Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 190 — ‘Deliverance’

Bobby Ewing, Charlie Wade, Dallas, Deliverance, Jenna Wade, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, Shalane McCall

To the victors

“Deliverance” is the next-to-last episode from “Dallas’s” eighth season, but if you didn’t know better, you might think it was the finale. By the end of the hour, the year’s two major storylines are resolved: Cliff and Jamie’s lawsuit to claim two-thirds of Ewing Oil ends in humiliating defeat, while Jenna gets out of prison when Naldo’s killer confesses. I can’t remember how I felt when this episode debuted 30 years ago, but I would imagine it befuddled more than a few viewers. They must have thought, “If the show is going to tie up all its loose ends here, what’s left for the season finale?”

The answer, of course, is that “Dallas” would end the year with Bobby’s death in “Swan Song,” which would become one of the show’s finest installments. “Deliverance” can’t match the power of that episode, but at least it rewards the viewers who stuck with the series throughout its eighth season. The scenes that resolve Naldo’s murder mystery are particularly satisfying, thanks almost entirely to Patrick Duffy. When Bobby finally comes face to face with Schumann, the hit man who framed Jenna for the killing, he offers to set up the man’s wife with a fat bank account if Schumann confesses. “You help my lady and I’ll help yours,” Bobby says. This is one of those lines that Duffy delivers in his signature, Eastwoodian whisper, which never fails to give me chills.

Since Schumann already is facing life in prison for another murder, he agrees to help Bobby and explains how he killed Naldo and framed Jenna. As he confesses, we see flashbacks that fill in the gaps surrounding the shooting. Not everything holds up, though. According to this episode, when Naldo enters the hotel room where he’s eventually murdered, Schumann knocks him out, places his body on a table and then grabs Jenna from behind while she’s waiting in the hall. When the killing occurs in “Odd Man Out,” however, Jenna is yanked into the room mere seconds after Naldo enters. It’s also a little silly how quickly the police accept Schumann’s confession, but no matter. At least this storyline is finally over.

I’m also not going to complain about the trial to determine Ewing Oil’s ownership, which is completed in record time. Wally Windham, the mysterious character introduced in the previous episode, testifies that he purchased Digger and Jason’s shares of Ewing Oil in 1931 — only to sell them to Jock the following year. Windham is the only witness at the trial, and despite his earlier assertion that his story was long and complicated, he manages to tell it pretty succinctly here. Likewise, am I the only who finds it absurd that Jock left the bill of sale giving him ownership of a multi-billion-dollar corporation with his ex-wife Amanda, who lives in a mental hospital? Once again, I suppose I shouldn’t quibble. The lawsuit over Ewing Oil wasn’t as dreary as the Naldo murder mystery, but it wasn’t a shining moment in “Dallas” history, either. What’s important now is that it’s over.

Given the sense of finality in “Deliverance,” it’s no wonder the producers decided to end this episode with a Ewing victory bash at the Oil Baron’s Club. This is a fun sequence because it brings together so many different characters — including Jordan and Marilee, who were rooting for Cliff and Jamie in the fight over the company. (During the trial, Jordan even shows his solidarity with Cliff by offering him a fist pump.) I also get a kick out of Marilee making a beeline for handsome Jack the moment he arrives at the party, although I’m equally intrigued by another shot that shows her chatting with Ray. In fact, the only character who seems to be missing from the celebration is Jenna’s lawyer Scotty Demarest. This is an especially egregious oversight when you consider all of Scotty’s theories about the case were proven correct, right down to the fact the murder weapon was equipped with a sy-lun-suh.

“Deliverance” also brings us more evidence of Sue Ellen’s sad spiral: J.R. finds her passed out drunk in her bed at the beginning of the episode, and later, she discreetly nips from her flask in the courthouse corridor. (Shades of Sue Ellen sneaking a drink during “Jock’s Trial, Part Two.”) Shockingly, Linda Gray has only one line of dialogue in “Deliverance” — at the party, Sue Ellen says hello to Phyllis and Sly — although Gray’s limited screen time underscores how her character is receding into the shadows. Besides, Sue Ellen’s drinking will be dealt with more in “Swan Song,” along with the identity of the mystery woman who rips up the newspaper article about Jenna’s release (is there any doubt who’s under the blond wig?) and Bobby and Pam’s reunion, which the producers set up in “Deliverance” by having the characters finally admit that they still love each other.

Along these lines, this episode also finds J.R. telling Sly he’s glad Jenna will soon get out of jail because it means she can marry Bobby. “J.R., I thought you wanted Bobby and Pam to get back together,” Sly says. His response: “Well, that was last week.” Yes, it’s an amusing line, especially when Larry Hagman punctuates it with his chuckle, but it’s also a little too self-aware for my taste. Perhaps the producers need to indulge their campy impulses one last time before returning to serious dramatic territory in “Swan Song.” If that’s the case, all is forgiven.

Grade: B

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Charlene Tilton, Clayton Farlow, Dack Rambo, Dallas, Deborah Tranelli, Deliverance, Don Starr, Donna Culver Krebbs, Donna Reed, Dr. Mitch Cooper, Fern Fitzgerald, George O. Petrie, Harv Smithfield, Howard Keel, Leigh McCloskey, Dr. Mitch Cooper, Jack Ewing, Jordan Lee, Marilee Stone, Phyllis Wapner, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Susan Howard

Toast of the town

‘DELIVERANCE’

Season 8, Episode 29

Airdate: May 10, 1985

Audience: 19.2 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Peter Dunne

Director: Nick Havinga

Synopsis: At the trial, Windham testifies that he bought Digger and Jason’s Ewing Oil shares and later sold them to Jock. Jenna is freed after Bobby persuades Schumann to confess to Naldo’s murder, but the assassin is unable to say who hired him. Dusty spots Sue Ellen drinking at the Oil Baron’s Club. Mitch asks Lucy to move to Atlanta.

