Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 181 — ‘The Brothers Ewing’

Bobby Ewing, Brothers Ewing, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy

The dark side

In “The Brothers Ewing,” J.R., Bobby and Ray join forces to protect the family business from the increasingly dangerous Cliff Barnes. You’d think by now we’d all be used to seeing the Ewings unite against their enemies, and yet it never seems to lose its punch, does it? Consider how the events of this episode allow the brothers to play against type. While Bobby is scheming with J.R. to illegally shield Ewing Oil assets from Cliff, Ray is defending J.R. to Clayton, Donna and whoever else will listen. How can you not love a “Dallas” episode that offers surprises like these?

Of course, even though the characters act unexpectedly in “The Brothers Ewing,” they’re not necessarily acting out of character. Take Bobby, for example. His devotion to his family is one of his primary motivations, and he’s usually able to take the high road to achieve his aims. But when virtue isn’t an option, Bobby is more than willing to break the rules. We saw this when he illegally adopted Christopher to save his marriage to Pam, and we saw it again when he fought J.R. during the contest for Ewing Oil. Likewise, Ray’s actions in this episode aren’t all that unusual. This character has always been plagued by feelings of inadequacy, and so when he’s presented with an opportunity to fight alongside his half-brothers, he takes it without hesitation. For Ray, this is like getting to sit with the cool kids at lunch.

Seeing the Ewing brothers working together also is entertaining because, well, it makes these Texas billionaires seem a little more relatable, doesn’t it? Growing up, my older brother never missed an opportunity to make fun of me — but if I got picked on by another kid in the neighborhood, Rick would be the first one to come to my defense. This is common in a lot of families, which is why it’s nice to be reminded that the Ewing boys always have each other’s backs, whether it’s J.R. threatening one of Bobby’s enemies in “Fallen Idol” or Ray sticking up for J.R. in “The Brothers Ewing.” For me — and, I suspect, a lot of “Dallas” fans — scenes like these feel comfortably familiar.

Speaking of Clayton: As much as I enjoy seeing the Ewing brothers go all-for-one-and-one-for-all in this episode, I’m glad David Paulsen’s script keeps their new stepfather on the outside looking in. Howard Keel makes an effective foil in the last scene, when Clayton refuses to aid their scheme to hide Ewing Oil assets because he feels it’s morally wrong. I also like him in the first scene, when the brothers return from their visit to Cliff and admit they blew their opportunity to squash his lawsuit. Clayton tears into the boys, saying, “If you’re all going to get involved in a fight as serious as this one, then you’d better start doing your homework!” J.R. gets defensive (“Well, wonderful. That’s all we need. A lecture from Clayton Farlow”), but ask yourself: Would Jock Ewing have treated his sons any differently at this moment?

Overall, I must admit these episodes about Cliff and Jamie Ewing’s lawsuit are better than I remembered. The storyline feels like a calculated attempt to recapture the glory of J.R. and Bobby’s sixth-season contest by offering an inverse: Instead of the Ewings fighting each other, they’re fighting outsiders. The family versus Cliff and Jamie isn’t as compelling as J.R. and Bobby versus each other, but I can’t blame the show for trying. I especially like how this narrative manages to involve almost all the characters, just like the contest did. In “The Brothers Ewing,” for example, Ray’s decision to team with J.R. and Bobby creates a rift in his marriage to Donna, which feels like a more organic storyline for Steve Kanaly and Susan Howard than the amateur detective subplot they were saddled with the previous season.

Indeed, one of the other highlights in “The Brothers Ewing” is the scene where Donna tells Miss Ellie how horrified she is to see her husband align himself with J.R. Ellie responds that if the Ewings lose the lawsuit, she’ll be glad that Ray and Bobby are with her oldest son because “we’ll have to rely on them to keep him straight.” It’s a poignant line, but it also shows how Donna Reed’s Ellie can be every bit as wise as Barbara Bel Geddes’ version. The scene has the added benefit of reminding us how Patrick Duffy always elicits strong performances from his co-stars when he takes a turn in the “Dallas” director’s chair. Duffy’s clever touch can also be felt in J.R. and Bobby’s scene on the shadowy patio, where the brothers hatch their plot against Cliff. Duffy stages the exchange by putting one of the Southfork columns between him and Larry Hagman — a symbol of the narrowing divide between the brothers.

