Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 26 – ‘The Return’

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Return, TNT

That smile

Now that “Dallas” fans know who killed J.R., we can turn our attention to a much trickier question: Who’ll be J.R.? We all realize Larry Hagman is irreplaceable, but we also understand TNT’s sequel series needs a character who can keep the plots — and on this show, that means the plottin’ and the schemin’ — moving forward the way J.R. did. Last year, the producers seemed to toy with several possible successors — even white-knight father/son duo Bobby and Christopher got in touch with their inner J.R.s — but in “The Return,” John Ross emerges as Daddy’s true heir. It’s the obvious choice. It’s also the smart one.

I’ve been a fan of Josh Henderson’s sly performance from the beginning, even comparing him to “Dallas’s” most famous alum, Brad Pitt, in my first review of the TNT series. Most of what I wrote then remains true: Henderson still has an effortless, seductive charm, and even when John Ross is up to no good, you still find him alluring. But it’s no longer accurate to call Henderson or his character “boyish,” as I did two years ago. Maybe it’s the fact that John Ross is now married and a big-shot oilman in his own right — or maybe it’s the fact that Henderson’s pecs have seemingly grown three cup sizes, as Entertainment Weekly cheekily pointed out last week — but John Ross is now much more man than boy.

Wisely, “The Return” wastes no time establishing him as “Dallas’s” new J.R., who turns out be a lot like the old one. John Ross frolics with his mistress in a hotel room, comes home and lies to his wife about his whereabouts (he says he was in Houston, buying her a “proper” engagement ring), sweet talks his mama when she frets about his ambition, clashes with Bobby over Southfork’s future (To remodel or not to remodel? To drill or not to drill?) and wheels and deals in the boardroom, where he enthusiastically declares Ewing Global is going to be “bigger than Exxon and BP combined.” (Shades of J.R.’s oft-repeated vow to make Ewing Oil the “biggest independent oil company in the state of Texas.”) John Ross even sports J.R.’s wristwatch and belt buckle, and even though the latter looks kind of big on him, is that so bad? I see it as a symbol of how carrying J.R.’s legacy will always be a burden for John Ross, no matter how muscular he gets.

What impresses me most about Henderson — in this episode and others — is how he evokes Hagman’s spirit without ever resorting to imitating the actor. Like Hagman, Henderson possesses one of the great smiles in television, but he uses it differently than the way Hagman used his. Whereas J.R.’s smile often concealed his intentions, John Ross’s lets us know what’s going on inside his head. In “The Return,” Henderson arches his eyebrow and smirks when he’s sparring with Patrick Duffy, but when John Ross is on bended knee proposing to Pamela, watch how the actor’s whole face lights up. This is a smile to melt your heart, reminding us that there’s a sensitive soul beneath all that bravado.

Of course, even though Henderson has become the new face of this franchise, “Dallas” remains a group effort, as “The Return” makes clear. This episode gives almost every member of the ensemble a nice moment or two, although special mention goes to Jordana Brewster, who is such a good actress, she makes Elena’s overnight transformation — literally — into a Ewing enemy seem believable, if not altogether reasonable. (Is Elena unaware of Cliff’s role in blackmailing Drew into blowing up the rig last season?) Brewster’s character has become the latest in a long line of “Dallas” heroines to do Cliff’s dirty work, and I love how the actress holds her own against Ken Kercheval, who is as electric as ever in Cliff’s jailhouse scenes.

I also applaud the introduction of Juan Pablo Di Pace, who makes one of the all-time great “Dallas” debuts when the oh-so-suave Nicolas Treviño sweeps into the Ewing Global boardroom and upsets the family’s apple cart. Treviño has the potential to become an altogether different kind of “Dallas” villain: richer than Jeremy Wendell and Carter McKay and every bit as calculating, but also a heck of a lot hotter. (No offense, William Smithers and George Kennedy.) I’ll never understand how the Ewings lack the “supermajority” they need to sell a division in their own company — just like the whole matter about the Southfork surface rights seems like a bunch of hooey — but let’s face it: “Dallas” has always existed in a universe where the legal realities bear little resemblance to our own.

