Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 140 — ‘Morning After’

Christopher Atkins, Dallas, Linda Gray, Morning After, Peter Richards, Sue Ellen Ewing

Special needs

The characters on “Dallas” usually have affairs when they fall in lust or in love, but neither scenario is true for Sue Ellen Ewing and Peter Richards. Their romance is based on their mutual neediness. Sue Ellen, having been betrayed by J.R. once too often, needs to be reminded of what life was like before it turned into one extended heartache. Peter, a bright young man who is eager for the world to take him seriously, needs to feel like a grownup. Put another way: She needs to feel younger, he needs to feel older. This doesn’t make their relationship right, but I can see why they’re drawn to each other.

In “Morning After,” Sue Ellen and Peter finally acknowledge what’s happening between them. It begins when Peter visits Southfork and overhears J.R. and Sue Ellen arguing. J.R. wants his wife to sleep with him; when she refuses, he suggests it’s because Peter is “getting” to her. Sue Ellen insists this isn’t true but wonders if J.R. is jealous. His response: “Jealous? Are you kidding? The one thing I don’t have to worry about is a schoolboy with a crush on my wife.” The next day, Peter persuades Sue Ellen to meet him at a quiet pier, where he says he doesn’t think he should continue working with John Ross because he’s developed feelings Sue Ellen. She tells Peter it’s “not so unusual” for a young man to be attracted to an older woman, comparing him to a student who develops a crush on a teacher. Sue Ellen urges him to not “give up” on John Ross, who adores Peter and would be sad to lose him as his counselor. “It’ll all work out. You’ll see,” she says.

Except this is “Dallas,” and so of course things won’t work themselves out. To begin with, Sue Ellen is also attracted to Peter, although she doesn’t want to admit it. Why? Scriptwriter David Paulsen never makes this clear, but it seems safe to assume the always ladylike Sue Ellen believes it would be wrong for a woman in her 40s to desire a college student like Peter. Regardless of the character’s motivation, Linda Gray does a nice job bringing Sue Ellen’s conflicted feelings to light. This is especially true in the scene where Sue Ellen shoots down Lucy’s suggestion that Peter has a crush on her. Gray delivers her lines with just enough defensiveness in her voice to let the audience know that Sue Ellen doesn’t believe a word of what she’s saying. Charlene Tilton’s skepticism in this scene is also pitch-perfect. When Sue Ellen insists Peter is nothing more than John Ross’s friend, Lucy snaps, “He’s John Ross’s friend? John Ross is 5 years old. Peter is in college.”

Sue Ellen’s denials bring to mind one of “Dallas’s” earlier May/December romances: Jock’s affair-of-the-heart with Julie Grey. Like Sue Ellen does with Peter, Jock initially denies anything is happening between him and Julie, although he eventually realizes their relationship is wrong and ends it. Also, like Sue Ellen and Peter’s romance, Jock and Julie’s affair is rooted in mutual neediness: He needs Julie to help reclaim his vitality after his heart attack, while she needs Jock to validate her self-worth. One difference between the two relationships: Julie fools herself into thinking it’s OK to pursue Jock, but Peter does no such thing when it comes to his feelings toward Sue Ellen. Even after Peter eavesdrops on J.R. and Sue Ellen’s spat and realizes they aren’t the happy couple they pretend to be in public, Peter tells Sue Ellen their friendship can’t continue. “You’re married. I just don’t think anything should happen between us,” he says.

Ultimately, this is why Sue Ellen is so attracted to Peter: Unlike the husband who has caused her so much pain, Peter is principled. He still has some growing up to do, though. The day after Sue Ellen’s conversation with Peter at the pier, she drops John Ross off at camp and discovers Peter hasn’t shown up for work. Sue Ellen returns to the pier, where she finds Peter sitting on the dock, looking like a sad little boy. She again reassures him that everything will work itself out, then holds his hand and walks him toward her car, where, in the episode’s final scene, he kisses her. The sentimental underscore lends this scene a “Summer of ’42” vibe, and Christopher Atkins is earnest enough to make Peter’s kiss seem gentle and sweet. But isn’t it also kind of childish? For all of Sue Ellen’s talk about how mature Peter is, he apparently isn’t grown up enough to control his impulses.

Sue Ellen and Peter’s relationship will take more twists and turns as “Dallas’s” seventh season progresses, but by the end of “Morning After,” it feels like their affair is already doomed. The qualities that attract these characters to each other are the same qualities that seem destined to tear them apart them. Sue Ellen is drawn to Peter’s youth and, having had her first taste of self-empowerment in the previous episode, she seems to enjoy being the dominant player in their relationship. Notice how she goes to the pier to retrieve him, and she takes his hand and walks him to her car. Peter’s attraction to Sue Ellen, in the meantime, is based on how she treats him like a man. As their relationship deepens and she asserts herself more, will he still feel the same way?

