Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 194 — ‘Those Eyes’

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, Those Eyes

Get a grip

In “Those Eyes,” the Ewings finally take off their blinders where Sue Ellen’s drinking is concerned. She lands in a detox ward at the beginning of the episode, and one by one, Miss Ellie, J.R. and the people who love her most come to realize how destructive her alcoholism has become. Sue Ellen realizes this too, although she remains powerless over her addiction. In a chilling scene, when Dusty visits her in the hospital, Sue Ellen begs him for a drink. “Oh, God, no, darling,” he says, explaining that more booze would kill her. Clutching his hands, she looks into his eyes and whispers, “Kill me.”

This is a moment of reckoning for Sue Ellen, and for “Dallas” itself. Too often, the writers have used Sue Ellen’s alcoholism as a crutch to lean on whenever the show needed something to complicate the character’s life. Witness Sue Ellen’s third-season relapse, which seemed to occur primarily so she’d have a reason to not remember her whereabouts during J.R.’s shooting. Now, in the ninth season, Sue Ellen’s drinking is no longer an afterthought — it’s one of the main storylines. By showing the character trembling her way through withdrawals, we have a better sense of what it means for her to be an addict. It’s much more meaningful than merely seeing her passed out in her bedroom next to an empty vodka bottle.

No one seems to appreciate this opportunity more than Linda Gray, whose performance here is nothing less than a tour de force. “Those Eyes” was filmed in an era when television actresses were eagerly shedding their glamorous wardrobes to demonstrate their acting bona fides — think of TV movie queens like Farrah Fawcett in “The Burning Bed” and Raquel Welch in “Right to Die” — but Gray goes further than any of her peers. She looks positively wasted in “Those Eyes,” wearing little makeup and allowing every hair to fall out of place. True to the episode’s title, Gray also uses her famously expressive eyes to draw the audience into her character’s fear and confusion, although nothing touches me more than the moment Dusty arrives at the hospital and Sue Ellen shields her face. It’s such a childlike gesture; as soon as I see it, my heart breaks.

Interestingly, Gray appears in just three scenes in this episode, which means we mostly see Sue Ellen’s descent through the eyes of the other Ewings. It begins when Miss Ellie bravely enters the detox ward and is horrified to discover the Jane Doe in bed No. 13 is her daughter-in-law. In the next scene, Ellie declares she wants to take Sue Ellen home — a typical reaction for the Ewings, who always believe they can handle problems on their own. The doctor forcefully explains that no one — not even the Ewing matriarch — is powerful enough to cure addiction. Later, Ellie tells J.R. he must help his wife. This isn’t unlike a scene that occurred between J.R. and his mother at the end of the second season, except the conversation in “Those Eyes” has an air of finality to it, as if the Ewings are taking her problem more seriously.

“Those Eyes” is one of the first “Dallas” scripts from Peter Dunne, a “Knots Landing” veteran who briefly replaced Leonard Katzman as the show’s behind-the-scenes creative force. The episode is a good example of the darker, more realistic tone Dunne brings to the ninth season. Think about it: One year before this episode aired, the Ewings were “coping” with Bobby’s post-shooting blindness, which miraculously cleared up after a few episodes. Sue Ellen’s struggle in “Those Eyes” feels a lot more grounded by comparison, don’t you think? Sure, there are still plenty of soapy moments, including J.R. and Dusty’s memorable fistfight at Sue Ellen’s bedside, and the camp factor isn’t muted completely. (How else to explain the screaming woman that Sue Ellen encounters on the floor of the jail cell?) For the most part, though, “Dallas” seems a little smarter now.

Dunne’s touch also can be felt in other areas of “Those Eyes,” including the scene where J.R. sweetly helps John Ross with his necktie and the subplot about Ray and Donna deciding to build a bigger house. The latter feels like another metaphor: Steve Kanaly and Susan Howard’s characters are growing as people, so why shouldn’t they have a bigger place to call home? I also like how this episode shows Ray and Jack becoming friends; as much as I love Patrick Duffy, Dack Rambo is doing a nice job filling some of blank spaces created by Bobby’s departure. Heck, I even find myself applauding Jenna’s decision in this episode to stick around Southfork. Maybe it’s because Priscilla Beaulieu Presley’s short bob makes her look more stylish than ever — or maybe it’s because the character no longer feels like a distraction now that one half of the Bobby/Pam coupling is gone — but “Those Eyes” actually makes Jenna seem tolerable.

If you find this revelation surprising, imagine how I feel. But what can I say? They don’t call this the dream season for nothing.

