The Best & Worst of Dallas: Season 4

“Dallas’s” fourth season was the show’s most-watched. Is it also the best?


Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Lows and highs

In Season 4, J.R. recovers from an assassination attempt, learns to walk again and suffers a humiliating exile from Ewing Oil. Through it all, Larry Hagman never misses a beat. The actor takes us deeper into J.R.’s psyche, revealing vulnerabilities we never dreamed the character was capable of. If you love Hagman’s complex performance on TNT’s “Dallas,” re-watch the classic show’s fourth season. This is where those seeds are planted.


Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Leslie Stewart, Susan Flannery

Blonde ambition

“Who Shot J.R.?” turned “Dallas” into a global phenomenon, so you might expect the show to spend Season 4 playing it safe. Instead, it takes a creative risk by tackling sexism. This theme is best personified by pioneering PR whiz Leslie Stewart, but the gender wars are also seen when Miss Ellie calls out chauvinistic Jock, Lucy gets a career and Donna emerges as the top choice for a state senate seat. Who says “Dallas” isn’t progressive?

Season 4’s weakest subplot: Mr. Ewing goes to Austin. I love the idea of “Dallas” delving into politics, but Bobby’s conduct as a member of the state senate strains credibility. Shouldn’t Senator Ewing have recused himself from the legislature’s hearings into his parents’ fight over the Takapa Lake development – or its inquiry into J.R.’s foreign affairs? Where’s an ethics committee when you need one?


Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Here comes the son

“The Fourth Son” is one of the finest hours of “Dallas” ever made. The episode, beautifully written by Howard Lakin (his first script for the show) and directed by Irving J. Moore, officially brings Ray into the Ewing fold and reminds us why Jock is such a revered figure in the “Dallas” mythos. Father-son relationships are integral to “Dallas” – especially on the TNT series – and no episode explores that theme better than this one.

To demonstrate how uneven episodic television can be, one week after “The Fourth Son” debuted, “Dallas” gave us “Trouble at Ewing 23,” which is easily my least-favorite Season 4 entry. I never know what’s worst: the cringe-inducing special effects when the oil field goes up in flames – or the fact Luther Gillis sheds not a single drop of blood after J.R.’s hired guns pump him full of lead.


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

Scene from a marriage

How do you know when a “Dallas” scene is classic? When you only need one or two lines of dialogue to describe it. By that standard, the show’s fourth year probably offers more great moments than any other season: “It was you, Kristin, who shot J.R.” “He’s not your daddy. I am.” “You are my mother.” “Real power is something you take.” “Don’t make me see myself in your eyes.” “Mama, you didn’t take any licorice.”

Any one of these scenes qualifies for “best of” honors, but my sentimental favorite remains the “New Beginnings” moment when J.R. and Sue Ellen reminisce about their courtship. Next to J.R. and Bobby’s sibling rivalry, J.R. and Sue Ellen’s love affair is “Dallas’s” most enduring relationship. If you want to understand why these two can’t stay away from each other, watch this scene.

Supporting Players

Dallas, Leslie Stewart, Susan Flannery

Pioneer woman

No surprise here: I love Leslie. The oh-so-cool Susan Flannery was the ideal choice to play the character, whose business savvy, scheming ways and unapologetic sexuality make her J.R.’s equal and the template for prime-time divas like Abby Cunningham and Alexis Carrington. “Dallas’s” writers seemed to lose interest in Leslie after awhile, but before her storyline peters out, no character in Season 4 is more fascinating.

At the other end of the spectrum lie Alex Ward and Clint Ogden, the utterly forgettable characters who romance Pam and Sue Ellen during the second half of the season. Don’t blame Joel Fabiani and Monte Markham, who are both fine actors; blame the writers, who colored Alex and Clint in shades of plain vanilla.


As much as I love the iconic dresses Sue Ellen wears in “Who Done It?,” nothing compares to Jock’s lion’s head medallion, the perfect accessory to symbolize Jim Davis’s role as father of the Ewing pride.

