Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 38 — ‘Boxed In’

Ann Ewing, Boxed In, Brenda Strong, Dallas, TNT

Mama’s here

No one who watches “Boxed In” will forget the scene where Ann, Harris and Judith are overcome with grief after hearing Luis fire the gun he’s been holding at Emma’s head. It’s the most harrowing moment I’ve witnessed on television since last year, when Walter White abducted his infant daughter while his wife kicked and screamed and tried in vain to stop him. Just as that sequence demonstrated how far “Breaking Bad’s” antihero had sunk, the moment of crisis on “Dallas” reveals new things about its characters, including the depth of Ann and Emma’s bond, Harris’s capacity for compassion and — the biggest surprise of all — the discovery that Judith Ryland is a human being. Who knew?

The “Boxed In” scene begins when Luis, who’s holding Ann and Emma hostage in a Mexican “kill house,” receives a phone call and learns the Rylands aren’t adequately honoring their deal with the drug cartel. Luis erupts in anger and yanks Emma off the sofa as Ann struggles to hold onto her. While another thug detains Ann, Luis drags Emma to the basement, where he dials Judith’s number with one hand and holds a gun to Emma’s head with the other. Luis and Judith exchange recriminations, he cocks his gun, Judith begs for mercy, Emma pleads for her life, and then: Bang! Ann screams and Judith collapses into Harris’s arms, and then we return to the basement, where we see Emma is still alive; Luis merely put a bullet in the wall.

Another “Dallas” fake-out? Yes, and what a relief. Besides delivering fresh insight into these characters, the sequence is an impressive technical achievement for director Rodney Charters. Consider the complexities: The scene involves five characters in three settings (Luis and Emma in the basement, Ann upstairs, Harris and Judith back in Dallas), and yet Charters manages to unite all of them in a single, terrifying moment. When I interviewed Charters recently, he told me this episode contained a scene he regards as one of his proudest “Dallas” achievements. I suspect this is the one he was referring to.

The “execution” scene is also a triumph for the five actors, beginning with Brenda Strong, whose scream after the gunshot is painfully real, and Mitch Pileggi, who quietly, movingly mutters “damn you” when Harris believes his daughter is dead. (Is he chastising Luis or himself)? Also impressive: Antonio Jaramillo, who goes from charming at the beginning of the episode to downright evil in this scene; Judith Light, who makes you feel her character’s anguish; and Emma Bell, who is heartbreaking at every turn. It’s especially touching to see Emma reach for Ann and call her “mom” when Luis pulls her into the basement, and I love Emma and Ann’s reunion after the ordeal, when Strong sits on the basement floor and rocks Bell in her arms. In an episode about the “Dallas” characters forming unlikely alliances, nothing can match the power of seeing Ann and Emma finally become mother and daughter.

Many other scenes in “Boxed In” are thrilling too, especially when Patrick Duffy’s character is involved. How can you not love seeing the cartel thug approach Luis and announce — somewhat nervously — that “Bobby Ewing is here.” For longtime “Dallas” fans, no four words could be more reassuring. Yes, Bobby’s scheme to win Ann and Emma’s release by bringing a train full of drugs into Texas makes his plot to frame Cliff Barnes for murder seem quaint, but no matter. Bobby will always be our hero, and Duffy has mastered the art of playing a good guy who’s also a badass. In “Boxed In’s” last scene, when Luis greets Bobby by pointing out how risky it is for him to come to the kill house, Duffy squints his eyes and coolly responds: “Well, you seem like a nice enough fella.” Could Eastwood have delivered that line any better?

I also like how Bobby deftly manipulates Luis, pressuring him to accept his drug train offer by playing on his insecurities. “You can continue to hold the women if you want, or you can be smart and show your boss that you were the one who could amass a giant fortune in one night,” Bobby says. Does he know Luis is envious over the favoritism shown toward Nicolas by the Mexican godfather El Pozolero? Or has experience taught Bobby that in any family-run business, there’s always a jealous brother lurking about? Duffy’s other great moment comes when Judith approaches Bobby on the airport tarmac, takes his hand, and says, “Emma is all I have. Thank you.” Duffy plays the moment beautifully, becoming a stand-in for the audience. He’s as surprised as we are to learn Judith is human.

