Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 180 — ‘Sins of the Fathers’

Dallas, Deborah Shelton, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Mandy Winger, Sins of the Fathers

Darkest before dawn

You know J.R. Ewing is having a bad week when he gets kneed in the groin and it’s the least of his problems. Such is our hero’s fate in “Sins of the Fathers.” The assault-by-patella occurs when J.R. tries to force himself upon Sue Ellen and she strikes back as only she can. He’s also rejected by Mandy, the gorgeous model who has proven immune to his charms, and then a judge freezes Ewing Oil’s assets after Cliff sues to snag a piece of the company. J.R.’s greatest indignity comes in the last scene, when his grand plan to use aging roughneck Alf Brindle to counter Cliff’s lawsuit backfires spectacularly.

Do all these misfortunes mean J.R. is losing his touch? Well, no, actually. We’ve merely arrived at the moment during a “Dallas” season when it looks like the character’s luck has finally run out. In previous years, this happened when J.R. got tossed into a Cuban jail cell, when he was forced to ask Cliff for an extension on a loan, when a state senate committee closed in on his illegal dealings overseas. In each instance, J.R. escaped harm and came out on top. There’s little doubt he’ll also recover from his setbacks in “Sins of the Fathers,” which might explain why his storyline this season feels so ho-hum. Even when this episode aired in 1985, audiences must have thought: We’ve seen this movie before. We know how it’s going to end.

Of course, “Sins of the Fathers” isn’t a rehash altogether. Consider J.R. and Sue Ellen’s fight scene, which begins with her leading him to believe she’s going to spend the night with Cliff. J.R. angrily pulls Sue Ellen into his bedroom, throws her onto the bed and begins kissing her. “I know what you like, darlin’,” he says. It’s reminiscent of two encounters from past episodes (“Black Market Baby,” “Rodeo”) — until Sue Ellen knees her husband, pushes him off of her and says, “And I know what you like — and I’m sure that wasn’t it.” I’m no fan of violence, but how can you not feel proud of Linda Gray’s character at this moment? After all these years, Sue Ellen has finally learned how to stop J.R. from taking advantage of her.

“Sins of the Fathers” scriptwriter Leonard Katzman and Larry Hagman, who directed the episode, find other ways to keep things fresh. When the Ewings track down Brindle in Galveston, J.R. and Ray go there together to speak to him. It’s the first time the half-brothers have paired up since their memorable trip to Waco during the first season. Later, the Ewings bring Brindle to Cliff’s condo to confront him, marking J.R.’s first visit there. And then there’s Jenna’s kitchen scene, which sheds new light on Priscilla Beaulieu Presley’s character. While kneading dough, Jenna recalls how she learned to bake from her father because her mother didn’t know how. “She never did teach me anything,” Jenna says, making me wonder what their relationship was like. (Perhaps this would have made a better storyline than Naldo’s yawn-inducing murder trial.)

Mostly, though, “Sins of the Fathers” is another eighth-season episode that celebrates “Dallas’s” history. During J.R. and Sue Ellen’s fight, she points out all the women he’s shared with Cliff (Julie Grey, Afton Cooper, herself). Mandy walks out on Cliff with a suitcase in her hand, just like Afton did in the season opener. To shield Ewing Oil assets from Cliff, J.R. turns again to Carl Hardesty, who helped him set up a series of dummy corporations during the sixth season. Bobby stumbles across a newspaper article about Lee Evans, the pilot who witnessed Jock’s helicopter crash during Season 5. (Since this scene never leads to a bigger storyline, I’m guessing it’s included here to promote “Who Killed Jock Ewing?”, a “Dallas” novel that was published in 1985 and features Evans as a character.)

I also appreciate “Sins of the Fathers’” attention to detail, a signature of both Katzman and Hagman. When Pam arrives at the Oil Baron’s Club for her lunch date with Bobby, notice how one of the extras cranes his neck to check out Victoria Principal as she breezes past him. Why do I get the feeling Hagman, in his role as director, instructed the extra to do this? Likewise, what are we to make of the scene where Harv shows up at the Ewing Oil offices with a piece of tissue stuck to his face and explains he was so rattled by J.R.’s call earlier that morning, he nicked himself shaving? Perhaps Katzman wrote this into the script, or maybe George O. Petrie actually cut himself on the day the episode was filmed. This also seems like the kind of thing Hagman might have come up with, just because he thought it would amuse the audience.

If that’s the case, he was right.

Grade: B

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Dallas, Linda Gray, Sins of the Fathers, Sue Ellen Ewing

Don’t mess with Miss Texas

‘SINS OF THE FATHERS’

Season 8, Episode 19

Airdate: February 8, 1985

Audience: 21.2 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: A judge freezes Ewing Oil’s assets but later reverses the decision. The Ewings track down Alf Brindle, a roughneck who worked for Jock, Jason and Digger, but the man accidentally offers evidence that supports and Cliff and Jamie’s claim. Mandy leaves Cliff but refuses to see J.R. Sue Ellen mends fences with Pam, who is given fresh reason to believe Mark is still alive. Jenna worries about her trial. Lucy and Eddie break ground on their construction project.

Cast: Beau Billingslea (Dr. Miller), John Carter (Carl Hardesty), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephan Elliott (Scotty Demarest), 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), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Dean Santoro (Raymond Furguson), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Harvey Vernon (Judge Harding), Kathleen York (Betty)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 179 — ‘Legacy of Hate’

Dallas, Legacy of Hate, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Girl on fire

Who doesn’t love the first scene in “Legacy of Hate”? Pam storms into J.R.’s office and demands to know why he sent her on a wild goose chase for her presumed dead fiancé, Mark Graison. J.R. plays dumb and denies everything, which only infuriates Pam more. She vows to get even by joining Cliff and Jamie’s legal fight to seize two-thirds of J.R.’s business. “You have one soft spot, one weakness — and that’s Ewing Oil, the only thing you’ve ever really loved,” Pam says. “Cliff and Jamie and I are going to take your company away from you. And then I’m going to watch you hurt.”

Hot damn! Often when these characters clash, J.R. threatens and Pam reacts. The dynamics here are reversed. At one point, she shouts, “Shut up! Just sit there and listen!” Under different circumstances, I might complain that a line like that further undercuts J.R., who’s already lost too much mojo this season. I could also point out that the wild goose chase scheme is unusually cruel, even by his standards. But if this is what it takes to reignite the spark in Victoria Principal’s character, I’m all for it. Make no mistake: This isn’t the namby-pamby Pam of recent seasons. This is Digger’s daughter, the fierce, feisty gal who refuses to be pushed around. Isn’t it nice to have her back?

