Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 168 — ‘Homecoming’

Dallas, Donna Reed, Homecoming, Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow

New mom rising

Even after all these years, it’s still strange to see Donna Reed play Miss Ellie. Reed’s first episode is “Homecoming,” and as soon as she enters the frame in the famous scene where Ellie and Clayton arrive at their airport upon returning from their honeymoon, you can see how different the newcomer is from the actress she succeeds, Barbara Bel Geddes. Reed wears a stylish dress and jewelry, her hair is coiffed and when the camera moves in for her first close-up, she breaks into a bright, toothy smile. When Bel Geddes was Mama, did we ever see her teeth?

None of this is to say Reed is miscast as Miss Ellie. Consider the options facing the “Dallas” producers when the ailing Bel Geddes decided to retire in the spring of 1984. Since killing off Mama would have been heresy — and since no one would have bought her leaving Southfork to live happily ever after off-screen with new husband Clayton — the most viable alternative was to recast the role. There’s no disputing the regal Reed was an unusual choice to replace the downhome Bel Geddes, but if the producers had hired an actress who looked and acted more like the original, would it have made us miss Bel Geddes any less? At least Reed offered a new interpretation instead of an imitation.

Of course, this doesn’t make it any less jarring to see Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy calling Reed “Mama” in the airport scene, or to watch her and Howard Keel retire at the end of the episode to the set that served as Jim Davis and Bel Geddes’ on-screen bedroom for so many years. (As soon as I saw Reed and Keel there, I couldn’t help but flash back to Jock entering the room and finding Ellie in tears after her mastectomy.) To the producers’ credit, they seem to anticipate this will be the audience’s response and build this episode around Clayton moving into Southfork and realizing he’ll be sharing his new home with Jock’s ghost. I’m sure the show would have told this story if Bel Geddes were still playing Ellie, but I get the feeling the producers use it here to send a kind of subliminal message to the audience: Just as you want the Ewings to accept Clayton, we want you to give Reed a chance.

Even if that wasn’t the producers’ intent, that’s what I plan to do. Reed appeared in 23 additional episodes after “Homecoming,” and I want to approach each one with an open mind. No, Donna Reed isn’t Barbara Bel Geddes, but who is? What’s the point of bemoaning the fact that the two actresses have different styles? I give Reed a lot of credit for having the courage to replace one of the most beloved performers on one of the most popular television shows of the 1980s. It didn’t help matters that “Dallas” entered syndication a few weeks before Reed began her run as Ellie, which meant viewers could watch reruns from the show’s glory years with Bel Geddes every weekday afternoon and then tune in to new episodes on Friday nights to see her replacement.

In this instance, those viewers saw an episode that stands up pretty well to anything from the Bel Geddes era. The novelty of Reed’s debut aside, this is the eighth season’s strongest episode yet. I admire how the show devotes so much time to telling the story of Clayton’s introduction to life at Southfork. I especially appreciate how Arthur Bernard Lewis’s script gives us so many different points of view: In addition to the poignant final scene where Clayton addresses Jock’s portrait (“You still live here Jock. It’s still your house”), there’s a scene earlier in the episode where the Ewing brothers wrestle with the fact that a new man will be sleeping in the room Daddy once shared with Mama. It sounds like another example of adult Ewings being concerned with matters they’re too old to be worried about, except I know a lot of grownups in real life who struggle to accept stepparents.

Indeed, this episode is full of little reminders of how unique “Dallas” was among the era’s prime-time soap operas. Yes, this is a show where Sue Ellen Ewing considers buying a $1,095 dress at The Store, but it’s also a show where Ray Krebbs ruins his and Donna’s dinner by forgetting to turn on the microwave. There’s also charm in seeing the Ewings going to the airport to pick up Clayton and Ellie, as well as the scene where the family sits around and reminisces about the old days. These are small moments, but they help make the characters feel like real, knowable people.

Some final thoughts: “Homecoming” marks the beginning of Michael Alldredge’s four-episode run as Steve Jackson, the salvage man Pam hires to recover Mark’s plane wreckage. Alldredge previously appeared during the fourth season as Don Horton, one of the detectives who investigated J.R.’s shooting, and he returns yet again during the show’s final year as Carter McKay’s attorney, Ray King. Additionally, there are some memorable lines in this episode, beginning with J.R.’s crack about Pam’s inheritance from Mark (“I tell you, that woman has a knack for piling up unearned dollars”). Later, when J.R. says John Ross doesn’t know “half the nicknames” people call him, Sue Ellen responds, “That’s because he’s too young to know words like that.”

In an episode about life’s transitions, isn’t it nice to know some things at Southfork never change?

Grade: A


Clayton Farlow, Dallas, Homecoming, Howard Keel

Daddy’s home


Season 8, Episode 7

Airdate: November 9, 1984

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

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Gwen Arner

Synopsis: Miss Ellie and Clayton return to Southfork, where he feels overshadowed by Jock’s memory. Pam hires a salvage company to search for Mark’s missing plane. Mandy tells Cliff she overheard Sue Ellen confide in Jamie that J.R. is worried about Cliff’s success. Eddie realizes there’s more to Lucy than meets the eye.

Cast: Michael Alldredge (Steve Jackson), Norman Bennett (Al), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Tony Garcia (Raoul), 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), 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), Christopher Stone (Dave Stratton), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Kathleen York (Betty)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 148 — ‘Eye of the Beholder’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Clayton Farlow, Dallas, Eye of the Beholder, Howard Keel, Miss Ellie Ewing

The natural

At the end of “Eye of the Beholder,” Miss Ellie tearfully tells Clayton that she had breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy years earlier. It’s another moving performance from Barbara Bel Geddes, although when I try to explain why she excels in scenes like this one, I always come up short. Is it her ability to summon tears whenever the script calls for it? Is it her halting delivery, which mimics the way people tend to talk in real life? Or is it some magical, Hagman-esque quality that can’t be described? Whatever the reason, Bel Geddes always makes me forget I’m watching a world of make-believe. She’s amazing.

To be fair, Bel Geddes gets plenty of help from “Eye of the Beholder” scriptwriter Arthur Bernard Lewis, whose unsentimental dialogue ensures Ellie isn’t seen as a figure of self-pity. Here’s how she tells Clayton about her ordeal: “Clayton, I had surgery. I’ve had a mastectomy. The doctor found cancer. They cut off my breast.” This series of clipped, matter-of-fact pronouncements reminds me of Bel Geddes’ wonderful monologue in “Return Engagements,” when Ellie acknowledges her failure to help Gary keep his family together. (“I should’ve fought them. I didn’t. I did nothing.”) Only one line in Ellie’s “Eye of the Beholder” speech gives me pause. After she tells Clayton about her mastectomy, she says, “It affects how I feel about myself, and I know it’s got to be harder for you.” This seems like another example of “Dallas’s” pervasive sexism — and maybe it is — but like it or not, I suspect this is how a lot of women from Ellie’s generation felt.

Regardless, I continue to marvel at “Dallas’s” acknowledgment that Ellie and Clayton, two characters who are supposed to be in their 60s or 70s, are capable of sexual intimacy. Besides “The Golden Girls,” which debuted a year after this episode aired, I can’t think of another show that did more more than “Dallas” to dispel the myth that people stop having sex with they get old. I also appreciate how sensitively “Dallas” handles this material. At the end of the scene, Clayton tells Ellie the mastectomy doesn’t matter to him and sweeps her into his arms. The final freeze frame shows him holding her tightly as Richard Lewis Warren’s soft piano music plays in the background. There’s no big cliffhanger, just two characters expressing their love and commitment to each other. What other prime-time soap opera from this era would be willing to end an episode on such a quiet, dignified note?

Above all, I love how Ellie and Clayton’s storyline mines “Dallas’s” history. “Eye of the Beholder” arrived four seasons after the show’s classic “Mastectomy” episodes, which broke ground by making Ellie one of the first major characters in prime time to get cancer. In “Eye of the Beholder,” the show doesn’t just mention her disease, it turns it into a major subplot and reveals Ellie is still struggling with the same feelings of inadequacy that she did in 1979. Her tearful scene with Clayton harkens to the memorable moment in “Mastectomy, Part 2,” when she comes home after her surgery and breaks down (“I’m deformed”) upon discovering her dresses no longer fit the way they once did.

