Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 131 — ‘Ewing Inferno’

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

Surprise, surprise

“Ewing Inferno” famously ends with J.R., Sue Ellen, Ray and John Ross trapped inside Southfork as fire sweeps through the house. I wonder: When this episode debuted in 1983, did anyone doubt all four characters would escape the blaze? After all, three of them appear in the opening credits and the fourth is a child; by the conventions of 1980s television, their survival seems assured. Not that I’m complaining. This may not be “Dallas’s” most suspenseful cliffhanger, but it does put a poetic punctuation mark on the sixth season. After a year in which everything goes to hell for the Ewings, what could be more fitting than seeing them surrounded by flames?

Besides, it’s not like “Ewing Inferno” doesn’t deliver its share of surprises, especially where J.R. is concerned. When the episode begins, he’s business as usual, demanding $20 million from Holly to leave her company. Later, in one of their classic clashes, J.R. lobs such ugly insults at Pam that she slaps him. (“Damn, I hate that woman,” he says as she stomps away.) Then, in the second act, J.R. has an honest-to-goodness epiphany. He brings little John Ross into the bedroom to give Sue Ellen a goodnight kiss, only to find her passed out, an empty bottle of booze at her side. J.R. sends the boy away, sits on the bed and gazes at his wife. “I know you’ll never trust me again, Sue Ellen,” he says. “But I love you. … We should’ve had a wonderful life together. What have I done to you?” The monologue brings to mind the second-season finale, when J.R. sits at the hospital bedside of a comatose Sue Ellen and laments the turn their marriage has taken. Now here he is, four years later, delivering a similar speech. As Miss Ellie wondered a few episodes ago: Doesn’t he ever learn?

Perhaps he does. In the next scene, Bobby comes home and finds J.R. alone in the Southfork living room. The mood is somber, serious. Bobby asks how Sue Ellen is doing. “Not good,” J.R. responds. He tells Bobby that he’s been thinking “real hard” about their fight for Ewing Oil, and the toll it has taken on the people around them. Both brothers’ marriages have suffered. Miss Ellie is heartbroken. Rebecca Wentworth is dead. Mickey Trotter is dying. “I’m not sure that this fight between us is worth what it cost the family,” J.R. says. Bobby is stunned and asks J.R. if he wants to end the contest. J.R.’s response: “By my calculation, I’m way ahead of you, but I really don’t give a damn.”

I really don’t give a damn. Not since J.R. slipped into his deep depression after Jock’s death has our hero seemed so unmoored.

‘Into Oblivion’

Dallas, Ewing Inferno, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

But not oblivious

J.R. and Bobby don’t get around to finishing this conversation, but no matter. There’s no doubt J.R. has been humbled. Consider the third act’s final scene. After ordering Teresa to lock up the liquor, J.R. finds Sue Ellen getting drunk in the living room, having swiped a bottle of burgundy from the kitchen. The confrontation that follows plays like something out of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” As J.R. stands still and stares ahead, Sue Ellen circles him, a glass in one hand, the wine bottle in the other, and releases her fury. She references his marital sins (“Did you find someone new to sleep with today? Or did you have to rely on one of your old mistresses?”) and tells him he “ruined” her life. Then, to show how she has stopped giving a damn, Sue Ellen moves closer to J.R. and whispers, “Now, why don’t you do one kind little thing for me, hmm? Unlock the liquor, because I’m going to drink myself into oblivion.”

Linda Gray and Larry Hagman are magnificent in this scene. Every one of her lines drips with acid, while his stoic expression makes this a cathartic moment for the audience. J.R. doesn’t fight back because he knows he’s wrong. He accepts Sue Ellen’s punishing words because he deserves them. Even at the end of the scene, when Sue Ellen flings the bottle at him and it smashes against the wall, J.R. barely flinches. Where his wife is concerned, J.R. simply doesn’t have any fight left in him — although as the big red stain on the wallpaper foreshadows, a different kind of battle is about to come to him.

