Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 193 — ‘Rock Bottom’

Dallas, Linda Gray, Rock Bottom, Sue Ellen Ewing

Bottom’s up

“Dallas” fans will always remember Sue Ellen drinking with the bag lady and winos at the end of “Rock Bottom.” Like J.R.’s shooting and Bobby’s “death,” this is a scene that sticks with us for the right reasons. Step back and consider what happens here. A beautiful and wealthy woman, dressed in soiled designer clothing, is standing on skid row, guzzling a bottle of cheap wine. It has all the makings of something funny, or worse, campy. But it’s not. This is a moment of pure heartbreak, especially when you watch the whole episode and see how masterfully Linda Gray portrays Sue Ellen’s slow, steady, sad downfall.

“Rock Bottom” begins with Sue Ellen returning to Southfork to be with her grief-stricken in-laws after Bobby’s funeral. Before she makes it to the front door, though, J.R. tells her no one wants to see her. (“You’re just a bad memory that doesn’t know when to go away.”) This is what triggers her devastating bender. She goes to a cocktail lounge, where the bartender cuts her off and a not-so-good-Samaritan steals her purse and car. Next, she winds up in an alley, where she meets the bag lady and runs away when the woman offers her a sip of her booze. Before we know it, Sue Ellen is waking up in a third-rate motel and realizing the strange man who lured her there has stolen her ring. Holding an empty vodka bottle, she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror. “J.R.’s right. They’re all right,” she cries. “You are disgusting. I hate you!” Finally, she goes back to the alley. Once again, the bag lady offers her a sip. This time, Sue Ellen doesn’t refuse.

Through it all, Gray strikes each note perfectly. The script gives her surprisingly little dialogue, but she needs no words. Gray has always done much of her acting with her eyes, a skill that serves her especially well here. They telegraph Sue Ellen’s confusion when the creep takes off with her car, her fear when she’s harassed by a couple of lowlifes on skid row, her desperation when she begins gulping from the bag lady’s bottle. Gray’s eyes also register Sue Ellen’s shock when she realizes her ring is missing, which is a crucial moment in the episode. Throughout “Rock Bottom,” director Michael Preece cleverly uses Sue Ellen’s clothing and jewelry as a metaphor for her unraveling. First she loses her hat, then her blouse becomes torn and untucked. Finally, the ring disappears — and with it, so does Sue Ellen’s identity.

When I watched “Rock Bottom” with my family as a kid, I can remember my mom saying Sue Ellen’s decline seemed unbelievable. Surely a woman this rich and classy would never wind up on skid row. Perhaps it did seem outlandish 30 years ago, but I’m not sure that’s true today. We all know stories about young people from “good” families whose lives are wrecked by the horrors of addiction. Why couldn’t it happen to someone like Sue Ellen? Even if her situation is exaggerated, you have to admire Gray’s ability to make the emotions feel real. This performance seems even more impressive after reading Gray’s memoirs, “The Road to Happiness is Always Under Construction,” in which she recalls how much she enjoyed taking Sue Ellen into the gutter. “We had a ball in that alley,” she writes. Isn’t it amazing that something so dramatic for the audience was fun for the cast and crew to film?

Nothing else in “Rock Bottom” matches the power of Sue Ellen’s storyline, but there are many other good scenes. George O. Petrie, such a comforting figure as Harv Smithfield, does a nice job reading Bobby’s letter during the opening of the will. I also like the scene where Jack tries to befriend Charlie — now that Patrick Duffy is gone, you can see Dack Rambo’s character pivoting to the role of resident hero — as well as the scene where Donna tells Jenna she’s pregnant. Susan Howard makes her character seem both excited and nervous, while Priscilla Beaulieu Presley gets to be the voice of wisdom as Jenna counsels Donna on the joys of motherhood.

“Rock Bottom” also gives us the scene of Pam almost crashing her car on the highway — foreshadowing the fiery accident that will mark Victoria Principal’s exit from “Dallas” two seasons from now — along with a fun nod to the past: Desmond Dhooge, who plays Digger’s fellow barfly Harvey in “Digger’s Daughter,” reprises the role here, except now the character is one of the winos Sue Ellen meets in the alley. The other notable casting is Lou Diamond Phillips as a thug who harasses Sue Ellen on the sidewalk. This is one of Phillips’ first roles and he does a fine job, although the other ruffian — played by Sami Chester — gets the best line when he touches one Sue Ellen’s shoulder pads and says, “She looks like a Dallas Cowboy!”

This is the kind of line I probably missed in 1985. It makes me glad I now get to watch the show on DVD with the closed-captioning turned on — one more example of how Dallas” gets better with age.

Grade: A


Dallas, Desmond Dhooge, Rock Bottom

Gang’s all here


Season 9, Episode 2

Airdate: September 27, 1985

Audience: 20.5 million homes, ranking 7th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Joel J. Feigenbaum

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Sue Ellen goes on a devastating bender. Bobby’s will leaves his share of Ewing Oil to Christopher and appoints Pam administrator, unnerving J.R. Cliff tries to rally the cartel against J.R. Charlie rebuffs Jack’s attempt to befriend her.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sami Chester (Thug), Desmond Dhooge (Harvey), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Lou Hancock (Bag lady), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jaren Martin (Dusty Farlow), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Lou Diamond Phillips (Thug), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dack Rambo (Jack Ewing), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee)

“Rock Bottom” is available on DVD and at Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 180 — ‘Sins of the Fathers’

Dallas, Deborah Shelton, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Mandy Winger, Sins of the Fathers

Darkest before dawn

You know J.R. Ewing is having a bad week when he gets kneed in the groin and it’s the least of his problems. Such is our hero’s fate in “Sins of the Fathers.” The assault-by-patella occurs when J.R. tries to force himself upon Sue Ellen and she strikes back as only she can. He’s also rejected by Mandy, the gorgeous model who has proven immune to his charms, and then a judge freezes Ewing Oil’s assets after Cliff sues to snag a piece of the company. J.R.’s greatest indignity comes in the last scene, when his grand plan to use aging roughneck Alf Brindle to counter Cliff’s lawsuit backfires spectacularly.

