Dallas Parallels: O Mother, Where Art Thou?

Dallas Parallels - O Mother, Where Art Thou? 1

If Christopher’s search for Pam on TNT’s “Dallas” reminded you of Pam’s search for Rebecca on the original series, you’re not alone. There are several similarities between the two storylines — and also one big difference, reminding us how history never repeats itself exactly, even on “Dallas.”

This one is kind of complicated, so let’s take it from the top. Pam grew up believing her mother, Rebecca Barnes, died when she and her brother Cliff were children. Many years later, when Pam and Cliff’s daddy Digger died, Pam realized there was no record of Rebecca’s demise, so she hired private eye John Mackey to find out what happened to her mother. Pam was shocked when Mackey told her Rebecca was still alive; according to his investigation, when Pam and Cliff were kids, Rebecca ran away, changed her name to Rebecca Burke and married Houston industrialist Herbert Wentworth. Pam went to the Wentworth mansion to confront Rebecca, who initially denied that she was Pam’s mom. Eventually, Rebecca fessed up — it seems she abandoned her family because she was miserable being married to Digger — and Pam forgave her.

History began to repeat itself when Victoria Principal left “Dallas” in 1987. Despite the pain Rebecca’s abandonment caused Pam, the writers explained Pam’s departure by having her leave Bobby and Christopher after she was badly burned in a car accident. One year later, the producers brought Pam back for a single scene — this time played by Margaret Michaels — when Cliff tracked her down in Houston and begged her to come home. Pam rejected Cliff’s invitation, explaining that she had moved on with her life. Only after Cliff left the room did the audience learn the truth: Pam only had months to live and wanted to spare Bobby, Christopher and Cliff the pain of having to watch her die. Who knew Pam was such a martyr?

Of course, the audience never saw Pam die, so fans like me spent years clinging to the hope that Principal would one day reprise the role. Finally, the second season of TNT’s “Dallas” seemed to lay the groundwork for the second coming of Pam Ewing — and in a nice touch, the storyline echoed the past. Consider: Digger’s death prompted Pam to embark on her search for Rebecca. Thirty-three years later, Christopher began his hunt for Pam after another death in the family: the murder of his Uncle J.R., who was shot and killed while trying to track down Pam, hoping to persuade her to help stop Cliff’s war against the Ewings.

This is where the similarities begin to mount: Christopher, picking up where J.R.’s search left off, discovered Pam had changed her name to Patricia Barrett — just like Pam learned the presumed-dead Rebecca Barnes had adopted the identity of Rebecca Burke. Meanwhile, Christopher’s obsession with finding Pam started to strain his relationship with his fiancée Elena, who was distracted by her brother Drew’s role in the Ewing Energies rig explosion. It wasn’t unlike the situation Pam once found herself in, when her preoccupation with finding Rebecca took its toll on her marriage to Bobby, who was distracted by his brother J.R.’s role in the Ewing 23 explosion.

More parallels: In the TNT episode “Guilt by Association,” Christopher sat in a car and watched the Zurich home where Pam supposedly lived; the shot was reminiscent of the scene in the classic episode “The Prodigal Mother” where Pam and Mackey (Richard Herd) staked out Rebecca’s Houston residence. Also: Christopher learned Pam had married her plastic surgeon, David Gordon, just like Rebecca had wed Herbert Wentworth. And when Christopher rushed into the Gordon home to confront Pam, he was crushed to hear the good doctor say his wife didn’t want to see her son — just like Pam was devastated when she entered the Wentworth mansion and Rebecca rejected her.

This brings us to the point where the two storylines diverge. On the original show, after Rebecca denied Pam, she felt guilty and went to see her daughter in Dallas, where the two women sat on a park bench and Rebecca tearfully told Pam that she was, in fact, her mother. Poor Christopher never got a park-bench scene on the TNT series. Instead, he learned an uglier truth: Cliff had paid Gordon to lie and say Pam had changed her name and married Gordon because as long as everyone believed Pam was alive, Christopher couldn’t inherit her shares of Barnes Global. Who knew Cliff was such a monster?

Christopher’s search concluded on a heartbreaking note, but it’s probably the only ending that makes sense. Principal has made it clear she isn’t interested in playing Pam again — and recasting the part was out of the question since “Dallas” fans don’t have a history of welcoming new performers in iconic roles. (See “Reed, Donna”) Besides, even if Principal was willing to return, how could the show have justified Pam’s decision to stay away from her family for more than 25 years? Please don’t tell me Katherine has kept her locked up in a dungeon all this time.

As far as I’m concerned, TNT showrunner Cynthia Cidre fixed one of the old “Dallas’s” biggest blunders — the ham-handed writing surrounding Principal’s 1987 exit — and redeemed Pam by revealing that she was, in fact, trying to come home to Bobby and Christopher when she died. It’s sad, I know. But at least we have closure. How often does that happen on “Dallas”?

 

‘I Want to See Her’

Dallas, Pam Ewing, Prodigal Mother, Victoria Principal

Calm?

In “The Prodigal Mother,” a fourth-season “Dallas” episode, Pam (Victoria Principal) walks briskly into her bedroom, followed by Bobby (Patrick Duffy).

BOBBY: Honey, you’re all wound up. You hardly touched your dinner. Don’t leave tonight. Wait till morning.

