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.

The Best & Worst of Dallas: Season 5

“Dallas’s” fifth season was dandy, save for a few disappointments.

Performances

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Miss Ellie Ewing

Walk to remember

Barbara Bel Geddes delivers one tour-de-force performance after another as the grieving Miss Ellie. Everyone remembers the scene where Mama smashes the dishes in the Southfork kitchen, but Bel Geddes also shines in quiet moments like the one where Ellie takes that mournful stroll across the ranch. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Bel Geddes can say more with one look than most actors can with a whole script.

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Ewing blues

Runners up: Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy both break my heart as the brothers Ewing struggle – in very different ways – to deal with Jock’s death (J.R. falls apart, Bobby falls in line). Meanwhile, Linda Gray does a beautiful job conveying Sue Ellen’s conflicting emotions as a recent divorcee. I understand her confusion: It’s nice to see Sue Ellen on her own, but I also want her to reunite with the soul mate she’s left behind at Southfork.

Storylines

I love to watch J.R. scheme his way back into Sue Ellen’s heart. This is another fascinating performance from Hagman, who keeps us guessing about J.R.’s motivation: Does he really love his ex-wife, or is he merely trying to get his hands on John Ross’s Ewing Oil voting shares? My guess is it’s a little from Column A and a little from Column B. One thing is certain: Seeing J.R. pick off Sue Ellen’s suitors (Dusty, Clayton, Cliff), one by one, is a hoot.

Weakest storyline: Pam’s mental breakdown. Victoria Principal does a nice job depicting her character’s despair, but this isn’t the heroic Pam I fell in love with during “Dallas’s” early years. Thankfully, she gets her groove back toward the end of the season, when she lays down the law to creepy Roger and helps Bobby solve the mystery of Christopher’s paternity. And while we’re on the subject: They may not be Nick and Nora, but isn’t it fun watching Bobby and Pam figure out that J.R. didn’t father Christopher? (The season’s best plot twist, by the way.)

Episodes

Adoption, Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Sue Ellen Ewing

Adopt or cry

“Adoption” is one classic scene after another. Donna socks it to Bonnie. Bobby asks Sue Ellen to sign the affidavit. Sue Ellen tosses the necklace at J.R. and proclaims their relationship is “sick, sick, sick!” This is another great script from Howard Lakin, but don’t overlook Hagman, who sat in the director’s chair for this episode and once again proved he’s as gifted behind the camera as he is in front of it.

My least favorite episode: “The Maelstrom,” in which Lucy discovers Roger’s shrine to her and responds by making love to him. Come on, “Dallas.” Charlene Tilton deserves better. So do we.

Scenes

This is always the toughest category to choose a winner, and Season 5 is no exception. Among the contenders: J.R. and Dusty’s Cotton Bowl showdown, Ellie’s confrontation with the cartel and J.R.’s soliloquy in front of Jock’s painting. In the end, I’m going with “The Search” scene where the Ewing sons break the news to Mama that Daddy isn’t coming home. I don’t know who moves me more here: Bel Geddes, Hagman, Duffy or Steve Kanaly. Beautiful performances all around.

Supporting Players

Afton Cooper, Audrey Landers, Dallas

Hot stuff

No one impresses me as much as Audrey Landers. This is the season Afton breaks J.R.’s grip and comes into her own as one of the show’s heroines. There’s no doubt she deserves a better mate than Cliff, but I love how Afton humanizes him – and you can’t deny Landers’ chemistry with Ken Kercheval. As an added bonus, Landers delivers several hot musical numbers this year, including that sultry rendition of “All of Me” in “The Phoenix.”

Runners up: Morgan Brittany, who debuts in Season 5 as scheming Katherine Wentworth and begins laying the groundwork for the havoc she’ll wreak in later years; Fern Fitzgerald, whose Marilee Stone becomes J.R.’s equal in every way; Barry Nelson as Sue Ellen’s sympathetic lawyer Arthur Elrod; Claude Earl Jones as Wally Hampton, J.R.’s co-conspirator in the plot to sabotage Cliff’s career; and Lindsay Bloom as Bonnie, the sad-sack barfly who beds Ray.

Costumes

Clayton Farlow, Dallas, Howard Keel

Hello, handsome

Virtually every “Dallas” diva sports a fur coat during Season 5, but the full-length number Susan Howard dons during Donna’s barroom brawl is the most meaningful. Among the dudes, no one wears suits better than dapper Howard Keel. I especially love when Clayton shows up at Sue Ellen’s townhouse in pinstripes and an open collar shirt, the same look Josh Henderson often sports on TNT’s “Dallas.”

