Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 38 — ‘Boxed In’

Ann Ewing, Boxed In, Brenda Strong, Dallas, TNT

Mama’s here

No one who watches “Boxed In” will forget the scene where Ann, Harris and Judith are overcome with grief after hearing Luis fire the gun he’s been holding at Emma’s head. It’s the most harrowing moment I’ve witnessed on television since last year, when Walter White abducted his infant daughter while his wife kicked and screamed and tried in vain to stop him. Just as that sequence demonstrated how far “Breaking Bad’s” antihero had sunk, the moment of crisis on “Dallas” reveals new things about its characters, including the depth of Ann and Emma’s bond, Harris’s capacity for compassion and — the biggest surprise of all — the discovery that Judith Ryland is a human being. Who knew?

The “Boxed In” scene begins when Luis, who’s holding Ann and Emma hostage in a Mexican “kill house,” receives a phone call and learns the Rylands aren’t adequately honoring their deal with the drug cartel. Luis erupts in anger and yanks Emma off the sofa as Ann struggles to hold onto her. While another thug detains Ann, Luis drags Emma to the basement, where he dials Judith’s number with one hand and holds a gun to Emma’s head with the other. Luis and Judith exchange recriminations, he cocks his gun, Judith begs for mercy, Emma pleads for her life, and then: Bang! Ann screams and Judith collapses into Harris’s arms, and then we return to the basement, where we see Emma is still alive; Luis merely put a bullet in the wall.

Another “Dallas” fake-out? Yes, and what a relief. Besides delivering fresh insight into these characters, the sequence is an impressive technical achievement for director Rodney Charters. Consider the complexities: The scene involves five characters in three settings (Luis and Emma in the basement, Ann upstairs, Harris and Judith back in Dallas), and yet Charters manages to unite all of them in a single, terrifying moment. When I interviewed Charters recently, he told me this episode contained a scene he regards as one of his proudest “Dallas” achievements. I suspect this is the one he was referring to.

The “execution” scene is also a triumph for the five actors, beginning with Brenda Strong, whose scream after the gunshot is painfully real, and Mitch Pileggi, who quietly, movingly mutters “damn you” when Harris believes his daughter is dead. (Is he chastising Luis or himself)? Also impressive: Antonio Jaramillo, who goes from charming at the beginning of the episode to downright evil in this scene; Judith Light, who makes you feel her character’s anguish; and Emma Bell, who is heartbreaking at every turn. It’s especially touching to see Emma reach for Ann and call her “mom” when Luis pulls her into the basement, and I love Emma and Ann’s reunion after the ordeal, when Strong sits on the basement floor and rocks Bell in her arms. In an episode about the “Dallas” characters forming unlikely alliances, nothing can match the power of seeing Ann and Emma finally become mother and daughter.

Many other scenes in “Boxed In” are thrilling too, especially when Patrick Duffy’s character is involved. How can you not love seeing the cartel thug approach Luis and announce — somewhat nervously — that “Bobby Ewing is here.” For longtime “Dallas” fans, no four words could be more reassuring. Yes, Bobby’s scheme to win Ann and Emma’s release by bringing a train full of drugs into Texas makes his plot to frame Cliff Barnes for murder seem quaint, but no matter. Bobby will always be our hero, and Duffy has mastered the art of playing a good guy who’s also a badass. In “Boxed In’s” last scene, when Luis greets Bobby by pointing out how risky it is for him to come to the kill house, Duffy squints his eyes and coolly responds: “Well, you seem like a nice enough fella.” Could Eastwood have delivered that line any better?

I also like how Bobby deftly manipulates Luis, pressuring him to accept his drug train offer by playing on his insecurities. “You can continue to hold the women if you want, or you can be smart and show your boss that you were the one who could amass a giant fortune in one night,” Bobby says. Does he know Luis is envious over the favoritism shown toward Nicolas by the Mexican godfather El Pozolero? Or has experience taught Bobby that in any family-run business, there’s always a jealous brother lurking about? Duffy’s other great moment comes when Judith approaches Bobby on the airport tarmac, takes his hand, and says, “Emma is all I have. Thank you.” Duffy plays the moment beautifully, becoming a stand-in for the audience. He’s as surprised as we are to learn Judith is human.

“Boxed In” comes from scriptwriter Gail Gilchriest, whose previous third-season effort, “Playing Chicken,” also found Bobby saving the day. This time around, Gilchriest gives Pamela a heroic role too. She travels to Las Vegas and persuades Nasir, the sheik’s son, to give the Ewings a huge loan so they can buy up the divisions of their company being dumped by the cartel. Julie Gonzalo is wonderfully crisp in this scene, which contrasts nicely with Pamela’s previous Las Vegas visit, when she played the dutiful wife who hovered in the background while her husband was wheeling and dealing with the sheik. (One gripe: Why does Pamela tip her hand and tell John Ross she’s planning to take him for everything he’s worth? It reminds me of the time Sue Ellen revealed the details of her plan to divorce J.R., allowing him to undermine her efforts. In another Sue Ellen-esque move, Pamela sets up house inside Elena’s cottage, recalling all the times Linda Gray’s character moved across the hall from J.R. during their marital crises.)

