Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 22 – ‘A Call to Arms’

Call to Arms, Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, TNT

Cry wolf

The new “Dallas” often feels like more of an ensemble show than the original series did. Every member of the endlessly growing cast generally gets a meaningful scene or two in each episode, although there are times when one actor seems to leave a bigger impression than others. In “A Call to Arms,” Josh Henderson is the one to watch. With help from Gail Gilchriest and Julia Cohen’s solid script, Henderson gives us a fresh look at John Ross’s vulnerabilities as the character struggles with Pamela’s rejection and begins to question his decision to follow in J.R.’s footsteps as Southfork’s schemer-in-chief. It’s a terrific performance.

My favorite scene is John Ross’s exchange with Uncle Bobby. The younger man sits in the bedroom he inherited from J.R., drinking his father’s bourbon and feeling regretful because Pamela didn’t believe him when he tried to tell her about Cliff’s machinations. “For once in my damn life, I told the truth. And she thought it was a move. I guess I’m the like boy who cried wolf,” John Ross says. This line reminds us how different John Ross is from his father. J.R. had plenty of moments of introspection on the old show, but we didn’t see him wrestle too often with feelings of self-doubt or remorse. John Ross, on the other hand, feels a little more moralistic. We saw this for the first time last season, when he tried to persuade J.R. to give up his battle for Southfork, and now we see it again in this scene with Uncle Bobby.

I also like this exchange because it does such a nice job honoring “Dallas” history. Bobby recalls his marriage to his Pamela, and the glint in Patrick Duffy’s eye suggests his character isn’t just nostalgic for those days; I get the feeling he’s still carrying a torch for his first wife. The conversation also acknowledges the special bond that has always existed between Bobby and John Ross, as longtime fans who remember Duffy’s scenes with young Omri Katz can attest. Between “A Call to Arms” and the previous episode, when Bobby shakes John Ross’s hand and welcomes him home to Southfork, I have a feeling the relationship between uncle and nephew is going to take on greater prominence as the new “Dallas” progresses.

We also see a more mature John Ross in the scene where Cliff sweeps into the Ewing Energies conference room and announces he’s taken over the company’s bank loan. When Christopher calls Cliff a “son of a bitch” and begins to lunge at him, it’s John Ross who puts his hand on his cousin’s shoulder and eases him back into his seat. The moment echoes the beginning of the brawl at the memorial service in “J.R.’s Masterpiece,” when Christopher rushes to John Ross’s side (“I’ve got this, cousin”) after one of the mourners insults J.R.’s memory. I know this truce between John Ross and Christopher isn’t going to last, but isn’t it nice to see them getting along? It makes both characters feel less like boys and more like men.

Henderson has two more moments in “A Call to Arms” that stand out: the swoon-worthy scene where he sweeps Julie Gonzalo’s Pamela off her feet in the pouring rain, which might symbolize the storm swirling around the Ewings as their enemies descend upon them. (The scene also makes me appreciate the technical mastery of the people who work behind the camera on this show. My guess is the crew, led by first-time “Dallas” director Ken Topolsky, had to create that rain.) I also like the opening scene, when John Ross dramatically removes his sunglasses in front of McConaughey and recalls how J.R. took down three senators, two governors and a vice president (!), adding: “He taught me everything he knows. Your head’s going to look real nice above my fireplace, governor.” Even though I’m glad John Ross hasn’t become a carbon copy of his father, a little Hagman-esque flair is nice now and then, and Henderson nails it in that sequence.

Other good moments: Sue Ellen’s scene with Bum, which demonstrates the unexpectedly charming rapport between Linda Gray and Kevin Page; the chilling final scene, where Christopher and Elena learn his mother may be alive and living under the alias “Patricia Barrett” in Zurich; and all those what-will-she-do-next sequences with wild child Emma, including the kinky scene where she entices a rodeo cowboy into snagging some painkillers for her by biting his lip. I also got a chuckle from Ken Kercheval’s deliciously malevolent delivery when Cliff announces he’s picked up the Ewings’ bank note; the actor’s line – “I love a good fire sale” – might be a sly tribute to Cliff’s skinflint tendencies on the old show.

“A Call to Arms’” other highlight: Steven Weber, who gives another nicely measured performance as the corrupt McConaughey. If Weber feels any temptation to chomp scenery, he wisely resists it. The actor gets one of this episode’s best lines – “I guaran-damn-tee!” – but he avoids going over the top when he delivers it. I hope he’s going to be with “Dallas” for awhile.

I also appreciate how “A Call to Arms” brings back Jason Douglas as McConaughey’s aide, who first appeared in the TV news report about Sue Ellen’s imploding political campaign at the end of the second-season premiere, “Battle Lines.” Some trivia: When TNT sent a preview of that episode to critics and bloggers, Douglas was identified in the fictional newscast as “Sam McConaughey;” by the time the episode was telecast, the reporter’s voiceover narration and on-screen graphics had been changed to refer to him as the McConaughey campaign’s chief of staff.

Interesting, huh? Makes me wonder if there might be more recasts in this show’s future.

Grade: B

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Call to Arms, Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Julie Gonzalo, Pamela Barnes, TNT

Perfect storm

‘A CALL TO ARMS’

Season 2, Episode 12

Telecast: April 8, 2013

Writer: Gail Gilchriest and Julia Cohen

Director: Ken Topolsky

Audience: 1.9 million viewers on April 8

Synopsis: McConaughey uses the Henderson property to build a pipeline. Cliff buys the Ewings’ bank note and vows to take control of Ewing Energies if the family doesn’t repay the loan within one day. Vickers foils the Ewings’ attempt to discover what’s in Ryland’s cargo from Mexico. Pamela learns Cliff was behind the rig explosion and turns to John Ross. Christopher discovers his mother may be alive and living under a different name in Zurich. Sue Ellen asks Bum to find Ken. After Emma promises Ann she’ll give up her pills, she buys painkillers from a ranch hand and tries to drive away Drew.

Cast: John Athas (Ellis), Amber Bartlett (Jill), Kuno Becker (Drew Ramos), Emma Bell (Emma Brown), Donny Boas (McCabe), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Jason Douglas (Erik Allen), Akai Draco (Sheriff Derrick), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Alex Fernandez (Roy Vickers), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Barnes), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Bob Hess (Alan Westing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Kevin Page (Bum), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Steven Weber (Governor Sam McConaughey)

“A Call to Arms” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.