At the other end of the spectrum: What’s with Sue Ellen’s culottes during Season 5? You get the feeling the character spent every episode standing in front of her closet, trying to decide between skirts and pants and choosing to compromise by wearing both. No wonder she became a politician.

Quips

“You getting good mileage on Donna’s car?” – J.R.’s cheery query to Ray in “Five Dollars a Barrel” cracked me up. Only Larry Hagman could turn a throwaway line into a hilarious putdown.

What do you love and loathe about “Dallas’s” fifth season? Share your comments below and read more “Best & Worst” reviews.

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘Let’s Haggle Over Your Fee’

Paybacks are hell

Paybacks are hell

In “Dallas’s” fifth-season episode “Adoption,” Donna (Susan Howard), wearing a fur coat, enters the Longview and approaches Bonnie (Lindsay Bloom), who is standing at the bar.

BONNIE: Well, what brings you to the Longview bar? Slumming?

DONNA: I wanted to see what the competition looked like. With clothes on.

BONNIE: Now that you’ve seen me, why don’t you take off? You don’t belong here.

DONNA: I know why you’re trying to steal my husband. He’s a very special man. But I’m here to tell you that you’ve got a fight on your hands.

BONNIE: He doesn’t want you. So why don’t you let him go?

DONNA: Go? You mean go to you? So he can spend the rest of his life in dumps like this? I think he’s worth more than that. No, I want you out of his life and out of mine.

BONNIE: No chance.

DONNA: How much is it going to cost me?

BONNIE: You’re asking for a drink in the face, lady.

DONNA: I’ll give you $5,000 to move to Houston.

BONNIE: You’re crazy.

DONNA: I’ll give you $10,000 if you’ll leave the state. [Bonnie looks away, smirks] How about 15?

BONNIE: [Looking at Donna] Fifteen will do it.

DONNA: Not 10?

BONNIE: Don’t play games with me.

DONNA: Why not? Now that we know what you are, let’s haggle over your fee. [Bonnie tosses a drink in Donna’s face. Donna strikes her, sending her to the floor. As the crowd cheers, Donna pulls out a wad of cash and tosses a bill on the bar.] Drinks are on Bonnie.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 96 – ‘Adoption’

Our heroine

Our heroine

“Adoption” is one classic scene after another, but my favorite moment is Donna’s showdown with Bonnie, the barfly who’s been sleeping with Ray. The dialogue from scriptwriter Howard Lakin is wonderfully bitchy, and Susan Howard delivers it with steely aplomb. I also have to hand it to guest star Lindsay Bloom, who manages to make Bonnie seem less like a vixen than a sad woman who makes bad choices.

The confrontation begins when Donna, clad in a full-length fur coat, enters the Longview bar and approaches Bonnie, whom Donna caught in bed with Ray at the end of the previous episode. After exchanging unpleasantries (“I wanted to see what the competition looked like – with clothes on”), Donna offers Bonnie $5,000 to leave town. “You’re crazy,” Bonnie says. Donna keeps upping the price; by the time she reaches $15,000, Bonnie is ready to pack her bags. That’s when Donna reduces her offer by a third. “Now that we know what you are, let’s haggle over your fee,” she says. Before all is said and done, Bonnie has tossed a drink in Donna’s face and Donna has struck Bonnie, sending her to the sawdust-covered floor.

It might be tempting to think of this as another soap opera catfight, but that wouldn’t do the scene justice. To begin with, Donna isn’t your typical “Dallas” heroine. She’s the show’s most consistently admirable character – always strong, always smart, always sincere. When we see Donna throw that punch, we know it’s not out of desperation. She’s fighting for Ray because she wants him, not because she needs him.

Howard deserves much credit for making her character so believable. Like Barbara Bel Geddes, Howard possesses an effortless grace; both actresses seem to have good instincts and are smart enough to trust them. And while I generally try to avoid commenting on the physical appearance of “Dallas” actors, this must be said: Howard is one of the most naturally beautiful women to ever appear on the show, and that’s another reason Donna seems like the kind of person you might know in real life. It also doesn’t hurt that Howard is an honest-to-goodness Texan, so she sounds as authentic as she looks. In the scene with Bonnie, notice how Donna’s line, “You mean go to you?” becomes “Yew mean go to yew?” The lilting drawl is almost hypnotic.