‘The Last Person in the World’

Dallas, Ewing Inferno, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Daddy’s watching

J.R.’s chastening during the course of “Ewing Inferno” is thorough but incomplete. In the final scene, when Ray arrives at Southfork to confront him, J.R. offers his half-brother a typically frosty greeting. “Ray, you’re about the last person in the world I needed to see tonight,” he says. I usually laugh when Hagman delivers a line like this, but there’s nothing funny about J.R.’s dark mood. Before long, the two men are scuffling, and even though the fight scene isn’t exactly credible — stuntmen are clearly substituting for Hagman and Steve Kanaly in the wide shots, J.R. knocks out Ray with a plastic telephone — there’s something deeply poignant about Ray’s attempt to avenge Mickey and J.R.’s determination to rescue his family once the fire starts. How can you not feel moved when he notices the blaze, cries out for his wife and son and braves the flames to try to save them?

Also, consider this: For two seasons, J.R. and Ray have each struggled to honor the dead father they worshipped. J.R. tries to do it through business, while Ray tries to emulate Jock by taking Mickey under his wing, just like Jock did with young Ray. I suppose that’s why it’s so fitting that J.R. and Ray’s fight occurs under the watchful gaze of Jock’s portrait, which looms in the background of so many crucial scenes during the sixth season, including the will reading and J.R. and Sue Ellen’s spat after she catches him in bed with Holly. What hath Jock wrought?

‘Our Marriage Doesn’t Work’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Ewing Inferno, Patrick Duffy

Cry, Bobby

For all its poignancy, the true cliffhanger in “Ewing Inferno” has nothing to do with the Southfork fire. The question I’m left asking is this: What will Bobby do? After J.R. offers to call off their fight, Bobby receives a phone call from Pam, who tells him she’s decided to give him the Tundra Torque, the experimental drill bit he needs to move forward with his Canadian oil venture. Since the deal is a guaranteed blockbuster, it will almost certainly allow Bobby to clinch victory over J.R. Bobby now has a dilemma: Should he make peace with his brother, or should he see the contest through until the end, knowing he has what it takes to finally beat J.R.?

By the end of the episode, Bobby’s decision isn’t clear, although his conversation with Katherine in the next-to-last scene suggests he will indeed use the drill bit. Regardless, I wish scriptwriter Arthur Bernard Lewis had paid more attention to this subplot and shown Bobby weighing his choices. After a season of tough ethical compromises, wouldn’t this be Bobby’s biggest decision yet?

On the other hand: Lewis has a lot of narrative ground to cover, and he does a nice job bringing the other storylines to a climactic finish. The cast does good work too. The scene where Pam tells Bobby she wants a divorce (“Our marriage doesn’t work anymore”) is very moving, especially when that single tear begins its slow journey down Patrick Duffy’s cheek. I also love when Pam tells Cliff and Katherine that she’s decided to give Bobby the drill bit. What’s more fun: Ken Kercheval’s combustible response or Morgan Brittany’s sly smirk? The guest stars shine too: Kate Reid is mesmerizing when she delivers Aunt Lil’s weary monologue, Ben Piazza is the profile in agony when Driscoll visits Mickey’s bedside, and thanks to Barry Corbin, I feel every bit of Sheriff Washburn’s frustration when Ray goes rogue during the investigation into Mickey’s accident.

Like so many other “Dallas” episodes during the sixth season, “Ewing Inferno” also makes me appreciate the technical expertise behind the camera. Fred W. Berger, the editor, won an Emmy for this episode. Surely director Leonard Katzman deserves one too. In the fourth act, I like how he shows J.R. escorting Dr. Danvers out of the bedroom, through the hall and down the stairs into the foyer. The sequence establishes how these spaces fit together, so that during the fire, when J.R. races up the steps and collapses, we understand his proximity to his wife and son.

You also have to admire Katzman’s lack of restraint. According to Barbara A. Curran’s 2004 book “Dallas: The Complete Story of the World’s Favorite Prime-Time Soap,” Katzman built a replica of the Southfork foyer, just so he could burn it down for this episode’s final scene. That’s pretty spectacular, even if it isn’t all that suspenseful.

