Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘Who Would You Like to Blame?’

Bibi Besch, Dallas, Dr. Gibson, Motheres

Analyze this

In “Mothers,” a ninth-season “Dallas” episode, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) stands in the office of Dr. Gibson (Bibi Besch), who is seated in a chair.

SUE ELLEN: Why do I drink? Now that’s a good question, doctor. And it’s been a good question every time someone asks me. Even when you’ve asked me. [Sits on the sofa]

GIBSON: Are you any closer to an answer?

SUE ELLEN: My father was an alcoholic. [Rests head on her hand]

GIBSON: So you said. Did your other therapist let you get away with that as an answer? Who would you like to blame this time?

SUE ELLEN: I’m not blaming him. I’m just trying to explain it.

GIBSON: You think the fact that your father was an alcoholic explains why you are. Or do you just wish it did?

SUE ELLEN: I don’t know. [Stands, walks across the room] I really don’t know. The whole thing is so perverse. [Sighs] I hated the smell of alcohol. I hated everything it represented. My father drank away all of his chances for success. And all of my mother’s chances for success went with him. [Sits in a chair] And now I’m doing the same thing.

GIBSON: Your mother. Let’s talk about her a little.

SUE ELLEN: What’s there to say?

GIBSON: I don’t know. Just tell me something about her.

SUE ELLEN: I did already. My father drank away everything that she ever wanted out of life. Money, prestige, social position. So she did the next best thing. She raised me to have that kind of life. She raised me to marry somebody important. To love, honor and obey. And she made it very clear to me that if I couldn’t love and honor, I could sure as hell obey.

GIBSON: That’s valid, Sue Ellen. Years ago, a lot of women thought that way. But the world has changed.

SUE ELLEN: Not for her. And not for me. It’s all I know. I was raised to be the best thing that ever happened to a husband. She just neglected to tell my husband. [Pauses] Did your husband ever cheat on you? [Gibson smiles.] Yeah, I know. We’re here to talk about me, hm? Well, let me tell you something. There is nothing in the world more degrading than your husband is sleeping with every tramp there is in Dallas.

GIBSON: Then why do you stay with him?

SUE ELLEN: [Chuckles] Oh, doctor. You forgot. I’m the perfect wife. Actually, I did divorce him once. Then I let him talk me into marrying him again.

GIBSON: Why did you let that happen?

SUE ELLEN: Because the plain truth of it is that I don’t know anything other than being J.R. Ewing’s wife. Pathetic, isn’t it?

GIBSON: Are you blaming your husband now?

SUE ELLEN: Well, why shouldn’t I? It’s his fault, isn’t it?

GIBSON: Is it? Is it your husband’s fault? [Leans forward] Or is it your father’s fault? Or is it your mother’s fault?

SUE ELLEN: You think it’s my fault?

GIBSON: Sue Ellen, I think it doesn’t matter whose fault it is. What matters is where you go from here.

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 197 — ‘Mothers’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Martha Scott, Mothers, Patricia Shepard

Lives of mothers

“Mothers” brings back Patricia Shepard, who visits Southfork and is stunned to discover her daughter Sue Ellen is being treated for alcoholism. Patricia’s arrival allows “Dallas” to delve into Sue Ellen’s past, drawing a connection between her troubled childhood and the addiction that now overwhelms her. The episode also examines the prickly relationship between Miss Ellie and Patricia, two women who are united by the marriage of their children but who otherwise have very little in common. It all adds up to another hour that allows the women of Southfork to step into the spotlight. Just think: It took only nine seasons for them to get there.

This is an episode with many interesting moments, beginning with Sue Ellen’s visit to Dr. Gibson, a therapist at the sanitarium where she’s receiving treatment. Linda Gray’s dialogue reveals new information about her character — we learn Sue Ellen’s father was an alcoholic too — epitomizing new producer Peter Dunne’s determination to dig deeper into familiar figures like Sue Ellen Ewing. The Gibson character also is put to good use. She’s full of insight, refusing to allow Sue Ellen to blame other people for her problems. “It doesn’t matter whose fault it is. What matters is where you go from here,” Gibson says. The good doctor is played by Bibi Besch, a wonderful character actress who makes everything she appears in better. What a shame this is Gibson’s only “Dallas” appearance while Dr. Ellby — Sue Ellen’s creepy, glass-eyed therapist during the early seasons — logged 19 (!) episodes.