Some might consider Pam’s perm to be Season 4’s worst fashion choice – but those people are wrong because that ’do is awesome.


Best: “If you were on the side of the angels, you wouldn’t need Leslie Stewart.” – Leslie’s droll observation during the well-written scene where she persuades J.R. to hire her.

Worst: “My own son, letting some little no-account alley cat swing you by your big toe.” – The most memorable line during the tongue-lashing Jock gives J.R. after Leslie costs Ewing Oil a big deal. Watch it, Jock! That’s our Leslie you’re talking about.

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 75 – ‘New Beginnings’

War and remembrance

War and remembrance

Sometimes “Dallas” is more than entertaining – it’s damn near magical. This happens when everything that goes into making the show – the writing, the acting, the music and so on – comes together in ways that are so pitch-perfect, you can’t help but feel you’re witnessing something special. The final scene in “New Beginnings” is one of these moments.

It begins when J.R. comes home late and finds Sue Ellen asleep in John Ross’s darkened nursery, having dozed off while rocking him. She awakens and helps J.R. put the boy in his crib, and then the couple moves into their bedroom, where they reminisce about their courtship.

The exchange that follows is extraordinary. J.R. and Sue Ellen spend much of their lives at war with each other, but in this scene we finally see them take off their armor, which director Irving J. Moore symbolizes by putting Linda Gray in a bathrobe and having Larry Hagman remove his suit jacket and necktie as they deliver their dialogue.

The conversation itself, written by Arthur Bernard Lewis, paints a lovely picture of what J.R. and Sue Ellen were like when their love was new. With Richard Lewis Warren’s soft piano music playing in the background, we listen to J.R. describe seeing Sue Ellen for the first time, during the Miss Texas beauty pageant, and we envision how poised she must have looked on that stage. We then hear Sue Ellen recall how “frightened” she was when J.R. brought her to Southfork to meet Jock and Miss Ellie, and we imagine a sweeter, shyer Sue Ellen walking into that big house on the arm of a younger, beaming J.R.

Lewis’s dialogue is also poetic in the way it captures the unique qualities Hagman and Gray bring to their roles. Here’s how Sue Ellen remembers J.R.’s eyes: “They always seemed to be hiding secrets. Things you knew about the world that no one else knew.” And here’s how he recalls her beauty pageant performance: “All those pretty young girls were prancing around and trying to look sexy. And then, there you were, Sue Ellen. Not trying to do anything. Just looking more sexy than any of them. And you had something else. You looked like a lady.” Have better descriptions of these characters ever been written?

It’s also worth considering the context in which J.R. and Sue Ellen’s conversation takes place. Earlier in “New Beginnings,” J.R. visits Leslie’s apartment, where he vows to end his marriage so he can make Leslie his new wife. “I’m filing against Sue Ellen,” he says. Do hearing the words aloud prompt the nostalgic wave that engulfs J.R. at the end of the episode?

And what is Sue Ellen’s frame of mind at the end of “New Beginnings”? In the episode’s first act, Clint’s wife Alisha tells Sue Ellen she is willing to share her husband if that’s what it takes to hold onto him. The conversation leads a guilty Sue Ellen to break up with Clint, but does Alisha’s devotion also inspire Sue Ellen to give her own marriage another chance?

This is what makes the final moments of “New Beginnings” so heartbreaking. Just when it seems like J.R. and Sue Ellen are about to reignite their old spark, the phone rings. She answers and after hearing the voice on the other end, we see her face fall and her posture stiffen. “It’s Kristin, calling from California,” Sue Ellen announces somberly. “She just gave birth to a baby boy. You have another son.”

What a punch to the gut! The words remind us that the past doesn’t just hold memories for J.R. and Sue Ellen to cherish – it also holds mistakes that will haunt them forever.

