Bobby springs Jenna from jail in “Bail Out,” while Sue Ellen liberates her own tongue. After discovering J.R. has cheated on her yet again, she stops playing the dutiful wife and begins speaking her mind, even if it means telling loved ones things they don’t want to hear. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Sue Ellen assume the role of Southfork’s resident truth-teller, although when it’s happened in the past, it’s usually because she’s been drinking. Our heroine is sober in “Bail Out,” making this episode another early glimpse of the independent, wiser character she’ll become in “Dallas’s” later years.
In the first act, Sue Ellen wakes up — a metaphor, perhaps — and has coffee with Miss Ellie in the dining room. When the conversation turns to Jamie’s efforts to split up Ewing Oil, Ellie is surprised to hear Sue Ellen hopes Jamie succeeds. “We have to keep what is ours. That company means everything to this family,” Ellie says. Sue Ellen gently points out Ellie’s hypocrisy, reminding the Ewing matriarch she once tried to force the sale of the business to keep J.R. and Bobby from fighting over it. Ellie defends herself, saying this situation is different because her sons are no longer at each other’s throats. She also urges Sue Ellen to think of John Ross, who’s poised to run the company someday. Sue Ellen’s response: “I know. That used to matter to me very much. Maybe he’d be better off without it.”
Did you ever think you’d hear Sue Ellen Ewing say such a thing? After all, this is the woman who spent “Dallas’s” earliest episodes in a virtual race with Pam to bear the Ewings’ first grandson. Now she’s admitting what’s she’s known for some time: being a Ewing wife and mother isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sue Ellen’s newly brutal honesty is also on display later in the episode, when she warns Jenna about the Ewings’ looming war with Jamie. Sue Ellen predicts the battle will cause Bobby to revert to the cutthroat tactics he used during the contest for Ewing Oil. “Wait and see,” she says. “The Ewing boys are alike in certain ways. I found it out, and so did Pam.”
You may not like everything Sue Ellen has to say in “Bail Out,” but you have to admire “Dallas’s” willingness to allow the character to change. You also have to admire Linda Gray’s ability to make Sue Ellen’s evolution so believable. In the scene with Donna Reed, Gray’s delivery is beautifully heartfelt. (It helps that the conversation takes place right after Sue Ellen awakens, so Gray gets to perform with little makeup and her hair a little messy. It’s Sue Ellen, unvarnished.) Gray also is impressive in her scene with Priscilla Beaulieu Presley. It would have been easy to bring an air of classic Sue Ellen bitchiness to this exchange, but Gray takes a different approach. She treats her character’s speech as a helpful warning, not a hurtful threat.
The other standout performer in “Bail Out” is Victoria Principal, who is fantastic in the episode-ending scene where pilot Gerald Kane visits Pam and confesses he lied about flying Mark Graison to the Caribbean to seek a cure for his disease. This tightly written, three-minute exchange requires Principal to exhibit a range of emotions — shock, anger, disgust — and she hits each one with precision. (Future Oscar winner James Cromwell is also quite good, making Kane’s guilt and shame palpable.) The best moment comes when Pam demands to know who paid Kane to lie to her. “No one has any reason to do something like that to me,” she says, but of course she must know in her heart who’s responsible. When Kane tells her the culprit is J.R. Ewing, Pam strikes him and repeats the name: “J.R. Ewing?!” It’s a testament to director Michael Preece that this doesn’t come off as a campy soap opera slap. Instead, it feels genuinely reflexive, as if Pam can’t help lashing out.
Speaking of J.R.: He finally seduces Mandy in this episode, luring her to a high-rise hotel suite under the ruse that she’s visiting something called “Club 1900.” When she arrives, she’s in no mood for his charms and angrily tosses a glassful of champagne in his face. He responds by grabbing and kissing her hard; she squirms for a few seconds but eventually melts in his arms. It’s not quite as unappetizing as the scene where J.R. forces himself on Sue Ellen in the second-season classic “Black Market Baby,” but it’s uncomfortable nonetheless. Other moments in “Bail Out” also evoke earlier storylines, including one where Ray encourages Lucy and Eddie to get soil samples before starting construction on their housing project. It’s a subtle nod to Ray’s disastrous foray into the real estate business during the fourth season. Sue Ellen and Ellie’s conversation about John Ross’s future also has echoes of Mama’s memorable speech (“Where will this all end?”) during the contest for Ewing Oil.
Homages like these have become a hallmark of “Dallas’s” eighth season. Each one feels like a treat for fans who absorb every last detail of the Ewings’ lives. You have to admire the show’s willingness to honor fans this way. Is it any wonder so many of us continue to reward “Dallas” with our loyalty?
Season 8, Episode 17
Airdate: January 25, 1985
Audience: 22.2 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings
Writer: David Paulsen
Director: Michael Preece
Synopsis: Bobby bails out Jenna and reunites her with Charlie. Sue Ellen warns Jenna about the looming battle for Ewing Oil. Cliff and Jamie gather evidence for their lawsuit. J.R. and Mandy have sex. Kane tells Pam that J.R. paid him to lead her on a wild goose chase.
Cast: Beau Billingslea (Dr. Miller), Burke Byrnes (Pete Adams), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), James Cromwell (Gerald Kane), Val De Vargas (Patrick Wolfe), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), 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), Clyde Kusatsu (Dr. Albert Matsuda), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Joe Nesnow (Judge Lanley), George O. Petrie (Harve Smithfield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Dean Santoro (Raymond Furguson), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)