Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 139 — ‘The Oil Baron’s Ball’

Dallas, Linda Gray, OIl Baron's Ball, Sue Ellen Ewing

Open door policy

J.R. and Sue Ellen’s relationship takes a lot of twists over the years, but nothing fascinates me more than when she starts emulating him. It begins during Linda Gray’s final seasons on the original “Dallas,” when Sue Ellen becomes a wheeler-dealer in business, and it continues on TNT’s sequel series, when we see her reach into J.R.’s bag of tricks to defeat enemies like Governor McConaughey. In “The Oil Baron’s Ball,” Sue Ellen’s transformation into J.R.’s protégé is still a few years away, but this episode nonetheless offers a glimpse of where Gray’s character is headed. By the end of the hour, we see just how much Sue Ellen is learning at the feet of the master.

Gray has three notable scenes in this episode. In the first, Sue Ellen is strolling through a park when she notices all the happy young couples surrounding her. Eventually, she comes across a group of attractive, shirtless men playing football and stops to watch. Writer-director Leonard Katzman shows the game in slow motion, allowing the camera to linger on the players. There’s no doubt what this scene is supposed to represent: Sue Ellen’s sexual desires, which have gone unfulfilled since she moved out of J.R.’s bedroom several episodes earlier. By today’s standards, the football scene seems a little campy — especially when all those half-naked, straight-from-the-80s hunks start falling all over each other — but it also strikes me as surprisingly progressive. Here’s “Dallas,” easily one of the era’s most chauvinistic TV shows, taking a moment to acknowledge that women don’t exist solely to please men; they have needs of their own. How can you not admire that?

As soon as the football scene ends, Katzman cuts to Southfork that night, where J.R. is reading in bed. Suddenly, the door opens, revealing Sue Ellen’s silhouette. “Do you want something?” he asks. She strides into the room, flings the door closed behind her and climbs onto the bed. “Yes, I want something,” she says, taking the book out of J.R.’s hand and kissing him aggressively as the screen fades to black. The next time we see the couple, Sue Ellen is turning on the bedside lamp as a beaming J.R. watches from under the covers. When she tells him she’s going back to her room, he’s confused. Sue Ellen explains: “You see, J.R., I have no desire to live with you. Now, granted, from time to time, I may need you. And if and when that happens, then I’ll be back. But that’s all. That’s as close to being married as we will ever be.” J.R. is furious and accuses her of treating him like “some kind of stud service.” Her response: “What other possible use would I have for you?”

This is a terrific scene for a lot of reasons, beginning with Gray’s playfully sultry delivery. It’s a moment of triumph for Sue Ellen — and Gray savors every second of it. Indeed, consider how far her character has come: In “Spy in the House,” “Dallas’s” third episode, a sexually neglected Sue Ellen buys a negligee, hoping to get J.R.’s attention; when he calls it “cheap” and walks out on her, she collapses in tears. Sue Ellen soon begins turning to other men, but “The Oil Baron’s Ball” marks the first time we see her take charge of her sexual relationship with J.R. It puts her on the same page as Pam, who is the original “Dallas’s” most sexually liberated woman (occasionally incurring her own husband’s wrath). Perhaps more anything, J.R. and Sue Ellen’s bedroom scene is an exercise in poetic justice: The man who has treated countless mistresses as sexual playthings now gets a taste of his own medicine — and from his wife, no less.

Sue Ellen’s most J.R.-like moment in “The Oil Baron’s Ball” is yet to come. In the third act, our newly empowered heroine visits Windsor Meadow and sends John Ross to summon Peter, the camp counselor to whom she finds herself increasingly attracted. Sue Ellen asks Peter to escort Lucy to this year’s Oil Baron’s Ball, although it’s pretty obvious that Sue Ellen really wants Peter for herself, not for her niece. Peter is reluctant to accept — the young man harbors a secret crush on Sue Ellen and has never even met Lucy — but every time he comes up with an excuse to not go, Sue Ellen is one step ahead of him. When Peter tells her that he would feel out of place at the ball, she responds there’s no place he wouldn’t fit in perfectly. When he says he doesn’t own a dark suit, Sue Ellen reveals she has already arranged for him to visit J.R.’s tailor to be fitted for a tuxedo, compliments of her. Peter has no choice but to say yes, demonstrating once again how much she has learned from her husband. Sue Ellen has always had a manipulative streak, but her use of charm, confidence and gifts to bend Peter’s will comes straight from J.R.’s playbook.

The rest of “The Oil Baron’s Ball” is a mix of heavy drama and light moments. The episode picks up where the previous hour left off, with Lil taking the stand in Ray’s trial and revealing he did indeed pull the plug on Mickey, but only because she couldn’t bring herself to do it. This is a fake-out worthy of TNT’s “Dallas” (admit it: you thought Lil was the culprit), and Kate Reid does a nice job delivering her character’s monologue. The most moving moment, though, comes when Donna tells Ray that even though she believes he had no right to take Mickey’s life, she doesn’t want him to go prison for it. I love this scene because Susan Howard is so good in it — she makes me feel very ounce of Donna’s anguish — and also because it clearly spells out the character’s dilemma of reconciling her personal beliefs with her desire to stand by her husband.

Still, I can’t help but think this conversation between Ray and Donna should have occurred at the beginning of the “who killed Mickey?” mystery, not at the end. For that matter, I also wish this storyline should had been wrapped up in the previous episode, “Ray’s Trial.” No sooner has the judge handed down Ray’s sentence — parole, not jail (naturally) — than Ray and Donna are dancing at the glittery ball. It’s odd to see these characters move on so quickly. Likewise, we never see Lil bid farewell to the Krebbses; after the verdict is announced, Reid simply vanishes from “Dallas” (although she does pop up again briefly a few years later). After the trial, wouldn’t it have been nice to see Ray, Donna, Lil and Lucy visit Mickey’s grave? Besides giving the audience a sense of closure, it would have served as a nice bookend to the memorable Amos Krebbs’s funeral scene a year earlier, when the Trotters were introduced.

Even if the juxtaposition between the courtroom and the ball is jarring, I must admit: The latter scenes are awfully fun. Ken Kercheval somehow manages to make Cliff seem both humbled and overbearing in the instant when the character is named oilman of the year, and the clash between the Ewing and Barnes/Wentworth women in the powder room is delicious. Above all, I love the bon mots J.R. drops during the course of the ball. When Pam arrives and drops by the Ewing table, J.R. delights in re-introducing her to Bobby’s date, Jenna Wade. Bobby tells him to cut it out, but J.R. can’t help himself. “Well, for those who don’t have a program, I’m just going to have to announce the names of all the players, aren’t I?” he says. Larry Hagman’s smile is even more mischievous than usual.

