Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 62 – ‘Trouble at Ewing 23’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, Trouble at Ewing 23

Little brother, big trouble

“Trouble at Ewing 23” is a decent “Dallas” episode until the fourth act, when everything falls apart. Or is blown apart, to be more precise.

The episode starts off strongly when Ray runs into Miss Ellie in the stable, where he thanks her for welcoming him into the family. Ellie is gracious, but she also expresses concern for Ray. “You’re a Ewing now,” she says. “That’s a lot to take on all at once. I know.” Barbara Bel Geddes and Steve Kanaly each do a nice job in this scene, which helps establish the special bond Ellie and Ray develop as “Dallas” progresses.

“Trouble at Ewing 23’s” other highlight: the scene where Pam drops by Cliff’s apartment unannounced, not knowing Donna is about to arrive for a romantic dinner. When Pam spots a bottle of imported wine chilling in the corner, she realizes Cliff is expecting a woman and teases him.

“It’s the first date,” she says. “Chinese on the second, tacos on the third. Funny how I know all this, isn’t it?” This is a cute scene, well played by Ken Kercheval and Victoria Principal, whose on-screen relationship is one of “Dallas’s” most believable.

Nice moments like these stand in contrast with the rest of “Trouble at Ewing 23,” which isn’t very good. By the fourth act, the show has abandoned everyone else’s storylines to focus on the subplot about a disgruntled Ewing Oil employee’s threat to blow up the drill site in the episode’s title, which J.R. shut in “A House Divided” to prevent Cliff from sharing in the profits.

I like the idea of showing how J.R.’s vindictiveness has unintended consequences – it turns out Gillis, the angry worker, wants revenge because he lost his job when the field closed – but the plot’s execution is lame.

Why does Gillis demand use of the Ewing jet to make his escape? Isn’t he afraid J.R. and Bobby will have police waiting to arrest him when he lands? When the field crew goes looking for Gillis’s hidden-in-plain-sight bombs, why don’t they find them? How long does it take to scour an oil field, anyway?

When the field finally goes up in flames, the special effects are spectacularly fake, but I don’t get too worked up about that. After all, this production is by Lorimar, not Lucasfilm.

Besides, by the time Gillis hits the detonator, my willingness to suspend my disbelief has long since disappeared.

Grade: C


Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, Trouble at Ewing 23

Pain at the pumps


Season 4, Episode 8

Airdate: December 19, 1980

Audience: 26.3 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Louie Elias

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Miss Ellie welcomes Ray. Donna tells him she’s dating Cliff. Pam’s detective finds evidence her mother didn’t die. A disgruntled employee threatens to blow up Ewing 23 if Bobby doesn’t meet his ransom demands. J.R.’s security guards shoot the worker, who detonates the explosives before dying.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Michael Bell (Les Crowley), Ray Colbert (Gillis), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), John Furlong (airport manager), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Laurence Haddon (Franklin Horner), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Richard Herd (John Mackey), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jeanna Michaels (Connie), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Warren Vanders (Harry Owens)

“Trouble at Ewing 23” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Drill Bits: For Patrick Duffy, Edits Go with the TV Territory

Ann Ewing, Bobby Ewing, Brenda Strong, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, Price You Pay, TNT

Don’t cut Bobby!

TNT’s “Dallas” has given audiences lots of great scenes this season, but some of the best moments – like J.R. and Sue Ellen’s dance at the Ewing barbecue in “The Last Hurrah” – have been left on the cutting room floor.

As Patrick Duffy sees it, that’s showbiz.

“Several of my favorite scenes didn’t make it to the show,” the actor told me during a conference call with bloggers and critics last month. “These scripts are so compact and so intense and every scene is so brilliantly done. You finish filming and you think I can’t wait to see that – and then it’s edited out. … You just can’t put everything in each episode.”

In some cases, scenes are merely shortened, not completely cut. “I had a scene with Jesse [Metcalfe] in a barn, which they only kept the lead-in scene for that,” Duffy said. “And they eliminated it. It was one of my favorite ones [from] that episode.”

TNT’s “Dallas” is the fourth weekly series for Duffy, who takes a Zen-like approach to the cuts. “I’ve learned to let those feelings go and just enjoy what I see,” he said.

Besides, the footage isn’t really lost. “It still exists somewhere,” Duffy said, adding the deleted scenes could wind up on TNT’s “Dallas” DVD releases.

Red, White and Ewing

TNT’s next “Dallas” episode, “Truth and Consequences,” will debut Wednesday, July 4, at 9 p.m. The cable channel had planned to pre-empt the show on Independence Day, when prime-time viewership levels tend to plummet, but reversed course and announced the schedule change yesterday. No reason was given for the about-face.

