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 125 — ‘The Sting’

Ben Piazza, Dallas, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Sting


Which Ewing brother do you root for in “The Sting”? I cheer for Bobby at the top of the hour, when he thwarts J.R.’s illegal sale of 100 million barrels of oil to Cuba. It’s nice to see Bobby finally outfox J.R., who’s been riding high in their fight for control of Ewing Oil. Of course, once Bobby secures his victory, my sympathies shift to J.R. With his plot foiled, J.R. finds himself at the mercy of Garcia, the unscrupulous middleman in the Cuban deal. How can you not feel for sorry for the old boy as he squirms under Garcia’s thumb?

The effortless switching in the role of underdog makes “The Sting” an especially clever episode of “Dallas.” I also love the terrific opening sequence, which picks up where “Caribbean Connection,” the previous hour, left off. J.R.’s crony Walt Driscoll rushes out of his motel room, cash-stuffed briefcase in hand, as he heads to the airport to complete the Cuban deal. As he pulls out of the parking lot in his big Oldsmobile, Ray’s pickup truck suddenly strikes it. With Driscoll distracted, Bobby emerges from the crowd of sidewalk gawkers and switches the briefcase with the replica he commissioned in “Caribbean Connection.” Bobby then follows Driscoll to the airport, where he watches as security guards discover a stash of guns in the briefcase and haul him away.

These are fun, exciting scenes. Jerrold Immel’s tingling underscore, which is also heard when Southfork goes up in flames in the sixth-season finale, lends the sequence a sense of mystery. The music fits the action beautifully since we don’t know what Bobby’s up to until the guns are finally revealed. The establishing shots are crucial too. Imagine if Larry Elikann, the director, and Fred W. Berger, the editor, hadn’t shown Driscoll placing his briefcase on the passenger seat when he gets into his car. We’d have no idea what Bobby is doing when he reaches inside the car and switches the real case with the fake one. I also like how “The Sting” plays on the audience’s familiarity with “Dallas.” The moment we see a white pickup’s fender enter the frame, we know instantly whose truck this is.

The other keys to the success of this sequence: Ben Piazza and Steve Kanaly. Piazza, one of the great “Dallas” guest stars, is believably bewildered as the hapless, in-over-his-head Driscoll. I kind of feel bad for the guy when Ray rams his Oldsmobile, and again when those hulking security guards find the guns in his case. Kanaly, in the meantime, is a hoot. What a kick to see Ray pretend to be the kind of straight-and-narrow, by-the-book yokel who insists on flagging down a cop after a fender bender. Kanaly looks like he’s having a ball here, as well as in two other scenes. In the first, a very drunk Ray and Bobby stumble home after celebrating their coup. Later, Ray confronts J.R. and confirms his role in the sting against him. The scene reminds us that this is Ray’s victory as much as it is Bobby’s.

Speaking of J.R.: “The Sting” showcases Larry Hagman too. He gives some of his best performances when J.R.’s back is to the wall, as this episode demonstrates J.R. is flustered when he finds Driscoll behind bars, enraged when he discovers Bobby undermined him and desperate when he tries to salvage the deal with Garcia. David Paulsen’s script also gives Hagman one great line after another. I love when J.R. refuses to bail out Driscoll, telling him, “I wouldn’t give you the dust off my car.” Later, after he’s ended another frustrating phone call with Garcia, J.R. looks up from his desk and sees Holly striding into his office. “When it rains, it pours,” he says, rubbing his temple. Hagman delivers another great line when Katherine drops by Ewing Oil and tells J.R. the two of them have something to talk about. “Oh, don’t tell me. Not Cliff Barnes. I couldn’t handle that,” he says.

