“Dallas’s” third and final season was a thrill ride, even if our beloved Larry Hagman wasn’t around to take the trip with us. Here’s a look back at the highs and lows.
Josh Henderson was a revelation this year. As John Ross struggled to follow J.R.’s boot steps, he kept getting sidetracked by his own demons — and Henderson was outstanding at every turn. His performances were sometimes sly, sometimes sensitive and always superb. I was less enthralled with the other “J.R.”: Judith Ryland, a.k.a. Judith Light, who was moving during the hostage crisis but cartoonish most of the rest of the time (“Let’s go make us a drug deal.”).
Ewing Global’s rocky road to its initial public offering was a modern take on classic “Dallas” wheeling and dealing. It included the dramatic boardroom showdown where Sue Ellen voted against John Ross’s plan; John Ross and Pamela’s trip to Las Vegas, where he gambled away J.R.’s wristwatch to prove his mettle to the sheik; and finally the frenzied day of the IPO, when Hunter McKay swooped in and turned the tables on John Ross — much like Hunter’s granddaddy Carter once did to J.R. Even Wolf Blitzer showed up to report on the Ewings’ doings. The worst storyline? Nope, not the drug cartel, which ended up being better than expected, but all the silliness involving the brothel, including the eye-rolling revelation that Judith is a madam.
The achingly poignant “Hurt,” written by Aaron Allen and directed by Patrick Duffy, dared to challenge the audience to stop sentimentalizing J.R. This was an actors’ episode, beginning with the theatrical scene where Elena exposed Bobby’s scheme to frame Cliff. No whiplash-inducing plot twists here; just solid Ewing family drama. There was also a lot to like about the “Lifting the Veil” wedding episode. Unfortunately, much of it was cut to make room for those bonkers brothel scenes.
John Ross and Sue Ellen’s kitchen confrontation was the season’s emotional high point. It began with her standing at the counter, sloshing a drink, no longer denying her fall from the wagon. Into the room stormed John Ross, furious over his mother’s boardroom betrayal and still very much in denial about his addiction to power. The chills-inducing climax: He slams down his hand and screams, “I am not my father!” Maybe not, but this scene showed Henderson could light up our screens just like Hagman. Best scene runner-up: The unbearably tense moment when Ann, Harris and Judith hear Luis fire a shot after holding a gun to Emma’s head. The worst scene involved a corrupt politician, a hooker and a dog costume. Need I say more?
Sue Ellen gives a bottle of J.R. Ewing Bourbon to Governor McConaughey (Steven Weber, who was always a welcome guest on this show), but the smug jerk refuses to help her stop John Ross’s Southfork drilling scheme. Later, the guv pours from the bottle while plotting with a corrupt crony to cover up a scandal — unaware that Sue Ellen and Bobby are in a van outside, recording their conversation. How? Because Sue Ellen bugged the bottle! Oh, how I wish Linda Gray had been given more scenes like this.
Worst first: Christopher’s death. Jesse Metcalfe’s alter ego went out like a chump by protecting Elena, an increasingly exasperating character who brought Nicolas and the drug cartel into the Ewings’ lives and threatened to send Bobby to prison. (Jordana Brewster, however, was fantastic when Elena saw the car blow up.) I have no doubt Christopher’s murder would’ve opened dramatic new storylines for the show, but since we’ve been denied a fourth season, I can’t help but feel like a “Dallas” legacy character was killed off for no good reason. The best cliffhanger: The doomed three-way between John Ross, Pamela and Emma was sexy and provocative, although the resolution — learning Pamela overdosed to teach her cheating husband and his mistress a lesson — was bananas.
Mitch Pileggi has always been one of “Dallas’s” best actors, but his performances this year were more complex than ever. Was Harris really working for the CIA, or was he merely out to get Judith? Did he mean it when he told Ann he loved her, or was he just messing with her head? Pileggi kept us guessing all season long — just like a certain Machiavellian character from an earlier era of “Dallas.” Runner-up: Emma Bell’s Emma, who had me throwing things at my TV one moment and reaching for the Kleenex the next.
Here we have an embarrassment of riches. I loved Antonio Jaramillo, who was frightening and fascinating as cartel general Luis; Kevin Page, who turned sweet-natured Bum into John Ross’s unlikely conscience; and Donny Boaz, who made down-on-his-luck ranch hand Bo McCabe the closest thing this show had to a modern version of Ray Krebbs. But no performance touched me like Marlene Forte, who was heartbreaking in “Dead Reckoning,” the haunting episode in which Carmen learned Drew was dead. Honorable mention: Cynthia Jackson, who played Nurse Harlan, the no-nonsense nightingale who tangled with John Ross in the hospital (“Plant your ass over there in those seats before I plant it for you”).
