Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 104 — ‘Changing of the Guard’

Changing of the Guard, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

He’s back

“Dallas” shakes things up in its sixth-season opener, “Changing of the Guard.” Miss Ellie ousts J.R. as president of Ewing Oil and installs Bobby in his place, the company’s executive suite gets a much-needed makeover and Sue Ellen suddenly begins sporting shorter hair. This episode also introduces an intriguing newcomer: Holly Harwood, played by Lois Chiles, whose debut is the highlight of this episode.

We meet Holly when she drops by the Cattleman’s Club, where Bobby is celebrating his new job along with Jordan Lee and Marilee Stone. Jordan introduces Bobby to Holly and explains she recently inherited her company, Harwood Oil, from her late father. After she departs, Bobby observes how Holly is “mighty young” to run an oil company. “I give it maybe a year or two alive with her in charge,” Jordan responds. You have to wonder: Would these two be having this conversation if Holly were a young man?

Of course, Holly seems destined to get the last laugh. Chiles makes her second appearance in “Changing of the Guard’s” final scene, which takes place in another darkened cocktail lounge. We see Holly at a table, seated across from someone who is off-camera. “What do you say? Do we have a deal?” she asks. The other person leans into the shot. It’s J.R. “Well, it’s a very tempting offer. Especially coming from such a lovely young lady,” he says. As the conversation continues, we learn Holly wants J.R. to help her run Harwood Oil. He agrees to take the job — in exchange for a 25 percent ownership stake in the company. “You don’t come cheap, do you J.R.?” Holly purrs. His response: “You wouldn’t want me if I did, would you?”

This dialogue is delicious, but I also like how director Michael Preece reveals Holly and J.R. are in cahoots by waiting a beat to bring him into the frame. It reminds me of the kind of surprises we get on TNT’s “Dallas” revival. Coincidentally, “Changing of the Guard” is the title of the new show’s first episode, which ends with the revelation that J.R. is secretly plotting with another young beauty, Marta del Sol. Both sequences also feature J.R. and the schemer toasting their underhanded alliance, and both end with Larry Hagman flashing his famous grin. (Another parallel between the new and old “Dallas”: Seeing Afton slink around Cliff’s hospital bedside in this episode presages her behavior in “Guilt and Innocence,” a recent edition of the TNT series.)

I also like how the 1982 “Changing of the Guard” doesn’t leave J.R. down after Ellie kicks him out of Ewing Oil. In this episode’s most dramatic shot, Preece shows us the top of the Ewing Oil building at night, then sweeps down to reveal a forlorn-looking J.R. gazing at it from the street. I always appreciate seeing J.R.’s vulnerable side in moments like this, but more than anything I want to see him riding high, which is why I’m glad this episode wastes no time getting him back in the saddle.

“Changing of the Guard” also resolves two of the plots left dangling at the end of the previous season. Cliff recovers from his coma after his suicide attempt — no surprise there — while Lucy learns she is indeed pregnant with Roger’s baby, which does feel like an unexpected twist. In addition, this episode offers two notable casting milestones: Danone Simpson (now known as Danone Camden) makes her first appearance as Kendall, the receptionist at Ewing Oil, while Roseanna Christiansen assumes the role of Teresa, the Southfork maid played by multiple extras during the show’s first five years. William Bassett also makes his third and final appearance as Cliff’s physician Dr. Hollister, a role Bassett originated in 1979.

Finally, a word about Sue Ellen’s new hairdo: When the fifth-season finale “Goodbye, Cliff Barnes” ended, Sue Ellen had long, luscious locks. “Changing of the Guard” picks up moments later, yet suddenly her hair is shorter and styled much differently. She has what might now be called a mullet, although I can remember how chic everyone thought Linda Gray looked in 1982. In a newspaper interview later that year, Gray joked about the continuity error, suggesting Sue Ellen was so distraught over Cliff’s coma, she ducked out of the hospital for a quick makeover. It’s hard for me to imagine that look ever coming back into vogue again, but what do I know? I never expected to see the return of the three-piece suit, which has become one of Josh Henderson’s signatures on the new “Dallas.” Might one of his leading ladies someday sport a Sue Ellen-style mullet?