Besides, I’d rather focus on the other ways in which “The Return” lives up to its title. This episode marks a return to many of the “Dallas” hallmarks that so many of us love, beginning with the revival of the classic three-way split-screen title sequence, which has received widespread acclaim from fans. Under Steve Robin’s direction, “The Return’s” pacing also feels a little more deliberate; there are more old-school, quiet scenes like the one where the women of Southfork sit around the patio and plan Pamela’s wedding; and there are more sequences set outdoors on the ranch, which cinematographer Rodney Charters always showcases in all of its high-definition, green-grass/blue-sky glory. No matter where the characters go on Southfork — whether it’s to the wood-chopping pile or to the “shale formation” where the cattle graze — Charters makes us feel like we’re right there with them.

I also appreciate how this episode’s script, written by co-executive producers Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner, is sprinkled with dialogue that pays homage to classic “Dallas” themes. One example: The tension between moving forward and clinging to old traditions has always been central to the “Dallas” mythology, which we see in Bobby and John Ross’s argument over remodeling Southfork. “It’s about time you learn to respect the past, boy,” Bobby says. John Ross’s cutting response: “The past is what holds us back, Uncle Bobby.” If I heard that line a season or two ago, I might worry it signaled this franchise was going to abandon its history, except the people in charge have long since demonstrated their commitment to preserving “Dallas’s” heritage, even if they sometimes play a little loose with the continuity.

Nothing demonstrates this better than all the references to J.R. in “The Return.” I counted at least 13 instances where he’s mentioned by name, and that doesn’t include lines like the one where Sue Ellen catches John Ross sneaking out of Emma’s bedroom and says, “What’s the matter, Mama? You look like you just seen a ghost.” There are also plenty of visual reminders: the wristwatch, the belt buckle, the gravestone and most importantly, the much-improved portrait hanging in the background at Ewing Global, which makes it seem like J.R. is always peering over someone’s shoulder.

Indeed, as tempting as it is to think of “Dallas’s” third season as the beginning of the post-Hagman era, is such a thing even possible? “The Return” keeps our hero’s memory alive, not that it was in any danger of fading in the first place.

Grade: B

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, Elena Ramos, Jordana Brewster, Return, TNT

Look who’s lurking

‘THE RETURN’

Season 3, Episode 1

Telecast: February 24, 2014

Audience: 2.7 million viewers on February 24

Writers: Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner

Director: Steve Robin

Synopsis: Elena forms a secret alliance with Cliff, takes a job at the newly renamed Ewing Global and recruits Nicolas Treviño, a childhood friend who is now a billionaire, to serve as Cliff’s proxy. Emma, Ryland Transport’s new chief executive, gives John Ross control of the company’s drilling and cargo ships so Ewing Global can tap oil and methane reserves in the Arctic. When Nicolas tries to scuttle the Arctic deal, John Ross suggests drilling on Southfork to finance the project, but Bobby disagrees. The Mendez-Ochoa cartel bribes a judge to get Harris out of jail and threatens to kill Emma if Harris doesn’t resume his drug shipments. Christopher meets Heather, a spirited ranch hand.

Cast: Amber Bartlett (Jill), Emma Bell (Emma Ryland), Donny Boaz (Bo McCabe), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Juan Pablo Di Pace (Nicolas Treviño), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Marlene Forte (Carmen Ramos), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), AnnaLynne McCord (Heather), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Kevin Page (Bum), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing)

“The Return” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. Although I loved “The Return”, the writers need to be careful and make sure they don’t contradict themselves — such as your mention of Drew being blackmailed by Cliff & Co. Elena should find out about that and then decide whether to let Cliff have his share of the company back.

