I want to like Jamie Ewing. Really, I do. She arrives at Southfork at the end of the eighth-season episode “Jamie,” but we don’t get to know her until the following installment, “Family.” The character has a lot of potential: She’s a fresh face when the show badly needs one, and the fact that she’s a long-lost Ewing cousin from the wrong side of the tracks makes her a natural adversary for J.R., something this show can never have enough of. Nevertheless, Jamie’s debut falls flat. It’s another example of how middling “Dallas’s” middle years can be.
With Jamie, the producers seem to be trying to recapture the J.R.-vs.-Pam dynamic from the show’s earliest seasons. “Family” even includes a scene where J.R. offers Jamie a bribe to leave Southfork, just like he did with Pam in “Digger’s Daughter.” But unlike Pam, who felt like a real threat to J.R., Jamie comes off more like a nuisance. Much of this has to do with Jenilee Harrison, who is a fine actress but who lacks Victoria Principal’s spark. Consider the “Family” dinner scene where J.R. tests Jamie’s self-proclaimed knowledge of the oil industry. Sure, she aces his quiz, but there’s no joy in Harrison’s performance. Imagine how much fun this scene would have been if it had been about Pam outsmarting J.R.
I’m also no fan of how “Dallas” brings Jamie into the fold by making her the daughter of Jock’s dead brother Jason. So Jock Ewing has an estranged sibling, huh? You’d think this fact might have come up when Jock was alive and trying to get his sons to get along. On the other hand, I like how Sue Ellen immediately embraces Jamie — not to annoy J.R., but because the newcomer fills a void in Sue Ellen’s life. The instant friendship between the two women demonstrates how much Linda Gray’s character has grown since “Dallas’s” early days, when Sue Ellen went out of her way to make Pam feel unwelcomed. By the end of “Family,” Sue Ellen has even taken Jamie out and bought her a new wardrobe. I only wish the shopping spree occurred on camera.
This episode is a mixed bag for the other “Dallas” characters too. I continue to be charmed by Mandy Winger, who seems much savvier when paired with Cliff than she does later with J.R. In this episode’s best twist, Jeremy Wendell — making a welcome return to “Dallas” after three-season absence — runs into Mandy, who gets him to open up about what he really thinks of Cliff. Uh-oh, is Mandy pumping Jeremy for information so she can betray Cliff? Nah. After Jeremy leaves, Cliff steps out of the shadows to congratulate Mandy on playing Jeremy like a fiddle. It’s another example of how much smarter Cliff has become, although if you prefer the self-absorbed, self-destructive Cliff, don’t worry, he’s still around. Witness the “Family” scene where he meets Sly outside the Ewing Oil building and asks her to spy on J.R. again. Cliff never really learns his lesson, does he? (By the way: I love how director Leonard Katzman shoots Debbie Rennard on a dramatic angle as she exits the building for this scene.)
Elsewhere, Lucy waits on a rowdy table at the diner — and of course handsome construction worker Eddie Cronin comes to her rescue. Wouldn’t it have been nice to see her resolve this problem on her own? Likewise, I’m tempted to deride Jeremy’s sexism when he orders for Pam at lunch, except the point of the scene is to show how Jeremy must control every situation in which he finds himself. If he were dining with Cliff instead of Pam, he probably would have ordered for him too. This scene also allows Principal to show off her on-camera eating skills. Notice how effortlessly she slides that forkful of Crab Louie into her mouth, in contrast to William Smithers, who seems to struggle with his bite before the camera cuts away.
The other reason I’m relieved to see Jeremy show up is because it means he’ll soon be at war with J.R., who hasn’t had enough to do in recent episodes. Think about it: Here we are in the eighth season’s fifth hour, and the biggest deal we’ve seen is Donna’s purchase of a small oil company. I have to wonder: Where’s the wheeling? Where’s the dealing? This is “Dallas,” right?
Season 8, Episode 5
Airdate: October 26, 1984
Audience: 20.9 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings
Writer and Director: Leonard Katzman
Synopsis: Sue Ellen insists Jamie stay at Southfork and buys her a new wardrobe, but J.R. refuses to make her feel welcomed. Cliff is suspicious when Jeremy offers to buy Barnes-Wentworth and offers him a seat on Westar’s board of directors. Cliff asks Sly if J.R. and Wendell are working together. Lucy’s co-worker Betty warns her to stay away from her boyfriend, construction worker Eddie Cronin. Pam is rattled when she spots someone driving Mark’s car.
Cast: Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Shanette Eckols (Lydia), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Christopher Stone (Dave Stratton), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Kathleen York (Betty)