Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 180 — ‘Sins of the Fathers’

Dallas, Deborah Shelton, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Mandy Winger, Sins of the Fathers

Darkest before dawn

You know J.R. Ewing is having a bad week when he gets kneed in the groin and it’s the least of his problems. Such is our hero’s fate in “Sins of the Fathers.” The assault-by-patella occurs when J.R. tries to force himself upon Sue Ellen and she strikes back as only she can. He’s also rejected by Mandy, the gorgeous model who has proven immune to his charms, and then a judge freezes Ewing Oil’s assets after Cliff sues to snag a piece of the company. J.R.’s greatest indignity comes in the last scene, when his grand plan to use aging roughneck Alf Brindle to counter Cliff’s lawsuit backfires spectacularly.

Do all these misfortunes mean J.R. is losing his touch? Well, no, actually. We’ve merely arrived at the moment during a “Dallas” season when it looks like the character’s luck has finally run out. In previous years, this happened when J.R. got tossed into a Cuban jail cell, when he was forced to ask Cliff for an extension on a loan, when a state senate committee closed in on his illegal dealings overseas. In each instance, J.R. escaped harm and came out on top. There’s little doubt he’ll also recover from his setbacks in “Sins of the Fathers,” which might explain why his storyline this season feels so ho-hum. Even when this episode aired in 1985, audiences must have thought: We’ve seen this movie before. We know how it’s going to end.

Of course, “Sins of the Fathers” isn’t a rehash altogether. Consider J.R. and Sue Ellen’s fight scene, which begins with her leading him to believe she’s going to spend the night with Cliff. J.R. angrily pulls Sue Ellen into his bedroom, throws her onto the bed and begins kissing her. “I know what you like, darlin’,” he says. It’s reminiscent of two encounters from past episodes (“Black Market Baby,” “Rodeo”) — until Sue Ellen knees her husband, pushes him off of her and says, “And I know what you like — and I’m sure that wasn’t it.” I’m no fan of violence, but how can you not feel proud of Linda Gray’s character at this moment? After all these years, Sue Ellen has finally learned how to stop J.R. from taking advantage of her.

“Sins of the Fathers” scriptwriter Leonard Katzman and Larry Hagman, who directed the episode, find other ways to keep things fresh. When the Ewings track down Brindle in Galveston, J.R. and Ray go there together to speak to him. It’s the first time the half-brothers have paired up since their memorable trip to Waco during the first season. Later, the Ewings bring Brindle to Cliff’s condo to confront him, marking J.R.’s first visit there. And then there’s Jenna’s kitchen scene, which sheds new light on Priscilla Beaulieu Presley’s character. While kneading dough, Jenna recalls how she learned to bake from her father because her mother didn’t know how. “She never did teach me anything,” Jenna says, making me wonder what their relationship was like. (Perhaps this would have made a better storyline than Naldo’s yawn-inducing murder trial.)

Mostly, though, “Sins of the Fathers” is another eighth-season episode that celebrates “Dallas’s” history. During J.R. and Sue Ellen’s fight, she points out all the women he’s shared with Cliff (Julie Grey, Afton Cooper, herself). Mandy walks out on Cliff with a suitcase in her hand, just like Afton did in the season opener. To shield Ewing Oil assets from Cliff, J.R. turns again to Carl Hardesty, who helped him set up a series of dummy corporations during the sixth season. Bobby stumbles across a newspaper article about Lee Evans, the pilot who witnessed Jock’s helicopter crash during Season 5. (Since this scene never leads to a bigger storyline, I’m guessing it’s included here to promote “Who Killed Jock Ewing?”, a “Dallas” novel that was published in 1985 and features Evans as a character.)

I also appreciate “Sins of the Fathers’” attention to detail, a signature of both Katzman and Hagman. When Pam arrives at the Oil Baron’s Club for her lunch date with Bobby, notice how one of the extras cranes his neck to check out Victoria Principal as she breezes past him. Why do I get the feeling Hagman, in his role as director, instructed the extra to do this? Likewise, what are we to make of the scene where Harv shows up at the Ewing Oil offices with a piece of tissue stuck to his face and explains he was so rattled by J.R.’s call earlier that morning, he nicked himself shaving? Perhaps Katzman wrote this into the script, or maybe George O. Petrie actually cut himself on the day the episode was filmed. This also seems like the kind of thing Hagman might have come up with, just because he thought it would amuse the audience.

If that’s the case, he was right.

Grade: B


Dallas, Linda Gray, Sins of the Fathers, Sue Ellen Ewing

Don’t mess with Miss Texas


Season 8, Episode 19

Airdate: February 8, 1985

Audience: 21.2 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: A judge freezes Ewing Oil’s assets but later reverses the decision. The Ewings track down Alf Brindle, a roughneck who worked for Jock, Jason and Digger, but the man accidentally offers evidence that supports and Cliff and Jamie’s claim. Mandy leaves Cliff but refuses to see J.R. Sue Ellen mends fences with Pam, who is given fresh reason to believe Mark is still alive. Jenna worries about her trial. Lucy and Eddie break ground on their construction project.

