Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 181 — ‘The Brothers Ewing’

Bobby Ewing, Brothers Ewing, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy

The dark side

In “The Brothers Ewing,” J.R., Bobby and Ray join forces to protect the family business from the increasingly dangerous Cliff Barnes. You’d think by now we’d all be used to seeing the Ewings unite against their enemies, and yet it never seems to lose its punch, does it? Consider how the events of this episode allow the brothers to play against type. While Bobby is scheming with J.R. to illegally shield Ewing Oil assets from Cliff, Ray is defending J.R. to Clayton, Donna and whoever else will listen. How can you not love a “Dallas” episode that offers surprises like these?

Of course, even though the characters act unexpectedly in “The Brothers Ewing,” they’re not necessarily acting out of character. Take Bobby, for example. His devotion to his family is one of his primary motivations, and he’s usually able to take the high road to achieve his aims. But when virtue isn’t an option, Bobby is more than willing to break the rules. We saw this when he illegally adopted Christopher to save his marriage to Pam, and we saw it again when he fought J.R. during the contest for Ewing Oil. Likewise, Ray’s actions in this episode aren’t all that unusual. This character has always been plagued by feelings of inadequacy, and so when he’s presented with an opportunity to fight alongside his half-brothers, he takes it without hesitation. For Ray, this is like getting to sit with the cool kids at lunch.

Seeing the Ewing brothers working together also is entertaining because, well, it makes these Texas billionaires seem a little more relatable, doesn’t it? Growing up, my older brother never missed an opportunity to make fun of me — but if I got picked on by another kid in the neighborhood, Rick would be the first one to come to my defense. This is common in a lot of families, which is why it’s nice to be reminded that the Ewing boys always have each other’s backs, whether it’s J.R. threatening one of Bobby’s enemies in “Fallen Idol” or Ray sticking up for J.R. in “The Brothers Ewing.” For me — and, I suspect, a lot of “Dallas” fans — scenes like these feel comfortably familiar.

Speaking of Clayton: As much as I enjoy seeing the Ewing brothers go all-for-one-and-one-for-all in this episode, I’m glad David Paulsen’s script keeps their new stepfather on the outside looking in. Howard Keel makes an effective foil in the last scene, when Clayton refuses to aid their scheme to hide Ewing Oil assets because he feels it’s morally wrong. I also like him in the first scene, when the brothers return from their visit to Cliff and admit they blew their opportunity to squash his lawsuit. Clayton tears into the boys, saying, “If you’re all going to get involved in a fight as serious as this one, then you’d better start doing your homework!” J.R. gets defensive (“Well, wonderful. That’s all we need. A lecture from Clayton Farlow”), but ask yourself: Would Jock Ewing have treated his sons any differently at this moment?

Overall, I must admit these episodes about Cliff and Jamie Ewing’s lawsuit are better than I remembered. The storyline feels like a calculated attempt to recapture the glory of J.R. and Bobby’s sixth-season contest by offering an inverse: Instead of the Ewings fighting each other, they’re fighting outsiders. The family versus Cliff and Jamie isn’t as compelling as J.R. and Bobby versus each other, but I can’t blame the show for trying. I especially like how this narrative manages to involve almost all the characters, just like the contest did. In “The Brothers Ewing,” for example, Ray’s decision to team with J.R. and Bobby creates a rift in his marriage to Donna, which feels like a more organic storyline for Steve Kanaly and Susan Howard than the amateur detective subplot they were saddled with the previous season.

Indeed, one of the other highlights in “The Brothers Ewing” is the scene where Donna tells Miss Ellie how horrified she is to see her husband align himself with J.R. Ellie responds that if the Ewings lose the lawsuit, she’ll be glad that Ray and Bobby are with her oldest son because “we’ll have to rely on them to keep him straight.” It’s a poignant line, but it also shows how Donna Reed’s Ellie can be every bit as wise as Barbara Bel Geddes’ version. The scene has the added benefit of reminding us how Patrick Duffy always elicits strong performances from his co-stars when he takes a turn in the “Dallas” director’s chair. Duffy’s clever touch can also be felt in J.R. and Bobby’s scene on the shadowy patio, where the brothers hatch their plot against Cliff. Duffy stages the exchange by putting one of the Southfork columns between him and Larry Hagman — a symbol of the narrowing divide between the brothers.

Like all “Dallas” episodes from this era, “The Brothers Ewing” also contains its share of tributes to the past, including Sue Ellen’s run-in with Cliff, where the ex-lovers make awkward small talk. When she turns down his invitation to lunch, he declares he’s not trying to seduce her. “That thought never even entered my mind,” she says, which is funny, because it’s the first thought that entered mine. Other scenes are amusingly outdated, including one where J.R. calls the modeling agency, hoping to learn Mandy’s whereabouts by pretending to be her brother “Marvin Winger” (caller ID would give him away today), as well as Bobby and Jenna’s lunch with Scott Demarest, who shows them splashy headlines about her trial in the Laredo newspapers. This shocks the couple, although in a pre-Facebook era, how would they have known how the out-of-town press was covering her case?

I also get a kick out of seeing John Ross playing with his toy space shuttle — would today’s kids even know what that is? — although nothing charms me quite like the scene where Pam points to a globe and shows Christopher where Mommy will be traveling soon. When Victoria Principal says, “That’s Hong Kong,” Eric Farlow repeats the line back to her. It feels utterly spontaneous, prompting Principal to laugh uproariously and pull Farlow close. Like a similar scene between Pam and Christopher in the seventh-season cliffhanger “End Game,” this one demonstrates again that little Eric Farlow is more absorbed in his role than some of the grown-ups on this show. Can someone remind me again why they replaced this kid?

