Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 14 – ‘False Confessions’

Dallas, False Confessions, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, TNT

J.R. Ewing here

You can feel the hate in “False Confessions.” This episode takes an unapologetically dark view of the Barnes/Ewing feud, which is fitting since the conflict has been going on for so long now it seems Biblical. The epic scope of Taylor Hamra’s script makes this one of “Dallas’s” most satisfying hours this season, which is a real achievement when you consider Larry Hagman appears in just three scenes, and never once does he come face to face with Ken Kercheval. Since Cliff isn’t expected to resurface until J.R.’s midseason funeral, this probably means we’ll never see these old enemies clash again. A sad thought, but one we better start getting used to.

More than anything, “False Confessions” demonstrates how much Cliff has changed. Yesterday’s needy neurotic has become today’s guileful Godfather. How? Why? When? The new “Dallas” has never spelled this out, which makes it tough for longtime fans to figure out what turned Cliff so … evil. I suppose it’s up to each of us to fill in the gaps ourselves, so here’s my theory: After the original “Dallas” ended and J.R. slipped into depression and isolation, Cliff lost his biggest distraction in life, liberating him to focus on building an empire of his own. He’s become one of the world’s richest men, but he’s still hell-bent on beating the Ewings for the same reason Mitt Romney kept running for president – because after you’ve conquered the rest of the world, what else is left?

Whatever the reason for Cliff’s metamorphosis, there’s no denying that “Fatal Confessions” turns him into “Dallas’s” most tragic figure. Cliff pulls out the stops to protect Pamela from prosecution – probably because he loves her, but also because she’s so crucial to his plot against the Ewings. To make matters worse, he forces his “son” Frank to fall on his sword, again to keep his revenge scheme moving forward. It’s hard to not see the parallels with Cliff’s father Digger, who relied on his son to settle his scores with the Ewings, just like Cliff has done with his own children. Of course, Digger was a broken drunk, while Cliff is global titan – but that only makes Cliff seem smaller.

This much is certain: Kercheval is as watchable as ever. I loved his flamboyant performances on the old show; you never knew how Kercheval would approach a scene, which made him “Dallas’s” most electric actor. Now, as the more restrained Cliff, Kercheval turns out to be just as fascinating. Consider the tense scene where Cliff persuades Frank to “do the honorable thing” and kill himself. I would never have dreamed Cliff could be this cold and calculating, but man, does Kercheval sell it. (Credit also goes to costume designer Rachel Sage Kunin, who has cleverly replaced Cliff’s flashy pocket squares with dark jackets and turtlenecks. It’s like an outward manifestation of the darkness that has consumed him.)

Not that Cliff is altogether unrecognizable in “False Confessions”: When he sees the TV news report about the police recovering Tommy’s body, his response (“Son of a bitch!”) brings to mind some of his exasperated reactions to J.R.’s one-upmanship from long ago. We also see a flash of the old Cliff’s shortsightedness in the great scene where John Ross comes to him, offering to betray J.R., only to be turned away because Cliff would never trust a Ewing. Contrast this with J.R. himself, who in the previous episode didn’t hesitate to enlist Frank in his plot against Pamela. Cliff might be richer, but J.R. will always be smarter.

Speaking of J.R.: Hamra deserves much praise for giving Hagman something to do besides deliver zingers. The exchange where J.R. comforts Bobby (“No baby brother of mine is going to spend his twilight years in jail”) showcases the effortless warmth between Hagman and Patrick Duffy, while once again casting J.R. in the unlikely role he’s come to play so well: defender of the family. Something similar happens in the equally wonderful scene where J.R. chastises John Ross for wanting to use Bobby’s misfortune for their gain. Not only does this echo a sweet moment from the original series, when J.R. told little John Ross it would be wrong to take advantage of Uncle Bobby after his shooting, it also recalls my favorite J.R./John Ross scene from last season. Back then, the roles were reversed: John Ross was the one who pleaded with J.R. to show “a little decency” where the cancer-stricken Bobby was concerned.

Hamra’s script includes many other nice touches that summon the show’s history and enduring themes of family and honor. I love when Sue Ellen recalls for John Ross how she was “nearly destroyed” when she got caught in the middle of J.R. and Cliff’s war. I also love the line where Cliff tells John Ross he only agreed to see him out of respect for his mother. There’s also Faran Tahir’s surprisingly heartbreaking performance during Frank’s jailhouse meeting with Cliff, as well as Judith Light’s big scene, when her character Judith comforts the comatose Harris. I know this one is supposed to creep me out, but heaven help me I find it kind of touching.

Stephen Herek, a first time “Dallas” director, makes “False Confessions” a technical achievement as much as anything. The autopsy-triggered musical montage is superbly executed, culminating in the new “Dallas’s” best fakeout (the cops were coming to arrest Frank, not Pamela!) since the end of “Changing of the Guard,” when we discovered J.R. was in cahoots with Marta. I also love the crosscutting between the scene where Ann finally admits to shooting Harris and the moment Harris wakes up and fingers Bobby for the crime.