Speaking of ratings: “The Last Hurrah,” “Dallas’s” June 27 telecast, was seen by 4.1 million viewers, a small dip from the previous episode’s numbers. This week’s audience included 1.4 million adults between the ages of 18 and 49, the viewers advertisers covet.

Hopefully “Dallas’s” numbers will hold steady on July 4. Before “Truth and Consequences” premieres that evening, TNT plans to show back-to-back reruns of “Dallas’s” first four hours, beginning at 5 p.m.

And in case you’re wondering: No, this won’t be “Dallas’s” first holiday premiere.

The old show aired fresh episodes on at least seven official or “almost official” holidays: “Barbecue Two” (New Year’s Day 1982), “Mama Dearest” (New Year’s Eve 1983), “Ray’s Trial” (Veteran’s Day 1983), “Dire Straits” (Valentine’s Day 1986), “Territorial Imperative” (Halloween 1986), “The Call of the Wild” (Veteran’s Day 1988) and “The Sting” (Inauguration Day 1989).

Line of the Week

“Rebecca, you strike me as an extremely resourceful woman. I’m sure you’ll figure that out.”

I loved John Ross’s comment to Rebecca in “The Last Hurrah” – not just because Josh Henderson’s delivery was so Hagman-esque, but also because the line kind of paid tribute to the enigmatic Rebecca, who is becoming one of my “Dallas” favorites. (By the way: If you thought Julie Gonzalo was terrific in this week’s episode, wait until you see next week’s installment.)

I also couldn’t help but notice John Ross’s line echoed the “compliment” J.R. gave his favorite sister-in-law (“You’re a very clever woman, Pam. You’ll think of something.”) in “Fallen Idol,” an episode from the original show’s second season.

Take a Shot of J.R.

A reminder: This week’s “Dallas Drinks” offering is The J.R., a shot of bourbon, peppermint schnapps and black-as-oil coffee liqueur. It’s mighty delicious – the recipe comes from Cook In/Dine Out – but it has a lot of kick. You’ve been warned.

While I’m shamelessly plugging my own stuff, a reminder that I’m in the midst of critiquing the original show’s “Who Shot J.R.?” episodes. My “A House Divided” critique was posted this week; I’ll get to the “No More Mr. Nice Guy” two-part episode next week, followed by “Nightmare” (Monday, July 9) and “Who Done It?” (Tuesday, July 10).

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

Dallas Styles: J.R.’s Vest

‘The Wheeler Dealer’

Is there something symbolic about the vest J.R. is wearing when he gets shot at the end of “A House Divided,”“Dallas’s” famous third-season finale?

The vest, which appears to be gray flannel with a silk paisley-printed back, goes with one of J.R.’s three-piece suits, a style that had been back in vogue for awhile when this episode debuted in 1980. Three years earlier, John Travolta famously rocked a three-piece white suit in “Saturday Night Fever,” while Steve Martin adopted a similar look during many of his late ’70s standup routines.

J.R. sports several three-piece suits during “Dallas’s” third season. In “The Wheeler Dealer”and “A House Divided,” he is seen wearing a vest without the jacket, which could signify how J.R. is no one-dimensional villain. His personality, like his wardrobe, is layered. In “A House Divided,” the vest could also be seen as having an ironic effect: The garment is like an extra layer of armor, which does J.R. absolutely no good once that intruder steps out of the shadows and pumps two bullets into him.

Whatever symbolic value J.R.’s vest offers, one thing is certain: Larry Hagman has never looked better. In his 2001 autobiography “Hello Darlin’,” the actor recalls how he went on a diet on New Year’s Day 1980 and began jogging two miles daily, eventually shedding 35 pounds. By the time “A House Divided” was filmed, Hagman is noticeably thinner. The formfitting vest accentuates his newly trim frame. He looks positively dapper.

Hagman’s physique really works in his character’s favor, too. J.R. struts his way through “A House Divided,” cockier than ever. At one point, Jordan Lee, angry that J.R. has suckered him into buying worthless oil leases, bursts into his office and sneers, “You must be mighty proud J.R. You must be on top of the world!”

Jordan is right: J.R. is on top of the world – at least until the episode’s final scene, when he almost leaves it.

The Art of Dallas: ‘A House Divided’

Vaughn (Dennis Patrick) gives J.R. one last shot at making restitution in this 1980 publicity shot from “A House Divided,” “Dallas’s” third-season finale.

