Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 170 — ‘Shadows’

Dallas, Donna Reed, Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow, Shadows

Frame love

The final scene in “Shadows” trembles with tension. Miss Ellie summons J.R. and Bobby to the Southfork living room, where she tells them she’s going to take down the painting of Jock that has hung there since his death. Ellie wants to make her new husband, Clayton Farlow, feel more comfortable in their home by moving the picture to the Ewing Oil offices. J.R. is adamant the portrait stay put. “You can’t do it, Mama. It belongs here,” he says. Ellie is equally resolute. She says the Ewings have mourned Jock “long enough,” then adds: “It’s time for this family to start again.”

Oh, the drama! You must admire “Dallas’s” ability to generate so much emotion over where to hang a picture, except things on this show are never that clear-cut, are they? Jock’s portrait has become a symbol of “Dallas’s” most essential themes — family, loyalty, tradition. That’s why Larry Hagman’s performance in this scene is so moving. Watch J.R.’s eyes. He looks more frightened than angry. For him, this is another example of how the world around him is changing. Cliff Barnes has become a successful oilman, Mama has married another man, and now Daddy’s picture is coming down. Despite the sharp tone J.R. takes with Ellie, Hagman manages to make his character seem vulnerable. He gets a big assist from Patrick Duffy, who only has three lines of dialogue, but whose expression lets us know how sorry Bobby feels for J.R.

If this scene isn’t as powerful as others involving Jock’s portrait (“Wendell, touch that painting and I’ll kill you where you stand!”), it’s probably only because Donna Reed is delivering Ellie’s lines instead of Barbara Bel Geddes. We watched Bel Geddes act opposite Jim Davis for years, and then we saw her character mourn his for another extended period. Bel Geddes made Ellie’s love for Jock feel real. Reed does a fine job in this scene, but it’s odd to see her standing in front of the picture and referring to Jock as her husband. On the other hand, Reed’s presence also adds something to the scene, at least when we watch it from J.R.’s point of view. After all, Mama must seem like a stranger to him at this moment.

The other moving scene in “Shadows” contains no dialogue. After learning that Bobby and Jenna have set their wedding date, Pam — clad in a satin robe — sits alone in her darkened bedroom. She gets up, walks to the dresser and picks up a framed picture of Mark, then sets it down and reaches for a bottom drawer, where she pulls out a picture of her, Bobby and Christopher. (It’s actually a publicity shot from the seventh-season episode “The Long Goodbye.”) Sitting on the floor and holding the picture to her chest, Pam sobs quietly. Victoria Principal is nicely understated here, and so is composer Bruce Broughton, who scores the scene with soft piano keys. It’s quite lovely.

“Shadows” also marks Christopher Stone’s final appearance as Dave Stratton, a minor character who nonetheless served a useful role. Stratton was Jeremy Wendell’s right-hand man, which made William Smithers’ character all the more mysterious and powerful. Wendell always seemed to be dispatching Stratton to deal with J.R. and Cliff, as if Jeremy had better things to do. I also was intrigued by the hint of attraction between Pam and Dave; I wonder if a romance between those two would have been a better subplot than having her chase Mark’s ghost? In a similar vein, “Shadows” is the episode where Sue Ellen suggests J.R. hire Jamie as a receptionist at Ewing Oil. As much as I like the idea of bringing another Ewing into the family’s workplace, imagine how this storyline might have played out if it were a character with a stronger connection to the show — like Lucy, or maybe Sue Ellen herself.

Speaking of J.R.: There’s a scene where he talks on the phone to a business associate and tells him he’d “like to start drilling around April 15 … for tax reasons.” Sheesh. Doesn’t J.R. know that’s merely a tax-filing deadline? The IRS would care only about income earned before December 31. Likewise, I’m a bit perplexed when Clayton and Ray jet to Houston to check on the Farlow business operations there. The men are supposed to fly home later that afternoon, but Clayton calls Ellie to tell her that he and Ray have decided to stay a few extra days. Gee, doesn’t Ray have to get back to the ranch? And since this was supposed to be a same-day trip, what will they do for clothing and toiletries?

I know, I know. These are very wealthy men. They’ll probably have no trouble acquiring some fresh underwear and a toothbrush, right?

Grade: A


Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, Shadows

Sympathy for the devil


Season 8, Episode 9

Airdate: November 23, 1984

Audience: 19.2 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Gwen Arner

Synopsis: J.R. hires a private detective to learn Mandy’s identity. Sue Ellen urges J.R. to hire Jamie as a receptionist. Clayton confides in Ray. Naldo returns and tells Jenna he wants to see Charlie. Miss Ellie takes down Jock’s portrait, upsetting J.R.

Cast: Michael Alldredge (Steve Jackson), Martin Cassidy (Frank Carp), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher 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), Marina Rice (Angela), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Christopher Stone (Dave Stratton), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Kathleen York (Betty)

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

No Emmy Love for ‘Dallas,’ Again

Dallas, Emma Bell, Emma Ryland, TNT

At least we have Emma

The Primetime Emmy nominations were announced today, and “Dallas” was nowhere to be found.