While we’re on the subject of Bobby: His top-of-the-hour confession to shooting Harris has all the casualness of someone admitting to leaving the cap off the milk carton. I’m also bothered by Ann’s response, which is to say she has none. As difficult as it is for me to accept that this strong, loving wife would resort to shooting her ex-husband, it’s even harder for me to believe she’d allow Bobby to take the rap for it. I’m glad when Ann finally pipes up at the end of the episode, but I wonder if this is going to be enough to make the audience forgive her.

When I asked Brenda Strong about this last week, she expressed her confidence in the show’s writers to redeem Ann, saying they “are holding the big picture in mind.” I suppose that’s enough for me to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, they haven’t done much to disappoint me this season.

Grade: A


Cliff Barnes, Dallas, False Confessions, Ken Kercheval, TNT

Changed man


Season 2, Episode 4

Telecast: February 11, 2013

Writer: Taylor Hamra

Director: Stephen Herek

Audience: 2.4 million viewers on February 11

Synopsis: To protect Ann, Bobby confesses to shooting Harris. Later, Bobby recants his confession, but when Harris emerges from his coma, he tells the police that Bobby was the shooter. Drew fires Bubba, the foreman that John Ross bribed to sabotage Elena’s drilling project. After Frank digs up Tommy’s body and tells J.R. about John Ross and Pamela’s relationship, J.R. orders his son to stay away from her. Cliff has Tommy’s murder pinned on Frank and persuades him to commit suicide.

Cast: Amber Bartlett (Jill), Kuno Becker (Drew Ramos), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Brett Brock (Clyde Marshall), Pam Dougherty (Judge Barbara Hirsch), Akai Draco (Sheriff Derrick), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Alex Fernandez (Roy Vickers), Mike Gassaway (Henry Mott), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Barnes), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Danny Hunter (Judge Leonard Knox), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Judith Light (Judith Ryland), Marcua M. Mauldin (Detective Ronnie Bota), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Matthew Posey (Bubba), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Faran Tahir (Frank Ashkani), Brian Thornton (Detective Miles Danko)

“False Confessions” is available at, and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

The Dal-List: The 5 Most Egregious Ewing Arrests

Ann Ewing, Bobby Ewing, Brenda Strong, Christopher Ewing, Dallas, False Confessions, Jesse Metcalfe, Patrick Duffy, TNT

Family tradition

In “False Confessions,”  TNT’s latest “Dallas” episode, Bobby (Patrick Duffy) tries to protect Ann by telling the police he shot Harris. Like John Ross’s arrest for Marta’s murder last season, this latest incident is part of an old tradition of Ewings getting in trouble for crimes they didn’t commit. Here’s a look at the five most egregious Ewing arrests from the original “Dallas” and “Knots Landing.”

Cally Harper Ewing, Cathy Podewell, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Under the gun

5. The Ewing: J.R. (Larry Hagman)

The crime: Cally Harper’s “rape”

The arrest: When J.R. went to Arkansas on a hunting trip, he met backwoods beauty Cally and became smitten. After they spent the night together, her shotgun-toting brothers showed up, followed quickly by Sheriff Hanks, who charged J.R. with rape.

The real criminal: J.R. was guilty of many things, but his relationship with Cally was consensual. The real bad guys were Hanks, who refused to allow J.R. to make a single phone call from jail, and the justice of the peace, who sentenced him to 10 years in prison. Of course, J.R. did himself no favors when he interrupted his trial to declare, “You people got to be kidding. Hell, I can buy this whole town with the change I got in my pocket!”

Level of egregiousness (scale of 1 to 10): J.R.’s arrest gets a 5, but the egregiousness of this silly storyline deserves a big, fat 10.

Dallas, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Dial “M” for murder?

4. The Ewing: Ray Krebbs (Steve Kanaly)

The crime: Mickey Trotter’s death

The arrest: After Ray’s cousin Mickey was paralyzed in a car crash, someone pulled the plug on his life support system. The police arrested Ray, who had blocked the door to Mickey’s hospital room so the doctors and nurses couldn’t revive him.

The real criminal: In dramatic testimony at Ray’s trial, his aunt Lillian Trotter, Mickey’s mother, confessed she wanted her son to die with dignity and decided to pull the plug. Lil didn’t have the strength to do it, so she asked Ray to help her. Ever the obedient nephew, Ray obliged.

Level of egregiousness: 6. Ray was technically guilty and the judge sentenced him to five years in the state penitentiary – but immediately suspended the sentence because he said Ray was such a nice guy. Seems like sound legal reasoning to me.

Gary Ewing, Knots Landing, Ted Shackelford

He usually loves bars

3. The Ewing: Gary (Ted Shackelford)

The crime: Ciji Dunne’s murder

The arrest: Gary befriended Ciji, an aspiring singer, but when her star began to rise, his self-esteem began to plummet. Gary went on a bender and woke up the next morning on the Knots Landing beach, not far from Ciji’s seaweed-strewn body. The police suspected he killed her during a booze-fueled rage and hauled him off to jail.

