Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 30 — ‘D.T.R.’

Dallas, D.T.R., Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Woman of the hour

Let’s get this out of the way first: “D.T.R.” stands for “define the relationship,” as Christopher’s new girlfriend Heather helpfully explains in the scene where they get to know each other better in the bar. I wasn’t familiar with the expression until recently and neither were a lot of “Dallas” fans, judging by the reactions I’m seeing on Twitter. But no matter. This episode is really about the “Dallas” characters trying to dominate their relationships. Everyone is vying for control of everyone else, demonstrating once again that the real commodity on this show is power, not oil.

At the center of it all is Sue Ellen, a woman who spent years struggling to take charge of her own life. Now she’s trying to reign in John Ross, not just because he’s beginning to remind her of J.R., but also because he’s beginning to remind her of herself. Sue Ellen sees her son becoming addicted to feeding his own ego, just like she’s hooked on the booze inside her flask. This point is underscored in the scene where she tells John Ross that he’s being “reckless” by cheating on Pamela. Sue Ellen might as well be describing the person she used to be, during her own self-destructive phase, before she became the much more functional alcoholic we see today.

John Ross ends this scene by accusing his mother of taking out on him her lingering anger toward J.R. “Guess what, Mama? I’m not J.R.,” he says. These are surprising words coming from a young man who struts around wearing Daddy’s wristwatch and belt buckle, but they show how John Ross has picked up another one of Sue Ellen’s old habits: her penchant for denying the truth. Indeed, what fascinates me most about John Ross and Sue Ellen’s relationship this season is how they’re both borrowing different pages from J.R.’s playbook in their quest for the upper hand in their relationship. In the previous episode, John Ross showed he could treat Sue Ellen as cruelly as J.R. once did; in “D.T.R.,” Sue Ellen blackmails McConaughey in a bid to undermine her son. J.R. Ewing lives on through the people he loved most.

But even without these allusions to our hero, Sue Ellen and John Ross’s storyline is absorbing and effective. Much of this has to do with Linda Gray and Josh Henderson, who do remarkable work in “D.T.R.” Gray enlivens every scene she’s in through the sheer force of her presence; it’s become cliché to say she lights up the screen each time she appears, but I can think of no better way to describe what she brings to this show. Henderson, in the meantime, is nothing less than outstanding: In his hands, John Ross has become dark and dangerous. It doesn’t hurt that both actors receive wonderful material from scriptwriter Aaron Allen, who helps make the characters feel real and knowable. Strip away all the references to “fracking” and the “Arctic play” and it’s easy to see this is the story of a mother trying to save her son from himself.

Allen — who also wrote “Let Me In,” the episode where Harris stifles Emma’s bid for independence — uses “D.T.R.” to return to the power struggles within the Ryland family too. As John Ross points out, Emma is supposed to control Judith, who is supposed to control Harris, although it’s hard to figure out who really runs the show. Here’s what I find most interesting about these characters: As deceptive as they are, they use the truth to emotionally bludgeon each other. In “D.T.R.,” when Ann declares her “role” at Southfork is to care for her loved ones, Emma reminds her mother that she “lied to her husband about my very existence.” It’s harsh, but is it inaccurate? Similarly, in the tense scene where Judith and Emma haggle over Harris’s files, is Judith wrong when she tells Emma that she “degrades” herself by sleeping around?

The Rylands always give us plenty to ponder, but there’s no questioning the quality of the actors’ performances. Judith Light makes it clear Judith loves her rebellious granddaughter, while Emma Bell never lets us forget her character has vulnerabilities, no matter how wicked she behaves. I also love Brenda Strong, who knocks me out in the scene where Ann angrily kicks Emma off Southfork, although she’s equally good when Ann warily welcomes her daughter home. It’s also nice to see Steven Weber take another turn as the slick Governor McConaughey, as well as Todd Terry, who returns as hapless State’s Attorney Peter Bedford, one of the last people to have the honor of being blackmailed by J.R. Ewing. Speaking of J.R.’s victims: The “D.T.R.” scene where Cliff calls Pamela and tries to mend fences with her restores a shred of humanity to the character, but I mostly love the scene because it allows Ken Kercheval to revive his mantra from the second season: “I did not kill J.R.!”

