Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 195 — ‘Resurrection’

Dallas, Linda Gray, Resurrection, Sue Ellen Ewing

Looking glass

“Resurrection” brings Mark Graison back from the dead and Sue Ellen Ewing back from the brink. His revival is the more surprising of the two, although hers is more satisfying. In the episode before this one, Sue Ellen went through a harrowing detoxification after her drinking landed her on skid row. The audience never doubts she’ll get sober eventually — by now, Sue Ellen’s pattern of relapse and recovery is well established — so the question becomes whether she’ll learn anything from this latest fall off the wagon. “Resurrection” demonstrates Sue Ellen is capable of growth, although we also see how hard it is for her to break her old habits.

The hour begins with Sue Ellen in a familiar setting: The Ewings have once again committed her to a sanitarium, where they hope she’ll get the help she needs to deal with her alcoholism. Sue Ellen tells her doctor she wants to recover at home, and when he says she can be released only with J.R.’s consent, she replies, “So I’m in jail — and he has the key.” Once again, Sue Ellen is casting herself as her husband’s victim. Her sense of helplessness continues in the next scene, when Dusty sneaks into her room after bribing an orderly. She begs Dusty to take her away, and then weeps when he tells her that he only came to check on her.

But all is not lost. At the end of “Resurrection,” the smarmy orderly offers to sell Sue Ellen a bottle of vodka. “I don’t know if it’s your brand, but that doesn’t always matter, does it?” he sneers. We’ve been down this path before — during Sue Ellen’s second-season sanitarium stay, villainous Nurse Hatton used mouthwash bottles to smuggle booze to Sue Ellen — and for a moment, it looks like history is going to repeat itself. With the vodka bottle in the foreground, director Michael Preece holds the camera on Linda Gray’s face, where we watch Sue Ellen’s struggle play out for several agonizing seconds. Finally, she runs across the room, grabs the call button and pushes it. “Get out!” she shouts.

This is a triumphant moment, even after Sue Ellen collapses against the wall and cries. “I can do it. I know I can do it,” she says, then looks up and adds, “I just need help. Help me. Help me.” This might be the closest we ever get to a religious moment on “Dallas,” although that’s not why the scene touches me. Instead, I’m moved by Sue Ellen’s self-discovery: She’s realizing she has the capacity to change. It’s another spectacular performance from Gray, who has been handed the best material she’s received yet on “Dallas” and is making the most of it.

Mark’s return at the end of “Resurrection” doesn’t pack the same emotional punch — how could it? — but it’s nicely done nonetheless. Throughout the episode, Pam feels increasingly pressured as she weighs competing offers from J.R. and Jeremy Wendell to buy Christopher’s share of Ewing Oil. Pam also is being followed by a shady private-eye type who reports to an unseen figure in the back of a limousine. It’s hinted the private eye could work for either J.R. or Jeremy, but in the final scene, we learn the truth. The limo arrives at Pam’s house while she’s in the backyard, arguing on the phone with the chairman of Wentworth Industries. Frazzled, she slams down the receiver, breaks into tears and turns to leave — when she runs into Mark. Victoria Principal looks appropriately stunned and collapses into the arms of John Beck, making his first “Dallas” appearance in more than a year. (Just think: This is only the first of two “dead” lovers who’ll show up at Pam’s house before the season is over.)

Other “Resurrection” highlights include Barbara Bel Geddes, who continues to remind the audience how much she was missed during the preceding year, when Donna Reed was playing Mama. Bel Geddes exudes quiet authority each time she appears in this episode, whether Miss Ellie is entertaining Wendell’s offer to buy Ewing Oil over lunch at Les Saisons (a real Dallas restaurant that closed in 2001) or shocking J.R. by revealing that she’s actually thinking of selling. I also appreciate Dack Rambo, who continues to make Jack an interesting character: When he’s not counseling Charlie on her middle-school crushes, he’s assuring both J.R. and Cliff that he’ll side with them in the latest battle for Ewing Oil. There also are quite a few small touches that reflect this season’s renewed commitment to realism, including Ellie’s visit to a Southfork stable to check on an injured horse and Jenna helping Charlie with her Spanish homework at the kitchen table.

Mostly, though, I appreciate how “Resurrection” helps keep alive the spirit of Bobby, which feels somewhat surprising in retrospect. I might have expected the show to move on quickly after Patrick Duffy’s departure, but four episodes after Bobby’s demise in “Swan Song,” his presence is still felt. In another great performance from Bel Geddes, Ellie visits Bobby’s grave and shares her struggle to hold the family together (echoes of Bobby’s memorable visit to Mama’s grave during the first season of TNT’s “Dallas”), while Larry Hagman and Principal have a poignant exchange in which their characters interrupt their bickering to confide how much they each miss Bobby. After all these years, J.R. and Pam finally have something in common.

