On “Dallas,” children are seen and heard. The series often involves its youngest characters in major storylines, unlike other 1980s prime-time soap operas where kids are treated as little more than props. (Does Krystina Carrington ever do anything other than smile sweetly at Mommy and Daddy?) Of course, even when “Dallas” puts kids front and center, it’s usually to tell us something about the adults on the show. Lucy’s skipping school allows Pam to assert her authority in the Ewing family, Bobby’s friendship with Luke Middens illustrates the emptiness of his childless marriage, John Ross’s kidnapping brings J.R. and Sue Ellen closer.
“Charlie” continues this tradition. This episode takes its title from Jenna Wade’s pubescent daughter, who runs away from home after learning Naldo Marchetta, her long-lost father, has come to town and wants to meet her. (Ignore the fact that Jenna sent the girl to visit Naldo during the third season.) Even though Charlie sets the plot in motion, this story is about Bobby and Jenna. Everything is told from their point of view, from Jenna’s frantic call to Bobby when she realizes Charlie is missing to the resolution, when the couple finds the girl and lovingly assures her they’ll always be a family. It’s also worth noting how director Michael Preece arranges the actors in the latter scene. He films Patrick Duffy and Priscilla Beaulieu Presley at eye level, while Shalane McCall is shot from above — the way most adults see children.
Some “Dallas” fans like to complain about McCall’s performance in “Charlie” and other episodes from the eighth season. It’s true that the older this actress gets, the whinier her delivery becomes. Nevertheless, I think everyone should cut her some slack. Remember: McCall was only 11 years old when this episode was filmed. She’s just a kid, and this is the most demanding material she’s been given since she arrived on “Dallas” a year earlier. Besides, a lot of real-life children are whiny around this age. Why should Charlie be any different?
There’s also this: Charlie, as much as she annoys some fans, isn’t as insufferable as Lucy, who has yet to fully mature. In this episode’s weirdest scene, Clayton runs into Charlene Tilton’s character and suggests she should spend more time with Miss Ellie. Lucy snaps, reminding Clayton that he isn’t her grandfather and has no right to tell her what to do. Clayton’s response: “You’re right. I’m not your grandfather, but I am your elder — and you’ll damn well talk to me with respect. Now I don’t like your manner or your tone of voice, and if you think I won’t turn you over my knee and paddle you, you’re very wrong!” I suppose the point here is to remind the audience of Clayton’s mettle, but hearing him threaten to spank a grown woman is a strange way to make this point, no matter how bratty Lucy behaves. Did this scene make audiences as uncomfortable in 1984 as it does today?
Clayton and Lucy’s confrontation ends with Preece pulling back the camera to reveal Miss Ellie eavesdropping. No shock there — someone always is lurking around the corners of Southfork — although the pink floral-print blouse and striped skirt worn by Donna Reed does catch me off guard. This is the most un-Ellie outfit Reed has worn yet since taking over the role from Barbara Bel Geddes. Reed looks beautiful, but the character’s newly stylish wardrobe takes some getting used to. As readers on this site have wondered: If the producers had dressed Reed a little more plainly and softened her hair, might fans have accepted her more readily?
Mama isn’t the only person who’s changed lately. Notice how I haven’t mentioned J.R.? That’s because Larry Hagman’s character doesn’t have much to do in “Charlie.” Somewhat shockingly, the season is now one-third over and no major business storyline has been introduced. At this point last season, J.R. was figuring out Sly was spying on him for Cliff, and two years before that, the contest for control of the family empire was well underway. After this episode, “Dallas” will begin the storyline in which Jamie and Cliff join forces to claim partial ownership in Ewing Oil, a legal fight that’s not nearly as much fun as the past stories about corporate warfare.
At least J.R. finally introduces himself to Mandy Winger in this episode. I guess if we’re not going to see him wheel and deal, we’ll have to make do with watching him cat around.
Season 8, Episode 10
Airdate: November 30, 1984
Audience: 22 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings
Writer: Leonard Katzman
Director: Michael Preece
Synopsis: Bobby and Jenna help Charlie cope when she learns Naldo is her father. J.R. asks Mandy out for drinks. Pam’s salvage company recovers Mark’s cockpit, along with evidence he wasn’t in the plane when it crashed. Eddie sleeps with Lucy and reveals he knows that she’s a Ewing.
Cast: Michael Alldredge (Steve Jackson), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Daniel Pilon (Renaldo Marchetta), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)