The Art of Dallas: ‘Five Dollars a Barrel’

Sue Ellen and Clayton (Linda Gray, Howard Keel) are seen in this 1981 publicity shot from “Five Dollars a Barrel,” a fifth-season “Dallas” episode.

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘I Finally Whipped J.R. Ewing’

Laugh while you can

Laugh while you can

In “Dallas’s” fifth-season episode “Five Dollars a Barrel,” Cliff (Ken Kercheval) is seated on the edge of his office desk when J.R. (Larry Hagman) enters.

CLIFF: Come right in. Did you come to pay your note early? It’s not due until tomorrow.

J.R.: [Steps forward] You know why I’m here.

CLIFF: I just want to hear you say it.

J.R.: [Another step forward] I need that extension.

CLIFF: [Smiles] Do you? [Walks behind his desk, sits] Well, I’m a man of my word. I have the papers right here. Sit down. [J.R. walks to Cliff’s desk, sets his hat on it] It’s all right here. Ten-day extension, at $200 million, 25 percent. But first, my lawyer drew that up. [Hands J.R. a document] It gives me total and permanent ownership of Ewing 6. [Hands a pen to J.R., who retrieves one of his own from his jacket’s inner pocket] You know you’re only buying a temporary delay because the price of oil is still dropping. And when this 10-day extension is up, there’s no more time. You can’t pay, you’re out. [J.R. signs the paper, tosses it onto Cliff’s desk, grabs his hat and begins walking away.] I can’t believe it. After all these years, I finally whipped J.R. Ewing.

J.R. turns, glares and smiles slightly as Cliff laughs uproariously.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 86 – ‘Five Dollars a Barrel’

Keep your grin up

Keep your grin up

In “Five Dollars a Barrel,” Cliff takes over J.R.’s bank note and offers him an extension on his loan – in exchange for ownership of the oilfield that split up Jock and Digger’s partnership decades earlier. J.R. all but laughs Cliff out of his office when he hears these terms. But by the end of the episode, with J.R.’s confidence fading, he goes to Cliff, hat in hand, and signs over the field to get the extension. “I can’t believe it,” Cliff says as he reclines in his chair. “After all these years, I finally whipped J.R. Ewing.”

It’s a measure of the power of the J.R. character that we don’t feel happy for Cliff at this moment. Quite the opposite. We feel sorry for him because we know he hasn’t whipped J.R. at all. This is a temporary defeat. J.R. is going to come roaring back – and when he does, he’s going to make Cliff pay for trying to humiliate him.

Watching Larry Hagman in this scene makes me appreciate how good he is, not that I need the reminder. When Ken Kercheval delivers Cliff’s line about “finally” whipping J.R., Hagman responds with a single, slight smile. It’s more unnerving – and oddly more satisfying – than any dialogue the writers might have come up with.

There’s also a lot of humor in “Five Dollars a Barrel,” and almost all of it flows from Hagman’s deadpan delivery. In the second act, J.R. is working at his desk when Sly buzzes him. “There’s a Mr. Cliff Barnes here to see you,” she announces. “Who?” J.R. responds.

In another scene, Ray arrives home after dropping off Donna at the airport and finds J.R. waiting for him in the yard, his boots propped up on the Krebbs’ patio table. “You getting good mileage on Donna’s car?” J.R. asks through a big grin.

It’s pretty remarkable that the same smile that seems so sinister at the end of the episode is so hilarious here – but that’s Larry Hagman’s genius.

Grade: A


Splendor in the grass

Splendor in the grass


Season 5, Episode 9

Airdate: December 4, 1981

Audience: 22 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: Gary visits and gives his voting shares to Lucy, while Ray rejects J.R.’s offer to bail him out of his foundering deal. With the cartel’s help, Cliff takes over J.R.’s bank note and extends the deadline on his loan in exchange for ownership of one of the original Barnes-Ewing oilfields. Farraday agrees to sell Christopher to Bobby.

Cast: Robert Ackerman (Wade Luce), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Peter Brandon (Greer), Lee de Broux (McCoy), J.R. Clark (Earl Holiday), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Art Hindle (Jeff Farraday), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Sally Kemp (Mrs. Rogers), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), Leigh McCloskey (Dr. Mitch Cooper), Pamela Murphy (Marie), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Ted Shackelford (Gary Ewing), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Robert Symonds (Martin Porter), Aggie Terry (Lori Rogers), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), David Tress (Walter Sher), Edward Winter (Dr. Frank Waring), Gretchen Wyler (Dr. Dagmara Conrad)

“Five Dollars a Barrel” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.