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?
‘THE BROTHERS EWING’
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)