The show’s history can also be felt in “Eye of the Beholder’s” third act, when Clayton tells Sue Ellen that Ellie has called off the wedding without telling him why. Sue Ellen gently quizzes Clayton and realizes he and Ellie haven’t been intimate with each other. “Don’t give up on her. I don’t think she’s told you everything,” Sue Ellen says. I love this scene for a lot of reasons, beginning with Linda Gray, whose expression lets the audience know that Sue Ellen has it all figured out. This also feels like a moment of growth for Gray’s character. Think back to “Mastectomy, Part 2,” when Sue Ellen reacts to Ellie’s cancer diagnosis by suggesting Jock will reject his wife after her surgery. Four years later, Sue Ellen is wiser, less cynical and more compassionate. When you think about it, if it wasn’t for Sue Ellen encouraging Clayton to not give up on Ellie, Ellie might not have opened up to him and given their relationship another chance. In many ways, Sue Ellen rescues this couple.

“Eye of the Beholder” contains several other nods to “Dallas’s” past, including the warm scene where Bobby and Pam share lunch at the Oil Baron’s Club and reminisce about their wedding. Besides showcasing Patrick Duffy and Victoria Principal’s sparkling chemistry, the scene fills in some blanks for “Dallas” diehards. For example, “Digger’s Daughter” opens with Bobby and Pam stopping at a gas station not long after their spur-of-the-moment wedding in New Orleans. I always wondered: Were the newlyweds coming straight from the chapel? It turns out they weren’t: In “Eye of the Beholder,” we learn the couple spent their wedding night in a motel while making their way back to Southfork. It’s also nice to know “When the Saints Go Marching In” was their wedding music. If that’s not a fitting theme for these two, I don’t know what is.

The other great scenes in “Eye of the Beholder” include Bobby forcing J.R. to sign the paperwork to buy Travis Boyd’s company, which ends with J.R. saying, “I don’t like doing business this way.” Bobby’s response: “Well, I’ll continue your delicate sensibilities some other time, all right?” I also like the scene that introduces Barry Jenner as Jerry Kenderson, Mark Graison’s doctor and confidante; Jenner and John Beck have an easy rapport, making the friendship between their characters feel believable. “Eye of the Beholder” also marks Bill Morey’s first appearance as Barnes-Wentworth’s longtime controller Leo Wakefield, whose weary demeanor makes him a worthy foil for Ken Kercheval’s hyperkinetic Cliff. (Morey previously popped up as a judge in the fifth-season episode “Gone But Not Forgotten.”)

Two more moments, both showcasing Larry Hagman’s comedic talents, deserve mentioning. In the first, J.R. enters the Southfork living room, where Sue Ellen is offering Peter a drink. J.R. accuses his wife of “trying to corrupt that young man,” until he finds out Peter has arrived to escort Lucy to a party. “Oh, in that case you’re going to need a drink,” J.R. says. In Hagman’s other great scene, J.R. takes Edgar Randolph to lunch, where he tells Edgar he wants him to reveal the high bidder in the offshore drilling auction so J.R. can beat the bid. Edgar resists, saying he doesn’t want to cheat the government, but J.R. points out the government will make more money under his scheme. “J.R., you have the amazing ability to make a crooked scheme sound noble,” Edgar says. J.R.’s response: “Edgar, that’s part of my charm.”

For once, he isn’t lying.

Grade: A


Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Eye of the Beholder, Pam Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal

On the march


Season 7, Episode 17

Airdate: January 27, 1984

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

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Miss Ellie tells Clayton she doesn’t want to marry him because she had a mastectomy, but he tells her it doesn’t matter. Cliff agrees to sleep with Marilee if she’ll join his offshore drilling venture. J.R. tells Edgar he wants to see the offshore proposals so he can bid higher. Pam realizes Bobby and Jenna are sleeping together.

Cast: Denny Albee (Travis Boyd), Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Martin E. Brooks (Edgar Randolph), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Barry Jenner (Dr. Jerry Kenderson), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie Dugan), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Anne Lucas (Cassie), Kevin McBride (George), Bill Morey (Leo Wakefield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Donegan Smith (Earl Johnson), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

“Eye of the Beholder” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 145 — ‘Peter’s Principles’

Christopher Atkins, Dallas, Peter Richards, Peter's Principles

What principles?

Since I began re-watching “Dallas’s” seventh season for the first time in years, I’ve been surprised by how interesting I find Sue Ellen’s affair with college student Peter Richards. I used to dismiss their romance as hopelessly gimmicky — J.R.’s wife chases a younger man! — but now that I’m older and hopefully a little wiser, the relationship makes perfect sense. I can see how Sue Ellen might turn to a man like Peter to regain her confidence after all those years of being mistreated by J.R. Or at least that’s how I felt before “Peter’s Principles.” This is the episode where Sue Ellen and Peter sleep together for the first time, but instead of illuminating the reasons these characters are attracted to each other, the love scene reveals the storyline’s flaws. It turns out there are quite a few.

When “Peter’s Principles” begins, Sue Ellen is worried because the Ewings haven’t heard from Peter in several days. She suspects he is upset because she recently told him their flirtation can’t continue, so she contacts one of his classmates and learns Peter has dropped out of school. When Sue Ellen finally tracks down Peter, he doesn’t want to speak to her, but she doesn’t give up on him. She goes to his apartment the next day and urges him not to abandon his studies. Peter tells Sue Ellen that if he can’t have her, college no longer matters to him. She hesitates for a moment, then says, “If I were with you, if we saw each other, would you go back to the university?” Peter’s response: “Yes, it would all be completely different then.” Before you know it, Sue Ellen is kissing Peter as he lays her down on the bed.

Groan. Until this scene, which is the last one in “Peter’s Principles,” I liked how Arthur Bernard Lewis’s script depicted Sue Ellen as a woman with determination and purpose. She works hard to find Peter and persuade him to go back to school, displaying the kind of gumption we haven’t seen from her since “The Oil Baron’s Ball,” the episode where she treats J.R. like a sexual plaything. By the end of “Peter’s Principles,” though, Sue Ellen has reverted back to her old habit of allowing men to dominate her. When she asks Peter if he’ll go back to school if she starts a relationship with him, what does she expect him to say? Sue Ellen doesn’t just allow Peter to pull her strings; she puts the controls in his hand.

Besides undermining Linda Gray’s character, the scene suggests “Dallas” is chickening out on the entire storyline. For a show dominated by alpha males, Sue Ellen and Peter’s relationship has been refreshingly different. The last time “Dallas” depicted a May/December romance, an aging man (Jock Ewing) became involved with a younger woman (Julie Grey). This time around, the gender roles are reversed: Sue Ellen, who is in her 40s, flirts with Peter, who is in his 20s. But instead of showing her going to bed with him merely to fulfill her own sexual desires, Lewis’s script tries to cast Sue Ellen’s choice as some kind of noble sacrifice. She essentially tells Peter, “OK, I’ll have sex with you if you promise to go back to school and study hard.” Why can’t Sue Ellen have a carefree fling like the men on this show?

I suppose all of this can be viewed as another example of Sue Ellen’s self-delusion. Maybe she can’t bring herself to admit her attraction to Peter, so she fools herself into believing she’s merely providing him with the incentive he needs to get an education. But then what are we to make of the fact that we never see these characters in bed together? In the final shot, as Peter moves Sue Ellen onto the bed, the screen goes black and the closing credits flash, making this one of the few times “Dallas” skips its traditional freeze frame. It’s as if the producers can’t quite bring themselves to showing this relationship being consummated.

Then again: Maybe we’ve seen enough. Leonard Katzman, “Dallas’s” executive producer, once called this storyline the show’s “biggest mistake” because Christopher Atkins looked too young to play Peter. It’s not fair to lay the blame at Atkins’ feet, although the actor was too boyish to be believable as Sue Ellen’s lover. Don’t get me wrong: Atkins is a good actor who does a nice job conveying his character’s awkward transition into adulthood. Peter can be charming one minute and petulant the next, just like a lot of real-life college students. Atkins’ youthfulness also works well in his scenes with Larry Hagman, where Peter is the fair-haired Luke Skywalker to J.R.’s black-hearted Darth Vader. But whenever the script calls for Peter and Sue Ellen to share a romantic moment, I can’t help but wish he looked a little older.