Cast: Sam Anderson (Inspector Frank Howard), Mary Armstrong (Louise), Rod Arrants (Andre Schumann), Roseanne Christiansen (Teresa), Robert Clarke (Mason), Pat Colbert (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Barnes), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), John Larch (Wally Windham), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Leigh McCloskey (Dr. Mitch Cooper), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Daniel Pilon (Renaldo Marchetta), 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), Dean Santoro (Raymond Furguson), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Harvey Vernon (Judge Harding)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 189 — ‘Deeds and Misdeeds’

Dallas, Deeds and Misdeeds, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Bottle shock

Sue Ellen’s scenes in “Deeds and Misdeeds” aren’t easy to watch. The previous episode ended with her taking her first drink in almost two years, and in this hour, she continues slipping back into her old habits. Sue Ellen leads everyone to believe her relapse was only temporary, yet she swipes a bottle of vodka from the living room and stuffs it in her purse when no one is looking. Alcohol is once again overpowering her, which director Michael Preece brilliantly symbolizes in one scene by filming Linda Gray through the bottles on the Southfork liquor cart. It’s as if the booze is bigger than she is.

As much as I love this shot, no moment in “Deeds and Misdeeds” is more powerful than Sue Ellen’s visit to John Ross in the hospital. She’s wracked with guilt — the reason she fell off the wagon in the first place is because J.R. accused her of being a neglectful mother when their son fell ill with appendicitis — and Gray’s tentative body language does as much to convey her character’s remorse as her tears. Sue Ellen approaches the child slowly, then tenderly strokes his hair and says, “I’m so sorry. Mommy should have been here so you didn’t have to go through that operation alone.” John Ross tells her that “it wasn’t your fault” and wraps his arms around her neck, which might be the saddest thing I’ve ever witnessed on this show. This sweet little boy isn’t hesitating to forgive his mother, yet we know it’ll be a long time before she can forgive herself.

Although it’s hard to see Sue Ellen fall behind after making so much progress during the past two seasons, I’m glad “Dallas” is finally showcasing Gray, who’s been relegated to the background for too long. “Deeds and Misdeeds” continues the show’s late-season course correction in other areas too, including the storyline over the lawsuit to control Ewing Oil. The mysterious Jack brings his cousins J.R., Bobby and Ray to California to meet wealthy Wallace Windham, a figure from Jock’s past who has information that could tilt the suit in the Ewings’ favor. The audience won’t discover what Windham knows until the next episode, but no matter. At least we get to see the Ewing men looking cooler than ever as they stroll across Windham’s driveway. It’s not as neat as the slow-motion walk from “Reservoir Dogs,” but it’ll do.

“Deeds and Misdeeds” also features a cute scene in which J.R. shows up in John Ross’s hospital room with a toy robot — Daddy looks awfully pleased with himself, doesn’t he? — as well as the impromptu wedding of Cliff and Jamie, which demonstrates how isolated Ken Kercheval’s character is from the rest of the show. Cliff asks Jordan Lee to be his best man, a somewhat surprising choice since I rarely think of these two characters as being particularly close. Other oddities include Clayton expressing surprise to learn Jock was married before Ellie — how has she not mentioned this before? — as well as Mandy’s near-orgasmic reaction when J.R. embraces her during a visit to her dressing room. If this is all it takes for J.R. to send a woman into a fit of ecstasy, no wonder he’s such a popular fellow.

Speaking of unsubtle moments: Let’s discuss the dramatic encounter between Mitch, his ex-wife Lucy and his current squeeze Joanna. It begins with Mitch and Lucy chatting in the hospital corridor about how much they’ve matured since their divorce. When she says she’s proud of him and offers a friendly hug, he notices Joanna is watching and calls her over. “Hi, Joanna,” Mitch says. “I’d like to introduce you to Lucy Ewing. Lucy, this is Joanna Pearce.” Actress Cynthia Leake says, “Hello,” … and then she delivers a Shatner-esque pause while cutting Charlene Tilton the most withering glare in the history of 1980s prime-time soap operas. This is what the kids now refer to as “throwing shade,” except that doesn’t do it justice. Tilton does a nice job looking appropriately rattled, which Joanna ignores as she turns to Mitch and says, “Well, I’ll talk to you later.” Leake then exits the scene, but not before Joanna looks Lucy up and down one last time.

This is Leake’s second “Dallas” appearance — she also played one of Peter’s fellow camp counselors in the seventh-season episode “My Brother’s Keeper” — and it demonstrates how actors in small roles can leave lasting impressions on “Dallas.” In a way, it also speaks to the resiliency of Tilton’s character. If Lucy can survive a look this dirty, she might be the hardiest Ewing of all.

Grade: B

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Dallas, Deeds and Misdeeds, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Tin men

‘DEEDS AND MISDEEDS’

Season 8, Episode 28

Airdate: May 3, 1985

Audience: 18.2 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Jack introduces the Ewing brothers to Wallace Windham, who supplies them with evidence Jock owned Ewing Oil. After falling off the wagon, Sue Ellen hides her drinking from the Ewings. Cliff marries Jamie.

Cast: Roseanne Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Susan French (Amanda 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), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), John Larch (Wally Windham), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Leigh McCloskey (Dr. Mitch Cooper), 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), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 188 — ‘The Ewing Connection’

Clayton Farlow, Dallas, Donna Reed, Ewing Connection, Howard Keel, John Ross Ewing, Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow, Omri Katz, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Emergency, plus four

No matter how many times I see the “Dallas” characters come together during a medical crisis, it never seems to lose its dramatic punch. In “The Ewing Connection,” John Ross’s appendicitis produces one chills-inducing scene after another: Miss Ellie rushing upstairs after hearing the little boy screaming in pain, Ray bursting through the emergency room doors carrying the child’s limp body, J.R. dropping everything at the office when he receives the call informing him his son is sick. These moments underscore the ties that bind this family, reminding us that despite all their bickering, the Ewings genuinely care about each other.

