Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘You Needed Slapping Down, Cliff’

Dallas, End Game, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Slap master

In “End Game,” “Dallas’s” seventh-season finale, Cliff (Ken Kercheval) pours a drink in his office for Vaughn (Dennis Patrick), who sits in front of the desk.

CLIFF: Vaughn, now look, we’re two civilized human beings. [Hands him the drink] We’ve made money before and we’ll make money again. I’m just asking you for a little bit more time. [Walks behind his desk]

VAUGHN: No. The interest payment must be collected on its due date. Now you read the papers. It was very specific.

CLIFF: I’m just asking you to bend the rules a little bit. There’s oil in that tract and we’re gonna hit, and we’ll all be rich. [Turns his back, looks out the window]

VAUGHN: If you don’t strike oil by midnight tomorrow night, the bank is foreclosing. And all of the assets of Barnes-Wentworth will belong to the bank.

J.R. (Larry Hagman) enters.

J.R.: Well, Vaughn, not all the assets. If I remember correctly, our deal calls for me to get control of Gold Canyon 340.

CLIFF: What are you doing here?

J.R.: Oh, I just thought you might want to see the face of your other friendly banker.

CLIFF: No, no, no. I got my money from Vaughn.

J.R.: You got your money from both of us. And tomorrow night, we’re going to turn off the faucet, and all your cash flow is just going to dry right up.

CLIFF: You set me up?

J.R.: From the very beginning. But I didn’t do it alone. In addition to Vaughn Leland here, I had a great assist from your massive ego and unbelievable stupidity.

CLIFF: I had those tracts checked. There’s oil in there.

J.R.: Well, sure there is. Millions of dollars’ worth. Oh, it was a fair setup. As a matter of fact, it was the fairest setup I’ve ever had the pleasure of engineering. I couldn’t lose — because I knew you were just too dumb to find that oil.

CLIFF: Why? Huh? Why did you do that?

J.R.: Because you needed slapping down, Cliff. You’d been stealing deals right out from underneath my nose. And after all these years, you know better than to butt heads with me. But I got all that property back. I got Kesey and Murphy, and tomorrow night, I’ll own Gold Canyon 340. You needed a lesson, you see. And the only way I could get the message through that thick skull of yours was to have you bankrupt your mama’s company while I just sat back and watched you. You’re out of my life for good.

CLIFF: [Softly] No, uh-uh. No, I’m not finished yet.

J.R.: Sure you are. Tomorrow morning, the janitor’s going to come in here and sweep you out with the rest of the trash. Unless, of course, you do the honorable thing, get in the elevator, go up to the roof and jump off, huh? [Chuckles] Oh, come on, Vaughn. I’ll buy you a drink. [Turns and leaves, followed by Vaughn]

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘J.R. Ewing Doesn’t Get Ulcers’

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Strange Alliance

Guts and glory

In “Strange Alliance,” a seventh-season “Dallas” episode, J.R. (Larry Hagman) is sitting with his boots propped up on his office desk, eating pizza, when Vaughn (Dennis Patrick) enters.


J.R.: [Chewing] Picked up some pizza. You want some?

VAUGHN: Oh, no thanks. I think my ulcer’s been acting up lately. [Sits]

J.R.: Oh, hell, that’s a shame. But I guess a high-pressure job like you’ve got, ulcers aren’t so unusual, are they?

VAUGHN: No. Don’t you ever have trouble with your stomach, J.R.?

J.R.: [Chewing] Only when there’s too much of it. I once did business with a man who said, “J.R. Ewing doesn’t get ulcers. He gives ’em.” [Chuckles] Well, now, have you heard from Cliff Barnes lately?

VAUGHN: Not for a while.

J.R.: Well, you will soon. My sources tell me that he’s drilled down two miles already and you know he hasn’t hit a thing. And he’s starting to complain about how much food his crews eat. So I figure he’s just about out of his own money right now.

VAUGHN: I thought it wouldn’t take too long. I heard he paid premium time and a bonus to get that exploration rig out there in a hurry.