But even if Sue Ellen and Peter’s love scene in “Peter’s Principles” worked better, it still wouldn’t be the most provocative moment in this episode. No, that distinction belongs to the wonderful exchange where Miss Ellie admits to Donna that she’s nervous about marrying Clayton because she hasn’t “been” with a man since Jock died. This conversation, which takes place while Ellie and Donna are exercising in the Southfork fitness room, lets us know Ellie remains a sexual creature. This would be a progressive idea for television to address today, so I can only imagine how extraordinary it must have seemed 30 years ago. Both actors are quite good here: Barbara Bel Geddes conveys Ellie’s quiet anxiety without sacrificing the character’s dignity, while Susan Howard’s gentle responses signal Donna’s respect for the Ewing matriarch. I especially like when Ellie says that she and Clayton “never had any real physical contact … beyond a kiss and a hug,” and Donna responds, “Yes, ma’am. I understand.” This is exactly how I would expect Donna to treat a woman like Ellie.

“Peter’s Principles” also shows Clayton confiding in Ray his own unease about marrying Ellie and moving onto “another man’s ranch and into another man’s house.” This marks the beginning of Clayton and Ray’s friendship, a relationship that makes a lot of sense given the outsider status both men occupy in the family Ewing. I also like the “Peter’s Principles” scene where Bobby and Pam have dinner because it makes them seem like two mature people who have remained friends despite the fact they are ex-spouses. This exchange is also useful because it helps the audience understand how much risk is involved in Cliff’s offshore oil venture, which is one of the major subplots in the coming episodes. As Bobby explains to Pam, it can cost as much as $300,000 to tow a rig to a drilling site, $40,000 a day to rent the rig and $20,000 a day to operate it. These numbers boggle my mind today; imagine how big they must have seemed three decades ago.

There’s also a lot of humor in “Peter’s Principles,” beginning with J.R.’s quips about Clayon’s son (“Dusty or Steve or what the hell ever that rodeo rider calls himself nowadays”) and Ray’s wife (“You sure married a winner”). I also like when Clayton announces he’s taking Ellie to see a revival of “Camelot” — a sly reference to one of Howard Keel’s famous stage roles. Other funny moments are unintentional: The exterior shot of Peter’s apartment is the same one used for Mitch Cooper’s residence during the fourth season; look closely and you’ll even see Mitch’s Mustang parked near the curb. Also, as much as I love Ellie and Donna’s scene in the fitness room, I can’t help but notice that despite all of Howard’s huffing and puffing while doing her character’s leg lifts, there’s no weight on the bar.

Poor Donna. Perhaps she would benefit from some professional training at Pam’s aerobics studio. Come to think of it, whatever became of that place?

Grade: B


Dallas, Peter's Principles, Philip Capice

Fade to black


Season 7, Episode 14

Airdate: January 6, 1984

Audience: 21.3 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Patrick Duffy

Synopsis: Sue Ellen learns Peter has dropped out of school but persuades him to return by sleeping with him. J.R. continues digging for dirt on Clayton and confirms a dark secret about Edgar. Clayton and Ellie harbor private reservations about marrying each other. Marilee expresses interest in joining Cliff’s offshore oil venture and comes between him and Afton. Bobby and Pam have dinner, upsetting Jenna and Mark.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Martin E. Brooks (Edgar Randolph), James L. Brown (Detective Harry McSween), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Al Dunlap  (decorator), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), David Gale (Melvin), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Anne Lucas (Cassie), Lee Montgomery (Jerry Hunter), Louis R. Plante (Robert)Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Julie Ronnie (student), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

“Peter’s Principles” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 143 — ‘Barbecue Four’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Barbecue Four, Dallas, Miss Ellie Ewing

The return

Mama’s back! In “Barbecue Four,” Barbara Bel Geddes returns to “Dallas” after being absent from the previous 11 episodes. In real life, the actress was recovering from heart surgery, so the producers temporarily wrote her out of the show by having Clayton whisk Miss Ellie away so she could distance herself from J.R. and Bobby’s bitter battle for Ewing Oil. I’m glad “Dallas” gave Bel Geddes time off, but I wish the writers had come up with a better excuse for her character’s absence. Ellie is so emotionally fragile, she had to run away? That’s not the mama I know.

Regardless, it’s good to have Bel Geddes back. She is the original “Dallas’s” best actress, bringing warmth and grace to a show that could always use a little more of both. Bel Geddes makes Ellie feel like the kind of person you might know in real life, which can’t be said about a lot of other “Dallas” characters, no matter how much we love them. I didn’t realize how much I missed her until she pops up again in “Barbecue Four.” (On the other hand, Bel Geddes’ time away did offer a bright spot: It allowed Sue Ellen to finally fulfill her dream of becoming the lady of the manor. It’s fun to see her take charge of planning the annual Ewing Barbecue in this episode and the previous one, and I like how the writers use Sue Ellen to fill the void left by Southfork’s original nurturer-in-chief. In “The Quality of Mercy,” for example, we see Sue Ellen give Lucy advice on coping with Mickey’s paralysis. If Bel Geddes had been around, I suspect Ellie would have been the one dispensing wisdom to Lucy.)

I also appreciate how “Barbecue Four” scriptwriter Arthur Bernard Lewis and director Leonard Katzman give Bel Geddes a dramatic entrance. It begins with the Ewings gathered in the Southfork dining room, where J.R. is lobbing one sly insult after another at his relatives. (My favorite: “That’s right, Ray. You sit where Gary used to. You two have so much in common.”) When J.R. raises his glass in tribute to “Ewing traditions,” we hear a woman’s familiar voice off-screen: “May we join you in that toast?” The camera cuts to Bel Geddes and Howard Keel standing in the doorway as Katzman zooms in on Ellie; soon all the Ewings are on their feet, hugging and kissing their beaming mama. It’s another reminder of why Bel Geddes is so essential to “Dallas.” When she’s around, these characters feel like a family.

Of course, the cozy atmosphere doesn’t last long. After the Ewings have welcomed Ellie home, she sits at the table and invites Clayton to join the family for dinner. He silently takes a place across from her, sliding into the seat Jock once occupied. Ellie smiles nonchalantly, but Bobby and Ray appear unnerved and J.R. looks positively stricken. What I like best about this moment is how it plays on the audience’s familiarity with “Dallas’s” customs. No mention of Jock is made, but none is needed. Katzman and Lewis trust the viewer to recognize what a momentous occasion it is to see another man sitting in Jock’s seat. I feel sorry for Clayton — the poor chap doesn’t know what he’s getting into, does he? — but no matter how you feel about Keel’s character, the fact that “Dallas” is able to create a dramatic moment out of someone sitting down is impressive.

“Barbecue Four” also includes a lot of other fun scenes, including the sequence where J.R. drops by Pam’s house to invite her, Cliff and their significant others to the Ewings’ annual barbecue. The only thing that amuses me more than seeing J.R. pretend to be nice to the Barneses is seeing how Cliff and Pam seem to buy his Mr. Nice Guy act. Then again, Larry Hagman almost convinces me that J.R. is being sincere. The barbecue scenes are also a kick. These events always yield a dramatic moment or two, and this one is no exception: Bobby has a tense confrontation with Mark, Sue Ellen sneaks off to the barn to see Peter and Pam runs into Charlie Wade, who doesn’t seem to hold a grudge against Pam for swiping her doll during the second season.

Lewis’s script seems to contain a couple of inside jokes too. In one scene, Peter and Lucy exit a movie theater after seeing a sci-fi flick. He bemoans the plot and declares, “It’ll drive me right back to TV.” Is this a nod to Christopher Atkins’ own film career? (A few weeks before “Barbecue Four” debuted, the actor’s latest film, “A Night in Heaven,” was released. He played an exotic dancer who fell for an older woman.) Later, Afton watches Cliff stuffing himself with food at the barbecue and compares him to a squirrel getting ready for winter. His response: “Baby, this is going to be the best winter ever. It’s going to be Christmas every day.” Is it a coincidence that Cliff refers to the holiday in this episode, which debuted nine days before Christmas 1983?

Finally, some casting trivia. “Barbecue Four” introduces Pat Colbért as Dora Mae, the hostess at the Oil Baron’s Club, while Peyton E. Park once again plays Larry, the Ewings’ caterer, who also appeared in the two previous barbecue-themed episodes. Most notably, Mitch Pileggi makes his “Dallas” debut in “Barbecue Four.” The actor, who now stars on TNT’s “Dallas” as Harris Ryland, had a few small roles on the original series, beginning with a part in this episode as a rowdy cowboy who harasses Jenna while she’s waiting tables. In the scene, Bobby tries to rescue Jenna, but she sends him away and says she can take care of herself as Pileggi flashes his wicked grin at Patrick Duffy. Who knew these two were just getting warmed up?