There’s a lot more to like about “Boxed In,” including the cinematic scope in several shots and the episode’s skillful use of color, particularly the way the golden hues in the exterior Mexican shots contrast with the black and faded browns inside the kill house. I also love the handheld camerawork, which heightens the frenetic pacing and sense of urgency. And despite the heavy drama, this episode isn’t without its light touches, beginning with the scene where John Ross strides into Bobby’s den and finds none other than Harris Ryland standing there, helping the Ewings plot their rescue of Ann and Emma. You can hardly blame John Ross for being surprised; Harris never makes it past the driveway when he comes to Southfork.

I doubt the alliance between the Ewings and the Rylands will last, which is too bad in light of TNT’s promo this week for “Dallas’s” two-hour third-season finale. Now that we know the Ewings are about to experience another death in the family, they’re probably going to need all the friends they can get.

Grade: A

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Bobby Ewing, Boxed In, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, TNT

Good guy/badass

‘BOXED IN’

Season 3, Episode 13

Telecast: September 15, 2014

Audience: 1.86 million viewers on September 15

Writer: Gail Gilchriest

Director: Rodney Charters

Synopsis: When Harris tells Bobby that Ann and Emma are being held hostage, Bobby comes up with a plan to appease the cartel: He persuades his fellow railroad commissioners to approve an emergency training exercise that will allow the cartel to bring a trainload of drugs into Texas undetected. Bobby goes to Mexico to pitch the deal to Luis, who accepts the offer but says he’ll free only one of his hostages. Meanwhile, when the cartel begins selling off Ewing Global’s divisions, John Ross and Pamela join forces and persuade Nasir to loan them the money they need to purchase the divisions in exchange for a piece of the Arctic leases. After Nicolas confesses his cartel connection to Elena, Lucia receives the photographs her private eye snapped of Nicolas and Elena together. Later, Lucia agrees to tell Christopher where her husband and Elena are.

Cast: Deke Anderson (Bill Weathers), Emma Bell (Emma Ryland), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Angélica Celaya (Lucia Treviño), Eduardo DeLeon (Raoul), Juan Pablo Di Pace (Nicolas Treviño), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Antonio Jaramillo (Luis), Judith Light (Judith Ryland), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Gino Anthony Pesi (George Tatangelo), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Pete Partida (Jacobo), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Steve Uzzell (Riley Shelton), Pej Vahdat (Nasir Ali)

“Boxed In” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 28 — ‘Playing Chicken’

Bobby Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Playing Chicken, TNT

Always the winner

Bobby Ewing plays two games of chicken in “Playing Chicken,” and of course he wins both. First, Bobby uses — forgive me for this — fowl means to foil John Ross’s latest scheme to drill on Southfork. Later, when Nicolas tries to prove the Ewings framed Cliff for J.R.’s “murder,” Bobby faces off against the younger man and forces him to blink first. Both scenes are a kick, reminding us how essential Patrick Duffy is to “Dallas.” They also demonstrate Duffy’s versatility; no matter what the script calls for, this man always delivers — and he always looks damn cool doing it.

The scene with John Ross opens with Josh Henderson’s character giving his crew of ranch-hands-turned-roughnecks a pep talk when a cheerful Uncle Bobby shows up toting a cage with a big bird inside. Bobby proceeds to give his ambitious nephew a lesson on the plight of the “lesser prairie chicken,” explaining how it’s an endangered species whose presence on Southfork means the government will deny John Ross’s request for a drilling permit, lest he disturb the creature’s natural habitat. John Ross fumes; Bobby smiles. “He is awful cute, though, isn’t he?” Bobby asks, motioning toward the cage.

I love this scene mostly because it’s nice to see “Dallas” lighten up, but also because it recalls all the times Bobby bested J.R. with a wink and a grin. The role of happy warrior has always suited Duffy well, and his timing here is as sharp as ever. Everyone else seems to get into the spirit too: Henderson shows he can deadpan with the best of them, while director Jesse Bochco delivers a whimsical shot of John Ross from inside the chicken’s cage. (Shades of the “horse-cam” used to shoot Emma Bell last year.) Even composer Rob Cairns has a little fun with this scene; his underscore is noticeably jauntier than usual.

Bobby’s other big scene begins with Nicolas arriving in a darkened parking lot to meet Rhonda Simmons, the club hostess whose testimony helped convict Cliff. Nicolas believes Rhonda is going to turn against the Ewings; when he finds her standing near her car, he congratulates her and tells her she’s made “the right decision.” Suddenly, the passenger door opens and out steps … Bobby, who makes it clear Rhonda isn’t changing her story after all. This would be a triumphant moment no matter which Ewing had emerged from Rhonda’s car, but the fact that it’s Bobby makes it especially satisfying. He’s always been our white knight, and frankly he’s the only Ewing with the moral authority to make framing Cliff for murder seem like the right thing to do.

