“Do You Take This Woman?” marks the moment “Dallas” turns into a Lifetime movie. The hour begins with Jenna Wade happily planning to marry Bobby, but by the time the closing credits roll, her daughter has been kidnapped and Jenna has been forced to leave her fiancé stranded at the altar. In the episodes that follow, Jenna is held against her will, almost raped, accused of murder, found guilty, imprisoned and finally freed, only to watch Bobby “die” in the eighth-season finale. The only calamities missing are a nervous breakdown and an unwanted pregnancy, but fear not. Jenna will get to those eventually.
I know, I know. I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s also not fair to criticize the entire show based on Jenna’s storyline. But the fact is, this is the point during “Dallas’s” run that I’ve been dreading. Priscilla Beaulieu Presley is a fine actress, but I’m no fan of the weepy, woeful turn her character takes in this episode. Like Pam’s drawn-out search for Mark Graison, the “Perils of Jenna” story arc feels like “Dallas” is merely killing time until Bobby and Pam’s long-awaited reunion at the end of the season. It’s one reason I’ve been publishing twice-weekly critiques from this era of “Dallas.” I want to get the damn thing over with as quickly as possible.
Although there isn’t a lot in “Do You Take This Woman?” to get excited about overall, the fourth act isn’t without merit. Presley does a nice job in the scene where Jenna talks on the phone to one of Charlie’s friends and realizes her ex-husband, the villainous Naldo Marchetta, has kidnapped their daughter. Frantic Jenna drops everything and flees the house, only to run into Naldo. “Our daughter is quite safe. You have nothing to worry about,” he says. I also like when Bobby receives a mysterious phone call and dashes out of Southfork with J.R. close behind. The overhead shot of the brothers tearing away in Bobby’s convertible is cool, although I’m more impressed with the deeper meaning of this moment, which reminds us how the Ewing boys always have each other’s backs.
In a similar vein, “Do You Take This Woman?” contains another good scene that underscores Cliff and Pam’s sibling bond. He stomps into her house as only he can, ranting about Pam’s full-page newspaper advertisement offering a reward for information about Mark’s disappearance. Cliff doesn’t want to have to put extra people on the Barnes-Wentworth switchboard to field calls from the “crackpots” who are bound to respond to the ad, but he’s also frustrated with Pam’s obsessive search for her deceased fiancé. “Mark is dead. You have to face that,” he says. Pam walks away in tears, and then Mandy points out that Pam is already on edge because it’s Bobby and Jenna’s wedding day. Ken Kercheval’s response is masterful: In a matter of seconds, Cliff’s face registers anger, surprise and finally regret. Under all that bluster, this character really does love and care about his sister.
Speaking of bombast: “Do You Take This Woman?” opens with J.R. calmly assuring Jeremy Wendell that Jamie’s claims about Ewing Oil’s ownership are merely a prank, and then J.R. reveals his true feelings during a family meeting in the Southfork living room. Larry Hagman manages to make J.R.’s ravings amusing without sacrificing the character’s dignity. By the way: I don’t blame J.R. for being suspicious of Jamie. She possesses a document that might give her a piece of a multibillion-dollar corporation, yet she has no intention of claiming her share? This stretches credibility, even by eighth-season “Dallas” standards. And while we’re on the subject of Jamie: It’s nice that Sue Ellen has befriended her, but is serving as a supporting player in Jamie’s drama the best use of Linda Gray’s talents? Why doesn’t she have a meaningful storyline of her own?
“Do You Take This Woman?” also is notable because it includes both a barbecue and a wedding. It’s somewhat odd to think the Ewings would hold back-to-back bashes, but I suspect the producers saved money by staging the events over successive episodes. The extras who appear at the barbecue probably hung around to film the wedding scenes. (The show does something similar during the sixth season, when the Ewing Barbecue arrives on the heels of J.R. and Sue Ellen’s second wedding.) And even though the bride doesn’t show up for this ceremony, it’s by no means a waste: This episode’s establishing shot of a white limousine dropping off wedding guests in the Southfork driveway is used again — six years later — during Bobby and April’s nuptials in the 13th-season installment “The Southfork Wedding Jinx.”
Such prudent recycling! Who says the Ewings aren’t environmentally conscious?
‘DO YOU TAKE THIS WOMAN?’
Season 8, Episode 12
Airdate: December 14, 1984
Audience: 21.4 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings
Writer: Leonard Katzman
Director: Gwen Arner
Synopsis: While J.R. and Cliff scramble to determine if Jamie’s claims about Ewing Oil’s ownership are true, she places her document in a safe-deposit box and promises not to use it against the Ewings. Pam hires a detective to find Mark. After Naldo takes Charlie, Jenna stands up Bobby on their wedding day.
Cast: Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), 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), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Madison Mason (Jack Phipps), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Daniel Pilon (Renaldo Marchetta), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Marina Rice (Angela), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)