Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 37 — ‘Victims of Love’

Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval, TNT, Victims of Love

A farewell to Barnes

“Victims of Love” puts the emphasis on corporate wheeling and dealing, but look past all the chatter about IPOs and SECs and you’ll see this is really an episode about the characters and their daddy issues. Pamela punishes Cliff by leaving him in prison, John Ross loses control of the family business by repeating one of J.R.’s biggest blunders, and Hunter McKay revels in the glory of simultaneously sticking it to the Barneses and the Ewings — something his villainous grandfather never managed to do. These scenes do a nice job mining “Dallas’s” rich history, even if you have to wade through a lot of high finance mumbo-jumbo to get to them.

The hands-down highlight: Pamela’s visit to the Mexican prison, where she finally confronts her father about his sins. Julie Gonzalo is moving as the betrayed Pamela, but this scene is mostly a master class in acting from Ken Kercheval. For three-and-a-half-minutes, he uses his wonderfully expressive face to telegraph all of Cliff’s emotions: his gleeful obliviousness when he receives the envelope from Pamela, mistakenly believing it contains his pardon; his befuddlement when he examines the document inside and sees it’s an old Ewing Oil land deed; his shame when Pamela mentions her dead babies. More than anything, Kercheval shows us Cliff’s pain when he sniffles, glances away from his daughter and says, “I’m so sorry for what I did. … I know I failed you.” Heaven help me, I feel sorry for the bastard.

Some “Dallas” fans don’t love the dark path Cliff has gone down during TNT’s series, but if you ask me, a jail cell feels like a fitting metaphor for a character who spent so long being a prisoner of his own hatred. Wasn’t Cliff always destined to end up like Digger, embittered and alone? Similarly, some fans are quibbling with the deed Pamela gives Cliff in this scene, saying it doesn’t square with established “Dallas” lore. I have no problem with it; the origins of the Barnes/Ewing feud have always been murky to me, and appropriately so. Besides, I appreciate seeing Pamela reduce the feud to its core — an 80-year-old real estate squabble. It makes the whole thing feel so petty and empty, don’t you think? The scene ends on a somewhat triumphant note, when Pamela tells Cliff, “You avenged the wrongs done to your father, and I’ve avenged the wrongs done to me by mine.” It might seem like Pamela is breaking Digger and Cliff’s destructive pattern, but don’t bet on it. If “Dallas” has taught us anything, it’s that the Barneses and the Ewings are doomed to repeat the cycles their forbearers.

Indeed, we see this throughout “Victims of Love,” which comes from scriptwriter Taylor Hamra, who penned last year’s similarly themed “False Confessions.” Here, John Ross erupts when Hunter points out the “poetic justice” of tricking the Ewings into giving up control of their own company, just like Hunter’s grandfather Carter did to J.R. in the original “Dallas’s” next-to-last episode. As much as John Ross worships his father, he sure doesn’t like it when people point out their mutual shortcomings, does he? We catch a glimpse of Hunter’s own familial neuroses when he answers a TV news reporter’s question by preening, “You’re asking me if it feels good to do what my grandfather never could, own the Ewings and the Barneses at the same time? Is that what you’re asking? Um, yeah, it sure does.” Later, Luis, the drug cartel general, sulks away from the tomato bushes when El Pozolero, the Mexican godfather, suggests he favors his other “adopted” son, Nicolas, over Luis. (Even gangsters have daddy issues, as my astute niece, a recent “Dallas” convert, points out.)

There’s much more to like about “Victims of Love.” I’m thrilled to see the return of the McKays, a family that played an important role in “Dallas’s” later years, which deserve more love than they receive from many fans. Melinda Clarke does a nice job stepping into Beth Toussaint’s shoes as Tracey — although truth be told, Toussaint was seen so briefly on the original “Dallas,” Clarke pretty much gets to reinvent the character from scratch. I also like Fran Kranz’s turn as the smarmy, Zuckerberg-esque Hunter; what a shame the character meets such a surprising (and grisly) end here. I also applaud Hamra’s script for getting the details right: In a cute exchange, Tracey corrects Bobby when he says she hustled a thousand bucks from him during their first encounter at the pool hall in the late ’80s (it was only $900), and the explanation that Hunter and his unseen brother Trip are Tommy’s illegitimate sons seems perfectly plausible.