J.R.: [Sips a glass of beer] Mm-hmm. Yeah, I expect he’s going to be knocking on your door, wanting to tap in on that next hundred million.

VAUGHN: Do I give him some?

J.R.: Sure. We don’t want to pull the plug on him yet, do we? [Snickers]

VAUGHN: How much?

J.R.: Well, not as much as he’s going to ask for, which I figure is going to be around 30 million or so. No, you persuade him to take 20 million, providing of course he has acceptable collateral.

VAUGHN: [Opens his suitcase, retrieves a piece of paper] Well, he’s already put up Barnes-Wentworth. Now, these holdings are the rest of his collateral. [Hands the paper to J.R., who studies it]

J.R.: Well, these are kind of shaky holdings, aren’t they? Well, you just tell him that acceptable collateral is everything on this list — except for the two on the bottom. [Hands the paper back to Vaughn, who looks at it]

VAUGHN: Muprhy land and the Kesey field. Why these two?

J.R.: [Serious] Well, that’s personal, Vaughn. [A beat] Oh, well, he swiped those properties right from underneath my nose. And if he wants money bad enough, he just might sell for 25 cents on the dollar.

VAUGHN: [Smiling] No, he’d never sell them to you, no matter how much he needed the money.

J.R.: [Snickers] No. Not if he knows I’m the buyer. But he won’t. Just like he won’t know that I’m going to take over his precious Gold Canyon 340. And then it’ll all be over. And it’ll all be mine. And the Barnes family — Cliff and that little sister of his — will be just be bad memories. [Chuckles]

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 156 — ‘Strange Alliance’

Alexis Smith, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Lady Jessica Montfort, Larry Hagman, Strange Alliance

Shall we dance?

“Dallas” is at its best when J.R. is at his worst. In “Strange Alliance,” our hero schemes against virtually everyone: Sue Ellen, whom he wants to punish for cheating on him; Bobby, whom he wants to keep from reconciling with Pam; and Cliff, whom he wants to teach a lesson for having the nerve to turn Sly into a spy against him. J.R. also begins laying the groundwork for a conspiracy with Southfork’s newest houseguest: the mysterious Lady Jessica Montfort, who wants to stop her brother Clayton’s impending marriage to Miss Ellie as much as J.R. does. Poor Mama; even she isn’t safe from J.R.’s dastardly ways.

Larry Hagman’s scenes with Alexis Smith, which bookend “Strange Alliance,” are fun for several reasons, including the fact the audience has more information than their characters. Neither J.R. nor Jessica want the Ewing/Farlow nuptials to occur, but since the duo are still getting to know each other, they’re forced to speak in polite code as they figure out the other’s true feelings. When J.R. finally gets around to suggesting Jessica believes the match isn’t “made in heaven,” she responds, “Really? What a strange idea. I’m sure I feel about it the same as you do.” To add to the sense of playfulness, Leonard Katzman’s script also makes the banter flirty, with J.R. observing that Jessica is more “attractive” and “younger” than he expected. It’s almost the flip side of Sue Ellen’s May/December relationship with Peter.

The J.R. and Jessica scenes are also entertaining because Hagman and Smith have a nice rapport, and it’s worth noting that Jessica seems much more down to earth in “Strange Alliance” than she did during her dramatic arrival in the previous episode. I suspect this has a lot to do with Hagman, who directed “Strange Alliance” and knows how to find the subtleties in larger-than-life characters. Of course, as much as I enjoy J.R. and Jessica’s delicate dance, this episode’s real highlight is Hagman’s scene with Dennis Patrick, when Vaughn arrives at Ewing Oil on a weekend to meet with J.R., who sits with his boots propped up on his desk, munching pizza and drinking beer. J.R. offers him a slice but Vaughn demurs, questioning J.R.’s gastrointestinal fortitude. Our hero puts Vaughn’s concern to rest thusly: “J.R. Ewing doesn’t get ulcers. He gives ’em.” I’m convinced the only reason Katzman set up the scene this way is so Hagman could deliver that line, which he does with pure joy.