Grade: A


Wake-up call

Wake-up call


Season 4, Episode 21

Airdate: April 10, 1981

Audience: 23.3 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: Jock and Miss Ellie depart for a second honeymoon. Sue Ellen ends her affair with Clint after his wife confronts her. Jeremy vows revenge when J.R. backs out of his promise to sell him Ewing Oil. Cliff sleeps with Afton and pumps her for information about J.R. Kristin calls Sue Ellen and tells her she’s given birth to J.R.’s son.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Stephanie Braxton (Alisha Ogden), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Richard Derr (Howard), Patrick Duffy (Senator Bobby Ewing), Susan Flannery (Leslie Stewart), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Culver Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Monte Markham (Clint Ogden), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Craig Stevens (Greg Stewart), Christopher Stone (Dave Stratton), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

“New Beginnings” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 66 – ‘End of the Road, Part 2’

Big fat Ewing wedding

Big fat Ewing wedding

“End of the Road, Part 2” aired three days after President Reagan’s inauguration, and as if on cue, the episode ushers in a bigger, glossier version of “Dallas.” The show has always been about big things (big homes, big business, big egos), but this hour seems to mark the moment the producers decide even bigger is even better.

This episode’s centerpiece is Lucy’s wedding, which demonstrates how much “Dallas’s” cast has ballooned during the fourth season. In addition to the main characters, the wedding is attended by Alex Ward, Clint Ogden and the Coopers, none of whom were around just a few episodes ago. It’s odd to see these newcomers get so much screen time at a Ewing family event.

To make matter worse, some of the familiar faces act like people we don’t know. I get that Pam feels vulnerable after her mother’s rejection, but would she really allow herself to be tempted by Alex? Likewise, Miss Ellie’s sudden resentment toward Ray feels forced, especially in light of the warm embrace she gave him in “Trouble at Ewing 23.”

It also doesn’t help that the wedding scenes are filmed on “Dallas’s” Hollywood soundstage, which looks even faker than usual. To create the illusion this is a large affair, the producers squeeze dozens of extras onto the set, but this only succeeds in making everyone look claustrophobic. In the scene where Sue Ellen and Clint sit at a table and chat, I find myself worrying the couples on the dance floor are going to waltz right over them.

Yes, there are a handful of nice moments in “End of the Road, Part 2,” including the scene where Jock, J.R. and Bobby duck out of the reception to talk shop in the living room. It evokes the opening of “The Godfather,” when Don Corleone does business on his daughter’s wedding day.

I also like how director Irving J. Moore allows us to hear the murmuring in the crowd when Lucy comes down the aisle (“Look at that dress!”), as well as when he switches perspective and shows the attendees from Lucy’s point of view.

Still, I can’t help but notice how “Dallas” seems to lose a little perspective of its own with this episode.

Grade: B


Stare and stare alike

Stare and stare alike


Season 4, Episode 12

Airdate: January 23, 1981

Audience: 28.3 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: Mitch and Lucy marry. During the reception, J.R. sleeps with Afton, while Sue Ellen flirts with ex-boyfriend Clint Ogden. Bobby salvages his big deals but resigns as Ewing Oil’s president.

Cast: Barbara Babcock (Liz Craig), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Karlene Crockett (Muriel Gillis), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Joel Fabiani (Alex Ward), Anne Francis (Arliss Cooper), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Ted Gehring (Brady York), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Sherill Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Monte Markham (Clint Ogden), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Jeanna Michaels (Connie), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Robert Rockwell (minister), Ted Shackelford (Gary Ewing), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Joan Van Ark (Valene Ewing)

“End of the Road, Part 2” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 63 – ‘The Prodigal Mother’

The lady in Houston

The lady in Houston

“The Prodigal Mother” reminds me of one of those “women’s pictures” from the 1950s. The episode marks the end of Pam’s search for her long-lost mother, and it’s as gorgeously soapy as anything Douglas Sirk directed. I love it.