Later, when J.R. sees how uncomfortable Bobby, Pam and Jenna are around each other, he declares this is going to be “one of the great nights of my life.” Leave it to Sue Ellen to put him in his place. “Nothing brings out the best in you like other peoples’ unhappiness,” she says. The line makes me think: Perhaps J.R. has a thing or two to learn from her too.

Grade: B

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Dallas, Donna Krebbs, Oil Baron's Ball, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Susan Howard

At last

‘THE OIL BARON’S BALL’

Season 7, Episode 8

Airdate: November 18, 1983

Audience: 23 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: After Lil testifies that Ray pulled the plug on Mickey at her request, Ray is found guilty but given parole. Sue Ellen treats J.R. like a sexual plaything and persuades Peter to escort Lucy to the Oil Baron’s Ball. At the ball, Pam and Jenna clash and Cliff is named oilman of the year.

Cast: Charles Aidman (Judge Emmett Brocks), Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Delores Cantú (Doris), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Glenn Corbett (Paul Morgan), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Richard Jaeckel (Assistant District Attorney Percy Meredith), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Priscilla Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Debi Sue Voorhees (Caroline), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

“The Oil Baron’s Ball” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 131 — ‘Ewing Inferno’

Dallas, Ewing Inferno, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Surprise, surprise

“Ewing Inferno” famously ends with J.R., Sue Ellen, Ray and John Ross trapped inside Southfork as fire sweeps through the house. I wonder: When this episode debuted in 1983, did anyone doubt all four characters would escape the blaze? After all, three of them appear in the opening credits and the fourth is a child; by the conventions of 1980s television, their survival seems assured. Not that I’m complaining. This may not be “Dallas’s” most suspenseful cliffhanger, but it does put a poetic punctuation mark on the sixth season. After a year in which everything goes to hell for the Ewings, what could be more fitting than seeing them surrounded by flames?

Besides, it’s not like “Ewing Inferno” doesn’t deliver its share of surprises, especially where J.R. is concerned. When the episode begins, he’s business as usual, demanding $20 million from Holly to leave her company. Later, in one of their classic clashes, J.R. lobs such ugly insults at Pam that she slaps him. (“Damn, I hate that woman,” he says as she stomps away.) Then, in the second act, J.R. has an honest-to-goodness epiphany. He brings little John Ross into the bedroom to give Sue Ellen a goodnight kiss, only to find her passed out, an empty bottle of booze at her side. J.R. sends the boy away, sits on the bed and gazes at his wife. “I know you’ll never trust me again, Sue Ellen,” he says. “But I love you. … We should’ve had a wonderful life together. What have I done to you?” The monologue brings to mind the second-season finale, when J.R. sits at the hospital bedside of a comatose Sue Ellen and laments the turn their marriage has taken. Now here he is, four years later, delivering a similar speech. As Miss Ellie wondered a few episodes ago: Doesn’t he ever learn?

Perhaps he does. In the next scene, Bobby comes home and finds J.R. alone in the Southfork living room. The mood is somber, serious. Bobby asks how Sue Ellen is doing. “Not good,” J.R. responds. He tells Bobby that he’s been thinking “real hard” about their fight for Ewing Oil, and the toll it has taken on the people around them. Both brothers’ marriages have suffered. Miss Ellie is heartbroken. Rebecca Wentworth is dead. Mickey Trotter is dying. “I’m not sure that this fight between us is worth what it cost the family,” J.R. says. Bobby is stunned and asks J.R. if he wants to end the contest. J.R.’s response: “By my calculation, I’m way ahead of you, but I really don’t give a damn.”

I really don’t give a damn. Not since J.R. slipped into his deep depression after Jock’s death has our hero seemed so unmoored.

‘Into Oblivion’

Dallas, Ewing Inferno, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

But not oblivious

J.R. and Bobby don’t get around to finishing this conversation, but no matter. There’s no doubt J.R. has been humbled. Consider the third act’s final scene. After ordering Teresa to lock up the liquor, J.R. finds Sue Ellen getting drunk in the living room, having swiped a bottle of burgundy from the kitchen. The confrontation that follows plays like something out of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” As J.R. stands still and stares ahead, Sue Ellen circles him, a glass in one hand, the wine bottle in the other, and releases her fury. She references his marital sins (“Did you find someone new to sleep with today? Or did you have to rely on one of your old mistresses?”) and tells him he “ruined” her life. Then, to show how she has stopped giving a damn, Sue Ellen moves closer to J.R. and whispers, “Now, why don’t you do one kind little thing for me, hmm? Unlock the liquor, because I’m going to drink myself into oblivion.”

Linda Gray and Larry Hagman are magnificent in this scene. Every one of her lines drips with acid, while his stoic expression makes this a cathartic moment for the audience. J.R. doesn’t fight back because he knows he’s wrong. He accepts Sue Ellen’s punishing words because he deserves them. Even at the end of the scene, when Sue Ellen flings the bottle at him and it smashes against the wall, J.R. barely flinches. Where his wife is concerned, J.R. simply doesn’t have any fight left in him — although as the big red stain on the wallpaper foreshadows, a different kind of battle is about to come to him.

‘The Last Person in the World’

Dallas, Ewing Inferno, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Daddy’s watching

J.R.’s chastening during the course of “Ewing Inferno” is thorough but incomplete. In the final scene, when Ray arrives at Southfork to confront him, J.R. offers his half-brother a typically frosty greeting. “Ray, you’re about the last person in the world I needed to see tonight,” he says. I usually laugh when Hagman delivers a line like this, but there’s nothing funny about J.R.’s dark mood. Before long, the two men are scuffling, and even though the fight scene isn’t exactly credible — stuntmen are clearly substituting for Hagman and Steve Kanaly in the wide shots, J.R. knocks out Ray with a plastic telephone — there’s something deeply poignant about Ray’s attempt to avenge Mickey and J.R.’s determination to rescue his family once the fire starts. How can you not feel moved when he notices the blaze, cries out for his wife and son and braves the flames to try to save them?