I have to believe Principal is thrilled more than anyone. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen “Dallas” give the actress material like this; not even Pam’s years-in-the-making confrontation with Katherine was this emotionally charged. Larry Hagman is impressive too. Even though the audience knows J.R. is lying, you kind of want to believe him, don’t you? The scene also gives Hagman some fun one-liners, which he tosses off with typical effortless brilliance. (My favorite: “I never liked you a hell of a lot, you know that, Pam? But I never thought you were stupid until now.”) Is Hagman trying to upstage his co-star? Or is he merely giving her what she needs to get worked up? Whatever the case, their chemistry has never crackled quite like it does here.

Credit also goes to first-time “Dallas” director Robert Becker, who shows us what we need to see and then gets out of the actors’ way. When the sequence begins, Becker shoots Principal marching off the Ewing Oil elevator, through the reception area and into J.R.’s office. Once she’s inside the room, Becker keeps Hagman seated at the desk, allowing Principal to tower over him. The staging underscores how she’s dominating him. Another nice touch: Before Pam barges into the office, Kendall tries to stop her. Phyllis pipes up and says, “No, Kendall.” It’s telling that Phyllis would rather risk J.R.’s wrath than Pam’s.

The scene is easily one of “Dallas’s” best episode openings, ranking alongside the cattle drive that begins “Bypass” and Bobby’s heroics during the Southfork fire in “The Road Back.” Nothing else in “Legacy of Hate” matches the drama of J.R. and Pam’s confrontation, although Bobby and J.R.’s fight in the Southfork swimming pool comes close. I also like the episode’s quieter moments, including a good scene where Miss Ellie has a late-night heart-to-heart chat with J.R. in the Southfork kitchen. (He sips a beer, of course. Don’t the Ewing brothers ever drink milk to help them get back to sleep?) In another nice scene, Clayton offers to give Jamie one of his oil companies if she agrees to call off her lawsuit against the Ewings. It’s an outright bribe, but Howard Keel is so gentlemanly, he makes the offer seem perfectly honorable. I also like hearing Clayton refer to the Ewings as his family.

“Legacy of Hate” contains striking bit of continuity too: When J.R. plays Bobby the tape of his conversation with Cliff, the dialogue matches what he says when the exchange is depicted as a one-sided telephone call in “Déjà Vu.” The producers deserve applause for going to the trouble of making sure the two scenes sync, since I’m not sure even fervent fans would have noticed when these episodes aired weeks apart in 1985. I wish the same attention to detail was observed during “Legacy of Hate’s” next scene. After J.R. learns he’s been ratted out by Gerald Kane, the pilot he hired to lie to Pam, J.R. calls him and threatens to send over some “friends” if he doesn’t leave Texas right away. “Nobody, but nobody, double-crosses J.R. Ewing,” he says. True enough, but since when does J.R. give his enemies this kind of warning?

There’s also some humor in “Legacy of Hate,” although I’m not sure it’s intentional. When Mandy walks out on Cliff after Jamie interrupts their romantic dinner at home, she says, “I’m getting out, because three’s a crowd.” Could this be a sly reference to the sitcom that featured Jenilee Harrison before she arrived on “Dallas”? There’s an even funnier moment during J.R. and Bobby’s pool fight. After J.R. lands in the water and Bobby leaps into the water to punch him some more, watch Hagman. His face breaks into a comical, bug-eyed expression straight from his “I Dream of Jeannie” days. The expression is visible only a second, which makes me wonder if Hagman did it to amuse the crew, the stuntman or maybe just himself.

This is the kind of thing fans probably would have missed when this episode aired 30 years ago, before we all had the ability to search, scan, pause and replay scenes. Seeing it now is a reminder that no matter how many times we watch this show, there’s almost always something new to discover.

Grade: A

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Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Legacy of Hate

Slam dunk

‘LEGACY OF HATE’

Season 8, Episode 18

Airdate: February 1, 1985

Audience: 22.2 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Robert Becker

Synopsis: Pam and Bobby each confront J.R., who denies sending her on a wild goose chase. Cliff gains Pam as an ally in his fight with Jamie but loses Mandy’s support. The Ewings are stunned when Cliff and Jamie try to freeze Ewing Oil’s assets. Scotty tells Bobby they must find Naldo’s girlfriend, Veronica Robinson. Eddie cheats on Lucy with Betty.

Cast: Burke Byrnes (Pete Adams), Larry Cedar (Martin), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Lisa Cutter (Model), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Rosemary Forsyth (Ann McFadden), 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), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Sarah Partridge (Model), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Dean Santoro (Raymond Furguson), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson), Kathleen York (Betty)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 178 — ‘Bail Out’

Bail Out, Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Truth to power

Bobby springs Jenna from jail in “Bail Out,” while Sue Ellen liberates her own tongue. After discovering J.R. has cheated on her yet again, she stops playing the dutiful wife and begins speaking her mind, even if it means telling loved ones things they don’t want to hear. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Sue Ellen assume the role of Southfork’s resident truth-teller, although when it’s happened in the past, it’s usually because she’s been drinking. Our heroine is sober in “Bail Out,” making this episode another early glimpse of the independent, wiser character she’ll become in “Dallas’s” later years.

In the first act, Sue Ellen wakes up — a metaphor, perhaps — and has coffee with Miss Ellie in the dining room. When the conversation turns to Jamie’s efforts to split up Ewing Oil, Ellie is surprised to hear Sue Ellen hopes Jamie succeeds. “We have to keep what is ours. That company means everything to this family,” Ellie says. Sue Ellen gently points out Ellie’s hypocrisy, reminding the Ewing matriarch she once tried to force the sale of the business to keep J.R. and Bobby from fighting over it. Ellie defends herself, saying this situation is different because her sons are no longer at each other’s throats. She also urges Sue Ellen to think of John Ross, who’s poised to run the company someday. Sue Ellen’s response: “I know. That used to matter to me very much. Maybe he’d be better off without it.”

Did you ever think you’d hear Sue Ellen Ewing say such a thing? After all, this is the woman who spent “Dallas’s” earliest episodes in a virtual race with Pam to bear the Ewings’ first grandson. Now she’s admitting what’s she’s known for some time: being a Ewing wife and mother isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sue Ellen’s newly brutal honesty is also on display later in the episode, when she warns Jenna about the Ewings’ looming war with Jamie. Sue Ellen predicts the battle will cause Bobby to revert to the cutthroat tactics he used during the contest for Ewing Oil. “Wait and see,” she says. “The Ewing boys are alike in certain ways. I found it out, and so did Pam.”

