The Best & Worst of Dallas: Season 2

“Dallas” was still figuring itself out during its second season, which means there was plenty to hail and heckle.


Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Miss Ellie Ewing

Don’t mess with Mama

Although every member of the ensemble has great moments this season, no one is as consistently wonderful as Barbara Bel Geddes. Miss Ellie becomes a somewhat frustrating character as “Dallas” progresses – she too often casts a blind eye to J.R.’s shenanigans, in my view – but Season 2 is the year you do not want to mess with Mama. We see her demand J.R. clean up his act, order Julie to stay away from Jock and urge Pam to fight for her marriage. (There’s also Ellie’s encounter with the poor sap who makes the mistake of sneaking onto Southfork; see “Scenes” below.) In just about every second-season episode, Bel Geddes demonstrates how lucky “Dallas” is to have her.


“Black Market Baby” is the most intriguing, “For Love or Money” is the saddest and “Royal Marriage” is a sentimental favorite, but “John Ewing III, Part 2” gets my vote for the season’s all-around best episode. Linda Gray is mesmerizing in the scene where Sue Ellen tearfully confesses her sins to Bobby, but Larry Hagman, Ken Kercheval and Victoria Principal all have terrific moments too.

Hands down, the season’s weakest hour is “Runaway,” the first – and so far only – “Dallas” episode to receive a “D” grade from me. Run away, indeed.


Ten words of dialogue are all you need to describe Season 2’s best scene: “Ray, get me the shotgun out of the hall closet.”

The worst scene? The “Call Girl” sequence where Leeann Rees (Veronica Hamel) lures drunken Ben Maxwell (Fred Beir) into Pam’s bed while J.R.’s sleazy photographer furiously snaps pictures outside the window. What a farce. I half expect Mr. and Mrs. Roper to come charging into the room, wondering what all the commotion is all about.

Supporting Players

Dallas, Joan Van Ark, Valene Ewing


I don’t care how many times I watch it, Joan Van Ark’s performance at the end of “Reunion, Part 2” always knocks me out. In the blink of an eye, Valene goes from anguished when she bids Gary adieu to enraged when she confronts J.R. for driving away his middle brother. With the exception of Linda Gray, no actress in “Dallas” history has better chemistry with Larry Hagman than Van Ark. What a shame she didn’t spend more time at Southfork.

My least-favorite guest stars: the three actors who portray the bad guys in “Kidnapped.” What’s the bigger crime here: holding Bobby hostage or the witless Edward G. Robinson imitations these villains-of-the-week deliver? Then again, what do you expect when performers are given lines like, “We may have the wrong goose – but he can still lay the golden egg!”


Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal


I loved the striped hoodie, green pants and knee-high tan boots Pam wears during the “Election” scene where Cliff persuades her to organize a fashion show fundraiser for his state senate campaign. You could put this outfit on Jordana Brewster on TNT’s “Dallas” and she’d look just as stylish as Victoria Principal does in 1978.

Pam also gets my vote for worst outfit: the weird “pants dress” she sports in “Black Market Baby.”


Season 1 gives us Jerrold Immel’s classic “Dallas” theme music, but Season 2 brings us many of John Parker’s magical background tunes, including “The Only Lovers,” Bobby and Pam’s theme; “The Adulteress,” Sue Ellen’s bluesy signature; and “The Loyal Foreman,” Ray’s anthem. (If you don’t own it already, do yourself a favor and purchase Parker’s classic “Dallas” soundtrack today.)


Best: “Bobby, come on. Women marry homosexuals all the time. It seems to suit a lot of them.” – J.R.’s response in “Royal Marriage” after Bobby questions his insistence Lucy marry the closeted oil-and-cattle heir Kit Mainwaring.

Worst: In “Fallen Idol,” J.R. expresses his annoyance with Guzzler Bennett’s name-dropping thusly: “The next thing you know, the name of that actress is gonna be Farrah Fawcett-Guzzler.” Oh, J.R.! Leave the pop culture references to Sue Ellen.