More than anything, “The Prodigal Mother” is distinguished by two big, memorable monologues. This is the first script from David Paulsen, who became one of “Dallas’s” most prolific scribes, and boy, does he knock it out of the park with these speeches.

The first speech comes when Pam visits Rebecca Wentworth, the fabulously wealthy woman that Pam’s private detective has identified as Rebecca Barnes, whom Pam and Cliff believed died long ago. In the scene, Rebecca’s maid escorts Pam into the fern-festooned solarium inside her Houston mansion. Rebecca, draped in what appears to be sea-green satin, stands at the other end, leaning against a column. “Won’t you come in?” she says. It’s the kind of thing people only say in movies.

Victoria Principal steps forward and begins Pam’s speech, which is worth recalling it in its entirety:

I’ve rehearsed it a dozen times. Now the words just won’t come out. I know who you are. When I was a child, I used to think about you every day: My mother, who died and went to heaven. And I used to wonder what you were like. What you smelled like. Sometimes, I even thought I could remember. When Digger told us that you died, I could never really accept that. But when Digger was dying and told us about you and Hutch McKinney, I don’t exactly know why, but somehow I knew that you were still alive. And I’ve been searching for you since that day. Everybody told me I shouldn’t. That it was useless. My brother and my husband said that I’d just be more hurt when I found out that you were really dead. But I found you. You’re alive. And I’m so happy. I don’t know how to tell you how happy I am.

Principal’s delivery is really lovely. It feels very brave: With every line, the actress seems to reveal a little more of herself, so much so that by the end of the monologue, her lip looks like it’s quivering uncontrollably. Principal does this a lot during her crying scenes on “Dallas,” and while I sometimes find it a bit much, I don’t here. Here, it’s perfect.

Mama Said

The daughter in Dallas

The daughter in Dallas

“The Prodigal Mother’s” other big speech comes toward the end of the episode, when Rebecca takes Pam on a stroll through the park and and finally admits she is her mother. I remember watching this scene as a child and being struck by Rebecca’s line about how she “closed a door” in her mind. That line has always stuck with me.

Just as Principal shines during her monologue, Priscilla Pointer does a terrific job delivering hers. Like Barbara Bel Geddes, Pointer is a New York stage veteran who knows how to tone things down for the more intimate confines of television. Pointer’s mannerisms and expressions never feel anything less than natural. She will always be one of my favorite “Dallas” actresses.

I also love how the scene between Pam and Rebecca sounds. When it begins, it’s so quiet – almost eerily so. Aside from the dialogue, the only thing we hear are the women’s heels on the sidewalk and a few birds chirping in the distance. It’s as if the whole world has come to a standstill, and for these two characters, I suppose it has.

And even though Rebecca did an awful thing by abandoning her two small children, this scene makes it impossible for me to dislike her. For this, Paulsen deserves a lot of credit. His dialogue humanizes Rebecca, particularly when she explains why she never divorced Digger. “I was afraid that if I tried, he’d find me, and drag me back to that awful life,” she says. Based on what we know about bitter, miserable Digger, can we honestly blame her? Rebecca might not deserve our respect, but after this scene, she’s at least entitled to some of our sympathy.

Of course, the most haunting part of Pam and Rebecca’s exchange is how it foreshadows Pam’s own tragic character arc, which I hope TNT’s “Dallas” will someday resolve. Imagine seeing Principal sitting on a park bench with Jesse Metcalfe as Pam explains why she abandoned Christopher and Bobby, all those years ago. If done well, it would be even more powerful than what we witness in “The Prodigal Mother.”

Party Lines

The grand sweep

The grand sweep

In another Sirkian masterstroke, before Rebecca comes clean to Pam, Paulsen’s script has the woman run into each in the most glamorous of settings: the black-tie fundraiser for gubernatorial candidate Dave Culver, which the Ewings attend. I love how Irving J. Moore directs the sequence, positioning his camera in the crowd as the Ewings arrive with a grand, all-smiles, glad-handing sweep through the ballroom.