But even though Patrick Duffy is the indisputable man of the hour in “Playing Chicken,” Gail Gilchriest’s terrific script ensures no one gets shortchanged. It’s especially nice to see lots of scenes with the always wonderful Brenda Strong, whose character gets to demonstrate a little personal growth. When Sue Ellen confides in Ann her fears about John Ross and Emma, I expect Ann to dismiss the suggestion outright. Instead, she says, “I know I’ve been defensive about Emma’s behavior in the past. You were right about her drug use. Maybe you’re right this time too.” Strong always makes Ann feel like one of the grownups in the room, but the job is easier when she has smart writing like this to work with.

It’s also interesting to see Ann turn to Harris to help reign in Emma. I love Duffy and Strong together, but there’s also no denying the actress’s chemistry with Mitch Pileggi. Does this scene suggest Ann is softening toward her ex-husband? Or is the show merely using Ann to smooth Harris’s rough edges? During their conversation, Ann urges Harris to come clean to Emma about his connection to the CIA; he rejects that suggestion, but he nonetheless reveals a little humility: “I never meant to put the people that I love in danger, Annie. As awful as you think I am, I do love our daughter.” Who knew the “l” word was in Harris’s vocabulary? Also, notice how he says “the people that I love.” Does that include Ann?

Other highlights: Sue Ellen’s masterful manipulation of Bum, as well as the scene where he shows up on her doorstep and confesses his deception. I’m delighted “Dallas” is exploring the relationship between these characters, not just because they have such an opposites attract charm — the uptown lady and the downtown private eye — but also because Kevin Page might be the only actor on this show who comes close to matching Linda Gray’s soulfulness. I have no idea where Sue Ellen and Bum are headed, but whether they remain friends or become something more, I hope we keep seeing a lot of scenes between them.

I’m a little less enthralled with the romance that develops in “Playing Chicken” between Elena and Nicolas, especially since we’ve been told their characters grew up thinking of each other as siblings. On the other hand, I’m more impressed than ever with Juan Pablo Di Pace: Nicolas is so suave and charming in his first two “Dallas” appearances, but in “Playing Chicken,” there are times he seems downright sinister. At the end of this episode, we learn Nicolas has a wife — Angélica Celaya makes an intriguing debut as Lucia Treviño — and I have no doubt we’re going to learn he’s hiding even more.

I also like “Playing Chicken’s” scenes of Christopher sleuthing around Mexico, as well as the fun Gilchriest has with John Ross’s complicated love life. No one delivers oh-no-she-didn’t moments better than Bell: What makes us despise Emma Ryland more, when she accompanies Pamela on the shopping trip and brags about her lover’s sexual prowess, or when she shows up at John Ross’s office wearing the same emerald corset that Pamela is planning to surprise him with? Fans are directing a lot of venom at Bell’s character on social media these days, and I hope the actress is wearing it as a badge of honor. She’s doing a fantastic job making Emma a vixen we love to hate.

I’m also left pondering the scene where John Ross rejects Pamela’s romantic overtures. Is this an attack of conscience, or is he beginning to realize Emma is dangerous? Whatever the reason, John Ross’s personal entanglements are probably going to be the least of his worries. In “Playing Chicken’s” most chilling scene, Harris tells Judith that the files in his safe — which include “unflattering” information about her — are now in John Ross’s possession. Says Judith: “I’m sure we can find something to compromise young Mr. Ewing enough to convince him to return those files. And by ‘we,’ of course I mean ‘me.’” If you were John Ross, what would make your heart drop more — hearing Judith say she wants to “convince” you of something or hearing her earlier statement that she thinks you’re “a nice-looking young man.” Shudder.

More than anything, this episode demonstrates how “Dallas” is finding a new rhythm in its third season. The first hour, “The Return,” took its time establishing the year’s themes and plotlines; the second episode, “Trust Me,” delivered the twists and turns we’ve come to expect from the TNT series (Judith does coke! Harris is CIA!); and “Playing Chicken” slows down the action once more to allow the audience to catch its breath. If the pattern holds, does that mean the next installment will be another roller coaster? I wouldn’t bet against it, especially now that we know Judith Ryland has John Ross in her crosshairs. Let the battle of the “J.R.s” begin.