“Resurrection” even shows Duffy: When Pam goes back to work at Barnes-Wentworth for the first time since the funeral, she takes a framed picture of Bobby off her desk and puts it in a drawer, only to remove it moments later. This episode’s best nod to Bobby, though, is also the slyest: When Jack is shown shopping for a new car in a luxury auto dealer’s showroom, he briefly inspects a red Mercedes convertible before moving on to a Lamborghini, and then a Porsche. Was this a subtle acknowledgment from the producers that — for all Jack’s strengths — he’s no Bobby Ewing?

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, John Beck, Mark Graison, Resurrection

Walking dead

‘RESURRECTION’

Season 9, Episode 4

Airdate: October 11, 1985

Audience: 18.7 million homes, ranking 6th in the weekly ratings

Writers: Hollace White and Stephanie Garman

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Jeremy offers to buy Miss Ellie’s share of Ewing Oil, while Jack promises to back both J.R. and Cliff in the takeover fight. Sue Ellen rejects a sanitarium orderly’s offer to sneak her a drink. Pam is stunned when Mark returns.

Cast: John Beck (Mark Graison), Bever-Leigh Banfield (Nurse Curtis), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Farlow), Alan Fudge (Dr. Lantry), Tony Garcia (Raoul), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Laurence Haddon (Franklin Horner), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Joshua Harris (Christopher Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dack Rambo (Jack Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Rex Ryon (Orderly), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Woody Watson (Detective)

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

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘Bobby’s Dead’

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

Feel his pain

In “The Family Ewing,” “Dallas’s” ninth-season opener, J.R. (Larry Hagman) is drinking in the Southfork living room when Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) enters the foyer and runs into Clayton (Howard Keel).

SUE ELLEN: Hello, Clayton. It’s a lovely evening, isn’t it?

CLAYTON: What?

SUE ELLEN: Oh, I had the best day.

J.R.: Oh, you had the best day, did you?

SUE ELLEN: [Sighs, enters the living room] Yes. Is there something wrong with that?

CLAYTON: Sue Ellen, don’t.

SUE ELLEN: Don’t what? What’s the matter? [Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) comes downstairs and stands in the foyer.] Something is wrong. What is it?

J.R.: My brother’s dead. Bobby’s dead.

SUE ELLEN: [Turns to Clayton, who nods] Oh, my God. No.

J.R.: Where were you, Sue Ellen, when we were all at the hospital?

CLAYTON: J.R., don’t.

J.R.: When Bobby was saying goodbye to us, when we needed you the most, where the hell were you?

SUE ELLEN: [Crying] I didn’t know.

J.R.: Of course you didn’t know. [Circles her] How could you have known? You were too busy rolling around in bed with that saddle tramp. Or maybe it was just getting stinking drunk at some motel.

CLAYTON: J.R., stop it.

J.R.: You’re never around when anybody needs you. John Ross almost died. Bobby did die. All you ever think about is yourself.

SUE ELLEN: That’s not true.

J.R.: Get out of here, Sue Ellen. Go back to your cowboy. Go back to your bottle. Go anywhere you want. Just get out of my sight!

Sue Ellen, sobbing, turns and runs upstairs.

ELLIE: J.R., what happened to Bobby wasn’t her fault.

J.R.: She was never a Ewing. She never was and she sure as hell never will be.

Watch this scene in “The Family Ewing,” available on DVD and at Amazon and iTunes, and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 192 — ‘The Family Ewing’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Family Ewing, Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow

Good grief

“The Family Ewing,” the first episode of “Dallas’s” ninth season, chronicles the immediate aftermath of Bobby’s death. Miss Ellie, sad but sturdy, tries to plan the funeral while holding her family together — a task complicated by J.R.’s anger, Sue Ellen’s drinking and lingering questions about why Bobby and Pam were together when he was killed. The pace is slower than usual, but this is one of the episode’s strengths. The show is giving the audience time to let the loss of Bobby sink in, allowing us to grieve alongside the characters. It’s another example of how “Dallas” makes us feel part of the world it creates.

Like “Swan Song,” the episode that kills off Patrick Duffy’s character, “The Family Ewing” offers a collection of scenes that became classics: John Ross comforting J.R. on the night Bobby dies; Pam trying to explain to Christopher why he’ll never see his daddy again; Ellie staking out Bobby’s burial plot near the tree house that Jock built him when he was a boy; the funeral itself, which culminates with J.R. gazing at Bobby’s casket, shedding a single tear and lamenting that he never told his brother how much he loved him. These moments were later wiped away by Pam’s dream, but that doesn’t make them any less moving now than when this episode debuted 30 years ago.