Grade: B


Barbecue Four, Clayton Farlow, Dallas, Howard Keel

Changing of the guard


Season 7, Episode 12

Airdate: December 16, 1983

Audience: 22 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Miss Ellie returns home and announces her engagement to Clayton. With J.R.’s blessing, Sly feeds Cliff information about a lucrative deal, which Cliff steals. Ray and Donna entertain her friend Edgar Randolph, a federal government official who is overseeing the auction of offshore oil leases. Peter accepts Lucy’s invitation to the Ewing Barbecue, where he sneaks off with Sue Ellen and professes his love for her. Katherine travels to Italy and obtains a copy of Charlie’s birth certificate, which lists Bobby as the father.

Cast: Christopher Albee (Travis Boyd), Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Martin E. Brooks (Edgar Randolph), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Anne Lucas (Cassie), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Alberto Morin (Armando Sidoni), Peyton E. Park (Larry), Mitch Pileggi (bar patron), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Peter Renaday (Rigsby), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 141 — ‘The Buck Stops Here’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Pam Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal

Round and round

“The Buck Stops Here” memorably ends with Pam Ewing and Jenna Wade competing against each other in a mechanical bull-riding competition. It’s an appropriate metaphor for these characters, whose lives go up and down but rarely move forward. For example, during the course of this episode, we learn Pam is still hung up on ex-husband Bobby, even though she’s also in a relationship with Mark Graison. Meanwhile, Jenna has returned to town after a long absence and rekindled her romance with Bobby, but he upsets her when he asks if he’s the father of her daughter Charlie. If it feels like you’ve seen both of these stories before, it’s because you have.

Let’s start with Pam. She spends most of “Dallas’s” previous season trying to choose between Bobby and Mark, a storyline that makes her seem more than a little wishy-washy. Once Pam divorces Bobby, the writers begin to rehabilitate her character, even giving her a promising new career in the oil industry. It’s the return of the smart, confident Pam that Victoria Principal played exceedingly well during “Dallas’s” early years. Too bad it doesn’t last. In “The Buck Stops Here,” Principal’s character is back where she was a year earlier, torn between Bobby and Mark.

At least Arthur Bernard Lewis’s script makes Pam aware that she’s emotionally stuck. In the first act, Pam confides her conflicted feelings to Katherine, a scene that is probably meant to make Pam seem introspective but instead makes her seem whiny and not in control of her own emotions. At one point, Katherine tells her, “You know, sometimes I don’t understand you at all.” Pam’s response: “Sometimes I don’t understand myself at all.” The exchange brings to mind “Dallas’s” fifth season, when Pam was unable to explain the erratic behavior she exhibited before her mental breakdown — a storyline I’d just as soon not be reminded of.

The weak plotting leaves me feeling bad for Principal, an enormously appealing actress who deserves better material. Don’t get me wrong: I want Bobby and Pam back together as much as anyone, but if the show was going to insist on breaking them up, at least give Pam something better to do than to pine after her ex-husband. On the other hand: I’ll confess I get a kick out of seeing Pam and Jenna shoot daggers at each other throughout the charity rodeo and the mechanical bull-riding competition. There’s also the terrific scene where Jenna compliments Pam on her performance, telling she’s going to be “a tough act” to follow. “I am a tough act to follow,” Pam responds. On this show, have truer words been spoken?

“Dallas” struggles to come up with a fresh angle for Jenna too. The show introduces the character in the second-season episode “Old Acquaintance,” when Jenna — played by Morgan Fairchild — is depicted as a scheming heiress who tries to break up Bobby and Pam by insinuating Charlie is Bobby’s daughter. Eventually, Pam confronts Jenna and forces her to admit that Jenna’s ex-husband is the little girl’s father. In Season 3, Jenna — now played by Francine Tacker — returns briefly and once again tempts Bobby, except this time Charlie’s paternity isn’t part of the equation. So why is Bobby suddenly pestering Jenna about the issue in “The Buck Stops Here”? My guess is the producers figured audiences wouldn’t remember this subplot was resolved years earlier, although I have no idea why they think “who is Charlie’s father?” is such a compelling storyline in the first place.

At least Jenna comes off as a little more clear-eyed than Pam. The character has felt more down-to-earth and interesting since Priscilla Presley took over the role three episodes ago. Some of this comes from the writing — Jenna has lost her fortune and is now working as a waitress to pay the bills — but some of it also comes from Presley, who instills her character with much more backbone than I remembered. In one of “The Buck Stops Here’s” best scenes, Katherine tries to bribe Jenna into moving to Houston and leaving Bobby alone. Katherine pretends she’s acting in Pam’s interest, but Jenna is savvy enough to realize Katherine wants Bobby for herself. I also like the scene where Bobby takes Jenna to dinner at the Oil Baron’s Club (which makes its debut in this episode) and asks her if she misses being rich. “Damn right I do,” she says. Isn’t it kind of refreshing to see the working class depicted as something other than noble?

Besides recycling old storylines, “The Buck Stops Here” demonstrates the sexism that pervades this era of “Dallas.” At the beginning of the episode, when Pam and Katherine have their heart-to-heart talk, Katherine is aghast to learn Pam and Mark have never had sex. “You can’t expect a man to wait forever. This isn’t the 19th century,” she says. It also seems like every man on this show has at least two women interested in him: Mark is romancing Pam while being chased by snooty socialite Tracy Anders, while Pam, Jenna and Katherine are all in love with Bobby.

(Frankly, everyone’s interest in Patrick Duffy’s character mystifies me a little, at least in “The Buck Stops Here.” Notice how Bobby cheerfully tells Katherine all about his wonderful afternoon with Jenna, even though Katherine confessed her own unrequited romantic feelings for Bobby during the previous episode. Likewise, isn’t it kind of crass of Bobby to plant such a passionate kiss on Jenna at the end of this episode, knowing that his ex-wife is watching them? Where’s the sweet, sensitive Bobby that we all know and love?)

Amid all the complications and sexism that characterize Bobby and Pam’s love lives, Sue Ellen’s May/December romance with camp counselor Peter Richards feels like a breath of fresh air. At least this is a love triangle where one woman (Sue Ellen) is the object of affection for two men (J.R. and Peter). The previous episode ended with Sue Ellen and Peter sharing a brief kiss, but in “The Buck Stops Here,” she meets Peter for lunch — the restaurant’s name isn’t shown, but I’d recognize the inside of a 1980s Pizza Hut anywhere — and wisely tells him that their relationship can’t go any further. It’s nice to see Sue Ellen grow as a character, even as some of her “Dallas” sisters struggle to move forward.

Of course, even though I like seeing the Ewing and Barnes women take center stage for a change, I can’t help but feel bad for J.R., who doesn’t have much to do in “The Buck Stops Here” except to stand by helplessly as Cliff steals another deal from him. In fact, Larry Hagman is completely absent from the episode’s fourth act, an extreme rarity on this show. It’s no fun to watch our hero get beat, but but I’m heartened by the scene where J.R. summons Harry McSween to his office to help him set a trap for his enemy. “I want that little insect to bite — and bite hard,” J.R. says. The line leaves me rubbing my hands in glee. J.R. vowing to exterminate Cliff? Oh, this is going to be fun!

Grade: B


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

Busy Bobby


Season 7, Episode 10

Airdate: December 2, 1983

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

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Peter tells Sue Ellen he loves her, but she insists it’s merely an infatuation. Pam sleeps with Mark after she spots Bobby kiss Jenna passionately. After J.R. loses another deal to Cliff, he realizes Ewing Oil has a mole.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), Mary Armstrong (Louise), John Beck (Mark Graison), Tye Bell (Buzz), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), James L. Brown (Detective Harry McSween), Jack Collins (Russell Slater), Joe Dorsey (Ben Kesey), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Roy McAdams (rodeo announcer), Andrea McCall (Tracy Anders), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Don Wood (Dan Fuller)

“The Buck Stops Here” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 138 — ‘Ray’s Trial’

Dallas, Ray Krebbs, Ray's Trial, Steve Kanaly

His day in court

I always remembered the mystery surrounding Mickey Trotter’s death as boiling down to a single question: Did Ray or Lil pull the plug on him? Last week, when I re-watched “Ray’s Trial” for the first time in a few years, I realized “Dallas” also poses a second, more complicated question: Did Mickey want to live or die? Ray and Lucy each offer different answers during the course of the episode, and technically, both of their statements are accurate. Does that mean both statements are also true? I’m not sure anyone can answer that definitively, which makes the storyline feel a lot more interesting than I previously gave it credit for.