Also, consider this: For two seasons, J.R. and Ray have each struggled to honor the dead father they worshipped. J.R. tries to do it through business, while Ray tries to emulate Jock by taking Mickey under his wing, just like Jock did with young Ray. I suppose that’s why it’s so fitting that J.R. and Ray’s fight occurs under the watchful gaze of Jock’s portrait, which looms in the background of so many crucial scenes during the sixth season, including the will reading and J.R. and Sue Ellen’s spat after she catches him in bed with Holly. What hath Jock wrought?

‘Our Marriage Doesn’t Work’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Ewing Inferno, Patrick Duffy

Cry, Bobby

For all its poignancy, the true cliffhanger in “Ewing Inferno” has nothing to do with the Southfork fire. The question I’m left asking is this: What will Bobby do? After J.R. offers to call off their fight, Bobby receives a phone call from Pam, who tells him she’s decided to give him the Tundra Torque, the experimental drill bit he needs to move forward with his Canadian oil venture. Since the deal is a guaranteed blockbuster, it will almost certainly allow Bobby to clinch victory over J.R. Bobby now has a dilemma: Should he make peace with his brother, or should he see the contest through until the end, knowing he has what it takes to finally beat J.R.?

By the end of the episode, Bobby’s decision isn’t clear, although his conversation with Katherine in the next-to-last scene suggests he will indeed use the drill bit. Regardless, I wish scriptwriter Arthur Bernard Lewis had paid more attention to this subplot and shown Bobby weighing his choices. After a season of tough ethical compromises, wouldn’t this be Bobby’s biggest decision yet?

On the other hand: Lewis has a lot of narrative ground to cover, and he does a nice job bringing the other storylines to a climactic finish. The cast does good work too. The scene where Pam tells Bobby she wants a divorce (“Our marriage doesn’t work anymore”) is very moving, especially when that single tear begins its slow journey down Patrick Duffy’s cheek. I also love when Pam tells Cliff and Katherine that she’s decided to give Bobby the drill bit. What’s more fun: Ken Kercheval’s combustible response or Morgan Brittany’s sly smirk? The guest stars shine too: Kate Reid is mesmerizing when she delivers Aunt Lil’s weary monologue, Ben Piazza is the profile in agony when Driscoll visits Mickey’s bedside, and thanks to Barry Corbin, I feel every bit of Sheriff Washburn’s frustration when Ray goes rogue during the investigation into Mickey’s accident.

Like so many other “Dallas” episodes during the sixth season, “Ewing Inferno” also makes me appreciate the technical expertise behind the camera. Fred W. Berger, the editor, won an Emmy for this episode. Surely director Leonard Katzman deserves one too. In the fourth act, I like how he shows J.R. escorting Dr. Danvers out of the bedroom, through the hall and down the stairs into the foyer. The sequence establishes how these spaces fit together, so that during the fire, when J.R. races up the steps and collapses, we understand his proximity to his wife and son.

You also have to admire Katzman’s lack of restraint. According to Barbara A. Curran’s 2004 book “Dallas: The Complete Story of the World’s Favorite Prime-Time Soap,” Katzman built a replica of the Southfork foyer, just so he could burn it down for this episode’s final scene. That’s pretty spectacular, even if it isn’t all that suspenseful.

Grade: A+

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Dallas, Ewing Inferno, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Welcome to Hell

‘EWING INFERNO’

Season 6, Episode 28

Airdate: May 6, 1983

Audience: 20.3 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: J.R. offers to end the contest for Ewing Oil. Pam decides to divorce Bobby but gives him the Tundra Torque, enraging Cliff. Driscoll kills himself after revealing he drove the car that struck Sue Ellen and Mickey’s vehicle because he thought J.R. was behind the wheel at the time. After Ray learns of Driscoll’s role in the crash, he gets into a fight with J.R. During the scuffle, Southfork catches fire, trapping J.R., Sue Ellen, Ray and John Ross.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Barry Corbin (Sheriff Fenton Washburn), John Devlin (Clouse), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), 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), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Ben Piazza (Walt Driscoll), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), John Zaremba (Dr. Harlan Danvers)

“Ewing Inferno” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 130 — ‘Penultimate’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Linda Gray, Miss Ellie Ewing, Penultimate, Sue Ellen Ewing

Mama’s here

“Penultimate” is an hour of misery and pain, but it contains love too. The story begins where “Dallas’s” previous episode ends, when Sue Ellen drives drunk and crashes J.R.’s car. The accident leaves her with a broken arm and some scrapes and bruises, while passenger Mickey Trotter fares much worse: He slips into a coma after his spinal cord is injured. This leads to tense scenes, like the one where Lucy calls Sue Ellen a “lousy drunk” and blames her for the crash. Mostly, though, “Penultimate” depicts the Ewings and Krebbses as people who are willing to set aside old hurts and day-to-day grievances to help each other get through a crisis. It’s the kind of thing we routinely witness on this show, yet it never fails to move me.

Howard Lakin’s smart script ensures Sue Ellen remains a sympathetic figure, even though it seems like she did indeed cause the accident. Lakin gives us a scene where a guilt-ridden Sue Ellen apologizes to Lucy and pleads for forgiveness, and even though Lucy refuses to listen, other characters don’t hesitate to show Sue Ellen compassion. The crucial moment comes in the first act, when a sore, stiff Sue Ellen comes home from the hospital and goes to her bedroom with Miss Ellie, who offers to help her change into a nightgown. When Sue Ellen begins to cry, Ellie takes her into her arms and holds her close. It’s a touching scene, and also a clever one. If Ellie is willing to forgive Sue Ellen, why shouldn’t we?

Of course, Linda Gray keeps the audience on Sue Ellen’s side too. Throughout “Penultimate,” Gray carries herself like a woman full of regret; we never doubt that Sue Ellen feels terrible about what she’s done. It doesn’t hurt that she looks awful. Sue Ellen’s face is purple and swollen, her arm is in a cast and in the first few scenes, her sweater is torn and stained with blood. How can you not feel bad for this woman? In the same spirit, how can you not admire Gray? Remember, “Penultimate” was made in an era when television audiences demanded gloss and glamour from their favorite actresses, so Gray’s willingness to be seen in such an unflattering light feels like an act of courage. (Other stars soon followed Gray’s lead. The year after “Penultimate” aired, Farrah Fawcett wore a black eye when she played a battered wife in the TV movie “The Burning Bed.”)

