Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 136 — ‘The Quality of Mercy’

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Quality of Mercy

Pool shark

J.R. Ewing is a man of supreme self-confidence, but he has a jealous streak too. His primary goal in life — to grow the Ewing empire — is rooted in his determination to win Jock’s approval and supplant Bobby as their father’s favorite son. Sue Ellen also arouses J.R.’s envy whenever she turns her attention to other people, whether it’s for love (Cliff, Dusty) or friendship (Pam, Clayton). In “The Quality of Mercy,” J.R. finds himself feeling threatened anew, and this time by his unlikeliest rival yet: Peter Richards, the boyish camp counselor who has managed to captivate both Sue Ellen and John Ross.

Many “Dallas” fans don’t care for this storyline, but since I began re-watching the show’s seventh season, I’ve been fascinated by the contrast between dark, devilish Larry Hagman and blond, beatific Christopher Atkins. “The Quality of Mercy” is a crucial chapter in their on-screen rivalry because it represents the moment J.R. begins to see Peter as an enemy. This revelation begins to unfold in the sweet scene where J.R. tucks John Ross into bed and learns Peter helped the boy deal with a bully at camp. J.R. says he’s pleased his son’s problem has been resolved, but he also tells him: “The one person you come to when you’re in trouble is your daddy. You remember that.” Later, J.R. watches from the Southfork balcony as Peter spends time with Sue Ellen and John Ross by the pool. Hagman’s stony expression makes it clear: J.R. doesn’t share his wife and son’s enthusiasm for their new friend.

After the poolside romp, Sue Ellen, John Ross and Peter retreat to the patio for lunch. When Peter mentions his desire for success, Sue Ellen, who has been hurt by more than one ambitious man in the past, looks crestfallen. Peter explains he isn’t interested in wealth and power; he only wants to succeed in his career as a child psychologist. Sue Ellen’s face lights up, giving us our first clue that she has romantic designs on him. Sue Ellen then turns the subject toward Peter’s love life. She tells him how “mature” he is; this time, his face lights up. This is when J.R., who’s been eavesdropping, rounds the corner and announces it’s time for him to take John Ross to the barbershop. After Peter thanks his hosts and departs, J.R. tells Sue Ellen the young man clearly has a crush on her. She accuses her husband of having a “sick mind” and J.R. smiles impishly, but he isn’t really amused, is he? J.R. now sees Peter as a problem; the only question that remains is how he’s going to fix it.

Through it all, Hagman does a masterful job letting us inside J.R.’s head, while Linda Gray and Atkins are quite effective at slowly revealing Sue Ellen and Peter’s attraction to each other. I also appreciate Atkins’ scenes with Omri Katz. As the season progresses, Peter’s friendship with John Ross strains credibility, but in this episode, it seems perfectly believable. I’ll also confess: Given the amount of time Atkins spends in Speedos and half-shirts on “Dallas,” I’ve always dismissed him as another pretty face. Seeing his first few episodes with fresh eyes, I’m impressed with the way he establishes his character.

“The Quality of Mercy” also kicks off one of “Dallas’s” best storylines: the medical mystery surrounding the death of Mickey Trotter. It begins in the third act, when Mickey slips into another coma. His weary loved ones are once again left to deal with their frustration and grief, although no one seems more devastated than Lil, who declares she doesn’t want to watch her son kept alive by a respirator. Then, in the final scene, a nurse is at her station when she hears Mickey’s monitor flat line. She rushes down the corridor with a doctor and an orderly, only to discover the door to Mickey’s room won’t open. Cut to Ray, who is on the other side of the door, struggling to keep it closed. The camera slowly pans across the room’s medical equipment, Mickey’s body and Lil, who is seated next to him. Eventually, the medics overpower Ray and brush past him as he slumps onto the floor.

What I like best about this scene is how director Nick Havinga keeps his camera focused on Steve Kanaly, even as the doctors and nurses struggle to revive Mickey. There’s no need to show anything else because Kanaly’s tired, defeated expression says it all. We don’t even see Kate Reid’s face when Lil walks toward Ray and cradles his head against her leg. Before the freeze frame, we hear the off-screen doctor announce Mickey’s fate. “We’ve done all that we can,” he says. Who pulled the plug on Mickey? The answer won’t be revealed for a few more episodes, but there’s no doubt this is one of “Dallas’s” most haunting moments. (Trivia: Mickey’s nurse is named “Rettino,” an apparent tribute to John Rettino, the show’s longtime property master. Rettino later married producer Leonard Katzman’s daughter Sheril Lynn, who coincidentally returns to “Dallas” in this episode as Jackie Dugan, Pam’s coworker at the Store.)