Peter isn’t the only character who comes clean in “Morning After.” In one of this episode’s most interesting scenes, Katherine finally tells Bobby she loves him and is surprised to see the revelation shocks him. I suspect a lot of “Dallas” fans probably share Katherine’s surprise, although Bobby’s explanation (“You’re Pam’s sister. I could never think of you in any other way.”) seems reasonable to me. Regardless, I feel sorry for Katherine. Yes, she did an awful thing by working with J.R. to orchestrate Bobby and Pam’s breakup, but Morgan Brittany imbues her character with such sad desperation that she becomes a sympathetic figure. I also have to admire how Katherine goes after what she wants, unlike so many of the other women on this show who never seem fully in control of their own lives.

Other notable moments in “Morning After” include the scene where Cliff invites Pam to join him for a business dinner with Ben Kesey, whose oil company Cliff wants to buy. Of course, smarmy Cliff arrives late because he knows Kesey will be attracted to his sister and wants them to have plenty of time alone together. This won’t be the first time Cliff will use a woman named Pam in this manner, is it? Fortunately, in “Morning After,” Victoria Principal’s Pam is smart enough to figure out what’s happening and calls Cliff on his manipulation. Too bad Donna doesn’t demonstrate the same gumption in her scene with Paul Morgan. After she thanks Morgan for defending Ray during his murder trial, Morgan flirts with Donna shamelessly, predicting she’ll “wake up one day and leave that guy.” Why doesn’t Donna slug him? On the other hand, Morgan isn’t wrong, is he?

The other great scene in “Morning After” showcases Larry Hagman’s wonderful chemistry with Tilton. It begins when J.R. arrives for breakfast on the Southfork patio, ranting about his brawl with Cliff at the Oil Baron’s Ball the previous night. When J.R. reveals Cliff bit him, Lucy snickers. Says J.R.: “It’s not a laughing matter, young lady. A human bite is a very serious thing. Don’t you worry. I’ll take care of Cliff Barnes.” Lucy’s response: “Are you going to bite him back?”

Perfect.

Grade: B

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Morning After

Who bit J.R.?

‘MORNING AFTER’

Season 7, Episode 9

Airdate: November 25, 1983

Audience: 21.2 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: After Cliff is named oil baron of the year, he gets into a fistfight with the Ewings. Katherine declares her love to Bobby, who says he considers her a friend. Peter confesses his crush to Sue Ellen and kisses her. Cliff uses information from Sly to steal another deal from J.R.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Glenn Corbett (Paul Morgan), Joe Dorsey (Ben Kesey), Patrick Duffy (Bobby 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), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Debi Sue Voorhees (Caroline), Tom Williams (Joe Clooney), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

“Morning After” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. I actually always liked this episode, but it seemed to me that Peter Richards was like Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker, a 1 hit underused wonder. I had always dreamed that a a way for Sue Ellen to at least partially escape J. R.’s clutches & have joint custody of John Ross with him would be if she got impregnated by Peter Richards. In this way, John Ross would have a 1/2 brother or sister to play with to cover off the loneliness of having such a domineering father whose Ewing Oil bidness took many hours of time that he could be playing with his son!

  2. There’s a bit of a parallel in Pam’s scene with Ben Kesey to a scene a season ago where Pam was entertaining the McCleash brothers and largely won Bobby that Canadian oil deal that ultimately won him the battle for Ewing Oil. I wonder if that didn’t at least enter Cliff’s mind when he had Pam spend all that time with Kesey.
    Of course it also reminds me of when JR attempted to use Sue Ellen to win him a business deal with Gil Thurman. Sue Ellen went through the motions and but really didn’t go as far as JR would have liked. But Afton used all the sex appeal and other fringe benefits that JR wanted from Sue Ellen and won Cliff that deal with Thurman.
    Of course the irony is that Cliff didn’t want Afton to seduce Thurman. He wanted to win that deal on his own but he did want Pam to at the least use a ton of charm with Kesey.

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Morning After,” a seventh-season “Dallas” episode, Bobby and Katherine (Patrick Duffy, Morgan Brittany) have a […]

  2. […] triangle where one woman (Sue Ellen) is the object of affection for two men (J.R. and Peter). The previous episode ended with Sue Ellen and Peter sharing a brief kiss, but in “The Buck Stops Here,” she meets […]

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