Do all these misfortunes mean J.R. is losing his touch? Well, no, actually. We’ve merely arrived at the moment during a “Dallas” season when it looks like the character’s luck has finally run out. In previous years, this happened when J.R. got tossed into a Cuban jail cell, when he was forced to ask Cliff for an extension on a loan, when a state senate committee closed in on his illegal dealings overseas. In each instance, J.R. escaped harm and came out on top. There’s little doubt he’ll also recover from his setbacks in “Sins of the Fathers,” which might explain why his storyline this season feels so ho-hum. Even when this episode aired in 1985, audiences must have thought: We’ve seen this movie before. We know how it’s going to end.

Of course, “Sins of the Fathers” isn’t a rehash altogether. Consider J.R. and Sue Ellen’s fight scene, which begins with her leading him to believe she’s going to spend the night with Cliff. J.R. angrily pulls Sue Ellen into his bedroom, throws her onto the bed and begins kissing her. “I know what you like, darlin’,” he says. It’s reminiscent of two encounters from past episodes (“Black Market Baby,” “Rodeo”) — until Sue Ellen knees her husband, pushes him off of her and says, “And I know what you like — and I’m sure that wasn’t it.” I’m no fan of violence, but how can you not feel proud of Linda Gray’s character at this moment? After all these years, Sue Ellen has finally learned how to stop J.R. from taking advantage of her.

“Sins of the Fathers” scriptwriter Leonard Katzman and Larry Hagman, who directed the episode, find other ways to keep things fresh. When the Ewings track down Brindle in Galveston, J.R. and Ray go there together to speak to him. It’s the first time the half-brothers have paired up since their memorable trip to Waco during the first season. Later, the Ewings bring Brindle to Cliff’s condo to confront him, marking J.R.’s first visit there. And then there’s Jenna’s kitchen scene, which sheds new light on Priscilla Beaulieu Presley’s character. While kneading dough, Jenna recalls how she learned to bake from her father because her mother didn’t know how. “She never did teach me anything,” Jenna says, making me wonder what their relationship was like. (Perhaps this would have made a better storyline than Naldo’s yawn-inducing murder trial.)

Mostly, though, “Sins of the Fathers” is another eighth-season episode that celebrates “Dallas’s” history. During J.R. and Sue Ellen’s fight, she points out all the women he’s shared with Cliff (Julie Grey, Afton Cooper, herself). Mandy walks out on Cliff with a suitcase in her hand, just like Afton did in the season opener. To shield Ewing Oil assets from Cliff, J.R. turns again to Carl Hardesty, who helped him set up a series of dummy corporations during the sixth season. Bobby stumbles across a newspaper article about Lee Evans, the pilot who witnessed Jock’s helicopter crash during Season 5. (Since this scene never leads to a bigger storyline, I’m guessing it’s included here to promote “Who Killed Jock Ewing?”, a “Dallas” novel that was published in 1985 and features Evans as a character.)

I also appreciate “Sins of the Fathers’” attention to detail, a signature of both Katzman and Hagman. When Pam arrives at the Oil Baron’s Club for her lunch date with Bobby, notice how one of the extras cranes his neck to check out Victoria Principal as she breezes past him. Why do I get the feeling Hagman, in his role as director, instructed the extra to do this? Likewise, what are we to make of the scene where Harv shows up at the Ewing Oil offices with a piece of tissue stuck to his face and explains he was so rattled by J.R.’s call earlier that morning, he nicked himself shaving? Perhaps Katzman wrote this into the script, or maybe George O. Petrie actually cut himself on the day the episode was filmed. This also seems like the kind of thing Hagman might have come up with, just because he thought it would amuse the audience.

If that’s the case, he was right.

Grade: B


Dallas, Linda Gray, Sins of the Fathers, Sue Ellen Ewing

Don’t mess with Miss Texas


Season 8, Episode 19

Airdate: February 8, 1985

Audience: 21.2 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: A judge freezes Ewing Oil’s assets but later reverses the decision. The Ewings track down Alf Brindle, a roughneck who worked for Jock, Jason and Digger, but the man accidentally offers evidence that supports and Cliff and Jamie’s claim. Mandy leaves Cliff but refuses to see J.R. Sue Ellen mends fences with Pam, who is given fresh reason to believe Mark is still alive. Jenna worries about her trial. Lucy and Eddie break ground on their construction project.

Cast: Beau Billingslea (Dr. Miller), John Carter (Carl Hardesty), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephan Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eddie Firestone (Alf Brindle), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Dean Santoro (Raymond Furguson), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Harvey Vernon (Judge Harding), Kathleen York (Betty)

“Sins of the Fathers” is available on DVD and at Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 177 — ‘Winds of War’

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, Winds of War

Scene from a marriage

In “Winds of War,” J.R. insists he’s been faithful when Sue Ellen accuses him of cheating. He’s lying, of course, but why? Is he trying to spare his wife’s feelings, or is he trying to spare himself the embarrassment of another marital implosion? Does he want Sue Ellen to stay at Southfork because he fears she’ll take John Ross with her if she leaves, or does he want her there because he loves her? And what about Sue Ellen? Why does her husband’s fidelity matter to her? Is she in love with him, or is she merely dependent upon him? Does she want him, or does she need him?