This comes as a surprise to absolutely no one, of course. Although the TNT series was eligible in several categories, it wasn’t regarded as a strong contender.

Other prime-time soap operas fared better. PBS’s “Downton Abbey” received 12 nominations, including one for best dramatic series, while ABC’s “Scandal” was nominated in three categories, including a nod for Kerry Washington in the lead dramatic actress race.

ABC’s “Nashville,” which was nominated for two Emmys last season, received none this year.

TNT received five nominations: three for its cancelled “Mob City” drama and two for an American Film Institute tribute to Mel Brooks.

This year’s most-nominated show is HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which received 19 nods, followed by FX’s “Fargo” (18) and “American Horror Story: Coven” (17), and AMC’s Breaking Bad (16) and HBO’s The Normal Heart (16).

“Dallas’s” exclusion from this year’s competition continues the franchise’s tortured history with the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Emmys’ parent organization.

Barbara Bel Geddes received the lead actress award in 1980, Bruce Broughton picked up Emmys for music composition in 1983 and 1984, and Travilla won the costume design award in 1985.

On the other hand: Larry Hagman never won an Emmy for playing J.R. Ewing on the original “Dallas,” and last year, he was snubbed for a posthumous supporting actor nomination for his work on the TNT series. Producers also shamefully excluded Hagman from the special “in memoriam” tributes during the Emmy broadcast.

Are you disappointed “Dallas” doesn’t receive more Emmy recognition? Share your comments below and read more news from Dallas Decoder.

Drill Bits: Emmy Overlooks Larry Hagman … For Now

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

Ouch, Emmy

Larry Hagman wasn’t nominated for an Emmy yesterday, but the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences has a few more opportunities to honor “Dallas’s” biggest star.

First up: the “In Memoriam” montage that will be shown during this year’s Emmy ceremony, which CBS will broadcast on September 22. Hagman deserves to be featured prominently in the tribute reel, which is also certain to include fellow icons James Gandolfini and Jean Stapleton.

(Steve Forrest and Dale Robertson, two other “Dallas” vets who died recently, deserve spots in the reel too.)

Additionally, the academy could — wait, make that should — induct Hagman into its Hall of Fame next year. Chris Beachum, senior editor of awards website Gold Derby, lists Hagman among 24 possible honorees, along with stars such as David Letterman, Tyne Daly and the late Don Knotts.

Hagman, who died last fall after bringing J.R. Ewing back to life on TNT’s “Dallas” revival, was a contender for inclusion in this year’s dramatic supporting actor Emmy race. The show received no other nominations.

Hagman was twice nominated for best actor during the original “Dallas’s” heyday but never won. He joins a list of beloved stars who were snubbed by Emmy, including Andy Griffith, Jackie Gleason and Michael Landon.

Four E’s for Big D

Although fans of TNT’s “Dallas” were mighty disappointed by this year’s snubs, keep in mind: The original series won just four awards during its 14-season run. Barbara Bel Geddes received the best actress award in 1980, composer Bruce Broughton won awards for his musical scores in 1983 and 1984 and Travilla received the Emmy for costume design in 1985.

“Drill Bits,” a roundup of news about TNT’s “Dallas,” is published regularly. Share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 117 — ‘The Ewing Blues’

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

Don’t box him in

“The Ewing Blues” includes one of “Dallas’s” cleverest scenes. J.R. appears on a local TV talk show to tout his new chain of cut-rate gas stations, which is turning him into a hero in the eyes of the public. Cliff is watching the interview from the living room of his new townhouse, where a deliveryman arrives with the Chinese takeout he ordered. As Cliff reaches for his wallet, the man notices what’s playing on Cliff’s TV. “That’s J.R. Ewing, ain’t it?” he asks. “I tell ya, if he ran for president tomorrow, I’d vote for him! I would!” Cliff is left shaking his head and muttering, “So much for the intelligence of the average voter.”

With this scene, “Dallas” has a little fun with its audience. For years, viewers — present company included — had been treating J.R. like a hero. Now fictional fans like Cliff’s deliveryman were doing the same thing. The line about voting for J.R. even brings to mind the “J.R. for President” buttons and bumper stickers that cropped up during the summer of 1980, when “Who Shot J.R.?” hysteria was in full swing. (I also wonder if the dialogue reflects the era’s political realities. When “The Ewing Blues” debuted in January 1983, Ronald Reagan’s approval rating had sunk to an astonishing 35 percent, the lowest level of his presidency. In those months before Reagan’s popularity rebounded, perhaps Americans really would have voted to replace him with J.R.)

J.R.’s talk show appearance also offers another reminder of Larry Hagman’s genius. J.R. tells the host, Roy Ralston, that he’s cutting gas prices because he believes the oil industry has gouged consumers for too long. We know J.R. is lying because earlier in “The Ewing Blues,” he tells little John Ross that he has become the oil industry’s version of Robin Hood (“take from the poor and give to the rich”). Yet as J.R. talks to Ralston about how “the American public deserves a better hand than they’ve been dealt,” the sincerity in Hagman’s voice kind of makes us want to believe his character. How did Hagman do that?