What do you love and loathe about “Dallas’s” second season? Share your comments below and read more “Best & Worst” reviews.

Dallas Isn’t ‘Brokeback Southfork,’ But It’s Pretty Gay

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

You go, girl

By today’s standards, “Dallas” isn’t a “gay” show. Southfork never hosts a “Brokeback Mountain”-esque love story. There are no same-sex office romances at Ewing Oil. Dusty Farlow wears ascots to keep dust out of his face, not because he’s fabulous.

Yet “Dallas” is very much a show with gay sensibilities. It regularly explores themes – empowerment, identity, gender roles – that resonate with gay audiences, and often in ways that are surprisingly smart.

I didn’t catch a lot of this while watching the show in the 1980s, when I was a pretty confused gay kid. But when I think about those years now, I wonder if “Dallas’s” gay subtext helps explain its appeal to me. Maybe my middle-school gaydar was stronger than I realized.

Kit, But Not Much Kaboodle

“Dallas” makes subtle references to homosexuality in early episodes like “Election,” when J.R. questions Cliff’s close relationship with his male campaign manager, and “Call Girl,” when J.R. creates a scandal by making it look like Pam is involved in a three-way relationship with a man and another woman.

The show stops dancing around the issue in “Royal Marriage,” the 1979 episode where Kit Mainwaring, an oil-and-cattle heir who is secretly gay, breaks his engagement to Lucy and comes out of the closet. This episode, which reflects the ’70s trend toward “socially conscious” television (see also: “All in the Family,” “Lou Grant,” et. al.), is handled with surprising sophistication, making Kit one of prime-time television’s breakthrough gay characters.

Kit is also a footnote: “Dallas” ran 14 seasons and produced 357 episodes, yet he is the only character whose homosexuality is ever acknowledged on the show.

There are only fleeting gay allusions in later episodes. During the sixth season, Lucy wonders if John Ross’s camp counselor Peter Richards is gay because he doesn’t want to date her (she doesn’t realize Peter is in love with Sue Ellen), but the show never again identifies a character as being gay.

This isn’t altogether surprising. Prime-time television mostly retreated to the closet during the AIDS hysteria in the 1980s. Also, once “Dallas” became television’s most-watched show, it embraced its escapist bent and pretty much stopped doing “issues” stories. Both factors probably explain why the producers notoriously dropped plans to make villainess Angelica Nero a lesbian during the 1985-86 season.

Sue Ellen: Icon – and Avatar

The absence of gay characters on “Dallas” doesn’t mean the show lacks characters and storylines gay audiences could identify with. Consider Sue Ellen, whose boozing, philandering and sharp tongue make her an icon among gay fans who love camp.

But Sue Ellen shouldn’t be treated only as a joke. If you consider her arc during the course of the series, she makes an ideal avatar for gay audiences.

When “Dallas” begins, Sue Ellen is the show’s most sexually repressed character. In the first-season episode “Spy in the House,” she tries to spark J.R.’s interest with a sexy negligee, only to have him cast it aside and accuse her of being unladylike. J.R.’s rejection sends Sue Ellen into the shadows, where she finds sexual fulfillment with other men and develops her drinking problem. This double life must have felt familiar to gay men and women who spent the ’70s and ’80s trapped in the closet.

By the end of the Reagan era, when AIDS was galvanizing gay people and giving the gay rights movement new momentum, Sue Ellen finally begins pulling herself together. She quits drinking, embarks on a successful business career and leaves J.R. for good.

During Linda Gray’s final appearance on the show in 1989, Sue Ellen turns the tables on J.R. and tells him off, one last time (“You will be the laughingstock of Texas.”). All “Dallas” fans cheered this moment, but for gay viewers, I suspect it had special meaning. Sue Ellen was standing up to her oppressor at a time when many gay Americans were beginning to do the same – in the voting booth, in the workplace, in the streets.

There’s Something About Gary

“Dallas’s” gay viewers might see themselves in other characters, too.

The series often explores the theme of confused identities. Two notable examples: Pam and Ray each learn they were raised by people who aren’t their biological fathers, and for both characters, this discovery triggers a lot of angst.

