The Best & Worst of Dallas: Season 6

There’s lots to love and little to loathe about “Dallas’s” sixth season.

Performances

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Oh, darlin’

Every cast member shines during Season 6, but Linda Gray’s performance during Sue Ellen’s alcoholic spiral makes her first among equals. Sue Ellen doesn’t just lose her self-respect; she comes close to losing her life when she drives drunk and crashes J.R.’s car. What impresses me most about Gray is how she keeps the audience rooting for Sue Ellen, even when she makes mistakes. What an amazing performance.

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy

Still our hero

Give it up for Patrick Duffy too. If you were surprised to see Bobby unleash his inner junkyard dog on the most recent season of TNT’s “Dallas,” then check out Season 6 of the original series, which marks the first time the character reveals his ferocious side. The “Dallas” writers take Bobby to a very dark place during the yearlong contest for Ewing Oil, but Duffy makes sure we never forget he’s still the Bobby Ewing we know and love. Bravo.

Storylines

Speaking of J.R. and Bobby’s contest: It’s too early for me to call this “Dallas’s” all-time greatest plot — I still have eight more seasons to revisit — but it’s hard to imagine anything surpassing the battle royale between the brothers Ewing. The reason the storyline succeeds isn’t the premise, which — let’s face it — is more than a little implausible. (A major corporation splits in half for a year to determine which of its top two executives should be in charge?) No, this arc works because it involves every character and showcases their complexities. Is it surprising to see Bobby play dirty or to witness J.R. wracked with guilt at season’s end? Sure, yet it never feels out of character for them. “Dallas” is always at its best when the characters, not the writers, drive the narrative, and that’s never been truer than it is here.

Episodes

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Power hour

This is the first season that I’ve reviewed in which none of the episodes received anything less than a “B” grade. For the record: Year 6 consists of 28 hours, and I handed out nine “B’s,” 16 “A’s” and three (!) “A+’s.” My favorite is “Penultimate,” a powerful hour of television that deals with the fallout from Sue Ellen’s accident and leaves us wondering: What’s more destructive — her addiction to booze or her addiction to J.R.?

Scenes

The final moments in “Tangled Web” never fail to give me chills. We’re with Sue Ellen every step of the way when she walks across Holly’s driveway, enters the house and sees her in bed with J.R. (Trivia: My readers tell me when this scene was broadcast in 1983, it was scored, but for whatever reason the music doesn’t appear on the DVD. I’d love to see the original version, but I must say: The lonely sounds of Sue Ellen’s heels clicking and clacking help make this scene so effective.) More great moments: Cliff comes to terms with his guilt over Rebecca’s death (this is Ken Kercheval at his most brilliant) and three scenes that showcase the incomparable Barbara Bel Geddes — Miss Ellie predicts the future for Sue Ellen, eulogizes Jock a the Oil Baron’s Ball and testifies at the hearing to overturn his will.

Hands 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 necessary to demonstrate J.R.’s villainy?

Supporting Players

Dallas, Mickey Trotter, Timothy Patrick Murphy

Transformer

Do you despise cocky Mickey Trotter when he arrives at the beginning of Season 6? Are you surprised when he tries to save Sue Ellen at the end of the year? If you answer “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second, then credit Timothy Patrick Murphy, who does a nice job turning Mickey from a punk into a prince over the course of the season. Also, thanks to Murphy, Lucy finally gets a leading man worthy of Charlene Tilton’s charm.

Props

Jock’s portrait is introduced during “Dallas’s” fifth season, but the show makes magnificent use of it throughout Season 6. Jock looms in the background of so many crucial scenes, including the will reading, which marks one of the few occasions when all of the Ewings are together in one room (even Gary’s there!), and J.R. and Ray’s fistfight in “Ewing Inferno,” when all hell breaks loose — literally. TNT, take note: This is how you use a portrait to help keep alive a character’s memory.

Costumes

Dallas, Donna Krebbs, Susan Howard

Red hat mama

I 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 statement is made by Susan Howard, who sports a striking red hat when Donna attends the inaugural meeting of the Texas Energy Commission (also “Barbecue Three”). Eat your heart out, Katherine Wentworth!

