Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 35 – ‘The Dove Hunt’

Dallas, Dove Hunt, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing

Facing his past

“The Dove Hunt” is a western, plain and true. It drops the Ewing men into the Louisiana wilderness, but it might as well transport them to the 18th-century frontier. The themes scriptwriters D.C. and Richard Fontana explore here – honor, justice, redemption – are timeless.

Throughout “The Dove Hunt,” we don’t know why craggy-faced Tom Owens is stalking the Ewings’ hunting party. In the next-to-last scene, Owens finally comes face to face with Jock and reveals he wants to avenge events from 32 years earlier, when Jock forced Owens to sell him his farmland, ruining him.

The tense confrontation climaxes when Owens points his rifle at Jock, who doesn’t flinch. “Come on,” Jock huffs. “If you’re gonna do it, do it.”

While composer John Parker builds a drumbeat in the background, director Leonard Katzman zooms in for tight close-ups of Jim Davis and Robert J. Wilke, the veteran villain-of-the-week (“Bonanza,” “Gunsmoke”) who plays Owens.

Finally, Owens lowers his gun. “I can’t. I’m not a killer,” he says.

What a great scene. We watch it knowing Owens isn’t really going to kill Jock – after all, this is 1970s episodic television, where the hero never dies – but the confrontation is still dramatic.

Much of the credit goes to Davis and Wilke. Both actors did a ton of westerns before “Dallas,” and they know exactly what a scene like this calls for. Wilke makes Owens menacing, while Davis’s steely courage has us rooting for Jock, even though we never doubt for a minute the Ewing patriarch wronged Owens when they were younger.

I also love the Fontanas’ beautiful dialogue at the end of the scene, when Owens asks Jock why he isn’t pressing charges against him.

“I owe you, that’s all,” Jock says. “Back in those days, I ran roughshod over a lot of people. I don’t remember you, Owens, but I should have – because you got a lot of pride. When you get right down to it, that’s all a man can take to his grave.”

Ultimately, this is what makes “The Dove Hunt” so good. There are no white hats and black hats here. Owens isn’t seeking revenge as much as he’s seeking justice, the only way he knows how; Jock’s redemptive impulses allow us to forgive him for strong-arming Owens all those years ago.

This is a western, but a morally ambiguous one. With “Dallas,” would we expect anything less?

Grade: A

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Dallas, Dove Hunt, Robert J. Wilke, Tom Owens

Not a killer

‘THE DOVE HUNT’

Season 3, Episode 6

Airdate: October 26, 1979

Audience: 20.1 million homes, ranking 6th in the weekly ratings

Writers: D.C. Fontana and Richard Fontana

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: On a hunting trip, Jock and J.R. are ambushed by a farmer Jock once strong-armed in business. While awaiting rescue, Jock confesses to J.R. he was married briefly before Miss Ellie and later vows to make amends with people he treated unfairly while building Ewing Oil. Ellie has a lump in her breast examined.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Thomas Callaway (Dan Owens), Mary Crosby (Kristin Shepard), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stefan Gierasch (Ben Masters), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Robert J. Wilke (Tom Owens), John Zaremba (Dr. Harlan Danvers)

“The Dove Hunt” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.