Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 161 — ‘End Game’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, End Game, Patrick Duffy

Best shot

The “End Game” cliffhanger is still powerful, especially when you watch the entire episode. In scene after scene, we’re led to believe everyone is gunning for J.R., just like they were four years earlier. The momentum builds until the final moments, when an unseen figure steps off the Ewing Oil elevator, enters J.R.’s office and fires three shots into the back of his chair. The feeling of shock that once accompanied the sight of Bobby slumping to the floor has long since faded, but it’s been replaced with something more satisfying — an appreciation for how much care the producers put into crafting “Dallas’s” grandest fake-out.

It’s also worth revisiting “End Game” to be reminded of how many iconic moments it contains. Two showcase Larry Hagman at his gleeful best. In one, J.R. cracks wise when Katherine glares at him after storming out of Bobby’s office (“You know, she has a nasty temper”). Later, J.R. shows up at Barnes-Wentworth and reveals he engineered Cliff’s spectacular offshore drilling implosion. Hagman delivers a string of classic one-liners, including “You needed slapping down, Cliff” and “Tomorrow morning, the janitor’s going to come in here and sweep you out with the rest of the trash. Unless, of course, you do the honorable thing, get in the elevator, go up to the roof and jump off, huh?” (Bless Ken Kercheval, who manages to make the audience feel sorry for Cliff, even as we bask in J.R.’s triumph.)

Hagman’s other great scene displays J.R.’s darker side. He sits with Sue Ellen and Peter at the Oil Baron’s Club and calmly reveals he arranged Peter’s arrest on drug charges after finding out about Sue Ellen’s affair with the young man. When J.R. offers to keep Peter out of jail if Sue Ellen resumes her wifely duties, Peter drops his “Mr. and Mrs. Ewing” act and exclaims, “Don’t do it, Sue Ellen!” J.R.’s response — “So now it’s ‘Sue Ellen’? — reminds us that for once, he’s the spouse who’s been deceived. It’s also striking how Hagman and Linda Gray never take their eyes off each other in this scene. Make no mistake: This is a showdown between J.R. and Sue Ellen; Peter is nothing more than a pawn to them.

“End Game” also offers a mercifully speedy resolution to the Miss Ellie kidnapping subplot, although I’ll never understand why the producers didn’t leave Jessica on the lam through the end of the season. She would have made a fine suspect in the “who shot Bobby?” mystery, no? Also, after everything Jessica put Ellie and Clayton through, it would have been nice to finally see the couple’s long-delayed wedding, but maybe the shot of J.R. and Bobby preparing to walk Ellie down the aisle is all we need. Just think: This is Ellie’s last appearance until Donna Reed takes over the role, so if Barbara Bel Geddes hadn’t eventually returned to “Dallas,” this would have been our farewell to the beloved actress.

“End Game” does mark the final appearances of Christopher Atkins as Peter and Barry Corbin as Sheriff Washburn. The episode also boasts its share of oddities, including the reflection of a crewmember in a glass panel in the Ewing Oil reception area (you’ll spot him at 47-minute, 32-second mark), and a somewhat unusual scene in which Pam tells little Christopher about the mess she’s made of her life. “You don’t understand any of this, do you?” she asks. Gazing up at her, he whispers, “No.” My friend at Hill Place Blog is convinced Eric Farlow ad-libbed this line; the child is so caught up in Victoria Principal’s performance, he speaks from the heart. It’s a sweetly honest moment on a show that could have used more of them this season.

The episode’s other unexpected moment comes a little earlier, when Sue Ellen and Pam are having a heart-to-heart in the Southfork living room. Seeing how depressed her friend is, Sue Ellen offers to take Pam to a movie to cheer her up but says she wants to go upstairs and change first. In the next scene, Sue Ellen returns to the living room dressed to the nines — she’s ditched her perfectly acceptable sweater and slacks for a runway-ready flowing dress, complete with a turban. It’s one of the most epic costume changes in “Dallas” history, and it leaves me wondering: What’s a bigger tragedy in “End Game” — Bobby’s shooting or the notion that Sue Ellen would wear such a gorgeous outfit to a dark theater where no one could see it?

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, End Game, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Turban legend

‘END GAME’

Season 7, Episode 30

Airdate: May 18, 1984

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

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Miss Ellie is rescued and returns to Southfork, where she marries Clayton while Jessica is put in a sanitarium. Pam takes Christopher and leaves town after finding out about Bobby and Jenna’s engagement. Bobby once again rejects Katherine. J.R. reveals he set up Cliff, who goes on a bender and misses the news that his offshore oil wells finally came in. J.R. also reveals he set up Peter, forcing Sue Ellen to return to their bedroom in exchange for keeping her ex-lover from going to jail. An unseen assailant enters Ewing Oil and fires three shots into J.R.’s chair, where Bobby is seated.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Billy Green Bush (Deputy Rockwell), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Barry Corbin (Sheriff Fenton Washburn), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Bill Morey (Leo Wakefield), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Gene Ross (Bull Dawson), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Alexis Smith (Lady Jessica Montfort), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), John Zarema (Dr. Harlan Danvers)

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

Comments

  1. An awesome episode and cliffhanger (if you excuse the pun) but just one thing I can’t believe – wouldn’t Miss Ellie have suffocated in the trunk of Jessica’s car – especially as she was gagged? (Obviously I’m glad she didn’t – just saying.)

    Anyway Chris, look forward to you roundup of this mostly excellent, but occasionally silly, Season 7 and on to the mostly silly, but occasionally excellent, Season 8!

  2. I never thought about Ellie suffocating in the car but the one think I couldn’t believe is that she was ASLEEP when they opened the boot. Clayton had just been yelling down a megaphone seconds earlier! But of course the writers wanted to make us think she might be dead.

    By the end of the episode it was as though those scenes were another episode – so much occurred in the third act that it was like a different show. As for the cliffhanger I was as shocked as heck when it was Bobby. In fact I would go as far to say that it was the best of all Dallas cliffhangers for shock value BECAUSE I completely didn’t know about it and 100% expected it to be JR.

    Naturally Bobby in the shower would have beaten it for shock value but the widespread reporting of his return to the show meant the gloss was taken off that one a bit. Would have been great if it had been totally secret.

    In all Bobby getting shot was a great cliffhanger to a great season of a great show.

  3. 2 points of utterly irrelevant trivia from the UK – the CBS Drama channel have shown this episode on the very day you reviewed it and in 3 months time we will be having a General Election in which the Labour leader and hopefully next Prime Minister is a self-confessed fan of Dallas!

    • This is very relevant, Paul. That’s quite a coincidence about CBS Drama. As far as your election: Does anyone know where Cameron stands on “Dallas”? This could help decide the race!

  4. I remember when I watch the end of the episode at the time it aired my mother and I screamed when we saw Bobby fell out of the chair. We were shocked that it was him and not JR. Also the scene with Pam talking to Christopher and him looking at her was so sweet and cute, loved it . Ken Kercheval was great in his scenes with Afton as the angry and distraught Cliff yelling about how JR has beaten him again and that he cannot have a relationship or a life for that matter as long as JR is on the planet. There are some silly and off moments in Season 7, but for me the best was that Mark was gone never to return!!

  5. Michael says:

    Excellent piece on one of my all time favourite cliffhangers (this and Ewing-Gate remain my favourites of the entire series run for, if nothing else, how well they maintained the tension) but I must comment on one thing: I don’t remember JR, when he lets Peter and Sue Ellen know he’s been playing them, ever saying “So now its Sue Ellen?”

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