Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 167 — ‘Shadow of a Doubt’

Dallas, Pam Ewing, Shadow of a Doubt, Victoria Principal

Chasing ghosts

Pam shifts into girl-detective mode in “Shadow of a Doubt,” searching for the truth about Mark Graison’s death. She leaves no stone unturned, seemingly questioning everyone who shared a connection with her onetime fiancé — his maid, his lawyer, even his florist — and ultimately concludes Mark might still be alive. Victoria Principal brings the right balance of determination and puzzlement to each of these scenes; it’s been years since she’s dominated an episode so thoroughly. Nevertheless, I find it hard to get excited about this storyline. Was anyone clamoring for Mark’s return in 1984? Wouldn’t you rather see Pam pouring herself into fighting for Bobby?

On the other hand: Bobby isn’t quite the catch he once was, is he? Consider: He now knows that Katherine forged the letter that broke up his marriage to Pam. He’s also admitted to J.R. that he still loves his ex-wife. And as far as Bobby knows, Mark is out of the picture for good and Pam is finally free. So why hasn’t Bobby returned to her? I suppose “Dallas” wants us to believe Bobby is genuinely torn between two women, given how hard the show is selling the Bobby/Jenna pairing. “Shadow of a Doubt” even sends Patrick Duffy and Priscilla Beaulieu Presley to a waterpark, where Bobby proposes to Jenna as they go down a slide together. (She accepts, of course, although the dubbing in this scene isn’t the greatest: Notice how Presley’s lips don’t move while they’re on the slide, even though Bobby and Jenna banter the whole way down.) It’s a cute scene, but given what we know about Bobby’s sense of duty and honor, I can’t help but wonder why he’s proposing to one woman when his heart belongs to another.

J.R. is a little easier to love in “Shadow of a Doubt,” which showcases Larry Hagman’s comedic talents more than most episodes. In the scene where Sly tells J.R. that Cliff is convinced he’s behind Westar’s offer to merge with Barnes-Wentworth, Hagman looks tickled to deliver J.R.’s response: “You know the wonderful thing about being me, Sly? With my reputation, I don’t have to do a damn thing. Everybody thinks that I’m behind half the deals in Dallas anyway.” There’s also some fun interplay between Linda Gray and Hagman at the waterpark, where Sue Ellen catches J.R. checking out two shapely women in sexy swimwear. She cuts him a dirty look, although he’s so distracted, it takes him awhile to realize he’s been caught. Guess our hero isn’t as smooth as he thinks.

Another scene shows J.R. at his best — and worst. When Sue Ellen reveals the makeover she’s given Jamie — complete with a fancy new dress — J.R. says, “It’s amazing what a few thousand dollars can do, isn’t it?” This seems unusually cruel, even for him. J.R.’s next zinger is more keeping with his style: “What’s next? Are we going to cap her teeth?” I also like how director Nick Havinga uses the Southfork set here. The sequence begins with J.R. coming home and fixing himself a drink in the living room. Sue Ellen enters, tells him she has a surprise and leads him into the foyer, where Jamie comes down the stairs and shows off her new look. After J.R. insults her, Jamie runs away followed by Sue Ellen, and then J.R. glides into the dining room, where Teresa asks if he’ll be dining alone. “Yeah, it seems like it, doesn’t it?” J.R. says. Three scenes in three rooms, each one flowing seamlessly into the next.

Two other scenes in “Shadow of a Doubt” remind me how this era of “Dallas” has more in common with the period depicted on “Mad Men” than the one we live in now. In the first, Lucy and Betty get into an argument over Eddie and splash water in each other’s faces. It’s silly and slightly demeaning to the characters, although I appreciate how this clash between two waitresses contrasts with the silly catfights we were getting between the bejeweled, bedazzled women of “Dynasty” at the time. Later, when Cliff tells Mandy her job is to make coffee and clean the house, she doesn’t tell him to get lost — she waits until he leaves for work and then calls information (remember doing that?) and asks for the number to a daily maid service. Sigh.

“Shadow of a Doubt” also includes quite a few nods to the past, including a possible inside joke: Bobby tells Donna her oil company used to be owned by “Bill Duke,” which also happens to be the name of a director who helmed two sixth-season “Dallas” episodes. (Duke also played sharecropper Seth Foster in “Dallas: The Early Years.”) Meanwhile, two faces familiar to longtime “Dallas” fans appear: Mark’s maid Rosa is played by Irma P. Hall, who was so wonderful as Tilly the caterer in “Barbecue,” while the Graison florist is played by Randy Moore, who was stuffy Reverend Thornwood in “Double Wedding.”

Speaking of familiar faces: There’s another one I’d like to see, and it belongs to Miss Ellie, who has now been missing from the show for more than six episodes. Her absence was felt most acutely after Bobby’s shooting, although I also wonder how her presence might have affected my response to Jamie’s debut in the previous episode. If Jamie had received the Mama seal of approval during the newcomer’s first appearance, might I have warmed up to her? (Eh, probably not.) The bottom line is Miss Ellie is missed, and it will be good to have her back in the next episode — even if she’s not quite herself when she arrives.

Grade: B

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Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Jenna Wade, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, Shadow of a Doubt

Down they go

‘SHADOW OF A DOUBT’

Season 8, Episode 6

Airdate: November 2, 1984

Audience: 23 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Nick Havinga

Synopsis: Pam discovers evidence that suggests Mark might still be alive. Bobby proposes to Jenna. Sue Ellen defends Jamie from J.R.’s insults. Lucy and Betty fight over Eddie.