Grade: A

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Emma Bell, Emma Ryland, Playing Chicken, TNT

Good at being bad

‘PLAYING CHICKEN’

Season 3, Episode 3

Telecast: March 10, 2014

Audience: 1.9 million viewers on March 10

Writer: Gail Gilchriest

Director: Jesse Bochco

Synopsis: Christopher investigates Nicolas in Mexico, where he meets Lucia, Nicolas’s wife. Bobby foils John Ross’s attempt to drill on Southfork and Nicolas’s attempt to turn Rhonda against the Ewings. Later, Nicolas reveals long-hidden feelings to Elena and they have sex. Bum admits to Sue Ellen that John Ross is sleeping with Emma. When Harris tells Judith that Emma gave damaging files about her to John Ross, Judith vows to “convince” John Ross to give back the documents. Bobby promises Ann he’ll keep her and Emma safe following Harris’s revelation that he’s working with the CIA to bring down the drug cartel.

Cast: Emma Bell (Emma Ryland), Donny Boaz (Bo McCabe), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Angélica Celaya (Lucia Treviño), Juan Pablo Di Pace (Nicolas Treviño), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Ewing), Currie Graham (Commissioner Stanley Babcock), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Emily Kosloski (Rhonda Simmons), Judith Light (Judith Ryland), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Scott Mullins (Nate), Kevin Page (Bum), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Geoffrey Rivas (shopkeeper), Aaron Spivey-Sorrells (ranch hand), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Michael Swanner (Dewey Templeton)

“Playing Chicken” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 22 – ‘A Call to Arms’

Call to Arms, Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, TNT

Cry wolf

The new “Dallas” often feels like more of an ensemble show than the original series did. Every member of the endlessly growing cast generally gets a meaningful scene or two in each episode, although there are times when one actor seems to leave a bigger impression than others. In “A Call to Arms,” Josh Henderson is the one to watch. With help from Gail Gilchriest and Julia Cohen’s solid script, Henderson gives us a fresh look at John Ross’s vulnerabilities as the character struggles with Pamela’s rejection and begins to question his decision to follow in J.R.’s footsteps as Southfork’s schemer-in-chief. It’s a terrific performance.

My favorite scene is John Ross’s exchange with Uncle Bobby. The younger man sits in the bedroom he inherited from J.R., drinking his father’s bourbon and feeling regretful because Pamela didn’t believe him when he tried to tell her about Cliff’s machinations. “For once in my damn life, I told the truth. And she thought it was a move. I guess I’m the like boy who cried wolf,” John Ross says. This line reminds us how different John Ross is from his father. J.R. had plenty of moments of introspection on the old show, but we didn’t see him wrestle too often with feelings of self-doubt or remorse. John Ross, on the other hand, feels a little more moralistic. We saw this for the first time last season, when he tried to persuade J.R. to give up his battle for Southfork, and now we see it again in this scene with Uncle Bobby.

I also like this exchange because it does such a nice job honoring “Dallas” history. Bobby recalls his marriage to his Pamela, and the glint in Patrick Duffy’s eye suggests his character isn’t just nostalgic for those days; I get the feeling he’s still carrying a torch for his first wife. The conversation also acknowledges the special bond that has always existed between Bobby and John Ross, as longtime fans who remember Duffy’s scenes with young Omri Katz can attest. Between “A Call to Arms” and the previous episode, when Bobby shakes John Ross’s hand and welcomes him home to Southfork, I have a feeling the relationship between uncle and nephew is going to take on greater prominence as the new “Dallas” progresses.

We also see a more mature John Ross in the scene where Cliff sweeps into the Ewing Energies conference room and announces he’s taken over the company’s bank loan. When Christopher calls Cliff a “son of a bitch” and begins to lunge at him, it’s John Ross who puts his hand on his cousin’s shoulder and eases him back into his seat. The moment echoes the beginning of the brawl at the memorial service in “J.R.’s Masterpiece,” when Christopher rushes to John Ross’s side (“I’ve got this, cousin”) after one of the mourners insults J.R.’s memory. I know this truce between John Ross and Christopher isn’t going to last, but isn’t it nice to see them getting along? It makes both characters feel less like boys and more like men.

Henderson has two more moments in “A Call to Arms” that stand out: the swoon-worthy scene where he sweeps Julie Gonzalo’s Pamela off her feet in the pouring rain, which might symbolize the storm swirling around the Ewings as their enemies descend upon them. (The scene also makes me appreciate the technical mastery of the people who work behind the camera on this show. My guess is the crew, led by first-time “Dallas” director Ken Topolsky, had to create that rain.) I also like the opening scene, when John Ross dramatically removes his sunglasses in front of McConaughey and recalls how J.R. took down three senators, two governors and a vice president (!), adding: “He taught me everything he knows. Your head’s going to look real nice above my fireplace, governor.” Even though I’m glad John Ross hasn’t become a carbon copy of his father, a little Hagman-esque flair is nice now and then, and Henderson nails it in that sequence.