Cast: Beau Billingslea (Dr. Miller), John Carter (Carl Hardesty), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephan Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eddie Firestone (Alf Brindle), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), 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), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Dean Santoro (Raymond Furguson), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Harvey Vernon (Judge Harding), Kathleen York (Betty)

“Sins of the Fathers” is available on DVD and at Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.


  1. As always, I enjoyed your review, Chris.
    Here’s something I’d like to point out about the scene with Alf Brindle and the Ewing brothers at Cliff’s place. I think it was fun to see Alf Brindle talk about the good old times. It may feel like a small thing to most people watching, but something that really make me go “What the…???” was in the following scene: At Cliff’s place, the old man wasn’t even offered a chair! I was actually glad Brindle asked for a drink himself, otherwise he probably wouldn’t have received even that. Cliff only offered him a drink after Brindle had said something nice about Digger. It felt really strange to me watching the old man tell his story standing the whole time. (I was not surprised the *Ewings* weren’t offered a seat – they probably would have preferred to keep standing anyway.) I don’t know if it was just clumsy writing, or if it was supposed to show Cliff’s character: Only thinking of what he wants to achieve, forgetting all about manners.

    One thing I found strange and illogical: Cliff obviously convinces Pam that he didn’t have anything to do with JR sending Pam all across the world for nothing, but then – what DID he meet JR for? We never got to see what the two of them were plotting together, but they surely plotted SOMETHING, otherwise they wouldn’t have met in that bar, would they? It seems unfair to me that Cliff appears like a totally innocent guy here. I wanted Pam to get mad as hell at him too!

    • You make an excellent point, Balena. Why didn’t anyone offer that poor man a seat?! I also agree the J.R./Cliff union has proven disappointing.

  2. J.R. Ewing I don’t think is a rapist like BIll Cosby. But he certainly forces himself on females at times, & you know what Chris, that is just unacceptable!

  3. MaryAnn says:

    I laughed when I saw Jenna in the kitchen baking and crying how pathetic and sad. Even though it shed new light when she was talking about her parents I did not care or even want to find out (no CB it would not have better hearing about her past with her mother than the Naldo crap because it would be just as boring, anything about Jenna was boring) I liked how Sue Ellen handled herself with JR , it was nice to see him be put in his place. I wished the judge did not reverse the order and let the JR sweat it out longer and It was fun to see JR’s face when Brindle pulled out the paper Digger gave him, he deserved it. Pam should have been more angry with Cliff for even deciding to meet with JR when he admitted or could not lie that he had the meeting with JR. The scene at Oil Barons between Bobby and Pam was cute even though they were arguing you can still see the love and attraction between them. .

    • Okay, okay. I guess you’re right: I really don’t want to learn more about Jenna and her mother. But what about Donna’s Aunt Minnie, who taught Donna how to bake? I’d like to learn more about her, wouldn’t you? 🙂

      • MaryAnn says:

        Yes I would have liked to hear more about Donna’s aunt and anything else about Donna. We never heard anything in depth about Donna and her family.

      • I know, right? What an oversight on the producers’ part.

  4. Chris, drawing on your vast experience and knowledge as a Dallas expert, would you say I am the only Dallas fan in the whole world who actually likes Jenna (as played by Priscilla Presley)?
    Mind you, even I would have preferred her to be still played by Morgan Fairchild. (The least said about that utterly forgettable 2nd actress who played her the better).

    • Dan in WI says:

      Like Q-Less says below I liked the debut of Priscilla’s Jenna. But I stopped liking it when her character becomes so weak and helpless in this storyline. I guess that isn’t Priscilla’s fault though. The writers gave her that character shift.
      Why couldn’t Dallas have one female character who was consistently strong? Even Miss Ellie had moments where she would fall apart or Clayton would take her on a vacation to shield her.

  5. I did like Jenna when she came on board in the shape of PBP. She was a together character, taking care of herself and her daughter just fine. Just remember her scenes in the bar she worked, brushing off obnoxious patrons and even Katherene Wentworth. Next season (this one) it just went south and never recovered. I guess they needed a professional victim and Victoria Principal and Linda Gray wouldn’t do it anymore. But very sad for Jenna.

    Chris, I appreciate you pointing out the weaknesses of this season. The things you mention illustrate that the show was aging this season already. The problems didn’t start with the dream season. The show was a little (just a little) stale already. I command the writers and producers of the dream season to try new things. They may have been off in certain areas, but they also ignited some new fires that this season here was missing. But I guess we get to that in a couple of weeks. Keep up the great reviews!!!

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