More than anything, I love Hagman’s scenes with Linda Gray in “The Ewing Blues,” especially J.R. and Sue Ellen’s exchange in their bedroom. After Ray punches him during a Southfork cocktail hour, J.R. sits on the bed, holding an icepack to his swollen lip as Sue Ellen caresses his face. He tells her that he’s nervous about his talk show appearance in a few days and hints he’d like her to join him — and of course the onetime Miss Texas leaps at the opportunity to take another turn in the spotlight. This might be one of the sweetest gestures J.R. ever makes toward his wife. Think about it: J.R. never loses his confidence. He’s only pretending to be anxious so he’ll have an excuse to invite Sue Ellen on the show and involve her in his life. As he puts it, “We’re partners, aren’t we?”

David Paulsen, who wrote and directed “The Ewing Blues,” doesn’t just show us a softer side of J.R.; he also lets us see Bobby’s edge. To compete with J.R.’s cut-rate gas plan, Bobby wants to uncap the Wellington field, one of the Ewing Oil properties Bobby controls during the contest for the company. The problem: The cartel members are partners in the field, and they want it to remain capped. With help from lawyer Craig Gurney, Bobby tells Jordan and Marilee that he’s prepared to exercise a clause in their contract that requires them to either uncap the field or buy out Bobby at five times market value. “That’s armed robbery!” Jordan huffs. Gurney’s response: “No, that’s Paragraph 17A, Section F.” It’s one of my favorite exchanges during the episode.

The other great scene in “The Ewing Blues” comes at the end, when Ellie and Pam visit Brooks Oliver, the lawyer who agrees to help Ellie try to overturn Jock’s will. Ellie is quite timid at the beginning of the scene, clutching the letters that Jock wrote to her from South America. Oliver predicts their lawsuit will turn ugly and wind up in “the newspapers,” which prompts Pam to rebuke him for upsetting her. “She has to know exactly what she is getting into if she wants to go to court,” Oliver explains. This is when Ellie’s fighting spirit bursts forth. “Mr. Oliver, I don’t want to go to court. I don’t want to do any of this,” she says, slapping her hand on the desk. Besides Barbara Bel Geddes’ dramatic delivery, pay attention to the gentle strings that play in the background of this scene. The score, which helped composer Bruce Broughton win an Emmy in 1983, reminds me a little of the music Rob Cairns delivers on TNT’s “Dallas.”

Finally, some casting notes: Oliver is played by the wonderful character actor Donald Moffat, possessor of the fiercest eyebrows this side of Larry Hagman. Moffat is one of several familiar faces who pop up in “The Ewing Blues.” Gurney is played by Lane Davies, who would later star on the soap opera “Santa Barbara,” while another daytime television veteran, John Reilly (“As the World Turns,” “General Hospital”), plays Ralston, the talk show host. The most significant addition to the cast, though, is John Beck, who joins “Dallas” in this episode and begins a three-season run as Mark Graison. I had forgotten that Mark was introduced as an old Ewing family friend. In one scene, when he calls Southfork and Bobby answers the phone, the two characters chat like old chums. It’s surprising to witness, but I know the glad tidings won’t last long.

Grade: A


Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Ewing Blues, Miss Ellie Ewing

Mama means business


Season 6, Episode 14

Airdate: January 7, 1983

Audience: 21.4 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: David Paulsen

Synopsis: J.R. appears on a TV talk show and is lauded for his efforts to cut gas prices. After J.R. threatens to ruin Harwood Oil if Holly doesn’t cancel her refinery contracts, she turns to Bobby for help. To get the cartel to uncap the Wellington property, Bobby threatens to exercise a legal loophole in Ewing Oil’s contract with the cartel members. Mark Graison gives Brooks, his family’s attorney, permission to take Miss Ellie’s case, and Mark grows smitten with Pam when he meets her. Cliff moves into his new townhouse, while Afton grows frustrated with the way he treats her.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Al Checco (deliveryman), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Lane Davies (Craig Gurney), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Bobbie Ferguson (Terri), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Donald Moffat (Brooks Oliver), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Scott Palmer (Farley Criswell), Robert Pinkerton (Elliot), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), John Reilly (Roy Ralston), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 108 — ‘Jock’s Will’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Jock's Will, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy

Let the games begin

At the end of “Jock’s Will,” the Ewings gather in the Southfork living room to hear Harv Smithfield read the family patriarch’s last will and testament. Everyone is present — even Gary, who has flown in from “Knots Landing” for the occasion. The scene is tense, dramatic and historic. Besides being one of the few times we see almost all of the original cast members in the same place at the same time, this also marks the beginning of “Dallas’s” greatest storyline: J.R. and Bobby’s epic battle for control of Ewing Oil.

The scene, which lasts about seven minutes, is also a showcase for Michael Preece, one of the original “Dallas’s” most skilled directors. He begins with a wide shot of the actors positioned in front of George O. Petrie, who sits at a desk that seems to have magically appeared in the living room for this scene. (I suppose the desk is like the Ewings’ television set, which only pops up when the plot calls for someone in the family to watch it.) Only four actors here have dialogue: Barbara Bel Geddes, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy and Petrie, who delivers almost 700 words, far more than any of the others. Even though the rest of the cast is silent, we never question what their characters are thinking, thanks to Preece’s reaction shots. When Harv announces Gary’s inheritance comes with strings attached, we see Ted Shackelford clench his jaw. Charlene Tilton’s eyes bulge when Lucy learns she’s become a multi-millionaire. Victoria Principal’s jaw drops when Pam realizes Bobby is going to have to fight J.R. for the company.