Other good moments: Sue Ellen’s scene with Bum, which demonstrates the unexpectedly charming rapport between Linda Gray and Kevin Page; the chilling final scene, where Christopher and Elena learn his mother may be alive and living under the alias “Patricia Barrett” in Zurich; and all those what-will-she-do-next sequences with wild child Emma, including the kinky scene where she entices a rodeo cowboy into snagging some painkillers for her by biting his lip. I also got a chuckle from Ken Kercheval’s deliciously malevolent delivery when Cliff announces he’s picked up the Ewings’ bank note; the actor’s line – “I love a good fire sale” – might be a sly tribute to Cliff’s skinflint tendencies on the old show.

“A Call to Arms’” other highlight: Steven Weber, who gives another nicely measured performance as the corrupt McConaughey. If Weber feels any temptation to chomp scenery, he wisely resists it. The actor gets one of this episode’s best lines – “I guaran-damn-tee!” – but he avoids going over the top when he delivers it. I hope he’s going to be with “Dallas” for awhile.

I also appreciate how “A Call to Arms” brings back Jason Douglas as McConaughey’s aide, who first appeared in the TV news report about Sue Ellen’s imploding political campaign at the end of the second-season premiere, “Battle Lines.” Some trivia: When TNT sent a preview of that episode to critics and bloggers, Douglas was identified in the fictional newscast as “Sam McConaughey;” by the time the episode was telecast, the reporter’s voiceover narration and on-screen graphics had been changed to refer to him as the McConaughey campaign’s chief of staff.

Interesting, huh? Makes me wonder if there might be more recasts in this show’s future.

Grade: B

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Call to Arms, Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Julie Gonzalo, Pamela Barnes, TNT

Perfect storm

‘A CALL TO ARMS’

Season 2, Episode 12

Telecast: April 8, 2013

Writer: Gail Gilchriest and Julia Cohen

Director: Ken Topolsky

Audience: 1.9 million viewers on April 8

Synopsis: McConaughey uses the Henderson property to build a pipeline. Cliff buys the Ewings’ bank note and vows to take control of Ewing Energies if the family doesn’t repay the loan within one day. Vickers foils the Ewings’ attempt to discover what’s in Ryland’s cargo from Mexico. Pamela learns Cliff was behind the rig explosion and turns to John Ross. Christopher discovers his mother may be alive and living under a different name in Zurich. Sue Ellen asks Bum to find Ken. After Emma promises Ann she’ll give up her pills, she buys painkillers from a ranch hand and tries to drive away Drew.

Cast: John Athas (Ellis), Amber Bartlett (Jill), Kuno Becker (Drew Ramos), Emma Bell (Emma Brown), Donny Boas (McCabe), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Jason Douglas (Erik Allen), Akai Draco (Sheriff Derrick), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Alex Fernandez (Roy Vickers), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Barnes), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Bob Hess (Alan Westing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Kevin Page (Bum), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Steven Weber (Governor Sam McConaughey)

“A Call to Arms” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 16 – ‘Blame Game’

Blame Game, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, TNT

Once and again

I cringed when I saw J.R. and Bobby’s instant-messaging exchange in “Blame Game.” This episode was filmed after Larry Hagman’s death last fall, so I’m guessing the producers created the sequence using leftover footage of the actor. (J.R.’s presence during Ann’s sentencing appears to be recycled too.) I’m all for rescuing Hagman from the cutting room floor, but having J.R. send IMs to pester Bobby into watching an online video of a basketball-playing dog? That felt silly. It also reminded me of how the old show used one-sided telephone conversations to keep Jock around after Jim Davis died, which is one “Dallas” tradition I’d just as soon not continue.

By the end of “Blame Game,” though, I had a change of heart. I’m not sure why the show had Patrick Duffy shout Bobby’s responses to J.R.’s instant messages (even if J.R. was supposed to be down the hall, couldn’t Bobby have typed his answers?), but the revelation that the viral video was really a Trojan horse to erase Bobby’s notorious cloud drive was pretty nifty. J.R. pulled a fast one on Bobby, and “Dallas” pulled a fast one on its audience. I always fall for this show’s fake-outs, which either means I’m really gullible or the people who make the show are really clever. I’ll let you decide.

Overall, “Blame Game” is another solid hour of “Dallas.” The script comes from Gail Gilchriest, who also wrote last season’s “The Enemy of My Enemy,” the episode that brought Sue Ellen off the sidelines and got her involved in the Southfork oil saga. In “Blame Game,” Gilchriest once again demonstrates a knack for writing for “Dallas’s” first lady, giving Linda Gray some of her best material yet. I love the scene where Sue Ellen and Bobby lament the rivalry between their sons, as well the jailhouse pep talk Sue Ellen gives Ann. The friendship between these women has become one of my favorite relationships on the show. It feels believable, especially now that we know that Ann, like Sue Ellen, was once a less-than-perfect wife and mother. (As far as Ann’s release on probation: Yes, it’s a little convenient, but when has a Ewing ever gone to jail and stayed?)