“The Sting” also does a nice job exploring Bobby and Pam’s increasingly awkward separation. Miss Ellie and Clayton bump into Pam while she’s dining with Mark in a restaurant, resulting in an uncomfortable moment for everyone. (In one of the show’s most amusing understatements, Ellie tells Clayton, “In many ways, Dallas is a very small place.”) Later, when Bobby arrives at Pam’s hotel room to pick up Christopher for the weekend, the topic of Pam’s date with Mark comes up. Katherine inserts herself into the conversation. “Bobby, it’s not the way it sounds. … Pam was just trying to help Cliff,” she says. This prompts Pam to snap, “Katherine, stop it! I don’t have anything to hide.”

“The Sting” is also remembered as the episode where Lucy finally tells Mickey she was once raped. Charlene Tilton delivers a tender, moving performance, and so does Timothy Patrick Murphy, who makes his character’s sweetness every bit as believable as the cockiness he exhibited when he joined the show. I also like the exchange where Lucy and Mickey share their first kiss. “Lucy, I never asked a girl if I could kiss her. I just always did it. I’m not real sure what to do right at this moment,” he says. Is there any doubt this is Lucy’s most charming romance?

The other highlight of “The Sting”: Elikann’s direction, which is much more artful than what we usually see on “Dallas.” In addition to his work in the opening sequence, I love when Elikann has Patrick Duffy and Hagman lock eyes and shout at each other in the scene where J.R. confronts Bobby. I also like how J.R.’s roll in the hay with Serena ends with him popping a bottle of champagne, and then the scene switches to a waiter popping a cork in the restaurant where Pam and Mark are dining. Interestingly, although Elikann directed several “Knots Landing” episodes and the “Dallas: The Early Years” TV movie, “The Sting” is the only “Dallas” episode he helmed. Perhaps an exchange between Hagman and “Dallas” creator David Jacobs holds a clue. Elikann’s name comes up in the audio commentary on the “Reunion, Part 2” DVD, which was recorded in 2004. Jacobs remembers the director being “very gruff” and tells Hagman that Elikann recently died. “Did he?” Hagman responds. “Good.” He was kidding … I think.

Grade: A


Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Lucy Ewing, Mickey Trotter, Timothy Patrick Murphy

Good romance


Season 6, Episode 22

Airdate: March 11, 1983

Audience: 23.1 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Larry Elikann

Synopsis: Bobby plants guns in Driscoll’s case, which leads to Driscoll’s arrest at the airport. Garcia, Driscoll’s contact in Puerto Rico, demands $10 million from J.R. to complete the Cuban oil deal. Holly vows revenge against J.R. when she discovers the deal is in jeopardy. Katherine offers to spy on Bobby for J.R. After telling him about her past, Lucy and Mickey make love. Pam and Mark’s deepening relationship angers Bobby.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Stephanie Blackmore (Serena), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Henry Darrow (Garcia), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), 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), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Russ Marin (Matthew), Ben Piazza (Walt Driscoll), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), John Reilly (Roy Ralston), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 110 — ‘Hit and Run’

Dallas, Hit and Run, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman


To fully appreciate how much composer Richard Lewis Warren contributes to “Hit and Run,” I challenge you to an experiment. First, turn off the volume and watch the sequence where reckless driver Carol Driscoll strikes the pedestrian. Without music, it plays like a series of disjointed shots: Here’s Carol leaving the beauty parlor, there she is getting behind the wheel of her Cadillac Seville, now she’s screaming as a body smashes her windshield. Next, watch the scene again with the volume up. Warren’s dramatic strings unite the images into a narrative, lending the scene urgency, tension and suspense. The music, more than anything else, makes this the episode’s most memorable moment.

Of course, the scheme behind Carol’s mishap is pretty compelling too. J.R. wants to blackmail her husband Walt, an ethical state government official, into doing him a favor. To gain leverage, J.R. taps dirty cop Harry McSween to orchestrate Carol’s collision, which ends with the pedestrian’s “friend” assuring Carol that the man she struck is perfectly fine and that Carol should go home — which she does, foolishly. Little does she know the two men are part of a scheme to ensnare her husband. In the episode’s closing moments, J.R. happens to be visiting the Driscolls when McSween arrives and announces Carol is in big trouble for fleeing an accident scene. J.R. offers to intervene — and Walt eagerly accepts. “J.R., if you could get my wife out of this, I’d owe you. I really would,” he says.

