It’s probably safe to say no “Dallas” episode would perform well on the Bechdel test, which some critics use to gauge sexism in movies. (To pass, a film must have at least one scene where two women talk to each other about something other than a man.) Nevertheless, there are times the series manages to resist its chauvinistic impulses. In “Shattered Dreams,” for example, Mandy refuses to allow J.R. to buy her an apartment, Lucy breaks up with Eddie when she discovers he cheated on her and Sue Ellen outsmarts a stranger who tries to flirt with her in a restaurant. It’s good to see each woman display more backbone than usual, even if they remain supporting players in the show’s male-dominated narrative.
Mandy’s storyline impresses me most. J.R. routinely uses his wealth to buy affection from the women in his life: He wooed Kristin with a closet full of new clothes, and during various stormy periods in his relationship with Sue Ellen, he’s used a new car, jewelry and a fur coat to get back in her good graces. J.R. tries this trick with mistress-in-waiting Mandy in “Shattered Dreams,” offering to set her up in a swanky condominium, but she tells him she won’t be a kept woman. “I know you’re rich, but I’m not for sale,” she says, tossing him the key to the apartment. It’s another reminder that Deborah Shelton’s character starts off being more independent and much smarter than I remembered.
Lucy, on the other hand, is a character for whom wisdom doesn’t come naturally. In “Shattered Dreams,” a guilty-yet-spiteful Betty visits Lucy and reveals she’s been sleeping with Eddie. Given Lucy’s habit of sticking with men after they’ve mistreated her, you might expect her to forgive Eddie. Instead, Lucy breaks up with him and ends their business partnership, calling it “the worst idea I’ve ever had in my life.” After all these years, Charlene Tilton’s character is finally learning from her mistakes. I’m relieved, though, that Lucy’s maturity hasn’t tempered her edge. When Eddie says he doesn’t want Betty, Lucy responds with one of the great “Dallas” lines: “Of course you don’t because she can’t set you up in your own building business. All she can do is sling hash and make love!”
Another scene demonstrates how much the once-demure Sue Ellen has changed. While sitting with Pam in a Hong Kong restaurant, the women are approached by a stranger who overheard someone refer to them as Ewings. When he introduces himself as a fellow Texan and wonders if they’re related to “ol’ J.R.,” Sue Ellen says they’re distant cousins. The stranger offers to buy the ladies a drink, but Sue Ellen responds neither one likes alcohol — prompting Pam to quickly put down the glass of wine she was about to raise to her lips. Victoria Principal’s timing is perfect and Linda Gray’s delivery is equal parts honey and acid, recalling Julia Sugarbaker’s memorable takedowns on “Designing Women.” It’s an amusing scene, although I must say: Sue Ellen is kind of hard on the guy. The role may be written as a lothario, but Bruce Baron portrays him as a genuinely friendly out-of-towner.
Speaking of Hong Kong: Sue Ellen and Pam’s scenes were actually shot there, marking the first time “Dallas” has left the country to film an episode. I’m not sure it adds much to the storyline, though, which involves Pam’s ho-hum search for her is-he-dead-or-isn’t-he fiancé, Mark Graison. Other scenes in “Shattered Dreams” also fall flat. When Cliff asks Jamie out to dinner, she suggests they get Chinese food. It’s meant to be a cute coincidence, but it feels forced. Later, during Betty and Lucy’s poolside confrontation, Kathleen York does her best to make her character seem awestruck by the grandeur of Southfork, which isn’t easy considering the scene was filmed on the show’s less-than-convincing patio soundstage. Eagle-eyed “Dallas” viewers also will notice Ray and Donna’s bedroom makes a rare appearance in this episode, although it doesn’t match the set used when the room appeared in the fifth-season classic “Adoption.” It’s also worth noting “Shattered Dreams” marks the debut of Mandy’s living room, which is decorated with framed pictures of herself. How wonderful.
Of course, even when the storytelling and production values on “Dallas” disappoint, it’s still worth revisiting the show to be reminded of the way we once lived. In one scene, J.R. hears Cliff leave a message on Mandy’s answering machine, pops the cassette out of the machine and replaces it with another. Even in the 1980s, it was pretty easy to hack someone else’s “data.” I also get a kick out of the end of the episode, when Bobby and Jenna go to the airport to meet Veronica Robinson, who is flying to Dallas to be a star witness at Jenna’s murder trial. (Groan.) While standing outside the airport gate, Bobby and Jenna become alarmed when a couple of airport security officers rush past them and board the plane — and so Bobby and Jenna follow them with no interference whatsoever.
In a similar spirit, I love this episode’s scene of Pam and Sue Ellen flying to Hong Kong. The characters sip iced tea, nibble on a plate of fruit and make polite small talk when a friendly stewardess drops by to ask if they’d care for a magazine to read. Principal and Gray look like they’re having a grand time, and who can blame them? I mean, besides the first-class service, check out all the legroom on their plane!
Season 8, Episode 21
Airdate: February 22, 1985
Audience: 21.9 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings
Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis
Director: Nick Havinga
Synopsis: Pam and Sue Ellen arrive in Hong Kong. J.R. hides assets from Bobby and tries again to woo Mandy, who refuses his attempt to set her up in an apartment. Cliff and Jamie grow closer. Lucy breaks up with Eddie after learning he’s been cheating with Betty. Veronica agrees to testify on Jenna’s behalf, but she dies mysteriously before arriving in Dallas.
Cast: Bruce Baron (Benjamin Alan Moody), Philip Chan (Edward Chan), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Erik Holland (Conrad Buckhouser), 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), Veronica Robinson (Gail Strickland), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Kathleen York (Betty)