Grade: A


Brothers Ewing, Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Eric Farlow, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Boy meets world


Season 8, Episode 20

Airdate: February 15, 1985

Audience: 21.2 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Patrick Duffy

Synopsis: Clayton turns down his stepsons when they ask him to help them shield Ewing Oil assets from Cliff. Donna balks at Ray’s involvement with the fight for the company. Jamie has second thoughts about the lawsuit. Sue Ellen agrees to accompany Pam to Hong Kong to search for Mark. J.R. asks Mandy to give him another chance.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), John Carter (Carl Hardesty), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), 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), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Kathleen York (Betty)

“The Brothers Ewing” is available on DVD and at Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.


  1. One nice little thing in this episode really made me grin: Her Ladyship Pamela does not pack her suitcase herself, oh no. She’s got her staff to do it for her. What a contrast to poor old Sue Ellen, who’s got to do that “job” herself, just like anybody else of us would have to do! It makes living on Southfork look so… plain? Simple? Stingy? 😉

    • Oh my gosh, you’re so right! That didn’t occur to me, Balena. Also, I think from now on I’m going to refer exclusively to Victoria Principal’s character as “Her Ladyship Pam.”

      • We used to joke about the Ewings’ servants (or lack of them) in the UK in the early 80s, especially the nation’s number one radio presenter Terry Wogan. They had 2 servants to look after the whole family (Raoul who carried the luggage and took the landline phone out to Miss Ellie when she was outside and Theresa who did everything else ) whereas Pam had one servant to look after just her and little Christopher, so by Season 7/8 she was, in a way, grander than the Ewings – not bad for a poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks as she was originally in the very early episodes!
        BTW, I assume Theresa and Raoul were live-in servants, in which case where were their living quarters?

      • I’m guessing Theresa and Raoul slept on the exercise equipment in the fitness room.

  2. You want J.R. on your team in a fight. He’s an embarrassment at times, but he is 1 hell of a hound dog & master oilman! By the way C.B., have you noticed how much better a character Jack Ewing played by Dack Rambo was than his Sister Jamie?! This is why he was put in the opening title sequence credits later on while Jamie/Jenilee Harrison was not.

    • I have indeed noticed that, R.J. I think Jamie is the only adult Ewing who never appeared in the opening credits. (Besides Gary and Val, of course.)

  3. MaryAnn says:

    Thanks CB your insight and critique makes me look at this episode in a new light. It was nice to see Ray, Bobby and JR unite for a common cause although what they were thinking of doing was morally wrong, it’s a nice surprise. Although you would not see Pam unite with Cliff to do something wrong like that because I do not think she would believe it’s worth it. In regards to Louise packing Pam’s clothes the Ewing household is big and the staff have other things to do than pack Sue Ellen’s clothes compare to Pam whose household consist of 2, Louise can afford time to pack her things. In “End Game and Swan Song” episodes though we did see Pam doing the packing herself. Little Eric Farlow was such a joy to watch and cute when I was watching scenes with him when it first aired on TV I was not that fond of him but watching the DVDS I fell in love he is focused and absorbed, I missed him in Season 10.

  4. If I remember correctly Pam had at least two servants. I think one was called Angela (I may be wrong here) who started to show up when Pam moved from Southfork to the hotel first. Once Pam moved to her mother’s house she had another maid in addition. One maid was used when filming took place outside in the yard/patio area. And the other one was shown once the shooting in Dallas was over and everything was filmed on soundstage.

  5. Elizabete says:

    Brothers Ewing were so handsome, specially Bob !

  6. Dan in WI says:

    This episode gives us a stark character contrast between Clayton Farlow and Jock Ewing. There is no doubt in my mind that in his day Jock wouldn’t have thought twice about the asset hiding scheme the Ewing brothers bring to him. Even in the later years when we knew Jock I still think he likely would have gone along with it. (After all he seemed to support JR selling off the SE Asia wells right before they were nationalized.) But Clayton proves again he is the ultimate southern gentleman with his morals in this matter.
    It is indeed good his character was written the foil Jock never was otherwise they might as well just re-cast Jock. Variety is good.

  7. Jennifer Irons says:

    As much fun as Bobby’s and JR’s fights were to watch, I liked it even more when they worked together to defeat an enemy! That’s when they really acted like brothers!

  8. With Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray, Larry Hagman, Susan Howard. The pending fight for Ewing Oil brings J.R.

  9. therebelprince says:

    Oh, the joy of Eric Farlow as Christopher! I am showing my partner the series for his first time, and we have fallen absolutely in love with Eric, from his early days as a perpetually crying blob, and then his middle period of impossibly placid, and now in season 8, he has become immensely talkative and – as you say – immersed in the role. Joshua Harris does very well in future years, but I think it is such a loss when he goes.
    (On the other hand, we find it alarming how spontaneously he refers to the actors as “mummy”, “daddy”, and “grandma”. Maybe his parents removed him from the show because he was having trouble telling art from life?)

    • My next project: The Eric Farlow Appreciation Society.

    • I also wonder if Eric Farlow’s parents decided to take him off Dallas because maybe they were worried he was getting confused.Plus Dallas decided to age Christopher because maybe they wanted an older actor playing Christopher in the dramatic aftermath of Bobby’s death because Christopher was Bobby’s son he might be in more scenes as the characters mourned Bobby.So maybe the show was worried that Eric Farlow couldn’t handle those kind of scenes.

  10. anyone else watching pretends the new miss ellie is the old miss ellie with every line?

    • It’s hard to not imagine how Barbara Bel Geddes would have handled Donna Reed’s scenes. I think Reed did the best she could. Replacing Bel Geddes was an impossible task.

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