Ben Piazza and Martha Smith are terrific as the naïve, desperate Driscolls, but this moment, like so many others in “Hit and Run,” belongs to Larry Hagman. In the final shot, Walt and Carol stand together as J.R. faces them, grips their shoulders and gazes into their eyes. It’s the kind of sincere, everything’s-going-to-be-OK gesture that Bill Clinton used when comforting disaster victims during his presidency. “Carol, Walt, what are friends for?” J.R. says. As Hagman delivers the line, Warren brings back the dramatic strings from the accident scene and lets it play through the freeze frame of J.R.’s self-satisfied half-smile. This is a great ending.

The other subplot in “Hit and Run” has Bobby weighing whether to join the McLeish brothers in their Canadian drilling venture. Bobby’s dilemma: The deal is all-but-guaranteed to produce a big windfall, but the money might not start rolling in until after the contest for Ewing Oil ends. “I refuse to make a perfect deal just so J.R. can inherit it,” Bobby tells Pam. Scriptwriter Howard Lakin does a nice job making sure we understand the risk Bobby faces. At the end of the episode, when Bobby announces he’s going to take a chance and join the McLeish deal, it feels like a moment of high drama.

In the meantime, “Hit and Run” gives Victoria Principal some of the best scenes she’s had at this point during “Dallas’s” sixth season. I like Pam’s cute exchange with Bobby in the Southfork living room, as well as the scene where she entertains the McLeish brothers, which foreshadows the business savvy she’ll demonstrate in later seasons. Principal’s best moment, though, is Pam’s confrontation with Rebecca, who is consumed with getting Cliff to resume his fight with the Ewings. “Mother, you’ve always had strength. You proved that when you left your children to go out and start a new life. It’s a cold, calculating kind of strength. Is that what you want for Cliff?” Pam asks. Principal delivers the line sharply, and it’s nice to see the “Dallas” producers haven’t forgotten Rebecca’s sins.

Other highlights of “Hit and Run” include the first appearance of Annie, Lucy’s photographer. Fay Hauser plays the role in three guest spots, becoming one of the few African American actors to appear with anything approaching regularity on “Dallas.” The episode also gives us John Larroquette’s debut as Lucy’s lawyer, Philip Colton. It’s a small role, but Larroquette manages to give us a glimpse of the charm that would later make him one of television’s most popular actors.

But make no mistake: The only scenes stolen in “Hit and Run” have Hagman’s fingerprints on them. In addition to the sequence where J.R. comes to the rescue of the hapless Driscolls, this episode gives us J.R.’s classic first encounter with Ray’s cousin and Southfork’s newest ranch hand, Mickey Trotter. When J.R. says it’s good to know there’s “a whole wagonload of Krebbses running the ranch now,” Mickey points out that he doesn’t share Ray’s last name. “Oh, well,” J.R. responds. “I’m bound to sleep more soundly tonight knowing that.”

Grade: A


Ben Piazza, Carol Driscoll, Dallas, Hit and Run, Martha Smith, Walt Driscoll



Season 6, Episode 7

Airdate: November 12, 1982

Audience: 20.6 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Howard Lakin

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: J.R. secretly orchestrates a hit-and-run accident involving Driscoll’s wife, then offers to get her out of trouble with the police. Bobby joins the McLeish deal. Cliff begins his job as president of Barnes-Wentworth Oil. Pam objects to Rebecca’s vow to get revenge against the Ewings. Lucy prepares for her divorce.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), James Brown (Detective Harry McSween), Paul Carr (Ted Prince), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Nicholas Hammond (Bill Johnson), Fay Hauser (Annie), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Kenneth Kimmins (Thornton McLeish), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), John Larroquette (Phillip Colton), J. Patrick McNamara (Jarrett McLeish), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Ben Piazza (Walt Driscoll), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Dale Robertson (Frank Crutcher), Martha Smith (Carol Driscoll), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Ray Wise (Blair Sullivan), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

