Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 178 — ‘Bail Out’

Bail Out, Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Truth to power

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?

Grade: B


Bail Out, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman



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)

“Bail Out” is available on DVD and at Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.


  1. Tony Ewing says:

    I loved this episode, or rather the ending of it (I wasn’t so much in favour of the poolside conversation between SueEllen and Jenna. I thought it was a little bitchy and if SE was so unhappy do something about it; SE liked the lifestyle of living at Southfork so why suggest life would be better without the source of the funding!) as Pam really showed a lot of emotions when Gerry Kane spilt the beans. Her anger, the slap, and the underscore were so dramatic! The next episode opens with her storming into JR’s office to confront him. (she did have time for a change of clothes beforehand though!). It was a bit of a let down that JR only phoned Kane and threatened him to leave Dallas. Normally JR would have done something more sinister to equal the scores.

    • Initially, I had a similar impression of Sue Ellen and Jenna’s conversation. After watching it again, Sue Ellen’s struck me as more compassionate than bitchy. I’m glad to hear you liked Pam’s scene. It’s great!

    • The forcing Antonio by Brother J.R. of kissing & then presumably sex with Mandy Winger kind of disgusts me a bit. It reminds me that his office sex at 1 time with Holly Harwood could be argued to be rape. Although J.R. ain’t using drugs like Dr. Cosby!

  2. Dan in WI says:

    I guess I better apologize up front here. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse but I can’t resist saying it.
    Chris is absolutely right. Dallas was among the all time best at giving the fans these little homage nuggest. To me it always felt like a reward for being a long time fan. This is something TNT just never did right. Whenever they tried they ended up getting something wrong or out and out making it up.

  3. Maryann says:

    Great critique CB as usual especially about Sue Ellen and Pam. Sue Ellen/Linda Grey in this episode was great she has earned the right to be at South Fork and also knows what it truly takes to be married to a Ewing. I hated that she was giving advice to that idiot Jenna, know I just could not see her, April, Cally or Ann (TNT Dallas) as a Ewing wife compared to Sue Ellen, Pam, Donna and Valene (they were the one and only true Ewing wives to me and will always be. Pam/VP was great too, her reaction when Kane said JR’s name was brilliant and a knee jerk reaction when she slapped him. JR has caused so much trouble and pain for her ever since Bobby brought her home as his wife. I think her initial anger and even shock is believable after all she and Bobby are now divorced and she is off “his precious Southfork” so why would JR want to hurt her??? she is thinking. Also I did not get Pam’s remark to Bobby when they ran into each other at the restaurant. She was telling him that she was so sad the day he was to marry Jenna and that she fantasied about them getting back together and he asked if that was still possible because she was going to marry Mark and she said “oh you didn’t know why” as to say about Mark dying but how was Bobby to know when only she, Katherine and later Cliff and Afton knew and also it was a kept secret, the comment did not make sense to me. When Pam said she did love Mark but in a very different way than she loved him, she should have just said it plainly I loved Mark but I was and still am in love with you which is a big difference. I was turned off with the whole JR seduction scene because I did not think DS was a good actress and did not like he and Mandy as a couple.

    • Thank you, Maryann! Good points, as always.

    • Would have been interesting to have seen April a Southfork wife!

    • I know! How did that scene with Bobby and Pam in the restaurant end the way it did. Don’t you think Bobby would have wanted a little more explaining? I love how when Bobby came in and offered to buy Pam and Jackie coffee, Jackie jumped at the chance to leave them together. You could tell Jackie wanted them together!

  4. Tony Ewing says:

    Oh Maryann, I loved Mandy Winger. I thought DS played her really well. Thing is though, if the dream season is overlooked their affair never really developed into much. Most of the time Mandy was telling him that while Sueellen was at Southfork nothing would happen between her and JR. She was very determined. I missed her when she left but loved the fact that SE manipulated the situation and that it made her a stronger person. JR was actually proud of her when she admitted what she had done.

    • Dan in WI says:

      That is a very favorite Sue Ellen scene of mine when JR expresses admiration of Sue Ellen’s new found business acumen.

  5. Elizabete says:

    Great critique, Chris.

  6. VP was smashing in her scene at the end. Very believable. Looking forward to her confrontation with JR at the start of the next one. It’s all downhill from here with Mandy.

  7. I liked how Cane came clean and that as furious as Pam was, she defended him saying he was not a nut.

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