Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 28 — ‘Playing Chicken’

Bobby Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Playing Chicken, TNT

Always the winner

Bobby Ewing plays two games of chicken in “Playing Chicken,” and of course he wins both. First, Bobby uses — forgive me for this — fowl means to foil John Ross’s latest scheme to drill on Southfork. Later, when Nicolas tries to prove the Ewings framed Cliff for J.R.’s “murder,” Bobby faces off against the younger man and forces him to blink first. Both scenes are a kick, reminding us how essential Patrick Duffy is to “Dallas.” They also demonstrate Duffy’s versatility; no matter what the script calls for, this man always delivers — and he always looks damn cool doing it.

The scene with John Ross opens with Josh Henderson’s character giving his crew of ranch-hands-turned-roughnecks a pep talk when a cheerful Uncle Bobby shows up toting a cage with a big bird inside. Bobby proceeds to give his ambitious nephew a lesson on the plight of the “lesser prairie chicken,” explaining how it’s an endangered species whose presence on Southfork means the government will deny John Ross’s request for a drilling permit, lest he disturb the creature’s natural habitat. John Ross fumes; Bobby smiles. “He is awful cute, though, isn’t he?” Bobby asks, motioning toward the cage.

I love this scene mostly because it’s nice to see “Dallas” lighten up, but also because it recalls all the times Bobby bested J.R. with a wink and a grin. The role of happy warrior has always suited Duffy well, and his timing here is as sharp as ever. Everyone else seems to get into the spirit too: Henderson shows he can deadpan with the best of them, while director Jesse Bochco delivers a whimsical shot of John Ross from inside the chicken’s cage. (Shades of the “horse-cam” used to shoot Emma Bell last year.) Even composer Rob Cairns has a little fun with this scene; his underscore is noticeably jauntier than usual.

Bobby’s other big scene begins with Nicolas arriving in a darkened parking lot to meet Rhonda Simmons, the club hostess whose testimony helped convict Cliff. Nicolas believes Rhonda is going to turn against the Ewings; when he finds her standing near her car, he congratulates her and tells her she’s made “the right decision.” Suddenly, the passenger door opens and out steps … Bobby, who makes it clear Rhonda isn’t changing her story after all. This would be a triumphant moment no matter which Ewing had emerged from Rhonda’s car, but the fact that it’s Bobby makes it especially satisfying. He’s always been our white knight, and frankly he’s the only Ewing with the moral authority to make framing Cliff for murder seem like the right thing to do.

But even though Patrick Duffy is the indisputable man of the hour in “Playing Chicken,” Gail Gilchriest’s terrific script ensures no one gets shortchanged. It’s especially nice to see lots of scenes with the always wonderful Brenda Strong, whose character gets to demonstrate a little personal growth. When Sue Ellen confides in Ann her fears about John Ross and Emma, I expect Ann to dismiss the suggestion outright. Instead, she says, “I know I’ve been defensive about Emma’s behavior in the past. You were right about her drug use. Maybe you’re right this time too.” Strong always makes Ann feel like one of the grownups in the room, but the job is easier when she has smart writing like this to work with.

It’s also interesting to see Ann turn to Harris to help reign in Emma. I love Duffy and Strong together, but there’s also no denying the actress’s chemistry with Mitch Pileggi. Does this scene suggest Ann is softening toward her ex-husband? Or is the show merely using Ann to smooth Harris’s rough edges? During their conversation, Ann urges Harris to come clean to Emma about his connection to the CIA; he rejects that suggestion, but he nonetheless reveals a little humility: “I never meant to put the people that I love in danger, Annie. As awful as you think I am, I do love our daughter.” Who knew the “l” word was in Harris’s vocabulary? Also, notice how he says “the people that I love.” Does that include Ann?

Other highlights: Sue Ellen’s masterful manipulation of Bum, as well as the scene where he shows up on her doorstep and confesses his deception. I’m delighted “Dallas” is exploring the relationship between these characters, not just because they have such an opposites attract charm — the uptown lady and the downtown private eye — but also because Kevin Page might be the only actor on this show who comes close to matching Linda Gray’s soulfulness. I have no idea where Sue Ellen and Bum are headed, but whether they remain friends or become something more, I hope we keep seeing a lot of scenes between them.

