Dallas Parallels: Masterpieces

Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

The deaths of Jock and J.R. Ewing produced some of the saddest moments in “Dallas” history. From a creative standpoint, the two deaths also stand as high watermarks for the franchise, although I’m sure everyone involved — the people behind the scenes, the performers in front of the camera, the fans watching at home — wish neither storyline had been necessary.

The original “Dallas” wrote Jock out of the show when Jim Davis died of cancer in 1981; TNT’s sequel show killed off J.R. when Larry Hagman, also a cancer victim, died in 2012. Wisely, neither series considered recasting the roles, choosing instead to honor Davis and Hagman by incorporating their deaths into the storylines.

The old show laid the groundwork for Jock’s departure by having the government recruit him off-screen for a trade mission to “South America” to help an unidentified country develop its oil industry. (Foreign locales on the 1980s “Dallas” are almost always vague.) For several episodes, the Ewings are shown talking to Jock on the phone or receiving letters from him — until the 1982 Southfork barbecue, when Miss Ellie receives the fateful call informing her that Jock’s helicopter has crashed in the jungle. J.R., Bobby and Ray go to the crash site hoping to find Jock, but the only thing they bring home is his lion’s head medallion, which Bobby discovers at the bottom of the lake where the chopper went down.

After Hagman’s death, TNT’s “Dallas” sent J.R. to Abu Dhabi, where he was said to be negotiating oil leases for Ewing Energies, the family’s newest business. The producers then recycled recent footage and dialogue from Hagman to create a scene in which J.R. makes a final phone call to John Ross. After expressing his pride in the younger man and telling him that he’s his son “from tip to tail,” J.R. looks stunned as two gunshots ring out. The next time we see John Ross, he’s with Bobby, Sue Ellen and Christopher aboard a Ewing helicopter as it flies to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, where the police say they’ve found J.R.’s dead body in a faded hotel room. The Ewings refuse to believe the evidence until they go to the morgue and confirm the sad truth: J.R. is gone.

The parallels are clear: Jock and J.R. both die away from home, and both of their families race to foreign terrain, hoping against hope that the men are still alive. The way the Ewings handle the deaths are also similar: When Jock dies, J.R. slips into a depression, leaving Bobby to play the role of the supportive younger sibling; it’s not unlike John Ross’s funk at J.R.’s memorial service and funeral, where Christopher offers his older cousin much-needed moral support. Meanwhile, Sue Ellen’s tearful eulogy at J.R.’s gravesite evokes memories of Miss Ellie’s moving tribute to Jock at the first Oil Baron’s Ball held after his death.

There are also similarities between Jock’s will and the scheme that J.R leaves his family to execute after his death. Both are essentially war plans: Jock’s will pits J.R. and Bobby against each other in a battle to determine which man is best suited to run Ewing Oil, while J.R.’s “masterpiece” is a blueprint to defend the family’s empire from Cliff Barnes’s latest attack. Despite the differences, both storylines end with a similar twist: It turns out the war plans are really peace plans.

In the classic episode “Check and Mate,” as the contest for Ewing Oil concludes, Jock’s friend Punk Anderson reads a letter in which the Ewing patriarch reveals the contest wasn’t really about determining which brother is a superior businessman; the goal was to show the men that they need each other. “If you just took the same energy you use to fight each other and went to work side by side, there’d be no limit to what you’d be able to accomplish in the future,” Jock wrote.

Thirty years later, in the TNT episode “Legacies,” Bobby reads J.R.’s last letter, which reveals the true purpose of his masterpiece was to end the Ewings’ long-running battle with the Barneses — a fight J.R. helped perpetuate. “The feud Digger Barnes started with our family caused more heartbreak than either of us has time to recount. Well, I guess you do have the time. Use it. Put an end to this feud, once and for all,” J.R. wrote.

There’s something poignant about the idea that J.R., “Dallas’s” ultimate warrior, died while trying to bring peace to his family. And what lengths he went to! It turned out he was dying of cancer and arranged for his loyal private eye Bum to shoot him so his “murder” could be pinned on Cliff. Some “Dallas” fans have questioned J.R.’s tactics — will framing Cliff really end the Barnes-Ewing feud? — but is it any less logical than Jock’s attempt to make his sons get along by pitting them against each other? “Dallas” purists also see J.R.’s sacrifice as an example of TNT’s historical revisionism — he lived like a villain but died a hero — but I like the idea that Hagman’s character “grew” in old age and became more willing to put his family’s needs above his own.