The real criminal: Chip Roberts, Ciji’s boyfriend. Eventually the cops figured out Chip murdered Ciji when she became pregnant with his child and refused to have an abortion. Ciji had also discovered Chip was really a con artist named Tony Fenice.

Level of egregiousness: 7. The Knots Landing police should’ve known better than to arrest Gary. All they had to do was call Sheriff Washburn back in Braddock. He could’ve told them: Never arrest a Ewing!

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

Ready for her close-up

2. The Ewing: Sue Ellen (Linda Gray)

The crime: J.R.’s shooting

The arrest: There was no shortage of suspects when an unseen assailant gunned down J.R. in his office. When Jock discovered the weapon in J.R. and Sue Ellen’s bedroom closet, he turned it over to the cops, who decided it was all the proof they needed to arrest Sue Ellen for the crime.

The real criminal: Kristin Shepard, Sue Ellen’s sister, who wanted to get back at J.R. for trying to run her out of town. Sue Ellen figured out Kristin had framed her by planting the gun in the closet. (But no one ever answered the question: How did Kristin know Jock would go snooping there?)

Level of egregiousness: 8. Arresting Sue Ellen was a travesty of justice! The only way she’d ever shoot J.R. would be if he – oh, I don’t know – tossed one of her lovers off a high-rise balcony. But what are the odds of something like that happening?

Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing

Jailhouse Jock

1. The Ewing: Jock (Jim Davis)

The crime: Hutch McKinney’s murder

The arrest: When Ray began building a home on Southfork, the construction crew uncovered the remains of the long-missing McKinney, one of Ray’s predecessors as ranch foreman. Sheriff Washburn’s investigation determined McKinney had been shot with Jock’s gun, not long after Jock and McKinney had had a knock-down-drag-out brawl in a local saloon.

The real criminal: Digger Barnes, who killed McKinney when he discovered he had impregnated Digger’s wife Rebecca and was planning to run away with her. Digger confessed his crime on his deathbed, where he also told Pam that McKinney was her biological father.

Level of egregiousness: 11. Throw Jock Ewing in jail? That’s something you just don’t do. When a reporter asked the old man how he felt about being arrested, Jock huffed, “I’m mad as hell, boy.” Who could blame him?

Which Ewing arrests do you consider the most egregious? Share your choices below and read more “Dal-Lists.”

Dallas Burning Questions: Season 2, Week 3


Will she get caught?

Here are the questions we’re pondering as we await tonight’s telecast of “False Confessions,” TNT’s latest “Dallas” episode.

Is Harris dead? At the end of “Sins of the Father,” last week’s installment, Ann (Brenda Strong) learned Harris (Mitch Pileggi) couldn’t be prosecuted for kidnapping their daughter Emma (Emma Bell) and went to his home to confront him. When Harris taunted Ann, she pulled a handgun from her purse and shot him, leaving him bleeding on the floor. Since Pileggi was added to “Dallas’s” opening credits three weeks ago, it seems unlikely Harris will die. Then again, this is the new “Dallas,” where anything can happen and usually does. So who knows?

What will happen to Ann? In a chat last week with Dallas Decoder and other bloggers, Strong said Ann was in “an altered state” when she plugged Harris. The trailer for tonight’s episode shows Bobby (Patrick Duffy) being arrested for the shooting. If Ann allows her husband to take the rap for a crime she committed, does that mean she’s still out of her mind?

• Will Pamela get caught? An update on “Dallas’s” other shooting storyline: After Pamela (Julie Gonzalo) gunned down Tommy last season, she turned to Frank (Faran Tahir) to dispose of the weapon and the body. Last week, the police discovered Tommy’s blood in Pamela’s old condo, and J.R. (Larry Hagman) urged Frank to expose her role in Tommy’s death. Will he?

• John Ross and Pamela: What will J.R. and Cliff say? Pamela believes she’ll snag a percentage of Ewing Energies during her divorce from Christopher, and she promised to share her piece of the company with her new lover/partner-in-crime John Ross (Josh Henderson). Meanwhile, John Ross seems to be falling for Pamela, unaware that J.R. is out to get her. Will John Ross be forced to choose between his father and his lover – and how will Cliff (Ken Kercheval) feel when he discovers his daughter has hooked up with J.R.’s son?

Will Christopher and Elena learn the truth about John Ross? Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) is angling to win a lucrative contract to fuel the city’s municipal fleet, unaware that John Ross is trying to undermine him. Meanwhile, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) has vowed to call in Elena’s loan if she doesn’t strike oil on the Henderson property. This prompted Elena to ask for drilling help from her brother Drew (Kuno Becker), who recently returned to town with a chip on his shoulder. What Elena doesn’t know: John Ross has bribed her foreman to sabotage the Henderson project. Will John Ross’s schemes succeed?

Where’s Becky? When Pamela got frustrated with Tommy’s demanding sister Becky (Alex McKenna), she urged Frank to pay her off once and for all. Later, Becky didn’t show up for the court hearing where she was supposed to recant her false testimony against Christopher. Did Frank run Becky out of town – or did he make her disappear forever?

What “Dallas Burning Questions” are on your mind? Share your comments below and watch TNT’s “Dallas” tonight.