Grade: A+

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

Welcome to Hell

‘EWING INFERNO’

Season 6, Episode 28

Airdate: May 6, 1983

Audience: 20.3 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: J.R. offers to end the contest for Ewing Oil. Pam decides to divorce Bobby but gives him the Tundra Torque, enraging Cliff. Driscoll kills himself after revealing he drove the car that struck Sue Ellen and Mickey’s vehicle because he thought J.R. was behind the wheel at the time. After Ray learns of Driscoll’s role in the crash, he gets into a fight with J.R. During the scuffle, Southfork catches fire, trapping J.R., Sue Ellen, Ray and John Ross.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Barry Corbin (Sheriff Fenton Washburn), John Devlin (Clouse), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Ben Piazza (Walt Driscoll), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), John Zaremba (Dr. Harlan Danvers)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 121 — ‘Requiem’

Dallas, Pam Ewing, Priscilla Pointer, Rebecca Wentworth, Requiem, Victoria Principal

Goodbye, Mama

Rebecca Wentworth swept into “Dallas” like a character from a Douglas Sirk movie, so it’s only fitting that she leaves in the same manner. Her death in “Requiem” is pure soap opera. In the scene, Rebecca lies in a hospital bed after being injured in a plane crash, but except for the white bandages that frame her face, you would never know this woman had just suffered major trauma. With soft strings playing in the background, Rebecca makes Pam promise to take care of Cliff. “You’re my good girl,” she says. Through tears, mother and daughter declare their love for each other — and then the monitor flat lines, the music swells and a medical team rushes into the room. “Mama? Mama”?” Pam cries.

Larry Hagman directed “Requiem,” and I love how he pulls together all the technical aspects of this scene — the tight close-ups of Priscilla Pointer and Victoria Principal, Bruce Broughton’s dramatic underscore, the monitor’s extended beep — to create a moment that tugs at the heartstrings without apology. Pointer and Principal deserve praise too. The tears from both actresses flow freely, but neither one goes overboard. For an old-fashioned Hollywood death, the weeping feels quite real. (According to Barbara A. Curran’s “Dallas: The Complete Story of the World’s Favorite Prime-Time Soap,” Pointer’s daughter, the actress Amy Irving, was on the set the day this scene was filmed and cried along with her mother and Principal.)

The only thing more emotional than Rebecca’s death is the scene where Cliff finds out about it. It begins when Afton arrives at his townhouse and finds him curled up on the sofa, sleeping off a hangover. He doesn’t know Rebecca was in an accident, much less that she’s gone forever. As Afton breaks the sad news, Hagman slowly zooms in on Ken Kercheval’s face until it fills the frame. His anguished expression recalls the one he wore at the end of the recent “Ewings Unite!” episode of TNT’s “Dallas,” when Cliff orders the explosion of the Ewing Energies oil rig, even though he knows his pregnant daughter Pamela is aboard. Both expressions stir strong feelings: In the 1983 scene, I want to reach through my television screen and give Cliff a hug; in 2013, I want to wring his neck. Is there any doubt Kercheval is one of “Dallas’s” most gifted actors?

Other “Dallas” cast members shine in “Requiem” too. This is the episode that brings back Morgan Brittany after an extended break (before “Requiem,” her most recent appearance came in the 101st episode, “The Investigation”), and the actress gets to show us new shades of Katherine’s persona. I believe the character’s tears are real when she comes to Southfork to comfort Pam, although we’re also left with the impression that Katherine still harbors a crush on her sister’s husband. (“Pam, it must be such a comfort for you to have someone like Bobby,” she says.) We also begin to see Katherine’s knack for duplicity. She’s nice to Cliff when Pam’s around, but the moment Katherine and Cliff are alone, Katherine unleashes her venom and blames him for their mother’s death. “You did this! You killed her!” she screams.

The other highlight of “Requiem” is Rebecca’s funeral, which is one of “Dallas’s” grandest. Hagman opens the sequence with a wide shot of several limousines arriving at the cemetery. Next, we watch as the door to each car opens and the various Barneses, Ewings and Wentworths exit. They all march slowly into the cemetery, along with secondary characters like Jordan Lee, Marilee Stone and Punk and Mavis Anderson. There’s even a handful of reporters present to cover the action. This feels like a funeral fit for a queen, although the emotional kicker comes in the next scene. J.R. is in his office, watching TV news coverage of the burial, when Mike Hughes bursts into the room. Hughes, whom Rebecca was on her way to see when the Wentworth jet crashed, is furious because J.R. has decided to back out of his deal to buy his refinery. Since the point of Rebecca’s trip was to talk Hughes out of selling to J.R. in the first place, this means she died in vain, no?