Never say never, darlin’.

Grade: B

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Changing of the Guard, Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Snipped

‘CHANGING OF THE GUARD’

Season 6, Episode 1

Airdate: October 1, 1982

Audience: 18.7 million homes, ranking 5th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Cliff emerges from his coma, but Sue Ellen isn’t sure she wants to marry J.R. When the Ewings vote to oust J.R. as president of Ewing Oil, he agrees to become a silent partner to Holly Harwood, who recently inherited her father’s oil company. Lucy learns she’s pregnant.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), William H. Bassett (Dr. Hollister), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Karlene Crockett (Muriel), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Phyllis Flax (Mrs. Chambers), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

“Changing of the Guard” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘You’re a Cold and Insensitive Man’

Now he's done it

Now he’s done it

In “Goodbye, Cliff Barnes,” “Dallas’s” fifth-season finale, Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) is in the Southfork living room when Rebecca (Priscilla Pointer) arrives.

ELLIE: Rebecca, what a surprise.

REBECCA: This is not a social call, Ellie.

ELLIE: Rebecca, what’s the matter?

REBECCA: Maybe Digger was right. When I was married to him, I was too young or too stupid to realize it.

ELLIE: What are you talking about?

REBECCA: Digger never had a chance. Jock was too shrewd, too strong and too fast. And now it’s happening between J.R. and Cliff. It’s the same fight all over again.

ELLIE: Rebecca, will you please calm down and tell me what’s happened?

REBECCA: When I found out that Cliff was using Wentworth funds, I fired him. I think it’s time you did the same with J.R. He used Ewing funds to destroy my son. Cliff is in Dallas Memorial, in a coma.

J.R. and Sue Ellen (Larry Hagman, Linda Gray) enter.

SUE ELLEN: [Steps toward Rebecca] My God.

REBECCA: J.R. set him up. He lost everything. Last night, he tried to kill himself.

SUE ELLEN: No.

ELLIE: Rebecca, I’m so sorry. If there’s anything I can do.

REBECCA: I don’t want your help. I’m here to warn you: The Barnes-Ewing feud is still going on! It’s always been an uneven fight. The rich Ewings against the poor Barneses. Well, now it’s even. I swear I’ll break the Ewing family – and I have the money to do it. [Leaves]

SUE ELLEN: I have to go the hospital and see Cliff.

J.R.: [Grabs her arm] No, Sue Ellen.

SUE ELLEN: I have to! [Leaves]

ELLIE: [Steps toward J.R.] I want to hear it from you, J.R. Did Rebecca tell me the truth?

J.R.: Yes, she did.

ELLIE: And you drove Cliff to attempt suicide?

J.R.: How was I to know he was going to do a dumb thing like that?

ELLIE: You don’t care, do you?

J.R.: I told you before, Mama. I couldn’t stand the idea of him being with Sue Ellen. Now I didn’t force him to embezzle from Wentworth Tool and Die. I didn’t force him to get into a deal that he didn’t check and double check. If that man is dying, it’s because of his own greed. Not me.

ELLIE: You’re a cold and insensitive man, J.R. And I’m going to remove you as president of Ewing Oil just as soon as Bobby gets back.

J.R.: Well, you don’t know it yet, but you won’t be able to do that. I’m going to go find Sue Ellen and talk some sense into her. [Leaves]

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 103 – ‘Goodbye, Cliff Barnes’

Cliffhanger

Cliffhanger

“Goodbye, Cliff Barnes” leaves the title character’s fate up in the air after he tries to kill himself, making this the most literal of all “Dallas” cliffhangers. For a long time, I also considered it one of the show’s least satisfying season finales. Was there ever any doubt Cliff would survive?

I now realize that’s not the real question here. Cliff is merely a supporting player in the bigger story of “Dallas’s” fifth season: J.R.’s fight to reclaim Sue Ellen and John Ross. As the year draws to a close, everything is going his way – until Cliff, depressed over being beaten by J.R. yet again, overdoses on tranquilizers. Suddenly, J.R.’s grand plan to reunite his family looks like it’s going to collapse.