None of the answers are clear, not that I’m complaining. Part of “Dallas’s” appeal lies in trying to figure out the mysteries of J.R. and Sue Ellen’s marriage, which will always be the show’s most fascinating relationship. But even when the motivations aren’t readily apparent, we can still see how these two characters are changing. Consider the “Winds of War” scene that ends with Sue Ellen tearfully ordering a double vodka at the Oil Baron’s Club. (“Just bring it, Cassie!”) We expect her to be drunk the next time we see her, since this is how she’s always coped with J.R.’s cheating. Yet in a surprising twist, Sue Ellen comes home sober, explaining to her husband that she stared at the drink for an hour before deciding he wasn’t worth a relapse.

We see changes in J.R. too. When Linda Gray delivers the line about not taking the drink, Larry Hagman’s eyes widen and he smiles slightly — as if J.R. is surprised, and perhaps more than a little proud, that his wife kept her demons in check. As the scene continues, Sue Ellen declares that she isn’t going to leave Southfork. “I have earned the right to be here,” she says. This feels like a moment of triumph for the character and an early glimpse of the grit she’ll display in later seasons. But it’s also an example of how J.R. still has power over her. Despite everything, she still can’t bring herself to leave him. Even when she can say no to booze, she can’t say no to him.

“Winds of War” is written and directed by Leonard Katzman, who sprinkles J.R. and Sue Ellen’s scenes with nods to other memorable moments in their marriage. In their confrontation at the end of the episode, Hagman is dressed in the same blue robe and pajamas that he wore at the beginning of the season, when J.R. won Sue Ellen back after being on the outs with her for more than a year. Also in the “Winds of War” scene, she tells him, “Don’t you ever explain anything to me again.” This recalls one of her memorable lines from their great clash two years earlier, when she chided him as “a terrific explainer.” You can even find allusions to J.R. and Sue Ellen in scenes that don’t feature them. When Bobby goes to Los Angeles and meets Veronica, the girlfriend of villainous Naldo Marchetta, he asks why she stayed with him despite his abusive tendencies. “I loved him,” she says. If a similar question was put to Sue Ellen, would her answer be any different?

Other “Winds of War” highlights include the final scene, when Cliff persuades Jamie to fight the Ewings for control of their company. Ken Kercheval delivers an urgent, heartfelt speech about how Cliff and Jamie owe it to their daddies to take back what Jock stole from them — and then when she agrees (“Let’s do it!”), he flashes a magnificently malevolent grin. Cliff has learned a thing or two from his nemesis, hasn’t he? Speaking of J.R.: I like his lie to Sue Ellen that the woman he was spotted kissing, Serena, is merely the daughter of “Congressman Hooker” (no stretch there, huh?), as well as Lucy and Eddie’s visit to Harv Smithfield’s office to formalize their real estate partnership. There’s unexpected warmth in George O. Petrie and Charlene Tilton’s exchanges. You get the impression Harv cares about Lucy and doesn’t want to see her get hurt. It’s the kind of small detail “Dallas” does so well.

Donna Reed supplies “Winds of War” with its other nice surprise. At the beginning of the episode, Miss Ellie becomes angry when she learns J.R. has kicked Jamie off Southfork. “Why, J.R.? What brought this on?” Ellie shouts. It’s the first time Reed has raised her voice since arriving on “Dallas” — and the first time she’s displayed Mama’s old fire. I like another scene between Reed and Howard Keel even more. Ellie and Clayton are dining at the Oil Baron’s Club, where she is fretting over Jamie’s future. Clayton encourages her not to make her niece’s problems her own. Ellie sits back in her chair, chuckles softly and realizes he’s right. It ends up being a rare example of two “Dallas” characters coping with their problems through laughter. The exchange also demonstrates Reed’s rapport with Keel, which feels genuinely affectionate.

At the end of this scene, Clayton asks Ellie if she’s ever considered running away from home. Reed smiles again and says, “A lot. But I think I’ll stay around and see how it all turns out.” For the first time, I wish she had been given that chance.

Grade: A


Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval, Winds of War

Grinning season


Season 8, Episode 16

Airdate: January 11, 1985

Audience: 23.6 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: After Sue Ellen’s friendship with Jamie collapses, she moves out of J.R.’s bedroom. Jamie leaves Southfork and agrees to join forces with Cliff to fight for control of Ewing Oil. Bobby finds Charlie in California. Lucy and Eddie form a business partnership.

Cast: Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Gail Strickland (Veronica Robinson), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

“Winds of War” is available on DVD and at Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Poll: Who is ‘Dallas’s’ Best Recurring Character?

Akai Draco, Barry Corbin, Bum, Dallas, Don Starr, Fern Fitzgerald, George O. Petrie, Harry McSween, Harv Smithfield, James Brown, Jordan Lee, Kevin Page, Marilee Stone, Morgan Woodward, Punk Anderson, Sheriff Derrick, Sheriff Fenton Washburn, Steve Bum Jones, TNT

Both “Dallas” series had characters who appeared regularly, although not in every episode. Vote for your favorite, or share other options in the comments section below.


Share your comments below and vote in Dallas Decoder’s other polls.

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘You and Me Together. Brothers.’