John Ross’s illness also provides “Dallas” with an opportunity send Sue Ellen on what will become one of her final benders. Linda Gray’s character demonstrates surprising strength throughout the eighth season, continually resisting the urge to drink as her marriage unravels for the umpteenth time. “The Ewing Connection” even takes a few moments to celebrate Sue Ellen’s success in the scene where she attends group therapy and tearfully describes how she stayed on the wagon despite another nasty spat with J.R. Gray’s performance during the therapy scene is beautiful and moving, allowing us to feel proud of Sue Ellen not only for staying sober, but also for having the courage to share the experience with a roomful of strangers. This is what makes the episode’s ending so heartbreaking. After J.R. lashes out at her because she wasn’t with John Ross when he got sick, Sue Ellen picks up a glass of bourbon, tentatively brings it to her lips and finally gulps it down.

Sue Ellen’s downfall raises a few questions that aren’t easily answered. First, is J.R. right when he says she should have stayed home with John Ross? The script has the child’s illness play out gradually. He begins complaining about having a stomachache at breakfast, so Sue Ellen says he should stay home from school. Later, John Ross tells her he’s feeling better, so she decides to not take him to the doctor, saying he can spend the rest of the day in bed. She also points out that Miss Ellie will be around if he needs anything. Sue Ellen then goes to her group and returns home that evening toting a couple of shopping bags, explaining that she decided to buy herself a few things after her therapy session. This is when J.R. tells her John Ross’s appendix almost ruptured, calls her an unfit mother and storms off, leaving her alone to drink. Is J.R. unnecessarily cruel? Yes, but does he have a point about her parental judgment? Or is it unfair to blame Sue Ellen for something she couldn’t control?

This brings us to another point that’s open to interpretation. When Sue Ellen arrives home, J.R. is fixing a drink in the living room. He breaks the news about John Ross as only he can (“While you were out seeking help for your psyche and boosting the economy of the more fashionable boutiques of Dallas, your son was being rushed into surgery”) and she tries to defend herself, saying John Ross seemed fine when she left. The spouses move from the living room to the foyer, and as he calls her “a totally unfit mother,” he sets down the drink and marches upstairs. The question is: Why doesn’t J.R. take his drink with him? Does he leave it behind because he’s too angry to think straight? Or does he set down the glass, hoping Sue Ellen will drink it? Did he pour it for her in the first place? Is J.R. hoping she’ll relapse so he can divorce her, gain custody of John Ross and be free to pursue Mandy Winger?

Besides Sue Ellen’s relapse, “The Ewing Connection” includes two other moments of consequence: Donna learns she’s pregnant (Susan Howard does a nice job conveying her character’s mixed emotions in this scene), and J.R. and Bobby sign over 10 percent of Ewing Oil to their newly discovered cousin Jack in exchange for his promise to prove Cliff and Jamie have no ownership claim on the company. This is another example of one of my least favorite “Dallas” tropes from the later years, when the characters exchange stakes in this multi-billion-dollar company the way kids once traded baseball cards in schoolyards. Mercifully, Bobby persuades J.R. that the two of them should each give up 5 percent instead of asking the other shareholders (Miss Ellie, Gary and Ray) to sacrifice a portion of their shares. It doesn’t make much sense, but at least the math is easy to follow.

Finally, “The Ewing Connection” gives us two reunions, beginning with Lucy and Mitch’s appropriately awkward dinner in Atlanta. The characters make meaningless small talk, although one line of dialogue feels weightier now than it did when this episode debuted three decades ago. Lucy asks Mitch about his mother and sister; Mitch responds both are doing fine, which doesn’t tell the whole story, at least where Afton is concerned. Given what we now know about Audrey Landers’ character’s timeline, she was probably getting ready to give birth to her secret daughter Pamela Rebecca Cooper around this time. Maybe Mitch decides not to tell Lucy because he’s afraid she’ll go home and blab the news to everyone, which actually seems pretty likely when you stop and think about it.

The more meaningful reunion comes when Bobby and Pam spend an evening reminiscing about their marriage, sealing the conversation with a brief kiss. The producers wisely keep Priscilla Beaulieu Presley out of this episode, giving Bobby and Pam the room they need to begin finding their way back to each other. The kiss also foreshadows the characters’ reconciliation in the eighth-season finale, “Swan Song.” In fact, there’s a lot about “The Ewing Connection” that reminds me of that episode. The scene where J.R. rushes out of the room after receiving the call about John Ross is similar to the “Swan Song” moment in which J.R. gets the call that Bobby’s been hurt, and Howard Keel seems to sport the same shirt and jacket in both episodes. Likewise, when Sue Ellen comes home with her shopping bags, it’s not unlike the ninth-season scene in which she strolls into the living room, blissfully unaware that Bobby has died.

I know, I know. I’m getting ahead of myself again. What can I say? If “The Ewing Connection” is a trial run for “Swan Song,” then I’m more ready than ever to see the real thing.

Grade: B

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Dallas, Ewing Connection, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Last hurrah

‘THE EWING CONNECTION’

Season 8, Episode 27

Airdate: April 19, 1985

Audience: 17.9 million homes, ranking 5th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Nick Havinga

Synopsis: J.R. and Bobby reluctantly agree to give Jack 10 percent of Ewing Oil in exchange for information to squash Cliff’s lawsuit. Sue Ellen falls off the wagon after John Ross is rushed to the hospital with appendicitis. Bobby and Pam kiss. Donna learns she’s pregnant. Lucy meets Mitch in Atlanta. The police track down Andre Schumann, the assassin who likely murdered Naldo.

Cast: Roseanna Christensen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher 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), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Leigh McCloskey (Dr. Mitch Cooper), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Nicholas Pryor (Nathan Billings), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dack Rambo (Jack Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Barry Sattels (Greg Rupp), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), John Zaremba (Dr. Harlan Danvers)

“The Ewing Connection” is available on DVD and at Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 187 — ‘Terms of Estrangement’

Dack Rambo, Dallas, Jack Ewing, Jenilee Harrison, Terms of Estrangement

Hello, stranger

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.