Not everything here works, beginning with the drug cartel and CIA subplots, which remain out of place on “Dallas;” Judith Ryland’s antics, which have gone too far over the top for my taste (“Let’s go make us a drug deal”); and that business with the severed hands. However, the Ewing Global IPO storyline — as needlessly complicated as it seems — proves so absorbing, I kind of forget the cartel wants the company so it can be used as a tool to overthrow the Mexican government. The sillier stuff is also concealed by all the cool visual flourishes from Ken Topolsky, perhaps the new “Dallas’s” most inventive director. I love how we hear Christopher rapping on Carmen’s hotel room door, and with each knock, the camera zooms in a little tighter on the Omni logo. There’s also some nifty transitional shots using the Dallas skyline, as well as a neat special effect where the news report on Cliff’s fuzzy TV screen dissolves into Hunter’s sharp, full-color press conference. Even the Wolf Blitzer cameo is kind of fun.

Topolsky also delivers some lovely character-driven moments that shouldn’t be overlooked, including the scene where Sue Ellen counsels Pamela, the conversation where Emma warms up to Ann (even if she still can’t bring herself to call her “Mom”), and the quick glimpse of Emma’s eager expression when John Ross pulls up in the Rylands’ driveway. (You can practically read her mind: “Is he here to see me?”) I also like the way Harris touches Judith’s shoulder when they see the video feed of the bound-and-gagged Ann and Emma; it’s a credit to the great Mitch Pileggi that this feels genuinely warm instead of genuinely creepy.

In an hour about public offerings, it’s these private moments that stand out most.

Grade: B


Dallas, Melinda Clarke, TNT, Tracey McKay, Victims of Love

The return


Season 3, Episode 12

Telecast: September 8, 2014

Audience: 1.93 million viewers on September 8

Writer: Taylor Hamra

Director: Ken Topolsky

Synopsis: Nicolas and Victor undermine Bobby’s friend Cal, which allows Hunter to obtain controlling interest in Ewing Global on the day of the company’s initial public offering. The Ewings blame John Ross for losing control of the company, as does Nasir, who express his disappointment via text message. Bobby turns to his ex-flame Tracey McKay, Hunter’s aunt, and asks her to talk her nephew into revealing the truth about the cartel’s role in the takeover, but when Bobby and Tracey arrive at Hunter’s home, they find his dead body hanging from a noose. Christopher confirms Nicolas is Joaquin and his connection to the cartel and leaves Elena a voice mail warning her to stay away from him, but Nicolas intercepts the message. Bum tells John Ross that Harris is working for the CIA. Luis kills Candace and presents her severed hands to Judith. Luis also reveals he’s holding Ann and Emma hostage and threatens to kill them if Judith doesn’t double the cartel’s drug shipments. Pamela visits Cliff in prison, where she declines to give him his pardon and bids him farewell.

Cast: Jonathan Adams (Calvin Hanna), Emma Bell (Emma Ryland), Wolf Blitzer (himself), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Melinda Clarke (Tracey McKay), 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), Antonio Jaramillo (Luis), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Fran Kranz (Hunter McKay), Judith Light (Judith Ryland), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Kevin Page (Bum), Gino Anthony Pesi (George Tatangelo), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Max Ryan (Victor Des Lauriers), Miguel Sandoval (El Pozolero), Summer Selby (police detective), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing)

“Victims of Love” is available at, Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.


  1. So glad to have your critiques! Last nights episode was a little hard for me to understand it all. Having reading your critique, it helps me, to put it altogether. Thank you Dallas Decoder.

  2. Poor Christopher. If Elena is still the best person he knows he really needs to meet some more people.

    Well I guess they managed to explain away Hunter. It certainly is plausible that Tommy McKay knocked up someone somewhere along the way. They probably should have explained this sooner to prevent this distraction.