You may not like everything Sue Ellen has to say in “Bail Out,” but you have to admire “Dallas’s” willingness to allow the character to change. You also have to admire Linda Gray’s ability to make Sue Ellen’s evolution so believable. In the scene with Donna Reed, Gray’s delivery is beautifully heartfelt. (It helps that the conversation takes place right after Sue Ellen awakens, so Gray gets to perform with little makeup and her hair a little messy. It’s Sue Ellen, unvarnished.) Gray also is impressive in her scene with Priscilla Beaulieu Presley. It would have been easy to bring an air of classic Sue Ellen bitchiness to this exchange, but Gray takes a different approach. She treats her character’s speech as a helpful warning, not a hurtful threat.

The other standout performer in “Bail Out” is Victoria Principal, who is fantastic in the episode-ending scene where pilot Gerald Kane visits Pam and confesses he lied about flying Mark Graison to the Caribbean to seek a cure for his disease. This tightly written, three-minute exchange requires Principal to exhibit a range of emotions — shock, anger, disgust — and she hits each one with precision. (Future Oscar winner James Cromwell is also quite good, making Kane’s guilt and shame palpable.) The best moment comes when Pam demands to know who paid Kane to lie to her. “No one has any reason to do something like that to me,” she says, but of course she must know in her heart who’s responsible. When Kane tells her the culprit is J.R. Ewing, Pam strikes him and repeats the name: “J.R. Ewing?!” It’s a testament to director Michael Preece that this doesn’t come off as a campy soap opera slap. Instead, it feels genuinely reflexive, as if Pam can’t help lashing out.

Speaking of J.R.: He finally seduces Mandy in this episode, luring her to a high-rise hotel suite under the ruse that she’s visiting something called “Club 1900.” When she arrives, she’s in no mood for his charms and angrily tosses a glassful of champagne in his face. He responds by grabbing and kissing her hard; she squirms for a few seconds but eventually melts in his arms. It’s not quite as unappetizing as the scene where J.R. forces himself on Sue Ellen in the second-season classic “Black Market Baby,” but it’s uncomfortable nonetheless. Other moments in “Bail Out” also evoke earlier storylines, including one where Ray encourages Lucy and Eddie to get soil samples before starting construction on their housing project. It’s a subtle nod to Ray’s disastrous foray into the real estate business during the fourth season. Sue Ellen and Ellie’s conversation about John Ross’s future also has echoes of Mama’s memorable speech (“Where will this all end?”) during the contest for Ewing Oil.

Homages like these have become a hallmark of “Dallas’s” eighth season. Each one feels like a treat for fans who absorb every last detail of the Ewings’ lives. You have to admire the show’s willingness to honor fans this way. Is it any wonder so many of us continue to reward “Dallas” with our loyalty?

Grade: B

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Bail Out, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Cheers!

‘BAIL OUT’

Season 8, Episode 17

Airdate: January 25, 1985

Audience: 22.2 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Bobby bails out Jenna and reunites her with Charlie. Sue Ellen warns Jenna about the looming battle for Ewing Oil. Cliff and Jamie gather evidence for their lawsuit. J.R. and Mandy have sex. Kane tells Pam that J.R. paid him to lead her on a wild goose chase.

Cast: Beau Billingslea (Dr. Miller), Burke Byrnes (Pete Adams), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), James Cromwell (Gerald Kane), Val De Vargas (Patrick Wolfe), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), 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), Clyde Kusatsu (Dr. Albert Matsuda), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Joe Nesnow (Judge Lanley), George O. Petrie (Harve Smithfield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Dean Santoro (Raymond Furguson), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 177 — ‘Winds of War’

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, Winds of War

Scene from a marriage

In “Winds of War,” J.R. insists he’s been faithful when Sue Ellen accuses him of cheating. He’s lying, of course, but why? Is he trying to spare his wife’s feelings, or is he trying to spare himself the embarrassment of another marital implosion? Does he want Sue Ellen to stay at Southfork because he fears she’ll take John Ross with her if she leaves, or does he want her there because he loves her? And what about Sue Ellen? Why does her husband’s fidelity matter to her? Is she in love with him, or is she merely dependent upon him? Does she want him, or does she need him?

None of the answers are clear, not that I’m complaining. Part of “Dallas’s” appeal lies in trying to figure out the mysteries of J.R. and Sue Ellen’s marriage, which will always be the show’s most fascinating relationship. But even when the motivations aren’t readily apparent, we can still see how these two characters are changing. Consider the “Winds of War” scene that ends with Sue Ellen tearfully ordering a double vodka at the Oil Baron’s Club. (“Just bring it, Cassie!”) We expect her to be drunk the next time we see her, since this is how she’s always coped with J.R.’s cheating. Yet in a surprising twist, Sue Ellen comes home sober, explaining to her husband that she stared at the drink for an hour before deciding he wasn’t worth a relapse.

We see changes in J.R. too. When Linda Gray delivers the line about not taking the drink, Larry Hagman’s eyes widen and he smiles slightly — as if J.R. is surprised, and perhaps more than a little proud, that his wife kept her demons in check. As the scene continues, Sue Ellen declares that she isn’t going to leave Southfork. “I have earned the right to be here,” she says. This feels like a moment of triumph for the character and an early glimpse of the grit she’ll display in later seasons. But it’s also an example of how J.R. still has power over her. Despite everything, she still can’t bring herself to leave him. Even when she can say no to booze, she can’t say no to him.

“Winds of War” is written and directed by Leonard Katzman, who sprinkles J.R. and Sue Ellen’s scenes with nods to other memorable moments in their marriage. In their confrontation at the end of the episode, Hagman is dressed in the same blue robe and pajamas that he wore at the beginning of the season, when J.R. won Sue Ellen back after being on the outs with her for more than a year. Also in the “Winds of War” scene, she tells him, “Don’t you ever explain anything to me again.” This recalls one of her memorable lines from their great clash two years earlier, when she chided him as “a terrific explainer.” You can even find allusions to J.R. and Sue Ellen in scenes that don’t feature them. When Bobby goes to Los Angeles and meets Veronica, the girlfriend of villainous Naldo Marchetta, he asks why she stayed with him despite his abusive tendencies. “I loved him,” she says. If a similar question was put to Sue Ellen, would her answer be any different?

Other “Winds of War” highlights include the final scene, when Cliff persuades Jamie to fight the Ewings for control of their company. Ken Kercheval delivers an urgent, heartfelt speech about how Cliff and Jamie owe it to their daddies to take back what Jock stole from them — and then when she agrees (“Let’s do it!”), he flashes a magnificently malevolent grin. Cliff has learned a thing or two from his nemesis, hasn’t he? Speaking of J.R.: I like his lie to Sue Ellen that the woman he was spotted kissing, Serena, is merely the daughter of “Congressman Hooker” (no stretch there, huh?), as well as Lucy and Eddie’s visit to Harv Smithfield’s office to formalize their real estate partnership. There’s unexpected warmth in George O. Petrie and Charlene Tilton’s exchanges. You get the impression Harv cares about Lucy and doesn’t want to see her get hurt. It’s the kind of small detail “Dallas” does so well.

