Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 159 — ‘Love Stories’

Dallas, John Beck, Love Stories, Mark Graison

Leaving his mark

I don’t remember how I felt about Mark Graison’s death when I saw “Love Stories” as a kid, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t move me now. John Beck’s character was never one of my favorites; his shameless pursuit of Pam while she was still married to Bobby was a turnoff during Mark’s earliest appearances, and then he never grew much once he got together with Pam. Mark was more plot device than person — just another detour on Romeo and Juliet’s road to reunion. Nevertheless, he receives the kind of graceful, dignified exit that eludes so many of “Dallas’s” most iconic figures. (Yes, Pam, I’m looking at you.)

Much of the power in Mark’s farewell lies in how quiet it is. At the end of the second act, Mark confronts his best friend and physician, Jerry Kenderson, about the mystery surrounding Pam’s surprise decision to marry him. “I got some questions that need answering. I think you’ve got the answers,” Mark tells Jerry. Cut to a darkened restaurant, where we find the two men sitting together as Mark absorbs the news that he’s dying. The stillness of this scene is striking: The dialogue is spare, there’s virtually no underscore and Beck and Barry Jenner deliver nicely measured performances. This could easily have been a maudlin moment, but it plays instead like something from real life — a sad conversation between two longtime friends.

We next see Mark toward the end of the episode, when he’s lying in bed with Pam. Now the tables have turned: For the first time since this storyline began, Mark has more information than his fiancée — he knows he has a terminal illness and that she’s marrying him out of obligation, if not pity. He keeps her blissfully in the dark, telling her how much he loves her, how happy she’s made him, how much he regrets the years they didn’t know each other. I would expect a scene like this to be sappy, but Beck’s delivery is so touchingly sincere, I get caught up in the moment. I can’t decide what’s sadder: Mark’s realization that he’s dying, or that his illness is the thing that finally won him the woman he loves. This is why the scene’s punctuation mark — when Mark silently slips out of the sleeping Pam’s room after giving her one last look — is so poignant. He’s not walking away so much as he’s freeing her. Finally, at the end of the episode, Pam is stunned to learn Mark’s plane has exploded, killing him. (Until he returns during the dream season, that is.)

Maybe it’s because I find Mark so heroic in this episode, but Bobby has rarely annoyed me as much as he does in “Love Stories.” His rejection of Katherine after she confesses her affair with J.R. feels unnecessarily brutal. Bobby is correct, of course, when he tells Katherine that her love for him is “sick,” but does he have to be so mean about it? J.R. hits the nail on the head later in the episode when he prefaces his advice for Bobby’s love life by pointing out his brother’s self-righteousness. “You go around telling everybody how to live their lives and setting up rules and regulations that only you can live up to,” J.R. says. This is at least the third time a “Dallas” character has made this point recently; in “Fools Rush In,” Jenna criticizes Bobby’s sanctimoniousness, while Sue Ellen suggests he’s inflexible. Will Bob ever take the hint?

There are some nice touches sprinkled throughout “Love Stories,” including another cute scene where Miss Ellie and Clayton plan their wedding, as well as a nice nod to “Dallas” history when Pam visits Cliff’s offshore oil rig and mentions how proud Digger would be of him. Mostly, though, this episode feels bogged down by storylines that are taking too long to peak. I’m especially bored with the mystery surrounding the death of Clayton’s first wife, which is being doled out to the audience in dribs and drabs. I suppose the show’s writers were hoping to raise doubts about Clayton’s innocence, but did anyone watching these episodes in 1984 believe he was guilty for even a minute?

This storyline yields one inspired moment in “Love Stories,” however. It happens when Jessica confides in J.R. by the Southfork swimming pool, telling him that Clayton inherited his wife’s trust fund after she perished in the fire at the Southern Cross. Jessica then storms off, leaving J.R. alone. Standing on the patio set, Larry Hagman slips his hands in his pockets, looks askance and stage whispers his character’s next line: “So he did torch it. Now the hell am I going to prove it?” It reminds me a little of Kevin Spacey addressing the audience on “House of Cards” — except I’ll take J.R. Ewing’s quick asides over Frank Underwood’s gimmicky fourth-wall assault any day of the week.