    • Forgot to mention that even though some of Dallas “history” gets messed up at times, it does not take away from my love of the series.

    • I suspect Elena eventually learning how Cliff used Drew isn’t a contradiction. It’s just something she doesn’t know yet. That will eventually be the plotpoint to bring her back to the side of the angels.

    • Thank you, Donna and Dan. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Cliff/Elena plot will play out. I need to go back and watch some of Season 2 again. How much do Elena and Drew know about Cliff’s role in the rig bombing?

  2. Shame about the somewhat weak ratings. It really was a fab Season Premiere.

    • According to the ratings watchers, they felt that Dallas held its own against a strong Monday night TV…including The Voice.

    • Yes, “Dallas” did pretty well on opening night. Now all we need to do is bring the ratings back to those levels. Thank you, Jason and Donna, for your comments.

  3. SweetLee @Dallas_follower says:

    I don’t understand the confusion about “supermajority” that you & other fans are expressing. A majority or simple majority is 51%. A supermajority is 75%. If the Ewings hold two-thirds of Ewing Global (formerly Barnes Global), then the Ewings own 66.6% (and Cliff Barnes as one-third owner owns 33.3%) so clearly, the Ewings do not have a supermajority on this asset sale vote requirement.

    Also, the Southfork surface rights are the topsoil land acreage rights of which John Ross owns 50% (with the other 50% owned by Bobby). The ownership of the mineral rights under the topsoil are split between Gary (33.3%), Bobby (33.3%), John Ross (16.7%) and Sue Ellen (16.7%). So John Ross and Sue Ellen together have one-third ownership of the mineral rights formerly owned by JR of which he bequethed to them in his will. So clearly, Bobby and Gary own the majority of the mineral rights that is preventing John Ross from drilling on Southfork below the topsoil.

    • I understood the supermajority but I lost track of who owned what with the mineral rights. If John Ross III fracks, he can get the oil that is right under the topsoil. Got it!

    • Brandon Childers says:

      A supermajority in Texas is 67% so they have barley missed it, I said 60% yesterday because that is what it is in Illinois. And a fracking the land and major changes to a house requires a supermajority of ownership, so they picked and choose which supermajority rules they were going to use, and the mineral rights belong the mineral right holders, john Ross and Sue Ellen can’t frack and use that oil if bobby and Gary do not want them too, I am alright with the legal problem the script has, like the first cousin annulment denied.

    • Brandon Childers says:

      But the 67% is a round up from 2/3rds so they do have it.

    • SweetLee, Donna and Brandon: Thanks to you all for weighing in with your thoughts.

      • art Kelly says:

        Actually, a simple majority is 50% plus 1 (NOT 51%). Thus, it can be 50.0000000000000000001%–just 1 more than 50%.

        A super-majority is ANY other number set at a higher level. It can be three-fifths (60%), two-thirds (67%), three-fours (75%), four-fifths (80%), or whatever is required by constitutional or statutory law.

        However, as I’ve noted in previous postings, there is NO such state law in Texas requiring a super-majority of the board of directors to divest or acquire holdings. This provision is entirely imaginary.

  4. I agree with your grade of B. Every show can not be “the very best” and it does take time for storylines to build momentum.

    One thing I noticed is that Pamela gave a “look” when John Ross said he persuaded Emma to agree to have Ryland Transport work with Ewing Global. Then later, Pamela let Emma know she is there for her anytime, if she needed someone to talk to. I think this is so cool.

    I enjoy “Dallas” but come on, how can all of those people live there? I think Bobby is going to have to compromise with John Ross. This might explain why Miss Ellie decided not to leave Southfork all to Bobby. Bobby is too emotional when it comes to making necessary changes.

    I do not know what is up with Elena. She knows her brother killed those babies. Now she is angry about the Ewing’s reaction? No wonder Christopher told her to get lost! Carmen would say the unpleasant things about the Ewings to Elena in the previous seasons and on this episode she tells Elena about how good, generous, and understanding they are? Give me a break!

