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.
‘SINS OF THE FATHERS’
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)