Jenna Wade has her day in court in “Trial and Error,” although I’m not sure why we should care. Now that Pam’s search for Mark Graison has come up empty, “Dallas” clearly is paving the way for her to reunite with Bobby. This episode is full of hints: J.R. tells Sly he’s worried “that Barnes woman is going to be back on Bobby like a fly on honey,” and Bobby tells Christopher how much he misses the boy’s mother. All this reduces Jenna to a plot device — one last obstacle for the show’s star-crossed lovers to overcome before they reconcile. Who gives a fig what happens to her?
“Trial and Error” nonetheless plows forward with Jenna’s legal travails, asking us to concern ourselves with whether she’ll be found guilty or innocent of killing her ex-husband Naldo Marchetta, another character no one liked or cared about. There are some entertaining moments during this episode’s courtroom scenes, including the “gotcha”-style cross-examination of the ballistics expert by Jenna’s flamboyant attorney Scotty Demarest, played by the great Stephen Elliott. It’s fun to watch Scotty trick the man into undermining his own expertise, and who doesn’t get a kick out of hearing Elliott suggest the gun used to kill Naldo was equipped with a “sy-lun-suh.” I also applaud the show for casting Allan Miller as the prosecutor Hoskins, whose polish contrasts nicely with Scotty’s homespun charms.
Mostly, though, Jenna’s trial is another example of “Dallas” stretching out its eighth-season storylines to complete CBS’s staggering 30-episode order. Two witnesses are minor characters from earlier episodes: the motel manager who heard Jenna and Naldo fighting and the police officer who found her holding the gun next to his dead body. The show even supplements their testimony with flashbacks, which feel more like filler than useful refreshers for the audience. “Dallas” also tries to generate drama by having Bobby called to the stand as a reluctant witness against Jenna, although I think it would have been more effective to have him testify on her behalf. Maybe then he could explain why he plans to marry her when his heart belongs to someone else.
The whole thing reminds me of Ann Ewing’s shooting trial on TNT’s “Dallas” sequel, except that storyline at least shed light into Brenda Strong’s character. What has Jenna’s experience taught us, except that Priscilla Beaulieu Presley has mastered the art of looking beautiful while frowning? Ann’s trial also had the benefit of being contained to a single episode (also titled “Trial and Error”), although don’t assume that’s because television generally moves faster these days. The Julie Grey and Hutch McKinney murder trials from “Dallas’s” early years also zipped along quickly. Jenna’s case will consume three episodes altogether — a trilogy of tedium.
The “Who Killed Naldo?” saga isn’t the only thing weighing down “Dallas” during the eighth season’s last gasp. “Trial and Error” picks up where the previous hour left off, as Pam dashes out of the medical clinic after discovering Mark isn’t there. It’s good to see Sue Ellen comfort Pam — their renewed friendship has become one of the show’s most satisfying relationships during the eighth season — although there’s no good reason for the women to spend the rest of the episode hanging around Hong Kong. I also like how Ray’s alliance with his brothers in the fight over Ewing Oil caused problems in his marriage in earlier episodes, but his anger over Donna’s oil strike in “Trial and Error” is an eye-roller. How many more times are we going to watch him get jealous over his wife’s professional success?
Likewise, “Trial and Error” shows Mandy once again wondering if she should be getting involved with J.R. I’ve lost track of how many times this conversation has played out. The dialogue also is confusing because it suggests the characters haven’t slept together, but I thought they had sex during their hotel encounter in “Bail Out.” In that scene, Mandy splashes champagne in J.R.’s face, he grabs and begins kissing her and then the show cuts for a commercial break. Are we not supposed to assume J.R. and Mandy kept going after that moment? Or could it be this season has gone on so long, the writers have forgotten what’s happened?
‘TRIAL AND ERROR’
Season 8, Episode 23
Airdate: March 8, 1985
Audience: 19 million homes, ranking 6th in the weekly ratings
Writer: David Paulsen
Director: Larry Hagman
Synopsis: As Jenna’s trial begins, Ann McFadden backs out of her agreement to testify. Mandy fears she’s falling for J.R. Pam and Sue Ellen depart Hong Kong. After another fight with Ray, Donna moves to Southfork.
Cast: Don Banning (Roy Crowley), Philip Chan (Edward Chan), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Tim Cutt (Leonard Boyle), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Rosemary Forsyth (Ann McFadden), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Heidi Hagman (Jury Forewoman), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Virginia Kiser (Judge Roberta Fenerty), Sam Lam (Wong), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Allan Miller (Assistant District Attorney Frederick Hoskins), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Dave Shelley (Mavin), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Wesley Thompson (Bailiff), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)