Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 152 — ‘True Confessions’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, True Confessions

True lies

In “True Confessions,” Pam brings Christopher to Southfork to visit Miss Ellie, who bends down and greets the child with a hug and kiss. If I had watched this scene a few months ago, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Seeing it now, with Christopher’s recent death on the “Dallas” sequel series still fresh, this otherwise small moment feels poignant. Perhaps every scene involving Christopher is going to feel this way from now on. As much as I’m looking forward to continuing my critiques of the original “Dallas” episodes, I’m not eager to watch this little boy grow up only to die a premature — and utterly unsatisfying — death.

Recent events cast other “True Confessions” scenes in a different light too. After hemming and hawing for a half-season about Charlie’s paternity, Jenna finally comes clean at the end of the episode and tells Bobby she falsely listed him as the father on the child’s birth certificate. Jenna explains she didn’t want her ex-husband Naldo, Charlie’s actual father, to have a claim on the girl, so she made Bobby the father of record. When Bobby asks Jenna why she led him on, she acknowledges she was wrong and then adds, “I know how much the truth means to you, how important it’s been to you all your life.” As soon as these words passed Jenna’s lips, I thought about all the lies Bobby told after J.R.’s death. It makes “Hurt,” the recent TNT episode where Bobby’s deceptions finally unravel, feel even more moving than it did when it debuted.

Patrick Duffy does a nice job throughout “True Confessions,” especially during Bobby’s big scene with Jenna, when Duffy quietly conveys his character’s disappointment without making him seem sanctimonious. Priscilla Presley is also effective in this scene, which must not have been easy given the soapiness of Jenna’s monologue. At one point, she says, “Suddenly, lying there in the maternity ward, I became very frightened that Naldo, who couldn’t care less about children, would one day come back into my life and hurt me.” Good grief. Does anyone talk this way in real life? Likewise, I get a chuckle out of the scene where Naldo interrupts Bobby and Jenna’s lunch at the Oil Baron’s Club to tell them he has something important to say, then arranges another meeting with the couple to deliver his announcement. The characters could make an Olympic sport out of beating around the bush.

On a personal note, “True Confessions” is memorable because it marks the only time I can recall “Dallas” characters coming to my home state of Maryland. It happens with Ray and Donna — in full “McMillan & Wife” mode — visit the town of Hyattsville, hoping to discover the dark secret J.R. is holding over the head of their friend, government official Edgar Randolph. Hyattsville is about 30 miles away from the town where I grew up, which probably excited the heck out of me when I was 10 and watched this episode in 1984. I wonder if I assumed the cast and crew actually came to Maryland to film those scenes?

In that spirit, I’m sure the Krebbs’s discovery that a teenage Edgar molested a child flew over my head back then. Frankly, I’m not sure what to make of it now. “Dallas” seems to go out of its way to make Edgar a sympathetic figure by presenting his now-adult victim, Dr. Barbara Mulgravy, as well-adjusted and forgiving. Whether the writing is progressive or tone deaf, Tricia O’Neill delivers a nice performance as Dr. Mulgravy. O’Neill is a familiar face who pops up in a lot of episodic television from the 1980s and 1990s, including a memorable turn as the U.S.S. Enterprise’s first woman captain during a time travel episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” O’Neill also returns to “Dallas” in the series finale as (presumably) another Barbara — Barbara Barnes, wife of Vice President Cliff.

“True Confessions” also offers two gems from Larry Hagman. In the first, J.R. blackmails Edgar into spilling government secrets while lunching with him in the French restaurant with the latticework décor (“Dallas” got a lot of use out of that set in the 1980s, didn’t it?). When Edgar asks how J.R. can live with himself, our hero smiles and coos, “Oh, it’s not hard. You’ll see. Once you give up integrity, the rest is a piece of cake.” This clip seems to surface whenever there’s a TV history retrospective that includes J.R., making it one of his most famous lines.

Hagman’s other great scene in “True Confessions” comes a little later, when J.R. breezes into Southfork, spots his least favorite ex-sister-in-law hanging out with the Ewings and says, “Hello, Pam. Say, weren’t you here a couple of months ago? You’re not going to make a habit out of this, are you?” After assuring everyone that he was only joking, Miss Ellie invites J.R. to stay, but he demurs and glides back out of the room, explaining that he’s “not too much on nostalgia.”

Maybe not, J.R., but your fans sure enjoy it.

Grade: B

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, Donna Krebbs, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Susan Howard, True Confessions

True detectives

‘TRUE CONFESSIONS’

Season 7, Episode 21

Airdate: February 24, 1984

Audience: 21.9 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Paul Krasny

Synopsis: Naldo confronts Jenna and Bobby with Charlie’s birth certificate, which lists Bobby as the father. Jenna later tells Bobby the truth: Naldo is the father, but she falsified the document to prevent him from having a claim on the girl. Ray and Donna learn Edgar molested a girl when he was a teenager. Edger reluctantly gives inside information on the oil auction to J.R., who persuades Marilee to betray Cliff.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Martin E. Brooks (Edgar Randolph), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Tricia O’Neill (Dr. Barbara Mulgravy), Daniel Pilon (Renaldo Marchetta), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Bill Quinn (Percival), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Erica Yohn (Sara Mulgravy)

“True Confessions” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. Dan in WI says:

    So glad to see the return of these CBS critiques. I can’t tell you how much I missed them.

    Chris talks about the poignant moments of this episode but for me reading the words “Oil Baron’s Club” warms my heart. CBS Dallas had a rich cast of recurring supporting characters. And I’m not only talking about people like Jordan Lee, William Smithers, etc… I’m also referring to places like the Oil Baron’s Club (or the Cattleman’s Club before it), the Southfork dinner table, Cliff’s office, etc… TNT Dallas never took the time to develope such a rich cast of locations.

  2. So happy to see the critiques return!! At one point I was in sync with your reviews but now I am on Season 11.

  3. I have laughed and commented frequently on Dallas characters’ penchants for calling each other or seeing each other in public by accident saying they “have to talk”, only to set up a meeting later when they could just as easily talk about it at that moment.
    Glad I’m not the only one who gets a kick out of it!!

  4. Chris I find it rather sad & yet poignant that u r talking about both the beginning & the end of another Christopher’s life journey in this post! Very well done indeed sir! Also with William H. Cosby charged with molesting women in the present day, I think what ol’ J.R. did to Edgar is masterful & he should have exposed him! I can’t forgive that kind of crap, ever!

  5. Classic episode. J.R. always knows what to say. Like “I wouldn’t give you the dust off my car” to Walt Driscoll in jail from another episode. Remember? Just memorable stuff for sure.

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