The Best & Worst of Dallas: Season 6

There’s lots to love and little to loathe about “Dallas’s” sixth season.


Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Oh, darlin’

Every cast member shines during Season 6, but Linda Gray’s performance during Sue Ellen’s alcoholic spiral makes her first among equals. Sue Ellen doesn’t just lose her self-respect; she comes close to losing her life when she drives drunk and crashes J.R.’s car. What impresses me most about Gray is how she keeps the audience rooting for Sue Ellen, even when she makes mistakes. What an amazing performance.

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy

Still our hero

Give it up for Patrick Duffy too. If you were surprised to see Bobby unleash his inner junkyard dog on the most recent season of TNT’s “Dallas,” then check out Season 6 of the original series, which marks the first time the character reveals his ferocious side. The “Dallas” writers take Bobby to a very dark place during the yearlong contest for Ewing Oil, but Duffy makes sure we never forget he’s still the Bobby Ewing we know and love. Bravo.


Speaking of J.R. and Bobby’s contest: It’s too early for me to call this “Dallas’s” all-time greatest plot — I still have eight more seasons to revisit — but it’s hard to imagine anything surpassing the battle royale between the brothers Ewing. The reason the storyline succeeds isn’t the premise, which — let’s face it — is more than a little implausible. (A major corporation splits in half for a year to determine which of its top two executives should be in charge?) No, this arc works because it involves every character and showcases their complexities. Is it surprising to see Bobby play dirty or to witness J.R. wracked with guilt at season’s end? Sure, yet it never feels out of character for them. “Dallas” is always at its best when the characters, not the writers, drive the narrative, and that’s never been truer than it is here.


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

Power hour

This is the first season that I’ve reviewed in which none of the episodes received anything less than a “B” grade. For the record: Year 6 consists of 28 hours, and I handed out nine “B’s,” 16 “A’s” and three (!) “A+’s.” My favorite is “Penultimate,” a powerful hour of television that deals with the fallout from Sue Ellen’s accident and leaves us wondering: What’s more destructive — her addiction to booze or her addiction to J.R.?


The final moments in “Tangled Web” never fail to give me chills. We’re with Sue Ellen every step of the way when she walks across Holly’s driveway, enters the house and sees her in bed with J.R. (Trivia: My readers tell me when this scene was broadcast in 1983, it was scored, but for whatever reason the music doesn’t appear on the DVD. I’d love to see the original version, but I must say: The lonely sounds of Sue Ellen’s heels clicking and clacking help make this scene so effective.) More great moments: Cliff comes to terms with his guilt over Rebecca’s death (this is Ken Kercheval at his most brilliant) and three scenes that showcase the incomparable Barbara Bel Geddes — Miss Ellie predicts the future for Sue Ellen, eulogizes Jock a the Oil Baron’s Ball and testifies at the hearing to overturn his will.

Hands down, my least favorite scene: In “A Ewing is a Ewing,” J.R. comes on to Holly and she tells him “no,” but he has sex with her anyway. Was this really necessary to demonstrate J.R.’s villainy?

Supporting Players

Dallas, Mickey Trotter, Timothy Patrick Murphy


Do you despise cocky Mickey Trotter when he arrives at the beginning of Season 6? Are you surprised when he tries to save Sue Ellen at the end of the year? If you answer “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second, then credit Timothy Patrick Murphy, who does a nice job turning Mickey from a punk into a prince over the course of the season. Also, thanks to Murphy, Lucy finally gets a leading man worthy of Charlene Tilton’s charm.


Jock’s portrait is introduced during “Dallas’s” fifth season, but the show makes magnificent use of it throughout Season 6. Jock looms in the background of so many crucial scenes, including the will reading, which marks one of the few occasions when all of the Ewings are together in one room (even Gary’s there!), and J.R. and Ray’s fistfight in “Ewing Inferno,” when all hell breaks loose — literally. TNT, take note: This is how you use a portrait to help keep alive a character’s memory.


Dallas, Donna Krebbs, Susan Howard

Red hat mama

I love Pam’s upswept hairdo and western dress in “Barbecue Three,” her print skirt in “Brothers and Sisters” and Afton’s navy blouse/white skirt combo in “The Ewing Blues,” but my favorite fashion statement is made by Susan Howard, who sports a striking red hat when Donna attends the inaugural meeting of the Texas Energy Commission (also “Barbecue Three”). Eat your heart out, Katherine Wentworth!