Other “Strange Alliance” highlights include J.R. and Sue Ellen’s bickering over breakfast, when he tells her to butt out of Lucy’s love life: “It seems to me you might spend a little more time planning that party for Jessica than worrying about your bubble-headed niece.” I also like when Bobby congratulates Pam and Mark on their engagement — it’s always nice to see these characters behave like grown-ups — as well as the scene where Dr. Jerry Kenderson dines with Katherine, Pam and Mark. This is another example of the audience having more information than a character — in this case, we know Mark is dying and Pam and Katherine don’t want Jerry to tell him — and so when Mark asks Jerry why he’s been so eager to speak to him, Hagman heightens the tension by cutting to the worried expressions on Pam and Katherine’s faces. (And even though I believe Pam is wrong to withhold Mark’s diagnosis from him, am I the only one who feels relieved when Jerry bites his tongue and doesn’t tell Mark the truth?)

“Strange Alliance” also marks Denny Miller’s first appearance as Max Flowers, Cliff’s foreman at Gold Canyon 340. Coincidentally, Miller is included in another Dallas Decoder post today: my end-of-year list of the “Dallas” actors who died during the past 12 months. (Miller died in September at age 80.) There’s nothing especially remarkable about the actor’s debut, which is the point. His job is to make us believe Max is the kind of guy you might find working on an oil rig. He succeeds. It’s easy to take performances like this for granted, but we should never forget how much these small parts contributed to “Dallas’s” big, big success.

Grade: A


Dallas, Denny Miller, Max Flowers, Strange Alliance

Flowers’ power


Season 7, Episode 25

Airdate: March 23, 1984

Audience: 21.8 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: As J.R. and Jessica feel out each other, she upsets Clayton by mentioning the house fire that killed his first wife. Pam persuades Dr. Kenderson to withhold Mark’s diagnosis from him and continues to plan their engagement. Bobby tells Jenna he needs time to get used to the idea Pam is moving on. After J.R. and Vaughn scheme to drive Cliff deeper into debt, the Gold Canyon 340 foreman, Max Flowers, persuades Cliff to add a second rig to the drilling site.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), James L. Brown (Detective Harry McSween), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Annie Gagen (Annie), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Barry Jenner (Dr. Jerry Kenderson), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Denny Miller (Max Flowers), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Alexis Smith (Lady Jessica Montfort), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 154 — ‘Fools Rush In’

Dallas, Fools Rush In, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

With a twist

One reason Larry Hagman is so damn good is because he knows what the audience wants and how to give it to us. Take “Fools Rush In’s” most entertaining scene, when J.R. chews out Katherine for inadvertently making a Bobby/Pam reconciliation possible. It’s somewhat ridiculous to see a grown man so consumed with his brother’s love life, and so Hagman plays the scene accordingly, making J.R.’s bluster more amusing than anything else. The funniest moment comes when Katherine declares she has “no objection” to Pam’s pending marriage to Mark and J.R. mockingly snaps, “Oh, you have no objection to that, do you? Well, you just better keep pushing until that happens, honey!” Who doesn’t love to see Hagman deliver a line like that?

Of course, great acting involves more than indulging the audience. When “Fools Rush In” begins, J.R. has figured out Sue Ellen has been having an affair and he responds in typical J.R. style — by being extra nice to his wife while he secretly plots revenge. After attending Punk and Mavis Anderson’s anniversary party together, J.R. escorts Sue Ellen to her room and says how much he enjoyed spending the evening with her. Sue Ellen looks positively stricken while J.R. beams — until his back is turned and we see his face drop. Is he having reservations about the trap he’s about to spring? Does he fear he might end up pushing his fragile wife too far? There’s no way to know and it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that we catch a glimpse of J.R.’s humanity. It’s an example of Hagman giving us what we need to see.

