Jack Ewing is a bad boy who makes a good impression. “Terms of Estrangement” introduces the character, a long-lost cousin who comes to town offering to sell J.R. information that could undermine Cliff’s efforts to snag a piece of Ewing Oil. Is Jack telling the truth? Who knows, and who cares? The newcomer, played with roguish charm by Dack Rambo, injects an element of unpredictability into “Dallas’s” ho-hum eighth season. By the time this episode debuted in 1985, the show had added several new faces to its cast, each with mixed results. Finally, here’s one that works from the get-go.
Make no mistake: Rambo’s debut deserves to rank alongside Susan Howard’s and Howard Keel’s as one of “Dallas’s” best. Many fans never warmed to Rambo three decades ago, mostly because he was hired to replace the soon-to-depart Patrick Duffy as the show’s romantic male lead. It’s easier to judge Rambo on his own merits today. The actor has a natural charisma that makes Jack instantly appealing, even when we don’t know much about him. In “Terms of Estrangement,” he arrives as a stranger who summons J.R. to the Oil Baron’s Club and offers to help him squash Cliff’s lawsuit — in exchange for 10 percent of the company. Rambo holds his own against Larry Hagman throughout the scene, making it a fun exchange between two scoundrels. It reminds me of the first time J.R. tussled with Clayton Farlow during the fifth season. I didn’t mind seeing Clayton one-up J.R. then, and I don’t mind seeing Jack do it now. That’s as good measure of a new character’s potential as I can think of.
Rambo also is effective in this episode’s final scene, when his character unexpectedly shows up on Jamie’s doorstep. She’s packing her belongings to move and seems less than pleased to see him, and for the first few moments, it seems as if Rambo’s character is an ex-lover who’s come to upset Jamie’s relationship with Cliff. We soon discover the mystery man is Jack, Jamie’s estranged brother, a good twist that shifts the dynamics of the scene. Once we know the characters are siblings, his attempts to needle her come off as playful, not threatening. The scene ends with Jack letting her know he plans to stick around (“I kind of like it here in Dallas”), raising hopes his presence will help the series continue to recover from the Jenna Wade murder trial that dragged down the preceding episodes.
Indeed, “Terms of Estrangement” offers other signs “Dallas” is getting its act together. J.R. is crueler than ever: He ridicules Sue Ellen’s decision to join group therapy — which are held at the delightfully dippy “Institute for Advanced Awareness” — and shoves a glass of bourbon in her face, saying, “The only institute that works for you is this.” The show is always better when these characters are at war, although it’s also good to see Sue Ellen pour out the drink without taking a sip. (Her decision to dump it in a potted plant in the Southfork living room is another matter altogether.) Later, Sue Ellen and Donna — two characters who don’t interact much — commiserate about their troubled marriages over a post-midnight plate of cookies. Sue Ellen refers to their fates as “the curse of the Ewings,” prompting Donna’s poignant response (“It wasn’t supposed to happen to me”), which Susan Howard delivers with breathy perfection.
Meanwhile, Jenilee Harrison’s character continues to come into her own. In addition to her reunion with Jack, Jamie receives a surprisingly charming marriage proposal from Cliff and has a good scene with Sue Ellen. The latter begins when Jamie arrives at Southfork to mend fences with her friend, only to be told by Teresa that Sue Ellen doesn’t want to see her. Jamie refuses to take no for an answer and barges into Sue Ellen’s room, where she gives her a much-needed talking to. In a similar spirit, I love the small scene in which Sue Ellen calls John Ross out of the kitchen and tells him it’s time to go to school. With a lunchbox in one hand, Omri Katz marches around the breakfast table and receives a hug from Donna Reed, a high-five from Patrick Duffy and a pat on the bottom from Howard Keel. It’s an early glimpse of the swagger John Ross would one day exhibit on TNT’s sequel series.
“Terms of Estrangement” has its share of novelties too. Priscilla Beaulieu Presley appears only in one scene, but she now sports a stylish bob. Perhaps the hairdresser who famously gave Sue Ellen a makeover in the hospital has now worked his magic on Jenna in jail? This episode also features two actors from John Hughes movies: Lyman Ward, the dad from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” plays the airline executive who gives Bobby the tape that shows Veronica Robinson being murdered on the plane, while Paul Gleason, the principal from “The Breakfast Club,” plays the police detective who investigates the crime. (Andre Schumann, the hit man seen on the tape, is played by Rod Arrants of “Search for Tomorrow.”)
Speaking of that tape: Ward’s character tells Bobby that the airlines are beginning to install hidden cameras on planes to deter hijackings. It’s prescient — in real life, TWA Flight 847 was hijacked in Athens two months after this episode aired — and also a little silly. The tape offers a fixed, wide angle view of the plane’s interior cabin, making it look like the kind of surveillance video that one would have expected to see in the mid-1980s. However, once Schumann takes his seat next to Veronica and poisons her drink, the camera suddenly zooms in for a close-up of Schumann’s hands. It’s one of those only-on-television moments, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the cameras trained on the public today are zooming in and zooming out on us all the time.
‘TERMS OF ESTRANGEMENT’
Season 8, Episode 26
Airdate: April 12, 1985
Audience: 18.7 million homes, ranking 6th in the weekly ratings
Writer: Peter Dunne
Director: Alexander Singer
Synopsis: Jamie accepts Cliff’s marriage proposal and receives a visit from her brother Jack, who approaches J.R. and offers to sell him information that could prove Cliff and Jamie have no legal claim on Ewing Oil. Bobby uncovers videotape that shows assassin Andre Schumann murdering Veronica on the plane, but Jenna refuses to believe she’ll get out of prison. Sue Ellen begins group therapy. Lucy receives a letter from Mitch.
Cast: Rod Arrants (Andre Schumann), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbert (Dora Mae), Ben Cooper (Parris), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Paul Gleason (Lieutenant Lee Spaulding), 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), Stacy Keach Sr. (Waldron), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Anne C. Lucas (Cassie), Laura Malone (Janice Hopper), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dack Rambo (Jack Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Barry Sattels (Greg Rupp), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Gail Strickland (Veronica Robinson), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Lyman Ward (Norman)