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