“The Family Ewing” isn’t altogether sentimental, of course. The first act gives us J.R.’s devastating takedown of Sue Ellen when she comes home, blissfully unaware that there’s been a death in the family. “You’re never around when anybody needs you. … All you ever think about is yourself,” he says. J.R. lashes out again when he runs into Ray and Gary, who has arrived from “Knots Landing” to attend the funeral. “I had one brother, and he’s dead. Nobody can ever replace him — least of all you two,” J.R. says. Both scenes are the “Dallas” equivalent of highway rubbernecking: We know Sue Ellen, Ray and Gary are all in for it, yet we dare not look away.

Significant Mother

Barbara Bel Geddes, Clayton Farlow, Dallas, Family Ewing, Howard Keel, Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow

Splendor in the grass

J.R.’s dark turn in this episode recalls the character’s earliest days, before he became a twinkly-eyed villain. Larry Hagman is unnervingly good, although my favorite performance here belongs to Barbara Bel Geddes, who returns to “Dallas” after a yearlong absence and reminds us all how much she’s been missed. Bel Geddes is so natural, I forget I’m watching an actress playing a role. Watch the scene where Clayton speaks to Ellie at the tree house. She talks fondly about raising Bobby, offering a soft chuckle when she remembers how he and Gary used to spend “hours and hours” in the tree house “doing I don’t know what.” (Hearing that line, it isn’t hard to imagine the Ewing brothers as kids, is it?) Moments later, after Clayton has mounted his horse to ride home, Ellie stands in the grass and begins to sob. You can feel her pain.

Ellie’s resiliency is equally touching. Consider the scene where she comes out of her bedroom and encounters Sue Ellen, who expresses her guilt about missing Bobby’s farewell. Ellie urges her daughter-in-law to deal with her drinking problem, which prompts Sue Ellen to insist she isn’t an alcoholic. This is when Bel Geddes puts her hands on Linda Gray’s shoulders, looks into her eyes and says, “Oh, Sue Ellen. Yes, you are.” Can you imagine Donna Reed delivering this line? As much as I appreciated Reed’s work on “Dallas” during the previous season, it’s thrilling to see Bel Geddes reclaim her role with such a stirring performance. When Mama takes the stick and jams it into the spot where she wants Bobby buried, it might as well be Bel Geddes marking her territory and reminding the world that “Dallas” is her show as much as anyone’s.

Exit Camelot

Dallas, Family Ewing, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Widow theory

“The Family Ewing” isn’t without its share of curiosities. Was there no better way to end Dusty and Sue Ellen’s bar confrontation than by having him punch her in the face? And how does a single strike to the chin manage to render her unconscious? Also, when Gary calls Southfork, are you surprised that he doesn’t recognize Clayton’s voice? I always figured “Dallas” wanted us to believe Gary spoke to his family regularly, even if we didn’t see the conversations on screen. I guess that’s not the case. (Ted Shackelford’s character isn’t altogether out of the loop, though: He seems to know who Katherine Wentworth is, wondering how the fugitive villainess got to Dallas.) I also find it amusing that when the Ewings return home from the hospital at the beginning of the episode, the producers don’t even bother to put Ellie in a dress similar to the one Reed wore in her final scene in “Swan Song.” Even the colors are different.

This is the only choice by costume designer Travilla that deserves to be second-guessed, however. All the other outfits in this episode hit the mark — especially at the funeral, where Sue Ellen is dressed in a dark Valentino blouse and skirt (she’ll ruin both when she goes on a bender in the next episode) and Pam wears a black pillbox hat. I’ve always believed the latter was a conscious attempt to draw a parallel between Pam and Jackie Kennedy, a real-life heroine who cradled a dying husband in her arms. The comparison might raise eyebrows now, but when I think back to watching this episode as a kid, it really did feel like another Camelot had ended.

Grade: A+

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, Family Ewing, John Ross Ewing, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Omri Katz

Mourning son

‘THE FAMILY EWING’

Season 9, Episode 1

Airdate: September 27, 1985

Audience: 20.5 million homes, ranking 7th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Nick Havinga

Synopsis: The Ewings bury Bobby. Dusty tries to help Sue Ellen, whose drinking problem worsens. Ray and Donna reconcile. Pam doesn’t tell Miss Ellie that she and Bobby were planning to get together before he was killed.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Farlow), Dolores Cantu (Doris), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Joshua Harris (Christopher Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dack Rambo (Jack Ewing), Ted Shackelford (Gary Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), John Zaremba (Dr. Harlan Danvers)

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

The Dal-List: 19 Reasons to Love ‘Dallas’s’ Ninth Season

Barbara Bel Geddes, Clayton Farlow, Dallas, Howard Keel, Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow

Dream on

Dallas Decoder will soon begin critiquing the original show’s ninth season, which aired from 1985 to 1986. Here are 19 reasons to love it.

