Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 132 — ‘The Road Back’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, Road Back

What hath they wrought?

With “The Road Back,” “Dallas” delivers the first hour of its seventh season and the most thrilling opening in its history. It begins with a nighttime shot of Southfork, which looks familiar against the dark sky except for the flames shooting out of the roof. Director Nick Havinga then brings us inside the house, where we find the occupants right where we left them at the end of “Ewing Inferno,” the previous season’s cliffhanger: Sue Ellen and John Ross are asleep in their beds, each unaware of the smoke filling their rooms; Ray is unconscious in the foyer; and J.R. has collapsed in a hallway. Next, we see Bobby zipping down Braddock Road in his red convertible. When he spots the blaze, he slows down and stares for a moment. “Oh, my God,” he says.

And then, the rescue sequence: As Jerrold Immel’s underscore surges, Bobby guns the car down the driveway and screeches to a halt near the garage. He leaps out of the vehicle and dives into the swimming pool, then runs into the house, where he finds Ray awakening. Together, the two men race upstairs and drag the dazed J.R. down the hall and through the doors to the balcony. Bobby and Ray go back into the house and retrieve Sue Ellen and John Ross, and when they return to the terrace, Ray orders everyone into the pool below. With sirens wailing in the background, J.R. cradles the screaming John Ross and jumps into the water.

When I revisited “The Road Back” for this critique, I had no doubt these scenes would retain their emotional value, but I was surprised by how well they hold up from a technical perspective. The wide shots of the burning house look a little crude by today’s standards, but they still work. Likewise, the scenes inside the home are as chaotic and scary now as they were three decades ago. “Dallas” producer Leonard Katzman built replicas of the Southfork sets so he could burn them down, so those are real flames you see surrounding Patrick Duffy, Steve Kanaly and Larry Hagman. I’m guessing “The Road Back’s” opening was filmed at the same time as the final scenes in “Ewing Inferno,” although if it turned out Katzman staged one fire for the cliffhanger and another for the resolution, I wouldn’t be surprised. This man had a DeMillian appreciation for spectacle.

“The Road Back” also includes a fantastic scene where Bobby summons J.R. to a Southfork pasture to broker a truce between him and Ray, whose beef with J.R. caused the fire in the first place. Ray angrily reminds J.R. how he made an enemy of Walt Driscoll, the vengeful bureaucrat who tried to kill J.R. but ended up injuring Ray’s cousin Mickey instead. J.R. responds by pointing out that Bobby and Ray had a hand in ruining Driscoll too. “None of us have clean hands, boys. None of us,” J.R. says, and for once, he isn’t twisting the truth. In another poignant moment, J.R. and Bobby stand inside the charred Southfork living room and survey the damage. “We sure made a mess out of everything. Ewing Oil, Southfork, the family. Every damn thing,” J.R. says. It’s nice to see him humbled for a change, no?

I also like the scenes in “The Road Back” that show J.R being nice to the embittered Sue Ellen, not just because it’s good to see his compassionate side, but also because it allows Linda Gray to deliver some terrific zingers. In my favorite exchange, J.R. gets a call from Bobby and rushes out of the hotel room where he’s staying with his wife and son. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” J.R. says. “Don’t remind me,” Sue Ellen responds. Later, when J.R. encourages Sue Ellen to get some rest, she turns to Pam and quips, “Isn’t it wonderful how thoughtful he can be when he’s caught with his boots parked under the wrong bed?”

(J.R. and Sue Ellen’s dynamic here brings to mind the third-season opener “Whatever Happened to Baby John, Part 1,” when he makes a sincere attempt to patch up his broken marriage, only to discover she’s unwilling to forgive him. Other scenes in “The Road Back” also harken to earlier “Dallas” moments. For example, when J.R. drives away from his meeting with Bobby and Ray, the shot of his Mercedes rolling across the Southfork plains recalls a similar shot at the end of “Digger’s Daughter.” Also, during “The Road Back’s” cattle drive sequence, we hear Ray speak on his walkie-talkie to Hal, a ranch hand seen during the first season, while Miss Ellie and Clayton spend this episode at Lake Takapa, the subject of a major fourth-season storyline.)