The Dallas Decoder Guide to Politics, Ewing Style

Sue Ellen is the latest Ewing to hit the hustings. (Photo credit: Bill Matlock/TNT)

The Republicans are in Tampa and the Democrats are headed to Charlotte, but the real political heavyweights are in “Dallas.” Here’s a look at some of the gladhanders, grandstanders and gurus who’ve courted the Ewings’ support – and occasionally, their wrath – on the original series, its “Knots Landing” spinoff and TNT’s “Dallas” revival.

MAYNARD ANDERSON (Peter Mark Richman)

Maynard Anderson

Anderson was an oil industry darling whose appointment to a high-ranking Department of Energy post left Jock and J.R. giddy. But Andreson’s new job was jeopardized when his shrewish wife Melissa threatened to expose his affair with Jenna Wade, Bobby’s old flame. J.R. promised to help out his pal Anderson, which meant using Jenna to try to split up newlyweds Bobby and Pam. J.R.’s ploy failed and Jenna released Bobby from her clutches (for awhile, anyway); the audience never learned if Mr. Anderson actually went to Washington.

CLIFF BARNES (Ken Kercheval)

Cliff Barnes

Cliff had a talent for attracting trouble – his college girlfriend died after a botched abortion and he was arrested for Julie Grey’s murder and Bobby Ewing’s shooting – but he never let scandal get in the way of his ambition. Despite losing bids for state senate and Congress, Cliff was appointed to several cushy gigs, including oil industry watchdog and “energy czar.” Of course, Cliff was too busy trying to beat the Ewings to hold onto any job long. As we learned in the “Dallas” finale, if J.R. hadn’t been born, Cliff would’ve been president!

ALAN BEAM (Randolph Powell)

Alan Beam

Alan was a rising star at Smithfield Bennett, the law firm that represented the Ewings, but he wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he believed in – and above all, he believed in Cliff, whose congressional campaign he managed. (Alan even had the courage to wear a “Barnes for Congress” button to Jock’s birthday dinner!) Too bad it was all a ruse: Alan really worked for J.R., who wanted to sabotage Cliff’s campaign from the inside. The plan worked like a charm, but when J.R. and Alan had a falling out, Alan became a prime suspect in J.R.’s shooting. (FYI: He didn’t do it.)


Martin Cole

When the Ewings needed a candidate to run against Cliff for state senate, they recruited Cole, a Fort Worth city councilman who had the right platform (pro-gun, anti-abortion) and connections (he was married to Senator Orloff’s niece Nancy) but the wrong personality – which is to say he had none. With Cliff gaining in the polls, Jock ordered Cole to fire his speechwriter and buy more TV time; he also instructed J.R. to take Mr. Milquetoast shopping for snazzier suits. Cole won – not because of his image makeover, but because J.R. exposed Cliff’s skeletons.


Dave Culver

Dave, the son of political legend Sam Culver, pushed through a health-care reform bill as a member of the state legislature, but once he moved to the U.S. Senate, his main duty seemed to be flying home to tell the Ewings about the doings in Washington. Interestingly, the family never seemed to mind that Dave recruited Jock for his ill-fated mission to South America. This might be because the senator was one of the Ewings’ most reliable matchmakers: Dave introduced stepmom Donna to Andrew Dowling and hooked Bobby up with Kay Lloyd.


Sam Culver

Sam, a onetime Texas governor and speaker of the house, was one of Texas’s most powerful men. When Cliff was running the Office of Land Management and putting the screws to the Ewings, J.R. tried to blackmail Donna Culver, Sam’s young bride, into persuading her husband to oust Cliff from his perch. Instead, Donna confessed all to Sam, who forgave his wife and threw his support behind Cliff. Sam’s devotion to Donna was admirable, but he wasn’t perfect: After his death, she discovered Sam and Jock once staged a land grab that resulted in Sam’s uncle’s suicide.