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow

True blue

19. Mama returns. We never needed her more.

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Mourning in America

18. J.R. says goodbye. Does anyone do the single tear thing better than Larry Hagman?

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Blitzed

17. Sue Ellen relapses. Linda Gray’s tour de force.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Blonde

16. Sue Ellen recovers. The most satisfying storyline in “Dallas” history?

Dallas, Linda Gray, Lou Diamond Phillps, Sue Ellen Ewing

Welcome to the jungle

15. La Bamba shows up. Arriba y arriba!

Bibi Besche, Dallas

Genesis of the matter

14. And so does Dr. Carol Marcus. Can she analyze or can’t she?

Dallas, Russell Johnson

Coconuts

13. The Professor’s here too. But where was he when Julie Grey needed him?

Dallas, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

The widow Ewing

12. Pam’s speech. Chills!

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Wake up, darlin’

11. Sue Ellen’s nightmare. A dream-within-a-dream. Meta!

Dallas, Jenna Wade, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley

Post-Bobby Stress Syndrome

10. Jenna’s flashback. Hyper-meta!

Dack Rambo, Dallas

Ewing genes

9. Dack’s rambo. Talk about an Alaskan pipeline.

Dallas, Deborah Shelton, Mandy Winger

Super bowl

8. Mandy’s flush. Oh, honey. That’s not how you clean jewelry.

Dallas, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Bag it, J.R.

7. “Phyllis, I’d like a cup of tea — a cup of herbal tea.” But hold the eggs and toast, please.

Cliff Barnes, John Beck, Ken Kercheval, Marc Singer, Mark Graison, Matt Cantrell, Dallas, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Dorothy and friends

6. South America. Pam, Cliff, Mark and Matt search for emeralds. It’s “Dallas’s” version of “The Wizard Oz.”

Dallas, Just Desserts, Linda Gray

Direct hit

5. “Just Desserts.” Victory!

Angelica Nero, Barbara Carrera, Dallas

“L” word

4. This hat. Even Katherine wouldn’t dare.

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Cock of the walk

3. This mask. Who feathered J.R.?

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Next: The world!

2. Total control of Ewing Oil. Who has the heart to tell him it’s just a dream?

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy

Rub-a-dub-dub

1. Bobby’s back! His chest and arms too!

Why do you love “Dallas’s” ninth season? Share your comments below and read more “Dal-Lists.”

The Best & Worst of Dallas: Season 8

“Dallas’s” eighth season had its share of ups and downs. Here are the highs and lows.

Performances

Dallas, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Principal player

Victoria Principal does her best work during “Dallas’s” eighth season, a.k.a. The Year Pam Gets Her Groove Back. The actress displays her old fire during Pam’s clashes with J.R., but nothing beats her performance during Bobby’s season-ending death. Principal took heat for campaigning for an Emmy after that episode, which seems unfair in retrospect. I bet most folks can’t remember a thing about the actresses who were nominated, but no one will ever forget Pam crawling to Bobby in the driveway.

Episodes

You don’t need me to explain again why “Swan Song” is the best “Dallas” episode ever made, do you? There are several choices for worst episode, unfortunately, but I’ll go with “Trial and Error,” the nadir of the dreary Jenna-on-trial saga.

Scenes

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, Swan Song

Bye bye, Bobby

Bobby’s deathbed farewell in “Swan Song” is the best, of course, followed closely by the moment he pushes Pam out of the path of Katherine’s speeding car and his sweet, touching proposal to Pam earlier in the episode. Other runners-up: Sue Ellen visiting John Ross in the hospital, Pam confronting J.R. over his scheme to send her around the world searching for Mark, and Afton’s big goodbye. One scene I could do without: J.R. making fun of Jamie’s appearance. Now that’s just mean.

Storylines

I appreciate what “Dallas” tries to achieve with the legal battle over Ewing Oil, which offers an inverse of J.R. and Bobby’s sixth-season contest for control of the company. Instead of the family fighting each other, the Ewings band together to defeat Cliff Barnes. Too bad this requires rewriting “Dallas” history by inventing a dead brother for Jock and a long-lost cousin for J.R. and Bobby. I ended up preferring Clayton’s difficulty adjusting to life at Southfork, a relatively minor subplot that’s poignant nonetheless, thanks to the reliable Howard Keel. I also like Lucy’s waitressing storyline, which allows Charlene Tilton’s character to finally grow up.

My choice for worst storyline? That’s easy: Jenna’s season-long odyssey from bride-to-be to kidnapping victim to murder trial defendant to jailbird to biggest loser in the Bobby Ewing love sweepstakes. Talk about a bad dream.

Supporting Players

Dallas, Donna Reed, Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow

Other mother

This category is usually reserved for actors who don’t appear in the opening credits, but I’m going to make an exception and honor Donna Reed. She’s sometimes stiff as Miss Ellie, but she also possesses grace and warmth, and she has a nice rapport with Keel. Above all, I give Reed credit for having the courage to replace Barbara Bel Geddes — an impossible task — and for being smart enough to not imitate her predecessor. Runner-up: Stephen Elliott as southern fried lawyer Scotty Demarest.