Of course, even though the tragic events of the previous season reveal J.R.’s humanity in “The Road Back,” this episode makes it clear he hasn’t been fully redeemed. In one scene, he schemes with Katherine Wentworth to ensure Bobby and Pam don’t reunite. Later, after Sue Ellen delivers her “boots-parked-under-the-wrong-bed” remark, J.R. and Pam get into a nasty spat. (J.R.: “I’ve never heard a woman open her mouth more and say less.”) His most mischievous moment comes in the final scene, when J.R. and Bobby visit Harv Smithfield and tell him they want to call off their fight for Ewing Oil. I believe J.R. feels genuine regret, but when Harv tells the brothers that it’s legally impossible to end their contest, notice the slight, ever-so-subtle smile that break across J.R.’s face. My guess is this is Hagman’s way of signaling to the audience that even though J.R. feels bad about everything that’s transpired, he’s glad he’s going to have a chance to beat Bobby after all.

“The Road Back” also offers the classic scene where Pam takes Sue Ellen to a French fashion boutique to rebuild her wardrobe after the fire, only to watch in horror as Sue Ellen lustily accepts the glass of champagne offered by snooty Madam Claude. Says Sue Ellen when Pam suggests they should leave: “Pam, don’t be a nag.” This episode is also chockablock with casting trivia: Omri Katz makes his first appearance as John Ross; Dan Ammerman, who originated the role of Ewing family physician Dr. Danvers in the second-season episode “Bypass,” shows up here as the Farlows’ doctor; and daytime soap opera star Stephen Nichols (“Days of Our Lives,” “General Hospital”) and Fox News Channel anchor Arthel Neville have bit roles.

“The Road Back” also marks the debut of my favorite version of the “Dallas” title sequence music, the one that features the synthesized riff when the signature three-way split screens begin. The sound effect is pure ’80s, which his probably why I love it so. “The Road Back” is also the first “Dallas” episode to feature the work of cinematographer Bradford May, whose camerawork gives the show a rich, textured look. It’s a dramatic contrast from other years, especially toward the end of “Dallas’s” run, when the show looks flat and washed out. Sadly, May is with “Dallas” for just 27 episodes. I’m not sure why he didn’t last the whole seventh season — there are conflicting explanations for his departure — but one thing is certain: Thanks to him, “Dallas” finally looks as good as it is.

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Omri Katz, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Hot heir

‘THE ROAD BACK’

Season 7, Episode 1

Airdate: September 30, 1983

Audience: 23 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Nick Havinga

Synopsis: Bobby rescues J.R., Sue Ellen, John Ross and Ray from the fire and later brokers a truce between his feuding brothers. J.R. and Bobby tell Harv they want to call off the contest, but Harv informs them it’s legally impossible. Sue Ellen discovers the car accident wasn’t her fault. Mickey emerges from his coma. Mark fears the fire will reunite Bobby and Pam, while J.R. and Katherine agree to work together to keep them apart. Clayton tells the Ewings that Miss Ellie needs rest and won’t return to Southfork for awhile.

Cast: Dan Ammerman (Neal), Mary Armstrong (Louise), John Beck (Mark Graison), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), John Devlin (Clouse), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Dana Gibson (Ellison), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Gloria Hocking (Madam Claude), Anna Kathryn Holbrook (Ann), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Betty King (Groves), Kay E. Kuter (Sampson), Michael Krueger (Henri), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Arthel Neville (waitress), Stephen Nichols (paramedic), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), David Sanderson (Buck), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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

Comments

  1. Great review!

    I’m glad you mention the synthed up theme music – I love it too – sounds like The Human League popped in for a visit

    Rewatching this series recently it struck me that Miss Ellie’s absence and Clayton’s comments on her condition makes the plot about her will in season 1 of the new series kind of make sense. Particularly as she would presumably have revised her will when she remarried.

    • Dan in WI says:

      Richard> The only problem with that is in the final season when Clayton stops in to gift Southfork in its entirety to Bobby. You can’t take back a gift and redistribute it 15+ years after your death. That is something even Fenton Washburn Esq. should know.

    • Ha ha! Love that Human League reference. Very true about Miss Ellie. I never liked how TNT invented that Ellie-in-the-sanitarium thing, but it would be one way of explaining her absence from these first few Season 7 episodes.