While Hagman deserves much credit for highlighting J.R.’s complexities in “Fools Rush In,” he gets an assist from scriptwriter David Paulsen. We don’t know the details of J.R.’s scheme against Sue Ellen and her lover Peter Richards, but we know he wants to bring the couple closer. Notice how J.R. uses John Ross to achieve this goal. First, he waits until the family is gathered around the breakfast table to suggest hiring Peter to spend time with the child, knowing how excited John Ross will be when he hears his camp counselor might be visiting him at Southfork on a regular basis. How could Sue Ellen say no? Likewise, when J.R. approaches Peter with the idea, he brings along his son, essentially daring Peter to turn him down and break the boy’s heart. Who knew John Ross would turn out to be one of Daddy’s best accomplices?

I also like how Paulsen and director Michael Preece treat the return of Dennia Patrick’s duplicitous banker Vaughn Leland, who makes his first “Dallas” appearance since the fifth season. “Fools Rush In”  begins with Cliff scrambling to raise the money he owes the government until — lo and behold! — Vaughn shows up on his doorstep and offers him a loan, which Cliff desperately accepts. At the end of the episode, we see J.R. in his office, fixing drinks for himself and an unseen guest. “Well, everything seems to be moving in the right direction,” he says. Preece’s camera follows him as he carries the drink across the room to — yep, you guessed it — Vaughn, who it turns out is in cahoots with J.R. It’s a nifty twist.

Speaking of Vaughn: I was a little puzzled when Afton reacted so coolly to seeing him in this episode, until I remembered J.R. put her up to sleeping with Vaughn during her early days on “Dallas.” I’m glad the writers didn’t forget about their past, even if I almost did. Other nice touches in “Fools Rush In” include the scene where J.R. hires a detective to snoop into the past of Lucy’s newest boyfriend, Peter. J.R. explains to the private eye why he cares about his niece: “She’s the daughter of my brother Gary, who I’m particularly fond of.” Another fun moment comes when Bobby tells Sue Ellen that Jenna accused him of being stubborn. “Well, you’re not the most flexible person in the world,” Sue Ellen says.

Not everything here works. I’m disappointed we don’t actually see the Andersons’ anniversary party, which the Ewings have been anticipating for several episodes. Not even Oil Baron’s Balls and Ewing Barbecues receive this much buildup. Also, as much as I get a kick out of seeing Ken Kercheval squirm in the scenes where Cliff struggles to raise the money he owes the government, I can’t help but think the feds must have been running one hell of a racket in the 1980s. They allow Cliff to bid tens of millions of dollars more than his competitors for the offshore oil leases, and then they show up unannounced at his office, demanding payment just days after the auction ended? Who says the Reagan administration was business friendly?

But nothing stretches credibility quite like the “Fools Rush In” scene where Pam asks Mark’s physician, Jerry Kenderson, to reveal her fiancée’s mysterious medical diagnosis — and with very little prodding, Kenderson blabs all. So much for doctor-patient confidentiality rules! Then again: Since everyone on “Dallas” is ethically challenged, why should we expect the doctors to be any different?

Grade: B


Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Fools Rush In, Ken Kercheval

Foolin’ around


Season 7, Episode 23

Airdate: March 9, 1984

Audience: 22.5 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Cliff borrows money from banker Vaughn Leland to finance his offshore oil scheme, unaware that J.R. and Vaughn are in cahoots. J.R. warns Katherine to keep Bobby away from Pam, who learns Mark is dying but doesn’t know it. J.R. also springs a trap for Peter, hiring him to spend time with John Ross at Southfork. Bobby has second thoughts about breaking up with Jenna. Miss Ellie and Clayton set a wedding date.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Gerald Berns (James Kenyon), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Barbara Cason (Iris Porter), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Robert Donavan (Metcalf), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Barry Jenner (Dr. Jerry Kenderson), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Sherill Lynn Katzman (Jackie Dugan), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Peter White (Ellis Newton)

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

Dallas Cliffhanger Classics: Season 7

Dallas Decoder celebrates “Dallas’s” classic cliffhangers with weekly summertime flashbacks. Collect all 14 images and share them with your friends.