Moore also allows the viewer to eavesdrop on the characters as they comment on the action around them. My favorite exchange begins when Sue Ellen slyly points out the guest of honor is “about as liberal a politician as the state of Texas allows. Ewing money usually never flows in that direction.” J.R.’s response that “Ewing money always flows in the direction of power” is perfect – and perfectly plausible.

“The Prodigal Mother’s” other great scene is its last. Pam, having just agreed to keep Rebecca’s identity secret, comes to Cliff’s apartment to tell him what she learned during her visit to Houston. As expected, Cliff, who believes Pam shouldn’t be digging up the past, doesn’t try to conceal his indifference.

“So, do we have a mother?” he asks.

Pam is silent. Cliff again asks what she learned during her trip.

Finally, she lies and tells him her detective was mistaken. Principal then delivers the episode’s final line, which is its best. “The lady in Houston,” she says, “was just a lady in Houston.”

Oh, that line gets me every time. What sacrifice! What noble suffering! What exquisite agony!

What a great episode.

Grade: A+





Season 4, Episode 9

Airdate: January 2, 1981

Audience: 28.1 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: Pam’s detective tracks down her mother: Rebecca Wentworth, the wife a wealthy Houston industrialist. Rebecca tearfully admits her real identity to Pam but says she doesn’t want her ill husband to know the truth. Lucy proposes to Mitch, who accepts.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Michael Bell (Les Crowley), Karlene Crockett (Muriel Gillis), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jerry Haynes (Pat Powers), Richard Herd (John Mackey), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), John Martin (Herbert Wentworth), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

“The Prodigal Mother” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 61 – ‘The Fourth Son’

Dallas, Fourth Son, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Rising son

In “The Fourth Son’s” third act, Jock tells Ray he’s his father, a fact the Ewing patriarch didn’t discover until earlier in the episode but a truth he’s probably always known, deep down. The scene is beautifully written and performed, and no matter how often I watch it, it always moves me. “Dallas” simply doesn’t get better than this.

The sequence opens with Jock’s Lincoln Town Car kicking up dust as it comes down the gravel road toward Ray’s newly constructed rambler. Director Irving J. Moore brings us into the car for a close-up of Jim Davis, who looks serious as always but more pensive than usual. The Ewing patriarch is in the driver’s seat, but it isn’t clear where this journey is going to take him. You can feel the uncertainty.

When Jock parks the car and gets out, Ray puts down the ax he’s using to chop wood, takes the older man by the arm and leads him to the patio table. “Come on out of the sun,” Ray says, and with that single, small gesture, we’re reminded both of Jock’s mortality and the ranch foreman’s abiding affection for his boss and mentor.

Scriptwriter Howard Lakin’s dialogue in the conversation that follows is so good because it tells us so much. Almost every line signals something more than what’s actually being said.

Ray recalls his mother’s memories of her nursing days (“Seems like the only time in her life she ever felt useful.”) and we realize what a sad, unfulfilled life this woman must have led. He suggests telling the truth about his paternity could cause problems for Jock’s “family” and we known precisely what family member he’s referring to. Jock reminds Ray he’s “got a lot at stake here” and the line – along with the slight smile from Davis that accompanies it – lets us know how impressed Jock is with Ray’s willingness to sacrifice his right to share in the Ewing riches.

Davis is wonderful in this scene – strong and solemn, yet full of love and pride – and so is Steve Kanaly, who wears the mantle of plainspoken humility so convincingly, I wonder how much “acting” is taking place here. I don’t know if Davis and Kanaly were friends in real life, but my goodness, in this exchange, they make me believe in the respect their characters feel for each other.

Matters of Honor

Amos Krebbs, Dallas, Fourth Son, William Windom

She never let him forget

The crux of Jock and Ray’s conversation – Jock wants to acknowledge Ray as his son, while Ray is “happy to leave things just the way they are” – reflects “The Fourth Son’s” broader theme, which is how doing the honorable thing sometimes means hurting others.

