Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 149 — ‘Twelve Mile Limit’

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Twelve Mile Limit

What a nice man!

The final scene in “Twelve Mile Limit” begins with a shot of a man in a brown suit carrying a big bouquet of flowers into Edgar Randolph’s hospital room. We don’t see the mystery man’s face until he places the basket on a tray table and the camera pans up, revealing that it’s J.R. “Hello, Edgar. Thought I’d bring a little something to brighten your room,” he says. The words are perfectly innocent, but when Larry Hagman delivers them, they sound positively chilling. This isn’t going to your typical “Dallas” social call, not that such a thing really exists.

Indeed, Edgar is in the hospital because he overdosed on pills and booze to avoid being blackmailed by J.R. What’s J.R. up to? The show hasn’t made that clear. We know J.R. wants Edgar, a high-ranking federal official, to leak him top-secret information about a forthcoming public auction of offshore oil leases. We also know J.R. plans to use this information to get revenge against Cliff, although we’re not entirely sure how. Additionally, J.R. has told Edgar that if he doesn’t cooperate, J.R. will expose a dark secret from his past, although we don’t know what the secret is.

That’s a lot of missing information, and yet the absence of these details does nothing to detract from the power of the hospital scene. Like so many great moments on “Dallas,” this one allows the audience to experience a lot of contradictory emotions at once: We feel sorry for Edgar, but heaven help us, we also get a kick out of watching J.R. exert his power over him. At one point, J.R. tells Edgar that if he tries to kill himself again and succeeds, J.R. will expose his secret to his wife and children anyway. Edgar is horrified. “But why? What purpose would it serve?” he asks. J.R.’s response: “It would testify to the fact that J.R. Ewing always keeps his promises.” My goodness, how mean — and how delicious — is that?

I discussed this scene the other day with Hill Place Blog, who suggested J.R. is so vicious here because Edgar’s sins are so dark; for once, J.R. gets to feel morally superior to somebody. This is an interesting idea, although I’m not sure J.R. cares that much about morality one way or the other. Whatever his character’s motivation may be, I love how Hagman plays off Martin E. Brooks, who is entirely believable as poor, flustered Edgar. After J.R. threatens to expose his secret if he dies, Edgar shouts, “You’re not a human being, you’re scum!” J.R. calmly responds, “Edgar, I know how you feel. But it’s not going to change the way things are. Now don’t make it hard on yourself.” Hagman then takes a beat, smiles and says, “I’m really a nice fellow when I get what I want.” Perfect.

The “scum”/“nice fellow” exchange was one of the first clips shown during last year’s PBS retrospective of the 1980s prime-time soap operas. At the time, I was surprised by the scene’s inclusion — I figured the producers would’ve chosen one of J.R.’s more memorable acts of cruelty, like one of the scenes where he smacks down Cliff Barnes — but now that I’ve seen J.R. and Edgar’s clash with fresh eyes, I appreciate it more. If you’re looking for a singular scene that showcases both J.R.’s villainy and Hagman’s genius, this one is as good as any.

A few more moments in “Twelve Mile Limit” deserve mentioning. In one, Ray and Donna storm into J.R.’s office to accuse him of blackmailing Edgar to win the auction, only to have J.R. tell them he has no intention of bidding. Before you know it, Ray and Donna are essentially apologizing to J.R., who gleefully plays up his indignation. “I sure am glad the wheels of justice are not controlled by people like you,” he says. In another fun scene, Cliff meets Sly in a darkened restaurant so he can reluctantly pay her the money she requested for inside information about J.R.’s dealings. As Cliff reaches inside his jacket to retrieve his checkbook, he says, “Ten thousand dollars, right?” Sly furrows her brow. “Yes, but cash, please.” Debbie Rennard’s oh-so-innocent delivery is downright Hagman-esque.

The other standout 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 doesn’t matter. In “Twelve Mile Limit,” Clayton confesses to Ray that he’s not as comfortable as he let on. “It bothered me, and I’m not proud about that. Why does a man have to feel that way about something like that?” Clayton says. His confession is a bit surprising, but it also feels very honest. I would imagine a lot of men who find themselves in these situations in real life struggle with the same kinds of feelings.