Gray’s most impressive performance in “Penultimate” comes in the final scene, when J.R. enters his bedroom late at night and finds Sue Ellen waiting up for him. She calmly asks why he remarried her if he had no intention of being faithful, and when he begins to speak, she cuts him off. “Stop it! Stop it! I don’t want to hear any more from you!” she shouts. But J.R. continues, telling Sue Ellen that he never meant to hurt her. “Believe me when I say that I love you. I truly love you,” he says. Larry Hagman’s delivery is sincere, but Gray is the one we can’t take our eyes off of. When J.R. professes his love, Gray turns away from Hagman and faces the camera. She’s silent, yet her expression tells us how tormented Sue Ellen feels at that moment. Despite the pain J.R. has caused her, is there any doubt she loves him too?

Cry, Cry Again

Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Lucy Ewing, Penultimate

Tracking her tears

Charlene Tilton supplies “Penultimate” with its other emotional highpoints. After Lucy lashes out at Sue Ellen and calls her a drunk, she bursts into tears and collapses into Ray’s arms. Later, Lucy is with Ray, Donna and Aunt Lil when the doctor informs them Mickey will probably be paralyzed. Once again, Lucy weeps. Both scenes remind us how Tilton always rises to the occasion when she’s given good material, which happens too infrequently on “Dallas.” I also admire how Steve Kanaly makes us feel every ounce of Ray’s anger and frustration over the tragedy that has befallen Mickey, as well as the guilt consuming Ray over bringing his cousin to Texas in the first place. The other performer to watch in these scenes is Kate Reid, who doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, but who doesn’t need any. Her sad, solemn expression says it all.

Not all of the scenes in “Penultimate” are quite so agonizing. When J.R. goes to Holly’s house to confront her over her attempt to ruin his marriage, we expect J.R. to be full of rage. Instead, he plays it cool, politely offering to give up his share of Harwood Oil — if Holly pays him $20 million, that is. Holly balks, and so J.R. leaves her with a not-so-subtle threat. “Holly, you won a hand in a game of poker,” he says. “You’re seeing me in a mood that you’ll never see again. I strongly advise you to take advantage of it, because considering what it’ll cost if you don’t” — here, Hagman pauses — “twenty million dollars will be chickenfeed.”

Later, Bobby urges Holly not to give J.R. the money until after the contest for Ewing Oil ends. Frankly, of all the surprising moves Bobby makes during the sixth season, this one shocks me most. It’s one thing for Bobby to blackmail George Hicks, the crooked energy regulator, or to stage a sting against Walt Driscoll, J.R.’s accomplice in the illegal Cuban oil deal. But after all the suffering the battle for Ewing Oil has caused, Bobby is still willing to wheel and deal to win the contest? Maybe Pam is right. Maybe her husband really has changed.

Hear the Trumpets

Dallas, Donna Krebbs, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Susan Howard

Eye to eye

Like all great “Dallas” episodes, “Penultimate” is a creative achievement on multiple levels. Along with the strong performances and writing, Richard Lewis Warren’s underscore is essential to the episode’s success. In several scenes, a few piano keys give way to the mournful blaring of trumpets. It fits the somber mood perfectly, not that any of us should be surprised. Warren’s music never gets in the way of the storytelling but helps it along, which is why he’s one of my favorite “Dallas” composers.

“Penultimate” also offers some of the sixth season’s niftiest camerawork. The episode opens at the site of the car accident, as an ambulance pulls away and a tow truck backs up to J.R.’s overturned Mercedes. Southfork looms in the distance, lit up in the black sky, until the camera slowly zooms in for a close-up. I also like how director Nick Havinga opens one scene with a tight shot of the Ewings’ liquor cart. In the background, Sue Ellen enters the room and gradually comes into focus as she approaches the booze and reaches for a bottle. Havinga also plays with our depth perception in a shot in the hospital where Kanaly stands in the foreground and exchanges dialogue with Susan Howard, whose position in the background makes Donna look like she’s a few feet shorter than Ray.

Lakin and Havinga also do a nice job keeping the audience in the dark about the extent of Sue Ellen and Mickey’s injuries when “Penultimate” begins. The first scene in the emergency room shows a medical team tending to an unseen patient. Amid the beeps and whirs of the machinery, one of the doctors drops references to irregular breathing patterns and a possible spinal injury. “Looks like there’s a bad fracture in the right leg,” a nurse announces. Says the doctor: “Yeah, we’ll worry about that later. Right now, let’s just try to keep this patient alive.” Moments later, we see J.R. escort a shaken Sue Ellen into a hospital corridor, and only then do we realize Mickey is the patient in critical condition.

This turns out to be the episode’s most suspenseful moment. The only other mystery presented here is the identity of the driver of the car that struck Sue Ellen and Mickey’s vehicle, which won’t be revealed until the next episode. Indeed, “Penultimate” serves mostly as a prelude to that installment — not that I’m complaining. The season’s plot lines may not advance much during this hour, but the characters do. Isn’t that more interesting anyway?

Grade: A+

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Dallas, Mickey Trotter, Timothy Patrick Murphy

Critical condition

‘PENULTIMATE’

Season 6, Episode 27

Airdate: April 29, 1983

Audience: 19 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Howard Lakin

Director: Nick Havinga

Synopsis: While Mickey lies in a coma, doctors determine he’ll likely be paralyzed. Sheriff Washburn tells J.R. that Sue Ellen will be charged with manslaughter if Mickey dies. Ray urges Washburn to find the driver of the car that struck Sue Ellen and Mickey’s vehicle. After J.R. invites Holly to buy him out of her company, Bobby urges her to delay her payment to him until the contest for Ewing Oil is over. Cliff pressures Pam not to give Bobby the drill bit.

Cast: John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Barry Corbin (Sheriff Fenton Washburn), Michael Cornelison (Dr. Snow), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Alice Hirson (Mavis Anderson), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Joe Maross (Dr. Blakely), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Micheky Trotter), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson), John Zaremba (Dr. Harlan Danvers)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 128 — ‘Tangled Web’

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, Tangled Web

Truth hurts

Sue Ellen refuses to believe Holly Harwood’s claim that she’s sleeping with J.R., so Holly invites her to visit her home and see for herself. At the end of “Tangled Web,” Sue Ellen accepts the challenge. Our heroine, clad in a huge fur coat, parks her car in Holly’s driveway, where J.R.’s Mercedes sits. She exits the vehicle and slowly walks toward the house, her heels clicking and clacking with every step. The door is unlocked, and for a moment, Sue Ellen seems to lose her nerve. But she presses on, and in the final shot, she stands silently in the bedroom doorway and sees her husband making love to Holly.

