“Barbecue Five” ranks among “Dallas’s” best barbecue episodes because it delivers almost everything we expect from a Ewing hoedown. There’s a fight, a dunking in the Southfork swimming pool and a dramatic revelation, along with crowds of people dancing, drinking and sweltering under the Texas sun. The only thing missing is a scene of two characters sneaking off to the barn for a romantic interlude, although we do get to see Jeremy Wendell wearing a cowboy hat. That alone is worth the price of admission, as far as I’m concerned.
This episode is probably best remembered for the clash between Jamie Ewing and Marilee Stone. “Dallas” doesn’t do a lot of catfights, so when these scenes occur, they almost always feel justified. (The best examples: Pam striking Katherine and Donna socking Bonnie, the barfly who slept with Ray.) In this instance, Jamie spots Marilee pawing J.R. and confronts her. Insults are exchanged, and then Marilee slaps Jamie, who retaliates by pushing Marilee into the pool. This is the first time I find myself cheering for Jenilee Harrison, whose character I’ve found hard to embrace, although I also admire how Fern Fitzgerald plays the obnoxious, overbearing Marilee to the hilt. Of course, both actresses end up being upstaged by Larry Hagman, who delivers one of the immortal “Dallas” lines when J.R. reaches into the pool to retrieve Marilee and asks, “You all right honey? Did it go up your nose?” Why do I get the feeling Hagman is ad-libbing here?
It’s also fun to see how smoothly each scene flows into the next. An example: Lucy and Eddie are dancing, and as they move out of camera range, J.R. and Sue Ellen enter the frame. We listen to their conversation for a few moments, and then J.R. nods to Bobby and Jenna, and the focus shifts to them. It’s all seamless, with one exception: a shot of Ray and Donna kissing becomes a scene in which Sue Ellen, J.R. and Jeremy talk shop while strolling through the crowd — except when Steve Kanaly and Susan Howard lock lips, you can see Hagman, Linda Gray and William Smithers in the distance, waiting for their cue to begin walking and talking. This is a minor oversight, of course, and I don’t mind it in the least because it makes me appreciate how artfully director Gwen Arner orchestrates all the other transitions.
Like other barbecue episodes, “Barbecue Five” was filmed in the summer, which means the actors are forced to sweat through uncomfortable looking western-flavored costumes. Most of the women wear long dresses and cowgirl boots, while Hagman and Howard Keel each don sport coats and scarves. Also, notice how the back of Fredric Lehne’s shirt is soaked with perspiration when Eddie spins Lucy on the dance floor. Another tradition honored here: the dramatic, episode-ending revelation. Past barbecues have concluded with the news that Jock’s helicopter crashed and that Miss Ellie and Clayton have become engaged, while “Barbecue Five” ends with Jamie’s announcement that she’s entitled to a share of Ewing Oil. This signals the birth of one of “Dallas’s” most tiresome tropes during its later years, when the focus of the business storylines shifts from making deals to a never-ending game of musical owners.
“Barbecue Five” also gives us the memorable scene where J.R. and Mandy continue their cat-and-mouse flirtation while dining in a private box at Texas Stadium. Both characters are spying on each other — J.R. wants dirt on Cliff, while Mandy wants intelligence that she can report back to him — but their ulterior motives are slowly being overtaken by their mutual attraction to each other. We also learn a lot about Mandy here. She tells J.R., “I’ve always known I was beautiful,” yet the line makes the character seem more confident than conceited. A lot of that has to do with Deborah Shelton, who is so stunning, there’s no point in having her character pretend otherwise.
Other “Barbecue Five” highlights include Jeremy’s annoyance when Cliff crashes his private lunch (Ken Kercheval’s scenes with Smithers are almost as golden as the Hagman/Kercheval pairings), as well as Naldo’s dinner with Jenna and Charlie. Any appearance by Naldo usually elicits an eye roll from me, but I’ll be darned if I don’t find him kind of charming as he tells Charlie about idolizing Tom Mix during his boyhood in Italy. Meanwhile, with her exotic white-streaked hair, character actress Ronnie Claire Edwards is perfectly cast as Lydia, the psychic Pam consults in her quest to find Mark. I also like how Lydia tells Pam that a “tall,” “athletic” and “handsome” man will be coming back into her life. Gee, I wonder who she’s describing? Something tells me it isn’t Mr. Graison.
I also love “Barbecue Five’s” opening, when Sue Ellen brings Jamie to Ewing Oil for her first day of work as the receptionist. It’s routine now, but everything about this scene — Kendall teaching Jamie how to use the switchboard, Sue Ellen promising to return in the afternoon to take Jamie to lunch — seemed so glamorous when I watched this episode as a kid. How I wished I could work alongside J.R. and Bobby at Ewing Oil too!
Truth be told, I still do.
Season 8, Episode 11
Airdate: December 7, 1984
Audience: 21 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings
Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis
Director: Gwen Arner
Synopsis: J.R. woos Mandy. Naldo charms Charlie. Pam visits a psychic, hoping for clues about Mark’s death. Miss Ellie is upset when Clayton decides to continue commuting to Houston. Jamie begins working as a receptionist at Ewing Oil, and after J.R. angers her at the Ewing Barbecue, she shows the family a document that claims her father owned a piece of the company.
Cast: Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Ronnie Claire Edwards (Lydia), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), 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), 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), Marina Rice (Angela), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)