Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 150 — ‘Where is Poppa?’

Christopher Atkins, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Peter Richards, Where is Poppa?

Who’s the daddy?

No matter how many times I see the Ewings rush to the hospital when one of their own gets sick or injured, it always moves me. Besides generating drama and suspense, these scenes also remind us that the characters care about each other, despite all their squabbling. Consider what happens in “Where is Poppa?” At the beginning of the episode, J.R. and Sue Ellen have one of their nasty marital spats, but in the fourth act, when he receives word at the office that she’s been struck by a car, he drops everything and races to Dallas Memorial. In moments like this, there’s no doubt this man loves his wife.

“Where is Poppa?” also delivers a nifty twist in the final scene, when the doctor who’s been treating Sue Ellen informs the family that she sustained only minor injuries — although the accident did cause her to suffer a miscarriage. What’s that, you say? You didn’t know Sue Ellen was pregnant? Apparently no one did, including Sue Ellen herself. Of course, “Dallas” has given us plenty of foreshadowing and other clues. Two episodes ago, J.R. told his wife how much he wished they could have another child; in the previous segment, she had breakfast in bed because she felt queasy. Now we know she was probably experiencing morning sickness.

Details like these feel like little rewards for attentive viewers. So does the episode’s final shot. After the doctor reveals Sue Ellen had a miscarriage, J.R. and Peter stand next to each other and wear stunned expressions. This is a clever ending because it leaves us pondering a big mystery — which man was the father of Sue Ellen’s unborn child? — without anyone ever actually asking the question. It’s also one of the few occasions where the audience has more information than J.R. We know Sue Ellen has slept with Peter, but J.R. doesn’t. This lends the scene unexpected poignancy; not only has he lost a child, he’s also lost a wife — metaphorically speaking, that is.

Other highlights of “Where is Poppa?” include Richard Lewis Warren’s score, which adds urgency to the sequence where the news of Sue Ellen’s accident spreads to the various Ewings. I also like the scene where Donna takes Paul Morgan to lunch to see if he knows anything about Edgar Randolph, who she suspects is being blackmailed by J.R. Besides giving the show an excuse to bring back Glenn Corbett, this scene represents another example of “Dallas’s” attention to detail. After all, the show has established that both Edgar and Paul are protégés of Donna’s first husband Sam Culver, so it makes sense that she would turn to Paul for information about Edgar.

Another good scene: J.R. takes Sly to lunch for her birthday and she tells him she used the $10,000 “bonus” she received from Cliff to help her brother start his own machine shop. Since Sly’s brother’s troubles were the reason she got swept up in the corporate espionage game in the first place, I’m glad scriptwriter Arthur Bernard Lewis took the time to give us an update on the brother’s life. It’s a nice touch.

I also appreciate how this episode’s title carries multiple meetings. “Where is Poppa?” refers to the mystery over the father of Sue Ellen’s child, but it can also be seen as a nod to Katherine’s mission to determine if Bobby or Naldo Marchetta is the father of Jenna Wade’s daughter, Charlie. During this episode’s third act, J.R. and Katherine are concluding one of their midday trysts when her private eye calls to let her know that he’s finally tracked down Naldo, who now lives in Los Angeles. Morgan Brittany is terrific in this scene; as Katherine, she shifts effortlessly from being disgusted over having to sleep with J.R. again to being giddy over the news that Naldo has finally been found. Larry Hagman is also a hoot, especially when he delivers one of J.R.’s immortal lines: “You got anything to drink around here? Some orange juice or coffee? Loving always makes me thirsty.”

So “loving” makes J.R. thirsty, huh? No wonder he always has a drink in his hand.

Grade: B

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Charlie Wade, Dallas, Shalane McCall, Where is Poppa?

Who’s your daddy?

‘WHERE IS POPPA?’

Season 7, Episode 19

Airdate: February 10, 1984

Audience: 21.2 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: William F. Claxton

Synopsis: When Sue Ellen is struck by a car, J.R. and Peter learn she was pregnant and suffered a miscarriage. Edgar goes home from the hospital. Marilee agrees to join Cliff’s bid. Katherine learns Naldo lives in Los Angeles.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Fran Bennett (receptionist), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Martin E. Brooks (Edgar Randolph), Anne Gee Byrd (Dr. Jeffries), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Glenn Corbett (Paul Morgan), 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), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie Dugan), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Anne Lucas (Cassie), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Joanna Miles (Martha Randolph), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Donegan Smith (Earl Johnson), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

“Where is Poppa?” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 138 — ‘Ray’s Trial’

Dallas, Ray Krebbs, Ray's Trial, Steve Kanaly

His day in court

I always remembered the mystery surrounding Mickey Trotter’s death as boiling down to a single question: Did Ray or Lil pull the plug on him? Last week, when I re-watched “Ray’s Trial” for the first time in a few years, I realized “Dallas” also poses a second, more complicated question: Did Mickey want to live or die? Ray and Lucy each offer different answers during the course of the episode, and technically, both of their statements are accurate. Does that mean both statements are also true? I’m not sure anyone can answer that definitively, which makes the storyline feel a lot more interesting than I previously gave it credit for.