Grade: B

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Dallas, Terms of Estrangement

Close at hand

‘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)

“Terms of Estrangement” is available on DVD and at Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 186 — ‘Sentences’

Dallas, Jenna Wade, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, Sentences

It’s a crime

Do you hate to see the judge send Jenna Wade to prison in “Sentences”? I do. Not because I think it’s unfair to punish Priscilla Beaulieu Presley’s character for a crime she didn’t commit. No, I’m sorry to see Jenna go to jail because I know she’ll be free by the end of the season. Think about it: If “Dallas” took place in real time, Jenna’s seven-year sentence means she’d be released in the spring of 1992, about a year after the series had gone off the air. How nice would it have been to never have to look at her again after this episode?

I know that sounds harsh, so let me make something clear: I have nothing against Presley, who is a capable and appealing actress. My gripe is with her hollow character. Jenna’s personality changes depending on whatever the story calls for. When the show needed someone to threaten Bobby and Pam’s marriage, Jenna (played by Morgan Fairchild and later, Francine Tacker) was a conniving vixen. Once Bobby and Pam were divorced and Patrick Duffy needed a new leading lady, Jenna was recast with Presley and turned into someone the audience could root for: a down-on-her-luck single mom who was willing to wait tables to make ends meet. Now that “Dallas” is laying the groundwork for Bobby and Pam’s reconciliation, Jenna has been reduced to a plot device. She exists solely to illustrate Bobby’s nobility: He’s such a good guy, he’ll fight to keep her out of jail, even though his heart belongs to another woman.

More than anything, this is why Jenna’s eighth-season storyline is one of “Dallas’s” worst narrative miscues. The show is asking the audience to invest in a character who is maddeningly inconsistent. To get an idea of what I mean, imagine if Sue Ellen was tried for murder instead of Jenna. Sure, we’d probably complain the court scenes were draggy, but the writers also would have had a deeper, richer character to build a storyline around. Sue Ellen might have collapsed under the pressure of a trial or she might have risen to the occasion and fought to prove her innocence, but you can bet the character would have been recognizable in either instance. Jenna, on the other hand, becomes a different person every time her circumstances change.

As much as Presley’s character weighs down “Sentences,” the episode isn’t a total loss. The show continues to slowly restore Larry Hagman’s character, giving J.R. a good scene in which he shows Nathan Billings the tape he made of him sleeping with Rhonda Cummings. When Billings sees himself on the TV, director Michael Preece appears to zoom in on actor Nicolas Pryor while pulling back the camera, a neat trick that recalls a similar shot of Roy Scheider in “Jaws.” (Spielberg himself borrowed the technique from Hitchcock.) In another clever touch, Preece uses the mirrors in J.R. and Sue Ellen’s bedroom to show us both characters’ expressions when she confronts him about his affair with Mandy. I also like how J.R. initially denies the affair, but as he stands at the dresser and slowly empties his pockets, he eventually unburdens himself and acknowledges the truth: Not only is he sleeping with Mandy, he’s fallen for her.

“Sentences” also offers an encounter between J.R. and Pam, although it isn’t quite as entertaining as their confrontation a few episodes ago in “Legacy of Hate.” J.R. visits his ex-sister-in-law and says that now that Jenna has gone to jail, he hopes Bobby and Pam will reconcile. Her response (“Did you suddenly find religion, or did your doctor tell you that you only have a week to live?”) isn’t as amusing today as it was in 1985, but more importantly, I wish we knew what J.R. is up to. Are we supposed to assume he wants Pam back on Southfork so she’ll stop supporting Cliff’s lawsuit to seize two-thirds of Ewing Oil? Ambiguities aside, I love how this scene begins: Pam is giving Christopher an afternoon snack when J.R. arrives and bends down to receive a kiss from the boy, only to end up with a cheek full of graham cracker crumbs. Eric Farlow’s reaction upon spotting Hagman (“Uncle J.R.!”) is also charming.

Other small but memorable moments in “Sentences” include Jackie interrupting Cliff and Pam to relay a radio news bulletin that Jenna has been found guilty. Sherril Lynn Katzman is quite good here; her expression lets us know that Jackie realizes her announcement will annoy Cliff, but she’s going to deliver the news anyway because Pam deserves to know. I also get a kick out of a later scene in which Cliff bursts into Pam’s office to tell her that Bobby has confessed to being Charlie’s father to gain custody of her. Who doesn’t get a kick out of Cliff’s description of the girl: “What’s that kid’s name? Charlie?” (At least Cliff is better informed than Ray, who mistakenly refers to Mickey as his nephew in this episode.)

“Sentences” also includes a memorable scene at the Oil Baron’s Club, where Marilee runs into Sue Ellen and eagerly tells her that J.R. was recently spotted around town with Mandy. This is delicious and fun, and not just because Linda Gray and Fern Fitzgerald are dressed to the nines. It’s also interesting to see the actresses share a scene and be reminded that their characters were once ladies who lunched and volunteered together on the charity circuit. The death of Marilee’s husband and her rise to power in his company moved her out of Sue Ellen’s orbit and into J.R.’s, but when you go back and watch Fitzgerald’s early appearances, you can see hints of the snide, cutting character she’d eventually become. Marilee’s steady, consistent development over the years makes her another contrast with whichever-the-way-the-wind blows Jenna.

You can also see Marilee as a template for Sue Ellen, who’ll eventually join her frenemy in the business world. At this point during “Dallas’s” run, though, Sue Ellen and Marilee are leading very different lives, although it’s not like they have nothing in common. I mean, do these bitches know how to rock a hat or what?