Bobby Ewing, Christopher Atkins, Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Dennis Patrick, Edgar Randolph, Katherine Wentworth, Ken Kercheval, Linda Gray, Martin E. Brooks, Morgan Brittany, Patrick Duffy, Peter Richards, Sue Ellen Ewing, Vaughn Leland

Dallas Cliffhanger Classics: Season 3

Dallas Decoder celebrates “Dallas’s” classic cliffhangers with weekly summertime flashbacks. Collect all 14 images and share them with your friends.

Dallas Cliffhanger Classics 3

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘We’re Ewings. We Stick Together.’

She's got this

She’s got this

In “Dallas’s” fifth-season episode “Waterloo at Southfork,” J.R. (Larry Hagman) stands behind Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes), who has summoned Vaughn (Dennis Patrick), Jordan (Don Starr), Wade (Robert Ackerman), Andy (Paul Sorensen) and Cliff (Ken Kercheval) to J.R.’s office.

ELLIE: I’d like to thank you all for coming.

JORDAN: Well, it’s good to see you again Miss Ellie, but –

ELLIE: But you wonder why you were called here – at this time of night and by me. Is that right?

WADE: You do have us guessing, ma’am.

ELLIE: Well, you can stop guessing. I called you here to tell you that Ewing Oil is now prepared to pay back your loan … with interest.

VAUGHN: [Forced smile] Well … how nice.

ANDY: I knew Ewing Oil would be coming through.

ELLIE: Did you, Mr. Bradley? I suppose I should thank all of you gentlemen for the aid you gave my son.

JORDAN: Now Miss Ellie, you know it’s just business.

ELLIE: What I do know is that you are supposed to be Jock’s friend, Jordan. And yet the minute his back was turned, you took advantage of J.R.’s situation to charge an outrageous 25 percent interest to extend your loan.

VAUGHN: Now Miss Ellie, you don’t understand.

ELLIE: I understand perfectly. And what about you, Cliff? How long are you going to perpetuate this stupid Barnes-Ewing feud? Until we’re all dead and gone? Is it worth it to you?

CLIFF: Don’t expect me to apologize because J.R. got in over his head.

ELLIE: I don’t expect anything from you, Cliff. And I don’t apologize for what my son did. It’s a family matter. We may be wrong and we may be right, but we’re Ewings. We stick together – and that’s what makes us unbeatable.

Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 4 – ‘The Last Hurrah’

Bobby Ewing, Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Jesse Metcalfe, Last Hurrah, Patrick Duffy, TNT

Fence and sensibility

I like “The Last Hurrah,” but I can’t help but feel a little disappointed by it. This episode brings together more characters from the original “Dallas” than any TNT entry so far – in addition to J.R., Bobby and Sue Ellen, we get to see Lucy, Ray and Cliff – yet none of these old favorites have much interaction with each other.

This feels like a missed opportunity when you consider the episode climaxes at the “final” Ewing barbecue, which would seem like an ideal setting to bring together the old gang. Indeed, Bobby organizes the party so friends and family can bid Southfork farewell before he completes the sale of the ranch to the del Sol conservancy. “If you are here, it’s because you have a connection to this ranch and the people who’ve lived on it,” Bobby declares in his speech to the partygoers, but as director Marc Roskin pans the crowd, we see more anonymous extras than familiar faces.

How fun would it have been to watch J.R. trade barbs again with Lucy, or to see Bobby and Ray reminisce about the ranch that has meant so much to them? According to William Keck’s recent TV Guide cover story, Roskin filmed a scene where J.R. and Sue Ellen share a sentimental dance at the party, but it was left on the cutting-room floor. What a shame.

While this might not have been a rollicking Ewing barbecue like days of yore, J.R.’s big scheme in “The Last Hurrah” is as convoluted as some of the eye-rollers he came up with during the old show’s more exasperating moments. To get Bobby’s crooked lawyer Mitch Lobell to call off his extortion scheme and draw up new legal papers making J.R. the sole owner of Southfork, J.R. hatches a plot to photograph Lobell’s son Ricky, a recovering addict with prior convictions, doing drugs. J.R. then threatens to expose Ricky’s lapse unless Lobell cooperates.