Bobby Ewing, Check and Mate, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy

Daddy wins

In “Check and Mate,” a seventh-season “Dallas” episode, J.R. (Larry Hagman), Bobby (Patrick Duffy), Punk (Morgan Woodward) and Harv (George O. Petrie) are in Harv’s office, listening as Gerber (John Hostetter), the auditor, announces the results of the Ewing Oil contest.

GERBER: All right, that takes care of the breakdown on a section-by-section basis.

J.R.: Now let’s hear the totals.

GERBER: All right. These totals are accurate to the close of business yesterday. Mr. Bobby Ewing has improved the assets he was initially given by the sum of $24,160,000.

J.R.: Well, that’s a pretty good year’s work, Bobby.

PUNK: And Mr. J.R. Ewing?

GERBER: J.R. Ewing has improved the assets he was given by the sum of $40,220,000.

J.R. chuckles, throws up his hands.

PUNK: Well, now, that’s a fair margin. J.R.’s clearly the winner.

HARV: Yes. Congratulations, J.R.

J.R.: Thank you, Harv. Thank you.

PUNK: Now, boys. What about this letter?

HARV: Well, it pleases me to say that even before they knew about the letter, the boys had already agreed to split the company, no matter who won the contest.

PUNK: That’s what Bobby said, and then J.R. confirmed that yesterday. Right, J.R.?

J.R.: [Rises from his seat, goes to the bar] Well, yes. There’s some truth in the idea that were going to share the company —


J.R.: But that was in the aftermath of what happened at Southfork. It was very special circumstances. [Fixing himself a drink] Both Bobby and I were, oh, highly emotional at the time.

HARV: [Answering the buzzing intercom] What is it, Janet? I told you I didn’t want to be interrupted.

JANET: There’s a gentleman out here who says it’s urgent he talk to Bobby Ewing.

BOBBY: Would you ask him to come in, please, Harv? [Rises from his seat, goes to the door]

J.R.: Could that wait, Bob?

BOBBY: No, it can’t, J.R. [Bobby opens the door and shakes the hand of his visitor: Thornton (Kenneth Kimmins).] Thornton.

THORNTON: I got here as fast as I could.

BOBBY: You had me a little worried. Everybody, I’d like you to meet Thornton McLeish. He’s my partner in those Canadian frozen fields that I was involved with. [Punk, Harv, Gerber and Thornton exchange hellos.] I asked Thornton to come down here because I — well, Thornton, why don’t you explain it to them?

THORNTON: When Bobby invested with us, we were sure our fields would come in — and come in big. What we couldn’t tell was when they’d come in. And that was crucial to Bobby because of this contest he had with his brother. Hello, J.R. [J.R. nods] Things looked pretty grim there for awhile, but Bobby not only stuck it out, he was instrumental in persuading another company—Barnes-Wentworth—to provide us with a special drill that would solve some of the problems we had.

J.R.: Well, I assume there’s a point to all this?

THORNTON: Oh, I’m sorry, J.R. I’ll cut it short. I just want to give Bobby his check for $26 million. [Reaches into his jacket pocket, pulls out a check and hands it to Bobby]

PUNK: Twenty-six million!

THORNTON: It’s his share of the profits in the Canadian fields. The drill bit worked. The test well came in gushing and we just sold out to the majors. That was the original deal. [Bobby smiles.]

PUNK: Well, this means that you win the contest, Bobby.

J.R.: The hell it does. The contest is over. The winner’s been declared.

BOBBY: Harv, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the contest doesn’t officially close until the end of business today.

HARV: [Smiles] That’s right.

BOBBY: So I still have time to enter this check into my books. [Harv nods. Bobby hands the check to Gerber.] Mr. Gerber.

PUNK: Congratulations, Bobby. [They shake hands.]

HARV: Good work, Bobby. Good work.

J.R.: [Chuckling] Well, I’ll be damned. I’ve never been a sore loser. [Slaps Bobby on the back] Congratulations on your win, Bobby. Not that it makes any difference. I mean, we had decided to be partners, right? Huh?

BOBBY: Punk, if you don’t mind, I’d like to keep Daddy’s letter for myself.

PUNK: You betcha. [Hands him the letter]

J.R.: Bob, you’ve never gone back on a deal. We are partners, right? Just the way Daddy wanted it.

PUNK: [To Bobby] Jock would be proud of you.

BOBBY: [Pauses] Yeah, J.R. It’s going to be just like Daddy wanted.

PUNK: Good boy.

J.R.: [Chuckles, slaps him on the back again] Good, good. That’s just fine. Now, Harv, since there’s no loose threads hanging around, why don’t you draw up some papers, make this legal. We’ll be in tomorrow, to sign them. Get rid of the old business and on with the new. Now, Bob, like I said, just the way Daddy wanted it, you and me together. Brothers.

J.R. puts his arm around Bobby and smiles. Bobby doesn’t.

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘… One Man at the Helm’

Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, Jock's Will

Daddy’s decree

In “Jock’s Will,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode, Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes), J.R. (Larry Hagman), Bobby (Patrick Duffy) and the other Ewings gather near Jock’s portrait in the Southfork living room, where Harv (George O. Petrie) sits at a desk and reads the codicil the Ewing patriarch added to his will.

HARV: “I, John Ross Ewing Sr., being of sound mind and body, do hereby add the following provisions to my last will and testament. It is no secret that the company I built — some call it an empire — is precious to me. Precious beyond anything in my life, save my dear wife Ellie and my sons. It is, however, that very preciousness that makes the choice of my successors an agonizing one. Gary and Ray, although your place in my heart is just as large and shines just as bright as the place set aside for your brothers, neither of you has shown any aptitude — or inclination for that matter — for business. Therefore, my choice of successor is narrowed to Bobby and J.R. Sons, this is addressed to you: It’s been my cherished hope that one day the two of you might run Ewing Oil as a team. That was my hope. Ewing Oil can only have one man at the helm, and that’s got to be the man that wants it the most.”

