The Best & Worst of Dallas: Season 6

There’s lots to love and little to loathe about “Dallas’s” sixth season.

Performances

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Oh, darlin’

Every cast member shines during Season 6, but Linda Gray’s performance during Sue Ellen’s alcoholic spiral makes her first among equals. Sue Ellen doesn’t just lose her self-respect; she comes close to losing her life when she drives drunk and crashes J.R.’s car. What impresses me most about Gray is how she keeps the audience rooting for Sue Ellen, even when she makes mistakes. What an amazing performance.

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy

Still our hero

Give it up for Patrick Duffy too. If you were surprised to see Bobby unleash his inner junkyard dog on the most recent season of TNT’s “Dallas,” then check out Season 6 of the original series, which marks the first time the character reveals his ferocious side. The “Dallas” writers take Bobby to a very dark place during the yearlong contest for Ewing Oil, but Duffy makes sure we never forget he’s still the Bobby Ewing we know and love. Bravo.

Storylines

Speaking of J.R. and Bobby’s contest: It’s too early for me to call this “Dallas’s” all-time greatest plot — I still have eight more seasons to revisit — but it’s hard to imagine anything surpassing the battle royale between the brothers Ewing. The reason the storyline succeeds isn’t the premise, which — let’s face it — is more than a little implausible. (A major corporation splits in half for a year to determine which of its top two executives should be in charge?) No, this arc works because it involves every character and showcases their complexities. Is it surprising to see Bobby play dirty or to witness J.R. wracked with guilt at season’s end? Sure, yet it never feels out of character for them. “Dallas” is always at its best when the characters, not the writers, drive the narrative, and that’s never been truer than it is here.

Episodes

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Power hour

This is the first season that I’ve reviewed in which none of the episodes received anything less than a “B” grade. For the record: Year 6 consists of 28 hours, and I handed out nine “B’s,” 16 “A’s” and three (!) “A+’s.” My favorite is “Penultimate,” a powerful hour of television that deals with the fallout from Sue Ellen’s accident and leaves us wondering: What’s more destructive — her addiction to booze or her addiction to J.R.?

Scenes

The final moments in “Tangled Web” never fail to give me chills. We’re with Sue Ellen every step of the way when she walks across Holly’s driveway, enters the house and sees her in bed with J.R. (Trivia: My readers tell me when this scene was broadcast in 1983, it was scored, but for whatever reason the music doesn’t appear on the DVD. I’d love to see the original version, but I must say: The lonely sounds of Sue Ellen’s heels clicking and clacking help make this scene so effective.) More great moments: Cliff comes to terms with his guilt over Rebecca’s death (this is Ken Kercheval at his most brilliant) and three scenes that showcase the incomparable Barbara Bel Geddes — Miss Ellie predicts the future for Sue Ellen, eulogizes Jock a the Oil Baron’s Ball and testifies at the hearing to overturn his will.

Hands down, my least favorite scene: In “A Ewing is a Ewing,” J.R. comes on to Holly and she tells him “no,” but he has sex with her anyway. Was this really necessary to demonstrate J.R.’s villainy?

Supporting Players

Dallas, Mickey Trotter, Timothy Patrick Murphy

Transformer

Do you despise cocky Mickey Trotter when he arrives at the beginning of Season 6? Are you surprised when he tries to save Sue Ellen at the end of the year? If you answer “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second, then credit Timothy Patrick Murphy, who does a nice job turning Mickey from a punk into a prince over the course of the season. Also, thanks to Murphy, Lucy finally gets a leading man worthy of Charlene Tilton’s charm.

Props

Jock’s portrait is introduced during “Dallas’s” fifth season, but the show makes magnificent use of it throughout Season 6. Jock looms in the background of so many crucial scenes, including the will reading, which marks one of the few occasions when all of the Ewings are together in one room (even Gary’s there!), and J.R. and Ray’s fistfight in “Ewing Inferno,” when all hell breaks loose — literally. TNT, take note: This is how you use a portrait to help keep alive a character’s memory.

Costumes

Dallas, Donna Krebbs, Susan Howard

Red hat mama

I love Pam’s upswept hairdo and western dress in “Barbecue Three,” her print skirt in “Brothers and Sisters” and Afton’s navy blouse/white skirt combo in “The Ewing Blues,” but my favorite fashion statement is made by Susan Howard, who sports a striking red hat when Donna attends the inaugural meeting of the Texas Energy Commission (also “Barbecue Three”). Eat your heart out, Katherine Wentworth!

Quips

Throughout Season 6, Larry Hagman zings like no one else. Here’s J.R. to Holly, upon spotting her lounging around her pool with a shirtless stud: “Traveling with the intellectual set, I see.” To Mickey, after the young man announces he’s a Trotter, not a Krebbs: “Oh, well. I’m bound to sleep more soundly tonight knowing that.” To Katherine, upon hearing she has something to discuss with him: “Oh, don’t tell me. Not Cliff Barnes. I couldn’t handle that.” In the end, though, my favorite quip comes from Sue Ellen, who is aghast when J.R. criticizes Pam for giving “aid and comfort to the opposition” during the hearing to overturn Jock’s will. “Opposition?” Sue Ellen says. “J.R., that’s your mother.”