There’s much more to like about “D.T.R.,” especially where Patrick Duffy is concerned. I love how cinematographer Rodney Charters, who doubles as this episode’s director, gives us a shot of solemn, solitary Bobby on horseback watching the smug John Ross inspect the Southfork drill site. It makes Bobby’s end-of-the-episode speech about upholding the Southworth traditions that much more poignant. It’s also a kick to see Bobby and Sue Ellen in the back of the van, eavesdropping on McConaughey, as well as the big reveal at the press conference, 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 entrance.)

“D.T.R.’s” use of the J.R. Ewing Bourbon bottle is also inspired: The revelation that the cork is bugged is the third season’s best twist yet, but I also love how the bottle practically becomes a stand-in for J.R. himself. Gray has a Hagman-esque twinkle in her eye when Sue Ellen gives the bourbon to McConaughey at the top of the hour and reminds him that “good blackmail never sours.” The twinkle is there at the end of the episode too, when Sue Ellen reveals the dirt on McConaughey and he slides the bottles across his desk toward her and says, “This is why politicians should never accept gifts — especially gifts with J.R.’s name on them.”

The only thing missing from this scene is seeing J.R.’s smile, although I must say: Sue Ellen’s sly grin is pretty wonderful too. Of course, that’s always been true, hasn’t it?

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, D.T.R., Patrick Duffy

The steward

‘D.T.R.’

Season 3, Episode 5

Telecast: March 24, 2014

Audience: 1.79 million viewers on March 24

Writer: Aaron Allen

Director: Rodney Charters

Synopsis: Sue Ellen blackmails McConaughey into removing Babcock from the Railroad Commission and replacing him with Bobby. Emma blackmails Judith into giving John Ross access to Ryland Transport’s ships and tells him she wants a piece of the Arctic drilling venture. Harris blackmails the CIA into giving his family extra protection. Cliff urges Elena and Nicolas to turns John Ross against Pamela, and when Nicolas examines photographs of J.R.’s autopsy, he notices an unusual incision on his chest. Christopher learns Heather is divorced from Bo and that they have a young son, Michael.

Cast: Amber Bartlett (Jill), Emma Bell (Emma Ryland), Donny Boaz (Bo McCabe), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Candace (Jude Demorest), Juan Pablo Di Pace (Nicolas Treviño), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), AnnaLynne McCord (Heather McCabe), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Gino Anthony Pesi (George Tatangelo), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Todd Terry (State’s Attorney Peter Bedford), Steven Weber (Governor Sam McConaughey)

“D.T.R.” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. Jennifer Irons says:

    All the actors were brilliant in this episode and I believe Larry Hagman is in
    heaven smiling proudly down on his Ewing family, especially on Linda and Josh!!

  2. Loved it…loved it….I hang onto every one of Sue Ellen’s words. She is a master. I hope that she continues to be one step ahead of John Ross. I’m a little concerned about that based on a scene from next week’s episode. I hope that John Ross isn’t trying to put his mother in rehab….but then again, Judith got sprung so if it happens, I think it will be a quick rehab. Bobby is indeed becoming the “white knight” and I can see him rescuing his sister in law. Can’t wait until next week!

  3. Great review as always. I love your spin and insightful commentary. Linda Gray is knocking it out of the park. Is there any doubt in your mind that next week we will all be talking about that explosive scene between JR3 and Sue Ellen? You should just post it now.

  4. Brandon Childers says:

    A tone else think harris and Anne are falling in love?

    • Brandon Childers says:

      *anyone

    • Dan in WI says:

      Obviously that is what we are to believe could happen. Is it real? A red herring? Time will tell. But I’d say they are tellegraphing that is to be the next source of tension between Bobby and Ann one way or another.

      • I agree..there is no other reason why all of a sudden Harris thinks that Ann is a great mother. He is trying to get closer to her by the way of Emma. Wow…imagine how Bobby is going to feel…I think I read somewhere that Duffy said you aren’t going to see Bobby and Ann have sex. He didn’t say that Ann wasn’t to have sex with Harris, did he?

