Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 148 — ‘Eye of the Beholder’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Clayton Farlow, Dallas, Eye of the Beholder, Howard Keel, Miss Ellie Ewing

The natural

At the end of “Eye of the Beholder,” Miss Ellie tearfully tells Clayton that she had breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy years earlier. It’s another moving performance from Barbara Bel Geddes, although when I try to explain why she excels in scenes like this one, I always come up short. Is it her ability to summon tears whenever the script calls for it? Is it her halting delivery, which mimics the way people tend to talk in real life? Or is it some magical, Hagman-esque quality that can’t be described? Whatever the reason, Bel Geddes always makes me forget I’m watching a world of make-believe. She’s amazing.

To be fair, Bel Geddes gets plenty of help from “Eye of the Beholder” scriptwriter Arthur Bernard Lewis, whose unsentimental dialogue ensures Ellie isn’t seen as a figure of self-pity. Here’s how she tells Clayton about her ordeal: “Clayton, I had surgery. I’ve had a mastectomy. The doctor found cancer. They cut off my breast.” This series of clipped, matter-of-fact pronouncements reminds me of Bel Geddes’ wonderful monologue in “Return Engagements,” when Ellie acknowledges her failure to help Gary keep his family together. (“I should’ve fought them. I didn’t. I did nothing.”) Only one line in Ellie’s “Eye of the Beholder” speech gives me pause. After she tells Clayton about her mastectomy, she says, “It affects how I feel about myself, and I know it’s got to be harder for you.” This seems like another example of “Dallas’s” pervasive sexism — and maybe it is — but like it or not, I suspect this is how a lot of women from Ellie’s generation felt.

Regardless, I continue to marvel at “Dallas’s” acknowledgment that Ellie and Clayton, two characters who are supposed to be in their 60s or 70s, are capable of sexual intimacy. Besides “The Golden Girls,” which debuted a year after this episode aired, I can’t think of another show that did more more than “Dallas” to dispel the myth that people stop having sex with they get old. I also appreciate how sensitively “Dallas” handles this material. At the end of the scene, Clayton tells Ellie the mastectomy doesn’t matter to him and sweeps her into his arms. The final freeze frame shows him holding her tightly as Richard Lewis Warren’s soft piano music plays in the background. There’s no big cliffhanger, just two characters expressing their love and commitment to each other. What other prime-time soap opera from this era would be willing to end an episode on such a quiet, dignified note?

Above all, I love how Ellie and Clayton’s storyline mines “Dallas’s” history. “Eye of the Beholder” arrived four seasons after the show’s classic “Mastectomy” episodes, which broke ground by making Ellie one of the first major characters in prime time to get cancer. In “Eye of the Beholder,” the show doesn’t just mention her disease, it turns it into a major subplot and reveals Ellie is still struggling with the same feelings of inadequacy that she did in 1979. Her tearful scene with Clayton harkens to the memorable moment in “Mastectomy, Part 2,” when she comes home after her surgery and breaks down (“I’m deformed”) upon discovering her dresses no longer fit the way they once did.

The show’s history can also be felt in “Eye of the Beholder’s” third act, when Clayton tells Sue Ellen that Ellie has called off the wedding without telling him why. Sue Ellen gently quizzes Clayton and realizes he and Ellie haven’t been intimate with each other. “Don’t give up on her. I don’t think she’s told you everything,” Sue Ellen says. I love this scene for a lot of reasons, beginning with Linda Gray, whose expression lets the audience know that Sue Ellen has it all figured out. This also feels like a moment of growth for Gray’s character. Think back to “Mastectomy, Part 2,” when Sue Ellen reacts to Ellie’s cancer diagnosis by suggesting Jock will reject his wife after her surgery. Four years later, Sue Ellen is wiser, less cynical and more compassionate. When you think about it, if it wasn’t for Sue Ellen encouraging Clayton to not give up on Ellie, Ellie might not have opened up to him and given their relationship another chance. In many ways, Sue Ellen rescues this couple.

“Eye of the Beholder” contains several other nods to “Dallas’s” past, including the warm scene where Bobby and Pam share lunch at the Oil Baron’s Club and reminisce about their wedding. Besides showcasing Patrick Duffy and Victoria Principal’s sparkling chemistry, the scene fills in some blanks for “Dallas” diehards. For example, “Digger’s Daughter” opens with Bobby and Pam stopping at a gas station not long after their spur-of-the-moment wedding in New Orleans. I always wondered: Were the newlyweds coming straight from the chapel? It turns out they weren’t: In “Eye of the Beholder,” we learn the couple spent their wedding night in a motel while making their way back to Southfork. It’s also nice to know “When the Saints Go Marching In” was their wedding music. If that’s not a fitting theme for these two, I don’t know what is.