Behind the Scenes

Patrick Duffy isn’t just one of “Dallas’s” best actors — he’s also one of the show’s best directors. Duffy helmed three episodes this season, bringing an inventive touch to each production. My favorite: “The Brothers Ewing,” a dark, ominous hour that finds J.R., Bobby and Ray scheming to hide Ewing Oil assets from Cliff. When I interviewed Duffy earlier this year, he downplayed his storytelling skills, citing as an example “War of the Ewings,” the 1998 reunion movie he produced with Larry Hagman. Duffy is too modest. He’s a creative force in his own right, as his behind-the-scenes work this season demonstrates.

Costumes

Dallas, Jenna Wade, Linda Gray, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, Sue Ellen Ewing

Pillow talk

Season 8 brings us “Dallas’s” most famous costume designer: Travilla, who immediately cranks up the glam factor. His looks are often classy, such as the timeless white gown Priscilla Beaulieu Presley sports in “Deliverance” and “Swan Song.” Other Travilla creations are woefully wrong. Example: Linda Gray’s feathery “Deliverance” / “Swan Song” number. Yeah, it’s fun, but it’s also damn distracting. Instead of focusing on Sue Ellen’s meltdown, I keep wondering: How many pillows died to create this dress?

Quips

As much as I love Lucy’s memorable description of rival waitress Betty (“All she can do is sling hash and make love!”) and Sue Ellen’s famous defense of her drinking habits (“Joan or Arc would have been a drunk if she had been married to you”), this category will always belong to J.R. This season, he expressed his concern for an ex-sister-in-law (“I don’t give a damn about Pam”) and offered a helping hand to soaked strumpet Marilee (“You all right honey? Did it go up your nose?”), although my favorite line comes when Pam confronts J.R. over his wild-goose-chase scheme and he plays dumb: “I never liked you a hell of a lot, you know that, Pam? But I never thought you were stupid until now.”

The audience knows it’s an outright lie, but Hagman delivers it with such conviction, we almost believe him. That’s his genius, isn’t it?

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 191 — ‘Swan Song’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, Swan Song

Exit the hero

“Swan Song” is a masterpiece. This is the best “Dallas” episode ever made because it dares to set aside so many of the show’s conventions — wheeling, dealing, double-crossing — to focus on what matters most: the characters and their relationships. Mostly, “Swan Song” tells the story of Bobby and Pam’s long-awaited reunion, which is cut short when he sacrifices his life to save hers. It’s pure soap opera, yet the performances from Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal and the other actors are so heartfelt, every emotion rings true. Even though it’s 30 years later, and even though Bobby’s death later turned out to be a dream, “Swan Song” still moves me.

Like “A House Divided,” the 1980 segment that kicked off the “Who Shot J.R.?” phenomenon, “Swan Song” deserves to be remembered as a watershed moment for “Dallas.” Not only was this supposed to be Duffy’s final appearance as Bobby, it also was intended as the last hurrah for producer Leonard Katzman, who wrote and directed the episode before departing to run his own show on another network. Both men eventually returned to Southfork, which would have been unthinkable when the cameras were rolling on this episode in March 1985. (I examine the backstage drama in a companion post, “‘Swan Song: Making a ‘Dallas’ Classic.”) Watching it today, you get the impression everyone involved wanted to send Duffy and Katzman off on a high note. Did they ever.

More than anything, “Swan Song” is remembered for two scenes: Bobby pushing Pam out of the path of the speeding car and his deathbed farewell to his family. Neither sequence would pack as much punch if weren’t for two earlier, quieter moments. First, Pam summons Bobby to her home to discuss their future. The couple has been divorced for years, and now he’s engaged to Jenna Wade, one of the show’s other long-suffering heroines. Bobby tells Pam he still loves her, but she says it will destroy Jenna if he doesn’t go through with the wedding. “As much as I love you, you have to marry her,” Pam says. It’s a line straight out of a Douglas Sirk movie, but it’s crucial to our understanding of Principal’s character — and Duffy’s, for that matter. Bobby and Pam have always been willing to sacrifice their own happiness to spare the feelings of others. That’s what makes them perfect for each other.

Later, Bobby returns to Pam’s home and tells her he’s decided it would be wrong to marry one woman when he’s in love with another. This is something the audience has known for a long time, but “Dallas” fans are always one step ahead of the characters in matters of the heart. Finally, Bobby asks the question Pam — and the audience — has longed to hear: “Will you … marry me … again?” Duffy delivers the line with a sweet, almost nervous enthusiasm, while Principal responds by simultaneously bursting into tears and laughter. The characters kiss, and she elegantly reaches behind her head to turn off the lamp. It’s “Swan Song’s” most romantic moment — until Katzman kills the mood by cutting to the scene outside, where the mysterious driver who’s been following Bobby silently pounds her fists onto the steering wheel.