To appreciate this aspect of “Ray’s Trial,” it’s worth remembering two crucial scenes from the preceding episodes. In “My Brother’s Keeper,” when Mickey is struggling to come to grips with his paralysis, he pulls Ray aside and tells him, “The idea of living like a vegetable with some damn machine keeping me alive disgusts me. It’s the worst horror I can imagine. … If it happens, I hope and pray that no one’s going to let me live that way.” Later, in “The Quality of Mercy,” Mickey’s mood brightens when he realizes Lucy is determined to stand by him despite the fact that he’ll never walk again. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll get married yet,” Mickey tells her.

But this is “Dallas,” so of course that never happens. When Mickey slips into a coma, his respirator is disconnected off-screen by either Ray or Lil, the two people with him at the time. The district attorney charges Ray, although the show goes out of its way to drop hints that the real culprit is Lil and Ray is only covering up for her. “Dallas” doesn’t solve the mystery until the next episode, allowing the audience to spend “Ray’s Trial” pondering what Mickey wanted, which turns out to be the more interesting question anyway. At the top of the hour, Ray meets with his lawyer and recalls Mickey’s “worst horror” comment, holding this up as evidence that Mickey preferred death to being kept alive via medical machinery. Later, when Lucy testifies at Ray’s trial, she recalls the marriage plans she and Mickey were making before he slipped into the coma. “He wanted to live. He really did,” she says.

Once again, these are two characters offering two technically accurate but fundamentally different answers to the question of whether Mickey wanted to live or die. Who you choose to believe may come down to where you stand on the issue of euthanasia, which is where “Ray’s Trial” ultimately falls short. Scriptwriter Arthur Bernard Lewis doesn’t devote much time to examining the moral implications of Mickey’s death, which is somewhat surprising considering the difference of opinion Ray and Donna apparently bring to the issue. At one point, Ray tells his lawyer, “What I did was not immoral.” This seems to put him at odds with Donna, whose personal beliefs are hinted at in the previous episode when she declares, “Nobody has the right to play God.” So why doesn’t “Ray’s Trial” give us a scene of husband and wife debating the issue?

Even if the material feels incomplete, Steve Kanaly makes the most of it. In my recent interview with him, Kanaly recalled growing up watching westerns and admiring actors like Gary Cooper. The comment must have lodged itself in the back of my mind because when I watched “Ray’s Trial” a few days later, I was struck by how much Kanaly reminds me of Cooper. The actors share similarly quiet, dignified mannerisms, and both are able to say a lot without uttering a single line of dialogue. In Kanaly’s case, watch his haunted eyes in this episode and you’ll see everything that the script doesn’t tell us about what Ray is feeling.

The other performer to watch is Charlene Tilton, who appears only twice but makes a lasting impression. She does a beautiful job delivering Lucy’s tearful testimony, which supplies “Ray’s Trial” with its moment of emotional catharsis. My favorite scene, though, comes a few moments later, when Donna comforts Lucy in the courthouse corridor after Lucy reluctantly testifies against Ray. This is a brief scene and the script doesn’t give Tilton much dialogue, but none is needed. Her anguished expression says it all. The courtroom scenes also feature a couple of old pros — Richard Jaeckel as prosecutor Percy Meredith and Glenn Corbett as Paul Morgan, Ray’s defense lawyer — as well as a young Steven Williams, who appears here as a bailiff and later plays the police captain on “21 Jump Street.”

This episode’s other notable moments include Mark Graison’s polo match, which might be “Dallas’s” most thrilling horseback riding sequence since Jock Ewing surged across the Southfork plains at the beginning of the second-season classic “Bypass.” “Ray’s Trial” also marks Lois Chiles’ final appearance as Holly Harwood. In her last scene, Holly approaches J.R. in a cocktail lounge and taunts him over losing the battle for Ewing Oil. Besides giving Chiles one last opportunity to spar with Larry Hagman, I like how this scene mimics J.R. and Holly’s first on-screen encounter, which also takes place in a cocktail lounge.

The other highlight of “Ray’s Trial” is the arrival of Priscilla Presley, who makes her “Dallas” debut as Jenna Wade. It’s a fine first appearance, although it includes a bit of a curiosity. In one of Presley’s scenes, Bobby pulls up in front of Jenna’s home as she approaches the sidewalk. He invites her to join him for lunch, but when director Michael Preece offers us a close-up shot of Bobby’s car radio, we see the clock reads “5:45.” From this, we can deduce one of two things: Either Ewings eat lunch very late, which makes them a lot different than you and me, or Bobby has yet to figure out how to set the clock in his car, in which case he’s just like us.

Grade: B


Dallas, Jenna Wade, Priscilla Presley, Ray's Trial

Hello again


Season 7, Episode 7

Airdate: November 11, 1983

Audience: 22.4 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Ray goes on trial and frustrates Donna with his reluctance to defend himself. Bobby runs into Jenna, who now works as a waitress. J.R. woos the cartel.

Cast: Charles Aidman (Judge Emmett Brocks), Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Glenn Corbett (Paul Morgan), Michael Cornelison (Dr. Snow), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Steven Fuller (bailiff), Tony Garcia (Raoul), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Richard Jaeckel (Assistant District Attorney Percy Meredith), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing),  Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Joseph R. Maross (Dr. Blakely), Andrea McCall (Tracy Anders), Priscilla Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

“Ray’s Trial” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 131 — ‘Ewing Inferno’

Dallas, Ewing Inferno, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Surprise, surprise

“Ewing Inferno” famously ends with J.R., Sue Ellen, Ray and John Ross trapped inside Southfork as fire sweeps through the house. I wonder: When this episode debuted in 1983, did anyone doubt all four characters would escape the blaze? After all, three of them appear in the opening credits and the fourth is a child; by the conventions of 1980s television, their survival seems assured. Not that I’m complaining. This may not be “Dallas’s” most suspenseful cliffhanger, but it does put a poetic punctuation mark on the sixth season. After a year in which everything goes to hell for the Ewings, what could be more fitting than seeing them surrounded by flames?

Besides, it’s not like “Ewing Inferno” doesn’t deliver its share of surprises, especially where J.R. is concerned. When the episode begins, he’s business as usual, demanding $20 million from Holly to leave her company. Later, in one of their classic clashes, J.R. lobs such ugly insults at Pam that she slaps him. (“Damn, I hate that woman,” he says as she stomps away.) Then, in the second act, J.R. has an honest-to-goodness epiphany. He brings little John Ross into the bedroom to give Sue Ellen a goodnight kiss, only to find her passed out, an empty bottle of booze at her side. J.R. sends the boy away, sits on the bed and gazes at his wife. “I know you’ll never trust me again, Sue Ellen,” he says. “But I love you. … We should’ve had a wonderful life together. What have I done to you?” The monologue brings to mind the second-season finale, when J.R. sits at the hospital bedside of a comatose Sue Ellen and laments the turn their marriage has taken. Now here he is, four years later, delivering a similar speech. As Miss Ellie wondered a few episodes ago: Doesn’t he ever learn?

Perhaps he does. In the next scene, Bobby comes home and finds J.R. alone in the Southfork living room. The mood is somber, serious. Bobby asks how Sue Ellen is doing. “Not good,” J.R. responds. He tells Bobby that he’s been thinking “real hard” about their fight for Ewing Oil, and the toll it has taken on the people around them. Both brothers’ marriages have suffered. Miss Ellie is heartbroken. Rebecca Wentworth is dead. Mickey Trotter is dying. “I’m not sure that this fight between us is worth what it cost the family,” J.R. says. Bobby is stunned and asks J.R. if he wants to end the contest. J.R.’s response: “By my calculation, I’m way ahead of you, but I really don’t give a damn.”

I really don’t give a damn. Not since J.R. slipped into his deep depression after Jock’s death has our hero seemed so unmoored.

‘Into Oblivion’

Dallas, Ewing Inferno, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

But not oblivious

J.R. and Bobby don’t get around to finishing this conversation, but no matter. There’s no doubt J.R. has been humbled. Consider the third act’s final scene. After ordering Teresa to lock up the liquor, J.R. finds Sue Ellen getting drunk in the living room, having swiped a bottle of burgundy from the kitchen. The confrontation that follows plays like something out of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” As J.R. stands still and stares ahead, Sue Ellen circles him, a glass in one hand, the wine bottle in the other, and releases her fury. She references his marital sins (“Did you find someone new to sleep with today? Or did you have to rely on one of your old mistresses?”) and tells him he “ruined” her life. Then, to show how she has stopped giving a damn, Sue Ellen moves closer to J.R. and whispers, “Now, why don’t you do one kind little thing for me, hmm? Unlock the liquor, because I’m going to drink myself into oblivion.”