The scenes involving Ellie and Patricia reveal a lot too. Here are two women who couldn’t be more different. Earthy Ellie allows her children to make their own decisions — sometimes to a fault. In this episode, she wisely tells Ray he must make up his own mind about whether or not to sell his shares of Ewing Oil to Jeremy Wendell, but she also says nothing when J.R. causes a scene at breakfast, complaining about how his family is selling him out to Wendell. Contrast this with that master meddler, the status-obsessed Patricia. She pries J.R. for information about his marital life — even getting him to admit he’s had affairs (notably, she gives him a pass for this) — and later visits Sue Ellen and vows to “straighten out” her daughter’s marriage. When Sue Ellen points out that she’s always run third to J.R.’s work and his mistresses, Patricia snaps, “I didn’t raise my daughters to run third. I raised winners.” This lady is like Jock Ewing in a skirt, is she not?

Patricia and Ellie’s direct interaction tells us a lot too. Note how warmly Ellie greets Patricia when she arrives at Southfork. Only after Patricia has exited the scene do we learn the truth: “That woman’s never been anything but trouble,” Ellie tells Clayton. Mama is nothing if not a gracious hostess. It’s also worth noting that Patricia acts like she has no idea her daughter has a drinking problem, even though the Shepard matriarch’s most recent visit to the ranch came during the third season, right after Sue Ellen’s previous sanitarium stay. Perhaps this is an oversight on behalf of Dunne and the rest of the writing team, but it seems just as likely Patricia is suffering a classic case of denial. Consider what happens at the end of “Mothers,” when Patricia lashes out at Ellie. While Mama is talking about how Sue Ellen needs to learn to deal with her problems on her own, Patricia is focused on fixing her daughter’s marriage. Patricia simply has her own set of priorities.

There’s a lot more to like about “Mothers,” including the opening scene, when J.R. urges the Oil Baron’s Ball organizers to honor Bobby with the Oilman of the Year Award, as well as the final shot, when Mama overhears J.R. lamenting how he failed to keep the family business together. This episode also plants the seeds for storylines that will take on greater significance later in the season: Clayton takes a call from an associate who reports bad business news, Mark hires his friend Dr. Jerry Kenderson to run his research clinic, and Jack is followed by someone who keeps snapping photos of him. Does the stalker work for J.R.? Jeremy? Someone else? We won’t find out for several episodes, and even though the resolution ends up being disappointing, you can’t deny the mystery gets off to an intriguing start.

Mostly, though, “Mothers” belongs to the women, especially Barbara Bel Geddes and Martha Scott. Both actresses are class acts, and it’s fun to watch them go toe to toe with performances that are nuanced, subtle and above all, believable. These are the kinds of mature roles we rarely see on television today. Make no mistake: If Ellie and Patricia were characters on a contemporary soap opera like “Empire” or “Scandal,” they’d probably be reduced to trading cheap quips and dirty looks. Then again, what are the chances either of those shows would give meaningful roles to a couple of veteran actresses like Barbara Bel Geddes and Martha Scott?

Grade: B


Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Miss Ellie Ewing, Mothers

Mama’s here


Season 9, Episode 6

Airdate: October 25, 1985

Audience: 19.5 million homes, ranking 8th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Hollace White and Stephanie Garman

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Patricia Shepard, Sue Ellen’s mother, arrives and vows to repair her daughter’s marriage. Pam and Miss Ellie each decide to sell their shares of Ewing Oil to Wendell, but Ellie gets cold feet when she realizes it will devastate J.R. Mandy leaves town. Mark decides to fund a medical research institute and asks Jerry to run it.

