Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 125 — ‘The Sting’

Ben Piazza, Dallas, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Sting

Stung

Which Ewing brother do you root for in “The Sting”? I cheer for Bobby at the top of the hour, when he thwarts J.R.’s illegal sale of 100 million barrels of oil to Cuba. It’s nice to see Bobby finally outfox J.R., who’s been riding high in their fight for control of Ewing Oil. Of course, once Bobby secures his victory, my sympathies shift to J.R. With his plot foiled, J.R. finds himself at the mercy of Garcia, the unscrupulous middleman in the Cuban deal. How can you not feel for sorry for the old boy as he squirms under Garcia’s thumb?

The effortless switching in the role of underdog makes “The Sting” an especially clever episode of “Dallas.” I also love the terrific opening sequence, which picks up where “Caribbean Connection,” the previous hour, left off. J.R.’s crony Walt Driscoll rushes out of his motel room, cash-stuffed briefcase in hand, as he heads to the airport to complete the Cuban deal. As he pulls out of the parking lot in his big Oldsmobile, Ray’s pickup truck suddenly strikes it. With Driscoll distracted, Bobby emerges from the crowd of sidewalk gawkers and switches the briefcase with the replica he commissioned in “Caribbean Connection.” Bobby then follows Driscoll to the airport, where he watches as security guards discover a stash of guns in the briefcase and haul him away.

These are fun, exciting scenes. Jerrold Immel’s tingling underscore, which is also heard when Southfork goes up in flames in the sixth-season finale, lends the sequence a sense of mystery. The music fits the action beautifully since we don’t know what Bobby’s up to until the guns are finally revealed. The establishing shots are crucial too. Imagine if Larry Elikann, the director, and Fred W. Berger, the editor, hadn’t shown Driscoll placing his briefcase on the passenger seat when he gets into his car. We’d have no idea what Bobby is doing when he reaches inside the car and switches the real case with the fake one. I also like how “The Sting” plays on the audience’s familiarity with “Dallas.” The moment we see a white pickup’s fender enter the frame, we know instantly whose truck this is.

The other keys to the success of this sequence: Ben Piazza and Steve Kanaly. Piazza, one of the great “Dallas” guest stars, is believably bewildered as the hapless, in-over-his-head Driscoll. I kind of feel bad for the guy when Ray rams his Oldsmobile, and again when those hulking security guards find the guns in his case. Kanaly, in the meantime, is a hoot. What a kick to see Ray pretend to be the kind of straight-and-narrow, by-the-book yokel who insists on flagging down a cop after a fender bender. Kanaly looks like he’s having a ball here, as well as in two other scenes. In the first, a very drunk Ray and Bobby stumble home after celebrating their coup. Later, Ray confronts J.R. and confirms his role in the sting against him. The scene reminds us that this is Ray’s victory as much as it is Bobby’s.

Speaking of J.R.: “The Sting” showcases Larry Hagman too. He gives some of his best performances when J.R.’s back is to the wall, as this episode demonstrates J.R. is flustered when he finds Driscoll behind bars, enraged when he discovers Bobby undermined him and desperate when he tries to salvage the deal with Garcia. David Paulsen’s script also gives Hagman one great line after another. I love when J.R. refuses to bail out Driscoll, telling him, “I wouldn’t give you the dust off my car.” Later, after he’s ended another frustrating phone call with Garcia, J.R. looks up from his desk and sees Holly striding into his office. “When it rains, it pours,” he says, rubbing his temple. Hagman delivers another great line when Katherine drops by Ewing Oil and tells J.R. the two of them have something to talk about. “Oh, don’t tell me. Not Cliff Barnes. I couldn’t handle that,” he says.

“The Sting” also does a nice job exploring Bobby and Pam’s increasingly awkward separation. Miss Ellie and Clayton bump into Pam while she’s dining with Mark in a restaurant, resulting in an uncomfortable moment for everyone. (In one of the show’s most amusing understatements, Ellie tells Clayton, “In many ways, Dallas is a very small place.”) Later, when Bobby arrives at Pam’s hotel room to pick up Christopher for the weekend, the topic of Pam’s date with Mark comes up. Katherine inserts herself into the conversation. “Bobby, it’s not the way it sounds. … Pam was just trying to help Cliff,” she says. This prompts Pam to snap, “Katherine, stop it! I don’t have anything to hide.”

“The Sting” is also remembered as the episode where Lucy finally tells Mickey she was once raped. Charlene Tilton delivers a tender, moving performance, and so does Timothy Patrick Murphy, who makes his character’s sweetness every bit as believable as the cockiness he exhibited when he joined the show. I also like the exchange where Lucy and Mickey share their first kiss. “Lucy, I never asked a girl if I could kiss her. I just always did it. I’m not real sure what to do right at this moment,” he says. Is there any doubt this is Lucy’s most charming romance?

The other highlight of “The Sting”: Elikann’s direction, which is much more artful than what we usually see on “Dallas.” In addition to his work in the opening sequence, I love when Elikann has Patrick Duffy and Hagman lock eyes and shout at each other in the scene where J.R. confronts Bobby. I also like how J.R.’s roll in the hay with Serena ends with him popping a bottle of champagne, and then the scene switches to a waiter popping a cork in the restaurant where Pam and Mark are dining. Interestingly, although Elikann directed several “Knots Landing” episodes and the “Dallas: The Early Years” TV movie, “The Sting” is the only “Dallas” episode he helmed. Perhaps an exchange between Hagman and “Dallas” creator David Jacobs holds a clue. Elikann’s name comes up in the audio commentary on the “Reunion, Part 2” DVD, which was recorded in 2004. Jacobs remembers the director being “very gruff” and tells Hagman that Elikann recently died. “Did he?” Hagman responds. “Good.” He was kidding … I think.

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Lucy Ewing, Mickey Trotter, Timothy Patrick Murphy

Good romance

‘THE STING’

Season 6, Episode 22

Airdate: March 11, 1983

Audience: 23.1 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Larry Elikann

Synopsis: Bobby plants guns in Driscoll’s case, which leads to Driscoll’s arrest at the airport. Garcia, Driscoll’s contact in Puerto Rico, demands $10 million from J.R. to complete the Cuban oil deal. Holly vows revenge against J.R. when she discovers the deal is in jeopardy. Katherine offers to spy on Bobby for J.R. After telling him about her past, Lucy and Mickey make love. Pam and Mark’s deepening relationship angers Bobby.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Stephanie Blackmore (Serena), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Henry Darrow (Garcia), 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), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Russ Marin (Matthew), Ben Piazza (Walt Driscoll), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), John Reilly (Roy Ralston), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

Comments

  1. Wow, that does sound like an uncharacteristically harsh thing for Larry Hagman to say about somebody.

Trackbacks

  1. […] “The Sting,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode, an anxious Donna (Susan Howard) is on the phone in her living […]

  2. […] the phone? The audience won’t learn the answers until the next episode, the appropriately titled “The Sting,” but no matter. Like all great cliffhangers, this sequence is done so well, we don’t require an […]

  3. […] Krebbs: “Oh, well. I’m bound to sleep more soundly tonight knowing that.” To Katherine, upon hearing she has something to discuss with him: “Oh, don’t tell me. Not Cliff Barnes. I couldn’t […]

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