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


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

Yep, he’s 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 and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘That’s Funny. You Never Showed It.’

Dallas, Fringe Benefits, Linda Gray, Pam Ewing, Sue Ellen Ewing, Victoria Principal

Doing it for themselves

In “Fringe Benefits,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode, Sue Ellen and Pam (Linda Gray, Victoria Principal) leave a dress shop together. 

PAM: Have you decided on the color of your dress yet?


PAM: [Playfully] Well, you’re not going to tell me, are you?

SUE ELLEN: Well, I would like it to be a surprise. But, um…. Well, one thing I can you is it won’t be white.

PAM: Well, I can’t imagine why not. [They giggle.]

SUE ELLEN: I’m so glad you’re here with me today.

PAM: [Locks arms with her] Well, I enjoy being with you, Sue Ellen.

SUE ELLEN: Despite the rivalry between Bobby and J.R.?

PAM: [Seriously] Have you been thinking about that too?

SUE ELLEN: It’s odd how relationships change. I hated you when Bobby first brought you to Southfork.

PAM: That’s funny. You never showed it.

SUE ELLEN: [Smiles, touches Pam’s hand] But then you were so wonderful to me when J.R. and I were fighting over John Ross.

PAM: Well, I think you’d do the same thing for me.

SUE ELLEN: [Nods, smiles] I don’t want us to lose our friendship.

PAM: Well, there’s no reason for that to happen. It’s up to us.

SUE ELLEN: We have to try hard to not get into their fights.

PAM: I think it would be ironic after hating each other for so long and finally being friends that we lose our friendship over their fight.

SUE ELLEN: Well, we just have to make sure that doesn’t happen.

PAM: And I know we’ll try.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 112 — ‘Fringe Benefits’

Afton Cooper, Audrey Landers, Dallas, Fringe Benefits


In “Fringe Benefits,” Afton sleeps with sleazy Gil Thurman to ensure he’ll sell his lucrative oil refineries to her boyfriend Cliff. Is this yet another example of Afton allowing a man to use her, like she did when she had her doomed fling with J.R.? Perhaps. But Afton’s actions also demonstrate how much she has learned since then. You may not approve of her choices in this episode, but you can’t deny she’s become one of “Dallas’s” savviest characters.

The plot is set in motion when Cliff persuades the cartel to join him in bidding against J.R. for Thurman’s refineries. The prospect of beating J.R. — and proving himself as an oilman — gets Cliff’s juices flowing for the first time since his suicide attempt at the end of the previous season. This, in turn, lifts the spirits of Afton, who has loyally stood by Cliff and struggled to help him recover his spark. But Afton’s excitement is dashed when Thurman tells her he’ll only sell to Cliff if she sleeps with him. Afton reluctantly yields to Thurman’s demands, and in the episode’s next-to-last scene, he drops by Cliff’s office to tell him the refineries are his.

Tellingly, Afton realizes Thurman is a creep the moment she meets him and tries to keep her distance. Contrast this with Cliff, who is oblivious to Thurman’s true nature and his barely concealed interest in Afton. J.R. doesn’t “get” Thurman either. As his competition with Cliff intensifies, J.R. invites Thurman to dine with him and Sue Ellen at her townhouse, even dictating the menu and her choice of outfit — as if these things would matter to a man like Thurman. On the night of the dinner, Thurman arrives before J.R. and propositions Sue Ellen, who practically has to fight him off. Later that evening, when Sue Ellen tells J.R. that Thurman made a pass at her, J.R. reveals he knew Thurman was a womanizer but had no idea he’d come on so strongly. The unquestioned sincerity in Larry Hagman’s voice lets the audience know that J.R. — in this instance, at least — is telling the truth.

So only Afton has Thurman’s number from the get-go. Not that this should come as a surprise. As Dallas Divas Derby has pointed out, Afton’s ability to “read” people is one of her defining traits. During the fifth season, she’s the first to realize Clayton has fallen for Sue Ellen. Later, she figures out long before anyone else that Katherine is up to no good. Afton’s insightful nature makes me wonder: Could she have her own motivation for sleeping with Thurman? Yes, her actions help Cliff seal a major deal, which gives him the ego boost he needs to snap out of his depression. But Cliff’s victory also upsets J.R.’s apple cart, a fitting comeuppance for the man who dumped Afton so cruelly. Could getting back at J.R. be a “fringe benefit” of Afton’s actions?