    I am interested to see how Harris Ryland deals with his situation. He does not seem like the kind of person who is interested in being bullied and pushed around by drug cartel thugs. Would he even care at this point if something happened to Ann and/or Emma? Maybe he just needs his mommie right now.

    • Garnet McGee says:

      I said it elsewhere but I adored the new improved Elena and everything about this episode. I predict the audience will develop sympathy for our resident schemer before the season is over. Having just watched most of season 6 of the original it is amazing how much his m.o. resembles his daddy’s But he is forgetting that Pamela is no Sue Ellen. I even got emotionally involved in the Elena and Chris scenes. We see over and over again that the characters are usually not in sync. They act too quickly and realize they’ve made a mistake. It is so in keeping with the early seasons of the old show. Sue Ellen ached for J.R. to want her. When he finally did she told him it was too late. Elena begged Chris to take her back. Now he wants her and she doesn’t want him. What Elena said was absolutely true. The Ewings would have done the same exact thing she did in protecting Drew. John Ross is just like his father with his ulterior motives. Would he have married Pamela if she didn’t have the shares? Is he remodeling the house for his bride or to get farther away from his mistress?

      • Jump and Garnet: Thanks for your comments. Jump, you’re right about Bobby being emotional. And Garnet, I like your comparison between J.R./Sue Ellen and Elena/Christopher. Good stuff!

  5. Elena looked ever so sexually stunning in her matching black framed glasses & great hair. Her red business dress offset them perfectly C.B.

  6. Brandon Childers says:

    I liked this episode I would agree with the B. I am law student and the inconsistencies with “dallas” law and actual law did frustrate me, but its nothing new, like Jock’s will and Miss Ellie holding back from declaring Jock dead in the Original. still think Carter McKay should return, the actor is still alive

  7. Texas state law does NOT require a super-majority vote of the board of directors to sell assets of a company! Why make up stuff like this?

    On the other hand, the original Dallas had Cliff Barnes as head of the mythical Board of Land Management with the power to stop oil drilling. While there is a Texas General Land Office, headed by an elected commissioner, its mission is to to lease state land and mineral holdings for energy and mineral development, with the proceeds going to the Permanent School Fund to help pay for public education.

    If there were any restrictions on oil drilling, that would come under the jurisdiction of the Texas Railroad Commission, which consists of three elected statewide commissioners.

    Dallas isn’t the only TV show to take serious liberties with Texas state government. A few years ago, The Practice had one of its lawyers go to Austin to try a case before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The statements in the show contained numerous factual errors.

    I think good writers could have taken true facts and made them compelling. Making up imaginary laws and imaginary state agencies with imaginary powers is easy. Oh, and by the way, there is no Braddock County in Texas.

    I know Dallas is not a documentary and is not bound to portray anything accurately, but there is a difference between taking a little literary license and making things up out of whole cloth.

    • As long as it doesn’t detract from the entertainment portion of the program, I don’t think it’s a big deal. Only those living in Texas and/or have knowledge Texas law, know the difference. To the rest of us — it sounds good.

    • Art, thanks for sharing your expertise. I’m shocked to hear the railroad commission has only three members. Wow. That’s a small group to wield such power.

      Donna, I agree with you: I’m willing to let a lot of this stuff slide as long as it doesn’t distract from my overall enjoyment of the program.

  8. Supermajority: Okay it is a valid point the classic Dallas has invented offices and Texas laws in the past to tell their story so maybe we shouldn’t be as upset as some of us are. But since the definition of Supermajority does vary across the country a quick spoken line explaining what definition they are using would have avoided a lot of confusion.

  9. Really a show! The return marks the return of the Ewing family without forgetting the past. This temporado has everything to be a success. Congratulations to the authors. Brazil, was quoted in this episode. Happy soon to open in DALLAS BRAZIL tv.