Linda Gray and Larry Hagman are magnificent in this scene. Every one of her lines drips with acid, while his stoic expression makes this a cathartic moment for the audience. J.R. doesn’t fight back because he knows he’s wrong. He accepts Sue Ellen’s punishing words because he deserves them. Even at the end of the scene, when Sue Ellen flings the bottle at him and it smashes against the wall, J.R. barely flinches. Where his wife is concerned, J.R. simply doesn’t have any fight left in him — although as the big red stain on the wallpaper foreshadows, a different kind of battle is about to come to him.

‘The Last Person in the World’

Dallas, Ewing Inferno, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Daddy’s watching

J.R.’s chastening during the course of “Ewing Inferno” is thorough but incomplete. In the final scene, when Ray arrives at Southfork to confront him, J.R. offers his half-brother a typically frosty greeting. “Ray, you’re about the last person in the world I needed to see tonight,” he says. I usually laugh when Hagman delivers a line like this, but there’s nothing funny about J.R.’s dark mood. Before long, the two men are scuffling, and even though the fight scene isn’t exactly credible — stuntmen are clearly substituting for Hagman and Steve Kanaly in the wide shots, J.R. knocks out Ray with a plastic telephone — there’s something deeply poignant about Ray’s attempt to avenge Mickey and J.R.’s determination to rescue his family once the fire starts. How can you not feel moved when he notices the blaze, cries out for his wife and son and braves the flames to try to save them?

Also, consider this: For two seasons, J.R. and Ray have each struggled to honor the dead father they worshipped. J.R. tries to do it through business, while Ray tries to emulate Jock by taking Mickey under his wing, just like Jock did with young Ray. I suppose that’s why it’s so fitting that J.R. and Ray’s fight occurs under the watchful gaze of Jock’s portrait, which looms in the background of so many crucial scenes during the sixth season, including the will reading and J.R. and Sue Ellen’s spat after she catches him in bed with Holly. What hath Jock wrought?

‘Our Marriage Doesn’t Work’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Ewing Inferno, Patrick Duffy

Cry, Bobby

For all its poignancy, the true cliffhanger in “Ewing Inferno” has nothing to do with the Southfork fire. The question I’m left asking is this: What will Bobby do? After J.R. offers to call off their fight, Bobby receives a phone call from Pam, who tells him she’s decided to give him the Tundra Torque, the experimental drill bit he needs to move forward with his Canadian oil venture. Since the deal is a guaranteed blockbuster, it will almost certainly allow Bobby to clinch victory over J.R. Bobby now has a dilemma: Should he make peace with his brother, or should he see the contest through until the end, knowing he has what it takes to finally beat J.R.?

By the end of the episode, Bobby’s decision isn’t clear, although his conversation with Katherine in the next-to-last scene suggests he will indeed use the drill bit. Regardless, I wish scriptwriter Arthur Bernard Lewis had paid more attention to this subplot and shown Bobby weighing his choices. After a season of tough ethical compromises, wouldn’t this be Bobby’s biggest decision yet?

On the other hand: Lewis has a lot of narrative ground to cover, and he does a nice job bringing the other storylines to a climactic finish. The cast does good work too. The scene where Pam tells Bobby she wants a divorce (“Our marriage doesn’t work anymore”) is very moving, especially when that single tear begins its slow journey down Patrick Duffy’s cheek. I also love when Pam tells Cliff and Katherine that she’s decided to give Bobby the drill bit. What’s more fun: Ken Kercheval’s combustible response or Morgan Brittany’s sly smirk? The guest stars shine too: Kate Reid is mesmerizing when she delivers Aunt Lil’s weary monologue, Ben Piazza is the profile in agony when Driscoll visits Mickey’s bedside, and thanks to Barry Corbin, I feel every bit of Sheriff Washburn’s frustration when Ray goes rogue during the investigation into Mickey’s accident.

Like so many other “Dallas” episodes during the sixth season, “Ewing Inferno” also makes me appreciate the technical expertise behind the camera. Fred W. Berger, the editor, won an Emmy for this episode. Surely director Leonard Katzman deserves one too. In the fourth act, I like how he shows J.R. escorting Dr. Danvers out of the bedroom, through the hall and down the stairs into the foyer. The sequence establishes how these spaces fit together, so that during the fire, when J.R. races up the steps and collapses, we understand his proximity to his wife and son.

You also have to admire Katzman’s lack of restraint. According to Barbara A. Curran’s 2004 book “Dallas: The Complete Story of the World’s Favorite Prime-Time Soap,” Katzman built a replica of the Southfork foyer, just so he could burn it down for this episode’s final scene. That’s pretty spectacular, even if it isn’t all that suspenseful.

Grade: A+


Dallas, Ewing Inferno, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Welcome to Hell


Season 6, Episode 28

Airdate: May 6, 1983

Audience: 20.3 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: J.R. offers to end the contest for Ewing Oil. Pam decides to divorce Bobby but gives him the Tundra Torque, enraging Cliff. Driscoll kills himself after revealing he drove the car that struck Sue Ellen and Mickey’s vehicle because he thought J.R. was behind the wheel at the time. After Ray learns of Driscoll’s role in the crash, he gets into a fight with J.R. During the scuffle, Southfork catches fire, trapping J.R., Sue Ellen, Ray and John Ross.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Barry Corbin (Sheriff Fenton Washburn), John Devlin (Clouse), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Ben Piazza (Walt Driscoll), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), John Zaremba (Dr. Harlan Danvers)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 126 — ‘Hell Hath No Fury’

Dallas, Hell Hath No Fury, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Those eyes

Sue Ellen is the perfect wife, living the perfect life, when “Hell Hath No Fury” begins. She fusses over J.R. at breakfast, smiles when he brings Roy Ralston home for dinner and gazes at him adoringly during his latest appearance on Ralston’s TV show. Of course, this is “Dallas,” so Sue Ellen’s bliss doesn’t last. During a visit to the hair salon, she runs into Holly Harwood, who later confesses to Sue Ellen that she’s having an affair with J.R. Sue Ellen doesn’t want to believe it, so Holly tells her to go home and check his shirt collar. Sure enough, the collar is smeared with Holly’s lipstick. The episode ends with our heroine clutching the garment and sobbing quietly.

Beauty parlor run-ins, lipstick-smeared collars, tear-streaked faces: If this sounds like the stuff of 1950s and 1960s soap operas, I suspect it’s purely intentional. “Dallas” routinely honors the tropes of daytime dramas and Douglas Sirk movies (witness Rebecca Wentworth’s weepy deathbed scene a few episodes earlier). This is something I’ve always admired about the show. The homage presented in “Hell Hath No Fury” is especially fitting: J.R. and Sue Ellen have an old-fashioned marriage; of course it should collapse under old-fashioned circumstances.

I also love how Lois Chiles and Linda Gray handle the material. Chiles is deliciously cunning as Holly, who wants to destroy J.R.’s marriage to get back at him for costing her company millions of dollars in a bungled deal. In the lunch scene, Chiles smiles — ever so slightly — when Holly sees how much her confession hurts Sue Ellen. Gray is wonderful too. This is another example of Gray using her big, expressive eyes to convey the depth of Sue Ellen’s pain. (I’m usually not one to notice makeup, but Gray’s blue eye shadow in this scene is a work of art. Eat your heart out, Donna Mills.) Even more moving: “Hell Hath No Fury’s” closing moments, when Sue Ellen retrieves J.R.’s shirt from the laundry basket, sees the lipstick and weeps. There’s no dialogue, but none is needed. Gray’s tears say it all.

If Sue Ellen’s marital turmoil in “Hell Hath No Fury” has an unmistakable retro vibe, then Pam’s feels slyly modern. Pam, who is now living in a hotel because she feels Bobby’s ambition has changed him, calls her husband at the office and invites him over for a drink. The couple spends the evening reminiscing, but when Bobby tries to leave, Pam kisses him passionately until they slump back onto the sofa. The next morning, she awakens to find Bobby planning her move back to Southfork. Pam corrects him: Just because she spent the night with Bobby doesn’t mean she’s ready to take him back. Bobby is aghast. “You make me feel like I should give you a bill for services rendered,” he seethes.