Bel Geddes gets the most dramatic response. When Ellie hears Jock’s line that Ewing Oil can only be run by “the man that wants it the most,” she furrows her brow and whispers gravely, “Oh, Jock. No.” I wonder: What are Preece and scriptwriter David Paulsen are trying to convey here? Is Ellie afraid Jock is about to return control of the company to J.R., whom she recently ousted from the president’s chair? Or does she sense — even before Harv announces it — that Jock is about to pit their sons against each other?

(In the same spirit, the announcement of the contest forces us to reconsider the end of “Where There’s a Will,” when J.R. sneaks a peek at Jock’s will. In that scene, J.R.’s reaction — “Thank you, Daddy, thank you” — leads us to believe Jock has left him the company. In “Jock’s Will,” the audience finally catches up and learns what J.R. did: that Jock wants him to compete with Bobby for control of Ewing Oil. So why does J.R. thank his daddy? Is he so confident he’ll beat Bobby that he considers the contest a mere formality? Or could it be that J.R. simply loves a good fight, and he’s thanking Jock for giving him one?)

As far as the contest itself: Some might see Jock’s decision to not choose a successor as a copout, but I believe it fits his character perfectly. Of course the old man would want his sons to duke it out to determine, once and for all, who is the better businessman. The contest also ends up producing some of the best storytelling seen on “Dallas,” as well as “Knots Landing.” (But don’t take my word for it: Hill Place, an always-interesting TV and movie blog, recently published a thorough examination of the long-range ramifications of Jock’s will on both shows.)

There’s also quite a bit of poignancy to the end of the will-reading scene. Jock’s final words are ominous: He declares that if J.R. or Bobby die before the contest is over, the remaining son will automatically take over the company. This prompts J.R. to turn to his younger brother, raise a glass of bourbon and say, “Well, Bobby, to your good health and very long life.” Three seasons later, after Duffy’s character had been killed off, J.R.’s toast seemed prescient. Now that Hagman is gone, the line feels bittersweet. I also can’t help but note the parallels between Jock’s will, which leads to the high point in their rivalry, and the letter that Bobby reads at the end of the new “Dallas’s” second season, which effectively brings their warring to an end.

The other highlight of “Jock’s Will” is the courtroom scene where the Ewing patriarch is declared dead. As the judge announces his decision (“The judgment of this court is that John Ross Ewing Sr. died in a place unknown, in the jungles of South America”), Preece gives us a tight shot of each Ewing seated in the gallery: First Pam, then Bobby, J.R., Sue Ellen and finally Ellie. Everyone looks stricken — and none more so than Mama, whose tears flow freely — but don’t overlook Bruce Broughton’s mournful background music, which also lends this scene power.

Other good scenes in “Jock’s Will” include the sequences set in Kansas, where Ray’s struggle to connect with cocky Mickey strains his relationship with Donna. I also like J.R. and Sue Ellen’s night on the town (especially the nifty overhead shot that Preece gives us of Hagman and Linda Gray on the nightclub dance floor), as well as the scene where the couple sets the date for their second wedding. Or, to be more precise: J.R. sets the date by presenting Sue Ellen with an invitation to their first wedding, with the original date (February 15, 1970) scratched out and the new one (December 3, 1982) penciled in.

I can’t help but think there’s plenty of room on that invitation for a third wedding date. How sad that we never got to see it.

Grade: A


Barbara Bel Geddes, Bobby Ewing, Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Donna Krebbs, Gary Ewing, George O. Petrie, Harv Smithfield, J.R. Ewing, Linda Gray, Larry Hagman, Lucy Cooper, Miss Ellie Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Sue Ellen Ewing, Susan Howard, Ted Shackelfod

Gang’s all here


Season 6, Episode 5

Airdate: October 29, 1982

Audience: 23.6 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: The Ewings have Jock declared legally dead and learn his will sets up a yearlong contest between J.R. and Bobby for control of Ewing Oil. J.R. and Sue Ellen set a wedding date. Ray and Donna bring Mickey home with them to Southfork. Pam urges Lucy to snap out of her depression.

Cast: Robert Ackerman (Wade Luce), Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), George Cooper (Lee Evans), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Phyllis Flax (Mrs. Chambers), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Alice Hirson (Mavis Anderson), Peter Hobbs (Judge Karns), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Kenneth Kimmins (Thornton McLeish), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Dale Robertson (Frank Crutcher), Ted Shackelford (Gary Ewing), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

“Jock’s Will” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

The Dal-List: Classic ‘Dallas’s’ 10 Most Memorable Monologues

Ann Ewing, Brenda Strong, Dallas, TNT, Trial and Error


Few will forget the courtroom testimony that Ann (Brenda Strong) delivered at the end of “Trial and Error,” last week’s “Dallas” episode. Here’s a look at the Barneses’ and Ewings’ 10 most memorable monologues from the original series and its “Knots Landing” spinoff.