End of the road

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

Scream queen

“Swan Song’s” climactic action sequence begins the morning after Bobby’s proposal. A landscaper arrives at Pam’s house and parks his vehicle next to Bobby’s (this will be important later), while inside, the happy couple are beginning to plan their future together. After carrying little Christopher downstairs to breakfast — eggs and toast, not that you need to be reminded — Pam walks Bobby outside. She tells him how bad she feels for Jenna. He reassures her they’re doing the right thing, kisses her goodbye and walks to his car. In the distance, the stalker starts her ignition. Through her windshield we see Pam run over to give Bobby one more kiss, and then the stalker’s car begins moving. The motion slows, our hearts race. Bobby spots the speeding car and shouts Pam’s name. As she turns, he pushes her out of the way, allowing the vehicle to strike him. He rolls over the hood, the roof, the trunk. When he finally hits pavement, we hear the thud.

What happens next is seared into the memories of “Dallas” fans. Pam — dressed in that beautiful white sweater and pants — crawls to Bobby, turns him over and rests his bloodied head on her lap. It’s not unlike Jackie Kennedy cradling her husband in the moments after his assassination. Our point of view switches to the stalker’s car, which has slammed into the landscaper’s truck. He rushes over, reaches inside and pulls off the woman’s blonde wig, which turns her head toward the camera. Katherine Wentworth’s eyes — lifeless, yet still crazed — stare back at us. We then return to Bobby and Pam, who emits a guttural scream. In my behind-the-scenes post, Duffy says the sound she produced made his ears ring. I believe it. Principal has ceased being an actress at this moment. She is Pam Ewing, clutching the hand of the man she loves as he lay dying.

‘It’s Bobby’

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Swan Song

Last call

If “Swan Song” had ended here, we’d still remember it as a great hour of television. But “Dallas” doesn’t let us off the hook that easily. The episode now shows us the characters finding out what’s happened to Bobby. Cliff is standing in his living room, arguing with his new wife Jamie and her brother Jack, when a radio bulletin announces the “bizarre turn of events” that’s caused Bobby to be rushed to the hospital. (This is the same radio voice that announced Bobby’s shooting at the beginning of this season, by the way.) When the newsman says the incident occurred at the home of “Mr. Ewing’s ex-wife,” Ken Kercheval closes his eyes and winces. The announcer may be puzzled by what’s happened, but Cliff knows.

Across town, J.R. is awakening in the home of his mistress, Mandy Winger. He’s decided to spend the day with her, so he calls Ewing Oil to let the secretaries know he won’t be coming into work. At the office, Phyllis is hunched over her desk, sobbing. Sly answers the phone and tells J.R. that everyone has been trying to reach him. He asks why she’s upset, but we don’t get to hear Deborah Rennard’s character break the news. Instead, Katzman holds the camera on Larry Hagman as J.R.’s face falls. In the background, we hear a few solemn notes of the “Dallas” theme. “It’s Bobby,” J.R. says as he puts down the phone, grabs his hat and rushes out the door.

This is one of the most powerful moments in the episode. Much credit goes to Hagman, whose reaction is flawless, and composer Lance Rubin, who was smart enough to use the theme music to signal the gravity of the situation. But don’t overlook Deborah Tranelli, the actress who plays Phyllis. More than anyone else in this episode, she serves as a stand-in for the audience. Bobby was Phyllis’s boss, but she also knew him the way we do — as a friend. Phyllis’s tears are ours. Without saying a word, Tranelli delivers one of “Swan Song’s” most haunting performances.

Death is but a dream

Dallas, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Swan Song

Sob brother

The deathbed farewell is a familiar trope in drama, but the “Dallas” cast infuses Bobby’s goodbye with heart and grace. This was a company of actors who cared about each other and their work, and in this scene, it shows. Steve Kanaly’s sobbing is touching, and so is the single tear that streams down Hagman’s face. This also is one of Donna Reed’s best performances as Miss Ellie. Yes, Bobby’s death would have been even more memorable if it had featured Barbara Bel Geddes, but Reed looks believably stricken. Of course, nothing gets me like the moment Bobby’s monitor flat lines, jolting Pam. I don’t know if Principal did this instinctively or if she was following Katzman’s direction, but seeing Pam almost jump out of her skin makes the shock of Bobby’s death palpable. I also love what Principal does next, throwing back her head in quiet agony. It’s an exquisite performance.