I’m a little less enthralled with the romance that develops in “Playing Chicken” between Elena and Nicolas, especially since we’ve been told their characters grew up thinking of each other as siblings. On the other hand, I’m more impressed than ever with Juan Pablo Di Pace: Nicolas is so suave and charming in his first two “Dallas” appearances, but in “Playing Chicken,” there are times he seems downright sinister. At the end of this episode, we learn Nicolas has a wife — Angélica Celaya makes an intriguing debut as Lucia Treviño — and I have no doubt we’re going to learn he’s hiding even more.

I also like “Playing Chicken’s” scenes of Christopher sleuthing around Mexico, as well as the fun Gilchriest has with John Ross’s complicated love life. No one delivers oh-no-she-didn’t moments better than Bell: What makes us despise Emma Ryland more, when she accompanies Pamela on the shopping trip and brags about her lover’s sexual prowess, or when she shows up at John Ross’s office wearing the same emerald corset that Pamela is planning to surprise him with? Fans are directing a lot of venom at Bell’s character on social media these days, and I hope the actress is wearing it as a badge of honor. She’s doing a fantastic job making Emma a vixen we love to hate.

I’m also left pondering the scene where John Ross rejects Pamela’s romantic overtures. Is this an attack of conscience, or is he beginning to realize Emma is dangerous? Whatever the reason, John Ross’s personal entanglements are probably going to be the least of his worries. In “Playing Chicken’s” most chilling scene, Harris tells Judith that the files in his safe — which include “unflattering” information about her — are now in John Ross’s possession. Says Judith: “I’m sure we can find something to compromise young Mr. Ewing enough to convince him to return those files. And by ‘we,’ of course I mean ‘me.’” If you were John Ross, what would make your heart drop more — hearing Judith say she wants to “convince” you of something or hearing her earlier statement that she thinks you’re “a nice-looking young man.” Shudder.

More than anything, this episode demonstrates how “Dallas” is finding a new rhythm in its third season. The first hour, “The Return,” took its time establishing the year’s themes and plotlines; the second episode, “Trust Me,” delivered the twists and turns we’ve come to expect from the TNT series (Judith does coke! Harris is CIA!); and “Playing Chicken” slows down the action once more to allow the audience to catch its breath. If the pattern holds, does that mean the next installment will be another roller coaster? I wouldn’t bet against it, especially now that we know Judith Ryland has John Ross in her crosshairs. Let the battle of the “J.R.s” begin.

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Emma Bell, Emma Ryland, Playing Chicken, TNT

Good at being bad

‘PLAYING CHICKEN’

Season 3, Episode 3

Telecast: March 10, 2014

Audience: 1.9 million viewers on March 10

Writer: Gail Gilchriest

Director: Jesse Bochco

Synopsis: Christopher investigates Nicolas in Mexico, where he meets Lucia, Nicolas’s wife. Bobby foils John Ross’s attempt to drill on Southfork and Nicolas’s attempt to turn Rhonda against the Ewings. Later, Nicolas reveals long-hidden feelings to Elena and they have sex. Bum admits to Sue Ellen that John Ross is sleeping with Emma. When Harris tells Judith that Emma gave damaging files about her to John Ross, Judith vows to “convince” John Ross to give back the documents. Bobby promises Ann he’ll keep her and Emma safe following Harris’s revelation that he’s working with the CIA to bring down the drug cartel.

Cast: Emma Bell (Emma Ryland), Donny Boaz (Bo McCabe), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Angélica Celaya (Lucia Treviño), Juan Pablo Di Pace (Nicolas Treviño), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Ewing), Currie Graham (Commissioner Stanley Babcock), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Emily Kosloski (Rhonda Simmons), Judith Light (Judith Ryland), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Scott Mullins (Nate), Kevin Page (Bum), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Geoffrey Rivas (shopkeeper), Aaron Spivey-Sorrells (ranch hand), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Michael Swanner (Dewey Templeton)

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

Comments

  1. Dan in WI says:

    Define “love to hate.”
    There are those you can’t stand because they annoy you. That would be Emma for me. Then there are those you hate because they are pure evil and they honestly frighten you. That would be both Harris and Judith for me. Then there are those who are lovable rogues. Perhaps “love to hate” isn’t completely appropriate because you don’t hate them. You secrectly root for them like a guilty pleasure. That would be John Ross for me.