“Dallas’s” recurring theme of estranged fathers and sons is probably familiar to a lot of gay men. At various points, Jock has tense relations with each of the Ewing boys, especially Gary.

In fact, the dialogue during Gary’s homecoming in the second-season “Reunion” episodes makes me wonder if the producers were considering making the character gay. Pam points out Gary is “different.” Bobby calls him “gentle.” Lucy says she hopes Val will “straighten” him out. Was this coded language, dropped into the scripts to lay the groundwork for Gary’s eventual coming out?

Maybe, maybe not. But a gay Ewing is an interesting idea to contemplate.

Are you listening, TNT?

Do you consider “Dallas” a gay-friendly show? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

Dallas Styles: Cliff’s ‘Winner Look’


“Dallas’s” second-season episode “For Love or Money” establishes an interesting facet of Cliff’s character: He may be the show’s biggest cheapskate, but he’s willing to splurge on nice clothes.

The first time we see Cliff in this episode, he’s being fitted for a new suit at The Store while his sister Pam, a Store employee, watches and teases him.

Special delivery

“I am impressed,” she says. “Did you get tired of your underdog look?”

“Underdog?” Cliff responds. “That’s out. Now it’s the winner look that’s in.”

The conversation alludes to the events of an earlier second-season episode, “Election,” when Cliff loses a race for state senate because he isn’t willing to play dirty like the Ewings, who backed his opponent.

After the loss, Cliff resolves to do whatever it takes to beat the Ewings. He begins an affair with J.R.’s wife Sue Ellen, then becomes the state’s land-use chief, a position he uses as a platform for revenge.

In “For Love or Money,” Cliff’s new suit – a three-piece, pinstriped number – symbolizes his attempt to emulate his wealthier enemies.

Cliff is wearing the vest and pants at the end of the episode, when his secretary buzzes him in his office to announce J.R. wants to see him. Cliff quickly and somewhat nervously dons the jacket and adjusts his shirt cuffs before opening the door to his archrival. The implication: He wants J.R. to see him as an equal.

This dynamic continues during “Dallas’s” later years. Cliff remains a tightwad – he lives in modest homes and never loses his affinity for Chinese takeout – but his sense of style never suffers.

The result: Ken Kercheval becomes “Dallas’s” sharpest-dressed actor. Flamboyant pocket squares becomes one of Cliff’s signatures, and in the next-to-last episode, “The Decline and Fall of the Ewing Empire,” the character achieves his longtime ambition of taking Ewing Oil away from J.R.

Finally, Cliff isn’t just dressing like a winner. He is one.

Dallas Styles: Sue Ellen’s Pins

‘Black Market Baby’

Sue Ellen sports some interesting accessories during “Dallas’s” second season, particularly during her scenes with Cliff.

She meets him in “Black Market Baby,” when she has a big fabric rose pinned to the lapel of her burgundy jacket. The fake flower is an ideal symbol for the beginning of Sue Ellen and Cliff’s relationship, when they pretend to like each other. In fact, their mutual disdain for J.R. is really the only thing they have in common.


In “Election,”Sue Ellen runs into Cliff again when the Daughters of the Alamo sponsors a debate between him and Martin Cole, his opponent in the state senate race. This time, she wears a pin that resembles a bird’s wing – several feathers, fastened together at what appears to be an amethyst base.

It might seem like Sue Ellen is telegraphing her eagerness to spread her wings, leave J.R. and find happiness with someone else. But remember: she’s wearing only one wing – and that’s not going to get her very far.

Neither is her relationship with Cliff.

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘We’ve Chosen Our Sides’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Election, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Running mates

In “Election,” a second-season “Dallas” episode, Bobby and Pam (Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal) are in their bedroom, discussing her decision to help Cliff’s campaign against a Ewing-backed candidate for state senate.

BOBBY: [Walks toward Pam, who is seated on their bed] Pamela, do you understand what this election means to my family?