This is a brilliant, devastating sequence. The shots of Sue Ellen are interspersed with scenes of J.R. and Holly in bed; the audience knows what Sue Ellen is going to see before she does, allowing the tension to build until it’s almost unbearable. Director Nicholas Sgarro shows Sue Ellen parking her car, and then he cuts to J.R., wrapped in a bed sheet, popping open a fresh bottle of champagne as Holly massages his shoulders. We see Sue Ellen begin to cross the driveway, and then we cut to Holly pulling J.R. close. For most of Sue Ellen’s scenes, there is no underscore; the only sounds we hear are her heels on the driveway, some crickets in the distance and the soft music playing in Holly’s bedroom. And then, the final shot: a tight close-up of Linda Gray’s tear-streaked face. In a poignant touch, we hear her sniffle as the frame freezes and the credits flash.

When I listed “Dallas’s” 35 greatest moments in the spring, I ranked this scene at No. 20. I now wonder if I should have moved it a little higher. The sequence is much more artistic than what we usually see from “Dallas” and other early ’80s television dramas. The toggling between Sue Ellen in the driveway and J.R. and Holly in bed reminds me of the crosscuts that have become a signature of TNT’s “Dallas,” although if these scenes were produced today, it almost certainly wouldn’t be so eerie and quiet. The sequence also makes me wish Sgarro had directed more episodes of the original series. “Tangled Web” is his only “Dallas” credit, although he helmed 54 hours of “Knots Landing” and no doubt had a hand in establishing that show’s stylish look.

“Tangled Web’s” ending is easily this episode’s best moment, but it isn’t the only good one. I also like when Miss Ellie questions Clayton about his relationship with Sue Ellen. Barbara Bel Geddes stammers through her dialogue, as Ellie gradually musters the courage to ask Clayton if Sue Ellen is the mystery woman he once loved. Bel Geddes’ halting delivery is her trademark and one of the reasons Ellie always feels so believable. She speaks the way people do in real life. The actress also possesses a sincerity that other “Dallas” cast members, no matter how wonderful they are, lack. Consider the “Tangled Web” scene where Ray tells Aunt Lil that Jock was his father. This is another moving scene, and Kate Reid is quite good here, but her delivery feels more deliberate than Bel Geddes’. When I watch Reid, I never forget I’m seeing an actress affecting a homespun, humble sensibility, whereas Bel Geddes regularly disappears into her role. In other words: Lil comes off like a character, while Ellie feels like a person.

“Tangled Web” also offers several fun moments, including the scene where J.R., returning from his triumphant tour of the Caribbean, sweeps into the Ewing Oil offices with presents for the secretaries and a box of cigars for Bobby. “That little deal I made down in Cuba is going to make me the new daddy of Ewing Oil. Have a Havana?” J.R. says, reaching into his suit pocket and retrieving a cigar for his brother. (I wonder how Larry Hagman, an anti-smoking zealot, felt about that line?) Indeed, David Paulsen’s script is chock full of terrific one-liners. Katherine to Cliff, after he denies Bobby the use of the Tundra Torque: “You vicious little man!” Clayton to Sue Ellen, after she’s told him about J.R.’s trip: “Doggone, old J.R. went to Cuba. And they let him out?” Afton, after Cliff laments that he thought of himself “for once” in his life: “For once? No, not for once. For always! Cliff, you are the only person you ever do think of!”

“Tangled Web” also marks the end of Pam’s vacation on the French Riviera, one of my least favorite sixth-season subplots. Pam has left Bobby, but is it really appropriate for her to travel halfway around the world with Mark Graison, a man who quite obviously has designs on her? Toward the end of “Tangled Web,” Pam seems poised to sleep with Mark, but the mood is killed when Afton calls to warn her that Katherine has set her sights on Bobby. It reminds me of the fourth-season episode “Start the Revolution With Me,” when a tipsy Pam is having a jolly time in her hotel room with Alex Ward — until Bobby calls from Dallas.

Perhaps Pam should stop answering the phone call when she goes away. Better yet, maybe she should stop traveling with men who aren’t her husband.

Grade: A

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Dallas, Holly Harwood, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Lois Chiles, Tangled Web

Exposed

‘TANGLED WEB’

Season 6, Episode 25

Airdate: April 1, 1983

Audience: 21.3 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Nicholas Sgarro

Synopsis: J.R. is released from the Cuban jail, collects his $40 million and returns to Dallas. Sue Ellen walks in on J.R. and Holly in bed. Bobby plans to ask for Pam’s help getting the Tundra Torque, but Katherine tells him that Pam is in France with Mark. Afton calls Pam to warn her about Katherine’s interest in Bobby, prompting Pam to cut short her vacation. Clayton tells Miss Ellie that he once loved Sue Ellen. Ray tells Lil that Jock was his father.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), William Bryant (Jackson), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Nate Esformes (Perez), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Dennis Holahan (George Walker), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Kenneth Kimmins (Thornton McLeish), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Cindy Landis (waitress), Tom McFadden (Jackson’s partner), Santos Morales (Cuban leader), Marnie Mosiman (manicurist), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Jacqueline Ray Selleck (Marie Walker), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

“Tangled Web” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 107 — ‘The Big Ball’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Bobby Ewing, Big Ball, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Miss Ellie Ewing, Patrick Duffy

Mama’s family

No matter how often I see it, the next-to-last scene in “The Big Ball” always gives me goose bumps. Punk Anderson stands before a packed ballroom of tuxedo-clad oilmen and their gussied up wives and announces the establishment of the Jock Ewing memorial scholarship. “I don’t know what old Jock would have said about this, but … maybe Miss Ellie could speak for him,” Punk says. The camera cuts to the Ewing matriarch, who is weeping at a table with her family. Silence. Slowly, Bobby rises and begins clapping, followed — one by one — by J.R., Pam and Sue Ellen. Finally, the entire room erupts as Ellie’s sons escort her to the stage.

The speech that follows proves worthy of the dramatic setup. “Jock Ewing was a great man, measured in the only true value of a man. Not in money or power, but in friends,” Ellie says. This is my favorite line in Leonard Katzman’s script. I don’t remember watching “The Big Ball” on the night it debuted in 1982, but I remember reading that statement a few years later in Laura von Wormer’s “Dallas” book. I’ve never forgotten it. I also love how Barbara Bel Geddes delivers the line and the rest of the speech. This is one of those moments when Bel Geddes makes me forget I’m watching an actress playing a TV character. In that moment, she is a Texas widow eulogizing her husband in front of their family and friends. It’s a beautiful, moving performance.