Donna Reed supplies “Winds of War” with its other nice surprise. At the beginning of the episode, Miss Ellie becomes angry when she learns J.R. has kicked Jamie off Southfork. “Why, J.R.? What brought this on?” Ellie shouts. It’s the first time Reed has raised her voice since arriving on “Dallas” — and the first time she’s displayed Mama’s old fire. I like another scene between Reed and Howard Keel even more. Ellie and Clayton are dining at the Oil Baron’s Club, where she is fretting over Jamie’s future. Clayton encourages her not to make her niece’s problems her own. Ellie sits back in her chair, chuckles softly and realizes he’s right. It ends up being a rare example of two “Dallas” characters coping with their problems through laughter. The exchange also demonstrates Reed’s rapport with Keel, which feels genuinely affectionate.

At the end of this scene, Clayton asks Ellie if she’s ever considered running away from home. Reed smiles again and says, “A lot. But I think I’ll stay around and see how it all turns out.” For the first time, I wish she had been given that chance.

Grade: A

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Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval, Winds of War

Grinning season

‘WINDS OF WAR’

Season 8, Episode 16

Airdate: January 11, 1985

Audience: 23.6 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: After Sue Ellen’s friendship with Jamie collapses, she moves out of J.R.’s bedroom. Jamie leaves Southfork and agrees to join forces with Cliff to fight for control of Ewing Oil. Bobby finds Charlie in California. Lucy and Eddie form a business partnership.

Cast: 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), 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), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), 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), Gail Strickland (Veronica Robinson), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 176 — ‘Lockup in Laredo’

Dallas, Jenna Wade, Lockup in Laredo, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley

Caged beauty

Jenna Wade goes to jail in “Lockup in Laredo,” which is cause for celebration as far as I’m concerned. This is when Stephen Elliott arrives as Scotty Demarest, the high-dollar super lawyer who defended Jock Ewing against murder charges during “Dallas’s” third season and returns here to do the same for Priscilla Beaulieu Presley’s character. With his flamboyant style and thick drawl, Elliott makes Scotty a Texas version of Johnnie Cochrane. He’s a joy to watch and one of the best things about the Jenna-in-jeopardy storyline that dominates this era of the show.

Elliott shines every time he appears in “Lockup in Laredo,” although his best moment comes when Scotty questions Jenna in the jailhouse conference room. The scene begins with Jenna tired of rehashing the events that preceded her arrest and confident she didn’t fire the shots that killed her ex-husband, Naldo. But Scotty’s relentless questioning makes her re-consider everything she thinks she knows about the creep’s demise. Elliott, who honed his talent on the New York stage, forces Presley to keep up with him, bringing out the best in her performance. The contrast between his bulldog theatrics and her quiet, exhausted frustration makes their almost five-minute exchange a scene to remember. (Or “re-mem-buh,” as Scotty would say.)

“Lockup in Laredo” is the 10th “Dallas” episode helmed by Patrick Duffy, who once again demonstrates his knack for visual storytelling. In one scene, Bobby and Scotty examine the evidence found in Naldo’s car. This conversation could have been staged in a conference room too, but Duffy instead brings the characters to the impound lot, filming himself and Elliott inside the vehicle as they poke around the backseat and glove box. It helps the audience feel part of the action, and it’s always nice to see the actors in a new environment. In that spirit, I like the scene that shows Jackie relaxing at home when Cliff calls her, marking one of the few times we see a “Dallas” secretary in her own living space.

Duffy also does a nice job staging “Lockup in Laredo’s” pivotal final scene, which pulls together multiple narrative threads. We’ve been waiting several episodes for Sue Ellen to realize J.R. is getting bored in their marriage. We’ve also been waiting to see what Jamie will do with the legal document that could divide control of Ewing Oil among Jock, Jason and Digger’s heirs. Both storylines come to a head when J.R. arrives home and is confronted by Jamie, who spotted him cheating with Serena earlier in the day. When Sue Ellen overhears the conversation and questions her husband, he accuses Jamie of lying, prompting her to threaten to use her document against him. Sure, this is convoluted plotting, but you have to admire “Dallas’s” ability to advance two subplots in one swoop.

The other reason I like this scene is because it backs J.R. into a corner, which is where he’s always at his best (or worst, as the case may be). Let’s face it: As much as we all love Larry Hagman’s character, he’s gotten a little dull this season. David Paulsen’s script acknowledges as much when Miss Ellie and Clayton stand on the Southfork patio and discuss how troubled everyone at the ranch is these days — with the exception of J.R., who is being downright princely. “Isn’t it funny when everything else is going so badly, he’s the one bright spot in the family?” Ellie says. The moment these words pass her lips, you know she’s going to regret them.

I also enjoy seeing Ray and Donna take another turn as this show’s version of “McMillan and Wife,” this time combing through Sam Culver’s old legal papers to find evidence to refute Jamie’s claims about Ewing Oil’s ownership. This feels a little more organic than their investigation last year into Edgar Randolph’s past, although I’m always bewildered by this show’s inability to give Steve Kanaly and Susan Howard a storyline of their own. (By the way, what’s going on with the oil company Donna bought a few episodes ago?) Likewise, I have mixed feelings about Lucy’s storyline. I wish she had stuck with waitressing a little longer, although I’m intrigued by her foray into the real estate business in “Lockup in Laredo.” It’s not what I would have expected from her, but hey, at least she isn’t being kidnapped again.

Grade: B

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Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Lockup in Laredo, Patrick Duffy, Scotty Demarest, Stephen Elliott

Backseat driver

‘LOCKUP IN LAREDO’

Season 8, Episode 15

Airdate: January 4, 1985

Audience: 22.3 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Patrick Duffy

Synopsis: After Jenna is arrested for Naldo’s murder, Bobby hires Scotty Demarest to defend her. Jamie catches J.R. cheating with Serena and confronts him, unaware that Sue Ellen is eavesdropping. Mandy grows tired of Cliff. Ray and Donna find evidence that Jamie’s document is real. Pam finds no trace of Mark in Jamaica. Lucy suggests she and Eddie go into the real estate business.