Like all “Dallas” episodes from this era, “The Brothers Ewing” also contains its share of tributes to the past, including Sue Ellen’s run-in with Cliff, where the ex-lovers make awkward small talk. When she turns down his invitation to lunch, he declares he’s not trying to seduce her. “That thought never even entered my mind,” she says, which is funny, because it’s the first thought that entered mine. Other scenes are amusingly outdated, including one where J.R. calls the modeling agency, hoping to learn Mandy’s whereabouts by pretending to be her brother “Marvin Winger” (caller ID would give him away today), as well as Bobby and Jenna’s lunch with Scott Demarest, who shows them splashy headlines about her trial in the Laredo newspapers. This shocks the couple, although in a pre-Facebook era, how would they have known how the out-of-town press was covering her case?

I also get a kick out of seeing John Ross playing with his toy space shuttle — would today’s kids even know what that is? — although nothing charms me quite like the scene where Pam points to a globe and shows Christopher where Mommy will be traveling soon. When Victoria Principal says, “That’s Hong Kong,” Eric Farlow repeats the line back to her. It feels utterly spontaneous, prompting Principal to laugh uproariously and pull Farlow close. Like a similar scene between Pam and Christopher in the seventh-season cliffhanger “End Game,” this one demonstrates again that little Eric Farlow is more absorbed in his role than some of the grown-ups on this show. Can someone remind me again why they replaced this kid?

Grade: A

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Brothers Ewing, Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Eric Farlow, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Boy meets world

‘THE BROTHERS EWING’

Season 8, Episode 20

Airdate: February 15, 1985

Audience: 21.2 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Patrick Duffy

Synopsis: Clayton turns down his stepsons when they ask him to help them shield Ewing Oil assets from Cliff. Donna balks at Ray’s involvement with the fight for the company. Jamie has second thoughts about the lawsuit. Sue Ellen agrees to accompany Pam to Hong Kong to search for Mark. J.R. asks Mandy to give him another chance.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), John Carter (Carl Hardesty), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Eddie Firestone (Alf Brindle), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Kathleen York (Betty)

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

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]

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 161 — ‘End Game’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, End Game, Patrick Duffy

Best shot

The “End Game” cliffhanger is still powerful, especially when you watch the entire episode. In scene after scene, we’re led to believe everyone is gunning for J.R., just like they were four years earlier. The momentum builds until the final moments, when an unseen figure steps off the Ewing Oil elevator, enters J.R.’s office and fires three shots into the back of his chair. The feeling of shock that once accompanied the sight of Bobby slumping to the floor has long since faded, but it’s been replaced with something more satisfying — an appreciation for how much care the producers put into crafting “Dallas’s” grandest fake-out.

It’s also worth revisiting “End Game” to be reminded of how many iconic moments it contains. Two showcase Larry Hagman at his gleeful best. In one, J.R. cracks wise when Katherine glares at him after storming out of Bobby’s office (“You know, she has a nasty temper”). Later, J.R. shows up at Barnes-Wentworth and reveals he engineered Cliff’s spectacular offshore drilling implosion. Hagman delivers a string of classic one-liners, including “You needed slapping down, Cliff” and “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?” (Bless Ken Kercheval, who manages to make the audience feel sorry for Cliff, even as we bask in J.R.’s triumph.)

Hagman’s other great scene displays J.R.’s darker side. He sits with Sue Ellen and Peter at the Oil Baron’s Club and calmly reveals he arranged Peter’s arrest on drug charges after finding out about Sue Ellen’s affair with the young man. When J.R. offers to keep Peter out of jail if Sue Ellen resumes her wifely duties, Peter drops his “Mr. and Mrs. Ewing” act and exclaims, “Don’t do it, Sue Ellen!” J.R.’s response — “So now it’s ‘Sue Ellen’? — reminds us that for once, he’s the spouse who’s been deceived. It’s also striking how Hagman and Linda Gray never take their eyes off each other in this scene. Make no mistake: This is a showdown between J.R. and Sue Ellen; Peter is nothing more than a pawn to them.