J.R. also arranges to have Marta discover John Ross and Elena are getting chummy again because he needs Marta to get angry so she’ll work with him to secretly cut John Ross out of the Southfork deal – but doesn’t this plan seem kinda reckless? J.R. knows Marta is bipolar and has a history of violence; at one point, he calls her “crazier than an outhouse rat.” Is this really the kind of person you want to become mad at your son?

Look, I love seeing TNT’s “Dallas” pay tribute to the original series, but I want it to honor the old show’s best storytelling traditions, not its outlandish impulses.

Of course, there are several solid moments in “The Last Hurrah,” beginning with Bobby and Christopher’s father/son chats, which showcase the nice chemistry developing between Patrick Duffy and Jesse Metcalfe. I also like the scene where John Ross blackmails Rebecca – Josh Henderson delivers the line about her being “an extremely resourceful woman” with a Hagman-esque twinkle – as well as Julie Gonzolo’s performance as the increasingly desperate Rebecca.

I even appreciate scriptwriter Taylor Hamra’s subplot about the birth of the calf, which offers a nice contrast to the sense of finality that hangs over Southfork in the days before the barbecue. It’s probably coincidental, but the calf’s arrival also recalls the birth of a foal in “Bypass,” a classic episode from the original series.

The producers also deserve applause for upholding another longstanding “Dallas” practice: casting great character actors in supporting roles. Leonor Varela seems destined to join the long line of mentally unhinged villainesses in the “Dallas” hall of fame, while veteran Texas actor Richard Dillard is perfectly sleazy as Lobell. Dillard reminds me of Dennis Patrick, who was wonderfully smarmy as Vaughn Leland on the old show.

My favorite part of “The Last Hurrah”: the final moments in the scene where Sue Ellen expresses her concern about John Ross’s reconciliation with his father. After John Ross abruptly ends the conversation, Sue Ellen picks up the box containing Miss Ellie’s pearls, opens it and slowly caresses the beads.

Perhaps this gesture shows how Sue Ellen now understands the pain adult children are capable of causing their aging mamas, or maybe it’s just an expression of how much Sue Ellen misses Ellie and wishes she were still around to dispense motherly advice. Whatever the reason, it’s a lovely reminder that Miss Ellie remains part of “Dallas,” if only in spirit.

Grade: B


Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Last Hurrah, TNT

Less hair, lots of harebrained schemes


Season 1, Episode 4

Telecast: June 27, 2012

Writer: Taylor Hamra

Director: Marc Roskin

Audience: 5.7 million viewers (including 4.1 million viewers on June 27, ranking 15th in the weekly cable ratings)

Synopsis: J.R. blackmails Lobell into calling off his extortion plot and cutting John Ross out of the Southfork sale, making J.R. the ranch’s sole owner. John Ross tries to blackmail Rebecca into helping him with a scheme, but she refuses and resolves to tell Christopher the truth about the e-mail that broke up him and Elena. John Ross and Elena grow closer. Cliff offers to fund Sue Ellen’s gubernatorial campaign, arousing J.R.’s jealousies. Bobby hosts Southfork’s final barbecue, where Rebecca begins her confession to Christopher.

Cast: Margaret Bowman (Miss Henderson), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Richard Dillard (Mitch Lobell), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Marlene Forte (Carmen Ramos), Julie Gonzalo (Rebecca Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Callard Harris (Tommy Sutter), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jason London (Ricky Lobell), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Kevin Page (Bum), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Leonor Varela (Marta del Sol)

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

The Art of Dallas: ‘A House Divided’

Vaughn (Dennis Patrick) gives J.R. one last shot at making restitution in this 1980 publicity shot from “A House Divided,” “Dallas’s” third-season finale.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 54 – ‘A House Divided’

Dallas, House Divided, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Who Shot J.R.?