ELLIE: [Softly] Oh, Jock. No.

HARV: “Therefore, upon my death, I want an independent audit conducted of all the company’s holdings. I want everything divided upon paper so that J.R. and Bobby each have control over exactly 50 percent of the total assets. Punk Anderson, a fine oilman and an even finer friend, has agreed to act as administrator of my estate. After one year, Punk will conduct a second audit. Whichever son has managed to create the greatest gain for his half share of Ewing Oil will win 51 percent of the stock of the entire company and will be able to run it any way he sees fit. The loser in this contest will get 19 percent and the remaining 30 percent I want divided equally between Gary, Ray and Miss Ellie to make sure they’ll never be without a share of the profits of the company I created, which incidentally, must never be owned by anyone other than a Ewing. One final thing: In the unfortunate event that before this year is up, one son predeceases the other, the remaining son will automatically inherit his shares and he will take over the company.”

The Ewings look at each other with stunned expressions.

J.R.: Well, Bobby, to your good health and very long life. [Raises a glass, smiles]

The brothers clink glasses.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 108 — ‘Jock’s Will’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Jock's Will, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy

Let the games begin

At the end of “Jock’s Will,” the Ewings gather in the Southfork living room to hear Harv Smithfield read the family patriarch’s last will and testament. Everyone is present — even Gary, who has flown in from “Knots Landing” for the occasion. The scene is tense, dramatic and historic. Besides being one of the few times we see almost all of the original cast members in the same place at the same time, this also marks the beginning of “Dallas’s” greatest storyline: J.R. and Bobby’s epic battle for control of Ewing Oil.

The scene, which lasts about seven minutes, is also a showcase for Michael Preece, one of the original “Dallas’s” most skilled directors. He begins with a wide shot of the actors positioned in front of George O. Petrie, who sits at a desk that seems to have magically appeared in the living room for this scene. (I suppose the desk is like the Ewings’ television set, which only pops up when the plot calls for someone in the family to watch it.) Only four actors here have dialogue: Barbara Bel Geddes, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy and Petrie, who delivers almost 700 words, far more than any of the others. Even though the rest of the cast is silent, we never question what their characters are thinking, thanks to Preece’s reaction shots. When Harv announces Gary’s inheritance comes with strings attached, we see Ted Shackelford clench his jaw. Charlene Tilton’s eyes bulge when Lucy learns she’s become a multi-millionaire. Victoria Principal’s jaw drops when Pam realizes Bobby is going to have to fight J.R. for the company.

Bel Geddes gets the most dramatic response. When Ellie hears Jock’s line that Ewing Oil can only be run by “the man that wants it the most,” she furrows her brow and whispers gravely, “Oh, Jock. No.” I wonder: What are Preece and scriptwriter David Paulsen are trying to convey here? Is Ellie afraid Jock is about to return control of the company to J.R., whom she recently ousted from the president’s chair? Or does she sense — even before Harv announces it — that Jock is about to pit their sons against each other?

(In the same spirit, the announcement of the contest forces us to reconsider the end of “Where There’s a Will,” when J.R. sneaks a peek at Jock’s will. In that scene, J.R.’s reaction — “Thank you, Daddy, thank you” — leads us to believe Jock has left him the company. In “Jock’s Will,” the audience finally catches up and learns what J.R. did: that Jock wants him to compete with Bobby for control of Ewing Oil. So why does J.R. thank his daddy? Is he so confident he’ll beat Bobby that he considers the contest a mere formality? Or could it be that J.R. simply loves a good fight, and he’s thanking Jock for giving him one?)

As far as the contest itself: Some might see Jock’s decision to not choose a successor as a copout, but I believe it fits his character perfectly. Of course the old man would want his sons to duke it out to determine, once and for all, who is the better businessman. The contest also ends up producing some of the best storytelling seen on “Dallas,” as well as “Knots Landing.” (But don’t take my word for it: Hill Place, an always-interesting TV and movie blog, recently published a thorough examination of the long-range ramifications of Jock’s will on both shows.)

There’s also quite a bit of poignancy to the end of the will-reading scene. Jock’s final words are ominous: He declares that if J.R. or Bobby die before the contest is over, the remaining son will automatically take over the company. This prompts J.R. to turn to his younger brother, raise a glass of bourbon and say, “Well, Bobby, to your good health and very long life.” Three seasons later, after Duffy’s character had been killed off, J.R.’s toast seemed prescient. Now that Hagman is gone, the line feels bittersweet. I also can’t help but note the parallels between Jock’s will, which leads to the high point in their rivalry, and the letter that Bobby reads at the end of the new “Dallas’s” second season, which effectively brings their warring to an end.

The other highlight of “Jock’s Will” is the courtroom scene where the Ewing patriarch is declared dead. As the judge announces his decision (“The judgment of this court is that John Ross Ewing Sr. died in a place unknown, in the jungles of South America”), Preece gives us a tight shot of each Ewing seated in the gallery: First Pam, then Bobby, J.R., Sue Ellen and finally Ellie. Everyone looks stricken — and none more so than Mama, whose tears flow freely — but don’t overlook Bruce Broughton’s mournful background music, which also lends this scene power.