    Okay so this episode didn’t anger me near as much as I thought it would. I was shocked but pleased that Pamela left Daddy in prison. Maybe there is some hope for her. I was also impressed with Ken’s performance here. He sure could do over the top, yet here he played it just tender enough that I even starting thinking my Cliff was back. But I know better.

    John Ross is going to screw things up even further isn’t he? He’s finally figuring out the CIA truth about Harris. But why do I get the feeling he’s going to use it in the wrong way at the wrong time and unwittingly undermine whatever Bobby is going to do? He isn’t completely his father’s son. He is still making a ton of rookie mistakes that JR never would have made.

    Okay who is the boss of this cartel? The guy sure bears more than a passing resemblance to Castula Guerra. For a while there I was starting to think my saracastic prediction that Carlos del Sol was the head of the cartel might be right. Thank god he wasn’t

    Tracy McKay turned out okay as well. She isn’t immediately playing the obvious distraction role of turning Bobby’s head away from Ann. I’m glad for that. I didn’t notice any obvious continuity errors in her introduction either.

    The Ryland’s. I thought it was so cute (and YES naïve) the way Emma thought she could deal with the drug cartel. I was right about that. Even Judith is figuring out she’s out of her league. It’s a mess now…

    • Dan, I’ve been eager to see your thoughts on this episode, given the central role Cliff played. It sounds like we’re on the same page with Ken Kercheval’s performance, although I know you wish Cliff hadn’t marched down such a dark path in the first place.

      Thanks for your feedback, as always.


      • I guess I need to clarify as I probably haven’t spelled this out in some time.
        First I talk about “my Cliff” a lot and that would be the Cliff that made his peace with Ellie and became a solid Bobby ally. And who can’t love the constant running gag of the out of control pocket squares and Chinese takeout. But that was far from the only Cliff we ever saw on CBS. Yes he spent a lot of time bitter and at war with Jock and JR over his perception of the fued prior to the Dandy epiphany. This fueding came at a high cost to his own personal life. (Afton)

        Now all of the above was very organic and represented a logical progression of character growth. My problem with TNT Cliff is two fold:
        A) There is neither a logical explanation or even an explanation of any kind how Cliff got to this point. Yes Cliff ramped up the war one final time on CBS post Dandy epiphany. It started over the way JR shoved him aside during the oil tanker collision fallout and ended when Cliff won his final victory of owning Ewing Oil in the second last episode. So even that turn had a good reason and none of it was personal against any Ewing other than JR. Okay then you take the reunion movies out of continuity and the next thing you know JR has apparently been a near vegetable for a number of years and Cliff is a don of a gambling empire. There are a lot of gaps there that are yet to be filled in three seasons later. How can Cliff still be out to get JR when JR seems to have been out of action for what appears to be years and Cliff is clearly far more wealthy than JR? Of course they will never ever be friends but JR was hardly a clear and present danger at the opening of TNT Dallas. What turned Cliff against the Ewings as whole? There is no known good reason for him to going after the rest of the family post epiphany. Even prior to Bobby imprisioning him Cliff seems to hate Bobby almost as must as JR. Why? And there is certainly no known reason for Cliff to be so cold toward the nephew he once doted on.
        B) We now have a Cliff who sends his own daughter to marry his once loved nephew and order a bombing endangering and ultimately killing his own grandchildren. These are things that CBS Cliff at his absolute worst never would have considered.

        At the end of the day I’m not saying Cliff couldn’t have become that man. It probably seems like I’ve been saying that so let me clarify. Something has to happen to the man somewhere along the line to make that happen. When we get such a drastic change with no explanation whatsoever a continuity hawk such as myself is going to go crazy. That’s just a fact. So that is why I criticize the writing. I’m not saying it isn’t possible for Cliff to end up like this. I’m saying it is impossible for the Cliff we last saw on CBS to end up with this without some major life changing event happening along the way. And if the event is that major and life changing then I think that is some backstory that needs to be shared so continuity hawks aren’t so distracted by a drastic character swing.

        That is my problem with writing of this TNT Dallas and the Cliff we now have.

      • I agree with the Evil Cliff Vader assessment. The TNT version of Cliff Barnes has never been explained and makes no sense to viewers of the original Dallas.