Cast: Beau Billingslea (Dr. Miller), Stephanie Blackmore (Serena Wald), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), James Cromwell (Gerald Kane), Val De Vargas (Patrick Wolfe), 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), 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), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 175 — ‘Odd Man Out’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Odd Man Out, Patrick Duffy

Raising the bar

“Odd Man Out” is the 12th “Dallas” episode directed by Larry Hagman, who demonstrates once more that he’s as talented behind the camera as he is in front of it. The main storyline finds Bobby depressed because he believes Jenna dumped him to reunite with her ex-husband Naldo; little does Bob know Naldo is actually holding Jenna captive. This isn’t the richest material in the show’s history, but Hagman makes it compelling nonetheless. He also rewards the audience with several scenes that draw upon the history of the characters and their relationships. With the exception of Leonard Katzman and a few others, did anyone know “Dallas” better than its biggest star?

“Odd Man Out’s” most suspenseful moment comes at the end of the second act, when Naldo leaves Jenna alone to pay their hotel bill. She sneaks into a phone booth, drops a coin in the slot and punches the buttons. An operator comes on the line and tells her the call will cost a dollar. “Damn. Come on,” Jenna says as she dumps change out of her purse, sorts it quickly and inserts more coins. Cut to Southfork, where Bobby sits on the patio, reading a newspaper as the phone next to him begins ringing. He doesn’t answer it right away (is he waiting for Raoul or Teresa?), and when he finally picks up and says hello, Hagman cuts back to the phone booth — where Naldo takes the receiver from Jenna’s hand and hangs up. “Don’t ever try anything like that again,” he says.

The episode takes another dramatic turn at the end. J.R., Sue Ellen and Jamie have taken Bobby out to dinner, hoping to cheer him up. Bobby proposes a toast: “To Jenna Wade and the life she’s chosen for herself, wherever she is and whomever she’s with.” Hagman then cuts to a shot of Jenna, lying unconscious on a hotel floor. A lamp is knocked over, the sleeve of her blouse is torn and there’s a gun in her hand. As she slowly awakens, two police officers burst into the room. “Freeze, lady,” one says. “Drop the gun. Drop it!” Jenna looks bewildered and glances over her shoulder — where she sees Naldo’s dead body. Freeze the frame, roll the credits.

Other standout scenes in “Odd Man Out” showcase the “Dallas” characters. In one sequence, J.R. is having lunch with Mandy when he receives a call from Dora Mae, who tells him Bobby is drinking heavily at the Oil Baron’s Club. J.R. doesn’t hesitate to leave Mandy’s side so he can help his brother. (Something similar will happen in the eighth-season finale, “Swan Song,” except the circumstances will be dire.) Later, J.R. bucks up Bobby by reminding him that Christopher needs him; besides recalling a conversation years earlier where Bobby pulls J.R. out a depressive slump, this moment reminds us how good Hagman and Patrick Duffy are together. In another fun sequence, J.R. plays cupid in reverse: He runs into Pam and makes sure she knows how upset Bobby is over his breakup with Jenna, and then J.R. tells Bobby that Pam is too busy with her search for Mark to care about his problems.

Speaking of Pam: Victoria Principal is wonderful in the scene where Benton, the owner of the San Serrano medical clinic, tells Pam that Mark is alive. The actress cries and laughs at once, which gives the audience the odd sensation of being happy for Pam even though we suspect J.R. is behind her wild goose chase. Hagman also allows “Dallas’s” other leading lady, Linda Gray, a chance to shine. The script doesn’t give Sue Ellen much to do, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook her. In two scenes, Sue Ellen asks other characters where J.R. is. In each instance, Gray delivers her lines with just the right amount of doubt and suspicion, letting us know that Sue Ellen realizes her husband is up to his old tricks again.

“Odd Man Out” also illustrates Hagman’s eye for detail. The episode’s opening shot is a close-up of caviar being dished onto a plate — a signal, perhaps, that the competitive Hagman wanted his show to cede no ground in “Dallas’s” rivalry with glitzy “Dynasty.” Hagman also understood the need for balance, though, which is why he shows Ray, Donna and Dave Culver enjoying a down-home meal around the Krebbs’ dining room table. Ray and Donna are bringing Dave up to speed on Jamie’s claims about Ewing Oil’s ownership, and at one point Ray pauses to ask Dave if he’d care for some corn. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Hagman suggested this gesture to make the scene feel more realistic. Think about it: When you watch “Dallas” dinner scenes helmed by other directors, do you ever hear someone ask to pass the salt?

Other highlights include a nice subplot about Clayton challenging Miss Ellie’s devotion to her sons by pointing out they are grown men who can take care of themselves. No matter how you feel about Donna Reed’s casting as Ellie, you have to appreciate how the show continues to give meaningful material to its oldest actors. The producers’ efforts to keep Lucy in the spotlight aren’t as successful. In this episode, she shuts off Eddie’s alarm so he’ll sleep in and skip work to spend the day with her. He’s angry when he wakes up and discovers this, and who can blame him? Did Lucy learn nothing from her too-brief foray into the working world?

On the other hand, when Lucy offers to support Eddie financially and he balks, she points out that if the roles were reversed, he probably wouldn’t think twice about supporting her. This is a good point. Lucy may not know much about the real world, but at least she recognizes sexism when she sees it.

Grade: A

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Dallas, Jenna Wade, Odd Man Out, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley

Odd woman out

‘ODD MAN OUT’

Season 8, Episode 14

Airdate: December 28, 1984

Audience: 20.8 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: J.R. urges Bobby to get over losing Jenna. Miss Ellie and Clayton disagree over her involvement in her sons’ lives. Pam visits a Caribbean clinic that Mark supposedly visited two months earlier. Eddie quits his job. Jenna awakens next to Naldo’s dead body as police officers enter the room.

Cast: Don Banning (Roy Crowley), Burke Byrnes (Pete Adams), Pat Colbert (Dora Mae), Timothy J. Cutt (Leonard Boyle), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), 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 Lehna (Eddie Cronin), Michael McRae (Benton), Daniel Pilon (Renaldo Marchetta), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 174 — ‘Déjà Vu’

Dallas, Deja Vu, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Game of phones

What could be unholier than an alliance between J.R. Ewing and Cliff Barnes? In “Déjà Vu,” the sworn enemies agree to work together to keep Bobby and Pam apart. The scene where J.R. and Cliff meet in a dive bar and toast their partnership is one of the episode’s highlights, and not just because it’s one of the few times in “Dallas” history that Larry Hagman and Ken Kercheval are civil to each other on screen. The scene also demonstrates how their characters are beginning to change, if not grow. In an era when many of the show’s creative risks don’t pay off, here’s one that works.