PAM: Bobby, I’ve waited all my life to see this woman. [Retrieves a suitcase from the closet, sets it on the bed, unzips it]

BOBBY: Well, it would be better for her if you saw her when you were calmer. And what if Mackey made a mistake? And even if he didn’t, she might not be the kind of woman that you think she is.

PAM: I don’t care what kind of woman she is. My mother’s alive. I want to see her.

BOBBY: I just wish I could go with you.

PAM: Well, I’m sure the airline would sell you a ticket. [Begins packing]

BOBBY: Honey, I can’t leave now. You know that. Not with the wells still on fire. I’ve got Scotty Hawthorne flying in here with a crack fire-shooting crew. There’s too much going on for me to leave.

PAM: There always is lately.

BOBBY: Now wait a minute. You know what Ewing 23 means to us.

PAM: Means to you, not to us.

BOBBY: Honey, I have to be here to make sure that nothing else goes wrong.

PAM: Look, Bobby, I understand. I don’t want to burden you with my problems, okay?

BOBBY: Will you be home by Wednesday?

PAM: Probably. Why?

BOBBY: It’s this fundraising thing for Dave Culver. Daddy would like us to be there.

PAM: Oh, well. I’ll be home then. I wouldn’t want to disappoint your family.

 

‘All I Want From Her Now Are Her Shares’

Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Guilt by Association, Jesse Metcalfe, TNT

Ready?

In “Guilt By Association,” Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) enters his hotel room as Elena (Jordana Brewster) is ending a phone call to Drew.

CHRISTOPHER: Hey.

ELENA: [Begins unpacking] Hey.

CHRISTOPHER: Who were you talking to?

ELENA: Oh, it was my mom. She wanted to make sure we landed safely. How’d it go?

CHRISTOPHER: My mother’s bank account is registered to her home address, a man by the name of David Gordon. Apparently, he’s an American. Used to be a plastic surgeon.

ELENA: Do you think Pamela lives there?

CHRISTOPHER: There’s only one way to find out. I’m headed over now. [Puts on his coat]

ELENA: Christopher, are you sure you’re prepared for this? Because if there’s anything —

CHRISTOPHER: I’m fine. [Turns away, looks out the window]

ELENA: You haven’t seen your mother in over 25 years. You must be feeling something.

CHRISTOPHER: [Turns toward her] Actually, I’m not. Because the woman I’m about to see ceased to be my mother the day she abandoned me.

ELENA: You keep saying that.

CHRISTOPHER: Because it’s the truth.

ELENA: But after all this time, don’t you want an explanation?

CHRISTOPHER: All I want from her now are her shares so I can take down Cliff. [Grabs his bag] Wish me luck.

ELENA: Good luck. [Kisses him goodbye]

How do you feel about Pam’s search for Rebecca and Christopher’s search for Pam? Share your comments below and read more “Dallas Parallels.”

Comments

  1. What’s sad is that we never got to see a scene that mirrored Cliff’s “Mama, You Didn’t take any licorice.” Can’t you just imagine a similar “Mama, where’s my eggs and toast?”

  2. C.B., Pamela Barnes Ewing had to “mother” Christopher on the original show when Sue Ellen was uncomfy with it & full of hatred for J.R. Bobby had to “mother” Christopher as a single father when Pamela left them. Emma Ryland was force “mothered” by her dad Harris when he stole her & hid her from Ann for what 20 years & with the help of his Mama, poisoned her mind against her real mama (Ann.) John Ross had to “mother” & force feed/look after Pamela after her father Cliff murdered her & Christopher’s babies. Miss Ellie had to “mother” & scold J.R. & to a lesser degree Bobby & Gary when they got into trouble. And, she had to overcome her stress over finding out Ray was Jock’s illegitimate son & be a decent step”mother” to him.

  3. Garnet McGee says:

    The Dallas TNT scenes were suspenseful and well written even for someone who has never seen the demise of the original Pam. I only watched these Dallas TNT scenes after they aired and did not read anything ahead of time. I genuinely did not know what was going to happen with Pam. Jesse and Jordana were at their best in these scenes. I always thought it was strange how easily Pam forgave her mom for abandoning her. It would have made more since for Rebecca to leave with her baby and leave Digger’s son behind.

    • I agree, Garnet. I never understood how Pam forgave her mom so easily. And like you, I think Jesse and Jordana were really good in these episodes.

      Thanks!

  4. I’m a bit late to reply to this thread, but I’ve only recently watched Dallas TNT seasons 1 and 2. 😉
    The thing that bothers me most about Rebecca is that she only started to “feel guilty” and decided to meet Pam (and later Cliff) after her husband had died. She made it quite clear to Pam that she could not tell her husband about her former life, which included her two children she had left behind.
    If her husband had lived for another 20 years, or even longer (I know he was elderly, but not in his 80s or 90s yet), she obviously would never have contacted Pam and Cliff. She would have continued denying her own daughter and son.
    While I understand that Rebecca’s situation was not easy, and that she was afraid of telling her husband about Pam and Cliff, Rebecca’s attitude still struck me as… “false”, or “two-faced” – I’m not sure about the correct English word here, but maybe you understand what I mean.
    I, too, thought it was odd that Pam forgave her so easily.

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