Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 39 — ‘Endgame’

Dallas, Endgame, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, TNT, Which Ewing Dies?

Our hero

In “Endgame,” does John Ross go to Mexico to save his company or his mistress? He later tells Emma his rescue mission was strictly business, but I’m not convinced. John Ross seems to genuinely care for her, which makes his decision to take her place as Luis’s hostage seem surprisingly selfless. It brings to mind the occasions when J.R. acted nobly, like the time he rescued his kidnapped son from the clutches of the villainous B.D. Calhoun. I suppose this makes John Ross’s heroics in “Endgame” yet another example of how the poor guy can’t escape Daddy’s shadow. Whenever John Ross does bad, he reminds us of J.R.; now we know the same thing is true when John Ross does good.

Not that our young hero is willing to admit this to anyone, or even to himself. At the beginning of “Endgame,” after Bobby shoots down John Ross’s offer to bypass the CIA and meet with Luis to negotiate Emma’s release, Pamela accuses her estranged husband of using Emma’s rescue as a smokescreen to reclaim Ewing Global from the cartel. Pamela’s words seem to sting John Ross, prompting her to deadpan, “Oh, my God. Have you actually convinced yourself you’re doing it for her?” John Ross quickly regains his composure, flashes his grin and responds, “You know me better than that. The only person I’ve ever cared about is me.”

John Ross might be mocking Pamela’s lack of faith in him, or he could be using his bravado to shield his softer side, something J.R. was known to do too. After all, there are plenty of examples of John Ross demonstrating concern for others, including the scene earlier this season when he sat on Pamela’s hospital bed and poured out his heart to her. Also, consider what happens in “Endgame” after John Ross has defied Bobby and gone to the Mexican house to see Luis. The two men are sitting at the kitchen table, hashing out their deal, when a cartel thug brings Emma into the room. John Ross instantly leaps to his feet and goes toward her, only to have another gunman shove him back into his seat. If John Ross was as self-centered as he claims, would his instincts compel him to go to Emma the moment he spots her?

Regardless of what’s going on inside John Ross’s head and heart, it’s fun to watch Josh Henderson swagger his way through “Endgame,” wearing that cool leather jacket and delivering all the instantly quotable dialogue in Bruce Rasmussen’s script. When John Ross visits the commando-for-hire Walter (more shades of B.D. Calhoun), Walter asks him why he needs his services. John Ross’s crisp response: “In the next couple of days, I’m going to get myself in a very bad situation. I’d like you to come get me out of it.” Henderson also gets to play the tough guy at the end of episode, when the newly freed Emma shares her fear the cartel will kill him. “People may die in this house, but it ain’t gonna be me,” John Ross says. And like every good action hero, Henderson also gets to toss off some one-liners, like this gem about the perpetually in-the-dark Ewings: “We’re slow, but we do figure things out.”

If “Endgame” feels like an action movie version of “Dallas,” I suspect that’s purely intentional. The original show also did action episodes, although many of them drew from “Dallas’s” western traditions, unlike “Endgame,” which is darker and more noirish. The pacing is relentless from the get-go; before the credits even roll, U.S. marshals have stormed Nicolas and Elena’s lake house. The thrills continue when Bobby retrieves Ann from the trunk she’s been stuffed into and when Nicolas makes his getaway in a scramble of minivans, which has the odd effect of making us admire the bad guys’ craftiness. I also like the tension director Millicent Shelton builds when the kidnapped Emma comes so close to passing a note to a neighborhood boy, only to be caught by Luis. (The implication that he then rapes Emma is heartbreaking, although I suspect it will give the wonderful Emma Bell some good material to work with if the show returns next year.)

Shelton balances all the suspense with quiet surprises. I expected the long-awaited meeting of Sue Ellen Ewing and Judith Ryland to be a dramatic showdown between two soap queens, but it turns out to be anything but. In the scene, everyone is nervously awaiting word from Bobby’s visit to the Mexican house when he calls and tells Sue Ellen he’s coming home with Ann — but not Emma. Judith hears this and accuses Bobby of betraying the Rylands by saving “that bitch wife of his,” but instead of spewing venom back at Judith, Sue Ellen tries to comfort her. Linda Gray makes her character’s sympathy palpable, while Judith Light manages to pound the coffee table — and her head — without getting too theatrical. What could have become a moment of camp instead stirs feelings of compassion.

“Endgame’s” biggest surprise of all is how absorbing I find the cartel drama, a storyline I’ve knocked more than once this year. The casting has proven superb, especially Juan Pablo Di Pace as Nicolas and Antonio Jaramillo as Luis. In some scenes, I despise these characters and in others, I feel sympathetic toward them; occasionally, I experience both feelings at the same time. (I also like Carlos Miranda, who does a nice turn as Fernando, the sweet-faced thug whom Emma charms in her bid for freedom.) The “sibling” rivalry between the oh-so-smooth Nicolas and the rough-around-the-edges Luis is another clever touch, and I love how Rasmussen’s script has John Ross play on Luis’s insecurities by comparing his relationship with Nicolas to John Ross’s relationship with Christopher.

It all culminates in “Endgame’s” tense, taut climax, when El Pozolero delivers his blunt description of the cartel: “We are not businessmen who commit crimes. We are criminals who do business.” (Another line about murder being “a wonderful bonding experience” is memorable for the wrong reason.) I also like seeing El Pozolero referring the argument between his squabbling “sons,” which comes off like a parallel universe version of the great scenes where Bobby sits at his desk in the Southfork den, mediating fights between John Ross and Christopher. Watching this scene again yesterday, it struck me: After the events of the next episode, “Brave New World,” we’ll never see Bobby intervene in another clash between the Ewing cousins. How sad is that?

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, Emma Bell, Emma Ryland, Endgame, TNT, Which Ewing Dies?

Prisonera

‘ENDGAME’

Season 3, Episode 14

Telecast: September 22, 2014

Audience: 1.72 million viewers on September 22

Writer: Bruce Rasmussen

Director: Millicent Shelton

Synopsis: Bobby asks Luis to release Emma, but Luis frees Ann instead. When Emma tries to escape, Luis rapes her. After the CIA finds Nicolas and takes him into custody, he agrees to lead U.S. marshals to a meeting with El Pozolero at the Mexican house, but once the cartel’s thugs have Nicolas, they ditch the feds. John Ross tells Judith that Harris is working with the CIA, hires a commando squad to secretly follow him to Mexico and then goes to the cartel’s house, where he persuades Luis to sell him the Ewing Global assets in exchange for Emma’s release. After Emma returns Southfork, El Pozolero and Nicolas converge at the house, where Nicolas tries to prove his mettle by pointing a gun at John Ross’s head as Luis pressures him to shoot.

Cast: Emma Bell (Emma Ryland), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Juan Pablo Di Pace (Nicolas Treviño), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Antonio Jaramillo (Luis), Judith Light (Judith Ryland), Carlos Miranda (Fernando), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Kevin Page (Bum), Gino Anthony Pesi (George Tatangelo), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Miguel Sandoval (El Pozolero), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Mikal Vega (Walter)

“Endgame” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.