“Déjà Vu” begins with the Ewings reeling after Jenna leaves Bobby at the altar on their wedding day. After the guests are sent home, J.R. and Bobby head to Ewing Oil and pull out all the stops to determine why she ran away — even ordering their secretaries to report to the office on a Saturday to help track down the runaway bride. (Why weren’t the secretaries invited to the wedding?) Later, J.R. receives a mysterious phone call from someone who wants to get together to discuss the situation. We don’t learn the caller’s identity until J.R. shows up in the bar and takes a seat across from Cliff, who tells him now that Bobby is free, he’s afraid he’ll reunite with Pam. J.R. agrees he and Cliff should do everything they can to stop such a reconciliation from taking place. “Maybe this is the one time a Ewing and a Barnes ought to work together,” J.R. says.

It’s fun to watch Hagman and Kercheval clink beer glasses, although this scene has more going for it than the novelty factor. For starters, the exchange shows how much Cliff has changed. Think about it: He’s the character in control here. Cliff calls the meeting, sets the time and location, and suggests the alliance with J.R. Since the eighth season began, we’ve seen Cliff become smarter and more successful, and now we know he can scheme with the best of them. J.R. has changed too: There was a time he wouldn’t have given his archenemy the time of day, but here he treats Cliff as an equal. (J.R. has always been more willing to join forces with Pam, who he probably considers a worthier adversary.) Some fans want Cliff always to lose and J.R. always to win, but I admire “Dallas’s” willingness to allow the characters to evolve. Besides, it’s not like they won’t slide back into their familiar roles eventually.

The title “Déjà Vu” points to Bobby’s backstory — Jenna also left him at the altar when the characters were younger — although I’m more interested in another blast from the past: the return of the terrific Sarah Cunningham as Maggie, the woman who raised Cliff and Pam. In the storyline, Cliff and Mandy visit Maggie to see what she knows about Jamie Ewing’s claim that Jock, Jason and Digger were equal partners in Ewing Oil. After Cliff arrives on her doorstep and pulls out some photos of Christopher, she invites him and Mandy into the backyard to discuss what’s really on his mind. “If I know my brother’s son, he didn’t drive three hours to Marshall on a Saturday just to show me baby pictures,” she says. That line alone makes me wish “Dallas” had used Cunningham more frequently. The actress is so natural and believable; the show would have benefitted from her homespun charm.

“Déjà Vu” also features James Cromwell’s first appearance as Gerald Kane, the pilot who approaches Pam with the bombshell news that he flew Mark Graison to a clinic in the Caribbean to seek a cure for his disease. Cromwell, who later received an Oscar nomination for his role as the farmer in “Babe,” is quite good in his scene with Victoria Principal. At the end of the episode, we learn Kane is secretly working for J.R. — a neat twist that probably would have been even more surprising if it had come later, once Cromwell’s character was more established. I wonder why the show exposed his connection to J.R. so soon?

Other “Déjà Vu” highlights include the scene where Ray assures Bobby that Jenna loves him — in a few years, Ray will be doubting Jenna’s love for him once they begin a relationship — as well as a nice moment when Maggie’s lawyer visits Cliff and suggests Digger must have been a gentleman. Cliff beams, reminding us that he sees his father differently than most of the other characters on this show. I also like the scene where Sue Ellen receives the call from J.R. informing her that Jenna has skipped town. After Sue Ellen hangs up, Miss Ellie and Donna eagerly ask her what J.R. said. As the music swells, Linda Gray keeps her back to Donna Reed and Susan Howard, looks into the distance and solemnly intones, “He said to send the guests home. The wedding is off.” It’s the kind of dramatic delivery that only occurs on soap operas, which is what makes it so wonderful.

This scene also leads to my biggest gripe with “Déjà Vu.” Once word reaches the Ewings that the wedding has been canceled, Ray volunteers to send the guests home, and Ellie agrees. It’s another example of how Ellie is being written differently since the show recast the role with Reed. Having Ellie defer to Ray makes her seem uncharacteristically delicate. This is a woman who once stared down an angry mob at a Ewing Barbecue, after all. Giving Reed the line where the guests are sent home might seem like a small thing, but it would have given her an opportunity to show some of the mettle we’ve come to expect from our beloved Mama.

Grade: B

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Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Deja Vu, Ken Kercheval

Look who’s scheming

‘DÉJÀ VU’

Season 8, Episode 13

Airdate: December 21, 1984

Audience: 19.5 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Naldo blackmails Jenna into remarrying him by threatening to keep her from Charlie, whom he sends to Italy. Pam is approached by a pilot who claims he flew Mark to the Caribbean, but she doesn’t realize the man works for J.R. Cliff searches Digger’s old legal papers, hoping to find a copy of Jamie’s document.

Cast: Burke Byrnes (Pete Adams), James Cromwell (Gerald Kane), Sarah Cunningham (Maggie Monahan), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), 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), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Daniel Pilon (Renaldo Marchetta), 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), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 173 — ‘Do You Take This Woman?’

Dallas, Daniel Pilon, Do You Take This Woman?, Jenna Wade, Naldo Marchetta, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley

Take your wife. Please.

“Do You Take This Woman?” marks the moment “Dallas” turns into a Lifetime movie. The hour begins with Jenna Wade happily planning to marry Bobby, but by the time the closing credits roll, her daughter has been kidnapped and Jenna has been forced to leave her fiancé stranded at the altar. In the episodes that follow, Jenna is held against her will, almost raped, accused of murder, found guilty, imprisoned and finally freed, only to watch Bobby “die” in the eighth-season finale. The only calamities missing are a nervous breakdown and an unwanted pregnancy, but fear not. Jenna will get to those eventually.

I know, I know. I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s also not fair to criticize the entire show based on Jenna’s storyline. But the fact is, this is the point during “Dallas’s” run that I’ve been dreading. Priscilla Beaulieu Presley is a fine actress, but I’m no fan of the weepy, woeful turn her character takes in this episode. Like Pam’s drawn-out search for Mark Graison, the “Perils of Jenna” story arc feels like “Dallas” is merely killing time until Bobby and Pam’s long-awaited reunion at the end of the season. It’s one reason I’ve been publishing twice-weekly critiques from this era of “Dallas.” I want to get the damn thing over with as quickly as possible.

Although there isn’t a lot in “Do You Take This Woman?” to get excited about overall, the fourth act isn’t without merit. Presley does a nice job in the scene where Jenna talks on the phone to one of Charlie’s friends and realizes her ex-husband, the villainous Naldo Marchetta, has kidnapped their daughter. Frantic Jenna drops everything and flees the house, only to run into Naldo. “Our daughter is quite safe. You have nothing to worry about,” he says. I also like when Bobby receives a mysterious phone call and dashes out of Southfork with J.R. close behind. The overhead shot of the brothers tearing away in Bobby’s convertible is cool, although I’m more impressed with the deeper meaning of this moment, which reminds us how the Ewing boys always have each other’s backs.