Grade: B

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Dallas, Linda Gray, Sentences, Sue Ellen Ewing

Top hat

‘SENTENCES’

Season 8, Episode 25

Airdate: March 29, 1985

Audience: 19.5 million homes, ranking 6th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: J.R. blackmails Billings into shutting down Cliff’s offshore oil operation and urges Pam to reconcile with Bobby. When Jenna is sentenced to a seven-year prison term, Bobby is awarded custody of Charlie and resumes his investigation into Veronica’s death. Marilee tells Sue Ellen about J.R.’s affair with Mandy. Ray urges Lucy to contact Mitch.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), Pat Colbert (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Marj Dusay (Bernice Billings), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), 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), Frederic Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Laura Malone (Janice Hopper), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Allan Miller (Assistant District Attorney Frederick Hoskins), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Nicholas Pryor (Nathan Billings), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Dean Santoro (Raymond Furguson), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 185 — ‘The Verdict’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Jenna Wade, Patrick Duffy, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, Verdict

Stand by your woman, man

Bobby Ewing fights to save Jenna in “The Verdict,” but the real man of the hour is Patrick Duffy. After an unusually long stretch of disappointing episodes, Duffy takes his 12th turn in the “Dallas” director’s chair and helps get the series back on track. His understanding of what the audience wants to see — combined with his ability to draw solid performances from his fellow actors and his knack for visual storytelling — make “The Verdict” the show’s strongest entry since “The Brothers Ewing.” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Duffy helmed that episode too.

Interestingly, while “The Brothers Ewing” works because it allows several characters to play against type, “The Verdict” succeeds because it shows our favorites returning to form. This is true for Bobby, particularly in the scene where he goes to Los Angeles and delivers an impassioned speech to Ann McFadden, hoping to persuade her to come home with him to testify on Jenna’s behalf. Most importantly, though, “The Verdict” finds J.R. getting his groove back after spending most of the eighth season moping over his various business and romantic frustrations. During the course of this hour, J.R. springs a trap on hapless bureaucrat Nathan Billings, shares a passionate embrace with Mandy Winger and clashes with Sue Ellen, punctuating their argument with an especially menacing expression. Isn’t it nice to see Larry Hagman having fun again?

My favorite performance in “The Verdict,” though, belongs to Stephen Elliott as Jenna’s attorney Scotty Demarest, who is sly and drawl-y enough to out-Matlock Andy Griffith. How can you not love the scene where Scotty approaches Jenna on the witness stand, hands her the gun used to kill Naldo and asks her to unlock it? She has no idea where the safety lever is, making Scotty’s stunt “Dallas’s” version of O.J. Simpson trying on the bloody glove. David Paulsen’s script gives Elliott some hoot-worthy dialogue here, particularly when Scotty turns to the jury and says, “The prosecution wants you to believe that under the effects of chloroform, this little lady here can grab [a gun] away from a man bigger, stronger than she, find the safety, release it, shoot, before he could stop her?” The only thing missing is a Johnnie Cochrane-style refrain: If she can’t find the lever, you must free her!

I applaud Duffy, in his role as director, for giving Elliott so much latitude, but I admire Duffy’s sense of imagination even more. He’s always demonstrated a flair for interesting camera angles, going back to the shot of Bobby and Pam on the Southfork staircase in 1981’s “The New Mrs. Ewing,” the first “Dallas” episode he helmed. In one scene in “The Verdict,” Duffy puts the camera in the jury box, allowing us to see the action unfold in the courtroom the way the anonymous characters sitting in judgment of Jenna are seeing it. It’s a small but clever touch.

Duffy has also mastered the art of efficient storytelling. When the judge begins reading the jury their instructions, Miss Ellie rushes out of the courtroom, followed by Clayton, who comforts her in the corridor. This kills two birds with one stone: It gives Donna Reed and Howard Keel their only meaningful scene in the episode, but it also signals to the audience that the trial is winding down — without forcing us to sit through the judge’s speech. In an earlier scene, we hear Scotty urging Jenna to allow her daughter Charlie to testify, but instead of showing Elliott and Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, Duffy fixes his camera on Ellie and Clayton as they take their seats in the courtroom, and then he pans to Scotty and Jenna. It’s another small touch, but it’s a way of keeping Reed and Keel’s characters in the action.

Besides being entertaining, these visual flourishes distract us from “The Verdict’s” bonkers view of the criminal justice system. During his testimony, Bobby pulls out a letter from Veronica Robinson, a star witness who was murdered before she could clear Jenna in Naldo’s death, and proceeds to read it to the jury. On what planet would this be admissible evidence? Shouldn’t the prosecution want to authenticate the handwriting? Does no one want to hear from someone who witnessed Veronica write the note? Why does Bobby get to read it aloud? And while we’re on that subject, don’t jurors usually have assigned seating in courtrooms? The extras in “The Verdict” never seem to sit in the same seat twice. (By the way: Heidi Hagman, Larry’s daughter, plays the forewoman.)

“The Verdict” also knows when to give the audience more information than the characters, including a brief scene in which Bobby and Pam share a tender moment in Christopher’s Southfork bedroom, unaware that Jenna is lurking in the doorway. Just as importantly, this episode knows when to keep viewers in the dark. We go through the hour suspecting that J.R. is setting up Billings, but we don’t receive confirmation until the next-to-last scene, when we discover the delightfully named Rhonda Cummings — future “War of the Ewings” star Michelle Johnson — is using a hidden camera to film her tryst with Billings, undoubtedly so J.R. can use it against him later.

The twist isn’t unexpected, but the reveal is fun nonetheless. It’s also nice to know “Dallas” still has the ability to pull itself out of the doldrums, although as we reach the end of the eighth season, I’m only sorry these recoveries are so frequently necessary to begin with.

Grade: A

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Dallas, Scotty Demarest, Stephen Elliott, Verdict

We, the jury

‘THE VERDICT’

Season 8, Episode 24

Airdate: March 15, 1985

Audience: 19.3 million homes, ranking 5th in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Patrick Duffy

Synopsis: Bobby obtains valuable evidence from Ann, but Jenna’s trial ends with a guilty verdict. After the Texas Energy Commission shuts down a Ewing Oil field, J.R. sets up the chairman, Nathan Billings, with a prostitute. Donna refuses to return to Ray, while Jamie resists Cliff’s romantic overtures. J.R. tells Mandy that he may not be with Sue Ellen much longer.