“Requiem” also includes the famous scene where Miss Ellie speaks to Sue Ellen and predicts the Ewing grandsons will one day inherit their fathers’ rivalry. When this episode debuted 30 years ago, most viewers probably didn’t pay much attention to this scene, but since the debut of TNT’s sequel series, it’s come to occupy a prominent spot in “Dallas” lore. The conversation begins with Sue Ellen drawing a parallel between Rebecca’s death and J.R. losing his variance to pump more oil than anyone else in Texas. Ellie tells Sue Ellen the comparison is ridiculous. “Think 25 or 30 years ahead,” she says. “I won’t be here then. And the fight won’t be between J.R. and Bobby. It’ll be between John Ross and Christopher. Think carefully, Sue Ellen. Your loyalty to your husband is a wonderful thing, but you’re a mother too. And where will this all end?”

The most interesting part of Ellie’s speech isn’t her prediction about her grandsons, but the challenge she lays down to her daughter-in-law. “I won’t be here,” she tells Sue Ellen. The implication: But you will be, and it might be up to you to keep the peace in this family. Are you up to the task? Indeed, to watch this scene now is to see how much Sue Ellen has changed — and how much she hasn’t. In 2013, our heroine is John Ross’s biggest champion, just like she stood in J.R.’s corner three decades ago. But Sue Ellen has outgrown many of her other tendencies. Can you imagine her making the kind of shallow observation that she does in “Requiem,” when she equates J.R.’s business setback with Rebecca’s death? Make no mistake: Sue Ellen still has her share of struggles, but she’s come a long way. Witness the recent scene where she seemed to echo Ellie’s concern about the destructive patterns within the family Ewing.

Mama was right about a lot of things in 1983, but I bet even she couldn’t have predicted how wise Sue Ellen would become.

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval, Requiem

Good grief

‘REQUIEM’

Season 6, Episode 18

Airdate: February 11, 1983

Audience: 15.4 million homes, ranking 16th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Linda Elstad

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: Rebecca dies from injuries sustained in the plane crash. Katherine arrives for the funeral and blames Cliff for their mother’s death. Pam decides to take Christopher and leave Southfork. When the Texas Energy Commission revokes J.R.’s variance, he joins forces with Driscoll to secretly sell oil to Cuba.

Cast: 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), Jane D’Auvray (nurse), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Alice Hirson (Mavis Anderson), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), John Ingle (surgeon), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Richard Kuss (Mike Hughes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Ryan MacDonald (Casey), Ben Piazza (Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Arlen Dean Snyder (George Hicks), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 85 – ‘The Split’

Mind games

Mind games

Sending J.R. and Dusty to the Cotton Bowl for their big showdown at the end of “The Split” doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but who cares? The sequence is a logistical feat, and Larry Hagman and Jared Martin deliver terrific performances. This is one of those moments from the classic “Dallas” series that fans still talk about.

Leonard Katzman, who wrote and directed “The Split,” opens the scene with J.R. arriving at the stadium in his Mercedes. He drives through the gate, down the ramp and parks at the edge of the AstroTurf. This is the sort of thing Ewings can get away with. As J.R. gets out of his car and walks onto the field, we hear whirring, and then Katzman switches to a wide shot as Dusty’s helicopter floats in from the Dallas skyline and touches down on the 50-yard line.

The arrival is another example of how the Farlows are constantly one-upping the Ewings. Southfork is grand, but the Southern Cross is grander. Jock’s relationship with his sons is full of angst, while Clayton and Dusty get along just fine. One family spends years obsessing over the birth of their first grandson, and after he finally arrives, the other family ends up raising him.

Interestingly, J.R. doesn’t summon Dusty to the stadium because he wants him to turn over John Ross. No, this is about Sue Ellen. J.R. wants his wife back, and he knows to get her, he must first drive a wedge between her and Dusty. Why else does J.R. go to the trouble of insulting Dusty’s manhood and insinuating Sue Ellen and Clayton are sleeping together? This whole sequence is confirmation that J.R. still loves Sue Ellen.

As for the setting of the scene, the only reason to have it take place at the Cotton Bowl is for metaphorical value. J.R. and Dusty are a couple of gladiators, after all. And while I’m generally not a fan of excess – please note this site isn’t called “Dynasty Decoder” – there are times when big moments are called for. J.R.’s confrontation with the man who stole his woman is one such instance.

