Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 156 — ‘Strange Alliance’

Alexis Smith, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Lady Jessica Montfort, Larry Hagman, Strange Alliance

Shall we dance?

“Dallas” is at its best when J.R. is at his worst. In “Strange Alliance,” our hero schemes against virtually everyone: Sue Ellen, whom he wants to punish for cheating on him; Bobby, whom he wants to keep from reconciling with Pam; and Cliff, whom he wants to teach a lesson for having the nerve to turn Sly into a spy against him. J.R. also begins laying the groundwork for a conspiracy with Southfork’s newest houseguest: the mysterious Lady Jessica Montfort, who wants to stop her brother Clayton’s impending marriage to Miss Ellie as much as J.R. does. Poor Mama; even she isn’t safe from J.R.’s dastardly ways.

Larry Hagman’s scenes with Alexis Smith, which bookend “Strange Alliance,” are fun for several reasons, including the fact the audience has more information than their characters. Neither J.R. nor Jessica want the Ewing/Farlow nuptials to occur, but since the duo are still getting to know each other, they’re forced to speak in polite code as they figure out the other’s true feelings. When J.R. finally gets around to suggesting Jessica believes the match isn’t “made in heaven,” she responds, “Really? What a strange idea. I’m sure I feel about it the same as you do.” To add to the sense of playfulness, Leonard Katzman’s script also makes the banter flirty, with J.R. observing that Jessica is more “attractive” and “younger” than he expected. It’s almost the flip side of Sue Ellen’s May/December relationship with Peter.

The J.R. and Jessica scenes are also entertaining because Hagman and Smith have a nice rapport, and it’s worth noting that Jessica seems much more down to earth in “Strange Alliance” than she did during her dramatic arrival in the previous episode. I suspect this has a lot to do with Hagman, who directed “Strange Alliance” and knows how to find the subtleties in larger-than-life characters. Of course, as much as I enjoy J.R. and Jessica’s delicate dance, this episode’s real highlight is Hagman’s scene with Dennis Patrick, when Vaughn arrives at Ewing Oil on a weekend to meet with J.R., who sits with his boots propped up on his desk, munching pizza and drinking beer. J.R. offers him a slice but Vaughn demurs, questioning J.R.’s gastrointestinal fortitude. Our hero puts Vaughn’s concern to rest thusly: “J.R. Ewing doesn’t get ulcers. He gives ’em.” I’m convinced the only reason Katzman set up the scene this way is so Hagman could deliver that line, which he does with pure joy.

Other “Strange Alliance” highlights include J.R. and Sue Ellen’s bickering over breakfast, when he tells her to butt out of Lucy’s love life: “It seems to me you might spend a little more time planning that party for Jessica than worrying about your bubble-headed niece.” I also like when Bobby congratulates Pam and Mark on their engagement — it’s always nice to see these characters behave like grown-ups — as well as the scene where Dr. Jerry Kenderson dines with Katherine, Pam and Mark. This is another example of the audience having more information than a character — in this case, we know Mark is dying and Pam and Katherine don’t want Jerry to tell him — and so when Mark asks Jerry why he’s been so eager to speak to him, Hagman heightens the tension by cutting to the worried expressions on Pam and Katherine’s faces. (And even though I believe Pam is wrong to withhold Mark’s diagnosis from him, am I the only one who feels relieved when Jerry bites his tongue and doesn’t tell Mark the truth?)

“Strange Alliance” also marks Denny Miller’s first appearance as Max Flowers, Cliff’s foreman at Gold Canyon 340. Coincidentally, Miller is included in another Dallas Decoder post today: my end-of-year list of the “Dallas” actors who died during the past 12 months. (Miller died in September at age 80.) There’s nothing especially remarkable about the actor’s debut, which is the point. His job is to make us believe Max is the kind of guy you might find working on an oil rig. He succeeds. It’s easy to take performances like this for granted, but we should never forget how much these small parts contributed to “Dallas’s” big, big success.

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, Denny Miller, Max Flowers, Strange Alliance

Flowers’ power

‘STRANGE ALLIANCE’

Season 7, Episode 25

Airdate: March 23, 1984

Audience: 21.8 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: As J.R. and Jessica feel out each other, she upsets Clayton by mentioning the house fire that killed his first wife. Pam persuades Dr. Kenderson to withhold Mark’s diagnosis from him and continues to plan their engagement. Bobby tells Jenna he needs time to get used to the idea Pam is moving on. After J.R. and Vaughn scheme to drive Cliff deeper into debt, the Gold Canyon 340 foreman, Max Flowers, persuades Cliff to add a second rig to the drilling site.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), James L. Brown (Detective Harry McSween), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Annie Gagen (Annie), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Barry Jenner (Dr. Jerry Kenderson), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Denny Miller (Max Flowers), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Alexis Smith (Lady Jessica Montfort), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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

Comments

  1. JR’s remark about giving ulcers instead of getting them is truly one of JR’s classic quotes. 🙂
    And it was definitely delightful to watch JR and Jessica sharing their intention to stop the wedding, making you wonder who of the two is more evil…

  2. Yes Jessica was great with Brother J.R. But remember she turned out to be a looned who had been the 1 who murdered Amy Farlow, Brother Clayton Farlow’s 1st wife. Thus causing Clayton to tear down the original Southern Cross due to the fact he had been out of town and couldn’t save Any’s life. Also, Stephen “Dusty” Farlow is Jessica Falow Montfort’s son & Clayton raised him as he knew what a nutbag that Jessica “Jesse” really was.

    A non sequiter: Dr. Jerry Kenderson would have been an ideal husband for Pamela Barnes Ewing.

  3. I liked the idea of Jessica but the writers could have done a better storyline with her. Alexis Smith was great which she stayed longer and given a better way to show her talents. What I also liked and found funny (laughing at the time first watched it) was the scene between Mark, Pam and Bobby when Bobby wished them well on their upcoming marriage. Mark looking so smug (I finally won her over) and placing his hands on her shoulders like he was telling Bobby she is mine not knowing at the time she agreed to marry him because he was dying (oh Mark you fool, she did not fall in love with you) how could she when you came, saw, lusted and pursued after a married woman who was just going through marital woes and expect her to forget about her feelings and love for her husband even after their divorce. It goes to show that Mark did not know anything about real relationships. Even JR the man who did not take his relationships too seriously or commit to them knew Bobby and Pam was still in love and not over each other, which is why he tried so hard to keep them apart.

    • Good observation about Mark placing his hands on Pam’s shoulders in that scene. I didn’t notice that. I’ll have to watch it again. Thanks!

    • Yeah i agree that Mark wanted to show Bobby that Pam was his in that scene becasue Mark may have known that even though Pam agreed to marry him she wasn’t his wife yet and thus Mark might have been worried what Pam would do if Bobby showed he wanted Pam back.Also as you point out JR knew Bobby and Pam were still in love with each other and maybe he was jealous that they had the kind of love that he didn’t have with Sue Ellen.

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