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Miss Ellie Ewing


10. Miss Ellie’s lament. With the Ewing empire on the brink of collapse, Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) goes to the site of Jock’s first strike and curses his memory. “Damn it all, Jock. You couldn’t have been an insurance salesman. Or a shoe salesman. No, you had to have oil in your blood. In your heart. And now … our sons are fighting for their lives.” It’s one of the better moments from one of the show’s better later episodes. (“Judgment Day”)

Dallas, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

She remembers mama

9. Pam’s discovery. Pam (Victoria Principal), believing Rebecca Wentworth is her long-lost mother, confronts the Houston matron in her opulent home. “I found you. You’re alive. And I’m so happy. I don’t know how to tell you how happy I am,” she says through tears. With every line, Principal seems to reveal a little more of herself, so much so that by the end of the speech, her lip quivers uncontrollably. Bravo. (“The Prodigal Mother”)

Dallas, Priscilla Pointer, Rebecca Barnes Wentworth

Runaway mom

8. Rebecca’s confession. After denying her identity, Rebecca (Priscilla Pointer) sits with Pam on a park bench and tells her the truth: She is, in fact, Pam’s mother. “I never divorced Digger,” Rebecca says as her voice begins to crack. “I was afraid that if I tried, he’d find me, and drag me back to that awful life. Pamela, I saw a chance for happiness, and I took it. Don’t blame me for that.” Pointer’s delivery is hauntingly beautiful. (“The Prodigal Mother”)

Dallas, Gary Ewing, Knots Landing, Ted Shackelford

No beach bum

7. Gary’s mea culpa. Gary (Ted Shackelford) begs Lucy to stay in Knots Landing and apologizes for his past sins, telling her he’s trying hard to be a better man. “I’m not a loser anymore,” Gary says. At one point, he becomes tongue-tied, as if he can’t find the words to convey his guilt and regret. In the DVD commentary, Shackelford laughs and suggests he paused because he couldn’t remember his next line. No matter. It still works. (“Home is For Healing”)

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Bye bye, love

6. Sue Ellen’s kiss-off. In Linda Gray’s “Dallas” departure, Sue Ellen shows J.R. the scandalous movie she’s made about their marriage – and vows to screen it for the public only if he misbehaves. “If I feel that you’re not doing right by John Ross … or if I get up on the wrong side of the bed one morning. Or if I’m simply bored – then I’ll release the movie. And then, J.R., you will be the laughingstock of Texas.” Corny? Sure, but also mighty triumphant – and darn memorable. (“Reel Life”)

Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval

Never too late

5. Cliff’s regret. My favorite Ken Kercheval scene: Cliff summons Miss Ellie to a park and apologizes for perpetuating his father’s grudge against the Ewings. “Digger was wrong, and I was wrong. If it’s not too late. I’d like to make peace. I’d like to ask you to forgive me,” Cliff says. In an interview with Dallas Decoder, Kercheval fondly recalled his friendship with Bel Geddes. What a shame these two pros didn’t get more screen time together. (“Brother Can You Spare a Child?”)

Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing

American dad

4. Jock’s plea. After Pam suffered her first heartbreaking miscarriage, Jock (Jim Davis) sat at her bedside and begged her and Bobby not to leave Southfork. “Us Ewings, we’re just not an easy family to live with, as you found out. We’ve had things our way for so long that maybe – well, maybe it got in the way of our being just people. I guess that you don’t have no reason to really care, but I want to keep my family together.” Who knew the old man could be so soft? (“Barbecue”)

Dallas, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

He knows father best

3. Ray’s tribute. Ray (Steve Kanaly) tries to make Miss Ellie accept Jock’s death by reminding her of his humanity. “He was a man, just like anybody else. He had friends. He had lots of friends. But he had enemies, too. He was human, ambitious. He knew that the oil game was rough, hardball all the way. But he wanted what was best for his wife, and for his sons. And he did what he thought was right.” The most honest eulogy Jock ever received. (“Acceptance”)

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Honor thy daddy

2. J.R.’s promise. J.R. (Larry Hagman), after slipping into a depression over Jock’s death, addresses a portrait of his father. “I’m back, Daddy. And nobody’s going to take Ewing Oil away from me. Or my son, or his son. I swear to you. By God, I’m going to make you proud of me.” The combination of Hagman’s conviction, scriptwriter David Paulsen’s dialogue and Bruce Broughton’s rousing score never fails to give me chills. (“The Phoenix”)

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy

Exit the hero

1. Bobby’s goodbye. As Bobby (Patrick Duffy) lay dying in his hospital bed, he bids his family farewell. To Miss Ellie: “Oh, Mama. I’m sorry.” To Pam: “All that wasted time. We should’ve been married.” He seems to be looking at J.R. when he delivers his last words: “Be a family. I love you so much.” Duffy has never been better, and when the monitor flatlines and Principal leaps? Fuhgeddaboudit! Yes, the scene’s emotional impact is diminished somewhat by the fact it turned out to be a dream. Still, does “Dallas” get better than this? (“Swan Song”)

Which “Dallas” monologues moved you most? Share your choices below and read more “Dal-Lists.”