The divider

One school night in 1988, when I should’ve been asleep, I stumbled across a late-night cable showing of “A House Divided,” the third-season “Dallas” finale that famously ends with J.R. getting shot. This was probably the first time I’d seen the episode since 1980, so I was overjoyed. I recorded the rerun on the living room VCR and watched the cassette so many times in the years that followed, the tape eventually warped.

Today, I know “A House Divided” the way other people know “Star Wars.” I have memorized virtually every line from every scene, and I’ve been known to go around the house reciting them for my own amusement, if no one else’s.

It was crooked!

I’d have done the same thing, Bobby. The same thing.

You’re a drunk and an unfit mother, and I honestly think you’ve lost your reason.

My memories of “A House Divided,” together with the weight of its pop culture significance, have always made me think this is one of “Dallas’s” greatest entries. I’m pretty sure it really is among the show’s finest hours, although I’m also the first to admit it’s hard to sweep aside my nostalgia and judge it simply as a “Dallas” episode.

Whether or not it’s one of the best, “A House Divided” is certainly unique. The producers famously constructed the story in reverse: First, they came up with the idea of having J.R. get shot and then they worked backwards, establishing the suspects and their motives along the way.

The result is an episode with a furious rhythm. The action begins with the frenzied press conference in J.R.’s office at the top of the hour and never lets up, propelled not just by scriptwriter Rena Down’s narrative, but also by Bruce Broughton’s driving score.

Hagman’s Zenith

Dallas, House Divided, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Who Shot J.R.?

Oh, the humanity!

The actors keep things zipping along, too. Among the regular cast, no one delivers more than Larry Hagman, whose portrayal of J.R. reaches its gleefully villainous zenith in “A House Divided.”

Given all the despicable things J.R. does in this episode, I used to feel guilty cheering him on – until I realized I’m not rooting for the character as much as I am the actor who plays him. Hagman is full of zest in “A House Divided” – and he’s never looked trimmer and sexier – yet the actor never allows his performance to devolve into camp or self-awareness.

Consider the scene where J.R. enters the Southfork dining room and finds Miss Ellie in tears because Bobby, fed up with his older brother’s schemes, has finally fled the ranch. “Mama, I don’t want Bobby to leave. You know that,” he says. The sincerity in Hagman’s voice lets us know J.R. means it.

Director Irving J. Moore probably deserves credit for humanizing J.R., too. When the character is waiting for Harry McSween to bring Alan Beam to his office, we see him alone at his desk, shrouded in darkness and holding the framed picture of Sue Ellen he keeps nearby. This fleeting moment invites the audience to wonder what J.R. is thinking. Does he regret the way he’s treated her?

J.R. looks at the picture again in the final scene, right before the unseen assailant enters the office and shoots him. I don’t know if Hagman picked up the frame on his own or if Moore instructed him to do it, but it’s a clever touch. In those seconds before the gun is fired, having him look at the photograph of Sue Ellen reminds us that J.R. is a husband, a father, a man. Yes, he’s also a bastard, but he doesn’t deserve what’s about to happen to him.

Great Performances

Dallas, House Divided, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, Who Shot J.R.?

Those eyes

Patrick Duffy is also impressive in “A House Divided,” particularly in the scene where a frustrated Bobby bids farewell to Ellie. In the episode’s DVD commentary, Duffy credits Barbara Bel Geddes with making his performance better in this sequence, and while she is indeed wonderful, he needn’t be so modest. Duffy has always brought a lot of heart to his role, and in this scene, he gives as good as he gets. As his eyes redden, her sobs intensify. Both actors play off each other really well.

“A House Divided’s” other standout is Linda Gray, who is mesmerizing during Sue Ellen’s big confrontation with J.R. in the dining room, where she calls him out for his misdeeds in front of Jock and Ellie. Notice how Sue Ellen’s expression changes during the course of the sequence, shifting from disgust at J.R.’s behavior to fear when he threatens to put her back in the sanitarium. Over the years, more than one “Dallas” observer has suggested Gray acts with her eyes. In this scene, that’s really true.