Quips

Throughout Season 6, Larry Hagman zings like no one else. Here’s J.R. to Holly, upon spotting her lounging around her pool with a shirtless stud: “Traveling with the intellectual set, I see.” To Mickey, after the young man announces he’s a Trotter, not a 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 handle that.” In the end, though, my favorite quip comes from Sue Ellen, who is aghast when J.R. criticizes Pam for giving “aid and comfort to the opposition” during the hearing to overturn Jock’s will. “Opposition?” Sue Ellen says. “J.R., that’s your mother.”

What do you love and loathe about “Dallas’s” sixth season? Share your comments below and read more “Best & Worst” reviews.

Comments

  1. Season 6 is perfect from a dramatic point of view – even though there are 8 more seasons to go nothing will beat this. Season 7 is a contender for all time best season of Dallas when other factors are included – an even bigger budget, sumptuous production values, the further “opening out” of the show into other locations and great set pieces like the Oil Barons Ball fight – but if judged purely by the script/acting/plotting ( the really important things ) season 6 is the winner for me.

  2. My favorite season of the original series. Linda Gray was excellent as usual,but I always wanted a scene where there was a confrontation between Sue Ellen and Holly in the aftermath of the fire at Southfork.Maybe Lois Chiles could guest star on TNT.

  3. Love your blog! I’m currently in the middle of an epic rewatch of both Dallas and Knot’s Landing thanks to repeats in the UK, currently in mid-season 7 of Dallas.

    I’m surprised under Costumes you don’t mention the true fashion icon of Dallas – Punk Anderson. His flamboyant ensembles always brighten up an episode for me!

    • Thanks! Yes, Mr. Anderson is quite the snazzy dresser, isn’t he? I especially liked the getup he wore to the sixth-season Ewing Barbecue. Stay classy, Punk!

  4. I do believe the context for Ewing Oil is the best Dallas storyline. The 2nd best is the story of Wes Parmalee. I put these two stories on top, even over something like Who Shot J.R., because they really did involve the entire family. Everyone had a stake in those stories as they went on.

    • Wes Parmalee! I generally don’t think of that as one of “Dallas’s” best storylines, but now I’m eager to revisit it.

      • Really? I’m surprised you didn’t think that much of it. I thought it was exciting @ the time, the mystery of whether he was telling the truth, the secrets he seemed to know, passing the lie detector test, and how this was going to affect J.R. and Bobby owning Ewing Oil, and Miss Ellie and Clayton’s marriage. It was suspenseful.

        In fact, my fellow friend Keith and I both talked once about how, as far as we’re concerned, Wes really was Jock after all. Remember how they never actually showed his last meeting with Miss Ellie? She just told everyone afterward that he confessed to being someone else and left, but I think they met and discussed it and Jock realized how disrupting his return was to the family, and that no matter what he knew they all would never fully accept him, so he agreed to bow out gracefully and go away for good. And even though Ellie was sad, she also realized that it was for the best.

      • It’s been awhile since I watched those episodes, but I remember thinking the whole idea of Jock returning from the dead kind of silly. I was also surprised that the show chose that as the main storyline for the beginning of the 10th season, when Bobby experienced his own miraculous return. So maybe my objection has to do with timing more than anything else. I’ll definitely keep an open mind when I begin critiquing those episodes, although it might take awhile since I’m only on Season 7. I better get a move on it.

      • I see what you mean. But maybe because people returning from the dead is such a classic soap opera stable (like evil twins and kidnapping) that I’m more accepting of it. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Bobby’s return did alter the original plans for Parmalee. Clearly, the story of a man claiming to be Jock was something the writers really wanted to do, since they’d already introduced that actor, as Ben Stiverson, in the dream season, with hints that he was hiding a big secret. I don’t know if this is true, but the Ultimate Dallas site once reported on what they claim were the original plans for the next season, if Duffy hadn’t retuned. And they said Stiverson was going to revealed as Jock, and would take Ewing Oil back from J.R. (they also said Sue Ellen would, of course, survive the explosion, but be handicapped, and Jamie’s death would reignite the Barnes/Ewing feud as Cliff would blame J.R. for it, and vow revenge). But then when Duffy returned and plans were changed, they still wanted to do a Jock storyline but couldn’t have him actually be Jock, since they’d just brought Bobby back, so that might have been considered too many resurrections at once.

