Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 135 — ‘My Brother’s Keeper’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, My Brother's Keeper

Brotherly love

J.R. goes through “My Brother’s Keeper” trying to buck up Bobby, who’s feeling down as his divorce date approaches. In a memorable scene, the brothers go out for a night on the town, where J.R. arranges for Bobby to bump into a call girl he hired to take Bobby’s mind off his troubles. Does it matter that J.R. is also secretly plotting to shut Bobby out of Ewing Oil, or that J.R. knows Pam will be at the restaurant and will spot her estranged husband dining with the other woman? Of course it matters. But even though J.R. has ulterior motives, the concern he displays for his brother in this episode feels very real.

It’s another example of what makes J.R. a forerunner for the protagonists of modern television drama. As critic Matt Zoller Seitz recently noted, one of the reasons the final hours of “Breaking Bad” were so riveting is because they showed how Walter White, the loving husband and father, and Heisenberg, his ruthless alter ego, had come to co-exist within the same mind and body. You can say something similar about J.R. Even though he’s scheming against Bobby and helped orchestrate the breakup of his marriage, he genuinely loves his brother and wants to help him cope with the loss of Pam and Christopher. J.R. is nothing if not a compartmentalist.

Like J.R., Cliff also balances his love for a sibling with his desire to advance his own agenda. In Cliff’s case, he wants Pam to divorce Bobby so she can marry Mark and pave the way for Cliff, Pam and Mark to form a business partnership. But unlike J.R.’s relationship with Bobby, Cliff’s affection for Pam feels a little less complicated. Watch the sweet scene in “My Brother’s Keeper” where Cliff insists on accompanying Pam to the courthouse for her divorce hearing. The warm rapport between Ken Kercheval and Victoria Principal makes me believe Cliff’s concern for Pam trumps everything else. (Interestingly enough, J.R. and Cliff essentially switch roles on TNT’s “Dallas,” where J.R. extols the virtues of putting family first and Cliff is willing to sacrifice his own daughter in his war against the Ewings.)

Three more scenes in “My Brother’s Keeper” deserve mentioning. In the first, Donna stands with Ray at a fence outside their house as he laments the tragedy that has befallen his family since Amos Krebbs’ funeral a year earlier. The shot echoes one from “Where There’s a Will,” the sixth-season episode where Ray and Donna stand in the same spot as he debates whether to attend the funeral. I also like the “My Brother’s Keeper” scene where Bobby and Pam sit silently in an office while their lawyers politely discuss the terms of their divorce. Patrick Duffy and Victoria Principal avoid eye contact throughout this sequence, making it feel even sadder than their farewell conversation at the end of the previous episode.

My other favorite scene from “My Brother’s Keeper” is also notable for what isn’t said. It comes at the end of the second act, when Katherine answers a knock on Pam’s hotel room door. “Who is it?” Katherine asks. The voice on the other side of the door belongs to Cliff, who jovially asks: “Who are you?” The eye roll that Morgan Brittany offers in response is priceless. In an episode that leaves us pondering sibling connections, this scene is a reminder that some of these relationships aren’t complicated at all.

Grade: B

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, Donna Krebbs, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Susan Howard

Don’t fence him in

‘MY BROTHER’S KEEPER’

Season 7, Episode 4

Airdate: October 21, 1983

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

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Bobby and Pam’s divorce is finalized. J.R. and Bobby learn their battle has depleted Ewing Oil’s reserves. Mickey tells Ray he doesn’t want to live as an invalid. Sue Ellen gets to know Peter.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Stephanie Blackmore (Serena Wald), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Lew Brown (Clarence Colby), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Glenn Corbett (Paul Morgan), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Sean McGraw (Moran), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Tracy Scoggins (Diane Kelly), Harold Suggs (Judge Thornby), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Chana Vowell (Dee)

“My Brother’s Keeper” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. Regarding your comment about J.R. Ewing being a forerunner for characters like Walter White, I agree completely, and have made this observation many times (particularly in light of the CBS/Emmy snub of Hagman). Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing showed that you could build a show around an “anti-hero”, a bad guy that audiences will still love. Not just White, but Dexter Morgan, Tony Soprano, Vic Mackey, I could go on for hours naming characters that pretty much owe their existence to good ol’ J.R.

    And it’s that very duality that you mention, being both ruthless and caring, that makes these types of characters work. People will cheer for a “bad” guy (or gal) no matter how many horrible things they do, as long as you *occasionally* show us a soft side.

    • J.R., I’m glad you agree. It annoys me when TV writers neglect to mention how Larry Hagman and J.R. Ewing paved the way for all the characters you mention. I recently read an essay in GQ that suggested that before Tony Soprano, there was no character on TV like him, except for maybe Al Bundy. No mention of J.R. whatsoever. I was flabbergasted.

      • Garnet McGee says:

        Timothy Patrick Murphy is such a natural actor. I wish the writers had put someone as good as him in the role of Peter. Better yet they could have sent him back to Southfork to recuperate where Sue Ellen could help regain his full functioning in a reversal of the Dusty situation. That would have been so cool. Sure they would have had to find something else for Ray and Donna to do but it would have been worth it. I love Afton since she is always the most sensible person in the room but they needed to have her do more. In the new show its seems that Ann is often written that way. I love that Bobby doesn’t trust JR just like on the new show he maybe good but he is not naive.
        I really miss Miss Ellie.

  2. Rebecca Wentworth sure “got around.” Unlike Miss Ellie whose 3 sons were all Jock’s biologically, Rebecca had Cliff with Digger, Pam with the Ewing ranchhand found murdered, & Katherine with her current hubby, Mr. Wentworth. Opening up her legs to 3 different men, I think J.R. the man she hated so bitterly wasn’t the only one who like to cheat!

  3. Dan in WI says:

    Our site master writes “But even though J.R. has ulterior motives, the concern he displays for his brother in this episode feels very real.”

    On this one I really didn’t see anything JR does in this episode for Bobby as anything other than ulterior motive. He needs to be sure Bobby and Pam don’t attempt a last second reconciliation and in business he is planning to stab Bobby in the back in the Ewing Oil battle truce. If there was any genuine concern for Bobby he would have done something, anything that Bobby would have actually enjoyed.
    In the last couple episodes Cliff has much more of an ulterior motive/genuine concern balance for his sibling than JR.

Trackbacks

  1. […] “My Brother’s Keeper,” a seventh-season “Dallas” episode, Cliff and Pam (Ken Kercheval, Victoria Principal) walk down […]

  2. […] of “Ray’s Trial,” it’s worth remembering two crucial scenes from the preceding episodes. In “My Brother’s Keeper,” when Mickey is struggling to come to grips with his paralysis, he pulls Ray aside and tells him, […]

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