Oh, how I love this. How often have we seen the men of “Dallas” treat women as vessels for sexual satisfaction? Isn’t it refreshing to see a woman do the same thing? This entire sequence is about Pam acknowledging that she has sexual needs and fulfilling them. She calls Bobby and invites him over for a drink. When he declares it’s time to go home, she lets him know that she wants him to stay. And in the morning, when Bobby assumes Pam will now come back to him, she sets him straight. Don’t get me wrong: I feel bad for Bobby when he brushes past that chump Mark Graison on his way out of the hotel, and I believe Pam is wrong later in the episode when she agrees to accompany Mark to France. She is married, after all, and if she believes Mark is going to keep his promise to leave her alone during the trip, she’s a fool. Nevertheless, I applaud “Dallas” for depicting Pam as a woman who isn’t afraid to express her sexuality.

I’m also charmed by the scene where Bobby and Pam recall the first time they met. Patrick Duffy and Victoria Principal’s chemistry is effortless, and I love how Arthur Bernard Lewis’s dialogue honors “Dallas” history. Pam remembers arriving at a Ewing barbecue on Ray’s arm and being surprised to discover the family isn’t as monstrous as Digger led her to believe. I also like how the scene ends with Duffy reaching behind him to turn off the lamp while locking lips with Principal. She does something similar during another reunion with Bobby in the eighth-season finale “Swan Song.” Along these lines, I also chuckle when Bobby greets Pam in “Hell Hath No Fury” with a winking “good morning.” This won’t be the last time he’ll say these words to her, will it?

The other highlight of “Hell Hath No Fury”: J.R.’s latest appearance on “Talk Time,” Ralston’s TV show. In typical J.R. style, the guest spot is part of a convoluted scheme. J.R. needs to find a way to visit Cuba so he can claim millions of dollars owed to him in an illegal deal, but of course Uncle Sam doesn’t know allow just anyone to visit the communist outpost. So J.R. goes on Ralston’s show and talks up the need for “businessmen” to get more involved in foreign affairs, apparently hoping his comments will inspire the State Department to send him to Cuba on a diplomatic mission. Whatever. Forget this absurd backstory and focus instead on how J.R. describes for Ralston his philosophy of government. “Government is big business. The biggest,” he says. “They’re in the police business and the land management business, the health and education business. All those bureaus are just departments of one big department store.” Does this not sound like the kind of rhetoric we’ve heard from real-life politicians for years?

Lewis’s script also offers a couple of pop culture references that make me smile. When Ralston visits Southfork, he suggests filming an interview with J.R. and Sue Ellen at the ranch, the way Edward R. Murrow once conducted interviews with celebrities in their living rooms on “Person to Person.” TV historians will recall Murrow’s show was a Friday night staple on CBS in the 1950s, a few decades before “Dallas” became a Friday fixture. In another scene, Holly lashes out at Bobby for interfering with J.R.’s Cuban deal. “You had to play James Bond and prevent the deal from going through,” she fumes. The line, which is clearly a reference to Chiles’s role in “Moonraker,” raises a question: If Bobby is Bond, does that make J.R. Blofeld?

Grade: B


Dallas, Hell Hath No Fury, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

That smile


Season 6, Episode 23

Airdate: March 18, 1983

Audience: 20.8 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Ernest Pintoff

Synopsis: J.R. schemes to get the government’s permission to visit Cuba. To get back at J.R., Holly tricks him into believing she wants him, then lies and tells Sue Ellen that J.R. is her lover. Mark talks Pam into letting him accompany her on a trip to France. Bobby worries his Canadian field won’t come in. Lucy and Mickey continue to date.

Cast: John Anderson (Richard McIntyre), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), James Brown (Detective Harry McSween), William Bryant (Jackson), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Fay Hauser (Annie), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Kenneth Kimmins (Thornton McLeish), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Tom McFadden (Jackson’s partner), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Ben Piazza (Walt Driscoll), Ron Ellington Shy (singer), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), John Reilly (Roy Ralston), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

“Hell Hath No Fury” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 116 — ‘Mama Dearest’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Mama Dearest, Miss Ellie Ewing

Mother knows best?

In “Mama Dearest,” Miss Ellie embarks on a quest to break Jock’s will and stop J.R. and Bobby’s contest for Ewing Oil. This causes the alliances within the family to shift, sometimes dramatically. J.R. and Bobby both oppose Ellie’s efforts, but when J.R. suggests the brothers join forces to defeat their mother, Bobby refuses. J.R. isn’t on his own, though: He gets support from Sue Ellen and Lucy, who believes the competition for the company should play out the way Jock intended. In the meantime, Pam rushes to support Ellie, which strains her marriage to Bobby.

Some of these reactions are surprising, but all of them make sense. I believe J.R. would be the first to recognize that it would be in his best interest to call a temporary truce with Bobby, just as I believe Bobby would be reluctant to join J.R. because he doesn’t trust him. Likewise, Pam’s allegiance to Ellie feels reasonable, although I suspect Pam’s response has more to do with her own opposition to the contest than it does with her concern for mother-in-law’s emotional wellbeing. More often than not, Pam is a pragmatist.

Lucy’s support for J.R. is unexpected, of course, but notice how she never lets him know she’s in his corner. Even if Lucy agrees with J.R., she isn’t going to give him the satisfaction of knowing it. Instead, Lucy confides her feelings in Ellie. This conversation occurs late at night, when Lucy sits with her grandmother at the Southfork kitchen table and gently questions her decision to break the will. Charlene Tilton, in a lovely performance, manages to convey Lucy’s almost-childlike belief in her grandfather’s infallibility, as well as her confidence that he knew what he was doing when he decided to pit J.R. and Bobby against each other. “I’m sure it’s all turning out just the way Granddaddy expected,” Lucy says. It’s nice to see this character growing up and becoming wiser.

Barbara Bel Geddes, the actress at the heart of “Mama Dearest,” is terrific in this exchange too. She avoids eye contact with Tilton, which helps convey Ellie’s uncertainty about whether her legal challenge is appropriate. Even at the end of the conversation, when Lucy reaches across the table and touches Ellie’s arm, Bel Geddes looks away. Contrast this with her performance in the scene where J.R. joins Ellie for breakfast on the Southfork patio. He tries to turn on the charm, but Mama doesn’t fall for it. “You get a good night’s sleep?” J.R. asks. Ellie looks at him and coolly says, “J.R., I don’t think you really care how I slept last night.” It’s a telling moment: Even if Ellie isn’t sure she’s doing the right thing, she’s smart enough to know she shouldn’t let J.R. know she has doubts. Mama probably would have made a good poker player.

Another great scene in “Mama Dearest” belongs to Patrick Duffy, who also directed this episode. After a frustrated Bobby takes off for a nighttime drive to collect his thoughts, he returns home and finds Pam waiting up for him. Bobby tells her that he’s upset over her decision to support Ellie, and then he explains why he wants the contest to continue. Duffy’s delivery is impassioned; he makes a fist and practically shakes it at the camera as he speaks. The words are as important as the delivery. Here’s his speech:

“Pam, you don’t understand what drove Jock Ewing. And I don’t think you really understand what drives me, either. When I was at the university, making the football team just wasn’t enough. I had to be varsity. I had to be captain. I had to make All-Southwest Conference — and I did! I did all of that. When you and I met, I wasn’t just a roadman for Ewing Oil. I was the best roadman for any oil company. Because that’s what Daddy expected. And that’s what I expect from myself. And J.R. and I are a lot alike because he’s not going to take second best either. You see, that’s why Daddy turned away from Gary. The Ewings must succeed, and Gary didn’t care about that, but Pam, J.R. and I do! Now, Daddy chose that the future of Ewing Oil is going to be in the hands of the son strong enough to run it. And that’s the way it’s gonna be.”

This monologue, besides being one of the highlights of Arthur Bernard Lewis’s script, helps demonstrate why the contest for Ewing Oil is such a satisfying storyline. Bobby is usually the yin to J.R.’s yang, but notice how he doesn’t mention J.R. until almost the end of the speech. This time, Bobby isn’t simply reacting to J.R.’s schemes. For the youngest Ewing son, the contest is as much about proving himself worthy of his father’s expectations as it is stopping J.R. from committing some heinous act. The scene reminds us that Bobby is a pretty interesting character in his own right.