To appreciate this aspect of “Ray’s Trial,” it’s worth remembering two crucial scenes from the preceding episodes. In “My Brother’s Keeper,” when Mickey is struggling to come to grips with his paralysis, he pulls Ray aside and tells him, “The idea of living like a vegetable with some damn machine keeping me alive disgusts me. It’s the worst horror I can imagine. … If it happens, I hope and pray that no one’s going to let me live that way.” Later, in “The Quality of Mercy,” Mickey’s mood brightens when he realizes Lucy is determined to stand by him despite the fact that he’ll never walk again. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll get married yet,” Mickey tells her.

But this is “Dallas,” so of course that never happens. When Mickey slips into a coma, his respirator is disconnected off-screen by either Ray or Lil, the two people with him at the time. The district attorney charges Ray, although the show goes out of its way to drop hints that the real culprit is Lil and Ray is only covering up for her. “Dallas” doesn’t solve the mystery until the next episode, allowing the audience to spend “Ray’s Trial” pondering what Mickey wanted, which turns out to be the more interesting question anyway. At the top of the hour, Ray meets with his lawyer and recalls Mickey’s “worst horror” comment, holding this up as evidence that Mickey preferred death to being kept alive via medical machinery. Later, when Lucy testifies at Ray’s trial, she recalls the marriage plans she and Mickey were making before he slipped into the coma. “He wanted to live. He really did,” she says.

Once again, these are two characters offering two technically accurate but fundamentally different answers to the question of whether Mickey wanted to live or die. Who you choose to believe may come down to where you stand on the issue of euthanasia, which is where “Ray’s Trial” ultimately falls short. Scriptwriter Arthur Bernard Lewis doesn’t devote much time to examining the moral implications of Mickey’s death, which is somewhat surprising considering the difference of opinion Ray and Donna apparently bring to the issue. At one point, Ray tells his lawyer, “What I did was not immoral.” This seems to put him at odds with Donna, whose personal beliefs are hinted at in the previous episode when she declares, “Nobody has the right to play God.” So why doesn’t “Ray’s Trial” give us a scene of husband and wife debating the issue?

Even if the material feels incomplete, Steve Kanaly makes the most of it. In my recent interview with him, Kanaly recalled growing up watching westerns and admiring actors like Gary Cooper. The comment must have lodged itself in the back of my mind because when I watched “Ray’s Trial” a few days later, I was struck by how much Kanaly reminds me of Cooper. The actors share similarly quiet, dignified mannerisms, and both are able to say a lot without uttering a single line of dialogue. In Kanaly’s case, watch his haunted eyes in this episode and you’ll see everything that the script doesn’t tell us about what Ray is feeling.

The other performer to watch is Charlene Tilton, who appears only twice but makes a lasting impression. She does a beautiful job delivering Lucy’s tearful testimony, which supplies “Ray’s Trial” with its moment of emotional catharsis. My favorite scene, though, comes a few moments later, when Donna comforts Lucy in the courthouse corridor after Lucy reluctantly testifies against Ray. This is a brief scene and the script doesn’t give Tilton much dialogue, but none is needed. Her anguished expression says it all. The courtroom scenes also feature a couple of old pros — Richard Jaeckel as prosecutor Percy Meredith and Glenn Corbett as Paul Morgan, Ray’s defense lawyer — as well as a young Steven Williams, who appears here as a bailiff and later plays the police captain on “21 Jump Street.”

This episode’s other notable moments include Mark Graison’s polo match, which might be “Dallas’s” most thrilling horseback riding sequence since Jock Ewing surged across the Southfork plains at the beginning of the second-season classic “Bypass.” “Ray’s Trial” also marks Lois Chiles’ final appearance as Holly Harwood. In her last scene, Holly approaches J.R. in a cocktail lounge and taunts him over losing the battle for Ewing Oil. Besides giving Chiles one last opportunity to spar with Larry Hagman, I like how this scene mimics J.R. and Holly’s first on-screen encounter, which also takes place in a cocktail lounge.

The other highlight of “Ray’s Trial” is the arrival of Priscilla Presley, who makes her “Dallas” debut as Jenna Wade. It’s a fine first appearance, although it includes a bit of a curiosity. In one of Presley’s scenes, Bobby pulls up in front of Jenna’s home as she approaches the sidewalk. He invites her to join him for lunch, but when director Michael Preece offers us a close-up shot of Bobby’s car radio, we see the clock reads “5:45.” From this, we can deduce one of two things: Either Ewings eat lunch very late, which makes them a lot different than you and me, or Bobby has yet to figure out how to set the clock in his car, in which case he’s just like us.

Grade: B

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Dallas, Jenna Wade, Priscilla Presley, Ray's Trial

Hello again

‘RAY’S TRIAL’

Season 7, Episode 7

Airdate: November 11, 1983

Audience: 22.4 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Ray goes on trial and frustrates Donna with his reluctance to defend himself. Bobby runs into Jenna, who now works as a waitress. J.R. woos the cartel.

Cast: Charles Aidman (Judge Emmett Brocks), Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Glenn Corbett (Paul Morgan), Michael Cornelison (Dr. Snow), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Steven Fuller (bailiff), Tony Garcia (Raoul), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Richard Jaeckel (Assistant District Attorney Percy Meredith), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing),  Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Joseph R. Maross (Dr. Blakely), Andrea McCall (Tracy Anders), Priscilla Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

“Ray’s Trial” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.