Other good scenes in “Jock’s Will” include the sequences set in Kansas, where Ray’s struggle to connect with cocky Mickey strains his relationship with Donna. I also like J.R. and Sue Ellen’s night on the town (especially the nifty overhead shot that Preece gives us of Hagman and Linda Gray on the nightclub dance floor), as well as the scene where the couple sets the date for their second wedding. Or, to be more precise: J.R. sets the date by presenting Sue Ellen with an invitation to their first wedding, with the original date (February 15, 1970) scratched out and the new one (December 3, 1982) penciled in.

I can’t help but think there’s plenty of room on that invitation for a third wedding date. How sad that we never got to see it.

Grade: A


Barbara Bel Geddes, Bobby Ewing, Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Donna Krebbs, Gary Ewing, George O. Petrie, Harv Smithfield, J.R. Ewing, Linda Gray, Larry Hagman, Lucy Cooper, Miss Ellie Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Sue Ellen Ewing, Susan Howard, Ted Shackelfod

Gang’s all here


Season 6, Episode 5

Airdate: October 29, 1982

Audience: 23.6 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: The Ewings have Jock declared legally dead and learn his will sets up a yearlong contest between J.R. and Bobby for control of Ewing Oil. J.R. and Sue Ellen set a wedding date. Ray and Donna bring Mickey home with them to Southfork. Pam urges Lucy to snap out of her depression.

Cast: Robert Ackerman (Wade Luce), Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), George Cooper (Lee Evans), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Phyllis Flax (Mrs. Chambers), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Alice Hirson (Mavis Anderson), Peter Hobbs (Judge Karns), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Kenneth Kimmins (Thornton McLeish), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Dale Robertson (Frank Crutcher), Ted Shackelford (Gary Ewing), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

“Jock’s Will” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 105 — ‘Where There’s a Will’

Dallas, John Baxter, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Robin Strand, Where There's a Will

Let us prey

Larry Hagman has no scenes with his main co-stars in “Where There’s a Will,” but this is still a terrific hour of “Dallas.” The fun comes from watching J.R. scheme to sneak a peek at Jock’s will before the document is unsealed for the rest of the family. Usually when J.R. hatches a plot like this, it takes a few episodes to execute it. Here, J.R. puts his plan in motion in the first scene and completes his mission right before the closing credits roll. The efficient storytelling reminds me of “Dallas’s” earliest episodes, before the show became serialized.

J.R. has two foils in “Where There’s a Will.” The first is Harv Smithfield, the Ewings’ ethical consigliere, who refuses J.R.’s demands to see Jock’s will. In one of George O. Petrie’s many great scenes during his long run on “Dallas,” Harv removes his pince-nez spectacles, looks his bull-headed client in the eye and tells him: “I was your daddy’s attorney before you were born, J.R. My allegiance is to his memory. I will follow his instructions to the letter. No one will see that will until such time as it is read to the entire family.”

J.R. pretends to respect Harv’s decision (“I admire your loyalty to my daddy. Believe me. I’ll never mention that will again.”), but the glint in Hagman’s eye lets us know J.R. isn’t going to give up that easily. Enter Foil No. 2: John Baxter, Harv’s new son-in-law and the latest addition to the Smithfield & Bennett law firm. After Harv turns J.R. down, we see J.R. call John and invite him to lunch at 1 o’clock. Seconds later, J.R. places a call to someone else — we don’t see who it is — and instructs the person on the other line to meet him at the same restaurant at 1:05. “You know what to wear,” J.R. says.

Once we see J.R.’s favorite call girl Serena show up at the restaurant and pretend to be an old Ewing family friend, we have a pretty good idea of what J.R.’s up to. Sure enough, J.R. is conveniently called away from the restaurant, leaving John and Serena alone. The next time we see them, they’re at the Ewing condo, where J.R. walks in on them in bed together. Leonard Katzman, who wrote and directed “Where There’s a Will,” gives this scene enough humor to amuse the audience without letting things devolve into slapstick. “I’m a firm believer in the sanctity of marriage — and I’m damned disappointed in you,” J.R. says before the shirtless John scoops up his clothes and dashes out of the room.

In the final act, J.R. summons John to the restaurant where this scheme began. (These scenes appear to have been filmed in a real-life white-tablecloth eatery with impressive views of downtown Dallas.) J.R. tells John he’ll keep his fling with Serena secret — if John shows him Jock’s will. Guest star Robin Strand is terrific in this scene. The boyishly handsome, fair-haired actor loosens his necktie as his character begins to feel the weight of J.R.’s pressure. When John tells J.R. that showing him the will would be “betraying a trust,” Hagman licks his lips and waits a beat before delivering J.R.’s next line: “Now, what do you call cheating on your wife? Or more to the point, what would Harv call that?”

Other highlights of “Where There’s a Will” include the scene where Ray tells Donna he’s decided to send money to his Aunt Lil, who is caring for his ill “father” Amos. Steve Kanaly does a nice job conveying Ray’s conflicted feelings, but I also love what Susan Howard does with Donna’s line, “You’re not going to call her and talk to her?” If another actress delivered this dialogue, it might make Donna seem like a nag, but Howard never makes her character seem like anything less than a wise, caring spouse. Patrick Duffy also does a nice job in the scene where Bobby politely brushes off Carl Daggett, the harmlessly sleazy chap looking to drum up business for his escort service.

This episode’s other highlight is the final sequence, when John brings Jock’s will to the darkened Ewing Oil office after hours so J.R. can finally see it. We don’t discover what the document says in this scene, but after we see J.R. smile, cast his eyes upwards and thank Jock, we know whatever’s in the will makes our hero happy. And by golly, hasn’t he earned it?