      • Intriguing! I’d love to know what the original plan was for Ben Stivers/Wes Parmalee. I have to say, though, that I’d be shocked to discover the producers were planning to make him turn out to be Jock. After the Donna Reed debacle, I would think the show would be reluctant to recast a major character. Having said that, though, I really liked Steve Forrest. I’m not sure I could have accepted him as Jock, but he was a terrific actor.

  5. I have really enjoyed reading your reviews of season 6. It sounds like we both really enjoyed this season! We started out with it more or less at the same time but I found myself racing ahead of you.

    This is a season where you find yourself clapping and laughing at the TV!

    Knowing we both enjoyed season 6 I’m going to be really interested to see what you think of season 7. On the whole I think it’s really uneven and a let down after the last season, maybe it’s just me.

    Miss Ellie is missing for half the episodes, which I know they couldn’t help but it does hurt the show. I think anytime Miss Ellie, Sue Ellen, or Pam are away from Southfork something is lacking. Then in this season you’ve got some of my least favorite storylines. Lady Jessica Montford, Peter Richards (a stronger actor could have made it work,) Jenna Wade (wasn’t she a trouble maker more like Katherine than Pam?) And the whole Pam & Mark, Bobby & Jenna storyline, were we really supposed to root for these new couples? I actually cheered when poor Mark’s plane went down!

    So far I think Season 8 is much better, even if ‘new’ Miss Ellie is a little jarring. I’ve just watched one of the best JR – Pam conflicts, the first scene of “Legacy of Hate.” Pretty awesome!

    • Hey Nick,

      I’m really eager to get to Season 7 and Season 8, especially after reading your comments. I recall liking Season 7 better than Season 8, but it’ll be interesting to see if that holds up.

      How do you feel about the cinematography during Season 7? The show has a distinctive look and feel in the early episodes. I really like it.

      Let me know what you think of the rest of Season 8.

      Thanks,
      CB

  6. I just found this site, and this is the first page I clicked on. Thanks very much to Chris B. for the review. I was a young kid during season 6, when I first began to watch and understand Dallas — and thus began a life-long love for the series. Season 6 is one of my absolute favorites. In addition to the accolades offered above, what about the music? Does anyone remember how great the music was for that season? I always think back to the final scene of the season, as a sullen J.R. walks upstairs to put John Ross and Sue Ellen to bed, then returns to the living room, then the fight with Ray and the fire ensue. The single piece of music that sets the mood for that entire sequence is so awesome. I have watched that scene many times just for the music!

    • Welcome to Dallas Decoder, Matt. Like you, I love the music on “Dallas.” Since I began re-watching the show, the quality of the music has been one of my favorite discoveries. The music during Season 6 is especially good.

  7. Maryann says:

    The best : The fight for Ewing Oil because we get to see a different side of Bobby and we get to see more of PD acting talents.

    The worst : The Pam and Mark pairing. It was like they do Pam’s character according to the plot and episode. She loves Bobby and declares it to him yet she was smitten with Mark when she and Miss Ellie first meet with him. Is this the Pam from the previous seasons and episodes. It was like she gave I am available opening to this jerk, the Pam we got to love and know would not be so easily taken, I mean she almost slept with him, are we suppose to believe Pam can be a cheater now, come one it was like she did not take her marriage seriously. The Dallas writers were not consistent in their writing for Pam and some of the other characters at all. I believe this happened because there were too many different writers for the episodes, that is why stories declined and characters were not consistent or developed well. Why did they need different writers for episodes each season? this show came on once a week . Day time soaps come on every day and they do not have different writers for each episode back then or now. It just makes me wonder!!!

    ,

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