Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 159 — ‘Love Stories’

Dallas, John Beck, Love Stories, Mark Graison

Leaving his mark

I don’t remember how I felt about Mark Graison’s death when I saw “Love Stories” as a kid, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t move me now. John Beck’s character was never one of my favorites; his shameless pursuit of Pam while she was still married to Bobby was a turnoff during Mark’s earliest appearances, and then he never grew much once he got together with Pam. Mark was more plot device than person — just another detour on Romeo and Juliet’s road to reunion. Nevertheless, he receives the kind of graceful, dignified exit that eludes so many of “Dallas’s” most iconic figures. (Yes, Pam, I’m looking at you.)

Much of the power in Mark’s farewell lies in how quiet it is. At the end of the second act, Mark confronts his best friend and physician, Jerry Kenderson, about the mystery surrounding Pam’s surprise decision to marry him. “I got some questions that need answering. I think you’ve got the answers,” Mark tells Jerry. Cut to a darkened restaurant, where we find the two men sitting together as Mark absorbs the news that he’s dying. The stillness of this scene is striking: The dialogue is spare, there’s virtually no underscore and Beck and Barry Jenner deliver nicely measured performances. This could easily have been a maudlin moment, but it plays instead like something from real life — a sad conversation between two longtime friends.

We next see Mark toward the end of the episode, when he’s lying in bed with Pam. Now the tables have turned: For the first time since this storyline began, Mark has more information than his fiancée — he knows he has a terminal illness and that she’s marrying him out of obligation, if not pity. He keeps her blissfully in the dark, telling her how much he loves her, how happy she’s made him, how much he regrets the years they didn’t know each other. I would expect a scene like this to be sappy, but Beck’s delivery is so touchingly sincere, I get caught up in the moment. I can’t decide what’s sadder: Mark’s realization that he’s dying, or that his illness is the thing that finally won him the woman he loves. This is why the scene’s punctuation mark — when Mark silently slips out of the sleeping Pam’s room after giving her one last look — is so poignant. He’s not walking away so much as he’s freeing her. Finally, at the end of the episode, Pam is stunned to learn Mark’s plane has exploded, killing him. (Until he returns during the dream season, that is.)

Maybe it’s because I find Mark so heroic in this episode, but Bobby has rarely annoyed me as much as he does in “Love Stories.” His rejection of Katherine after she confesses her affair with J.R. feels unnecessarily brutal. Bobby is correct, of course, when he tells Katherine that her love for him is “sick,” but does he have to be so mean about it? J.R. hits the nail on the head later in the episode when he prefaces his advice for Bobby’s love life by pointing out his brother’s self-righteousness. “You go around telling everybody how to live their lives and setting up rules and regulations that only you can live up to,” J.R. says. This is at least the third time a “Dallas” character has made this point recently; in “Fools Rush In,” Jenna criticizes Bobby’s sanctimoniousness, while Sue Ellen suggests he’s inflexible. Will Bob ever take the hint?

There are some nice touches sprinkled throughout “Love Stories,” including another cute scene where Miss Ellie and Clayton plan their wedding, as well as a nice nod to “Dallas” history when Pam visits Cliff’s offshore oil rig and mentions how proud Digger would be of him. Mostly, though, this episode feels bogged down by storylines that are taking too long to peak. I’m especially bored with the mystery surrounding the death of Clayton’s first wife, which is being doled out to the audience in dribs and drabs. I suppose the show’s writers were hoping to raise doubts about Clayton’s innocence, but did anyone watching these episodes in 1984 believe he was guilty for even a minute?

This storyline yields one inspired moment in “Love Stories,” however. It happens when Jessica confides in J.R. by the Southfork swimming pool, telling him that Clayton inherited his wife’s trust fund after she perished in the fire at the Southern Cross. Jessica then storms off, leaving J.R. alone. Standing on the patio set, Larry Hagman slips his hands in his pockets, looks askance and stage whispers his character’s next line: “So he did torch it. Now the hell am I going to prove it?” It reminds me a little of Kevin Spacey addressing the audience on “House of Cards” — except I’ll take J.R. Ewing’s quick asides over Frank Underwood’s gimmicky fourth-wall assault any day of the week.

