Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 196 — ‘Saving Grace’

Dallas, John Beck, Mark Graison, Pam Ewing, Saving Grace

Swoon song

No one will ever accuse Mark Graison of being an interesting character, but you can’t deny the man knows how to make a comeback. In “Saving Grace,” Mark re-enters Pam’s life and reveals he faked his death a year earlier to focus on finding a cure for his fatal disease. Yes, the explanation is absurd, but it’s not like we haven’t been through this kind of thing before (Dusty Farlow), and it’s not like we won’t go through it again (Bobby Ewing). Mark’s resurrection might be “Dallas’s” best return from the grave, though — or at least the one that does the least damage to the show’s credibility.

Much credit goes to the actors who must carry this storyline, beginning with John Beck. Some “Dallas” fans will never forgive Mark for pursuing Pam while she was still married to Bobby, but Beck’s confident charm is put to good use here. It helps him sell all the outlandish dialogue he has to deliver about secretive death-staging and international cure-seeking. Victoria Principal also hits the right notes, especially when Pam faints in Mark’s arms, then awakens and simultaneously bursts into tears and laughter. Principal also gets to utter a line that is wonderfully hilarious, but only in retrospect: “Tell me I’m not dreaming.”

I also appreciate how “Saving Grace” doesn’t shortchange Mark’s return. “Dallas” dispenses with Dusty and Bobby’s revivals with just a few lines, but this episode has several lengthy scenes where Mark explains the reason for faking his death (he didn’t want Pam to watch him die slowly), the state of his disease (in remission, not cured), and why he’s re-entering Pam’s life (because now that Bobby’s dead, she needs him). We also get to see other characters react to Mark’s return: J.R. is rattled but refuses to show it, while Cliff is speechless. (Ken Kercheval’s double-take is priceless in the fun scene where Mark surprises Cliff in the kitchen.) By the end of the hour, though, everyone has recovered from the shock: Pam and Mark are back together, and he’s vowing to put Ewing Oil out of business after hearing about J.R.’s scheme to send Pam on a wild goose chase for him during the previous season.

Indeed, “Saving Grace” marks the moment “Dallas” begins getting back to business as usual after Bobby’s death. J.R. is once again battling Jeremy Wendell, pursuing Mandy Winger and neglecting the needs of Sue Ellen, including hanging up on her therapist when he calls to suggest J.R. attend marriage counseling. (The hang-up occurs off-camera, unfortunately). These scenes are balanced with a series of exchanges that highlight the show’s renewed sense of warmth: Donna and Jenna go shopping for baby clothes, Ray playfully asks his wife if she’d like to “mess around,” Jack sweetly urges Jamie not to worry about him after someone breaks into his apartment and noses around.

Miss Ellie also shows a little love, of the tough variety, when she tells Dusty to steer clear of Sue Ellen while she’s trying to get sober. This is a good scene because it brings together two characters who don’t usually interact and reminds us that Ellie has a fifth “son”: Dusty, which is a relationship I tend to forget about. The dialogue is smart too, especially when Dusty says the idea of staying away from Sue Ellen “isn’t that simple” and Mama smiles and responds, “Let me simplify it for you.” I also like how director Nick Havinga stages the scene in a corner of the Southfork lawn, with the actors in the foreground and the house looming behind them. It makes me wish more scenes had been filmed at this angle.

Ellie is planting a tree when the scene begins, which marks the third or fourth time we’ve seen her gardening since Barbara Bel Geddes resumed her famous role a few episodes ago. Q-Less, a Dallas Decoder reader, recently pointed out the frequency of these planting scenes at the beginning of the ninth season, suggesting it symbolized how Bel Geddes was keeping the show grounded. I couldn’t agree more. Every time we see Ellie puttering around her garden, it’s as if “Dallas” is getting back to its roots. Keep digging, Mama.