You also have to admire “Dallas” for going to all this trouble, as Martin recalls in Barbara A. Curran’s “Dallas: The Complete Story of the World’s Favorite Prime-Time Soap:”

“[T]he chopper had to arrive on time and touch down at the right spot, the light had to be constant, with no wind, Larry and I would be standing on the right spot, with the cameras rolling and in focus and if either actor came up dry all the elaborate step-by-step mechanics would need to be repeated – at great cost.”

TNT’s “Dallas” memorably paid tribute to Hagman and Martin’s scene at the end of its first episode, “Changing of the Guard,” when John Ross went to Cowboys Stadium to meet with Marta del Sol. Having those characters meet in that setting made no more sense than having J.R. meet Dusty at the Cotton Bowl.

But I loved it all the same.

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

He'll take his wife, please

He’ll take his wife, please

‘THE SPLIT’

Season 5, Episode 8

Airdate: November 27, 1981

Audience: 23.5 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Jock divides control of Ewing Oil among the family. Bobby decides against running for re-election. Donna’s book about Sam Culver is published, while Ray’s development deal hits a snag. Afton stops moonlighting for J.R. and spills his secrets to Cliff. J.R. tells Dusty he’ll never make Sue Ellen happy.

Cast: Bernard Behrens (Haskell), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Art Hindle (Jeff Farraday), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Andy Jarrel (Neal Hart), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Ted Shackelford (Gary Ewing), Barbara Stock (Heather Wilson), Robert Symonds (Martin Porter), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), David Tress (Walter Sher), Joan Van Ark (Valene Ewing), H.M. Wynant (Edward Chapman), Gretchen Wyler (Dr. Dagmara Conrad)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 74 – ‘Ewing vs. Ewing’

Davis rules

Davis rules

Jim Davis makes his last appearance as Jock in “Dallas’s” 75th hour, “New Beginnings,” but it’s more of a cameo than anything else. His final, “real” performance comes at the end of “Ewing vs. Ewing,” and no matter how many times I watch it, it never fails to move me.

Davis was diagnosed with inoperable cancer during the show’s fourth season, and when you watch these episodes, you can see him physically deteriorate, bit by bit. By the time “Ewing vs. Ewing” was filmed, the actor’s face had puffed up and his voice had been reduced to a rasp. It’s painful to witness.

Yet it’s also damned inspiring. Davis famously soldiered on despite his illness, and producer Leonard Katzman allowed him to continue to play Jock because he knew it was important to keep the actor’s spirits up. Barbara A. Curran’s book “Dallas: The Complete Story of the World’s Favorite Prime-Time Soap” includes an anecdote about how Katzman even gave Davis a peek at the scripts being prepared for the fifth season, just so the actor could see Jock would still be part of the show.

Of course, Jock never appeared during Season 5. Davis died 23 days after the broadcast of “Ewing vs. Ewing,” an uneven episode (Bobby’s use of “personal funds” to settle his senate committee’s debate over the Takapa project is an eye-roller) that nonetheless remains a sentimental favorite on the basis of that touching final scene, when Jock and Miss Ellie finally reconcile after spending half the season at war.

My favorite moment comes when Ellie admits she’s treated Jock unfairly and asks if he can forgive her. Davis delivers Jock’s response (“Nothing to forgive.”) with the same tender conviction he memorably exhibited during the third-season “Mastectomy” episodes.

Barbara Bel Geddes, who is absolutely perfect throughout “Ewing vs. Ewing” and especially in this final scene, gets the episode’s last line – “I love you, Jock” – and as I watch her deliver it, I have no doubt the tears in her eyes are real. I also know Bel Geddes isn’t just speaking for her character. She’s speaking for all of us.

Grade: B

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hug it out, Mama

Hug it out, Mama

‘EWING VS. EWING’

Season 4, Episode 20

Airdate: April 3, 1981

Audience: 23.3 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leah Markus

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: Bobby forges a compromise in the Takapa fight. Jock and Miss Ellie reconcile. J.R. continues his plann to sell Ewing Oil to Wendell. Cliff meets Afton and Pam tells him their mother is alive.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Cherie Beasley (Tootie Smith), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Senator Bobby Ewing), Susan Flannery (Leslie Stewart), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), John Hart (Senator Carson), Morgan Hart (Jenny Smith), David Healy (Senator Harbin), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Monte Markham (Clint Ogden), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), John Randolph (Lincoln Hargrove), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Craig Stevens (Greg Stewart), Christopher Stone (Dave Stratton), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Jay Varela (Senator Arvilla), Joseph Warren (Senator Dickson), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 61 – ‘The Fourth Son’

Dallas, Fourth Son, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Rising son

In “The Fourth Son’s” third act, Jock tells Ray he’s his father, a fact the Ewing patriarch didn’t discover until earlier in the episode but a truth he’s probably always known, deep down. The scene is beautifully written and performed, and no matter how often I watch it, it always moves me. “Dallas” simply doesn’t get better than this.