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

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘No, J.R.’

A Ewing is a Ewing, Dallas, Holly Harwood, Lois Chiles

No

In “A Ewing is a Ewing,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode, Holly (Lois Chiles) arrives in the darkened Ewing Oil reception area and finds J.R. (Larry Hagman) waiting for her.

J.R.: Hello, Holly.

HOLLY: Why the late-hour meeting, J.R.? I don’t understand why you couldn’t tell me what you wanted —

J.R.: There are a number of things you don’t understand, darlin’. That’s why I asked you to meet me here. Come on in my office. [Walks into his office, stands near the door] Come on, hon. [Holly comes to the door, pauses] Come on. [She enters and he closes the door behind her.] Like a drink?

HOLLY: No. Get on with it, J.R.

J.R.: [Pouring] Looks like I’m running into teetotalers all over the place. I had a meeting with a gentleman this afternoon, wouldn’t have a drink with me. [Sips from his glass]

HOLLY: J.R., I think we better talk some other time.

J.R.: You told the Air Force that I was behind your attempt to cancel their contract. [She’s silent.] Holly, we had an agreement. No one was to know I had any connection with Harwood Oil.

HOLLY: Anytime you want out of your contract —

J.R.: I don’t want out of the contract. And I don’t want any more stupid mistakes. You understand that?

HOLLY: What I understand is that I made the biggest mistake of my life when I made a deal with you.

J.R.: Not if you listen and do exactly like I tell you.

HOLLY: For how long?

J.R.: [Pauses, looks away, then back at her] As long as I need you.

HOLLY: Then what? You break Harwood? Ewing picks up the pieces?

J.R.: I don’t need to break Harwood. I already run it. And from now on, I run you too, darlin’.

HOLLY: Never!

She turns away from him. He approaches her from behind.

J.R.: Holly, you don’t have any choice, honey. [Touches her hair]

HOLLY: Take your hands off me, J.R.

J.R.: You wanted me once. [Reaches around, unbuttons her jacket]

HOLLY: You turned me down.

J.R.: Now we can start from scratch. [Pulls her jacket off her shoulders]

HOLLY: No, J.R. I don’t want this.

J.R.: I give the orders. You just follow them. That’s the way it’s going to be.

HOLLY: You won’t enjoy it.

J.R.: You better make damn sure I do.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 119 — ‘A Ewing is a Ewing’

A Ewing is a Ewing, Dallas, Holly Harwood, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Lois Chiles

It’s complicated

The most unsettling moment in “A Ewing is a Ewing”: Holly Harwood arrives for an after-hours meeting at J.R.’s office, where he chastises her for telling one of Harwood Oil’s top customers that J.R. has become a silent partner in the company. Holly expresses regret — not for letting the cat out of the bag, but for going into business with J.R. in the first place. She turns her back to him. J.R. approaches from behind, reaches around and slowly begins to unbutton her jacket. “No, J.R. I don’t want this,” she says. He pulls the jacket off her shoulders. “You won’t enjoy it,” she continues. His reply: “You better make damn sure I do.”

The scene ends here, but there’s no doubt intercourse occurs. (Later in “A Ewing is a Ewing,” Holly pulls a gun on J.R. and tells him what transpired in his office will never happen again.) The question is: Is this rape? I can’t decide. On the one hand, Holly tells J.R. “no,” but he has sex with her anyway. How can that be anything but assault? On the other hand, I wonder why Holly makes no attempt to run away or to fight J.R. when he begins disrobing her. This woman is no shrinking violet, as the gun scene later in the episode demonstrates.

Given the ambiguity, perhaps a better question is: What did the people who made “Dallas” want the audience to think when this scene was broadcast 30 years ago? It seems shocking to think that a network television show would allow its lead character to rape a woman (this was CBS in the 1980s, not AMC today), so I wonder if the producers and writers merely saw this as another example of J.R. running roughshod over one of his enemies? Could it be the people behind the scenes didn’t grasp that this might be construed as an act of sexual violence? To be fair, society has a greater understanding of rape today than it did three decades ago, but it’s not like nothing was known about these kinds of crimes back then. Perhaps these two facts are telling: None of the producers listed in the “Dallas” credits during the 1982-83 season are women, and of the 28 episodes produced that year, all but one were written by men. (Linda Elstad wrote “Requiem,” which aired three weeks after “A Ewing is a Ewing.”).

Regardless of what this scene is supposed to depict, I dislike it. I’m usually willing to forgive J.R. his sins, even when my conscience tries to tug me in the other direction. I’m an unapologetic J.R. apologist. J.R. is cheating in a business deal? I say: He’s just trying to make his daddy proud, and who can’t sympathize with that? J.R. is cheating on Sue Ellen? In my mind, he’s merely revealing his foibles. But even I can’t justify my hero’s behavior in this scene. Make no mistake: This is not one of J.R.’s sly seductions. I hate how he how he stands in the doorway of his office and beckons Holly into the room by saying, “Come on, hon. Come on.” He treats her like a child or worse, a pet.

