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.
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)