“The Big Ball” is the first “Dallas” episode set at the Oil Baron’s Ball, which became one of the show’s best-loved traditions. In later years, the ball is the setting for big, dramatic showdowns and even a food fight or two, but the affair depicted here is rather subdued. Not that I’m complaining. The real appeal of the Oil Baron’s Ball episodes has always come from seeing the entire “Dallas” universe in one room. From this perspective, “The Big Ball” doesn’t disappoint. In addition to Ellie and her sons and their significant others, this ball brings together Cliff, Rebecca, Clayton, Jordan, Marilee, Holly and an interesting newcomer: Frank Crutcher, played by the old western actor Dale Robertson, who had recently concluded a brief-but-memorable run on rival soap “Dynasty.”

The ballroom sequences contrast nicely with the scenes set in Emporia, Kansas, where Ray and Donna attend the funeral of Amos Krebbs. I don’t know where these scenes were shot — my guess is they were filmed somewhere in North Texas — but it looks and feels like a sleepy town in the Midwest. When Ray and Donna arrive at Aunt Lil’s house, notice the neighbors sitting on the front porch across the street. The guest stars lend an air of authenticity too: Kate Reid is utterly believable in her second appearance as humble, homespun Lil, while Timothy Patrick Murphy is terrific in his “Dallas” debut as cocky, restless Mickey.

I also can’t help but feel touched by Steve Kanaly’s heartfelt performance in the scene where Amos is buried. Ray, who doesn’t want his Kansas relatives to know that he was really Jock Ewing’s son, kneels at his mother Margaret’s tombstone. “Probably better that it happened this way, Mama,” Ray says. “Nobody knows the truth. Chances are old Amos is probably headed in the opposite direction than you anyhow.” Besides serving as this episode’s other great speech, Ray’s monologue puts a nice punctuation mark on the saga of Jock, Amos and Margaret, which was revealed in the fourth-season classic “The Fourth Son.” The funeral might be for Amos, but Margaret is the one we end up mourning in this scene.

“The Big Ball” also features Jared Martin’s first appearance on “Dallas” since Dusty bid Sue Ellen farewell in the fifth-season episode “Starting Over.” I’ve always loved Martin’s chemistry with Linda Gray, but frankly their characters annoy me a little here. Dusty rides out to a Southern Cross pasture to find Sue Ellen, they have a heart-to-heart talk and then they return together to the house where — surprise! — he introduces her to his new wife. It makes for a dramatic moment, but couldn’t Dusty have found a kinder way to let Sue Ellen know he has married another woman? The disappointment ends up sending Sue Ellen back to Southfork, and not a moment too soon. After all, she does have a child to raise, doesn’t she?

Grade: A

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Big Ball, Dallas, Kate Reid, Lil Trotter, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

No place like home

‘THE BIG BALL’

Season 6, Episode 4

Airdate: October 22, 1982

Audience: 20.7 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Sue Ellen leaves the Southern Cross after Dusty visits with his new wife. Ray and Donna go to Kansas for Amos’s funeral, where they meet Mickey Trotter, Ray’s angry young cousin. At the Oil Baron’s Ball, Miss Ellie meets Frank Crutcher and Pam discovers her mother is dating Clayton. After the ball, Ellie decides to have Jock declared legally dead.

Cast: Melody Anderson (Linda Farlow), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Alice Hirson (Mavis Anderson), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Dale Robertson (Frank Crutcher), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

“The Big Ball” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

The Dal-List: ‘Dallas’s’ 35 Greatest Moments (So Far)

Barbara Bel Geddes, Bobby Ewing, Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Lucy Ewing, Miss Ellie Ewing, Pam Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Sue Ellen Ewing, Victoria Principal

Icons

“Dallas” debuted 35 years ago today. To commemorate its anniversary, here’s my list of the franchise’s 35 greatest moments.

Dallas, Digger's Daughter, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Gripping grin

35. J.R. meets his match. “Dallas’s” first episode ends with Pam turning the tables on J.R. (Larry Hagman) after he tries to make it look like she was cheating on Bobby with Ray. “Looks like I underestimated the new Mrs. Ewing,” J.R. declares as he watches his baby brother and sister-in-law drive away. “I surely won’t do that again.” Hagman then smiles, ever so slightly. It lets us know J.R. has finally found a worthy adversary – and he couldn’t be happier about it.

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, TNT, Venomous Creatures

Here we go again

34. Rivalry redux. When the truth comes out that Rebecca Sutter Ewing is actually Pamela Rebecca Barnes, J.R. pops into her office for a tête-à-tête. She turns out to be as ballsy as her namesake aunt, telling J.R.: “I must have done something right to deserve a visit from you.” J.R., for his part, shows he hasn’t lost his step. “You’re not the first Pam to fox her way into the henhouse,” he tells her with a sly grin. “I’m 1 for 1 on flushing out Pamelas. And I plan on being 2 for 2.” Fabulous.

Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Full Circle, Ken Kercheval, Priscilla Pointer, Rebecca Wentworth

All is forgiven

33. The “licorice scene.” Cliff (Ken Kercheval) invites estranged mom Rebecca (Priscilla Pointer) to his apartment. Nervous small talk gives way to anger, as Cliff tells Rebecca how much her abandonment hurt him. She begins to leave, but Cliff stops her. “Mama,” he says, his voice cracking. “You didn’t take any licorice, and I remembered you liked it.” The music swells, mother and son embrace and we’re reminded why Cliff is the original “Dallas’s” most human character.

Ann Ewing, Brenda Strong, Dallas, TNT, Trial and Error

True confessions

32. Ann testifies. After shooting ex-husband Harris, Ann (Brenda Strong) goes on trial. In stirring testimony, she recalls how he and his mother Judith tormented her, but Ann also concedes her own failings – including how her pill addiction led to daughter Emma’s abduction. “God had punished me by taking my baby,” Ann says through tears. Before this scene, I wondered how we could forgive Ann for her crime. Afterward, I wondered how we couldn’t.