I wish Sue Ellen hadn’t been so easily manipulated by John Ross into seizing Elena’s share of Ewing Energies, but I don’t really mind because it’s so much fun to see the return of the shrewd, bitchy Sue Ellen from the late ’80s. With J.R. exiting the stage, Sue Ellen is now poised to succeed him as John Ross’s mentor and the thorn in Bobby’s side. What a tantalizing prospect. Hopefully this will cement Gray’s place in the narrative for a long time to come. Likewise, I’m thrilled to see Pamela finally snag her piece of the company. Think about how entertaining the Ewing Energies’ board meetings will be once Sue Ellen and Pamela join the fray.

“Blame Game’s” other V.I.P.: Jesse Metcalfe, who has quietly become one of the new “Dallas’s” best performers. The actor has found the right balance between strength and sensitivity, much like Duffy did during the original series. I also like how Christopher has succeeded Bobby as “Dallas’s” resident action hero. In “Blame Game,” Christopher makes a valiant attempt to turn the tables on the thug holding him at gunpoint at Ewing Energies. Later, he shields Elena when Vicente points his gun at her. Jesse Bochco does a nice job directing both sequences, and he gets a big assist from “Dallas” composer Rob Cairns, whose score during the showdown with Vicente feels even more cinematic than usual.

It’s also nice to see Kuno Becker’s Drew Ramos take down Vicente, although the body count on this show is beginning to trouble me. During the past 10 hours of “Dallas,” Marta, Tommy, Frank and Vicente have died; Harris was gunned down but survived. On a lighter note, since Becker arrived a few episodes ago, I find myself looking forward each week to his scenes with Jordana Brewster. Drew brings out Elena’s feistiness in a way only a sibling could. Do I dare suggest these two are “Dallas’s” best brother/sister act since Victoria Principal and Ken Kercheval?

The rest of the “Blame Game” hostage crisis yields mixed feelings. In addition to the Sue Ellen/Bobby scene, I like the moment when Vicente realizes the Ewing cousins have traded romantic partners since his last encounter with them. (“You Ewing boys share after all! I love it!”) Likewise, it’s impossible to not cheer when John Ross and Christopher come together to overpower Vicente’s henchmen. As much fun as it is to see the Ewings squabble, it’s always more satisfying when they band together.

My gripes: The hostage sequences are too compressed. “Blame Game” invites comparisons to the classic “Winds of Vengeance,” an early “Dallas” episode where the Ewings are held hostage. (Fans of “Dallas” producer Cynthia Cidre’s previous series, “Cane,” will recall that show did a family-held-hostage episode too.) But the reason “Winds of Vengeance” succeeds is because the slower pace of 1970s television allowed the tension to build steadily. “Blame Game” squeezes its crisis into a roughly 15-minute period, and some of that time is taken up by Ann’s sentencing.

This is also one of those times I wish the new “Dallas’s” Southfork interiors more closely resembled those seen on the old show. The living room where the Ewings are held captive in “Blame Game” looks nothing like the one where the “Winds of Vengeance” hostage crisis unfolds. The only time you feel the history of this house is when you see it from the outside.

Of course, it’s not like I haven’t become attached to the new Southfork set too. The “Blame Game” scene where Bobby bursts into J.R.’s bedroom and finds it empty is surprisingly poignant. The brief glimpse of J.R.’s empty table is what moves me. This is where our hero glanced at Miss Ellie’s picture before signing over the Southfork deed to Bobby last season. It’s where he told John Ross to never take advantage of the family when they’re in the trouble, and where he learned to use his tablet. How sad to think we’ll never see him sit there again.

Grade: B

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Blame Game, Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Jesse Metcalfe, TNT

Captive audience

‘BLAME GAME’

Season 2, Episode 6

Telecast: February 25, 2013

Writer: Gail Gilchriest

Director: Jesse Bochco

Audience: 2.6 million viewers on February 25

Synopsis: During mediation, Christopher agrees to give 10 percent of Ewing Energies to Pamela, who refuses to share it with John Ross. J.R. erases Bobby’s cloud drive and leaves Southfork unannounced. When Vicente stages an ambush on Southfork and tries to kidnap Elena, Drew shoots and kills him. Sue Ellen uses the morals clause in Elena’s contract to seize her shares in the company.

Cast: Kuno Becker (Drew Ramos), Emma Bell (Emma Brown), Carlos Bernard (Vicente Cano), Pablo Bracho (consul general), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Jesse Campos (Jose), Vanessa Cedotal (District Attorney), Damon Dayoub (Vicente’s henchman), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Barnes), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Jason Kravitz (Pamela’s lawyer), Judith Light (Judith Ryland), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Glenn Morshower (Lou Bergen), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Freddie Poole (Ramon), Krishna Smitha (Shireen Patel), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Rebekah Turner (Jury Forman), Wilbur Fitzgerald (Judge Wallace Tate)

“Blame Game” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Drill Bits: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Finale Draws a Crowd

Dallas, Linda Gray, Revelations, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Still a crowd pleaser

TNT’s “Dallas” went out with a bang: “Revelations,” the first-season finale, scored 4.3 million viewers on August 8, becoming the evening’s most-watched cable program. The audience included 1.6 million viewers between the ages of 18 and 49, the demographic advertisers covet.