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘You’re a Drunk and an Unfit Mother’

Dallas, House Divided, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, House Divided

Can’t a brother have breakfast in peace?

In “A House Divided,” “Dallas’s” third-season finale, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) follows J.R. (Larry Hagman) into the Southfork dining room, where Jock (Jim Davis) comforts Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes), who is seated at the table.

SUE ELLEN: [To J.R.] You drove Gary away. And now Bobby. You tried to bribe Valene. You cheated your friends. You’ve done everything in your power to get what you wanted. Well, you did it. Congratulations, J.R. You are now the Ewings’ only son.

J.R.: [To Ellie] Mama, I don’t want Bobby to leave. You know that.

ELLIE: All I know is, J.R., he’s gone. [She gets up and leaves the room, followed by Jock.]

J.R.: You’ve had your last say in this house, Sue Ellen. You think you can get away talking about me in front of my mama and daddy like that? You’ve caused me enough humiliation. You’re a drunk and an unfit mother, and I honestly think you’ve lost your reason. I’m going to call Dr. Rogers. The sooner we have you put away in that sanitarium, the better off you’re going to be. [He turns and leaves.]

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 54 – ‘A House Divided’

Dallas, House Divided, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Who Shot J.R.?

The divider

One school night in 1988, when I should’ve been asleep, I stumbled across a late-night cable showing of “A House Divided,” the third-season “Dallas” finale that famously ends with J.R. getting shot. This was probably the first time I’d seen the episode since 1980, so I was overjoyed. I recorded the rerun on the living room VCR and watched the cassette so many times in the years that followed, the tape eventually warped.

Today, I know “A House Divided” the way other people know “Star Wars.” I have memorized virtually every line from every scene, and I’ve been known to go around the house reciting them for my own amusement, if no one else’s.

It was crooked!

I’d have done the same thing, Bobby. The same thing.

You’re a drunk and an unfit mother, and I honestly think you’ve lost your reason.

My memories of “A House Divided,” together with the weight of its pop culture significance, have always made me think this is one of “Dallas’s” greatest entries. I’m pretty sure it really is among the show’s finest hours, although I’m also the first to admit it’s hard to sweep aside my nostalgia and judge it simply as a “Dallas” episode.

Whether or not it’s one of the best, “A House Divided” is certainly unique. The producers famously constructed the story in reverse: First, they came up with the idea of having J.R. get shot and then they worked backwards, establishing the suspects and their motives along the way.

The result is an episode with a furious rhythm. The action begins with the frenzied press conference in J.R.’s office at the top of the hour and never lets up, propelled not just by scriptwriter Rena Down’s narrative, but also by Bruce Broughton’s driving score.

Hagman’s Zenith

Dallas, House Divided, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Who Shot J.R.?

Oh, the humanity!

The actors keep things zipping along, too. Among the regular cast, no one delivers more than Larry Hagman, whose portrayal of J.R. reaches its gleefully villainous zenith in “A House Divided.”

Given all the despicable things J.R. does in this episode, I used to feel guilty cheering him on – until I realized I’m not rooting for the character as much as I am the actor who plays him. Hagman is full of zest in “A House Divided” – and he’s never looked trimmer and sexier – yet the actor never allows his performance to devolve into camp or self-awareness.

Consider the scene where J.R. enters the Southfork dining room and finds Miss Ellie in tears because Bobby, fed up with his older brother’s schemes, has finally fled the ranch. “Mama, I don’t want Bobby to leave. You know that,” he says. The sincerity in Hagman’s voice lets us know J.R. means it.

Director Irving J. Moore probably deserves credit for humanizing J.R., too. When the character is waiting for Harry McSween to bring Alan Beam to his office, we see him alone at his desk, shrouded in darkness and holding the framed picture of Sue Ellen he keeps nearby. This fleeting moment invites the audience to wonder what J.R. is thinking. Does he regret the way he’s treated her?

J.R. looks at the picture again in the final scene, right before the unseen assailant enters the office and shoots him. I don’t know if Hagman picked up the frame on his own or if Moore instructed him to do it, but it’s a clever touch. In those seconds before the gun is fired, having him look at the photograph of Sue Ellen reminds us that J.R. is a husband, a father, a man. Yes, he’s also a bastard, but he doesn’t deserve what’s about to happen to him.

Great Performances

Dallas, House Divided, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, Who Shot J.R.?