I also like how Howard Keel never makes Clayton feel like anything less than a gentleman. If another actor was playing this character, we might think Clayton was a lout for saying he was afraid to see Miss Ellie without her clothes on; the character could also come off as weak or namby-pamby. Not with Keel, who strikes the perfect balance between strength and sensitivity in this scene and so many others. If anything, Clayton’s willingness to give voice to feelings he isn’t “proud” of makes him feel even stronger.

In fact, the only thing that gives me pause about this scene comes at the end, when Ray tells Clayton, “Well, I just got this feeling that when the time comes, it’s all going to turn out fine.” I certainly hope not! What fun would that be?

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Clayton Farlow, Dallas, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Twelve Mile Limit

Real men

‘TWELVE MILE LIMIT’

Season 7, Episode 18

Airdate: February 3, 1984

Audience: 22.4 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Patrick Duffy

Synopsis: Clayton harbors private reservations about having sex with Miss Ellie. J.R. learns Clayton may have killed his first wife to collect the insurance money. When Edgar tries to commit suicide, Ray and Donna suspect he was being blackmailed by J.R. Sly tells Cliff that J.R. plans to bid on three offshore leases. Mark proposes to Pam, but she tells him she needs time to think about it. While Afton is out of town, Cliff sleeps with Marilee. Katherine comes closer to finding Naldo.

Cast: John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Martin E. Brooks (Edgar Randolph), James L. Brown (Detective Harry McSween), Danone Camden (Kendall), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Ray Girardin (Richard Stevens), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie Dugan), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Joanna Miles (Martha Randolph), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Deborah Rennard (Sly), Donegan Smith (Earl Johnson)

“Twelve Mile Limit” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. I like Sly demanding cash from Cliff. It makesCliff think that J.R. is cheating her in terms of wages & benefits as a Ewing Oil secretary. Desperation where there is none.

  2. Dan in WI says:

    It’s an interesting interpretation that JR would take the time to consider if he does or doesn’t have the moral high ground with Edgar Randolf. Personally I don’t see it. I don’t think he knows the meaning of the word so how could he take it into consideration.

  3. I like your choice for scene of the day. That scene between JR and Edgar has always been one that stands out for me from watching it many yeas ago… It ranks up there as one of the more memorable ones of all.. You are so right that both actors are spot in in the scene with each other. JR is downright cold hearted and menacing in it. I remember me and my little brother being shocked and awed by him. I agree with your assessment that it is not because he feels morally superior. I think it is simply that Edgar dared to deny him and emperiled JR’s plan by talking to Ray and Donna. JR was putting the fear of God in him. Most people had some fear of JR by his reputation… JR just had to give them a little push to get them to give into his demands. (It is interesting that in Dallas TNT, fear of JR made people wary of working with the rest of family or kept others from trying to take advantage)

    Lol, man, Hagman is so great in this scene… I love it.

    • I don’t think JR cared one iota about morals. Anytime he referenced right and wrong it was in lip service, usually it meant he was working an angle.

      He had a sense of responsibility towards people and things he loved. He would always try to protect them.

      However, he could love someone and still move against them if they stood in his way. He wouldn’t try to destroy them…. But certainly would take
      Advantage of a situation… Even if it meant negatively affecting the ones he loved.

      J

    • Yeah, I’m with you, Hel. Thanks.

  4. Yeah, definitely not buying the interpretation that J.R. was feeling any extra disdain towards, or moral superiority over, Edgar because of Edgar’s mysterious (but easily implied) actions in his past. This was strictly business, and Edgar was just another pawn to him.

  5. I could go for miles & miles & miles & miles. I guess u can only go for 12 miles C.B.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I agree JR was at one of his deliciously mean self in this episode, poor Edgar ( even though he was a child molester in his past and has reformed, I do not think molesters can reform) who does JR’s bidding to keep his secret from being exposed. Mark that clueless idiot ask Pam to marry him (one of many times) and she says she has to think about it (because she still in love with her ex), he is so desperate and blind he cannot see the truth or refuses to see it. I loved Katherine’s facial expressions while Pam was telling her about her accidental lunch with Bobby, it is like a school girl pinning for the boy who does not notice her listening to another girl’s date with that boy. The way Pam talks and her face lights up about a former love she should be over with and never seems to show that kind of expression about the one she is currently involve with, that is what you call true love !!!!

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Twleve Mile Limit,” a seventh-season “Dallas” episode, J.R. (Larry Hagman) enters Edgar’s hospital room and […]

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