Cast: Norman Bennett (Al), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Irma P. Hall (Rosa), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Cherilyn James (Waitress), Rick Jason (Avery Carson), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Robert Magruder (White), Stephan Mazurek (Deliveryman), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Randy Moore (Florist), Jim Ponds (Lewis), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Marina Rice (Angela), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Christopher Stone (Dave Stratton), David Stump (Tommy Hart), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Kathleen York (Betty)

“Shadow of a Doubt” is available on DVD and at Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

The Best & Worst of Dallas: Season 1

“Dallas’s” first season is comprised of just five episodes, but there’s no shortage of things to cheer and jeer.

Performances

Dallas, Digger's Daughter, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Own it, honey

Sorry Mr. Hagman, but Victoria Principal owns Season 1. The actress makes Pam confident and charming, with a laugh that would make Julia Roberts envious. Pam is also unapologetically sexual, making her one of television’s breakthrough women characters. If you’ve forgotten how intriguing Pam is when “Dallas” begins – and how terrific Principal is in the role – go watch any of the first five episodes. She’s the best thing about each one.

Episodes

I tend to like my “Dallas” dark, which might be why “Digger’s Daughter” is my favorite first-season entry. Some of this has to do with the writing, but a lot of it has to with the weather: This episode was filmed in the real-life Dallas in early 1978, when the city was in the midst of its coldest-ever winter, and all those stark landscapes and lifeless skies make it one of the show’s moodiest, broodiest hours. It’s also remarkable how many “Dallas” hallmarks are present from the very beginning: the Southfork cocktail hour, J.R. and Bobby’s Cain-and-Abel shtick, J.R.’s daddy issues, everyone’s obsession with the firstborn grandson.

Some fans consider “Lessons” the season’s lowlight. I don’t. Yes, the episode’s main plot – Lucy is skipping school! – makes “Lessons” feel more like an “ABC Afterschool Special” than “Dallas,” but don’t overlook the many wonderful character-building moments here, including Miss Ellie and Pam’s coffee talk and the precedent-setting office scene between J.R. and Bobby. As an added bonus, “Lessons” concludes with that ’70stastic disco sequence, which only gets more fabulous with age.

Scenes

Hands down, the season’s best scene showcases two characters you’ve probably forgotten: Tilly and Sam, the gossipy caterers who appear in “Barbecue” and are never seen or mentioned again. Irma P. Hall and Haskel Craver are a hoot; imagine the cheeky, “Downton Abbey” vibe they would have lent the show if they had become regulars.

No scene qualifies as the first season’s “worst,” although hindsight being what it is, I could do without all those shots of Lucy and Ray cavorting in the hayloft.

Supporting Players

Dallas, Julie Grey, Tina Louise

Grey matters

Oh, how I love Tina Louise in “Spy in the House.” Of all of J.R.’s mistresses, Julie Grey will always be my favorite because Louise makes the character feel so heartbreakingly real. I can’t help but root for Julie, even when she doesn’t root for herself.

My least favorite guest star: Cooper Huckabee, who cackles his way through his role as Payton Allen, Brian Dennehy’s “Winds of Vengeance” sidekick.

Locales

I know this puts me in the minority among “Dallas” diehards, but I like the estate used as Southfork during the first season. The compound-style setting – one big house for Jock and Miss Ellie, surrounded by a series of smaller homes for each son and his wife – feels more credible as a wealthy family’s homestead.

Worst set: Sky Blue, the Braddock disco where the Ewings shake their booties in “Lessons,” is the least convincing nightclub I’ve ever seen. Was this place a Sizzler in real life?

Costumes

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Seeing red

Bobby’s leather jacket is iconic and also metaphorical: He’s wearing it at the beginning of “Digger’s Daughter” when he and Pam are nervously headed to Southfork to announce their nuptials. We wonder: Are the Ewings are going to tan Bobby’s actual hide when they discover he has wed a Barnes?

Worst wardrobe choice: J.R.’s garish red belt buckle. Of course, as gaudy as it is, at least it’s not covered in gold and stamped with the character’s initials like the one he sports on the new TNT series.

Behind the Scenes

Every time I watch these early episodes, I can’t help but wonder what direction “Dallas” might have taken if creator David Jacobs had retained control of the series after the first season. Jacobs is a television genius; if he had stuck around, I have no doubt this great show would have turned out even greater.

What do you love and loathe about “Dallas’s” first season? Share your comments below and read more “Best & Worst” reviews.

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘She’s On the Nest — Digger’s Girl’

Barbecue, Dallas, Haskel Craver, Irma P. Hall, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, Sam, Tilly

Tell her some news

In “Barbecue,” “Dallas’s” first-season finale, Tilly (Irma P. Hall) is filling drinks at the bar when Sam (Haskel Craver) approaches with a tray and motions toward Jock (Jim Davis), who is smoking and drinking out of the view of his guests.

SAM: He’s sneaking his cigarettes early today.

TILLY: He ’s snuck three of ’em sitting there. Ain’t like him to stay away from his guests so long. [Places champagne glasses on Sam’s tray]

SAM: Digger Barnes is here!

TILLY: Say what?

SAM: You heard me. The girl Bobby married is Digger’s daughter. So it figures Jock and Digger are bound to meet again.

TILLY: Yeah, but from the looks of him, it happened a long time before he was ready. [Motions toward the crowd] How are things out there?

SAM: Crazy.

TILLY: Oh, that ain’t no news. Tell me some news.

SAM: She’s on the nest – Digger’s girl.

TILLY: Now that’s news. How’s the missus and Big Brother taking it?

SAM: I don’t think they know about it yet.

TILLY: They ain’t going to like that. Who’s going to be the first to have a fight?

SAM: Too soon to tell.

TILLY: First to get drunk?

SAM: [Motions toward Jock] He’s got the head start.