Fur Love or Money

Armor on

Armor on

Of course, as good as Howard is, don’t overlook her character’s fur coat, an essential “Dallas” prop if ever there was one. Larry Hagman, who directed this episode, does a smart thing earlier in “Adoption” when he shows Donna coming home and changing into the fur before heading to the Longview to confront Bonnie. This deliberate wardrobe change lets the audience know two things: Donna isn’t ashamed to be seen as a successful woman, and like her in-laws, she’s willing to use her wealth to intimidate an adversary.

(You might also say Donna’s clash with Bonnie is the moment she becomes a Ewing. After Donna strikes her rival, she retrieves a wad of cash from her coat pocket, peels off a bill and tosses it onto the bar. “Drinks are on Bonnie,” she says. It brings to mind the great scene from the second-season episode “Reunion, Part 2,” when Jock “buys” Pam from drunken Digger.)

As for Bloom: With her frosted bouffant and western shirts, the actress looks a bit like the country singer Barbara Mandrell, which is fitting since Donna and Bonnie’s showdown has the makings of a great country song. It would’ve been easy for Bonnie to come off as a one-note hussy, but Bloom’s performance is so nicely measured, that never happens. Lakin deserves credit here too. At the beginning of the fight scene, before Donna enters the bar, we overhear Bonnie chatting excitedly with one of her girlfriends about a new nightclub in town that has “two dance floors, one raised above the other.” The line makes us realize what a small life Bonnie leads. How can you not pity her?

Into Darkness

Shouldn't he be on the other side?

Shouldn’t he be on the other side?

Like Donna and Bonnie’s barroom brawl, almost all of the great scenes in “Adoption” arouse conflicting emotions. In the first act, J.R. has Ray tossed in the Braddock County jail, where he pressures him to sign over his Ewing Oil voting shares. Harsh? Yes, but is J.R. mistaken when he tells Ray how ashamed Jock would feel by Ray’s recent behavior?

Similarly, how do you feel at the end of the episode, when Sue Ellen tosses the necklace at J.R. and tells him their relationship is “sick, sick, sick!” Are you relieved that Sue Ellen has been reminded of her ex-husband’s sinful nature? Or are you disappointed that their reconciliation has been derailed? I feel both.

“Adoption” also offers the memorable moment when Roger, Lucy’s stalker, becomes enraged and smashes a glass of red wine against the wall of his photography studio, which he has plastered with her pictures. We’ve all seen variations of this scene in dozens of other movies and TV shows about stalkers, but I bet it didn’t seem like a cliché when this episode debuted 30 years ago. Regardless, the shot – and the chilling background music from composer Richard Lewis Warren that accompanies it – still creeps me out.

For every dark moment in “Adoption,” there’s a scene to remind us of the loving connections the Ewings share. At the top of the hour, Miss Ellie finds Donna picking up the dishes she smashed in anger after discovering Ray’s infidelity. “Over the years, I’ve thrown a few plates myself,” Ellie says. Later, Sue Ellen and Pam have a heart-to-heart of their own at Pam’s aerobics studio, where she cautions Sue Ellen about getting back together with J.R.

There’s also the sweet scene where Bobby tells Pam they’ve been granted temporary custody of Christopher, as well as the nice moment when J.R. brings surprise dinner guests Sue Ellen and John Ross into the Southfork kitchen to sample Miss Ellie’s stuffing. (“Adoption” was originally broadcast in February 1982 and isn’t a Thanksgiving episode, but the presence of that giant turkey in Ellie’s kitchen makes it the closest we ever get to seeing the Ewings celebrate the holiday.)

More and more, I’m convinced warm moments like these are one of the secrets of “Dallas’s” success. They help counter the misperception that this is merely the story of rich people behaving badly. The truth is, “Dallas” is a show with a lot heart. If it wasn’t, we never would have allowed it to occupy such a big place in ours.

Grade: A+

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Father's day

Father’s day

‘ADOPTION’

Season 5, Episode 19

Airdate: February 19, 1982

Audience: 29.9 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Howard Lakin

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: After J.R. has him jailed, Ray signs over his voting shares in Ewing Oil. Donna punches Bonnie and orders her to stay away from Ray. Bobby tells Sue Ellen that Christopher is Kristin’s son, reminding Sue Ellen of J.R.’s past infidelities. Bobby and Pam are awarded preliminary custody of Christopher. Cliff figures out J.R.’s scheme to lure him out of Dallas.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Lindsay Bloom (Bonnie), Vivian Bonnell (clerk), Robert Alan Browne (Breslin), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Art Hindle (Jeff Farraday), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dennis Redfield (Roger Larson), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Ron Tomme (Charles Eccles), Herb Vigran (Judge Thornby), Ray Wise (Blair Sullivan)

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