Barbara Bel Geddes, Bobby Ewing, Clayton Farlow, Dallas, Howard Keel, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Miss Ellie Farlow, Patrick Duffy, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Sting

Adios, Ray

31. Ray rides into the sunset. After Ray (Steve Kanaly) returns to Southfork and helps the Ewings win a range war, they bid him adieu as John Parker’s piano music plays in the background. Ray’s final moments with Ellie, Clayton, Bobby and even J.R. are touching, but the most moving part comes when he looks around and declares, “There’s a part of me that’s never going to leave here.” When major characters depart “Dallas,” the show usually screws it up. Not this time.

Close Encounters, Dallas, Deborah Shelton, Linda Gray, Mandy Winger, Sue Ellen Ewing

Get smart

30. Sue Ellen meets Mandy. At the Ewing Rodeo, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) runs into Mandy (Deborah Shelton), J.R.’s latest mistress, and offers her some advice: Get away while you can. It’s our first glimpse of a newly sober, newly wise Sue Ellen, but Mandy refuses to listen and turns to leave. That’s when Sue Ellen delivers a zinger: “Isn’t it strange how the mistress always thinks she’s smarter than the wife? If she’s so smart, why is she the mistress?” She’s got you there, darlin’.

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, Pam Ewing, Reunion Part 2, Victoria Principal

Sale of the century

29. “Sold!” After Bobby marries Pam, a drunken Digger barrels onto Southfork and recounts everything Jock “took” from him – including Pam, for whom Digger demands $10,000. “She was a Barnes and now she’s a Ewing, just like the oil wells,” he says. Bobby and Pam watch in horror as Jock (Jim Davis) tosses a $100 bill at Digger, who scoops it up. “Sold!” he declares as he leaves. Harsh? Yes, but after this scene, there was no doubt which family Pam belonged with.

Charlene Tilton, Dallas, End of the Road Part 2, Leigh McCloskey, Lucy Ewing, Mitch Cooper

Pomp and circumstance

28. The royal wedding. The marriage of Lucy and Mitch (Charlene Tilton, Leigh McCloskey) was doomed from the start, but man, aren’t their nuptials fun? The two-part episode gives us lots of “Dallas” firsts, including the first Southfork wedding, the first time someone gets dunked in the pool (Lucy pushes Mitch) and the first appearance of Afton, who sleeps with J.R. during the reception – in his own marital bed! No wonder Sue Ellen still holds a grudge.

Dallas, Quality of Mercy, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Have mercy

27. Who killed Mickey Trotter? When the plug is pulled on his comatose cousin Mickey, Ray blocks the door to his hospital room so the doctors can’t enter and revive him. It’s the beginning of a medical mystery that yields riveting performances from Kanaly, Tilton and Kate Reid as Lil, Mickey’s mom. Only at Ray’s murder trial do we learn the truth: He did disconnect Mickey’s life support, but only because Lil didn’t have the strength to do the mercy killing herself.

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Miss Ellie Ewing, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Survival

Stop! Or Mom will shoot

26. Ellie grabs her gun. The Ewings are awaiting word on J.R. and Bobby after their plane crashed in Cato Swamp. Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) answers the door to find a snoopy reporter. “Ray, get me the shotgun out of the hall closet,” she says, then tells the newshound: “Anybody on my land, without invitation, is a trespasser. So unless I see your tail heading out of here … I’m going to blow it off.” It’s classic “Dallas”: Modern Texans defending old traditions like land and family.

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Miss Ellie Farlow, Pam Ewing, Winds of Change, Victoria Principal

Queens’ speeches

25. Pam’s surprise. After Bobby’s “death,” Ellie eulogizes him at the Oil Baron’s Ball, followed by Pam (Victoria Principal), who stuns everyone by announcing she won’t sell her shares of Ewing Oil to Westar as planned. J.R. is overjoyed, assuming this means Pam will sell them to him. She sets him straight: “I’m not selling at all. From now on, it’s going to be you and me. I’ll see you at the office, partner.” It’s one of many great moments from the unjustly maligned “dream season.”

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Miss Ellie Ewing, Requiem

Southfork soothsayer

24. Mama sees all. In 1983, when Sue Ellen tried to justify J.R.’s latest quest for power, Ellie delivered a spot-on prophesy: “Think ahead, Sue Ellen. Think 25 or 30 years ahead. I won’t be here then. And the fight won’t be between J.R. and Bobby. It’ll be between John Ross and Christopher. … Your loyalty to your husband is a wonderful thing. But you’re a mother too. And where will this all end?” Impressive, huh? Too bad no one ever thought to ask her where Pam is.

Ann Ewing, Brenda Strong, Dallas, Revelations, TNT

Bra-vo!

23. Sting! When Harris tries to blackmail Sue Ellen into aiding his dirty dealings, Ann begs him to stop. Harris confirms his crimes and suggests he’ll ease up on Sue Ellen – if Ann sleeps with him. Slowly, Ann unbuttons her blouse … and reveals a hidden mic. “Extortion, blackmail and a confession to money laundering, all recorded,” she says triumphantly. Ann then slugs Harris and hints she’ll shoot him if he doesn’t leave the Ewings alone. She wasn’t kidding, was she?

Adoption, Dallas, Donna Krebbs, Susan Howard,

Armor on

22. Pow! Donna (Susan Howard) is none too happy when Ray begins an affair with barfly Bonnie. Fed up with his philandering, she dons her fur coat, heads to the saloon and offers Bonnie $15,000 to leave Texas. Bonnie agrees, so Donna cuts the offer by a third. “Now that we know what you are, let’s haggle over your fee,” she says. Bonnie tosses a drink in Donna’s face – and then Donna belts her. Who knew “Dallas’s” classiest leading lady possessed such a mean right hook?

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Ray Krebbs, Road Back, Steve Kanaly

Open flames

21. Bobby to the rescue. “Dallas’s” sixth season ends with J.R., Sue Ellen, John Ross and Ray trapped inside Southfork as flames sweep through the house. We knew they’d survive; we just didn’t know how. The seventh-season premiere supplies our answer: In “Dallas’s” most thrilling opening, quick-thinking Bobby comes home, soaks himself in the pool and dashes into the house, where he rescues everyone. We should’ve known: Bobby always saves the day.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, Tangled Web

Face of fear

20. Sue Ellen’s discovery. Sue Ellen doesn’t want to believe it when Holly Harwood tells her she’s sleeping with J.R., but she agrees to come by the vixen’s house, where Holly says Sue Ellen will find J.R. in her bed. The audience watches as the fur-clad Sue Ellen arrives at Holly’s, slowly crosses the driveway (click clack go the heels), turns the front door knob and finally reaches the bedroom, where her worst fears are confirmed. It’s a brilliant, devastating sequence.