    • I saw Anne and Harris hooking up since last season. It was clear Anne had the hots for him and then she clammed with her emotional expression. Bobby is going to be too busy to take care of Anne.

      • Garnet McGee says:

        Sue Ellen was fantastic in this episode. This is some of the best writing for her character ever. A lot of great scenes but a few gripes. Funny that the governor was not surprised that Sue Ellen was asking him to side against her son. He must be used to dealing with those Ewings. I continue to appreciate badass Elena and Nicolas. Once upon a time John Ross used to treat Pamela as sweetly as Nicolas is treating Elena.. I’m willing to look past the flimsy reasons for her wanting revenge and her sudden personality change. The constant blackmail was repetitive. I have a question though. Why did John Ross urge Emma to stay on Southfork? He should be jumping up and down to get rid of her. Did he just say “I don’t want to stop seeing you” as a ploy or does he mean it? Is he going to try to deprive her of the part of the arctic leases she asked for? Did she ask for a present from his honeymoon like a whiny 10 year old?
        Pamela is such a great character, It’s a shame she has been backburnered especially if we never get a season 4. Just the idea of her and Nicolas joining forces makes me jump up and down.

      • We will get a season 4. So far so good with the ratings. I can’t see hem canceling the show if “Dallas” consistantly gets a million or so viewers in TNT’s target audience.
        I agree with you about Pamela. Great character.

  5. Why can’t Larry Hagman’s son Preston come on as a character that will help the Ewings knock down that degenerate Barnes? Also, bring James Richard Beaumont-Ewing & J.R.’s son by Cally back. That evil trimuvate would sure bring a sucker punch to Clifford & his efforts to get out of jail. Cliff should C.B. in a Texas prison for murdering his grandkids I’d like to point out as Pamela Barnes Ewing Ewing knows her old man committed that crime. Plus Cliff would be much harder to control if on United States soil so the writing & the decption would only get better & better!

  6. Luke Pegues says:

    It was excellent. I loved that they are starting to film around Dallas and not just on South Fork. Linda Gray is on the money. I am glad that she is getting all of the lines JR would have gotten. She is delivering what we all wanted in season one and season 2. I could not ask for more. Emma being the new Holly Harwood is great. I love the way she let her mother and John Ross have it. I also loved how Judith took a moment and educated her grand daughter on men and the way they will treat you if you are the other woman. I can not wait for next weeks as John Ross tries to be his daddy and send his mother to the Sanitarium as his father did to Sue Ellen when she was pregnant. Awesome and continues to pick up and deliver on all cylinders.

Trackbacks

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  3. […] Ewings and the Rylands made one bold fashion statement after another in “D.T.R.,” this week’s “Dallas” episode. Nothing was more striking than the red jacket Linda Gray wore […]

  4. […] How will John Ross strike back against Sue Ellen and Bobby? In “D.T.R.,” last week’s episode, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) blackmailed Governor McConaughey (Steven Weber) into […]

  5. […] what happened in “D.T.R.,” TNT’s latest “Dallas” […]

  6. […] are the questions we’re pondering as we await tonight’s telecast of “D.T.R.,” TNT’s latest “Dallas” […]

  7. […] previous episode, “D.T.R.,” debuted to 1.79 million viewers on March 24, including 577,000 adults between 18 and 49. However, […]

  8. […] is using props to help keep his spirit alive, beginning with the J.R. Ewing Bourbon bottle in “D.T.R.” and now the wristwatch in “Like a Bad Penny.” The scene where Nasir stands at the Southfork […]

  9. […] you enjoy “D.T.R.,” this week’s episode of TNT’s “Dallas”? Let’s discuss it during my next #DallasChat on […]

  10. […] also directed “D.T.R.,” the episode where Sue Ellen blackmails the governor and Emma and Judith have that tense showdown […]

  11. […] p.m. Dinnertime! Enjoy a glass of J.R. Ewing Bourbon (surely you have some, right?) while watching “D.T.R.” After the episode, check your bottle and make sure Sue Ellen didn’t bug […]

  12. […] we love most is the savvy J.R. protégé who outmaneuvered John Ross and Governor McConaughey earlier this season. Now that Sue Ellen has admitted her problem, let’s hope she recovers her mojo. The […]

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