Grade: B


Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Love Stories

Aside effect


Season 7, Episode 28

Airdate: May 4, 1984

Audience: 19.9 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: J.R. learns more details about Amy Farlow and pretends to help Peter, whom Sue Ellen bails out of jail. Jessica remains angry with Clayton for selling the Southern Cross. Jenna accepts a marriage proposal from Bobby, who rejects Katherine after she confesses her affair with J.R. When Katherine gets drunk and reveals Pam’s connection to Jerry, Mark confronts Jerry, learns he’s dying and slips out of his fiancée’s life. Pam is later shocked to learn Mark has died in a plane crash.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), James L. Brown (Detective Harry McSween), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Brad Harris (Mason), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Barry Jenner (Dr. Jerry Kenderson), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Bert Kramer (Peter’s lawyer), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Denny Miller (Max Flowers), Bill Morey (Leo Wakefield), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Alexis Smith (Lady Jessica Montfort), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Debisue Voorhees (waitress)

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

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘A Bird in the Hand, Honey’

Dallas, Fools Rush In, J.R. Ewing, Katherine Wentworth, Larry Hagman, Morgan Brittany

Two of a kind

In “Fools Rush In,” a seventh-season “Dallas” episode, J.R. (Larry Hagman) is seated at his office desk when Katherine (Morgan Brittany) enters the room.

KATHERINE: Hello, J.R. What’s this problem you called me about? I don’t have a lot of time.

J.R.: The one thing I never thought you were was stupid.

KATHERINE: Hey, look, I didn’t come here to be insulted.

J.R.: You’re here because of that asinine move you made with Naldo Marchetta. Of all the dumb, idiotic things I ever heard —

KATHERINE: Now, J.R., I don’t find that dumb at all. I simply isolated Bobby from Jenna, just like I isolated him from Pam.

J.R.: What you did was break him up with the one woman that could’ve gotten him out of my hair for good.

KATHERINE: [Leans forward] I’m that woman, J.R. Remember?

J.R.: A bird in the hand, honey. And Jenna was in the hand till you screwed it up.

KATHERINE: Look, I didn’t break up Bobby and Pam so he could marry Jenna Wade. I want him for myself.

J.R.: Well, you just might have blown it for all of us. For all I know, he could be out there sniffing around his ex-wife’s door right now. I don’t give a damn who Bobby ends up with as long as it’s not Pamela Barnes. [Stands, turns and looks out the window] Jenna was perfect, just perfect. Well, I guess you’ll have to do.

KATHERINE: Well, you’re certainly big on compliments, aren’t you?

J.R.: With Bobby on the loose again, the only sure way to keep him and that Barnes woman apart is to make sure she goes ahead and marries Mark Graison. [Turns to face her]

KATHERINE: Well, I have no objection to that.

J.R.: [Mocking] Oh, you have no objection to that, do you? Well, you just better keep pushing until that happens, honey!

KATHERINE: [Turns, begins to leave, then stops at the door] I’ll do my best.

J.R.: [Steps forward] Well, your best better be real good. Because if it’s not, I’m going to play Bobby that little tape I made. You remember? You and me in the sack? After he hears that, he’ll never even look at you again.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 154 — ‘Fools Rush In’

Dallas, Fools Rush In, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

With a twist

One reason Larry Hagman is so damn good is because he knows what the audience wants and how to give it to us. Take “Fools Rush In’s” most entertaining scene, when J.R. chews out Katherine for inadvertently making a Bobby/Pam reconciliation possible. It’s somewhat ridiculous to see a grown man so consumed with his brother’s love life, and so Hagman plays the scene accordingly, making J.R.’s bluster more amusing than anything else. The funniest moment comes when Katherine declares she has “no objection” to Pam’s pending marriage to Mark and J.R. mockingly snaps, “Oh, you have no objection to that, do you? Well, you just better keep pushing until that happens, honey!” Who doesn’t love to see Hagman deliver a line like that?

Of course, great acting involves more than indulging the audience. When “Fools Rush In” begins, J.R. has figured out Sue Ellen has been having an affair and he responds in typical J.R. style — by being extra nice to his wife while he secretly plots revenge. After attending Punk and Mavis Anderson’s anniversary party together, J.R. escorts Sue Ellen to her room and says how much he enjoyed spending the evening with her. Sue Ellen looks positively stricken while J.R. beams — until his back is turned and we see his face drop. Is he having reservations about the trap he’s about to spring? Does he fear he might end up pushing his fragile wife too far? There’s no way to know and it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that we catch a glimpse of J.R.’s humanity. It’s an example of Hagman giving us what we need to see.

