralston encourages J.R. to run for office. Lucy tells Mickey she needs time before she’s ready to date again. Clayton sells the Southern Cross and makes plans to move to Dallas.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), 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), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Ben Hartigan (Holly’s advisor) Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Ben Piazza (Walt Driscoll), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), John Reilly (Roy Ralston), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Marilyn Staley (waitress), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

 “Brothers and Sisters” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.


  1. Enjoying following your critiques! Are you in the UK? Your episode guides are pretty much right on schedule with the current reruns on CBS Drama in the UK. Great to watch them and the come here for your take 🙂

    • Thank you, Rob. I’m not in the U.K. (although I think it would be wonderful to live there!). It’s just a happy coincidence that my critiques have aligned with the CBS Drama reruns.

      Thanks again for reading my site.


  2. I like how you discuss Kercheval’s performance. He manages to convey such intensity but also this sort of fragility–like he’s often just barely holding himself together from having an outburst.

    • Thanks. Ken Kercheval is fantastic. The other thing I forgot to mention about this scene: It’s Kercheval’s only appearance in this episode. Yet look at the impression he leaves!

  3. Garnet McGee says:

    JR’s nervous, smarmy behavior reminds me of Harris in the new series. Harris got the smarm and John Ross gets the charm. Ellie’s enthusiasm when she mentioned getting changed for her date with Clayton was so school girl like! I’m not a big Lucy (Charlene) fan but her romance with Mickey has been her most touching, interesting yet.

  4. And here 2day u r talking about in the modern DALLAS TNT about Brother or Mr. Bobby Ewing going to Washington this wknd IV the White House Correspondents Dinner. How ironic C.B.?! And as IV Brother J.R., he said during the series when talking to some good ol’ boys that he’d never want to run IV office. He had more power from behind the scenes!

  5. Pam was so wrong and acting almost like a slut when she allowed that jerk Mark to hang around for a woman who claimed she loves her husband. I can almost understand her involvement with that other slime Alex because she just found her mother who rejected her and needed comfort from Bobby who was too busy. She was even more wrong with Mark, yes Bobby became obsessed with the fight for Ewing Oil which she disapproved of but is that a reason to flirt and hang around with another man, during those times I began to believe what JR said about her to Bobby in the beginning was right, her commitment to Bobby was so questionable sometimes now that I look back on these episodes. I know I have mentioned this before CB but going over your critiques made me mad again.

    • Couldn’t agree more. Pam gets on my nerves. She’s seems to think she can have it both ways taking no accountability


  1. […] “Brothers and Sisters,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode, Pam and Cliff (Victoria Principal, Ken Kercheval) are in his […]

  2. […] love Pam’s upswept hairdo and western dress in “Barbecue Three,” her print skirt in “Brothers and Sisters” and Afton’s navy blouse/white skirt combo in “The Ewing Blues,” but my favorite fashion […]

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