Grade: A


Dallas, Donna Krebbs, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Susan Howard, Where There's a Will

The good wife


Season 6, Episode 2

Airdate: October 8, 1982

Audience: 19.2 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: J.R. blackmails Harv’s son-in-law into showing him Jock’s will before the document is unsealed for the rest of the family. Lucy tells Pam she’s pregnant and that she’s decided to have an abortion. Sue Ellen visits the Southern Cross. Marilee offers Cliff a job. Ray learns Amos has fallen ill in Kansas.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Stephanie Blackmore (Serena), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Alice Hirson (Mavis Anderson), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Joseph Miller (bartender), Charles Napier (Carl Daggett), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Robin Strand (John Baxter), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Aarika Wells (Millie Laverne), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

“Where There’s a Will” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

The Dallas Decoder Guide to Texas Justice

Rogue’s gallery

Gang’s all here

The Ewings go to court in “Trial and Error,” TNT’s latest “Dallas” episode, and if past is prologue, the experience will be as enlightening as it is entertaining. Here’s what we learned about the Texas legal system from watching the original “Dallas.”

Rush to judgment

Rush to judgment

Justice is swift. (Except when it isn’t.) When someone in the Ewing camp is accused of a crime, the wheels of justice either spin super fast – or grind to a halt. Jock (Jim Davis) was charged with killing Hutch McKinney and indicted a week later, and then his trial lasted all of one day. But when Bobby’s girlfriend Jenna Wade went on trial for murdering Naldo Marchetta, the case dragged on for 11 episodes – almost a third of that season!

Snide and prejudice

Snide and prejudice

What conflict of interest? When Jock’s case went to trial, the assistant prosecutor was – drumroll, please – Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval). Did it matter that Cliff’s father was once Jock’s business partner? Or that Cliff’s sister was married to Jock’s son? Of course not! Look, if Senator Bobby Ewing could preside over a legislative inquiry into J.R.’s shady dealings, surely Cliff could prosecute Jock without prejudice. Right?

Cliff jumping

Cliff jumping

What courtroom etiquette? You know how Christopher has a penchant for courtroom outbursts on TNT’s “Dallas”? Uncle Cliff had the same habit on the old show. Remember when he interrupted a Ewing Oil ownership hearing by loudly telling opponent Jack Ewing, “This is all a setup by J.R. Ewing! You are here to cheat me!” The judge vowed to eject Cliff, but of course he didn’t. Do TV judges ever follow through on that threat?

Greasing the wheels

Chamber of commerce

Judges are for bribing. J.R. (Larry Hagman) never met a judge he didn’t try to influence. When Cliff tried to weasel his way into Ewing Oil, J.R. gave Judge Loeb (Jerry Hardin) some valuable stock tips in exchange for an injunction stalling Cliff’s case. Of course, these things sometimes backfired. When J.R. tried to pressure Jenna’s judge, the judge jacked up her bail to $2 million. Silly jurist. That’s what the Ewings call “pocket change.”

Mr. Cool

Mr. Cool

Scotty Demarest: Texas’s Matlock. Whenever the Ewings landed in hot legal water, they summoned Scotty (Stephen Elliott), an ultra-cool legal eagle whose disarming drawl added a few extra syllables to every word. Scotty’s best stunt: putting accused shooter Jenna on the witness stand and asking her to activate the gun’s “sy-luntz-uh.” She couldn’t, giving “Dallas” its own if-it-doesn’t-fit-you-must-acquit moment.

Spectacles of justice

Spectacles of justice

Harv Smithfield was cool too. Who didn’t love Harv (George O. Petrie), the Ewings’ loyal consigliere? He wasn’t quite as flamboyant as Scotty, but he had a flair for legal theatrics nonetheless. I mean, is it me or did Harv only trot out his lawyerly pince-nez spectacles when he was in court? The other remarkable thing about Harv: He was highly ethical. So how’d he manage to stay on the Ewing payroll for so long?

He must object

He must object

Don’t forget about Cole Young! Cole (Walter Brooke) helped acquit Cliff of Julie Grey’s murder through sheer incredulity. During J.R.’s three-minute testimony against Cliff, Cole objected five times. Cole was especially outraged when he thought the prosecutor was being mean to Pam on the witness stand. As Cole put it: “I protest that, not only as an officer of this court but as a citizen of the great state of Texas!” You tell ’em, Cole!

He’ll smell ya later

He’ll smell ya later

Trials are for stargazing. In addition to Brooke, who famously gave Dustin Hoffman career advice in “The Graduate” (“plastics!”), “Dallas” also gave us stars-in-the-making, including Steven Williams (the boss on “21 Jump Street”) as the bailiff during Ray’s trial for Mickey Trotter’s death and James Avery (Will Smith’s Uncle Phil on “The Fresh Prince Bel-Air”) as the judge in one of little Christopher’s many custody hearings.

Got a stack of those?

Might want a stack of those, just in case

Testify! The amazing thing about the Ewings: They often told the truth in court. For example, Bobby allowed the sordid story of Christopher’s paternity to come out during his final custody fight for the boy. J.R. even delivered potentially damaging testimony against his daddy at Jock’s trial, although he declined to drag Sue Ellen’s name through the mud at their first divorce hearing. Who says miracles don’t happen in “Dallas”?

What have the Ewings taught you about the justice system? Share your comments below and read more “Dallas Decoder Guides.”

After ‘Dallas’: 7 Shows That Aired in TV’s Best Time Slot

Monday Mornings, TNT

Who the hell are these people?