“Boxed In” comes from scriptwriter Gail Gilchriest, whose previous third-season effort, “Playing Chicken,” also found Bobby saving the day. This time around, Gilchriest gives Pamela a heroic role too. She travels to Las Vegas and persuades Nasir, the sheik’s son, to give the Ewings a huge loan so they can buy up the divisions of their company being dumped by the cartel. Julie Gonzalo is wonderfully crisp in this scene, which contrasts nicely with Pamela’s previous Las Vegas visit, when she played the dutiful wife who hovered in the background while her husband was wheeling and dealing with the sheik. (One gripe: Why does Pamela tip her hand and tell John Ross she’s planning to take him for everything he’s worth? It reminds me of the time Sue Ellen revealed the details of her plan to divorce J.R., allowing him to undermine her efforts. In another Sue Ellen-esque move, Pamela sets up house inside Elena’s cottage, recalling all the times Linda Gray’s character moved across the hall from J.R. during their marital crises.)

There’s a lot more to like about “Boxed In,” including the cinematic scope in several shots and the episode’s skillful use of color, particularly the way the golden hues in the exterior Mexican shots contrast with the black and faded browns inside the kill house. I also love the handheld camerawork, which heightens the frenetic pacing and sense of urgency. And despite the heavy drama, this episode isn’t without its light touches, beginning with the scene where John Ross strides into Bobby’s den and finds none other than Harris Ryland standing there, helping the Ewings plot their rescue of Ann and Emma. You can hardly blame John Ross for being surprised; Harris never makes it past the driveway when he comes to Southfork.

I doubt the alliance between the Ewings and the Rylands will last, which is too bad in light of TNT’s promo this week for “Dallas’s” two-hour third-season finale. Now that we know the Ewings are about to experience another death in the family, they’re probably going to need all the friends they can get.

Grade: A


Bobby Ewing, Boxed In, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, TNT

Good guy/badass


Season 3, Episode 13

Telecast: September 15, 2014

Audience: 1.86 million viewers on September 15

Writer: Gail Gilchriest

Director: Rodney Charters

Synopsis: When Harris tells Bobby that Ann and Emma are being held hostage, Bobby comes up with a plan to appease the cartel: He persuades his fellow railroad commissioners to approve an emergency training exercise that will allow the cartel to bring a trainload of drugs into Texas undetected. Bobby goes to Mexico to pitch the deal to Luis, who accepts the offer but says he’ll free only one of his hostages. Meanwhile, when the cartel begins selling off Ewing Global’s divisions, John Ross and Pamela join forces and persuade Nasir to loan them the money they need to purchase the divisions in exchange for a piece of the Arctic leases. After Nicolas confesses his cartel connection to Elena, Lucia receives the photographs her private eye snapped of Nicolas and Elena together. Later, Lucia agrees to tell Christopher where her husband and Elena are.

Cast: Deke Anderson (Bill Weathers), Emma Bell (Emma Ryland), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Angélica Celaya (Lucia Treviño), Eduardo DeLeon (Raoul), Juan Pablo Di Pace (Nicolas Treviño), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Antonio Jaramillo (Luis), Judith Light (Judith Ryland), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Gino Anthony Pesi (George Tatangelo), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Pete Partida (Jacobo), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Steve Uzzell (Riley Shelton), Pej Vahdat (Nasir Ali)

“Boxed In” is available at, Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.


  1. That episode was exhausting! I’ve watched it twice since…LOL

  2. Enjoyed that. Given Dallas is all about the Ewings, you know the Ewings come out on top in the end. They always do. There’s a few hints about how that is going to happen, but I’m not 100% on top of the angle that gives it back to the Ewings.