  2. Am I the only one who thinks having Ellie at Takapa is very odd? a) I cannot imagine taking her to the place that almost caused her to divorce Jock would appeal to her let alone calm her nerves and b) doesn’t she sort of own an interest in the resort? Jock and his partners went ahead building it, so they obviously made money on the deal.
    I realize they had to write the actress out but considering they could go anywhere (Clayton did have his own plane) why pick such a loaded location? Small point, I know, but this has bothered me for years!!!

    • Good point. On the one hand, I appreciate the reference to Lake Takapa, which was the center of such an important storyline during the fourth-season. On the other hand: It’s kind of an odd place for her to want to vacation. On a related note: I really dislike how, during the 10th season, the writers have Bobby suggest the events from “The Dove Hunt” took place in Lake Takapa. Poor Bobby’s memory must have been getting faulty at that point during the show’s run.

  3. i TOTALLY agree with the sound of the dallas theme in this 83-84 season. My favorite too 🙂

    question : what mean the word “zingers” ?

  4. Great review as always. 🙂

    One point about Sue Ellen: As much as I understand her wish to be relieved of any guilt of Mickey Trotter’s devastating injuries, to me it is obvious that, to some extent, she is indeed responsible for what happened to him. After all, if she hadn’t been drunk, he would never have been in that car with her.

    • Thank you. And yes, I don’t think Sue Ellen is completely off the hook here. (I should have made that point in my critique.) She did get behind the wheel drunk, and that’s never OK.

  5. This episode marks the debut of my favorite piece of non-theme song Dallas music. I love the music that comes in just as Bobby turns around to look at Southfork at the end of the rescue scene as it transitions to Clayton jogging. Great piece of music that appears throughout the rest of the series and reunion movies.

    • Mike, that’s a great observation. I’m going to re-watch that scene today. I think I know what piece you’re referring to. I didn’t realize this was its debut.

      By the way: Are you familiar with the music that plays in “Things Ain’t Goin’ Too Good at Southfork”? There’s a piece that’s heard throughout episode and others. I believe the first time we hear it is when Sue Ellen is driving to the bar (having just walked in on J.R. and Holly). I could swear this particular piece also appears on “Knots Landing,” but I’ve been unable to confirm that.

      Thanks for commenting.

      CB

      • Garnet McGee says:

        This season seems to be lit differently from the previous ones. It is much brighter. The only reason Mickey got in the car was because a drunk person was at the wheel. Sue Ellen bears responsibility.

  6. I was told Hagman & Kanaly shot the sequence for the two episodes seperately, a friend of mine said he saw Hagman talk about the fact that Katzman created two Southfork mock up sets to ensure each episode had proper continuity & flames. They needed 2 sets of flames to guarantee they would last for all scenes. My friend said Hagman made these comments at a Las Vegas paid appearance.

  7. Maryann says:

    I loved this episode mainly because of JR and Sue’s interaction and the zingers from Sue Ellen which made me laugh. What I hated about this episode was that jerk Mark’s comment about Bobby starting the fire to get sympathy from Pam. I hated this character that every time he was on screen I could wait for the next scene. I one time wished while he was doing his macho polo crap he would fall off and the horse would stomped on his head. He just irritated me and could not tolerate him. He made me sick to my stomach just like Alex Ward and Roger Grimes did.

  8. Dan in WI says:

    This episode contains a notable first. This episode marks the first time Cliff Barnes is seen with a pocket square. On this latest pass through viewing the series I’ve been watching very closely for this. When you think how iconic that accessory is for Cliff I’m really surprised that it didn’t appear until the beginning of season 7.

Trackbacks

  1. […] “The Road Back,” “Dallas’s” seventh-season opener, J.R. (Larry Hagman) arrives at Missing River, where Bobby […]

  2. […] conscience as his battle with Bobby for control of Ewing Oil reached its destructive crescendo. In “The Road Back” and “The Long Goodbye,” the first two hours of the seventh season, J.R. calls a truce with […]

  3. […] sweep through the house. We knew they’d survive; we just didn’t know how. The seventh-season premiere supplies our answer: In “Dallas’s” most thrilling opening, quick-thinking Bobby comes home, […]

  4. […] they know good ol’ Bob will save the day. Southfork catches fire? Bobby will come along in the nick of time  to make sure everyone gets out alive. Range war with McKay? Bobby will go Chuck Norris on his […]

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: