The title “Dead Ends” refers to Pam’s fruitless search for Mark Graison, but it also describes “Dallas’s” final batch of eighth-season episodes. This show is now killing time. The writers don’t have enough story to fill 30 hours of television, and so the material they’ve come up with is getting stretched thin. There are occasional flashes of inspiration — in “Dead Ends,” most of them are supplied by Victoria Principal and the always reliable director Michael Preece — but for the most part, “Dallas” has entered its weakest era since its earliest days, when the series was still figuring itself out.
Here’s an example: “Dead Ends” shows J.R. receiving a visit from Swiss business associate Conrad Bunkhouser, who reviews their scheme to sell Ewing Oil assets to one of J.R.’s dummy corporations. The scene is virtually identical to an exchange these two characters had during the previous episode, right down to J.R.’s reminder that Bobby must never find out about the deal. There’s also a scene of Sue Ellen and Pam having their umpteenth conversation about the latter’s conflicted feelings about Mark, as well as a meeting where Bobby and Scott Demarest cross-reference the passenger lists from the two flights Veronica Robinson took from Tokyo to Dallas. We actually see Bobby start to tick off the names, one by one (Abbott, B.; Anderson, G.; Avildson, H. …), which is every bit as exciting as it sounds.
The only thing more tedious than Bobby’s attempt to clear Jenna for murder is J.R.’s pursuit of Mandy. He shows up on her doorstep and begs her to see him in “Dead Ends,” just like he did two episodes ago in “Sins of the Fathers.” I appreciate the show’s willingness to mix things up by denying J.R. what he wants, but this has been going on for almost an entire season. I’m ready to see him win again. Even this episode’s clash between J.R. and Cliff lacks punch. (Well, not literally.) In fact, the only time Larry Hagman’s character comes alive is when J.R. is moping around his office and Sly arrives to say she’s ready to come back to work. Preece cleverly stages the scene by having Hagman sit at J.R.’s desk in the foreground, and then Debbie Rennard pops through the door in the distance. It’s almost as if J.R.’s angel has appeared on his shoulder.
Principal figures into this episode’s other good scenes. First, after Mr. Chan refuses to allow Pam to visit the clinic he runs, she calls him and declares she isn’t going to back down from her attempt to see “Mr. Swanson,” the mysterious patient she believes is Mark. “You see, I’m very rich, and very determined. And if I have to, I’ll buy that damned clinic and walk in as the owner,” Pam says. It’s another example of how Principal’s character has finally regained her spirit after taking those detours into lunacy and wishy-washiness during previous seasons. Then, in the final scene, Principal is quite moving when Pam bribes her way into the clinic and comes face to face with Swanson, only to discover it isn’t Mark after all.
Or is it? After Pam leaves the room in tears, we’re led to believe her escort, Mr. Wong, has tricked her, although we can’t be sure why. Is J.R. leading Pam on another wild goose chase, or could Wong be working for Mark? When I watched this episode as a kid, I was absorbed with this storyline, as well as Jenna’s murder trial, J.R. and Mandy’s romance and Cliff and Jamie’s lawsuit. (I’m sure I also was fascinated by the perfectly placed wisps of hair that peek out from Marilee Stone’s hat in the Oil Baron’s Club scene, although I can’t say for sure.)
Now I watch “Dead Ends” and realize how lackluster it is. “Dallas” is capable of much better, as we see in the classic “Swan Song” episode that ends the eighth season. I look forward to revisiting that installment, which probably will seem that much sweeter once I’ve finished slogging through the remaining hours that precede it.
Season 8, Episode 22
Airdate: March 1, 1985
Audience: 21 million homes, ranking 7th in the weekly ratings
Writer: Leonard Katzman
Director: Michael Preece
Synopsis: Pam comes face to face with the mystery man whose trail brought her to Hong Kong, but it turns out to not be Mark. The police rule Veronica’s death an overdose, but Bobby sets out to prove she was murdered. J.R. and Mandy go on a date, while Cliff and Jamie grow closer. Eddie bids Lucy farewell.
Cast: Sam Anderson (Inspector Frank Howard), Burke Byrnes (Pete Adams), Philip Chan (Edward Chan), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Ben Cooper (Parrish), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), 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), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Sam Lam (Wong), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), David Price (Swanson), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Dean Santoro (Raymond Furguson), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)