The sequence opens with Jock’s Lincoln Town Car kicking up dust as it comes down the gravel road toward Ray’s newly constructed rambler. Director Irving J. Moore brings us into the car for a close-up of Jim Davis, who looks serious as always but more pensive than usual. The Ewing patriarch is in the driver’s seat, but it isn’t clear where this journey is going to take him. You can feel the uncertainty.

When Jock parks the car and gets out, Ray puts down the ax he’s using to chop wood, takes the older man by the arm and leads him to the patio table. “Come on out of the sun,” Ray says, and with that single, small gesture, we’re reminded both of Jock’s mortality and the ranch foreman’s abiding affection for his boss and mentor.

Scriptwriter Howard Lakin’s dialogue in the conversation that follows is so good because it tells us so much. Almost every line signals something more than what’s actually being said.

Ray recalls his mother’s memories of her nursing days (“Seems like the only time in her life she ever felt useful.”) and we realize what a sad, unfulfilled life this woman must have led. He suggests telling the truth about his paternity could cause problems for Jock’s “family” and we known precisely what family member he’s referring to. Jock reminds Ray he’s “got a lot at stake here” and the line – along with the slight smile from Davis that accompanies it – lets us know how impressed Jock is with Ray’s willingness to sacrifice his right to share in the Ewing riches.

Davis is wonderful in this scene – strong and solemn, yet full of love and pride – and so is Steve Kanaly, who wears the mantle of plainspoken humility so convincingly, I wonder how much “acting” is taking place here. I don’t know if Davis and Kanaly were friends in real life, but my goodness, in this exchange, they make me believe in the respect their characters feel for each other.

Matters of Honor

Amos Krebbs, Dallas, Fourth Son, William Windom

She never let him forget

The crux of Jock and Ray’s conversation – Jock wants to acknowledge Ray as his son, while Ray is “happy to leave things just the way they are” – reflects “The Fourth Son’s” broader theme, which is how doing the honorable thing sometimes means hurting others.

We see this at the end of the episode, when Jock summons Ray and the Ewings to the Southfork living room and tells them the ranch’s longtime foreman is the product of a wartime affair Jock confessed to Miss Ellie long ago. For Jock, acknowledging Ray is the right thing to do, but Ellie’s stony expression makes it clear her husband’s past indiscretion still hurts.

In the same spirit, Ray’s willingness to keep his paternity secret echoes the decision his mother, Margaret, made years earlier. For her, not telling Jock about Ray was a necessary sacrifice – but how did that affect Amos?

When we meet him in “The Fourth Son,” he’s a loathsome figure – character actor William Windom is perfectly unsavory in the role – but was Amos always this awful? Lakin’s dialogue suggests the character had a hard-knock life: He was a bastard son and a “4-F” who wasn’t physically qualified to serve his country, and then his fiancée came home from the war pregnant with another man’s child.

Yet Amos married Margaret anyway. Why? Was he willing to give Margaret his name and raise Ray as his own because he felt sorry for her? Or was it because he loved her? Either way, did he end up abandoning his family because the reality of the situation proved too difficult? At one point, Amos tells Jock, “I know she was in love with you. She never let me forget it.” The mystery of what really happened in Kansas lingers.

Questions of integrity and sacrifice also figure into Bobby’s storyline, where he must choose between keeping Jock’s commitment to Mort Wilkinson, a longtime Ewing Oil client, and honoring a deal Bobby himself made with Brady York. At one point, Bobby is ready to abandon Wilkinson – until he’s told Jock sealed the deal 20 years earlier with nothing more than a handshake. “That makes it sacred,” Bobby says.