In a similar vein, “Do You Take This Woman?” contains another good scene that underscores Cliff and Pam’s sibling bond. He stomps into her house as only he can, ranting about Pam’s full-page newspaper advertisement offering a reward for information about Mark’s disappearance. Cliff doesn’t want to have to put extra people on the Barnes-Wentworth switchboard to field calls from the “crackpots” who are bound to respond to the ad, but he’s also frustrated with Pam’s obsessive search for her deceased fiancé. “Mark is dead. You have to face that,” he says. Pam walks away in tears, and then Mandy points out that Pam is already on edge because it’s Bobby and Jenna’s wedding day. Ken Kercheval’s response is masterful: In a matter of seconds, Cliff’s face registers anger, surprise and finally regret. Under all that bluster, this character really does love and care about his sister.

Speaking of bombast: “Do You Take This Woman?” opens with J.R. calmly assuring Jeremy Wendell that Jamie’s claims about Ewing Oil’s ownership are merely a prank, and then J.R. reveals his true feelings during a family meeting in the Southfork living room. Larry Hagman manages to make J.R.’s ravings amusing without sacrificing the character’s dignity. By the way: I don’t blame J.R. for being suspicious of Jamie. She possesses a document that might give her a piece of a multibillion-dollar corporation, yet she has no intention of claiming her share? This stretches credibility, even by eighth-season “Dallas” standards. And while we’re on the subject of Jamie: It’s nice that Sue Ellen has befriended her, but is serving as a supporting player in Jamie’s drama the best use of Linda Gray’s talents? Why doesn’t she have a meaningful storyline of her own?

“Do You Take This Woman?” also is notable because it includes both a barbecue and a wedding. It’s somewhat odd to think the Ewings would hold back-to-back bashes, but I suspect the producers saved money by staging the events over successive episodes. The extras who appear at the barbecue probably hung around to film the wedding scenes. (The show does something similar during the sixth season, when the Ewing Barbecue arrives on the heels of J.R. and Sue Ellen’s second wedding.) And even though the bride doesn’t show up for this ceremony, it’s by no means a waste: This episode’s establishing shot of a white limousine dropping off wedding guests in the Southfork driveway is used again — six years later — during Bobby and April’s nuptials in the 13th-season installment “The Southfork Wedding Jinx.”

Such prudent recycling! Who says the Ewings aren’t environmentally conscious?

Grade: C

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Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Do You Take This Woman?, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy

Call guy

‘DO YOU TAKE THIS WOMAN?’

Season 8, Episode 12

Airdate: December 14, 1984

Audience: 21.4 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Gwen Arner

Synopsis: While J.R. and Cliff scramble to determine if Jamie’s claims about Ewing Oil’s ownership are true, she places her document in a safe-deposit box and promises not to use it against the Ewings. Pam hires a detective to find Mark. After Naldo takes Charlie, Jenna stands up Bobby on their wedding day.

Cast: Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), 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), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Madison Mason (Jack Phipps), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Daniel Pilon (Renaldo Marchetta), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Marina Rice (Angela), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

“Do You Take This Woman?” is available on DVD and at Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 172 — ‘Barbecue Five’

Barbecue Five, Dallas, Fern Fitzgerald, Jamie Ewing, Jenilee Harrison, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Marilee Stone

The middle

“Barbecue Five” ranks among “Dallas’s” best barbecue episodes because it delivers almost everything we expect from a Ewing hoedown. There’s a fight, a dunking in the Southfork swimming pool and a dramatic revelation, along with crowds of people dancing, drinking and sweltering under the Texas sun. The only thing missing is a scene of two characters sneaking off to the barn for a romantic interlude, although we do get to see Jeremy Wendell wearing a cowboy hat. That alone is worth the price of admission, as far as I’m concerned.

This episode is probably best remembered for the clash between Jamie Ewing and Marilee Stone. “Dallas” doesn’t do a lot of catfights, so when these scenes occur, they almost always feel justified. (The best examples: Pam striking Katherine and Donna socking Bonnie, the barfly who slept with Ray.) In this instance, Jamie spots Marilee pawing J.R. and confronts her. Insults are exchanged, and then Marilee slaps Jamie, who retaliates by pushing Marilee into the pool. This is the first time I find myself cheering for Jenilee Harrison, whose character I’ve found hard to embrace, although I also admire how Fern Fitzgerald plays the obnoxious, overbearing Marilee to the hilt. Of course, both actresses end up being upstaged by Larry Hagman, who delivers one of the immortal “Dallas” lines when J.R. reaches into the pool to retrieve Marilee and asks, “You all right honey? Did it go up your nose?” Why do I get the feeling Hagman is ad-libbing here?

It’s also fun to see how smoothly each scene flows into the next. An example: Lucy and Eddie are dancing, and as they move out of camera range, J.R. and Sue Ellen enter the frame. We listen to their conversation for a few moments, and then J.R. nods to Bobby and Jenna, and the focus shifts to them. It’s all seamless, with one exception: a shot of Ray and Donna kissing becomes a scene in which Sue Ellen, J.R. and Jeremy talk shop while strolling through the crowd — except when Steve Kanaly and Susan Howard lock lips, you can see Hagman, Linda Gray and William Smithers in the distance, waiting for their cue to begin walking and talking. This is a minor oversight, of course, and I don’t mind it in the least because it makes me appreciate how artfully director Gwen Arner orchestrates all the other transitions.

Like other barbecue episodes, “Barbecue Five” was filmed in the summer, which means the actors are forced to sweat through uncomfortable looking western-flavored costumes. Most of the women wear long dresses and cowgirl boots, while Hagman and Howard Keel each don sport coats and scarves. Also, notice how the back of Fredric Lehne’s shirt is soaked with perspiration when Eddie spins Lucy on the dance floor. Another tradition honored here: the dramatic, episode-ending revelation. Past barbecues have concluded with the news that Jock’s helicopter crashed and that Miss Ellie and Clayton have become engaged, while “Barbecue Five” ends with Jamie’s announcement that she’s entitled to a share of Ewing Oil. This signals the birth of one of “Dallas’s” most tiresome tropes during its later years, when the focus of the business storylines shifts from making deals to a never-ending game of musical owners.

“Barbecue Five” also gives us the memorable scene where J.R. and Mandy continue their cat-and-mouse flirtation while dining in a private box at Texas Stadium. Both characters are spying on each other — J.R. wants dirt on Cliff, while Mandy wants intelligence that she can report back to him — but their ulterior motives are slowly being overtaken by their mutual attraction to each other. We also learn a lot about Mandy here. She tells J.R., “I’ve always known I was beautiful,” yet the line makes the character seem more confident than conceited. A lot of that has to do with Deborah Shelton, who is so stunning, there’s no point in having her character pretend otherwise.

