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

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

Miss Trial

Jenna Wade has her day in court in “Trial and Error,” although I’m not sure why we should care. Now that Pam’s search for Mark Graison has come up empty, “Dallas” clearly is paving the way for her to reunite with Bobby. This episode is full of hints: J.R. tells Sly he’s worried “that Barnes woman is going to be back on Bobby like a fly on honey,” and Bobby tells Christopher how much he misses the boy’s mother. All this reduces Jenna to a plot device — one last obstacle for the show’s star-crossed lovers to overcome before they reconcile. Who gives a fig what happens to her?

“Trial and Error” nonetheless plows forward with Jenna’s legal travails, asking us to concern ourselves with whether she’ll be found guilty or innocent of killing her ex-husband Naldo Marchetta, another character no one liked or cared about. There are some entertaining moments during this episode’s courtroom scenes, including the “gotcha”-style cross-examination of the ballistics expert by Jenna’s flamboyant attorney Scotty Demarest, played by the great Stephen Elliott. It’s fun to watch Scotty trick the man into undermining his own expertise, and who doesn’t get a kick out of hearing Elliott suggest the gun used to kill Naldo was equipped with a “sy-lun-suh.” I also applaud the show for casting Allan Miller as the prosecutor Hoskins, whose polish contrasts nicely with Scotty’s homespun charms.

Mostly, though, Jenna’s trial is another example of “Dallas” stretching out its eighth-season storylines to complete CBS’s staggering 30-episode order. Two witnesses are minor characters from earlier episodes: the motel manager who heard Jenna and Naldo fighting and the police officer who found her holding the gun next to his dead body. The show even supplements their testimony with flashbacks, which feel more like filler than useful refreshers for the audience. “Dallas” also tries to generate drama by having Bobby called to the stand as a reluctant witness against Jenna, although I think it would have been more effective to have him testify on her behalf. Maybe then he could explain why he plans to marry her when his heart belongs to someone else.

The whole thing reminds me of Ann Ewing’s shooting trial on TNT’s “Dallas” sequel, except that storyline at least shed light into Brenda Strong’s character. What has Jenna’s experience taught us, except that Priscilla Beaulieu Presley has mastered the art of looking beautiful while frowning? Ann’s trial also had the benefit of being contained to a single episode (also titled “Trial and Error”), although don’t assume that’s because television generally moves faster these days. The Julie Grey and Hutch McKinney murder trials from “Dallas’s” early years also zipped along quickly. Jenna’s case will consume three episodes altogether — a trilogy of tedium.

The “Who Killed Naldo?” saga isn’t the only thing weighing down “Dallas” during the eighth season’s last gasp. “Trial and Error” picks up where the previous hour left off, as Pam dashes out of the medical clinic after discovering Mark isn’t there. It’s good to see Sue Ellen comfort Pam — their renewed friendship has become one of the show’s most satisfying relationships during the eighth season — although there’s no good reason for the women to spend the rest of the episode hanging around Hong Kong. I also like how Ray’s alliance with his brothers in the fight over Ewing Oil caused problems in his marriage in earlier episodes, but his anger over Donna’s oil strike in “Trial and Error” is an eye-roller. How many more times are we going to watch him get jealous over his wife’s professional success?

Likewise, “Trial and Error” shows Mandy once again wondering if she should be getting involved with J.R. I’ve lost track of how many times this conversation has played out. The dialogue also is confusing because it suggests the characters haven’t slept together, but I thought they had sex during their hotel encounter in “Bail Out.” In that scene, Mandy splashes champagne in J.R.’s face, he grabs and begins kissing her and then the show cuts for a commercial break. Are we not supposed to assume J.R. and Mandy kept going after that moment? Or could it be this season has gone on so long, the writers have forgotten what’s happened?

Grade: C


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

Westward ho!


Season 8, Episode 23

Airdate: March 8, 1985

Audience: 19 million homes, ranking 6th in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: As Jenna’s trial begins, Ann McFadden backs out of her agreement to testify. Mandy fears she’s falling for J.R. Pam and Sue Ellen depart Hong Kong. After another fight with Ray, Donna moves to Southfork.

Cast: Don Banning (Roy Crowley), Philip Chan (Edward Chan), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Tim Cutt (Leonard Boyle), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Rosemary Forsyth (Ann McFadden), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Heidi Hagman (Jury Forewoman), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Virginia Kiser (Judge Roberta Fenerty), Sam Lam (Wong), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Allan Miller (Assistant District Attorney Frederick Hoskins), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Dave Shelley (Mavin), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Wesley Thompson (Bailiff), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘J.R. Ewing?!’

Bail Out, Dallas, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Truth hurts

In “Bail Out,” an eighth-season “Dallas” episode, Pam (Victoria Principal) stands in her office doorway and greets pilot Gerald Kane (James Cromwell), who has flown from Corpus Christi to see her.

PAM: You’ve certainly come a long way for just a conversation.

KANE: I figured I owed it to you to say what I have to say to you in person.

PAM: Well, please sit down. [They sit.]

KANE: I surely don’t feel too good about what I’ve done.

PAM: Well, what have you done?

KANE: I’ve lied to you, Mrs. Ewing. I never flew Mark Graison down to the Caribbean. Truth of it is, I’ve never even laid eyes on the man you were looking for. I know I should have told you all this before, and I tried to three or four times when we were down there but … well, I never could convince myself to do it until now.

PAM: [Dumbfounded] But what about San Serrano? Mark was in the clinic down there. And just yesterday, Dr. Miller was here. The doctor from the clinic in Jamaica? Well, he came here with another doctor who actually saw Mark in Hong Kong.

KANE: I don’t think so.

PAM: What do you mean, you don’t think so? You think they were lying too? Well, why would they lie to me? Why would you lie to me?

KANE: I was … persuaded to.

PAM: Who persuaded you?

KANE: Somebody who convinced me that it would be easier on you if you still believed that Mark Graison was alive. And I went along with it because I saw how desperately you wanted to believe.

PAM: [Rubs her temples] Mark Graison is alive and there’s no doubt about that.

KANE: Believe me, Mrs. Ewing. The whole thing was a hoax. Now I don’t know about these doctors you saw, but … well, if I could be bought off, so can they.

PAM: You mean that somebody paid you to lie to me?

KANE: Yes.

PAM: No one has any reason to do something like that to me.

KANE: Obviously somebody has.

PAM: Who? Tell me who! I want to know their name!

KANE: J.R. Ewing.

PAM: [Screams, slaps him] J.R. Ewing?! [Sobs]

Watch this scene in “Bail Out,” available on DVD and at Amazon and iTunes, and share your comments below.

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

Bail Out, Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Truth to power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B


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



Season 8, Episode 17

Airdate: January 25, 1985

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

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Michael Preece

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

Cast: Beau Billingslea (Dr. Miller), Burke Byrnes (Pete Adams), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), James Cromwell (Gerald Kane), Val De Vargas (Patrick Wolfe), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Clyde Kusatsu (Dr. Albert Matsuda), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Joe Nesnow (Judge Lanley), George O. Petrie (Harve Smithfield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Dean Santoro (Raymond Furguson), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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