The subplot where Mr. Eugene helps Bobby expose Sally’s dirty dealings also offers a play on “The Fourth Son’s” central theme. Eugene gives Bobby “carte blanche” to seek retribution from Sally, but the old man warns him: “You remember this: I plan to keep her.” A few moments later, while gazing at a framed picture of Sally, Eugene says, “What God and money hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”

Fathers and Sons and Fathers and Sons

Dallas, Fourth Son, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing

Grand father

Ultimately, “The Fourth Son” is an episode about fatherhood, which becomes one of the “Dallas” franchise’s most resilient themes, particularly in TNT’s new series.

Interestingly, the story told here wasn’t planned: According to Barbara Curran’s 2005 book “Dallas: The Complete Story of the World’s Favorite Prime-Time Soap,” Kanaly had grown frustrated with his role by the end of the third season, so the producers decided to make his character Jock’s illegitimate son to keep the actor from leaving the show. In retrospect, it seems like this is the direction “Dallas” was headed in all along. (Remember the classic second-season episode “Triangle,” when Jock gave Ray a plot of Southfork land?)

The irony is that while the “The Fourth Son” succeeds in rooting Ray more firmly in the “Dallas” mythos, it ends up doing just as much to burnish Jock’s reputation. After this episode, there are four Ewing sons but still only one father, and watching the way he acknowledges Ray makes us better understand why Jock is so revered.

Grade: A+

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amos Krebbs, Dallas, Fourth Son, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, William Windom

His two dads

‘THE FOURTH SON’

Season 4, Episode 7

Airdate: December 12, 1980

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

Writer: Howard Lakin

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: The sinking of the Bullocks’ tanker almost forces Bobby to stiff one of Ewing Oil’s longtime clients. When Bobby discovers J.R. and Sally faked the loss of the oil aboard the tanker, he turns the tables on them. Ray’s father Amos arrives and announces Ray’s real father is Jock, who welcomes Ray into the family.

Cast: E.J. André (Eugene Bullock), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Joanna Cassidy (Sally Bullock), John Crawford (Mort Wilkinson), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Ted Gehring (Brady York), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Jeanna Michaels (Connie), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), William Windom (Amos Krebbs)

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

TV Critics Had Little Love for the Ewings at First

Barbara Bel Geddes, Bobby Ewing, Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Lucy Ewing, Miss Ellie Ewing, Pam Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal

What’s not to love?

Television critics never loved “Dallas” – especially in April 1978, when CBS introduced the series as a late-season replacement for “The Carol Burnett Show.”

The New York Times’ John J. O’Connor dismissed “Dallas” as a “daytime soap opera gussied up with on-location Texas settings.” He called the show “enervating” and made the curious observation it offered “innumerable scenes of people getting into, driving or getting out of cars.”

O’Connor also lamented how “the fine stage actress” Barbara Bel Geddes was relegated to “wandering around among the players with about three lines of dialogue,” and he described Charlene Tilton as “sulking sexily through was appears to be an audition for a remake of ‘Baby Doll.’”

According to Barbara A. Curran’s 2005 book “Dallas: The Complete Story of the World’s Favorite Prime-Time Soap,” the Hollywood trade publication Variety assailed “Dallas” as “dull and contrived,” “the TV equivalent of women’s-magazine fiction” and “a limited series with a limited future.”

The Associated Press was a bit kinder, praising CBS for filming “Dallas” in Texas. “[T]he look it gives the show was worth the effort,” wrote the wire service’s critic, who wasn’t given a byline.

This critic also pointed out how “Dallas” was conceived as a star vehicle for “a certain glamorous actress” – Linda Evans, although the review doesn’t name her – and suggested Larry Hagman stole the spotlight from Victoria Principal, who was cast as Pam after Evans was dropped from consideration.

“By far, the meatiest role, at least in the opener, goes to Hagman,” the AP’s critic wrote. “He is deliciously wicked as he attempts to reject Miss Principal from the family bosom by any foul means.”

In the Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper, Blaik Kirby declared Hagman “curls a lip better than anyone,” while the Los Angeles Times’ Cecil Smith asserted the actor’s “smiling villainy is the role you remember.”

Smith also praised Jim Davis’s “flinty ferocity,” but the critic bemoaned how “Dallas’s” first episode spent so much time introducing the characters and their backstories “that there isn’t much room for plot.”

Still, Smith saw some promise in the new series.

“[T]he scene is set,” he wrote, “for some very steamy drama to come on the arid Texas plains.”

What did you think of “Dallas” the first time you watched it? Share your comments below and read more features from Dallas Decoder.