Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 104 — ‘Changing of the Guard’

Changing of the Guard, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

He’s back

“Dallas” shakes things up in its sixth-season opener, “Changing of the Guard.” Miss Ellie ousts J.R. as president of Ewing Oil and installs Bobby in his place, the company’s executive suite gets a much-needed makeover and Sue Ellen suddenly begins sporting shorter hair. This episode also introduces an intriguing newcomer: Holly Harwood, played by Lois Chiles, whose debut is the highlight of this episode.

We meet Holly when she drops by the Cattleman’s Club, where Bobby is celebrating his new job along with Jordan Lee and Marilee Stone. Jordan introduces Bobby to Holly and explains she recently inherited her company, Harwood Oil, from her late father. After she departs, Bobby observes how Holly is “mighty young” to run an oil company. “I give it maybe a year or two alive with her in charge,” Jordan responds. You have to wonder: Would these two be having this conversation if Holly were a young man?

Of course, Holly seems destined to get the last laugh. Chiles makes her second appearance in “Changing of the Guard’s” final scene, which takes place in another darkened cocktail lounge. We see Holly at a table, seated across from someone who is off-camera. “What do you say? Do we have a deal?” she asks. The other person leans into the shot. It’s J.R. “Well, it’s a very tempting offer. Especially coming from such a lovely young lady,” he says. As the conversation continues, we learn Holly wants J.R. to help her run Harwood Oil. He agrees to take the job — in exchange for a 25 percent ownership stake in the company. “You don’t come cheap, do you J.R.?” Holly purrs. His response: “You wouldn’t want me if I did, would you?”

This dialogue is delicious, but I also like how director Michael Preece reveals Holly and J.R. are in cahoots by waiting a beat to bring him into the frame. It reminds me of the kind of surprises we get on TNT’s “Dallas” revival. Coincidentally, “Changing of the Guard” is the title of the new show’s first episode, which ends with the revelation that J.R. is secretly plotting with another young beauty, Marta del Sol. Both sequences also feature J.R. and the schemer toasting their underhanded alliance, and both end with Larry Hagman flashing his famous grin. (Another parallel between the new and old “Dallas”: Seeing Afton slink around Cliff’s hospital bedside in this episode presages her behavior in “Guilt and Innocence,” a recent edition of the TNT series.)

I also like how the 1982 “Changing of the Guard” doesn’t leave J.R. down after Ellie kicks him out of Ewing Oil. In this episode’s most dramatic shot, Preece shows us the top of the Ewing Oil building at night, then sweeps down to reveal a forlorn-looking J.R. gazing at it from the street. I always appreciate seeing J.R.’s vulnerable side in moments like this, but more than anything I want to see him riding high, which is why I’m glad this episode wastes no time getting him back in the saddle.

“Changing of the Guard” also resolves two of the plots left dangling at the end of the previous season. Cliff recovers from his coma after his suicide attempt — no surprise there — while Lucy learns she is indeed pregnant with Roger’s baby, which does feel like an unexpected twist. In addition, this episode offers two notable casting milestones: Danone Simpson (now known as Danone Camden) makes her first appearance as Kendall, the receptionist at Ewing Oil, while Roseanna Christiansen assumes the role of Teresa, the Southfork maid played by multiple extras during the show’s first five years. William Bassett also makes his third and final appearance as Cliff’s physician Dr. Hollister, a role Bassett originated in 1979.

Finally, a word about Sue Ellen’s new hairdo: When the fifth-season finale “Goodbye, Cliff Barnes” ended, Sue Ellen had long, luscious locks. “Changing of the Guard” picks up moments later, yet suddenly her hair is shorter and styled much differently. She has what might now be called a mullet, although I can remember how chic everyone thought Linda Gray looked in 1982. In a newspaper interview later that year, Gray joked about the continuity error, suggesting Sue Ellen was so distraught over Cliff’s coma, she ducked out of the hospital for a quick makeover. It’s hard for me to imagine that look ever coming back into vogue again, but what do I know? I never expected to see the return of the three-piece suit, which has become one of Josh Henderson’s signatures on the new “Dallas.” Might one of his leading ladies someday sport a Sue Ellen-style mullet?

Never say never, darlin’.

Grade: B

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Changing of the Guard, Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Snipped

‘CHANGING OF THE GUARD’

Season 6, Episode 1

Airdate: October 1, 1982

Audience: 18.7 million homes, ranking 5th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Cliff emerges from his coma, but Sue Ellen isn’t sure she wants to marry J.R. When the Ewings vote to oust J.R. as president of Ewing Oil, he agrees to become a silent partner to Holly Harwood, who recently inherited her father’s oil company. Lucy learns she’s pregnant.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), William H. Bassett (Dr. Hollister), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Karlene Crockett (Muriel), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Phyllis Flax (Mrs. Chambers), 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), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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