We may not know for sure if Afton has revenge on her mind, but the other emotions she experiences in this episode aren’t up for debate: She loves Cliff and is desperate to help him succeed, and she is disgusted by Thurman and hates the idea of having to sleep with him. Now stop and ask yourself how you know this. Is it because there’s a scene where Afton confides her feelings in a girlfriend, a therapist, a hairdresser? Do we hear her pouring out her heart in voiceover narration? No. Everything we know about Afton’s emotional state comes from Audrey Landers. Because Afton is a supporting character who doesn’t interact much with the other players, Landers must rely on facial expressions and body language to let us know what’s going on inside Afton’s head.

Contrast this with the lead actors on “Dallas.” In a typical episode, there might be a scene where Miss Ellie confides her latest worries in Donna, or where J.R. lets his secretary Sly in on one of his business secrets. These scenes allow the audience to understand the characters’ motivations. But Landers rarely gets scenes like this, and certainly not in “Fringe Benefits.” Since we never even see Afton sleep with Thurman, it’s up to Landers to let us know that Afton did indeed give in to him, which the actress achieves with a single shamed expression toward the end of the episode. Landers’ ability to do so much with so little makes her one of “Dallas’s” most impressive performers.

The other V.I.P. in “Fringe Benefits:” Albert Salmi, whose crooked smirk and leering eyes make Gil Thurman perhaps the most loathsome creature to slither into the lives of the Barneses and Ewings. Salmi appeared in a lot of episodic television before “Dallas,” including several guest spots on “The Twilight Zone.” It’s hard to imagine any role topping this one. (In real life, Salmi, who suffered from clinical depression, died in 1990 after he shot and killed his wife, then turned the gun on himself.) I also love Ken Kercheval’s performance in “Fringe Benefits,” especially in the scene where Thurman tells Cliff he won the bidding for the refineries. Kercheval pumps his fists in the air like a little boy who has just experienced some minor playground triumph. It’s almost sweet.

The other highlight of “Fringe Benefits” is the fun scene where Sue Ellen and Pam realize how far they’ve come since their early days together at Southfork. As much as I enjoy Sue Ellen’s bitchy attitude toward Pam during “Dallas’s” first few seasons, it’s even nicer to see the women finally getting long and supporting each other. I had forgotten about this scene until I saw “Fringe Benefits” again recently for the first time in several years; it now stands out as one of my favorite “re-discoveries” since starting Dallas Decoder.

I also love this episode’s scenes between Barbara Bel Geddes and Dale Robertson, who makes his last appearance on “Dallas” as Frank Crutcher, the gentle widower who was so sweet on Ellie. Robertson was a fine actor and would have made an interesting addition to the “Dallas” cast, although looking back, it’s pretty clear the producers only intended Crutcher to be a temporary character. (Even the character’s name is apt: He was merely a “crutch” for Ellie to lean on as she emerged from her mourning of Jock.) I’ll miss Frank, although I also know someone even better is waiting around the bend for Mama.

Grade: A


Albert Salmi, Dallas, Fringe Benefits, Gil Thurman



Season 6, Episode 9

Airdate: November 26, 1982

Audience: 17.9 million homes, ranking 5th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Will Lorin

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Cliff wins a competition to purchase Gil Thurman’s refineries, unaware Afton slept with Thurman so he could seal the deal. Punk urges Bobby to find out why J.R. is pumping beyond capacity during an oil glut. Donna becomes more involved with a legislative effort to tighten oil industry regulations. Miss Ellie tells Frank she’s only interested in being his friend.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Jack Collins (Russell Slater), 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), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Kenneth Kimmins (Thornton McLeish), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Michael Prince (John Macklin), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dale Robertson (Frank Crutcher), Albert Salmi (Gil Thurman), Carol Sanchez (maid), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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