The scene invites comparisons to another disturbing “Dallas” sequence — this one from the 10th episode, “Black Market Baby” — when J.R. angrily pins Sue Ellen to their bed and forces himself on her, despite her repeatedly saying, “I don’t want you.” I don’t like that scene any more than the one with Holly, but keep in mind: It was filmed in 1978, before Larry Hagman had perfected the smiling warrior routine that made him so endearing to fans like me. Other soap opera icons have similar skeletons in their closet — Luke raped Laura before they became a couple on “General Hospital,” while Blake forced himself on Krystle during an early episode of “Dynasty” — but once Luke and Blake were redeemed, their shows were loathe to remind audiences of the characters’ past sins. Why would “Dallas” want to risk the affection that fans had for J.R., unless the show was feeling long in the tooth and trying to recapture some of its earlier edge?

Of course, no matter how distressing I find J.R. and Holly’s scene, I still appreciate how good Hagman and Lois Chiles are in it. Hagman, who also directed “A Ewing is a Ewing,” wisely avoids any hint of mischief, choosing instead to play J.R. as purely menacing. Chiles, in the meantime, makes us feel Holly’s sense of trepidation when she arrives for their meeting, as well as the disgust that grips her when J.R. begins unbuttoning her jacket. Hagman and Chiles are also terrific in the scene where Holly pulls the gun on J.R. I like how he snickers when she produces the weapon, only to breathe a private sigh of relief the moment he exits the room. Frankly, it’s cathartic to see J.R. scared.

I think it’s also worth considering how J.R. treats Sue Ellen in “A Ewing is a Ewing.” At the beginning of the second act, he “confides” in Sue Ellen that he needs someone to refine his crude and suggests she could ask Clayton Farlow to do it on his behalf. Sue Ellen resists this idea, so J.R. exploits her Achilles heel: He suggests that without Clayton’s help, he might lose the contest for Ewing Oil, thus robbing John Ross of his birthright. “It’s funny, isn’t it?” J.R. says. “The one thing I need to beat Bobby, to secure our future — the future of our little boy — is in the hands of a man that despises me.”

This is the second time in recent episodes that J.R. has used Sue Ellen as a pawn in the battle for Ewing Oil: In “Fringe Benefits,” he asks her to host a dinner party for Gil Thurman, even though he knows the lecherous Thurman will make a pass at her. That scheme ends disastrously, and Sue Ellen’s appeal to Clayton in “A Ewing is a Ewing” doesn’t turn out much better. Clayton feels she’s taking advantage of their friendship by asking him to help J.R. and storms away. It makes me wonder: Was this J.R.’s goal all along, to drive a wedge between his wife and Clayton?

Like J.R., Bobby shows he’s also willing to use people to get what he wants in “A Ewing is a Ewing.” (No doubt Bobby’s emulation of his brother inspired this episode’s title.) When Bobby discovers J.R. is in cahoots with energy commissioner George Hicks, Bobby hires Wendy, one of Carl Daggett’s prostitutes, to begin dating Hicks so she can dig up dirt on him. (The seeds for this subplot were planted in “Where There’s a Will,” which introduced the terrific character actor Charles Napier as Daggett, an old friend of Bobby’s.) In “A Ewing is a Ewing’s” memorable final scene, Pam arrives for dinner with Bobby at an out-of-the-way restaurant, but she’s unaware the only reason he asked her out for the evening is so he can spy on Wendy and Hicks, who are drinking on the other side of the room. Bobby isn’t just using Wendy; he’s using his wife too.

I suppose I should be disappointed in Bobby, but I’m not. It’s rather satisfying to see him shed his good-guy veneer, at least for a little while. Or maybe it’s just that after everything else that goes down in this episode, seeing Bobby dabble in prostitution and blackmail doesn’t seem so bad.

Grade: B

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A Ewing is a Ewing, Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy

Yep, he’s a Ewing

‘A EWING IS A EWING’

Season 6, Episode 16

Airdate: January 28, 1983

Audience: 22.3 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Frank Furino

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: After J.R. pressures Holly into having sex with him, she pulls a gun on him and declares their relationship is now strictly business. Bobby discovers J.R. is in cahoots with George Hicks, a member of the Texas Energy Commission, and hires a prostitute to set up Hicks. Clayton reacts angrily when Sue Ellen asks him to refine J.R.’s crude and leaves for Galveston, where he spends time with the vacationing Miss Ellie. The cartel buys out Bobby’s share of the Wellington property. Cliff urges his party to recruit J.R. as a candidate for office. Mark continues to pursue Pam.

Cast: John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Ion Berger (detective), Robert Burleigh (Harry), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), April Clough (Wendy), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), John Dennis (Ned), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), 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), Paul Mantee (General Cochran), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Charles Napier (Carl Daggett), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Arlen Dean Snyder (George Hicks), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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