    “Brave New World” as a title could be a deception. I remember when I first heard that I thought it would be more of a “positive” episode (at least in its overall tone). Now I’m not so sure. If the Ewings would LOSE everything, then that too could describe the episode.

    I’ll just have to avoid social media Monday night, as I can’t watch them till Tuesday morning.

  3. I just don’t know what to say here. My only comment is just how helpless the Ewings seem here. They are doing nothing but reacting. There is no hint of offense of any kind.
    Bobby is reacting by going down the darkest of dark roads to give a drug cartel exactly what they want to save his wife. He is abusing an appointed state office to do it. In the end if everything did go according to his plan he just went a long way toward helping this drug cartel take over the Mexican government.
    John Ross is reacting. He’s groveling like JR seldom did and making deals with anybody and everybody to save his company. While it doesn’t appear he’s doing anything illegal here (apparently Bobby and John Ross have swapped bodies) in the end if everthing goes according to plan he too is going a long way toward helping this drug cartel take over the Mexican government.
    For a change I’m not criticizing the writing. This all was plenty plausible and felt real given where we are at this point. I’m just saying that I’m stunned that no Ewing be it a white knight or dark knight have anything but a reactionary capitulating counter-move to offer. It really underscores the desperate situation here. It is something we really haven’t seen before. Not to this extent. The closest comparisions are the BD Calhoun/John Ross hostage situation or the Westar tanker collision. In the Calhoun showdown case laws were broken but there we no victums outside the combantants. Here the drugs and a cartel take-over of the Mexican government will affect countless citizens on both sides of the boarder. In the tanker case Bobby pulled things out completely legally with no one getting hurt. Again this is just new ground.
    And think of the consequences. We know a Ewing is going to die. But what is the CIA going to do to the surviving Ewings and Rylands? Again what the Justice Department did post BD Calhoun will look pretty tame to what should happen here.

    Good episode becaue of its hopeless feel.

  4. Marilyn Hadey says:


    • FYI: Technically Monday is two individual episodes back to back as opposed to a 2 hour single episode.

      • I would not grade the episode with an A. I am so tired of Cidre and crew getting their jollies by being able to use the bulls— word on televised Dallas. Who cares if cable TNT allow cussing. It’s tacky and gimmicky. I would rather have the very little 43 or so minutes of screen time spent in better dialogue. Wash your mouth out with soap, Cidre and writer Gail Gilchriest. Sad, sad, sad.

  5. I agree with the A. So many storylines that seemed ridiculous are now so strong and moving. I like that the Ramos family storyline and timeline has been explained and is less confusing. The drug cartel/CIA/DEA/Ryland/Nicolas Trevino storyline is now so very intense. One thing I do know, it is not uncommon for DEA to investigate people only to find out that they are somehow involved with the CIA. For all the tears and crying Ann has done during the 3 seasons of Dallas, this episode had me really feeling her performance. I felt her emotions. I do not know how it is possible but Pamela just gets hotter and hotter every episode. John Ross needs to learn how to really learn how to treat a lady, especially his wife. Thank all goodness J.R. and Jock did not live to see the day where there namesake sits, humiliated, and off to the side, while a Barnes negotiates the acquisition of Ewing Global. So, just to keep score, The Ewings “win” the feud, then lost everything, and now a Barnes is in the process of getting it all back. Last week Pamela put Cliff in his place and this week it is John Ross that gets put in his place. Sort of ironic how the last meeting in Las Vegas, John Ross gets what he needs by NOT playing his cards and this week Pamela plays her “cards” metaphorically and does gets what she wants. Bobby saying that spending the rest of his days in prison to get Ann back o Sue Ellen was great. Great review Chris B. I am learning much for than “Dallas” from visiting “Dallas Decoder.”

  6. Judy Ryland looked hot even though she was all raggy w/o makeup & nervous on the phone waiting 4 the outcome of whether or not her grandchild was dead. I know this is bad but she looked hot!

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