The show soared despite stiff competition from NBC’s Olympics coverage, which drew 29 million viewers, including 12 million 18-to-49-year-olds.

The “Revelations” audience represented “Dallas’s” third biggest Wednesday haul since the first two episodes, “Changing of the Guard” and “Hedging Your Bets,” averaged 6.9 million viewers on June 13. “The Price You Pay” delivered 4.8 million viewers on June 20.

Overall, “Dallas” averaged 4.2 million viewers – and 1.4 million 18-to-49-year-olds – on Wednesdays this summer. When DVR users who record the show and watch it later are counted, the show’s weekly audience climbs to 6.4 million viewers.

Production is slated to begin next month on “Dallas’s” second season, which TNT will begin showing in January. The cable channel has announced plans to produce 15 episodes in Season 2, up from 10 hours this year.

Rebecca Redux

Changing of the Guard, Dallas, Julie Gonzalo, Rebecca Sutter Ewing, TNT

Full of surprises

When I wrote my “Revelations” critique this week, I figured we’d have to wait until “Dallas’s” second season to find out who the heck Julie Gonzalo is playing.

Wrong.In a new interview with TV Guide, executive producer Cynthia Cidre reveals Gonzalo is, in fact, portraying Pamela Rebecca, the daughter we learned Cliff fathered toward the end of the original show’s run.

Also in this must-read interview, Cidre reflects on the show’s first season (“a few too hairpin turns,” she says), reveals plans to add Elena’s brother Drew to the cast and drops the tantalizing suggestion that we might see a John Ross/Rebecca coupling.

Meanwhile, Gonzalo tells TV Line she knew her character’s real identity all along – and found it difficult to be coy when meeting fans of the original series. “‘They’d say, ‘Why else would your name be Rebecca?’ and I had to be like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about….’”

Honoring ‘Dallas’ History

In another insightful interview, “Dallas” executive story editor Gail Gilchriest says the TNT show’s writers have a better handle on the original series’ history.

“This year, we’re more familiar with who’s who, and what’s happened in the past, and have tried to remain pretty true to it,” Gilchriest tells the CultureMap Houston site. “We don’t pretend that certain things in the original series didn’t happen if it doesn’t serve our story.”

Katherine Speaks

Speaking of history: Our pal David, the creator of Dallas Divas Derby, recently interviewed Morgan Brittany, who immortalized Katherine Wentworth on the original “Dallas.”

In one of two segments David posted this week, Brittany speculates about what the future might hold for her villainous character. “At some point, she would get back at Cliff Barnes. Some way, somehow, she’s going to get even with Cliff,” Brittany says.

Look for more segments from David’s interview in the coming days – and someone tell Cliff to watch out for Katherine!

Still Standing

In the early 1980s, when the producers of the original show needed a stand-in for Patrick Duffy, they turned to Dallas model Paul Heckmann.

Three decades later, when TNT came to North Texas to shoot the new “Dallas,” who did they tap to stand in once again for Duffy? You guessed it: Heckmann, who was profiled this week in the Dallas Morning News.

Oh Baby!

“Dallas” diehards are intense: Josh Henderson tells the New York Daily News he was recently asked to sign a fan’s baby. “I felt really weird and so I was like, ‘Can I just sign her dress or shirt?’ And they were like, ‘No just sign her arm.’”

Line of the Week

“You know you’ve hit a low when even a lawyer won’t take the time to insult you.”

J.R. (Larry Hagman), after legal eagle Lou (Glenn Morshower) snubs him in “Revelations.” And in case you missed it: We’ve collected many of J.R.’s best quips from TNT’s first season, along with memorable lines from “Dallas’s” other characters.

Along Came a Cider

The final “Dallas Drinks” cocktail recipe from Cook In/Dine Out is Cynthia Cider, which pays tribute, of course, to Cidre, the new show’s creative force.

This is as good a place as any to acknowledge my husband Andrew, who not only created all nine “Dallas”-themed cocktail recipes for Dallas Decoder – he also puts up with my incessant chatter about the show and this website.

Honey, I love you and appreciate your support. Thank you.

“Drill Bits,” a roundup of news about TNT’s “Dallas,” is published regularly. Share your comments below.

Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 6 – ‘The Enemy of My Enemy’

Dallas, Enemy of My Enemy, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Compromised integrity? Check.

At long last, Sue Ellen.

Linda Gray comes off the sidelines in “The Enemy of My Enemy” – and not a moment too soon. Last week, in a candid interview with Ultimate Dallas, Gray politely – but pointedly – expressed her disappointment with the limited amount of screen time she’s received on TNT’s “Dallas.” As she reminded fans, Sue Ellen’s fate rests with the new show’s writers, who are now working on the second-season scripts.