Andrew Dowling

Dowling, possessor of the thickest head of senatorial hair this side of John F. Kerry, disagreed with lobbyist Donna Culver Krebbs on every issue, including tariffs on imported oil and U.S. intervention in Nicaragua (how topical, “Dallas”!), but that didn’t keep him from sweeping the very married, very pregnant Donna off her feet. Later, when the Justice Department was about to lay the smackdown on Ewing Oil over J.R.’s escapades in the Middle East, Dowling tipped off the family, which really should have been Dave Culver’s job, but whatever.

WALT DRISCOLL (Ben Piazza) and EDGAR RANDOLPH (Martin E. Brooks)

Walt Driscoll and Edgar Randolph

Here we have a pair of hapless, mustachioed bureaucrats: Driscoll was one of Cliff’s successors at the Office of Land Management, while Randolph was a federal contracting official. Both men were blackmailed by J.R., both tried to kill him (Driscoll with a car, Randolph with a gun) and both turned suicidal, except Randolph couldn’t do that right, either.


Bobby Ewing

When the governor appointed Dave Culver to fill an empty U.S. Senate seat, his party tried to recruit Dave’s stepmom Donna to complete his term in Austin. She demurred, so party leaders turned to Bobby, who ran for the job and won in a landslide. Bobby then hired Cliff as his legal counsel, which might explain why he seemed so unfamiliar with the term “conflict of interest.” Not only did Senator Ewing preside over an inquiry into his father’s plan to build a resort on Lake Takapa, he also participated in a state investigation into the coup J.R. financed in Asia.

GARY EWING (Ted Shackelford)

Gary Ewing

Like Cliff, Gary didn’t let his private demons keep him from taking a stab at public service. Despite a record that included drinking, gambling, an arrest for murder (Ciji Dunne) and multiple marriages (including one to Valene when she was just 15), Gary – the middle Ewing brother – decided to run for state senator in his adopted home of California. He lost, although the electoral defeat probably stung less than the fact Gary’s wife Abby was sleeping with his opponent, Peter Hollister.

J.R. EWING (Larry Hagman)

J.R. Ewing

When J.R. and Bobby were battling each other for control of Ewing Oil, J.R. tried to beat baby brother by opening a chain of cut-rate gas stations. After he plugged them on Roy Ralston’s talk show, the public clamored for J.R. to run for office (presaging Ross Perot’s use of “Larry King Live” as his political launching pad). Nothing came of this, but for awhile, Dave Culver was worried J.R. might run against him. When Dave questioned J.R.’s fitness for office (“All he knows about is oil!”), Ray reminded him about Jimmy Carter: “All he knew about was peanut farming.”


Sue Ellen Ewing

Sue Ellen is running for governor on TNT’s “Dallas,” despite the skeletons she stuffed in her closet during the original series. To recap: Sue Ellen was institutionalized for alcoholism; arrested for J.R.’s shooting; and embroiled in a series of ugly paternity suits, divorces and custody battles. Also, a drunken Sue Ellen was behind the wheel when Walt Driscoll smashed into J.R.’s car, and when J.R. was shot again, she did pull the trigger. The hits keep coming: Sue Ellen recently accepted a donation from sleazy Harris Ryland and blackmailed a coroner.


Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow

Miss Ellie never held office, but she was the only “Dallas”-ite who seemed to possess the political savvy needed to get things done. In her role as a leader of the civic-minded Daughters of the Alamo, she stopped high-rise apartments from being built in Mimosa Park (by the way, did Sue Ellen name that place?) and converted an abandoned building downtown into a homeless shelter. Ellie wasn’t afraid to get personal either: When Jock wanted to build a resort on Lake Takapa, she threatened to divorce him!