“The Quality of Mercy” also includes a terrific scene where Cliff, channeling J.R., blackmails Sly into spying on her boss, as well as a lovely heart-to-heart between Sue Ellen and Lucy, two characters who don’t often interact. (I suspect if Barbara Bel Geddes was available for this episode, this would’ve been a conversation between Lucy and Miss Ellie.) There’s also the deliciously bitchy moment where Holly interrupts Bobby’s lunch with Katherine. Both women are oh-so-polite to each other, yet it’s clear that Katherine is furious that Holly is stealing Bobby’s attention. As Bobby chats with Holly, the camera cuts to Katherine seething. It’s fun to watch Morgan Brittany sighing heavily and shooting daggers with her eyes, but don’t overlook Lois Chiles, who has a tougher assignment. She must let the audience know that Holly has Katherine’s number, which the sly Chiles achieves with a few subtle, suspicious glances at Brittany.

This scene marks the beginning of Chiles’ “Dallas” swan song. (Hill Place, a classic TV and movie blog, just posted a thorough review of her exit from the show.) Watching her impressive performance here, I can’t help but wonder: Must we say goodbye to Holly Harwood?

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, Kate Reid, Lil Trotter, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

He done it?

‘THE QUALITY OF MERCY’

Season 7, Episode 5

Airdate: October 28, 1983

Audience: 20.1 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Nick Havinga

Synopsis: Holly invites Bobby to lunch, angering Katherine. Pam moves into her mother’s house and considers going to work with Cliff, who blackmails Sly into spying on J.R. for him. J.R. suspects Peter has a crush on Sue Ellen. After Mickey slips into a coma, someone unplugs his respirator, killing him.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), Mary Armstrong (Louise), John Beck (Mark Graison), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Jack Collins (Russell Slater), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Robert Gribbin (doctor), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie Dugan), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Joseph R. Maross (Dr. Blakely), Joseph Miller (security guard), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Kimberly Ross (Nurse Rettino), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

Comments

  1. THE big mistake of Cliff. All is perfect in his life at this moment, and this is the moment he chose to be evil, to declare war to JR. He will deserve the high stress he will have.

  2. I really enjoyed the Peter Richards plot when I rewatched this season recently – love the way he starts off as this wide eyed idealistic innocent, but is slowly corrupted by his association with the Ewings (JR, Sue Ellen and Lucy – although Lucy is less aware what’s going on).

    It’s also interesting seeing Sue Ellen having the kind of affair that JR normally has. There’s an interesting scene in a few episodes time where she turns up at Peter’s University campus and you see her checking out some young men playing sports – it wouldn’t seem strange to see one of the male leads gazing at young women, but seeing it done the other way round seems unusual.

  3. I had no problem with the Peter Richards storyline. I don’t know some viewers had no problem with J.R. jumping in and out of bed with young women, but when Sue Ellen hooks up with a younger man that’s suddenly a problem.

    Speaking of hook-ups, looking back it seems ridiculous that Bobby couldn’t see that Katherine was interested in him. She wasn’t all that subtle

    And I loved the Ray/Mickey storyline. I would have done the same thing if I were Ray.

  4. Garnet McGee says:

    After all the anti-Peter complaints I expected to hate him but he is not bad. It is wonderful to see JR threatened by someone he cannot possibly compete with. He may be rich, powerful, ruthless, and Sue Ellen’s true love but he will never be young or good looking as Peter Richards. Bobby’s conversation about going to the restaurant just to be near people is so realistic. I think we’ve all been there after a big breakup. Once Holly Harwood started dressing like a business executive I started to like her and really warmed up to her when she sought revenge against JR. I wish she had stayed around longer. She is so much more complex and interesting than Katherine and Chiles is a much more natural actress than Brittany. Why does JR think little John Ross gives a crap about Ewing oil? He’s a kid so I bet he misses his Aunt Pam and cousin Christopher. Yeah Jackie! If only Liz Craig could get a job at Graisco too I would have been in heaven. Can you imagine all the flirting she would do with Mark? Katherine is such a cookie cutter soap villainess that she talks to herself! I wish Katherine would run away with Mark so they could both get off my TV screen. Ugh, I don’t understand this character’s popularity.

  5. Los Chiles tamed Commander James Bond in “Moonraker?” I think she can handle ol’ J.R. & Bobby & 4 that matter if she can outfox the entire British Secret Service, don’t you C.B.?

Trackbacks

  1. […] … If it happens, I hope and pray that no one’s going to let me live that way.” Later, in “The Quality of Mercy,” Mickey’s mood brightens when he realizes Lucy is determined to stand by him despite the fact that […]

  2. […] “The Quality of Mercy,” a seventh-season “Dallas” episode, John Ross (Omri Katz) is lying in bed when J.R. (Larry […]

  3. […] how the writers use Sue Ellen to fill the void left by Southfork’s original nurturer-in-chief. In “The Quality of Mercy,” for example, we see Sue Ellen give Lucy advice on coping with Mickey’s paralysis. If Bel Geddes […]

  4. […] Ray blocks the door to his hospital room so the doctors can’t enter and revive him. It’s the beginning of a medical mystery that yields riveting performances from Kanaly, Tilton and Kate Reid as Lil, […]

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