Stick around after “Dallas” tonight and you’ll see the debut of “Monday Mornings,” a weekly medical drama that – in the words of TNT’s press release – “follows the lives of doctors as they push the limits of their abilities and confront their personal and professional failings.” Back in the ’80s, the post-“Dallas” time slot – Friday nights at 10 – was some of the hottest real estate in prime time. Do you remember the other shows that tried to ride J.R.’s coattails to the top of the Nielsen charts?

“Falcon Crest”



Well, of course you remember this one. “Falcon Crest” debuted December 4, 1981, and followed “Dallas” on Friday nights for almost its entire nine-season run. (CBS bumped the show to Thursdays for its final four episodes.) The series starred the great Jane Wyman as the indomitable Angela Channing, who ruled the Northern California wine country the way J.R. ruled Big D. Wyman’s co-stars included Lorenzo Lamas, whose playboy Lance Cumson was the John Ross Ewing of his day. “Falcon Crest” also starred Robert Foxworth, a fine actor who turned down the role of J.R. in 1978 because he feared the character wasn’t likable enough. For this, we thank him.


Washington women

Women at war

Wasn’t “Capitol” a daytime soap opera, you ask? Yes it was. But on March 26, 1982, three days before the serial joined CBS’s afternoon lineup (where it was sandwiched between “As the World Turns” and “Guiding Light”), “Capitol” got a one-hour preview after “Dallas.” The show was set in Washington, D.C., and told the story of two families: the McCandlesses and the Cleggs, who fought over politics the way the Barneses and the Ewings feuded over oil. Instead of old coots like Jock and Digger, “Capitol” gave us two grand dames: Constance Towers as Clarissa McCandless and Carolyn Jones – a.k.a. Morticia Addams – as Myrna Clegg. How progressive!

“Knots Landing”

Three’s a crowd, Gary

Three’s a crowd, Gary

“Dallas” and “Knots Landing” were made to go together, but the spinoff followed its parent in CBS’s lineup exactly once: October 29, 1982. That evening, Gary (Ted Shackelford) visited “Dallas” for the reading of Jock’s will, and the story continued on a special “Knots Landing” episode in which J.R. (Larry Hagman) canoodled with his middle brother’s latest squeeze Abby (Donna Mills). If CBS’s goal was to goose “Knots Landing’s” numbers, the plan worked: That week, “Dallas” finished first in the ratings and “Knots Landing” finished fourth. It was “Knots Landing’s” most-watched episode ever and the first time the show cracked Nielsen’s top 10.

“The Mississippi”

All wet

All wet

When “Falcon Crest” finished its second season early, CBS used the post-“Dallas” time slot to try out “The Mississippi,” which began a six-week run on March 25, 1983. The series starred “The Waltons” dad Ralph Waite as Ben Walker, a tugboat captain who also fought crime with help from sidekick Stella McMullen (Linda G. Miller). “The Mississippi” was an instant hit and earned its own slot on CBS’s fall 1983 schedule: Tuesday nights at 8. But without the benefit of a “Dallas” lead-in, “The Mississippi’s” audience dried up. (Oh, stop groaning. You knew that was coming.) In 1997, Waite appeared on Hagman’s “Orleans,” another CBS riverboats-and-crime drama.

“Hard Copy”

Get them rewrite!

Get them rewrite!

“Hard Copy” starred Michael Murphy as Andy Omart, a scribe for the Los Angeles Morning Post; Wendy Crewson as fellow newshound Blake Calisher; and Dean Devlin as David Del Valle (or was it David Del Valle as Dean Devlin?), a cub reporter. Also featured: George O. Petrie – a.k.a. Ewing family consigliere Harv Smithfield – as Scoop Webster. CBS launched “Hard Copy” after Super Bowl XXI (Giants stomp the Broncos, 39 to 20) in January 1987, where it bombed. In May, the network moved the show to Fridays, where it followed summertime “Dallas” reruns and bombed again. CBS stopped the presses for good six weeks later.

“Beauty and the Beast”

Once upon a time

Once upon a time

If you remember “Beauty and the Beast” airing before “Dallas,” you’re right. But before the romantic fantasy/action show moved to the pre-Southfork slot, CBS aired its pilot after “Dallas’s” 11th season premiere on September 25, 1987. You’ll recall that was the night Pam was rescued from her fiery car crash. Perhaps CBS thought seeing Pam wrapped in bandages would help viewers mentally prepare to meet Vincent (Ron Perlman), the lion-like creature who made Catherine Chandler (Linda Hamilton) swoon. Vincent’s face was hidden in all the show’s pre-debut publicity, including TV Guide’s fall preview; the hairy mug wasn’t revealed until the premiere.

“Sons & Daughters”

Circle unbroken?

Circle unbroken?

“Dallas’s” final dance partner, “Sons & Daughters,” debuted January 4, 1991, four months before the Ewings rode off into the sunset. The “Parenthood”-style series starred Don Murray as Bing Hammersmith, the patriarch of a quirky family that included Lucie Arnaz as his eldest daughter Tess. CBS planned to call the show “The Hammersmiths” and pair it with Murray’s previous series, “Knots Landing,” on Thursdays, but when Fox shifted its red-hot “The Simpsons” to that night, CBS changed the title to “Sons & Daughters” and shifted it to Fridays. “Sons & Daughters” was set in Portland, Oregon – just like “Monday Mornings.” We’ve come full circle, folks.

What did you enjoy watching after “Dallas” on Friday nights? Share your memories below and read more features from Dallas Decoder.