  10. Art Kelly says:

    It was interesting that in the 2nd Episode, a reference was made to the Texas Railroad Commission, which actually regulates oil drilling in Texas, rather than the imaginary Board of Land Management in the original Dallas.

    Perhaps the new series is trying a little harder to make the show more realistic.

    In terms of who will inherit the mantle of J. R. Ewing, the character I liked the most in the 2nd Episode was Bum. He was shrewd and effective in dealing with both Sue Ellen and John Ross. So far, Bum is only a minor character in the show, and someone speculated he might be killed off, but he might have the most potential for development.

    • Dan in WI says:

      If the show wants to be more realistic by using the Railroad Commission in place of fictional bureaurcracies like the OLM or the successor to the OLM (Somebody help me out here. What was the successor that Donna Krebs headed up?) fine. But then they also need to be realistic and observe what Brandon pointed out: a 50/50 ownership split does NOT give John Ross license to do things to Southfork over Bobby’s objection.

    • Hey guys….it’s TV…it’s entertainment! I can’t go nuts over discrepancies like that. I’m watching to enjoy the series…not find fault with little things.

      • SweetLee @Dallas_follower says:

        That’s right, Donna! Thank you. We need a reminder every so often to not take it so seriously. 👍😄

      • Brandon Childers says:

        I am just team bobby and Christopher, so I get frustrated win they are loosing, and make myself happier knowing if it were real life they would win, but I live the show, no matter what they do

    • Art, I agree with your thoughts on Bum. He’s terrific and has a lot of potential for future growth and development. I hope the show keeps him around.

      Dan, the successor to the OLM was the Texas Energy Commission. Certainly sounds like a real thing, doesn’t it?

      Donna and SweetLee, I’m with you.

      Brandon, it’s nice to hear from a fan of Bobby and Christopher! A lot of folks seem to love the J.R./John Ross wing of the family, so I appreciate your point of view.

      Thanks to you all for commenting!

  11. Art Kelly says:

    If you’re not from TEXAS, you may not care whether the show makes up imaginary state agencies and imaginary counties.

    But if you are from TEXAS, you know when the show gets it wrong.

    Apparently, the current writers are trying harder to get it right. Good for them!

    • Brandon Childers says:

      Art, I know what you mean, I am not from Texas, but I am a law student and some of the things this Dallas does and the old Dallas did kind of frustrate me, but I like that this show is adding a little bit more reality into the show.

    • I like the realism too, although I still long for Braddock County.

      • Brandon Childers says:

        People also get mad about minor contradictions. Like Jock died in 1982 and that was season 5 and then in season 10 Miss Ellie says “Jock is dead! He died over five years ago in South America” that episode was in 1986 and it was after the dream season meaning they would have thought it was 1985 but either way it hadn’t been over five years.

      • Brandon Childers says:

        I meant to include but the old dallas contradicted itself all the time.

  12. Margaret Krebbs says:

    I’m just now catching up on S3 viewing, so am looking forward to reading your always excellent episode critiques! It was hard staying away all these months, but I didn’t want anything spoiled. I too noticed and liked the scenes around the ranch. Seems like with each season, TNT Dallas captures more of old Dallas vibe.

Trackbacks

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  8. […] Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval), but the man knows how to get women to spy on the Ewings for him. In “The Return,” TNT’s third-season “Dallas” opener, Elena Ramos (Jordana Brewster) becomes the latest gal to […]

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  13. […] show’s third-season premiere, “The Return,” was seen by 2.7 million viewers on February 24, but the audience rose 33 percent — reaching 3.5 […]

  14. […] are the questions we’re pondering as we await tonight’s telecast of “The Return,” TNT’s third-season “Dallas” […]

  15. […] how “Dallas” is finding a new rhythm in its third season. The third season’s first hour, “The Return,” took its time establishing the year’s themes and plotlines; the second episode, “Trust Me,” […]

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