The other great scenes in “Eye of the Beholder” include Bobby forcing J.R. to sign the paperwork to buy Travis Boyd’s company, which ends with J.R. saying, “I don’t like doing business this way.” Bobby’s response: “Well, I’ll continue your delicate sensibilities some other time, all right?” I also like the scene that introduces Barry Jenner as Jerry Kenderson, Mark Graison’s doctor and confidante; Jenner and John Beck have an easy rapport, making the friendship between their characters feel believable. “Eye of the Beholder” also marks Bill Morey’s first appearance as Barnes-Wentworth’s longtime controller Leo Wakefield, whose weary demeanor makes him a worthy foil for Ken Kercheval’s hyperkinetic Cliff. (Morey previously popped up as a judge in the fifth-season episode “Gone But Not Forgotten.”)

Two more moments, both showcasing Larry Hagman’s comedic talents, deserve mentioning. In the first, J.R. enters the Southfork living room, where Sue Ellen is offering Peter a drink. J.R. accuses his wife of “trying to corrupt that young man,” until he finds out Peter has arrived to escort Lucy to a party. “Oh, in that case you’re going to need a drink,” J.R. says. In Hagman’s other great scene, J.R. takes Edgar Randolph to lunch, where he tells Edgar he wants him to reveal the high bidder in the offshore drilling auction so J.R. can beat the bid. Edgar resists, saying he doesn’t want to cheat the government, but J.R. points out the government will make more money under his scheme. “J.R., you have the amazing ability to make a crooked scheme sound noble,” Edgar says. J.R.’s response: “Edgar, that’s part of my charm.”

For once, he isn’t lying.

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Eye of the Beholder, Pam Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal

On the march

‘EYE OF THE BEHOLDER’

Season 7, Episode 17

Airdate: January 27, 1984

Audience: 22 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Miss Ellie tells Clayton she doesn’t want to marry him because she had a mastectomy, but he tells her it doesn’t matter. Cliff agrees to sleep with Marilee if she’ll join his offshore drilling venture. J.R. tells Edgar he wants to see the offshore proposals so he can bid higher. Pam realizes Bobby and Jenna are sleeping together.

Cast: Denny Albee (Travis Boyd), Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Martin E. Brooks (Edgar Randolph), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Barry Jenner (Dr. Jerry Kenderson), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie Dugan), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Anne Lucas (Cassie), Kevin McBride (George), Bill Morey (Leo Wakefield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Donegan Smith (Earl Johnson), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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

Comments

  1. I absolutely agree about Barbara Bel Geddes’ magnificent performance. In the scene with her talking to Donna, revealing her inner turmoil, I wanted to giver her a hug.
    I also liked the many little fun moments in this episode, like the Bobby and Pam lunch you mentioned, and later, Pam’s facial expression when Bobby told her he didn’t spend the last couple of nights at home… Last but not least, I loved it when Pam was at Cliff’s house and made a remark about the “Man from Atlantis”. 🙂

  2. Barbara Fan says:

    A great review of my favourite episode this season – Dallas at its best and hardly a dud scene the whole episode
    I will never really know where BBG got the strength and courage to relive her real life experience of breast cancer – to act it out on TV and to let millions of viewers into her secret.
    I think it made me love her even more

    • Thank you, BF. I love BBG’s performances so much. I forgot to mention in this article that she had breast cancer in real life too. Thanks for pointing that out. You’re right: She was a very brave soul.

  3. Anonymous says:

    What does the ‘Man from Atlantis’ reference mean?

    • Before “Dallas” debuted, Patrick Duffy starred on a short-lived science-fiction/action show called “The Man From Atlantis.” In this episode, Pam hears about Cliff’s offshore oil dreams and jokingly refers to him as “The Man from Atlantis.”

      • Yeah C.B. I remember that. But the “Eye of the Beholder” in terms of entitling this episode reminds me of the classic ’80’s rock song: the “Eye of the Tiger.” Can u c why I’sd think to link those?

      • I think it’s even funnier when you hear Victoria Principal in the 2004 documentary, where she mentions before her time on Dallas she had a poster of Patrick Duffy as the “Man From Atlantis” in her room because she found him so attractive… 🙂

  4. Chris also has a poster of Patrick Duffy as the “Man From Atlantis” in his home. Don’t any1 tell Andrew!

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Eye of the Beholder,” a seventh-season “Dallas” episode, Sue Ellen and Clayton (Linda Gray, Howard Keel) walk through […]

  2. […] moment in “Twelve Mile Limit” is a little more sober-minded. At the end of the show’s previous episode, when Miss Ellie tells Clayton about her mastectomy, he embraces her warmly and tells her it […]

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