Other “Barbecue Five” highlights include Jeremy’s annoyance when Cliff crashes his private lunch (Ken Kercheval’s scenes with Smithers are almost as golden as the Hagman/Kercheval pairings), as well as Naldo’s dinner with Jenna and Charlie. Any appearance by Naldo usually elicits an eye roll from me, but I’ll be darned if I don’t find him kind of charming as he tells Charlie about idolizing Tom Mix during his boyhood in Italy. Meanwhile, with her exotic white-streaked hair, character actress Ronnie Claire Edwards is perfectly cast as Lydia, the psychic Pam consults in her quest to find Mark. I also like how Lydia tells Pam that a “tall,” “athletic” and “handsome” man will be coming back into her life. Gee, I wonder who she’s describing? Something tells me it isn’t Mr. Graison.

I also love “Barbecue Five’s” opening, when Sue Ellen brings Jamie to Ewing Oil for her first day of work as the receptionist. It’s routine now, but everything about this scene — Kendall teaching Jamie how to use the switchboard, Sue Ellen promising to return in the afternoon to take Jamie to lunch — seemed so glamorous when I watched this episode as a kid. How I wished I could work alongside J.R. and Bobby at Ewing Oil too!

Truth be told, I still do.

Grade: A

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Barbecue Five, Dallas, Jeremy Wendell, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, William Smithers

Walk to remember

‘BARBECUE FIVE’

Season 8, Episode 11

Airdate: December 7, 1984

Audience: 21 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Gwen Arner

Synopsis: J.R. woos Mandy. Naldo charms Charlie. Pam visits a psychic, hoping for clues about Mark’s death. Miss Ellie is upset when Clayton decides to continue commuting to Houston. Jamie begins working as a receptionist at Ewing Oil, and after J.R. angers her at the Ewing Barbecue, she shows the family a document that claims her father owned a piece of the company.

Cast: Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Ronnie Claire Edwards (Lydia), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Barry Jenner (Dr. Jerry Kenderson), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Daniel Pilon (Renaldo Marchetta), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Marina Rice (Angela), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 171 — ‘Charlie’

Charlie, Charlie Wade, Dallas, Shalane McCall

Gone girl

On “Dallas,” children are seen and heard. The series often involves its youngest characters in major storylines, unlike other 1980s prime-time soap operas where kids are treated as little more than props. (Does Krystina Carrington ever do anything other than smile sweetly at Mommy and Daddy?) Of course, even when “Dallas” puts kids front and center, it’s usually to tell us something about the adults on the show. Lucy’s skipping school allows Pam to assert her authority in the Ewing family, Bobby’s friendship with Luke Middens illustrates the emptiness of his childless marriage, John Ross’s kidnapping brings J.R. and Sue Ellen closer.

“Charlie” continues this tradition. This episode takes its title from Jenna Wade’s pubescent daughter, who runs away from home after learning Naldo Marchetta, her long-lost father, has come to town and wants to meet her. (Ignore the fact that Jenna sent the girl to visit Naldo during the third season.) Even though Charlie sets the plot in motion, this story is about Bobby and Jenna. Everything is told from their point of view, from Jenna’s frantic call to Bobby when she realizes Charlie is missing to the resolution, when the couple finds the girl and lovingly assures her they’ll always be a family. It’s also worth noting how director Michael Preece arranges the actors in the latter scene. He films Patrick Duffy and Priscilla Beaulieu Presley at eye level, while Shalane McCall is shot from above — the way most adults see children.

Some “Dallas” fans like to complain about McCall’s performance in “Charlie” and other episodes from the eighth season. It’s true that the older this actress gets, the whinier her delivery becomes. Nevertheless, I think everyone should cut her some slack. Remember: McCall was only 11 years old when this episode was filmed. She’s just a kid, and this is the most demanding material she’s been given since she arrived on “Dallas” a year earlier. Besides, a lot of real-life children are whiny around this age. Why should Charlie be any different?

There’s also this: Charlie, as much as she annoys some fans, isn’t as insufferable as Lucy, who has yet to fully mature. In this episode’s weirdest scene, Clayton runs into Charlene Tilton’s character and suggests she should spend more time with Miss Ellie. Lucy snaps, reminding Clayton that he isn’t her grandfather and has no right to tell her what to do. Clayton’s response: “You’re right. I’m not your grandfather, but I am your elder — and you’ll damn well talk to me with respect. Now I don’t like your manner or your tone of voice, and if you think I won’t turn you over my knee and paddle you, you’re very wrong!” I suppose the point here is to remind the audience of Clayton’s mettle, but hearing him threaten to spank a grown woman is a strange way to make this point, no matter how bratty Lucy behaves. Did this scene make audiences as uncomfortable in 1984 as it does today?

Clayton and Lucy’s confrontation ends with Preece pulling back the camera to reveal Miss Ellie eavesdropping. No shock there — someone always is lurking around the corners of Southfork — although the pink floral-print blouse and striped skirt worn by Donna Reed does catch me off guard. This is the most un-Ellie outfit Reed has worn yet since taking over the role from Barbara Bel Geddes. Reed looks beautiful, but the character’s newly stylish wardrobe takes some getting used to. As readers on this site have wondered: If the producers had dressed Reed a little more plainly and softened her hair, might fans have accepted her more readily?

Mama isn’t the only person who’s changed lately. Notice how I haven’t mentioned J.R.? That’s because Larry Hagman’s character doesn’t have much to do in “Charlie.” Somewhat shockingly, the season is now one-third over and no major business storyline has been introduced. At this point last season, J.R. was figuring out Sly was spying on him for Cliff, and two years before that, the contest for control of the family empire was well underway. After this episode, “Dallas” will begin the storyline in which Jamie and Cliff join forces to claim partial ownership in Ewing Oil, a legal fight that’s not nearly as much fun as the past stories about corporate warfare.

At least J.R. finally introduces himself to Mandy Winger in this episode. I guess if we’re not going to see him wheel and deal, we’ll have to make do with watching him cat around.

Grade: B

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Charlie, Dallas, Donna Reed, Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow

Pink different

‘CHARLIE’

Season 8, Episode 10

Airdate: November 30, 1984

Audience: 22 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Bobby and Jenna help Charlie cope when she learns Naldo is her father. J.R. asks Mandy out for drinks. Pam’s salvage company recovers Mark’s cockpit, along with evidence he wasn’t in the plane when it crashed. Eddie sleeps with Lucy and reveals he knows that she’s a Ewing.

Cast: Michael Alldredge (Steve Jackson), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), 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), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Daniel Pilon (Renaldo Marchetta), 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), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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