Cast: Victor Campos (Mendoza), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbert (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Rosemary Forsyth (Ann McFadden), Conroy Gedeon (Dr. Finch), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Heidi Hagman (Jury Forewoman), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Nanci Hammond (Secretary), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Michelle Johnson (Rhonda Cummings), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Virginia Kiser (Judge Roberta Fenerty), Allan Miller (Assistant District Attorney Frederick Hoskins), Bill Morey (Leo Wakefield), William Edward Phipps (Ewing Oil Foreman), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Nicholas Pryor (Nathan Billings), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Barbara Rhoades (Lila Cummings), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Wesley Thompson (Bailiff), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 184 — ‘Trial and Error’

Dallas, Jenna Wade, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, Trial and Error

Miss Trial

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?

Grade: C

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Dallas, Linda Gray, Pam Ewing, Sue Ellen Ewing, Trial and Error, Victoria Principal

Westward ho!

‘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)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 183 — ‘Dead Ends’

Dallas, Dead Ends, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Inner sanctum

The title “Dead Ends” refers to Pam’s fruitless search for Mark Graison, but it also describes “Dallas’s” final batch of eighth-season episodes. This show is now killing time. The writers don’t have enough story to fill 30 hours of television, and so the material they’ve come up with is getting stretched thin. There are occasional flashes of inspiration — in “Dead Ends,” most of them are supplied by Victoria Principal and the always reliable director Michael Preece — but for the most part, “Dallas” has entered its weakest era since its earliest days, when the series was still figuring itself out.

Here’s an example: “Dead Ends” shows J.R. receiving a visit from Swiss business associate Conrad Bunkhouser, who reviews their scheme to sell Ewing Oil assets to one of J.R.’s dummy corporations. The scene is virtually identical to an exchange these two characters had during the previous episode, right down to J.R.’s reminder that Bobby must never find out about the deal. There’s also a scene of Sue Ellen and Pam having their umpteenth conversation about the latter’s conflicted feelings about Mark, as well as a meeting where Bobby and Scott Demarest cross-reference the passenger lists from the two flights Veronica Robinson took from Tokyo to Dallas. We actually see Bobby start to tick off the names, one by one (Abbott, B.; Anderson, G.; Avildson, H. …), which is every bit as exciting as it sounds.

The only thing more tedious than Bobby’s attempt to clear Jenna for murder is J.R.’s pursuit of Mandy. He shows up on her doorstep and begs her to see him in “Dead Ends,” just like he did two episodes ago in “Sins of the Fathers.” I appreciate the show’s willingness to mix things up by denying J.R. what he wants, but this has been going on for almost an entire season. I’m ready to see him win again. Even this episode’s clash between J.R. and Cliff lacks punch. (Well, not literally.) In fact, the only time Larry Hagman’s character comes alive is when J.R. is moping around his office and Sly arrives to say she’s ready to come back to work. Preece cleverly stages the scene by having Hagman sit at J.R.’s desk in the foreground, and then Debbie Rennard pops through the door in the distance. It’s almost as if J.R.’s angel has appeared on his shoulder.

Principal figures into this episode’s other good scenes. First, after Mr. Chan refuses to allow Pam to visit the clinic he runs, she calls him and declares she isn’t going to back down from her attempt to see “Mr. Swanson,” the mysterious patient she believes is Mark. “You see, I’m very rich, and very determined. And if I have to, I’ll buy that damned clinic and walk in as the owner,” Pam says. It’s another example of how Principal’s character has finally regained her spirit after taking those detours into lunacy and wishy-washiness during previous seasons. Then, in the final scene, Principal is quite moving when Pam bribes her way into the clinic and comes face to face with Swanson, only to discover it isn’t Mark after all.

Or is it? After Pam leaves the room in tears, we’re led to believe her escort, Mr. Wong, has tricked her, although we can’t be sure why. Is J.R. leading Pam on another wild goose chase, or could Wong be working for Mark? When I watched this episode as a kid, I was absorbed with this storyline, as well as Jenna’s murder trial, J.R. and Mandy’s romance and Cliff and Jamie’s lawsuit. (I’m sure I also was fascinated by the perfectly placed wisps of hair that peek out from Marilee Stone’s hat in the Oil Baron’s Club scene, although I can’t say for sure.)

Now I watch “Dead Ends” and realize how lackluster it is. “Dallas” is capable of much better, as we see in the classic “Swan Song” episode that ends the eighth season. I look forward to revisiting that installment, which probably will seem that much sweeter once I’ve finished slogging through the remaining hours that precede it.

Grade: C

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Dallas, Dead Ends, Debbie Rennard, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Sly Lovegren

Happy returns

‘DEAD ENDS’

Season 8, Episode 22

Airdate: March 1, 1985

Audience: 21 million homes, ranking 7th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Pam comes face to face with the mystery man whose trail brought her to Hong Kong, but it turns out to not be Mark. The police rule Veronica’s death an overdose, but Bobby sets out to prove she was murdered. J.R. and Mandy go on a date, while Cliff and Jamie grow closer. Eddie bids Lucy farewell.

Cast: Sam Anderson (Inspector Frank Howard), Burke Byrnes (Pete Adams), Philip Chan (Edward Chan), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Ben Cooper (Parrish), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Erik Holland (Conrad Buckhouser), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Sam Lam (Wong), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), David Price (Swanson), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Dean Santoro (Raymond Furguson), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 182 — ‘Shattered Dreams’

Dallas, Deborah Shelton, Mandy Winger, Shattered Dreams

Key lighting

It’s probably safe to say no “Dallas” episode would perform well on the Bechdel test, which some critics use to gauge sexism in movies. (To pass, a film must have at least one scene where two women talk to each other about something other than a man.) Nevertheless, there are times the series manages to resist its chauvinistic impulses. In “Shattered Dreams,” for example, Mandy refuses to allow J.R. to buy her an apartment, Lucy breaks up with Eddie when she discovers he cheated on her and Sue Ellen outsmarts a stranger who tries to flirt with her in a restaurant. It’s good to see each woman display more backbone than usual, even if they remain supporting players in the show’s male-dominated narrative.