Donna Culver Krebbs

Donna was a go-to political gal: She advised stepson Dave Culver, served on the Texas Energy Commission and became an oil industry lobbyist. Like all good public servants, Donna strove for consistency: While she was married to Sam Culver, she began an affair with Ray Krebbs, then married Ray and began seeing Andrew Dowling (while pregnant with Ray’s child). Donna divorced Ray, gave birth to their daughter Margaret, married Dowling and moved to Washington – where she hopefully found the happy ending that eluded her in Dallas.

KAY LLOYD (Karen Kopins)

Kay Lloyd

When the feds discovered J.R. tried to blow up the Middle East to boost domestic oil prices (no, really), the Justice Department shut down Ewing Oil and prohibited the family from using the company name again. Bobby went to work reclaiming the name with help from Kay, a Dowling aide who lived a fabulous lifestyle (chauffered limousine, swanky apartment, designer duds) despite the meager salary she must’ve received as a Capitol Hill staffer. Bobby and Kay became an item, but the romance died when she wasn’t willing to move to Dallas. (Can you blame her?)


Henry Harrison O’Dell

To reclaim the Ewing Oil name, Bobby turned to Jock’s old friend O’Dell, a powerful senator who was eager to help – but only if Bobby agreed to buy him a retirement castle in Scotland. (It turned out O’Dell wasn’t fond of the unnamed state he represented, which he called a “mosquito-infested swamp.”) Bobby was reluctant to play O’Dell’s game until Kay told him that’s how Washington works. In the end, Bobby got the Ewing Oil name back, O’Dell got his castle – and hopefully, the senator’s constituents got a more honorable representative.


“Wild Bill” Orloff

State Senator Orloff was a friendly, backslapping good old boy who did just about anything the Ewings asked of him. Did his eagerness to please have anything to do with the fact the Ewings bought Orloff the house he shared with his pretty little wife Dorothy? Good-government crusader Cliff thought so. When J.R.’s disillusioned secretary/mistress Julie leaked a copy of the trust deed to Cliff, he exposed the Ewing-Orloff shenanigans and Orloff was forced to resign his seat. But he and Dorothy kept their house.


Stephanie Rogers

When Cliff emerged as a public hero after leading an inquiry into an Exxon Valdez-style oil spill involving a Ewing Oil tanker (honestly, how did this company stay in business?), he toyed with the idea of running for governor. Enter Stephanie Rogers, the British-accented PR whiz who promised Cliff she would further polish his image and get him elected. When that didn’t happen, Cliff fired Stephanie, who disappeared faster than anyone could say, “Fake Alexis.”

GREG and ABBY SUMNER (William Devane, Donna Mills)

Greg and Abby Sumner

Sumner was a California state legislator running for U.S. Senate when Gary’s wife Abby offered him a campaign check from J.R. Sumner declined the money but won the seat, only to resign weeks later to go into business. Later, Sumner and Abby married and he went after an appointment as trade representative to Japan – which she got instead.


Fenton Washburn

Washburn was your stereotypical big-bellied Texas sheriff. Although the Ewings owned him, Washburn didn’t hesitate to exert his authority when the family ran afoul of the law: He arrested Jock for Hutch McKinney’s murder, hauled J.R. in for questioning in Kristin Shepard’s death and threatened to arrest Sue Ellen for manslaughter after the car accident that paralyzed Mickey Trotter. He responded slowly when Miss Ellie was kidnapped, which might explain why the next time the Ewings needed the police, there was a new sheriff in town: Burnside (Ken Swofford).


Mark White

White attended the 1985 Ewing Rodeo, giving him the distinction of being the only real-life politician to appear on “Dallas.” (Rival soap “Dynasty” once hosted Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger.) Of course, White’s cameo ended up being part of Pam’s dream, which might explain why his speech to the rodeogoers was so hilariously brief (“Thank you. Thank you. It’s really great to be with y’all up here today. Thank you.”). Think about it: a politician who limits public pronouncements to just 16 words? If that’s not a dream, I don’t know what is.

What has “Dallas” taught you about politics? Share your comments below and read more “Dallas Decoder Guides.”