“End Game” also offers a mercifully speedy resolution to the Miss Ellie kidnapping subplot, although I’ll never understand why the producers didn’t leave Jessica on the lam through the end of the season. She would have made a fine suspect in the “who shot Bobby?” mystery, no? Also, after everything Jessica put Ellie and Clayton through, it would have been nice to finally see the couple’s long-delayed wedding, but maybe the shot of J.R. and Bobby preparing to walk Ellie down the aisle is all we need. Just think: This is Ellie’s last appearance until Donna Reed takes over the role, so if Barbara Bel Geddes hadn’t eventually returned to “Dallas,” this would have been our farewell to the beloved actress.

“End Game” does mark the final appearances of Christopher Atkins as Peter and Barry Corbin as Sheriff Washburn. The episode also boasts its share of oddities, including the reflection of a crewmember in a glass panel in the Ewing Oil reception area (you’ll spot him at 47-minute, 32-second mark), and a somewhat unusual scene in which Pam tells little Christopher about the mess she’s made of her life. “You don’t understand any of this, do you?” she asks. Gazing up at her, he whispers, “No.” My friend at Hill Place Blog is convinced Eric Farlow ad-libbed this line; the child is so caught up in Victoria Principal’s performance, he speaks from the heart. It’s a sweetly honest moment on a show that could have used more of them this season.

The episode’s other unexpected moment comes a little earlier, when Sue Ellen and Pam are having a heart-to-heart in the Southfork living room. Seeing how depressed her friend is, Sue Ellen offers to take Pam to a movie to cheer her up but says she wants to go upstairs and change first. In the next scene, Sue Ellen returns to the living room dressed to the nines — she’s ditched her perfectly acceptable sweater and slacks for a runway-ready flowing dress, complete with a turban. It’s one of the most epic costume changes in “Dallas” history, and it leaves me wondering: What’s a bigger tragedy in “End Game” — Bobby’s shooting or the notion that Sue Ellen would wear such a gorgeous outfit to a dark theater where no one could see it?

Grade: A

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Dallas, End Game, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Turban legend

‘END GAME’

Season 7, Episode 30

Airdate: May 18, 1984

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

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Miss Ellie is rescued and returns to Southfork, where she marries Clayton while Jessica is put in a sanitarium. Pam takes Christopher and leaves town after finding out about Bobby and Jenna’s engagement. Bobby once again rejects Katherine. J.R. reveals he set up Cliff, who goes on a bender and misses the news that his offshore oil wells finally came in. J.R. also reveals he set up Peter, forcing Sue Ellen to return to their bedroom in exchange for keeping her ex-lover from going to jail. An unseen assailant enters Ewing Oil and fires three shots into J.R.’s chair, where Bobby is seated.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Billy Green Bush (Deputy Rockwell), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Barry Corbin (Sheriff Fenton Washburn), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Bill Morey (Leo Wakefield), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Gene Ross (Bull Dawson), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Alexis Smith (Lady Jessica Montfort), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), John Zarema (Dr. Harlan Danvers)

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

‘Dallas’ Episode Titles, Airdates Posted

Dallas, Elena Ramos, Hurt, John Ross Ewing, Jordana Brewster, Josh Henderson, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Julie Gonzalo, Nicolas Trevino, Pamela Rebecca Barnes Ewing, TNT

Who’ll get “Hurt”?

We don’t know what will happen during the second half of “Dallas’s” third season, but we do know what the episodes will be called and when we might see them:

• TNT posted the titles online last week. They are: “Denial, Anger, Acceptance” (Episode 34), “Dead Reckoning” (Episode 35), “Hurt” (Episode 36), “Victims of Love” (Episode 37), “Boxed In” (Episode 38), “Endgame” (Episode 39) and “Brave New World” (Episode 40).

• TNT hasn’t released airdates, except to say “Denial, Anger, Acceptance” will be shown Monday, August 18. According to IMDb, TNT will televise the remaining episodes on successive Mondays, with one exception: The last two episodes, “Endgame” and “Brave New World,” will each be shown September 22.

Nothing is official until TNT confirms it, of course. But if the airdates on IMDb are accurate, “Dallas” will wrap up its third year on what will probably be the first night of the 2014-15 television season, when the broadcast networks will be going all out to lure viewers. In other words: The competition will be tough.

Also, trivia buffs, take note: The original “Dallas” had an “End Game” (Bobby gets shot!) and a “Dead Reckoning” (Miss Ellie boots Clayton off Southfork!), while “The Sopranos” had a “Denial, Anger, Acceptance” (Meadow does speed!).

What do you hope to see when “Dallas” returns? Share your comments below and read more news from Dallas Decoder.