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 103 – ‘Goodbye, Cliff Barnes’



“Goodbye, Cliff Barnes” leaves the title character’s fate up in the air after he tries to kill himself, making this the most literal of all “Dallas” cliffhangers. For a long time, I also considered it one of the show’s least satisfying season finales. Was there ever any doubt Cliff would survive?

I now realize that’s not the real question here. Cliff is merely a supporting player in the bigger story of “Dallas’s” fifth season: J.R.’s fight to reclaim Sue Ellen and John Ross. As the year draws to a close, everything is going his way – until Cliff, depressed over being beaten by J.R. yet again, overdoses on tranquilizers. Suddenly, J.R.’s grand plan to reunite his family looks like it’s going to collapse.

The final scene is telling. J.R. and a guilt-ridden Sue Ellen hover at the hospital bedside of the comatose Cliff. “If Cliff dies, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to marry you,” she says. Larry Hagman inhales, and as the frame freezes and the executive producer credit flashes, the image we’re left with isn’t Cliff with that tube coming out of his mouth; it’s a shot of an anxious – and possibly conscience-stricken – J.R.

You have to admit: This is a pretty nifty trick by the people who made the show. Cliff is the character who might be dying, but J.R. is the one we’re worried about. This cliffhanger is also the act of confident storytellers. Although “Dallas’s” ratings dropped during the 1981-82 season from the “Who Shot J.R.?”-inflated highs of the previous year, it was still the most popular show on television. The producers knew they didn’t need a gimmicky finale to keep the audience hooked.

Of course, even though “Goodbye, Cliff Barnes” keeps the focus on Hagman, don’t overlook Ken Kerchval. He delivers his most moving performance since Cliff’s reunion with Rebecca at the end of the previous season. Kercheval is especially heartbreaking in the scene where Cliff begs Sue Ellen to take him back. “I know I can start over. I know I can build a new life if you’ll just believe in me and love me,” he says through sobs. This is why I love Kercheval: He’s never afraid to show us Cliff at his most pathetic. Kercheval is probably “Dallas’s” bravest actor.

Linda Gray does a beautiful job in this scene too. Tears streak her face when Sue Ellen rejects Cliff’s plea and tells him she has accepted J.R.’s marriage proposal. “Cliff, I don’t want to see you again. Please go,” she says. Bruce Broughton’s background music, which includes those exquisite strings, adds to this scene’s tragic spirit. (I also love Gray’s breathy delivery in the episode’s final moments. “If Cliff dies, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to marry you” is one of those bits of “Dallas” dialogue I like to go around quoting, not because it’s such a great line but because it’s so much fun to imitate Gray’s performance. Try it yourself sometime.)

Two other scenes in “Goodbye, Cliff Barnes” mine “Dallas’s” rich history. In the first, Cliff gets drunk in a dive bar, evoking memories of Digger’s debut in “Dallas’s” first episode. Later, Rebecca storms into Southfork, confronts Miss Ellie and points out how the Barnes men always seem to end up carrying torches for Ewing women. It’s a great moment not just because Barbara Bel Geddes and Priscilla Pointer are such fun to watch, but also because it’s nice to see their characters finally acknowledge the complicated history they share.

Other highlights: The glamorous shot of J.R. and Sue Ellen kissing after a night at the symphony. The fun scenes of Bobby and Pam chasing down clues about Christopher’s paternity in Los Angeles (even if Pam forgives Bobby a little too easily for initially lying about the child’s identity). Howard Keel’s nice performance in the scene where Clayton scuttles his plan to propose to Sue Ellen.

None of this makes “Goodbye, Cliff Barnes” the show’s best cliffhanger, but it’s certainly much better than I remembered. Then again, that’s turned out to be true for much of the fifth season. These episodes are three decades old, but they still manage to surprise me. It’s another reason “Dallas” is such a durable show.

Grade: B


Dark of the moon

Dark of the moon


Season 5, Episode 26

Airdate: April 9, 1982

Audience: 27.9 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: Sue Ellen accepts J.R.’s marriage proposal and breaks the news to Cliff, who tries to kill himself by overdosing on tranquilizers. After Rebecca vows revenge, Miss Ellie promises to oust J.R. as Ewing Oil’s president. Bobby and Pam learn Farraday, not J.R., fathered Christopher. Lucy tells Muriel that Roger raped her.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Karlene Crockett (Muriel Gillis), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Phyllis Flax (Mrs. Chambers), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Bob Hoy (Detective Howard), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper)

“Goodbye, Cliff Barnes” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 99 – ‘Vengeance’

Caught in a bad romance

Caught in a bad romance

Cliff and Sue Ellen’s renewed romance dominates “Vengeance,” but we see their affair mostly through the eyes of the other “Dallas” characters. Miss Ellie cautions Sue Ellen about the relationship and later frets about the affair during a lunch date with J.R., while Cliff gets an earful from Rebecca. No one seems to believe these two are really in love, including Sue Ellen and Cliff themselves.