While Hagman deserves much credit for highlighting J.R.’s complexities in “Fools Rush In,” he gets an assist from scriptwriter David Paulsen. We don’t know the details of J.R.’s scheme against Sue Ellen and her lover Peter Richards, but we know he wants to bring the couple closer. Notice how J.R. uses John Ross to achieve this goal. First, he waits until the family is gathered around the breakfast table to suggest hiring Peter to spend time with the child, knowing how excited John Ross will be when he hears his camp counselor might be visiting him at Southfork on a regular basis. How could Sue Ellen say no? Likewise, when J.R. approaches Peter with the idea, he brings along his son, essentially daring Peter to turn him down and break the boy’s heart. Who knew John Ross would turn out to be one of Daddy’s best accomplices?

I also like how Paulsen and director Michael Preece treat the return of Dennia Patrick’s duplicitous banker Vaughn Leland, who makes his first “Dallas” appearance since the fifth season. “Fools Rush In”  begins with Cliff scrambling to raise the money he owes the government until — lo and behold! — Vaughn shows up on his doorstep and offers him a loan, which Cliff desperately accepts. At the end of the episode, we see J.R. in his office, fixing drinks for himself and an unseen guest. “Well, everything seems to be moving in the right direction,” he says. Preece’s camera follows him as he carries the drink across the room to — yep, you guessed it — Vaughn, who it turns out is in cahoots with J.R. It’s a nifty twist.

Speaking of Vaughn: I was a little puzzled when Afton reacted so coolly to seeing him in this episode, until I remembered J.R. put her up to sleeping with Vaughn during her early days on “Dallas.” I’m glad the writers didn’t forget about their past, even if I almost did. Other nice touches in “Fools Rush In” include the scene where J.R. hires a detective to snoop into the past of Lucy’s newest boyfriend, Peter. J.R. explains to the private eye why he cares about his niece: “She’s the daughter of my brother Gary, who I’m particularly fond of.” Another fun moment comes when Bobby tells Sue Ellen that Jenna accused him of being stubborn. “Well, you’re not the most flexible person in the world,” Sue Ellen says.

Not everything here works. I’m disappointed we don’t actually see the Andersons’ anniversary party, which the Ewings have been anticipating for several episodes. Not even Oil Baron’s Balls and Ewing Barbecues receive this much buildup. Also, as much as I get a kick out of seeing Ken Kercheval squirm in the scenes where Cliff struggles to raise the money he owes the government, I can’t help but think the feds must have been running one hell of a racket in the 1980s. They allow Cliff to bid tens of millions of dollars more than his competitors for the offshore oil leases, and then they show up unannounced at his office, demanding payment just days after the auction ended? Who says the Reagan administration was business friendly?

But nothing stretches credibility quite like the “Fools Rush In” scene where Pam asks Mark’s physician, Jerry Kenderson, to reveal her fiancée’s mysterious medical diagnosis — and with very little prodding, Kenderson blabs all. So much for doctor-patient confidentiality rules! Then again: Since everyone on “Dallas” is ethically challenged, why should we expect the doctors to be any different?

Grade: B


Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Fools Rush In, Ken Kercheval

Foolin’ around


Season 7, Episode 23

Airdate: March 9, 1984

Audience: 22.5 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Cliff borrows money from banker Vaughn Leland to finance his offshore oil scheme, unaware that J.R. and Vaughn are in cahoots. J.R. warns Katherine to keep Bobby away from Pam, who learns Mark is dying but doesn’t know it. J.R. also springs a trap for Peter, hiring him to spend time with John Ross at Southfork. Bobby has second thoughts about breaking up with Jenna. Miss Ellie and Clayton set a wedding date.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Gerald Berns (James Kenyon), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Barbara Cason (Iris Porter), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Robert Donavan (Metcalf), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Barry Jenner (Dr. Jerry Kenderson), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Sherill Lynn Katzman (Jackie Dugan), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Peter White (Ellis Newton)

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