Mandy’s storyline impresses me most. J.R. routinely uses his wealth to buy affection from the women in his life: He wooed Kristin with a closet full of new clothes, and during various stormy periods in his relationship with Sue Ellen, he’s used a new car, jewelry and a fur coat to get back in her good graces. J.R. tries this trick with mistress-in-waiting Mandy in “Shattered Dreams,” offering to set her up in a swanky condominium, but she tells him she won’t be a kept woman. “I know you’re rich, but I’m not for sale,” she says, tossing him the key to the apartment. It’s another reminder that Deborah Shelton’s character starts off being more independent and much smarter than I remembered.

Lucy, on the other hand, is a character for whom wisdom doesn’t come naturally. In “Shattered Dreams,” a guilty-yet-spiteful Betty visits Lucy and reveals she’s been sleeping with Eddie. Given Lucy’s habit of sticking with men after they’ve mistreated her, you might expect her to forgive Eddie. Instead, Lucy breaks up with him and ends their business partnership, calling it “the worst idea I’ve ever had in my life.” After all these years, Charlene Tilton’s character is finally learning from her mistakes. I’m relieved, though, that Lucy’s maturity hasn’t tempered her edge. When Eddie says he doesn’t want Betty, Lucy responds with one of the great “Dallas” lines: “Of course you don’t because she can’t set you up in your own building business. All she can do is sling hash and make love!”

Another scene demonstrates how much the once-demure Sue Ellen has changed. While sitting with Pam in a Hong Kong restaurant, the women are approached by a stranger who overheard someone refer to them as Ewings. When he introduces himself as a fellow Texan and wonders if they’re related to “ol’ J.R.,” Sue Ellen says they’re distant cousins. The stranger offers to buy the ladies a drink, but Sue Ellen responds neither one likes alcohol — prompting Pam to quickly put down the glass of wine she was about to raise to her lips. Victoria Principal’s timing is perfect and Linda Gray’s delivery is equal parts honey and acid, recalling Julia Sugarbaker’s memorable takedowns on “Designing Women.” It’s an amusing scene, although I must say: Sue Ellen is kind of hard on the guy. The role may be written as a lothario, but Bruce Baron portrays him as a genuinely friendly out-of-towner.

Speaking of Hong Kong: Sue Ellen and Pam’s scenes were actually shot there, marking the first time “Dallas” has left the country to film an episode. I’m not sure it adds much to the storyline, though, which involves Pam’s ho-hum search for her is-he-dead-or-isn’t-he fiancé, Mark Graison. Other scenes in “Shattered Dreams” also fall flat. When Cliff asks Jamie out to dinner, she suggests they get Chinese food. It’s meant to be a cute coincidence, but it feels forced. Later, during Betty and Lucy’s poolside confrontation, Kathleen York does her best to make her character seem awestruck by the grandeur of Southfork, which isn’t easy considering the scene was filmed on the show’s less-than-convincing patio soundstage. Eagle-eyed “Dallas” viewers also will notice Ray and Donna’s bedroom makes a rare appearance in this episode, although it doesn’t match the set used when the room appeared in the fifth-season classic “Adoption.” It’s also worth noting “Shattered Dreams” marks the debut of Mandy’s living room, which is decorated with framed pictures of herself. How wonderful.

Of course, even when the storytelling and production values on “Dallas” disappoint, it’s still worth revisiting the show to be reminded of the way we once lived. In one scene, J.R. hears Cliff leave a message on Mandy’s answering machine, pops the cassette out of the machine and replaces it with another. Even in the 1980s, it was pretty easy to hack someone else’s “data.” I also get a kick out of the end of the episode, when Bobby and Jenna go to the airport to meet Veronica Robinson, who is flying to Dallas to be a star witness at Jenna’s murder trial. (Groan.) While standing outside the airport gate, Bobby and Jenna become alarmed when a couple of airport security officers rush past them and board the plane — and so Bobby and Jenna follow them with no interference whatsoever.

In a similar spirit, I love this episode’s scene of Pam and Sue Ellen flying to Hong Kong. The characters sip iced tea, nibble on a plate of fruit and make polite small talk when a friendly stewardess drops by to ask if they’d care for a magazine to read. Principal and Gray look like they’re having a grand time, and who can blame them? I mean, besides the first-class service, check out all the legroom on their plane!

Grade: C

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Dallas, Deborah Shelton, Mandy Winger, Shattered Dreams

Wall of Mandy

‘SHATTERED DREAMS’

Season 8, Episode 21

Airdate: February 22, 1985

Audience: 21.9 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Nick Havinga

Synopsis: Pam and Sue Ellen arrive in Hong Kong. J.R. hides assets from Bobby and tries again to woo Mandy, who refuses his attempt to set her up in an apartment. Cliff and Jamie grow closer. Lucy breaks up with Eddie after learning he’s been cheating with Betty. Veronica agrees to testify on Jenna’s behalf, but she dies mysteriously before arriving in Dallas.

Cast: Bruce Baron (Benjamin Alan Moody), Philip Chan (Edward Chan), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Erik Holland (Conrad Buckhouser), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Veronica Robinson (Gail Strickland), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Kathleen York (Betty)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 181 — ‘The Brothers Ewing’

Bobby Ewing, Brothers Ewing, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy

The dark side

In “The Brothers Ewing,” J.R., Bobby and Ray join forces to protect the family business from the increasingly dangerous Cliff Barnes. You’d think by now we’d all be used to seeing the Ewings unite against their enemies, and yet it never seems to lose its punch, does it? Consider how the events of this episode allow the brothers to play against type. While Bobby is scheming with J.R. to illegally shield Ewing Oil assets from Cliff, Ray is defending J.R. to Clayton, Donna and whoever else will listen. How can you not love a “Dallas” episode that offers surprises like these?