PAM: Oh, I understand exactly what it means to your family. It’s a way to get back at my brother!

BOBBY: Now you’re being simplistic Pamela, and you know it. Besides, your brother hasn’t exactly had a hands off policy when it comes to us, now has he?

PAM: Well, what do you expect him to do? If he doesn’t do something, the Ewing family is going to control everyone and everything!

BOBBY: Oh stop it, Pamela! You’re starting to sound like that knee-jerk radical brother of yours. [Begins to leave the room]

PAM: If being a knee-jerk radical means being against exploitation, corruption and greed, I’m proud to be one!

BOBBY: [Walks back toward Pam] Exploitation and corruption of who, of what? Look, my daddy built an empire here because he was smarter than the next guy, and he worked harder – and he was luckier. But anybody with the same qualifications can do the same thing.

PAM: [Stands and faces Bobby] That’s easy to say when you’re born rich. It’s the others Cliff’s worried about!

BOBBY: Oh, Cliff talks a great game but when it comes right down to it, he can play just as dirty as the rest of them.

PAM: [Pauses, then lowers her voice] Well, we see things differently, don’t we?

BOBBY: What I see, Pamela, is what this is doing to us.

PAM: [Sits back down] Well, we’ve chosen our sides.

BOBBY: No. No, not this time. This time, I think we were born into them.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 13 – ‘Election’

Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Election, Ken Kercheval

Smear campaign

If ever anyone questioned the politics of “Dallas’s” first families, “Election” should clear things up.

Cliff runs for state senate on a pro-environment, anti-corruption platform. Martin Cole, the candidate the Ewings recruit to run against him, is described as a churchgoer who opposes gun control, abortion rights and higher taxes.

Could it be clearer?

When “Election” begins, the liberal Cliff is cast in a better light than the conservative Ewings. In the first scene, he rejects a big campaign contribution from a sleazy oil industry emissary – even though his shoestring campaign desperately needs cash.

Contrast this with J.R. and Jock. When Cole’s campaign flounders, they resort to dirty tricks, exposing the fact that when Cliff was younger, his pregnant girlfriend died after a botched abortion.

But ultimately, “Election” takes a cynical view of all politics. In the final scene, after Cliff has lost his race, he calls top aide Peter Larson and tells him he’ll run again – but in his next campaign, he’ll take the oil industry’s money. “Peter,” Cliff says, “I just became a realist.”

This is a turning point for Cliff – the moment he decides the ends (beating the Ewings) are more important than the means (honoring your principles). These are the values that will define his character through the rest of “Dallas’s” run.

Of course, “Election’s” harsh judgment of politics shouldn’t come as a surprise. Other early episodes make it clear “Dallas” doesn’t hold politicians in high regard.

“Digger’s Daughter” introduces Bobby as Ewing Oil’s “road man,” who supplies state legislators with broads and booze to get them to vote the company’s way. “Spy in the House” features a state senator who takes bribes. In “Old Acquaintance,” another senator’s mistress jeopardizes his appointment to a federal job.

Crooked politicians like these seem as realistic today as they did in the Watergate era, when “Dallas” debuted.

Just as timeless is “Election’s” references to the importance of television advertising in politics, although Jock goes a little overboard when he urges Cole to buy more airtime. “I want to see your face every time I turn that damn thing on,” the old man barks.

It’s the only thing in this episode that doesn’t really ring true. I mean, has anyone ever wished for more political ads on TV?

Grade: A


Bobby Ewing, Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Election, Ken Kercheval, Pam Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal

Welcome to the real world


Season 2, Episode 8

Airdate: November 5, 1978

Audience: 11.5 million homes, ranking 48th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Rena Down

Director: Barry Crane

Synopsis: Cliff’s run for state senate divides Pam and Bobby. After J.R. exposes skeletons in Cliff’s closet and he loses, Cliff vows to play dirty during his next campaign.

Cast: Robert Ackerman (Wade Luce), Norman Bartold (Evans), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Joshua Bryant (Peter Carson), Allen Cae (Martin Cole), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Buck Young (Seth Stone)

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