Perhaps no one rises to the occasion, though, quite like Duffy. It would have been easy to overplay a scene like this, as we’ve all seen actors in other movies and TV shows do. But Duffy strikes every note perfectly, from his groggy greeting upon waking up (“Hey, Ray”) to the break in voice when he addresses Ellie (“Oh, Mama, I’m sorry”). Duffy brings to bear all the years he spent creating this character; if Bobby’s death feels like the loss of a real person, it’s because of the actor playing him. It’s also worth noting how smartly Katzman wrote this scene. He injects a little mystery into the exchange by having Bobby declare, “All that wasted time. We should have been married.” Is he speaking to Pam or Jenna? It seems clear now, but I can remember debating this with my mom in 1985. On the other hand, when Bobby says, “Be good to each other. Be a family,” do we have any doubt which Ewing that line is directed toward?

Never the same

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, Swan Song

Bye, Bob

There’s much more to love about “Swan Song.” This episode also gives us one of the great bedroom fights between J.R. and Sue Ellen (“Joan of Arc would have been a drunk if she had been married to you”); another touching moment from Kanaly when Ray pleads with his estranged wife Donna to come back to him; and Lucy’s sentimental farewell to the Ewings after remarrying Mitch. “I’m going to miss you all. I’ll never be the same again,” she says. I have no doubt the line describes Charlene Tilton’s own sentiments as much as it does her character’s. (Although this was Tilton’s swan song too, she eventually returned, like Duffy and Katzman.)

And yet “Swan Song” isn’t flawless, is it? During the proposal scene, the shadows on Duffy’s face are distracting, Katherine’s wig and her tomato juice throwing scene are undeniably campy, and there’s at least one glaring continuity error: On the morning of the accident, we see Bobby putting on brown boots — but when he’s run over in the driveway a few minutes later, he’s wearing black shoes. The show also gives away quite a bit of the plot in the pre-credits roll, although I suppose that doesn’t matter now that we know how the story ends. Some fans also gripe that “Dallas” was foolish to kill off Bobby in the first place since Duffy ended up returning, but I admire the boldness of his death. Killing major characters is common on television today, but it didn’t happen so much in the 1980s. And let’s face it: “Dallas” handles Bobby’s demise much better than it did Jock’s, which dragged on far too long.

Does it matter that the most memorable parts of “Swan Song” later turned out to be one character’s dream? Not really. Yes, Bobby’s death has gone down in television history with an asterisk next to it, but that doesn’t diminish the quality of the production and the amount of heart that went into honoring the character by giving him a meaningful sendoff. It brings to mind something I learned reading comic books as a kid: So what if this is an imaginary story. Aren’t they all?

Grade: A+

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, Pam Ewing, Swan Song, Victoria Principal

Death becomes her

‘SWAN SONG’

Season 8, Episode 30

Airdate: May 17, 1985

Audience: 23.3 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Sue Ellen asks Dusty to help her get sober. Donna tells Ray she’s pregnant. Cliff contemplates ending his marriage to Jamie. Lucy and Mitch are remarried. Bobby proposes to Pam and she accepts, but a vengeful Katherine mows him down in the driveway. At the hospital, Bobby bids farewell to his family before dying.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Roseanna Christensen (Teresa), Pat Colbert (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Walker Edmiston (Parson Carson), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Barnes), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Leigh McCloskey (Dr. Mitch Cooper), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dack Rambo (Jack Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), David White (Mark)

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

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

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

The dark side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

Boy meets world

‘THE BROTHERS EWING’

Season 8, Episode 20

Airdate: February 15, 1985

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

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Patrick Duffy

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

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), John Carter (Carl Hardesty), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Eddie Firestone (Alf Brindle), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Kathleen York (Betty)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 171 — ‘Charlie’

Charlie, Charlie Wade, Dallas, Shalane McCall

Gone girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Charlie, Dallas, Donna Reed, Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow

Pink different

‘CHARLIE’

Season 8, Episode 10

Airdate: November 30, 1984

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

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Michael Preece

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

Cast: Michael Alldredge (Steve Jackson), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Daniel Pilon (Renaldo Marchetta), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 169 — ‘Oil Baron’s Ball III’

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Oil Baron's Ball III

Look who’s lurking

“Dallas’s” Oil Baron’s Ball episodes are fan favorites, and for good reason. Not only do they show the cast dressed to the nines, we also get to see the actors together in one place. (The Southfork barbecue and wedding episodes are pretty much the only other occasions where this happens.) The balls often are remembered for their big moments — tearful tributes to dead Ewings, knock-down/drag-out fights — but don’t overlook the smaller scenes that show the characters gossiping about each other or commenting on the events unfolding around them. It’s not quite Altmanesque, but it’s as close as this show gets.