Ken Kercheval and Linda Gray share one scene in “Vengeance,” when Cliff dines at Sue Ellen’s townhouse and asks her to marry him. It isn’t much of a proposal. Cliff doesn’t offer her a ring, although he promises he’ll take care of her material needs. “I’m on the verge of one of the biggest deals of my life, and I’ll be able to support you very well indeed,” Cliff says. She tells him she’ll need time to think about it, but the anguished expression on Gray’s face lets us know her character’s heart has its answer already.

Cliff also seems to know he and Sue Ellen aren’t good for each other. I believe Cliff cares for Sue Ellen, but there’s little doubt the main reason he’s gotten involved with her again is because he knows how much it will upset J.R. Notice how defensive Cliff gets when Rebecca tells him she worries her son and J.R. will “destroy each other” over Sue Ellen. “Now wait a minute, I’m supposed to give up Sue Ellen because I’m afraid of a fight with J.R.?” Cliff asks. Kercheval is always fascinating to watch, but he does an especially nice job conveying Cliff’s self-denial here.

My other favorite “Vengeance” moments include Miss Ellie’s conversations with J.R. and Sue Ellen, as well as Bobby’s confrontation with Jeff Farraday. (The latter scene is cool mainly because it takes place in the hallway outside the Ewing Oil executive suites. Who knew the geology and engineering departments were right around the corner from J.R. and Bobby’s offices?)

I also like Ellie and Rebecca’s scene in the Southfork living room, although just once I’d like to see these women stop worrying about their adult children and spend a little time talking about themselves. Both characters were central figures in the beginning of the Barnes-Ewing feud; wouldn’t it be nice to see them reflect on the history they share as the wives of Jock and Digger?

The “Vengeance” scene where Roger slips into Lucy’s car and orders her to drive away is also nicely done. Composer Bruce Broughton’s background score is chilling, and Charlene Tilton looks terrified. Of course, I can’t help but wonder why the Ewings allowed Lucy to get involved with this creep in the first place. Maybe they were too busy meddling in Sue Ellen’s love life?

Grade: B


Drive, he said

Drive, he said


Season 5, Episode 22

Airdate: March 12, 1982

Audience: 27 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Howard Lakin

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: Cliff proposes to Sue Ellen, who tells him she needs time to think about it. J.R. spooks Clayton and sets up Cliff to take a huge financial fall. After Mitch tells Lucy their marriage is over, Roger abducts her. J.R. receives confirmation Christopher is Kristin’s son.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), James Brown (Harry McSween), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Art Hindle (Jeff Farraday), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Arthur Malet (Mr. Forest), Leigh McCloskey (Dr. Mitch Cooper), Gary Pagett (Murphy), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dennis Redfield (Roger Larson), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Ray Wise (Blair Sullivan)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 93 – ‘The Phoenix’

Rising son

Rising son

Two great scenes bookend “The Phoenix.” In the first, J.R. brings John Ross to Ewing Oil on a Sunday morning so the little boy can see where Daddy works. This is Larry Hagman at his most charming – and mischievous. As J.R. carries his son through the reception area, he points out where “Daddy’s pretty secretaries” sit, then nods toward the hallway and says, “That’s your Uncle Bobby’s office, where he does whatever he does around here.”

Moments later, J.R. shows John Ross his oil derrick model, then plops the child in his desk chair, gives it a few spins and waxes sentimental. “Your granddaddy taught me everything I know about this business,” J.R. says. “He’d be so proud if he knew I was doing the same with you.” It’s an unabashedly sweet moment.

In “The Phoenix’s” final scene, J.R. wanders into Jock’s office and delivers a stirring monologue while gazing at the Ewing patriarch’s famous portrait, which is seen for the first time since its debut before the closing credits in “The Search.” I’ve watched this scene a lot over the years, and the combination of Hagman’s conviction – especially when he delivers the final line (“By God, I’m going to make you proud of me”) – and Bruce Broughton’s rousing score never fails to give me chills.

(Of course, even though J.R.’s speech is moving, I can’t help but wonder why this is the first time we’ve seen Jock’s office. Did the producers build the set just so they could introduce the painting, which becomes “Dallas’s” most iconic prop? Also, pay attention to the nameplate on Jock’s office door. It reads “Jock Ewing” in the close-up and “J. Ewing” in the wide shot.)

Overall, “The Phoenix” is another solid hour from “Dallas’s” fifth season. I especially like Ray’s storyline. In this episode, he sleeps with Bonnie, the barfly who’s been keeping him company while he spends his nights wallowing in self-pity at the Longview bar. I used to find Ray’s marital lapse shocking, but now I realize it’s perfectly in keeping with his character. Ray has always struggled with feelings of self worth. By cheating, he’s not trying to hurt Donna. He’s trying to hurt himself.

The other highlight of “The Phoenix” is Afton’s mesmerizing rendition of “All of Me” at the fancy nightclub where Cliff has gotten her a job. I always love hearing Audrey Landers perform on the show, and this might be her best number. It doesn’t hurt that Landers looks positively glamorous in that slinky blue sequined gown.