Throughout Season 6, Larry Hagman zings like no one else. Here’s J.R. to Holly, upon spotting her lounging around her pool with a shirtless stud: “Traveling with the intellectual set, I see.” To Mickey, after the young man announces he’s a Trotter, not a Krebbs: “Oh, well. I’m bound to sleep more soundly tonight knowing that.” To Katherine, upon hearing she has something to discuss with him: “Oh, don’t tell me. Not Cliff Barnes. I couldn’t handle that.” In the end, though, my favorite quip comes from Sue Ellen, who is aghast when J.R. criticizes Pam for giving “aid and comfort to the opposition” during the hearing to overturn Jock’s will. “Opposition?” Sue Ellen says. “J.R., that’s your mother.”

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

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘She Died and I Lived!’

Brothers and Sisters, Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

The survivors

In “Brothers and Sisters,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode, Pam and Cliff (Victoria Principal, Ken Kercheval) are in his living room, where she sits on the sofa and tells him about a potential business deal as Cliff leans against the back of a chair, not facing her.

PAM: So we went down and took a look at it. Now it’s a small division of Graisco Industries.

CLIFF: What’s that got to do with me?

PAM: Well, Mark thinks it could be a great buy for Barnes-Wentworth.

CLIFF: What, am I supposed to be honored because he wants to sell me something?

PAM: [Angry] No, you’re supposed to get off your butt, go down there and take a look at it and make a decision!

CLIFF: Forget it.

PAM: You mean you won’t even go and look at it?

CLIFF: You got it.

PAM: Cliff, listen to me. Do you know why Mama gave you that company?

CLIFF: [Walks up the steps, begins collecting laundry hanging off the bannister] That doesn’t make any difference.

PAM: Yes, it does. She left it to you because she loved you and she believed in you.

CLIFF: [Raising his voice] Look, how could she? All the times I disappointed her while she was alive. And in the beginning when you first found each other, I was the one that didn’t accept her. And you were worried, you remember? You were worried because you were afraid that I was only after her money. Well, maybe you’re right because the first chance I got, I embezzled from the company!

PAM: She forgave you!

CLIFF: [Screaming] Oh, doesn’t anybody hear me? Doesn’t anybody understand? [Tosses the laundry] I was supposed to be on that trip! [Takes a step down] She died and I lived!

PAM: That’s right, you are alive! You can’t just shrivel up and die!

CLIFF: Yeah, but what right do I have to be alive? [Sits on the stairs] You know, I wasn’t even in the hospital when she died! You think she forgave me that?

Pam’s mouth drops as Cliff buries his head in his hands. She moves toward the steps, kneels and pulls his hands away, making him face her.

PAM: [Softly] Cliff, she didn’t blame you. All she ever did was love you.

CLIFF: Oh. She loved me?

PAM: Oh, yes. She wanted you to carry on. She wanted you to continue what the two of you started together. And she asked me to take care of you. And I’m trying, if you’ll just let me.

CLIFF: She loved me?

Pam looks at him, pulls his head onto her shoulder and strokes his hair.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 123 — ‘Brothers and Sisters’

Brothers and Sisters, Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval

Sad as hell

In the best scene from “Brothers and Sisters,” Pam watches as Cliff finally unleashes the guilt that’s been consuming him since Rebecca took his spot aboard the doomed Wentworth jet. “I was supposed to be on that trip! She died and I lived!” he screams. Director Larry Hagman shoots Ken Kercheval in a tight close-up, with the colorful window in Cliff’s living room in the background. It reminds me of Howard Beale delivering one of his jeremiads in front of the stained glass that adorns his news set in “Network.” This homage probably wasn’t intentional, but the comparison fits nonetheless. Kercheval is every bit as mesmerizing as Peter Finch was in that movie. (Coincidentally or not, Kercheval has a small role in “Network.”)