Although “The Enemy of My Enemy” was filmed months ago, it serves as Exhibit A in the case for giving Sue Ellen a more prominent role on the show. Gray makes this one of TNT’s strongest episodes yet. She only appears in three scenes, but she dominates each one – not by chewing scenery but through the force of her grace and elegance. The actress has inherited Barbara Bel Geddes’ mantle as “Dallas’s” elder stateswoman, and that’s why I hope TNT will keep her front and center. This show needs her.

The nice thing about “The Enemy of My Enemy” is how it gets Sue Ellen involved in the fight over Southfork while finally delving into the subplot about her gubernatorial run, which has been simmering on the back burner all season.

In the storyline, John Ross asks his mama to use her political connections to persuade trucking magnate Harris Ryland to ship the oil being pumped out of Southfork. Initially, Sue Ellen resists (“John Ross, if I go down that road….”), but she eventually gives in and visits Ryland, offering him a coveted appointment in her administration if he’ll help her son. Ryland, played with wicked charm by Mitch Pileggi, rejects the offer because he says he doesn’t want Sue Ellen to compromise her integrity. Nevertheless, he agrees to help John Ross – and to demonstrate his admiration for Sue Ellen, he cuts a big check to her campaign.

The first time I watched this episode, seeing Sue Ellen sell out made me cringe. This didn’t feel like something the new, improved version of our beloved heroine would do. But then I thought about Sue Ellen’s guilt over her shortcomings as a mother when John Ross was younger. I can see how her judgment might be clouded where he’s concerned.

Besides, let’s face it: A saintly Sue Ellen is a boring Sue Ellen. Like I wrote earlier this week, I’m happy the character has changed with the times, but the show needs to reveal Sue Ellen’s humanity, and her foibles in “The Enemy of My Enemy” feel credible. It’s worth noting Sue Ellen’s actions also place her squarely in the tradition of other “Dallas” mothers (Miss Ellie, Rebecca Wentworth) who make questionable choices on behalf of their adult sons.

In addition to finally giving Sue Ellen a meaningful storyline, I like how scriptwriter Gail Gilchriest brings Elena and Rebecca together in “The Enemy of My Enemy.” Having Elena drive Rebecca to the doctor is a clever way to highlight the uneasy bond developing between these characters, whose relationship is beginning to recall the one shared by “Dallas’s” ultimate frienemies, Sue Ellen and Pam.

I also appreciate how director Jesse Bochco showcases some of the lighter moments in “The Enemy of My Enemy.” At the end of the episode, I love when Bobby and Christopher storm into John Ross’s room, prompting his exasperated, “What now?” There’s also an amusing scene before the opening credits, when the roughneck Earl interrupts Bobby and John Ross’s argument on the Southfork patio.

“Mr. Ewing?” Earl says.

“Yeah?” Bobby answers.

“I meant John Ross.”

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out this episode’s big historical inaccuracy: The discovery that Miss Ellie’s father left her sons the mineral rights to Southfork contradicts long-established “Dallas” lore. In the past, major storylines have hinged on the fact Ellie controlled the ranch’s mineral rights.

The other eye-roller comes when Bobby discovers his grandfather’s prized pistol in the safe deposit box. During the original show’s classic “Jock’s Trial” episodes, we learned Ellie’s father had given the gun to Jock before his death, signaling he had finally accepted the young oil baron as a member of his family.

Or is that why Bobby seems to smile mischievously when he pulls the gun out of the lockbox in this episode? In that instant, does he realize his granddaddy pulled a fast one on Jock, all those years ago?

Maybe the Southworths were more like the Ewings than they cared to admit.

Grade: B

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Dallas, Enemy of My Enemy, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Empire of the son

‘THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY’

Season 1, Episode 6

Telecast: July 11, 2012

Writer: Gail Gilchriest

Director: Jesse Bochco

Audience: 5.3 million viewers (including 3.6 million viewers on July 11, ranking 26th in the weekly cable ratings)

Synopsis: With Rebecca’s help, Bobby and Christopher find an old legal document that will give Bobby control of Southfork’s mineral rights. After business partner Vicente Cano threatens him, John Ross turns to Sue Ellen, who persuades Harris to transport the oil pumped out of Southfork. Bobby punches Harris after he sends Ann a locket that upsets her. John Ross fears Marta is stalking Elena. In Las Vegas, J.R. tries to muscle in on Cliff’s high-stakes poker game. Rebecca tells Tommy she’s pregnant.

Cast: Carlos Bernard (Vicente Cano), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Marlene Forte (Carmen Ramos), Julie Gonzalo (Rebecca Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Callard Harris (Tommy Sutter), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Kevin Page (Bum), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Matthew Posey (Earl), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Faran Tahir (Frank), Leonor Varela (Marta del Sol)

“The Enemy of My Enemy” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.