Of course, J.R. remains the most fascinating figure of all in “Mama Dearest.” Throughout this episode, Larry Hagman gives us the feeling his character is genuinely frightened by the prospect that Ellie might stop the contest and sell Ewing Oil out from under him. Notice how J.R. loses his cool with Ellie at the beginning of the episode, after she’s announced her decision to challenge the will, and later when he realizes she’s getting advice from Clayton. (Is it a coincidence that the last time we saw J.R. this rattled occurred after he ran into Clayton and Rebecca at the French restaurant?) I also think it’s telling the lengths he’ll go to shore up support from the other Ewings. When J.R. is trying to persuade Bobby to join him in fighting their mother, he tells him, “We may battle a lot, but I just want you to remember: You’re my brother, and I love you.” The “l word” isn’t one J.R. uses a lot. Later, J.R. stands behind Sue Ellen as she gazes into a mirror and promises she’ll one day be mistress of Southfork and share his power. He really knows how to tell other people what they want to hear, doesn’t he?

J.R. also figures into “Mama Dearest’s” funniest scene, when he arrives at Holly’s home and discovers she runs Harwood Oil from her bedroom. (“You know as many oil deals are made in bedrooms as in boardrooms,” she purrs. The line would be a groaner if Lois Chiles didn’t look like she was having so much fun delivering it.) This is one of those “Dallas” moments that I recall watching as a kid, although my memory turned things around: I mistakenly remembered Holly keeping a bed in her office, not a desk in her bedroom. Either way, I can’t help but wonder why J.R. never followed suit. Imagine how much easier life would have been for ol’ J.R. if the Ewing Oil executive suite had come equipped with a mattress.

Grade: A


Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Mama Dearest, Patrick Duffy

Rising son?


Season 6, Episode 13

Airdate: December 31, 1982

Audience: 15.2 million homes, ranking 24th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Patrick Duffy

Synopsis: Miss Ellie asks lawyer Brooks Oliver to help her break Jock’s will. Pam sides with Ellie, straining her marriage to Bobby. J.R. orders Holly to cancel her military contracts so she can refine his crude. Donna urges her fellow energy commissioners to not restore J.R.’s variance to pump excess oil. Bobby pressures the cartel to uncap the Wellington property so he can compete with J.R. Cliff buys a townhouse.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Paul Carr (Ted Prince), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Karlene Crockett (Muriel Gillis), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Bobbie Ferguson (Terri), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), James Karen (Elton Lawrence), Julio Medina (Henry Figueroa), Donald Moffat (Brooks Oliver), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Robert Pinkerton (Elliot), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Arlen Dean Snyder (George Hicks), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Joan Staley (Ms. Stockwood), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 115 — ‘Barbecue Three’

Barbecue Three, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Mr. Right

In “Barbecue Three,” J.R. finally reveals his plan to win the contest for Ewing Oil: He begins flooding the market with cut-rate gasoline, hoping to drive up his half of the company’s profits. This ignites a firestorm within the cartel, prompting Cliff and a band of angry oilmen to come to the annual Southfork barbecue and demand J.R. stop lowering prices. The Ewings don’t like what J.R.’s doing either, but to everyone’s surprise, they close ranks around him when the confrontation with the cartel threatens to turn violent. “If you want to get to J.R., you’re going to have to come through us,” Bobby tells the group.

Like Ellie’s defense of J.R. in the fifth-season classic “Waterloo at Southfork,” this is another example of the Ewings circling the wagons against outsiders, one of “Dallas’s” hallmarks. There’s another reason this scene is satisfying: For once, J.R. isn’t wrong. Sure, he pulled some dirty tricks to get his hands on the crude he needed to produce all that cheap gas, but the cartel has no right to complain about it. J.R. is selling his product at a lower price than his competitors. Who are they to tell him to stop? (On another note: Why doesn’t Marilee Stone join her fellow cartel members in confronting J.R.? Surely it isn’t because she’s a woman. If you ask me, Marilee is much more intimidating than mild-mannered Jordan Lee, who stands alongside Cliff in this scene.)

To be fair, the other characters’ objections to J.R.’s scheme feel a little more justified than the cartel’s. Before the barbecue, Bobby complains J.R. will show “huge short-term profits and deplete our reserves,” which seems like a reasonable concern. Meanwhile, Donna, now a member of the Texas Energy Commission, becomes irritated when her fellow regulators backtrack on their opposition to J.R. As Donna explains to Punk Anderson, “Some of the members of the commission have political ambitions. They’re not about to vote against lower gasoline prices, even if it means conserving our oil reserves.” Fair enough, although the comment feels a little hypocritical coming from the widow of a governor and the stepmother of a senator.

Indeed, Arthur Bernard Lewis’s script covers so many different reactions to J.R.’s cheap gas gambit — his family, his competitors in the cartel and the politicians all weigh it —“Barbecue Three” feel like a lesson in capitalism. Lewis even manages to reflect the consumers’ point of view, albeit subtly. J.R. announces his cut-rate gas plan at the opening of the first J.R. Ewing-branded gas station, where we see a couple of attendants lowering the per-gallon price from $1.21 to 89 cents. Later, the TV news coverage shows long lines of motorists waiting to fill up. There’s also a scene where Sly, J.R.’s secretary, tells her boss she thinks what he’s doing is “terrific” and hopes he can “keep it up.” (Seeing Deborah Rennard deliver this line, I couldn’t help but imagine Sly’s everyday working-class drudgeries: fighting traffic during morning rush hour, standing in line at the bank to deposit her paycheck, shopping for bargains at The Store.)

“Barbecue Three” also delivers two Lucy/Mickey scenes that showcase the nice chemistry between Charlene Tilton and Timothy Patrick Murphy. In the first, Mickey asks Lucy on a date, only to be introduced to her cold shoulder. Later, at the barbecue, he tries again to charm her and begins to realize her snobbish demeanor masks deeper problems. Patrick Duffy also has several good moments in this episode, including a monologue in which Bobby promises Pam he won’t lose the fight for Ewing Oil: “Daddy taught me a lot of tricks in my early days with the company. Things that I hated doing. But I learned. And I learned real good. And I can get right down in the mud if I have to.” It’s a nice reminder that Bobby’s recent discovery of his inner junkyard dog on TNT’s “Dallas” has precedence.

I also appreciate the details in “Barbecue Three.” The scene leading up to the first Texas Energy Commission meeting is expertly executed. Director Leonard Katzman shows us Ray and Donna (looking chic in her red hat) arriving at the municipal building and being greeted by a throng of news reporters, which helps lend the moment a sense of drama and suspense. You get the feeling something big is about to happen, a notion that’s reinforced by the sight of so many familiar oil industry leaders in the audience. And even though the “Dallas” producers actually make us sit through the commission members reciting the pledge of allegiance, it really doesn’t slow down the momentum. Later, when J.R. is planning his press conference, I like his brief exchange with his public relations chief. Sometimes you get the feeling Ewing Oil has no other employees besides the people who work in J.R. and Bobby’s executive suite, so it’s nice to see the show acknowledge that the Ewing brothers don’t do everything themselves.

There are a couple of nice touches during the barbecue sequences too. Debra Lynn Rogers, who played Toni, the woman Ray flirted with during the previous season’s “Barbecue Two,” plays the role again in this episode, except now she’s dancing with Mickey. Meanwhile, Peyton E. Park, who played Larry, the Ewings’ caterer in “Barbecue Two,” reprises the role here. In “Barbecue Three,” we also meet a woman who appears to be Jordan’s wife. He introduces her as Evelyn, although in the third-season episode “Paternity Suit,” Jordan seemed to refer to his spouse as “Sara.” Is this a continuity error, or are they two different women? If it’s the latter, I have to wonder: Between Sara, Kristin and now Evelyn, is Jordan trying to give J.R. a run for his money as “Dallas’s” biggest lothario?

Grade: A


Barbecue Three, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Gasman cometh


Season 6, Episode 12

Airdate: December 17, 1982

Audience: 21.8 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: The Texas Energy Commission revokes J.R.’s variance but faces public backlash when he opens a chain of popular cut-rate gas stations. Holly asks Bobby to help her get J.R. out of her company. Mickey realizes Lucy is troubled. After angry oilmen confront J.R. at the Ewing Barbecue, Miss Ellie vows to go to court to break Jock’s will and sell Ewing Oil.

Cast: E.J. André (Eugene Bullock), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Ken Farmer (oilman), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Alice Hirson (Mavis Anderson), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), James Karen (Elton Lawrence), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Julio Medina (Henry Figueroa), Peyton E. Park (Larry), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Debra Lynn Rogers (Toni), Kirk Scott (Buchanan), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Arlen Dean Snyder (George Hicks), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Robert Swick (Ewing Oil employee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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