  3. Really good episode, I think. Pamela’s visit to Cliff was indeed the high point. I love that she ultimately left him in there. I did feel a moment — one fleeting moment — of pity for the man. He isn’t entirely soulless…but he is too far gone for genuine redemption at this point. It’s not like he was ever really a GOOD guy on the old show, but he was the clear cut lesser of two evils. In this series, however, the ethical infractions just keep piling up, beginning with what he almost seems to get a free pass for…manipulating his daughter into seducing and marrying her own first cousin (albeit not by blood) Christopher. I know it wasn’t the first time Dallas had dabbled in incest (though it certainly was never planned in Ray and Lucy’s case), but still…gross…no? What would the original Pam think of her biological niece marrying her adopted son?

    I’m glad Elena was used only sparsely in this episode. A reprieve from her dim-witted presence was much in order.

    Was Tommy Mckay the father of Hunter, or does Tracy have an undisclosed sibling? Either way, I was somewhat sorry that Hunter got snuffed already. I had him pegged as a strong character with a lot of staying power, like his Grandpa.

    Great as last week’s episode was, I’m glad we didn’t have another round of everyone beating up Bobby for his perceived hypocrisy, particularly from Ann and Sue Ellen. The former, while well meaning, has been nothing but trouble and I yearn for the day Bobby sends her packing her real. The latter simply has no room for self-righteousness at all. She has put the screws to Bobby more than once through the years, whether it was to serve JR, John Ross, or just her own interests. And oh by the way, she was just as responsible as Drew for the fire. Yes, the fire would have happened anyway because of the contraption Drew rigged up….but the former Miss Texas still got loaded and played with a lighter.

    So good to see the ratings , if only marginally, are back on the rise. I do hate to think we could be down to the final 3 episodes!

  4. SO… there is no way that under, paper clipped, to the deed of land Pamela gave Cliff in prison is his pardon as well? I mean, that is kind of how Elena handed it to Pamela. I didn’t think it was, but a friend said… I bet it was… thoughts?

    • If it was paperclipped under there then Pamela has the best poker face ever. I don’t think she gives the speach she does only to essentially say “Pysch! Your pardon was there all along.”

  5. Does any1 like Cliff Barnes including himself?

  6. Unless I missed something, Bobby STILL hasn’t destroyed that flippin’ letter JR wrote. If that thing resurfaces in the season finale and gets Cliff sprung from jail, I’m done! Well, not really, but I’ll be quite sore, lol.

  7. Garnet McGee says:

    I agree with the B rating. The episode had some very good moments and but silliness that made it less interesting than it should have been. The cartel storyline is irritating. It could have been a great storyline since drug cartels really do exist and they really have been taking over companies and insinuated themselves into Mexican politics. It just seems so plot driven and clumsy. If all the secrets were so easy to figure out then why didn’t anyone figure them out long ago? The Ewings were investigating Nicolas weren’t they? The exposition masquerading as dialogue sounds stiff and forced. I wish the show spent more time on character development. What was it like when Pamela came back to work with John Ross after her suicide attempt? How about a scene showing us Christopher’s undying love for Elena? I say this even though I think Elena and Nic have the smoking hot chemistry she never had with Chris. I would like to see more about the personal stories and less about the drug dealers and the CIA. Even though the writing disappoints the performances do not. Everyone was playing the hell out of this story even minor players like Antonio Jaramillo and Marlene Forte. Pamela’s scene with Cliff was fitting and the highlight of the show for me. I have come to hate Judith and Emma but I enjoyed them in this episode probably because of lines like”how are you at romancing men” and “you’re a Taurus.”

  8. Monday night’s episode gave me mixed emotions, I enjoyed all the suspense and the way that brought Tracey back into the fold was very well written and a nice piece of Dallas history. The cartel scenes was a little much for me, I understand the writers are trying to show how cruel and dark the cartel’s can be but it went over the top with the Candace’s hands and Hunter’s hanging. I am not sure why they killed off Hunter so soon he is a great legacy to the show and they could have really gone somewhere with his character. All in all I still love this show and looking forward to seeing where all these stories will end up

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