Of course, even though the characters act unexpectedly in “The Brothers Ewing,” they’re not necessarily acting out of character. Take Bobby, for example. His devotion to his family is one of his primary motivations, and he’s usually able to take the high road to achieve his aims. But when virtue isn’t an option, Bobby is more than willing to break the rules. We saw this when he illegally adopted Christopher to save his marriage to Pam, and we saw it again when he fought J.R. during the contest for Ewing Oil. Likewise, Ray’s actions in this episode aren’t all that unusual. This character has always been plagued by feelings of inadequacy, and so when he’s presented with an opportunity to fight alongside his half-brothers, he takes it without hesitation. For Ray, this is like getting to sit with the cool kids at lunch.

Seeing the Ewing brothers working together also is entertaining because, well, it makes these Texas billionaires seem a little more relatable, doesn’t it? Growing up, my older brother never missed an opportunity to make fun of me — but if I got picked on by another kid in the neighborhood, Rick would be the first one to come to my defense. This is common in a lot of families, which is why it’s nice to be reminded that the Ewing boys always have each other’s backs, whether it’s J.R. threatening one of Bobby’s enemies in “Fallen Idol” or Ray sticking up for J.R. in “The Brothers Ewing.” For me — and, I suspect, a lot of “Dallas” fans — scenes like these feel comfortably familiar.

Speaking of Clayton: As much as I enjoy seeing the Ewing brothers go all-for-one-and-one-for-all in this episode, I’m glad David Paulsen’s script keeps their new stepfather on the outside looking in. Howard Keel makes an effective foil in the last scene, when Clayton refuses to aid their scheme to hide Ewing Oil assets because he feels it’s morally wrong. I also like him in the first scene, when the brothers return from their visit to Cliff and admit they blew their opportunity to squash his lawsuit. Clayton tears into the boys, saying, “If you’re all going to get involved in a fight as serious as this one, then you’d better start doing your homework!” J.R. gets defensive (“Well, wonderful. That’s all we need. A lecture from Clayton Farlow”), but ask yourself: Would Jock Ewing have treated his sons any differently at this moment?

Overall, I must admit these episodes about Cliff and Jamie Ewing’s lawsuit are better than I remembered. The storyline feels like a calculated attempt to recapture the glory of J.R. and Bobby’s sixth-season contest by offering an inverse: Instead of the Ewings fighting each other, they’re fighting outsiders. The family versus Cliff and Jamie isn’t as compelling as J.R. and Bobby versus each other, but I can’t blame the show for trying. I especially like how this narrative manages to involve almost all the characters, just like the contest did. In “The Brothers Ewing,” for example, Ray’s decision to team with J.R. and Bobby creates a rift in his marriage to Donna, which feels like a more organic storyline for Steve Kanaly and Susan Howard than the amateur detective subplot they were saddled with the previous season.

Indeed, one of the other highlights in “The Brothers Ewing” is the scene where Donna tells Miss Ellie how horrified she is to see her husband align himself with J.R. Ellie responds that if the Ewings lose the lawsuit, she’ll be glad that Ray and Bobby are with her oldest son because “we’ll have to rely on them to keep him straight.” It’s a poignant line, but it also shows how Donna Reed’s Ellie can be every bit as wise as Barbara Bel Geddes’ version. The scene has the added benefit of reminding us how Patrick Duffy always elicits strong performances from his co-stars when he takes a turn in the “Dallas” director’s chair. Duffy’s clever touch can also be felt in J.R. and Bobby’s scene on the shadowy patio, where the brothers hatch their plot against Cliff. Duffy stages the exchange by putting one of the Southfork columns between him and Larry Hagman — a symbol of the narrowing divide between the brothers.

Like all “Dallas” episodes from this era, “The Brothers Ewing” also contains its share of tributes to the past, including Sue Ellen’s run-in with Cliff, where the ex-lovers make awkward small talk. When she turns down his invitation to lunch, he declares he’s not trying to seduce her. “That thought never even entered my mind,” she says, which is funny, because it’s the first thought that entered mine. Other scenes are amusingly outdated, including one where J.R. calls the modeling agency, hoping to learn Mandy’s whereabouts by pretending to be her brother “Marvin Winger” (caller ID would give him away today), as well as Bobby and Jenna’s lunch with Scott Demarest, who shows them splashy headlines about her trial in the Laredo newspapers. This shocks the couple, although in a pre-Facebook era, how would they have known how the out-of-town press was covering her case?

I also get a kick out of seeing John Ross playing with his toy space shuttle — would today’s kids even know what that is? — although nothing charms me quite like the scene where Pam points to a globe and shows Christopher where Mommy will be traveling soon. When Victoria Principal says, “That’s Hong Kong,” Eric Farlow repeats the line back to her. It feels utterly spontaneous, prompting Principal to laugh uproariously and pull Farlow close. Like a similar scene between Pam and Christopher in the seventh-season cliffhanger “End Game,” this one demonstrates again that little Eric Farlow is more absorbed in his role than some of the grown-ups on this show. Can someone remind me again why they replaced this kid?

Grade: A

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Brothers Ewing, Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Eric Farlow, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Boy meets world

‘THE BROTHERS EWING’

Season 8, Episode 20

Airdate: February 15, 1985

Audience: 21.2 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Patrick Duffy

Synopsis: Clayton turns down his stepsons when they ask him to help them shield Ewing Oil assets from Cliff. Donna balks at Ray’s involvement with the fight for the company. Jamie has second thoughts about the lawsuit. Sue Ellen agrees to accompany Pam to Hong Kong to search for Mark. J.R. asks Mandy to give him another chance.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), John Carter (Carl Hardesty), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Eddie Firestone (Alf Brindle), 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), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Kathleen York (Betty)

“The Brothers Ewing” is available on DVD and at Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.