Gray has another moment I absolutely love. In the scene where Sue Ellen and J.R. fight in their bedroom, she gets swept up in her own fury and asks him “which slut” he plans to spend the night with. The instant she says this, Gray’s lips part and her angry expression melts, as if the harsh words have jolted the onetime Miss Texas into reality. How did her perfect marriage come to this?

The guest stars in “A House Divided” are terrific, too. I especially like Dennis Patrick, whose indignation is palpable in the scene where Vaughn Leland demands restitution from J.R., and Ann Nelson, who plays the little old lady Pam encounters during her visit to Corpus Christi. Down, the scriptwriter, gives Nelson some charmingly homespun dialogue (“She was pregnant. Big with it she was!”), and the actress delivers every line beautifully.

Great Scenes

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, House Divided, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal, Who Shot J.R.?

Purple rage

I’ve given J.R. and Sue Ellen’s dining room encounter today’s “Scene of the Day” honors, but truthfully, almost any sequence from this episode qualifies. “A House Divided” is one great moment after another.

Every scene has a memorable line, too. Bobby declares he’s leaving Southfork by telling Pam, “I’ve put up with all the wheeling and dealing and backstabbing that I’m going to.” After Kristin vows to kill J.R., Alan tells her to “take a number. There are a few of us ahead of you.” When Sue Ellen asks J.R. which slut he plans to spend the night with, he responds, “What difference does it make? Whoever it is has got to be more interesting than the slut I’m looking at right now.”

“A House Divided” isn’t perfect, of course. The press conference that opens the episode isn’t very credible, especially since the reporter’s last question (“Did Ewing Oil invest all of its capital in those leases and does nationalization mean the end of the Ewing empire?”) really should have been the first.

Also, as good as J.R. and Sue Ellen’s dining room confrontation is, I can’t help but notice Hagman delivers J.R.’s menacing threat (“The sooner we have you put away in that sanitarium, the better off you’re going to be.”) while holding a slice of bacon.

Surprise, Surprise

Dallas, House Divided, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Who Shot J.R.?

Down, but not out

For me, part of the fun of watching “A House Divided” today is wondering what it must have been like to see this episode when CBS aired it for the first time in 1980. I was 6 at the time and already a “Dallas” fan, so I probably was among the millions of people who watched that broadcast, although I have no memory of it.

Modern audiences likely assume J.R.’s shooting was a surprise, but CBS actually gave away the episode’s pivotal final scene in promos leading up to the broadcast. What a shame. Imagine how shocking the cliffhanger would have been if CBS hadn’t spoiled it.

Then again, when you think about it, the shooting itself really isn’t all that important. What matters is all the great drama that comes before those bullets are fired. In the end, the most surprising thing about “A House Divided” isn’t that J.R. gets gunned down, it’s how entertaining this episode remains, even when you have the whole thing memorized.

Grade: A+


Dallas, House Divided, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Who Shot J.R.?

Mr. Big Shot


Season 3, Episode 25

Airdate: March 21, 1980

Audience: 24.9 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Rena Down

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: The Asian oil fiasco bankrupts Vaughn Leland. Pam finds no evidence her mother is dead. J.R. shuts down Ewing 23 after learning Cliff is entitled to a share of the proceeds. Bobby and Pam, disgusted with J.R.’s tactics, leave Southfork. Sue Ellen, Cliff, Kristin, Alan and Vaughn vow to stop J.R., who is shot twice by an unseen assailant.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Kale Brown (reporter), Christopher Coffey (Professor Greg Forrester), Jeff Cooper (Dr. Simon Elby), Mary Crosby (Kristin Shepard), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), John Hart (Dr. David Rogers), Ron Hayes (Hank Johnson), Susan Keller (reporter), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jeanna Michaels (Connie), Ann Nelson (woman), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Randolph Powell (Alan Beam), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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