More than anything, I like how Afton stands up for herself when she realizes Cliff still pines for Sue Ellen. It makes me wonder: Does the title of this episode refer to J.R., who is rising from the ashes of his despair over Jock’s death – or is it meant to describe Afton, who is beginning to take flight as one of the great “Dallas” heroines?

Grade: A


Lady sings in blue

Lady sings in blue


Season 5, Episode 16

Airdate: January 29, 1982

Audience: 23.1 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Harry Harris

Synopsis: J.R. decides he doesn’t want Jock’s will read because he fears John Ross could lose a portion of his inheritance. Ray sleeps with old flame Bonnie. Cliff dates Afton while pining for Sue Ellen. Pam urges Bobby to learn more about Christopher’s real parents. Roger stalks Lucy.

Cast: Robert Ackerman (Wade Luce), Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Lindsay Bloom (Bonnie), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Susan Damante-Shaw (Carolyn Carter), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Dan Hamilton (Eric), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Leigh McCloskey (Dr. Mitch Cooper), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dennis Redfield (Roger Larson), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Vernon Weddle (McGregor), K.C. Winkler (Melinda)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 90 – ‘The Search’

Gone, but not forgotten

Gone, but not forgotten

With “The Search,” “Dallas” says goodbye to Jim Davis but not to Jock Ewing. This memorable episode sends J.R., Bobby and Ray into the jungle to find their missing father, but the only thing they recover is his medallion, which Bobby retrieves from the lake where the old man’s helicopter crashed. By the end of the hour, there’s no doubt Jock is dead, even if there’s no body to prove it.

I used to be bothered by the lack of closure for the Ewing patriarch, but I’ve come to appreciate how it heightens the drama in the episodes after “The Search,” when Miss Ellie struggles to accept the truth that her husband is never coming home. I also wonder: Would Jock be the mythic figure he is today if he had died in a hospital bed or been killed in a car crash? Having him disappear after his helicopter falls from the sky feels oddly appropriate for a character who was always a little larger than life.

One thing is certain: The producers waited too long to deal with Davis’s death. The actor succumbed to cancer eight months before “The Search” aired, but “Dallas” kept Jock alive in the interim by sending the character to “South America” (foreign locales on this show are almost always vague) and having the Ewings regularly receive calls and letters from him. It reminds me of those “Three’s Company” episodes where an out-of-town Chrissie wouldn’t appear until the final scene, when she’d phone her roommates to get an update on their latest hijinks.

This criticism aside, I like how “The Search” summons “Dallas’s” western spirit by having the Ewing brothers embark on a dangerous mission to rescue their daddy. The men carry rifles and wear their Stetsons; the only thing missing is seeing them on horseback. While the brothers are away, the Ewing women keep vigil at Southfork, and all the characters experience flashbacks to some of Jock’s most memorable moments.

These old clips are nice because they demonstrate how valuable Davis was to “Dallas.” With the exception of Barbara Bel Geddes and Larry Hagman, no other actor on the show could match Davis in terms of sheer presence. It didn’t matter if Jock was being tough or tender; Davis commanded every scene he appeared in. In an audio commentary on one of the second-season “Dallas” DVDs, Hagman recalls how Davis lacked confidence in his performances. What a shame. Jim Davis was a great actor. He deserved to know it.

One final observation about “The Search’s” flashbacks: Yes, they are a little hokey by today’s standards – each one is accompanied by those wavy special effects – but remember: This episode was produced years before “Dallas” went into syndicated reruns. This was the first time in years a lot of fans had seen those classic scenes.

No matter how you feel about the rest of “The Search,” it’s impossible to watch the ending and not be moved. The sequence begins when Ellie, who has been waiting patiently for word from her sons, awakens in the night and walks downstairs, where she quietly takes her seat at the dining room table. This scene has no musical score – you can even hear Ellie’s footsteps – which is what makes it so effective. In this big house full of people, Mama has never seemed more alone.

While the Ewing matriarch sits in the dark, her sons arrive home and walk into the dining room. Each man is stubble-faced, and each one holds his hat. “I’m sorry Mama,” Bobby says. Her eyes well up, but she holds it together. “Tell me what happened,” she says. Bobby and Ray sit with her at the table and Bobby holds his mother’s hand, but the moment proves too much for J.R., who walks away.

J.R. steps onto the patio, looking a little dazed. He leans against one of the big white columns, reaches into his pocket, pulls out Jock’s medallion and studies it. By now, Bruce Broughton’s score has resumed and started to swell. J.R. smiles and briefly casts his eyes skyward, and when he looks down, we notice how red and wet they are.

The frame freezes and the screen briefly fades to black, and then we get our first glimpse of the Jock Ewing portrait, which will go on to become “Dallas’s” most famous prop. The words “Jim Davis 1909 – 1981” appear. That’s when we know: Davis may be gone, but Jock Ewing is going to live forever.

Grade: A


Those eyes

Those eyes


Season 5, Episode 13

Airdate: January 8, 1982

Audience: 26 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: J.R., Bobby and Ray go to South America, where they determine Jock likely died in the helicopter crash. The brothers return to Southfork and break the news to Miss Ellie.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), George Cooper (Lee Evans), Mary Crosby (Kristin Shepard), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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