The final scene is telling. J.R. and a guilt-ridden Sue Ellen hover at the hospital bedside of the comatose Cliff. “If Cliff dies, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to marry you,” she says. Larry Hagman inhales, and as the frame freezes and the executive producer credit flashes, the image we’re left with isn’t Cliff with that tube coming out of his mouth; it’s a shot of an anxious – and possibly conscience-stricken – J.R.

You have to admit: This is a pretty nifty trick by the people who made the show. Cliff is the character who might be dying, but J.R. is the one we’re worried about. This cliffhanger is also the act of confident storytellers. Although “Dallas’s” ratings dropped during the 1981-82 season from the “Who Shot J.R.?”-inflated highs of the previous year, it was still the most popular show on television. The producers knew they didn’t need a gimmicky finale to keep the audience hooked.

Of course, even though “Goodbye, Cliff Barnes” keeps the focus on Hagman, don’t overlook Ken Kerchval. He delivers his most moving performance since Cliff’s reunion with Rebecca at the end of the previous season. Kercheval is especially heartbreaking in the scene where Cliff begs Sue Ellen to take him back. “I know I can start over. I know I can build a new life if you’ll just believe in me and love me,” he says through sobs. This is why I love Kercheval: He’s never afraid to show us Cliff at his most pathetic. Kercheval is probably “Dallas’s” bravest actor.

Linda Gray does a beautiful job in this scene too. Tears streak her face when Sue Ellen rejects Cliff’s plea and tells him she has accepted J.R.’s marriage proposal. “Cliff, I don’t want to see you again. Please go,” she says. Bruce Broughton’s background music, which includes those exquisite strings, adds to this scene’s tragic spirit. (I also love Gray’s breathy delivery in the episode’s final moments. “If Cliff dies, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to marry you” is one of those bits of “Dallas” dialogue I like to go around quoting, not because it’s such a great line but because it’s so much fun to imitate Gray’s performance. Try it yourself sometime.)

Two other scenes in “Goodbye, Cliff Barnes” mine “Dallas’s” rich history. In the first, Cliff gets drunk in a dive bar, evoking memories of Digger’s debut in “Dallas’s” first episode. Later, Rebecca storms into Southfork, confronts Miss Ellie and points out how the Barnes men always seem to end up carrying torches for Ewing women. It’s a great moment not just because Barbara Bel Geddes and Priscilla Pointer are such fun to watch, but also because it’s nice to see their characters finally acknowledge the complicated history they share.

Other highlights: The glamorous shot of J.R. and Sue Ellen kissing after a night at the symphony. The fun scenes of Bobby and Pam chasing down clues about Christopher’s paternity in Los Angeles (even if Pam forgives Bobby a little too easily for initially lying about the child’s identity). Howard Keel’s nice performance in the scene where Clayton scuttles his plan to propose to Sue Ellen.

None of this makes “Goodbye, Cliff Barnes” the show’s best cliffhanger, but it’s certainly much better than I remembered. Then again, that’s turned out to be true for much of the fifth season. These episodes are three decades old, but they still manage to surprise me. It’s another reason “Dallas” is such a durable show.

Grade: B

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Dark of the moon

Dark of the moon

‘GOODBYE, CLIFF BARNES’

Season 5, Episode 26

Airdate: April 9, 1982

Audience: 27.9 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: Sue Ellen accepts J.R.’s marriage proposal and breaks the news to Cliff, who tries to kill himself by overdosing on tranquilizers. After Rebecca vows revenge, Miss Ellie promises to oust J.R. as Ewing Oil’s president. Bobby and Pam learn Farraday, not J.R., fathered Christopher. Lucy tells Muriel that Roger raped her.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Karlene Crockett (Muriel Gillis), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Phyllis Flax (Mrs. Chambers), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Bob Hoy (Detective Howard), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper)

“Goodbye, Cliff Barnes” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.