We see this at the end of the episode, when Jock summons Ray and the Ewings to the Southfork living room and tells them the ranch’s longtime foreman is the product of a wartime affair Jock confessed to Miss Ellie long ago. For Jock, acknowledging Ray is the right thing to do, but Ellie’s stony expression makes it clear her husband’s past indiscretion still hurts.

In the same spirit, Ray’s willingness to keep his paternity secret echoes the decision his mother, Margaret, made years earlier. For her, not telling Jock about Ray was a necessary sacrifice – but how did that affect Amos?

When we meet him in “The Fourth Son,” he’s a loathsome figure – character actor William Windom is perfectly unsavory in the role – but was Amos always this awful? Lakin’s dialogue suggests the character had a hard-knock life: He was a bastard son and a “4-F” who wasn’t physically qualified to serve his country, and then his fiancée came home from the war pregnant with another man’s child.

Yet Amos married Margaret anyway. Why? Was he willing to give Margaret his name and raise Ray as his own because he felt sorry for her? Or was it because he loved her? Either way, did he end up abandoning his family because the reality of the situation proved too difficult? At one point, Amos tells Jock, “I know she was in love with you. She never let me forget it.” The mystery of what really happened in Kansas lingers.

Questions of integrity and sacrifice also figure into Bobby’s storyline, where he must choose between keeping Jock’s commitment to Mort Wilkinson, a longtime Ewing Oil client, and honoring a deal Bobby himself made with Brady York. At one point, Bobby is ready to abandon Wilkinson – until he’s told Jock sealed the deal 20 years earlier with nothing more than a handshake. “That makes it sacred,” Bobby says.

The subplot where Mr. Eugene helps Bobby expose Sally’s dirty dealings also offers a play on “The Fourth Son’s” central theme. Eugene gives Bobby “carte blanche” to seek retribution from Sally, but the old man warns him: “You remember this: I plan to keep her.” A few moments later, while gazing at a framed picture of Sally, Eugene says, “What God and money hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”

Fathers and Sons and Fathers and Sons

Dallas, Fourth Son, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing

Grand father

Ultimately, “The Fourth Son” is an episode about fatherhood, which becomes one of the “Dallas” franchise’s most resilient themes, particularly in TNT’s new series.

Interestingly, the story told here wasn’t planned: According to Barbara Curran’s 2005 book “Dallas: The Complete Story of the World’s Favorite Prime-Time Soap,” Kanaly had grown frustrated with his role by the end of the third season, so the producers decided to make his character Jock’s illegitimate son to keep the actor from leaving the show. In retrospect, it seems like this is the direction “Dallas” was headed in all along. (Remember the classic second-season episode “Triangle,” when Jock gave Ray a plot of Southfork land?)

The irony is that while the “The Fourth Son” succeeds in rooting Ray more firmly in the “Dallas” mythos, it ends up doing just as much to burnish Jock’s reputation. After this episode, there are four Ewing sons but still only one father, and watching the way he acknowledges Ray makes us better understand why Jock is so revered.

Grade: A+


Amos Krebbs, Dallas, Fourth Son, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, William Windom

His two dads


Season 4, Episode 7

Airdate: December 12, 1980

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

Writer: Howard Lakin

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: The sinking of the Bullocks’ tanker almost forces Bobby to stiff one of Ewing Oil’s longtime clients. When Bobby discovers J.R. and Sally faked the loss of the oil aboard the tanker, he turns the tables on them. Ray’s father Amos arrives and announces Ray’s real father is Jock, who welcomes Ray into the family.

Cast: E.J. André (Eugene Bullock), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Joanna Cassidy (Sally Bullock), John Crawford (Mort Wilkinson), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Ted Gehring (Brady York), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Jeanna Michaels (Connie), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), William Windom (Amos Krebbs)

“The Fourth Son” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

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.