Cast: John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Farlow), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Bibi Besch (Dr. Gibson), Donald Craig (Oil baron), Tony Garcia (Raoul), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Joshua Harris (Christopher Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing Barnes), 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), Hal Landon (Oil baron), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Karen Radcliffe (Barbara), Dack Rambo (Jack Ewing), Carol Sanchez (Angela), Martha Scott (Patricia Shepard), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell)

“Mothers” 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


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

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing


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


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


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 Dal-List: Sue Ellen’s 10 Most Memorable Moments (So Far)

Dallas, J.R.'s Masterpiece, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Mourning star

Sue Ellen WeekAs the indomitable Sue Ellen Ewing, Linda Gray has captivated television audiences since “Dallas’s” 1978 debut. Sue Ellen Week continues with this list of the character’s greatest moments from her first 35 years.

Brian Dennehy, Dallas, Linda Gray, Luther Frick, Sue Ellen Ewing, Winds of Vengeance

Command performance

10. Lady sings the blues. Crazed cuckold Luther Frick (Brian Dennehy) holds the Ewings hostage in the Southfork living room and forces Sue Ellen to don her Miss Texas bathing suit and sing for him. Humiliating? Yes, but it also demonstrates Sue Ellen’s willingness to do what’s needed to help her family survive a crisis. Moreover, this is one of Gray’s gutsiest — and smartest — performances. I especially love the final scene: After Jock and Bobby rescue everyone, Sue Ellen grabs her coat and exits the room, head held high. It’s an early glimpse of the character’s resilience: No matter what indignities may be visited upon Sue Ellen, she almost always walks away a lady.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Mother of the Year, Sue Ellen Ewing

Mama’s here

9. Embracing motherhood. When John Ross is born, Sue Ellen comes down with a Southfork-sized case of post-partum depression — and who can blame her? She’s emotionally devastated by her ongoing struggle with alcoholism, the collapse of her marriage to J.R. and her doomed affair with Cliff, who dumped her to preserve his political viability. With help from her shrink Dr. Elby, Sue Ellen finally realizes how much “little John” needs her, so she goes home, picks up the boy and holds him for only the second time since his birth, 13 (!) episodes earlier. It’s a powerful moment — and it sends baby-obsessed sister-in-law Pam running away in tears, so bonus points for that.

Dallas, Guilt by Association, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Set ’em up, Sue

8. Defeating the governor. When Sue Ellen discovers smirktastic Governor McConaughey suppressed evidence that would exonerate the Ewings in the investigation into their rig explosion, she glides into his office, pours a drink and announces she’s going to expose his malfeasance. McConaughey is not pleased. “You can never trust a drunk,” he seethes. Sue Ellen agrees, but says that’s beside the point as she places the glass on his desk and slides it toward him. “This drink, governor, is for you. You’re going to need it. Because now that I have the goods on you, you’re going to do what I want.” Dayum! Our gal really did learn at the feet of the master, didn’t she?

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Clean and sober

7. On the couch. After Sue Ellen hits rock bottom, J.R. once again commits her to a sanitarium, where she receives treatment from tough-love therapist Dr. Gibson (the terrific Bibi Besch). In an insightful exchange, Sue Ellen tries to blame her drinking problem on her parents and J.R. — until the good doctor sets her straight: “Sue Ellen, I don’t think it matters whose fault it is. What matters is where you go from here.” When Besch delivers this line, watch Gray’s eyes; it’s almost as if you can see the light go on inside Sue Ellen’s head. This moment marks the beginning of one of “Dallas’s” most satisfying storylines: Sue Ellen’s journey of self-discovery. Too bad it turned out to be Pam’s dream.

Dallas, J.R. Returns, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

She’s the boss

6. Joining the oil business. After a five-year absence, J.R. returns to Dallas and stages an elaborate scheme (does he do any other kind?) to persuade Bobby to buy back Ewing Oil from Cliff. The plan works like a charm … but wait! Baby brother has a trick up his sleeve too: He sells half the company to his new business partner — Sue Ellen, who can’t resist needling her ex-husband when she reveals her new career to him. “I was thinking about all the fun pillow talks we’ll have … about gushers and dry holes,” Sue Ellen says with a wink. The master is justifiably impressed. As she walks away, he turns to John Ross and says, “Your mama’s a hell of a woman.” We couldn’t agree more.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Mandy Winger, Deborah Shelton, Sue Ellen Ewing

You tell her, honey

5. Schooling Mandy. At the Ewing Rodeo, a newly sober Sue Ellen turns a corner — literally and figuratively — when she runs into Mandy Winger (Deborah Shelton), J.R.’s latest extra-marital squeeze. Sue Ellen treats Mandy with compassion, urging her to get away from J.R. before he destroys her. When Mandy refuses to listen and turns to leave, Sue Ellen grabs her by the arm and delivers a hard truth: “Isn’t it strange how the mistress always thinks she’s smarter than the wife? If she’s so smart, why is she the mistress?” In the hands of another actress, this scene might have come off like another catty soap opera confrontation, but Gray infuses the material with power and poignancy.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Rock Bottom, Sue Ellen Ewing

Oh, Sue Ellen

4. Hitting bottom. Sue Ellen tries to comfort J.R. after Bobby’s funeral, but he responds with devastating cruelty, sending her on her worst bender ever. Over the course of the next day or so, Sue Ellen’s purse, car and wedding ring are stolen, leaving her wandering the streets. She winds up in a cheap motel, where she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror and shouts, “J.R. is right. They’re all right. You are disgusting. I hate you!” Finally, she stumbles into an alley, where she’s so desperate for a sip of booze that she accepts a swig from a bag lady’s bottle. I love how Sue Ellen’s outfit symbolically unravels along with her identity, but more than anything, I love Gray’s riveting, no-holds-barred performance.

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Linda Gray, Larry Hagman, New Beginnings, Sue Ellen Ewing

Union of equals

3. A night to remember. Not long after recovering from his shooting, J.R. comes home and finds Sue Ellen asleep in the Southfork nursery, having dozed off while rocking John Ross. The couple put their son to bed and retreat to their own room, where they quietly reminisce about the early days of their courtship, reminding each other why they fell in love in the first place. Besides serving as a rare moment of peace for two characters who are usually at war, this scene shows how Gray is Hagman’s equal in every way. Think about it: It’s one thing to see J.R. and Sue Ellen lobbing insults at each other, but to make their love feel authentic and believable? That takes real talent. Lucky for us, Gray and Hagman had it in spades.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, Who Done It?, Who Shot J.R.?


2. Catching Kristin. When Sue Ellen is arrested for shooting J.R., the Ewings toss her off Southfork — but our heroine refuses to give up. Sue Ellen gets out of jail, figures out she’s being framed and heads to the ranch to reveal the truth to J.R. As it turns out, the real culprit is visiting the ranch too — and when Sue Ellen spots her, Gray delivers the most famous line in “Dallas” history: “It was you, Kristin, who shot J.R.” Eighty-three million viewers watched this scene on the night it debuted. It was the cliffhanger resolution the world had been waiting for, but more importantly, it was the moment Sue Ellen returned to Southfork and to J.R.’s side — the place she always belonged.

Dallas, J.R.'s Masterpiece, Linda Gray, TNT

She is us

1. Mourning J.R. No one takes J.R.’s death harder than the woman he loved more than any other. On the night before his funeral, Sue Ellen goes into his bedroom, caresses a framed photograph from their wedding and drowns her sorrows with glass after glass of his bourbon, ending two decades of sobriety. The next day, when the Ewings gather at the cemetery to bury J.R., Sue Ellen confesses her relapse and delivers a haunting eulogy for the man she calls “the love of my life.” Gray is mesmerizing in these scenes, which draw upon the remarkable 35-year history between J.R. and Sue Ellen. Her deeply moving, Emmy-caliber performance also unites “Dallas” fans in shared catharsis. Through her, we were able to express the grief we felt after the death of our hero. It’s the moment Sue Ellen became our avatar. Then again, isn’t that what she’s always been?

Now it’s your turn. Share your choices for Sue Ellen’s most memorable moments below and read more “Dal-Lists.”