In this scene and others, what impresses me most about Kercheval is his fearlessness. He never holds back during Cliff’s most dramatic moments, seemingly giving the role every ounce of energy he possesses. The result is a character who feels utterly human. Cliff and Pam’s conversation in “Brothers and Sisters” lasts just two and a half minutes, yet during that span Kercheval manages to convey a full range of emotion: depression, anger, self-pity, insecurity, love. The actor achieves this not only through the way he delivers his dialogue, but also through his body language. To see what I mean, watch this scene with the sound muted. Focus on how Kercheval carries himself: the hunched shoulders that demonstrate Cliff’s tension, the downward glances that telegraph his guilt, the way he presses his hands to his chest when Cliff finally gives voice to the rage within him. It’s fascinating.

I also love how Kercheval always seems to bring out the best in his co-stars. This is something I never thought much about until I heard Patrick Duffy praise Barbara Bel Geddes during the audio commentary on the DVD for “A House Divided.” Duffy says he always stepped up his game when Bobby had a scene with Miss Ellie, and it seems like Kercheval had a similar effect on his fellow performers. In “Brothers and Sisters,” Victoria Principal has to work hard to keep up with Kercheval, but she gets the job done. Pam goes toe to toe with Cliff during their shouting match, although Principal’s best moment comes at the end of the scene, when Pam holds her brother in her arms and reminds him how much Rebecca loved him. Principal is the saving grace here; she allows a display of raw emotion to end on a warm note.

The best subplot in “Brothers and Sisters”: Katherine asks Bobby to meet her for lunch at a Dallas restaurant, knowing Pam will be there with Mark Graison. It feels like the kind of thing Abby would have orchestrated on “Knots Landing,” which might be why I like it so much. (Not every great soap opera scheme must involve a multi-million-dollar business deal, something the “Knots Landing” writers knew better than anyone.) Indeed, Katherine’s stunt demonstrates how smart the “Dallas” producers were to bring back Morgan Brittany, who filled the void created when Afton went from troublemaking vixen to put-upon heroine. I especially like how Katherine’s shenanigans lead to Bobby and Pam’s crackling confrontation at the end of the episode. “You know, I wonder whatever happened to the phrase ‘for richer or poorer, for better or worse’? Do you remember any of that?” Bobby asks. Pam’s response: “I wonder what happened to the Bobby Ewing I said those words to?”

The other great moments in “Brothers and Sisters” are small but meaningful. The kitchen scene where Donna realizes Ellie is nervous about her date with Clayton is sweet, and so is Mickey and Lucy’s conversation by the pool, where she tells him she isn’t ready to start dating again. I also love seeing Sly and Phyllis arrive together at the office, chatting about the latter’s date the night before. It’s a throwaway line, but isn’t it nice to know these women have lives outside the office? The next scene is equally revealing: Phyllis enters Bobby’s office and discovers him asleep on the sofa. Rather than wake him, she quietly returns to her desk, buzzes Bobby on the intercom and lets him believe she thinks he merely came to work extra early. Nice of her not to embarrass the boss when he’s sleeping off a hangover, huh?

I also get a kick out of the scene where TV host Roy Ralston drops by Ewing Oil with a bag full of fan mail for J.R., who enchanted Ralston’s viewers after appearing on his show, “Talk Time.” (I wonder: Was Hagman’s real-life fan mail used in this scene?) Ralston urges J.R. to run for office and to treat his show as a platform for his candidacy. This pre-sages what happened in real life nine years later, when another famous Texas, Ross Perot, turned a string of guest spots on “Larry King Live” into a presidential campaign. I doubt the “Dallas” producers ever seriously considered giving J.R. a career in politics — it would have upset the balance of power on the show — yet it’s tantalizing to consider nonetheless.

Mr. Ewing goes to Washington. Imagine the possibilities!

Grade: A


Brothers and Sisters, Dallas, Katherine Wentworth, Morgan Brittany

Here comes trouble


Season 6, Episode 20

Airdate: February 25, 1983

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

Writer: Will Lorin

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: Katherine schemes to drive a wedge between Bobby and Pam. With Pam and Christopher gone, Bobby throws himself into the fight for Ewing Oil. Holly discovers J.R. is shipping oil to Puerto Rico, unaware the real destination is Cuba. Talk show host Roy Ralston encourages J.R. to run for office. Lucy tells Mickey she needs time before she’s ready to date again. Clayton sells the Southern Cross and makes plans to move to Dallas.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Ben Hartigan (Holly’s advisor) Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Ben Piazza (Walt Driscoll), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), John Reilly (Roy Ralston), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Marilyn Staley (waitress), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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