Grade: B

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Dusty Farlow, Jared Martin, Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow, Saving Grace

Blood and soil

‘SAVING GRACE’

Season 9, Episode 5

Airdate: October 18, 1985

Audience: 19.2 million homes, ranking 9th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Joel J. Feigenbaum

Director: Nick Havinga

Synopsis: Mark tells Pam he faked his death to find a cure for his disease, which is now in remission. Jack resists Cliff’s pressure to sell to Wendell. Clayton orders J.R. to stop pressuring Miss Ellie, who tells Dusty to give Sue Ellen room to recover.

Cast: John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Farlow), Burke Byrnes (Pete Adams), Alan Fudge (Dr. Lantry), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), 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), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dack Rambo (Jack Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Carol Sanchez (Angela), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger)

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

Comments

  1. this is a beautifully written review .. I love what you wrote about Miss Ellie and Dusty as well as Pam’s line “Tell me I’m not dreaming” hahaha

  2. Matthew Dillard says:

    Chris (I hope I am addressing Chris!),

    I just want to let you know that your work on Dallas Decoder is superb.

    I have long hoped to stumble upon someone who remembers and evaluates “Dallas” the way I do — its characters, writing, stories, ratings, and music. I was a kid in the 1980s — born in South Carolina, 1974 — and at a perhaps inappropriately young age, I fell completely in love with the titanic saga of the Ewings. My imagination came to life to the music (and not just the opening credits) and setting of “Dallas.”

    Thank you for all you do. Everything you write — and you write very well

  3. Chris, I’m glad you spotted that immortal line from Pam about dreaming – there is also a clip on Youtube of Victoria Principal singing a duet with Andy Gibb of “All you have to do – is dream, dream, dream” to look out for.
    Absolutely agree with the comments above of Mr Dillard btw!

    • Ha ha! I forgot about the duet with Andy Gibb!

      “Dream, dream, dream.” The universe has a sense of humor, doesn’t it?

      Thanks for the kind words, Paul.

      CB

  4. Pam’s line – “tell me I am dreaming” how ironic. Yes honey thank God you are and this arrogant idiot is really dead, hated Mark more than JR. Great critique CB and I will bear with you to see your critiques for this unfortunate season.

  5. Christopher Barnes Ewing DALLAS Decoder Senior, I would argue that Dusty Farlow is actualy Miss Ellie’s VIth son as she is legally his stepmother on paper. The Yellow Rose of Texas actually has before & after this many warm exchanges with a Dallas Attorney named Clifford Barnes, you may have heard of him. After all, if Eleanor Southworth had married Digger Barnes after Rebecca Wentworth left, she might have becomes Cliffy’s stepmama!

  6. We can also see the ranking in the ratings are starting to go down due to one of the reasons the return of Mark.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The rankings in the ratings are starting to go down is it due to PD/Bobby departure and Mark’s return???

  8. Elizabete says:

    Great comments, Chris, specially about Bel Geddes’ scenes.

  9. Tell me I’m not dreaming is brilliant!

    Ratings going down due to Marks return?! I think not!! Try emeralds and Martinique and way past used by date Jenna and Charlie

    I love Mark here. He treated Pam so much better than Bobby. The scenes with John and Victoria here are beautiful. The fainting into his arms was so romantic.

    Really enjoying Ray and Donna too.

    Absolutely super episode :O)

    • Thank you, Dan! I like Mark here too. (Don’t tell Mary Ann I said that!)

    • Oh please the ratings did go down due to Mark’s return and the dumb storylines except for Ray and Donna’s story. Then there is the missed opportunity to go fully with arch enemies Pam and JR to battle it out at Ewing Oil. This season seemed off it many ways and people loved Pam and Bobby more than Pam and Mark and PD and VP chemistry was hotter!!! Fans also missed PD. The only storyline I would have liked to see played out is what JR found out about Mark and would have loved to see him use it to destroy him. This would have been the only time I would have rooted for JR to win. If the return of Mark and storylines were working so good they would not have asked Patrick to come back and do the risk of having the season as a dream or as I call it a nightmare.

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