Besides, not all revisionism is a bad thing. Remember the painting of J.R. that Bobby, Sue Ellen and John Ross hung in the Ewing Energies office at the end of the second season? The portrait, which is seen above, seemed destined to become TNT’s version of the old show’s painting of Jock, except many “Dallas” fans instantly despised the impressionistic style that production designer Richard Berg used to render J.R. Well, good news: For Season 3, Berg has produced a better, more realistic version — one that’s much more befitting a hero.

 

‘Look at Each Other as Family’

Dallas, Check and Mate, Morgan Woodard, Punk Anderson

Daddy’s decree

In “Check and Mate,” a seventh-season “Dallas” episode, Punk (Morgan Woodward) reads aloud Jock’s letter as J.R. (Larry Hagman), Bobby (Patrick Duffy) and Harv (George O. Petrie) listen.

PUNK: “Bobby, J.R.: By the time you hear these words, a year will have passed since I died. Now I know you two never had been able to work together, but in throwing you against each other as I decided to do, I will have been able to prove a point. I’m convinced that the fight for Ewing Oil will bring out the best in both of you and that when you add up your two halves of the company, you’ll find that together, you’ll have taken Ewing Oil to the heights of success and profitability. Boys, if nothing else, this battle should teach you to respect one another as businessmen and as adversaries. I don’t care which of you ends up with the higher profit number. I truly don’t. My deepest wish is that, at the end of this year, you two will have learned that you’re far better off together than apart and if you just took the same energy you use to fight each other and went to work side by side, there’d be no limit to what you’d be able to accomplish in the future. Sons, that was the purpose of your contest. Not to make one of you a winner and the other a loser. It was to make you look at each other as family. I know that’s what your mom would want, and that’s what I want too. J.R., Bobby, do it without me. For your mama’s sake and mine, put your arms around each other and work that company like brothers.”

 

‘Put an End to this Feud’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Legacies, Patrick Duffy, TNT

Brother’s behest

In “Legacies,” a second-season “Dallas” episode, Bobby (Patrick Duffy) reads aloud J.R.’s letter as John Ross (Josh Henderson), Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) and Bum (Kevin Page) listen.

BOBBY: “Bobby, Doctors say I’ve only got a few days left. Damn cancer. I should have told you earlier, but you know how I detest pity. The feud Digger Barnes started with our family caused more heartbreak than either of us has time to recount. Well, I guess you do have the time. Use it. Put an end to this feud, once and for all. I had Bum steal Cliff’s gun. That malignant little troll Barnes comes to Mexico every year for a Marlin fishing competition. I’m going to damn well stay alive long enough to be here when he arrives. Carlos del Sol will smooth out the rough edges in Mexico for you. And talk to Bum. He’s the final and most important piece of the puzzle. And the best friend I didn’t deserve to have. So remember the time that you got grounded for ‘borrowing’ Daddy’s favorite shotgun? You swore up and down it wasn’t you but Daddy said there was no point in lying because he found those extra shells in your room. Well, we both know it was me who planted those shells. Now it’s time to play that card again. I can …. [Bobby breaks down, and Christopher finishes reading the letter.]

CHRISTOPHER: “I can never make up for all the terrible, hurtful things I did to you, Bobby. And I have no excuses either one of us will believe. But I hope in the quiet place in your heart, where the truth lives, that my jealousy, as powerful as it was, was nothing compared to my love for you. Goodbye, baby brother. I guess I’ll be duck hunting with Daddy. I’ll tell him I was the one who borrowed his gun.”

How do you feel about Jock and J.R.’s peace plans? Share your comments below and read more “Dallas Parallels.”

Comments

  1. How does framing Cliff put an end to the feud ? It perpetuates it.

    • Well if Cliff rotted without allies in a Mexican prison that would end things. Of course we already know he recruited a new allie: Elena.

      Though I’m going to continue to argue that alliance is a bit thin. So JR once cheated her father out of some oil land? How does waging war against Bobby and the younger Ewings who weren’t alive at the time right that wrong?

    • What can I say? It’s twisted “Dallas” logic, Rosanne.

  2. Jennifer Irons says:

    I just LOVED the part in the letter where JR admitted that he put those gun shells in Bobby’s room as a kid! Even back when they were kids, JR was apparently trying to best Bobby, LOL! But a very sad scene and Patrick Duffy just nailed it reading that letter and breaking down! I felt he was crying not just for JR but for Larry as well! Wish that that scene and the funeral overall had not been necessary! RIP Larry Hagman and JR Ewing!

  3. There are many other brother parallels. When Brother Bobby died, Brother J.R. cried & when Brother J.R. died, bobby cried b4, during the funeral, & after. There are parallels galore. Oh, & C.B., 12 days, ALL NEW DALLAS!

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: