Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 151 — ‘When the Bough Breaks’

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, When the Bough Breaks

The goodbye girl

“When the Bough Breaks” marks another turning point in the life of Sue Ellen Ewing. In the episode’s final scene, Peter tells Sue Ellen how sorry he is about her recent miscarriage; he believes he was the unborn child’s father, and he had hoped they could raise it together. When Sue Ellen hears this, she’s horrified. She suddenly realizes how naïve Peter is — and how wrong she was to begin a relationship with him. After declaring their affair over, she begins to walk away, and then she stops, looks back at him and says, “Oh, I know the pain you must be going through right now because I’ve been there. But it passes. It always does. You just stay out of my life.”

The scene brings back memories of the second-season classic “For Love or Money,” when Cliff dumps Sue Ellen because he’s afraid their affair will hurt his political career, although I suspect that’s not the comparison Leonard Katzman had in mind when he wrote “When the Bough Breaks.” My guess is Katzman wanted the audience to see Sue Ellen’s breakup with Peter as another example of how she’s becoming more like J.R. This is one of the underlying themes of “Dallas’s” seventh season, going back to “The Oil Baron’s Ball,” when Sue Ellen treats J.R. like a sexual plaything. Now she’s walking away from a disillusioned young lover, just like J.R. did with Julie, Kristin, Afton and so many others.

Sue Ellen’s emulation of her husband becomes a source of professional success during “Dallas’s” later seasons, but in these seventh-season episodes, it’s fascinating to watch her mimic him in a quest for personal empowerment. Of course, the “old” Sue Ellen is still present too. In “When the Bough Breaks,” her snobbish tendencies are on display when Peter suggests they could have raised the child together; looking around his tiny apartment, she says, “You expect me to leave Southfork, J.R., for you? To raise a child and live here?” It’s also worth pointing out that unlike J.R., who dumps his mistresses when he tires of them, Sue Ellen leaves Peter because she believes it’s what’s best for him. Indeed, her parting words to him reflect both her sense of compassion (“I’ve been there”) and her cynicism (“It passes; it always does”).

As clever as Katzman’s writing is, what impresses me most about this scene is how Linda Gray fills in the blanks in his script. For example, Sue Ellen breaks up with Peter when she realizes how misguided he is, but Katzman never gives her a line to this effect. So how do we know what Sue Ellen is feeling? Because Gray conveys it through her eyes, which widen with the sad realization that she’s led this young man astray. It’s a subtle moment, demonstrating why Gray is such a great actress.

I wish I could say something similar about Gray’s co-star. Christopher Atkins is an appealing performer, and he’s quietly effective in scenes like the one where Peter visits Sue Ellen in the hospital and kisses her while she sleeps. But anytime the script calls for Atkins and Gray to profess their love for each other, I’m reminded how badly miscast he is. It’s not just that Atkins looks too young; he acts too young. In the breakup scene, when he discovers Sue Ellen and J.R. still sleep together on occasion, he breaks into a full-fledged pout. Moments later, Sue Ellen tells him, “Peter, I have very strong feelings for you.” I can’t help but think: Why?

“When the Bough Breaks” includes two more scenes I like. In the first, Cliff persuades Pam to join him in the offshore oil auction by appealing to her sense of family. “The main reason I dislike the Ewings so much is because they’ve always been this big family that stood together … and all we ever had was each other,” he says. This is a revealing moment. I’ve always believed that a lot of Cliff’s hatred is rooted in jealousy. The man who was abandoned by his mother as a child doesn’t long for the Ewings’ power and possessions as much as he longs for the close bond they share. In the episode’s other great scene, J.R. takes Marilee to dinner and tries to plant seeds of doubt in her mind about her partnership with Cliff. Larry Hagman is as sly as ever, but don’t overlook Fern Fitzgerald, who has the tougher task. She must signal to the audience that J.R. has rattled her character without letting J.R. himself know. She does it nicely.

“When the Bough Breaks” includes a few head scratchers too. The doctor who treats Sue Ellen after her miscarriage is quiet a blabbermouth: Not only does she announce Sue Ellen’s miscarriage to everyone in the waiting room, she also suggests there’s nothing keeping J.R. and his wife from trying again to have another child. So much for doctor-patient confidentiality. I also roll my eyes when Bobby once again presses Jenna to tell him if he’s Charlie’s biological father and she once again refuses to discuss the subject. Can someone explain Jenna’s rationale? If Bobby’s father, doesn’t he have a right to know? If he’s not, why does she refuse to put his mind at ease?

More than ever, I want Bobby to dump wishy-washy Jenna and patch things up with Pam. Maybe that’s the point?

Grade: B

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Christopher Atkins, Dallas, Linda Gray, Peter Richards, Sue Ellen Ewing, When the Bough Breaks

Death to smoochy

‘WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS’

Season 7, Episode 20

Airdate: February 17, 1984

Audience: 22 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Nick Havinga

Synopsis: Sue Ellen comes home from the hospital and breaks up with Peter. While J.R. tries to undermine Marilee and Cliff’s partnership, Cliff persuades Pam to join him in the offshore oil auction. In Malibu, Katherine meets Naldo, who tells her the identity of Charlie’s father. Clayton rejects Bobby’s invitation to do business with Ewing Oil. Ray and Donna continue snooping into Edgar’s past.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany, Anne Gee Byrd (Dr. Jeffries), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Glenn Corbett (Paul Morgan), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee stone), 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), Anne Lucas (Cassie), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Daniel Pilon (Renaldo Marchetta), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donegan Smith (Earl Johnson), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

“When the Bough Breaks” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. I agree with your view of Christopher Atkins, he does come across as a petulant teenager at times – although I suppose he sort of is one? Is it just me or has Sue Ellen been made up to look a little older in this season, just to emphasize the age gap with Peter? She looks younger in the following season!
    But I can’t agree with you regarading “wishy washy” Jenna – I really liked her character, at least in this season ( although I seem to be in a minority amongst the Dallas fan base).
    If anyone is wishy washy this season it’s Pam and Bobby, who so easily allow themselves to be manipulated apart by others, especially JR and Katherine.
    At least Jenna saw through evil Katherine in their very first meeting – a great scene at Billy Bobs – what a contrast with drippy Pam!

  2. Jenna is written oddly at times. But as to the Charlie issue… It makes me think of the future Lucas issue. Everyone knew Lucas was Bobby’s and Jenna denied Bobby any contact because she was angry with him. Jenna always said bobby was her childhood love . But she never had problems messing with his head over children… Odd. And bobby always just takes it. Odd

  3. Very nice critique. I disagree that Chris Atkins was miscast. I think his deep love for Sue Ellen allowed him to lose his temper and his calm, and that’s the way he played it. There’s not much difference in maturity between a pouty teenage and a 21 year old college student, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. I thought Chris Atkins was OK actor. I also think you’re giving a bit more credit than deserved to Linda Gray. Her acting got better this season, yes. She looked horrible this season as well, for whatever reason. But her acting has always been formulaic and average at best for me.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Del. I really appreciate and admire Ms. Gray’s performances. I also appreciate your viewpoints on Mr. Atkins. You make a good point about there not being much difference between pouty teens and college students.

  4. Miss Texas being brutal here is excellent! I like her being wanted sexually by Peter just once to give him a taste. Then going back to sleep with J.R. until she can have revenge & find a man she really loves! She knows how II PLAY THE GAME C.B. Oh, & 5 more days, ALL NEW DALLAS!

  5. I totally agree about peter, absolute miscast.

    BTW, Chris, if you had seen the (wonderful) serie “the tudors”, do you know the common point between marylee stone and Henry VIII ?

  6. I always thought Peter was miscast as well.

  7. Does any1 notice that Miss Texas overpowering the Governor on DALLAS:TNT would cause Larry Hagman if he had been alive to get drunk as hell & laugh at the fun she’s having “inhabiting” his soul since his body ain’t around anymore! Hagman & Gray would be drunk for a week laughing at this scenario & the fact that they were being paid to do this for an audience a bucket of cash! haha!

  8. I just love the reviews. Can´t wait for the following ones. I am a big fan of Dallas since the 1st season in 1978. What a great site! Love it !!!

Trackbacks

  1. […] “When the Bough Breaks,” a seventh-season “Dallas” episode, Peter (Christopher Richards) is straightening his apartment […]

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