The most dramatic moment in “Oil Baron’s Ball III” comes at the end, when J.R. — in full-fledged jerk mode — humiliates Pam by taking the podium to announce Bobby and Jenna’s wedding date. It’s a perfectly fine way to finish the episode, although I get a bigger kick out of the vignettes that precede it: J.R. and Jordan Lee standing over an appetizer tray, bickering about Cliff; a pushy paparazzo stopping J.R. to take his picture; Ray and Donna filling their glasses at the champagne fountain while wondering if there’ll be a brawl at this year’s ball. These scenes help set the mood and allow us to feel part of the action, as if we’re moving around the room with the characters.

I also appreciate two scenes that require no dialogue to be effective. In the first, Sue Ellen crosses the ballroom alone with a concerned expression on her face. Because we know this character so well — and because Linda Gray can say so much with a single raised eyebrow — we know exactly what’s on Sue Ellen’s mind at this moment: Where is my husband, and what kind of trouble is he getting into? Likewise, when we see J.R. lurking in the shadows, listening as Mandy encourages Pam to tell Bobby she still loves him, we know J.R. is going to throw a wrench in Pam’s plans — not because J.R. discloses his intentions to another character, but because Larry Hagman has that look. The glint in his eye and the slight, mischievous smile say it all.

Other small moments in “Oil Baron’s Ball III” stand out. Before the Ewings leave for the ball, director Michael Preece brings the characters out of their bedrooms and into the hallway to admire each other’s outfits. The men look timeless in their tuxedos, while the women look extremely ’80s in their glittery Travilla designs. Later, Charlene Tilton has a nice moment when Lucy comes home and finds John Ross at the dining room table, playing checkers with Teresa. When Lucy takes her young cousin upstairs to put him to bed, he asks why she isn’t at the ball with the rest of the family. “I’m not part of that kind of life anymore. Things that are important to your mommy and daddy really aren’t very important to me,” she says, demonstrating how much she’s grown this season.

My favorite moment of all is a fun scene that pits J.R. against Clayton. It begins with J.R. leaving for work when he finds Miss Ellie and her new husband standing in the driveway, greeting a furniture delivery crew. After Ellie explains she’s bought new bedroom furniture and leads the deliverymen into the house, J.R. notices Clayton’s car is blocking his and asks him to move “that blue thing.” Clayton tosses him the keys and says, “Be my guest.” Parking problems like this happen in many suburban families all the time; isn’t it nice to know they happen to the Ewings too? And how much do you want to bet J.R. messed with Clayton’s mirrors, just to be mean?

The only thing here that doesn’t ring true is Ellie. Donna Reed exits the scene by looking off into the distance and moving out of camera range, except she doesn’t walk as much as she floats. It’s another example of how different Reed is from Barbara Bel Geddes, who most certainly never floated. I can accept the unique sensibilities the two actresses bring to the role, but I’m having a harder time dealing with how the character is being written since Reed took over the role. In another “Oil Baron’s Ball III” scene, Ellie confides in Donna about Clayton’s difficulty adjusting to life at Southfork. Donna compares the situation to Ray’s struggle to escape the shadow of her first husband, Sam Culver. It’s a perfectly apt analogy, except Ellie can’t seem to recognize this. In the past, Mama could be naïve, but in this scene, she seems almost dim.

Nevertheless, I admire how “Dallas” has made Clayton and Ellie’s problems a major storyline. Howard Keel does an especially nice job making Clayton’s struggle feel real without ever portraying the character as weak. I also like how “Dallas” continues referencing its own past. In addition to Donna’s mention of Sam, this episode finds Bobby comparing Pam’s doubts about Mark’s death to Ellie’s struggle to accept Jock’s demise. We also see Cliff tell Mandy about Pam’s emotional breakdown during her marriage to Bobby, and we find Eddie snooping into Lucy’s past by looking up old newspaper clippings about her wedding to Mitch.

Seeing Eddie combing through the library’s mirofische collection — with help from a pretty librarian, naturally — offers a reminder of how far technology has come since this episode was produced three decades ago. If Eddie wanted to find out about Lucy’s past today, he would only have to punch her name into Google and start scrolling. But honestly, where would be the fun in that?

Grade: B

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, Donna Reed, Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow, Oil Baron's Ball III

Say, can’t you see?

‘OIL BARON’S BALL III’

Season 8, Episode 8

Airdate: November 16, 1984

Audience: 22.5 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: To humiliate Pam, J.R. announces Bobby and Jenna’s wedding date at the Oil Baron’s Ball. J.R. is intrigued when he spots Mandy. Miss Ellie worries Clayton feels uncomfortable at Southfork. Eddie breaks a date with Betty to ask out Lucy. Sly takes a break from work.

Cast: Michael Alldredge (Steve Jackson), Norman Bennett (Al), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Tony Garcia (Raoul), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Christopher Stone (Dave Stratton), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson), Kathleen York (Betty)

“Oil Baron’s Ball III” is available on DVD and at Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

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

‘HOMECOMING’

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.