Grade: B

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Love Stories

Aside effect

‘LOVE STORIES’

Season 7, Episode 28

Airdate: May 4, 1984

Audience: 19.9 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: J.R. learns more details about Amy Farlow and pretends to help Peter, whom Sue Ellen bails out of jail. Jessica remains angry with Clayton for selling the Southern Cross. Jenna accepts a marriage proposal from Bobby, who rejects Katherine after she confesses her affair with J.R. When Katherine gets drunk and reveals Pam’s connection to Jerry, Mark confronts Jerry, learns he’s dying and slips out of his fiancée’s life. Pam is later shocked to learn Mark has died in a plane crash.

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), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Brad Harris (Mason), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Barry Jenner (Dr. Jerry Kenderson), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Bert Kramer (Peter’s lawyer), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Denny Miller (Max Flowers), Bill Morey (Leo Wakefield), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Alexis Smith (Lady Jessica Montfort), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Debisue Voorhees (waitress)

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

Comments

  1. I always thought they wasted the potentially interesting scenes where Pam accompanies Cliff to his Oil Rig – wouldn’t it have been better if, while they send the little lady away to have a cup of coffee while the men talk business, Pam could have discovered something was not right with the Drilling operation – after all she has by now a little bit of knowledge of the oil business, coupled with her female intuition ( not to mention all those hunky oil rig workers lowering their guard while she’s around ) it would not have been too fanciful an idea.

  2. Clayton was I think in Austin or somewhere else in Texas the night of the fire. Lady Montfort is giving Plotter J.R. the wrong info. as Clayton neither set nor planned the fire that killed Amy Farlow. That night as I said Clayton was many miles away as he explained to Sue Ellen when she 1st came to live him & Dusty there during her 1st break up with J.R.

  3. Was Bobby a bit mean when he gave Katherine her walking papers? Yes. Then again he made a couple previous attempts to let her down easy and she just didn’t take the hint. Sometimes a blunt instrument is the only one that works… And I feel no pity for Katherine because in my eyes she was evil incarnate.

    I’ll agree that Mark Graison got the dignified exit that Pam would later deserve. Again I have no pity for Mark because of the afore mentioned shameless pursuit of a married woman who at the time was only in the opening stages of a troubled marriage. He was a huge part of the wedge (second only to Katherine/JR) that tore Bobby and Pam apart. So if karma had dealt him an ugly exit I wouldn’t have complained one bit. Instead I would have pointed out it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy…

    Pam’s exit: Not everyone can have a dignified and graceful exit. Two of the best exits were Ray and Sue Ellen. Sometimes story telling needs a bad exit. Take the minor recurring character of Rebecca Wentworth for example. She needed to die the way she did for Katherine and Cliff to react the way they did. We would have had very different stories if she hadn’t died the way she had. But that was always planned. Pam’s exit was probably more after thought than plan once she announced she wanted out. Certainly the exit they gave her gave us a nice period of Bobby and Cliff peace which I personally enjoy.
    So she deserved better and I guess you can argue the storylines that came out of her death weren’t that necessary.

  4. The only thing I felt when Pam first found out that Mark was dying was glad. I never liked him and was always wishing Pam would dump him or something would happen to cause him to leave Dallas. I was so sad when he came back in Season 9 and then happy when it was declared a dream/nightmare which meant that he was really dead. His character was such a turn off to me from the beginning and when he left it was go riddance. Katherine got what she deserved and Bobby did not seem mean to me when he rejected her, besides he tried to tell her gently 1 or 2 times before and she refused to get the hint. I liked how Bobby respected Pam by refusing to get involved with his sister -in – law that is a big NO, NO in Soap life and Real life to get involved with your wife’s or ex-wife’s sister and vice versa!!!

    • I felt the same way about Mark when he arrived on the scene in Season 6, but I eventually warmed up to him. Thanks for your comments!

      • You actually warmed up to a man who went shameless after a married woman, calling her home and going to her place of business. Mark saw a weakness/trouble in a couple’s relationship and took advantage of it. He saw Pam as a great business deal and went non-stop to seal the deal, by trying making her believe that her marriage is over, not worth saving and he the arrogant ass is the one she should be with. It is only fitting that in this episode he finally realize she agreed to marry him out of obligation/pity not out of deep love. The only good and decent thing he did ever since he came on the scene was to free Pam by disappearing from her life so she can find her way back to the Pam she loves Bobby. When Mark looked back at Pam when he was leaving I did not feel sad, just wanted him to go already!!!

      • I’m guessing you were really unhappy when Mark returned!

      • Dan in WI says:

        So well said Maryann.

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