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Omri Katz, Those Eyes

Ties that bind

‘THOSE EYES’

Season 9, Episode 3

Airdate: October 4, 1985

Audience: 20.4 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Peter Dunne

Director: Nick Havinga

Synopsis: After the police find Sue Ellen, Miss Ellie persuades J.R. to commit her to a sanitarium. J.R. and Jeremy each set their sights on Christopher’s share of Ewing Oil. Ray and Donna begin planning to build a bigger home. Jenna decides to stay at Southfork.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Farlow), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Tony Garcia (Raoul), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Laurence Haddon (Franklin Horner), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Joshua Harris (Christopher Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Barnes), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Harlan Jordan (Sheriff Baldwin), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Gary Moody (Doctor), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dack Rambo (Jack Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Norma Young (Sanitarium manager)

“Those Eyes” is available on DVD and at Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. Elizabete says:

    Linda Gray is wonderful, as always.

  2. Great critique and insights CB. This episode did deserved the A based on LG’s acting although I was not too keen on seeing drunk Sue Ellen again. I have to disagree with you though regarding Jenna being tolerable now that she is not third wheel in the Bobby & Pam coupling, still can’t stand her. Then there is the other person coming up who is also not tolerable now that he is no longer a third wheel also. Where viewers vying for Mark’s return, why did they bring him back????? It is beyond me. I mean Pam couldn’t be without a man for one season?? I also think Peter Dunne should have taken over permanently.

    • I’d say just from a dramatic aspect Pam needed a partner to bounce off dialogs. Simple as that. She couldn’t tell her feelings and thoughts to herself. And she couldn’t use her brother for that because, well, she was talking (=complaining) about him, not with him, all the time. So why specifically him? She didn’t have a readily available confidant on the show other than Bobby. Katherine was having that status for a little while and at times even Afton and Miss Ellie. (although that always required some plot line to meet up with them) But Pam didn’t have a best friend to talk to. She always had her partners for that purpose. The other reason to bring Mark back was probably that he got instant partner status for that purpose. They didn’t need to spend a whole lot of time introducing a new man on her side to get that side-kick all settled in. And they needed that bouncer right away because after Bobby’s demise there was a lot to talk about.

      I think the problem wasn’t Mark or the actor. The writers neglected him. They didn’t give him the tiniest little back story. Did he have family at all? Did he do any work for his company? There was so much to mine, but nothing was done. They probably didn’t want to steer away too far from the Ewings and Barnes. But it made the character very one-dimensional. Having said that though, I liked about him that he wasn’t always on the defense with Pam. Pam was always lashing out to Bobby, so he kept defending himself. It made Bobby looks weak and Pam a nag. Between Mark and Pam, he was actually the one calling her out on things. It was good for Pam, and it made her more interesting. And he wasn’t the door mat that Bobby was to her. Pam could make mistakes with Mark and had to justify them. Once Bobby was back she was all goody two-shoes again.

      • I couldn’t agree more, Mark wasn’t such a bad character considering, like Jenna on the other side of this love triangle ( or should that be love square?), his was a basically thankless role and Pam (and Bobby to some extent) were much more interesting characters when they were apart which is why I can’t quite understand why everyone wanted them back together so much!

      • Miss Ellie, clutch the pearls! Who wouldn’t want Bobby and Pam back together?!

      • These are good observations, Q-Less. Thank you!

    • Thanks Mary Ann. I have to admit: I’m surprised that I find myself liking Jenna so far this season. I’ll be curious to see how I feel once we reach her nervous breakdown storyline. Something tells me my feelings for her will change at that point.

  3. Nice review as usual. Have nothing to contribute myself. I agree with your notion that this episode (and season so far) is more grounded. I really appreciated this part of the season because the problems the Ewings were facing were so much more real and relateable than the seasons before. Your comparison with Bobby’s eye injury makes the contrast even more obvious.
    “Those Eyes” is actually a nice compliment to the actress who acts with them. Was that actually part of the dialogs? I don’t remember. I can imagine that they watched the dailies and then decided to name the episode with this title because they were so impressed.

    • Thanks Q-Less. Actually, J.R. has a monologue in this episode in which he talks about how captivating he found Sue Ellen’s eyes when he met her at the beauty pageant. I should have mentioned that in the critique!

  4. You have the Brother Bobby & Brother John Ross dynamic of alcoholism here, just as Patrick described his Uncles Bob & John Kennedy as boozers & druggies in his 60 Minutes interview, along with the Kennedy mental health struggles, u have the side by side comparison of the mental health troubles of Miss Texas due to her boozing addiction. And Uncle John was of course shot to death in Dallas, Texas while Brother John Ross was shot in Dallas, Oklahoma & California, but didn’t die until he was shot in Mexico Bum in order to set up that eternal loser Cliff Barnes!

  5. Linda Gray – MAGNIFICANT!!!

  6. Anonymous says:

    She’s incredible. My Linda that is. My heroine.

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