Juan Pablo Di Pace was sinister and seductive as Nicolas Treviño, who changed the Ewings’ lives forever the day he waltzed into their boardroom and declared himself Cliff’s proxy. Now that he has Christopher’s blood on his hands, Nicolas will be remembered as the Ewings’ most dangerous foe since Katherine ran over Bobby. Honorable mention: AnnaLynne McCord, whose Heather McCabe — a working-class single mom who wanted to do right by her son — was refreshingly free of secret identities and hidden agendas.
Two “Dallas” vets earn a spot in the “best” column: Audrey Landers, who was a hoot when Afton showed up at John Ross and Pamela’s wedding, smacked the groom upside his head and sparred with Sue Ellen; and Ken Kercheval, who was downright tragic in the scene where Pamela refused to get Cliff out of jail. You could always count on Landers and Kercheval to make the most of their “Dallas” guest spots; what a shame they never had a scene together. My other old favorite: the return of “Dallas’s” retro-style split-screen opening credits. What took so long?
Highlighting just one of costume designer Rachel Sage Kunin’s creations is tough, but if forced to choose, I’ll go with Pamela’s black-and-white dress, which looked striking on Julie Gonazalo. The dress also highlighted the link between Pamela and Sue Ellen, who wore a lot of black and white on the original show. No costume deserves a spot in the “worst” column, although now that I know how much effort went into choosing the jewelry for J.R.’s daughter’s debut, I sure wish that scene hadn’t been left on the cutting room floor.
Johnny Cash returned to “Dallas” for the first time since Season 1 with his cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” which played during the powerful sequence where Bobby destroys his den after J.R.’s masterpiece unravels. Can you watch this scene without getting chills? Other highlights: Ed Sheeran’s “Kiss Me,” which was heard when John Ross and Pamela were making love on their honeymoon while lonely Emma was crying herself to sleep; The Doors’ “Break On Through,” an ideal choice for the diaphragm puncturing/threeway/Southfork fire montage; and Eric Church’s “Devil, Devil,” the song that played when Nicolas’s henchman killed Luis and El Pozolero. And who didn’t love Henderson’s “I See You” during John Ross’s breakdown in the elevator during the season finale?
Best: The J.R. Ewing Bourbon bottles, which popped up throughout the season, including the last scene, when John Ross toasts his dearly departed daddy in the back of the limousine. I also got a kick out of seeing Henderson sport replicas of some of Hagman’s signature accessories, even if it looked like that J.R. belt buckle was wearing John Ross instead of the other way around. My least favorite prop: Candace’s severed hands. Good grief. Were those things purchased in the Halloween aisle at Kmart?
It’s always tough to choose a favorite in this category, and this year is no exception. Contenders include Judith’s J.R.-like analogy (“Money and morality are like two cars on a one-lane road. When they meet, morality’s going to end up in the ditch.”), John Ross’s apt description of his family (“We’re slow, but we do figure things out.”), and Sue Ellen’s memorable put-down of a longtime rival (“Just so you know, Afton, the most despicable thing J.R. ever did was you.”). But nothing tops Miss Texas’s memorable schooling of Emma at the wedding: “Has anyone ever told you about my sister Kristin? She was a lot like you. She ended up face down in the pool.” It’s a shame this line was cut from the episode, but at least TNT had the good sense to turn it into a promo.
If you didn’t watch “Dallas” while simultaneously tweeting about it, you missed half the fun. The year in hashtags: #Aftershave #BeachBoys #BeMyProxyNicolas #CafeConLechePorFavor #DefineTheRelationship #GoFrackYourself #GoodBlackmailNeverSours #GraspingSuccubus #IceBreakingShips #JusticeNotRevenge #LesserPrairieChicken #MamaLike #MillerLight #MobyDick #Mole #Pozole #SeismicSuperstar #Sprinkles #StupidPills #Supermajority #SurfaceRights #WhoWoreItBetter #WhichEwingDies #YouSmellLikeMyWife #RenewDallasTNT #SaveDallas #DallasForever
What do you love and loathe about the third season of TNT’s “Dallas”? Share your comments below and read more “Best & Worst” reviews.