Those eyes

Patrick Duffy is also impressive in “A House Divided,” particularly in the scene where a frustrated Bobby bids farewell to Ellie. In the episode’s DVD commentary, Duffy credits Barbara Bel Geddes with making his performance better in this sequence, and while she is indeed wonderful, he needn’t be so modest. Duffy has always brought a lot of heart to his role, and in this scene, he gives as good as he gets. As his eyes redden, her sobs intensify. Both actors play off each other really well.

“A House Divided’s” other standout is Linda Gray, who is mesmerizing during Sue Ellen’s big confrontation with J.R. in the dining room, where she calls him out for his misdeeds in front of Jock and Ellie. Notice how Sue Ellen’s expression changes during the course of the sequence, shifting from disgust at J.R.’s behavior to fear when he threatens to put her back in the sanitarium. Over the years, more than one “Dallas” observer has suggested Gray acts with her eyes. In this scene, that’s really true.

Gray has another moment I absolutely love. In the scene where Sue Ellen and J.R. fight in their bedroom, she gets swept up in her own fury and asks him “which slut” he plans to spend the night with. The instant she says this, Gray’s lips part and her angry expression melts, as if the harsh words have jolted the onetime Miss Texas into reality. How did her perfect marriage come to this?

The guest stars in “A House Divided” are terrific, too. I especially like Dennis Patrick, whose indignation is palpable in the scene where Vaughn Leland demands restitution from J.R., and Ann Nelson, who plays the little old lady Pam encounters during her visit to Corpus Christi. Down, the scriptwriter, gives Nelson some charmingly homespun dialogue (“She was pregnant. Big with it she was!”), and the actress delivers every line beautifully.

Great Scenes

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, House Divided, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal, Who Shot J.R.?

Purple rage

I’ve given J.R. and Sue Ellen’s dining room encounter today’s “Scene of the Day” honors, but truthfully, almost any sequence from this episode qualifies. “A House Divided” is one great moment after another.

Every scene has a memorable line, too. Bobby declares he’s leaving Southfork by telling Pam, “I’ve put up with all the wheeling and dealing and backstabbing that I’m going to.” After Kristin vows to kill J.R., Alan tells her to “take a number. There are a few of us ahead of you.” When Sue Ellen asks J.R. which slut he plans to spend the night with, he responds, “What difference does it make? Whoever it is has got to be more interesting than the slut I’m looking at right now.”

“A House Divided” isn’t perfect, of course. The press conference that opens the episode isn’t very credible, especially since the reporter’s last question (“Did Ewing Oil invest all of its capital in those leases and does nationalization mean the end of the Ewing empire?”) really should have been the first.

Also, as good as J.R. and Sue Ellen’s dining room confrontation is, I can’t help but notice Hagman delivers J.R.’s menacing threat (“The sooner we have you put away in that sanitarium, the better off you’re going to be.”) while holding a slice of bacon.

Surprise, Surprise

Dallas, House Divided, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Who Shot J.R.?

Down, but not out

For me, part of the fun of watching “A House Divided” today is wondering what it must have been like to see this episode when CBS aired it for the first time in 1980. I was 6 at the time and already a “Dallas” fan, so I probably was among the millions of people who watched that broadcast, although I have no memory of it.

Modern audiences likely assume J.R.’s shooting was a surprise, but CBS actually gave away the episode’s pivotal final scene in promos leading up to the broadcast. What a shame. Imagine how shocking the cliffhanger would have been if CBS hadn’t spoiled it.

Then again, when you think about it, the shooting itself really isn’t all that important. What matters is all the great drama that comes before those bullets are fired. In the end, the most surprising thing about “A House Divided” isn’t that J.R. gets gunned down, it’s how entertaining this episode remains, even when you have the whole thing memorized.

Grade: A+


Dallas, House Divided, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Who Shot J.R.?

Mr. Big Shot


Season 3, Episode 25

Airdate: March 21, 1980

Audience: 24.9 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Rena Down

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: The Asian oil fiasco bankrupts Vaughn Leland. Pam finds no evidence her mother is dead. J.R. shuts down Ewing 23 after learning Cliff is entitled to a share of the proceeds. Bobby and Pam, disgusted with J.R.’s tactics, leave Southfork. Sue Ellen, Cliff, Kristin, Alan and Vaughn vow to stop J.R., who is shot twice by an unseen assailant.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Kale Brown (reporter), Christopher Coffey (Professor Greg Forrester), Jeff Cooper (Dr. Simon Elby), Mary Crosby (Kristin Shepard), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), John Hart (Dr. David Rogers), Ron Hayes (Hank Johnson), Susan Keller (reporter), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jeanna Michaels (Connie), Ann Nelson (woman), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Randolph Powell (Alan Beam), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

“A House Divided” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.