  2. Jennifer Irons says:

    Patrick Duffy and Josh Henderson were too funny in that scene with the lesser prairie chicken! These two guys work so well together and that was the perfect scene for both of them. I bet Larry Hagman watched that episode from Heaven and laughed at that particular scene! And I am thrilled that the ratings went UP for Episode 3. I sincerely hope and pray Dallas TNT will be on tv for years to come!

  3. This was a great critique. I LOVE Bobby, he is the best. Anyone ever wonder, just say something did happen with Ann and Harris, would it seem weird for Bobby and Sue Ellen to be together. Probably!! Emma is dangerous, John Ross is in for some big time trouble, with her. Can’t wait for the next episode!!!

  4. Its like Brother J.R. says in his masterpiece note: “leave it 2 Bobby, he’ll know what 2 do.”

  5. I remember Bum and Sue Ellen having a great scene together last season. Sue Ellen asked Bum for help and she was very “flirty” with him. I felt then that she knew how to play Bum and she knew then that he likes her. When Bum and Sue Ellen had dinner together it was business, when he visited her again to tell the truth, it was personal.

  6. I don’t see Emma as a love-to-hate character, at least not yet. She doesn’t really have any traits I am rooting for right now. If I at least we knew why she is causing trouble with John Ross and Pamela. I am not really getting her.
    The scene with Sue Ellen and Bum was very interesting. Just reading the script I don’t think you can get the idea that Sue Ellen was trying to manipulate Bum. That was all in the acting and probably directing. If it wasn’t for the last shot of Sue Ellen looking at Bum after the toast, I would have thought that she was merely unburden her heart. Only from her last look at him I figured that she was trying to get a certain reaction from him. Nicely done. Not just the acting, but also the editing for making it so subtle.

    • Brandon childers says:

      I am only rooting for Emma, because I so desperately want to see a Christopher and Pamela partnership, against John Ross.

    • i’m rooting for Emma because 1) she’s SO HOT 2) The JR/Pam relationship dont attract me (i think john was better with helena) 3) pam could be a new ally for dear old cliff B.

  7. As you pointed out, I like that everyone in the cast had something interesting to do in this episode, making it feel like the strong ensemble that it is. I’m so glad Judith Light is back; she’s a really fun guest star.

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Playing Chicken,” a third-season “Dallas” episode, John Ross (Josh Henderson) speaks to a group of Southfork […]

  2. […] are the questions we’re pondering as we await tonight’s telecast of “Playing Chicken,” TNT’s latest “Dallas” […]

  3. […] you enjoy “Playing Chicken,” this week’s episode of TNT’s “Dallas”? Let’s discuss it during my next #DallasChat on […]

  4. […] what happened in “Playing Chicken,” TNT’s latest “Dallas” […]

  5. […] experienced an uptick in the ratings this week: “Playing Chicken,” the latest episode, debuted to 1.985 million viewers on March 10, including 400,000 adults between […]

  6. […] delivers the sharpest dialogue on television. Here are the best sound bites from “Playing Chicken,” this week’s […]

  7. […] were a lot of classic looks in “Playing Chicken,” TNT’s latest “Dallas” episode, including the long-sleeved blue dress that Linda Gray wore […]

  8. […] What will Sue Ellen do about John Ross? In “Playing Chicken,” Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) continued to plan a traditional Southfork wedding for the recently eloped […]

  9. […] get a lift from DVR users who record the show and watch it a few days later. The previous episode, “Playing Chicken,” debuted to 1.9 million viewers on March 10, although when DVR users are counted, the audience […]

  10. […] when Bobby steps forward as the new railroad commissioner. (Between this scene and the one in “Playing Chicken” where Bobby steps out of Rhonda’s car, Duffy is becoming “Dallas’s” master of the grand […]

  11. […] corsets debuted earlier this season, when Pamela wore the sexy undergarment for John Ross on the night before their wedding. Little […]

  12. […] p.m. In “Playing Chicken,” Professor Bobby Ewing teaches us about endangered […]

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