Barbara Bel Geddes, Brother Can You Spare a Child?, Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Miss Ellie Farlow

Making peace

19. Cliff asks for forgiveness. After Dandy Dandridge accuses Cliff of trying to cheat him out of their big gas strike, Cliff begins to see his daddy’s feud with Jock in a new light. Summoning Ellie to a Dallas park, Cliff extends a long-overdue olive branch. “Digger was wrong, and I was wrong. If it’s not too late. I’d like to make peace. I’d like to ask you to forgive me,” he says. It’s my favorite performance from Kercheval and a consequential moment in “Dallas” history.

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, Wheeler Dealer

Honor thy daddy

18. Molotov cocktails. “Dallas’s” best cocktail scene: Ellie worries Sue Ellen didn’t get enough to eat at dinner. J.R. waves around a liquor bottle and declares his wife “gets all the nourishment she needs from this.” He then declares Pam is “cracking up” and calls her daddy “a saddle tramp and a thief” and her mama “a whore.” That’s when Bobby (Patrick Duffy) punches J.R., forcing a furious Jock to separate them. Don’t you wish your family gatherings were this much fun?

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, Mastectomy Part 2, Miss Ellie Ewing

Great performances

17. Ellie gets cancer. Ellie gets breast cancer in the 1979 “Mastectomy” two-parter, which won Bel Geddes an Emmy. It’s a brave performance from the actress, who had been treated for the disease in real life. Davis is equally moving as Jock struggles to comfort his wife. In one scene, he tells her it “doesn’t matter” that she’s lost a breast. “Because I’m not young anymore?” she snaps. “Don’t you think I care the way I look?” Rarely has “Dallas” felt so real.

Dallas, Family Ewing

Bye, Bobby

16. Bobby’s funeral. After Bobby “dies” saving Pam, the Ewings bury him in a lush Southfork pasture, near the treehouse that Jock built for him as a boy. All of Bobby’s loved ones are there, including Pam, whose Jackie Kennedy-esque pillbox hat reinforces the idea that “Dallas’s” version of Camelot is ending. As the gathering disperses, J.R. movingly tells Bobby he wishes he’d taken the time to let him know how much he loved him. It’s one of the few times we see J.R. cry.

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Paternity Suit, Tyler Banks

Welcome to fatherhood

15. J.R. becomes a daddy. When the Ewings learn the results of the paternity test that proves J.R., not Cliff, fathered John Ross, J.R. enters the Southfork nursery, picks up his son, holds him close and kisses him. According to “Dallas” historian Barbara A. Curran, CBS received 10,000 positive letters in response to J.R.’s embrace of his son. Later, David Jacobs, the show’s creator, called it “Dallas’s” best scene: “Just a private moment between J.R. and 100 million people.”

Dale Midkiff, Dallas, Dallas: The Early Years, Jock Ewing, Miss Ellie Ewing, Molly Hagan

When they were young

14. In the beginning. “Dallas: The Early Years,” Jacobs’ 1986 prequel movie, ends at a 1951 Southfork barbecue, where Jock and Ellie (Dale Midkiff, Molly Hagan) embrace as a teenaged J.R. spars with bratty Cliff. Moments later, Cliff drags kid sister Pammy away from her new playmate: Little Bobby. Jerrold Immel’s theme swells, the camera pulls back for a bird’s eye view of the ranch and then the familiar shots from “Dallas’s” famous titles sweep across the screen. Perfect.

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Miss Ellie Ewing, Waterloo at Southfork

Mad mama

13. Mama vs. the cartel. When J.R.’s latest plot backfires and the cartel takes advantage of him, Ellie comes to junior’s defense. She summons the group to the Ewing Oil offices, where she blasts them, one by one. “I don’t apologize for what my son did,” Ellie says. “It’s a family matter. We may be wrong and we may be right, but we’re Ewings. We stick together – and that’s what makes us unbeatable.” Foolish oil barons. Shouldn’t they know better than to mess with mama?

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Long Goodbye, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Prey, meet hawk

12. A classic clash. During Bobby and Pam’s separation, J.R. tells her if she doesn’t go through with the divorce, he’ll destroy Bobby, Cliff and everyone else she cares about. “You’ve known me long enough to know I don’t make idle threats,” J.R. says as he circles her. The chilling moment tells us much about their rivalry. Cliff might have been J.R.’s most persistent enemy and Jeremy Wendell might have been the most powerful, but no one threatened J.R. quite like Pam.

Blast from the Past, Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy,

Good morning indeed

11. Bobby’s back! (Or is he?). CBS announced Duffy would return to “Dallas” a few weeks before the 1985-86 season finale aired, but no one knew how he’d come back or who he’d play. In the episode’s last scene, Pam awakens and finds Bobby – or someone who looks an awful lot like him – lathering up in her shower. No matter how you feel about the notorious “dream” twist, you have to admit: It was nice to have Duffy back on the show – and in his birthday suit no less!

Changing of the Guard, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Leonor Varela, Marta del Sol, TNT, Veronica Martinez

Welcome back

10. J.R. returns. TNT’s first episode ends with John Ross visiting J.R. in the nursing home. The younger man is dejected because Uncle Bobby just sold Southfork to conservationist Marta del Sol. But wait, what’s this? J.R. is sipping champagne with Marta! It turns out the two are in cahoots. “Bobby may not be stupid, but I’m a hell of a lot smarter,” J.R. tells his son as he doffs his Stetson and flashes his grin. For me, this is the moment I knew “Dallas” was truly back.

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

Two of a kind

9. J.R. and Sue Ellen reminisce. After putting John Ross to bed, J.R. and Sue Ellen retreat to their room, where they recall their courtship in warm, nostalgic terms. For a couple that is usually at war with each other, this scene is about the characters taking off their armor – symbolized by Sue Ellen’s dressing gown and J.R.’s removal of his coat and tie – and showing each other they still care. You can’t understand their love story until you’ve seen this moment.

Bobby Ewing, Check and Mate, Dallas, Larry Hagman, J.R. Ewing, Patrick Duffy

Lose some, win some

8. Bobby beats J.R. After a yearlong contest for control of Ewing Oil, Harv Smithfield declares J.R. the winner. But wait, what’s this? Here comes Thornton McLeish with news that Bobby’s Canadian fields have come in, making Bobby the victor. The twist concluded one of “Dallas’s” greatest storylines, an arc that touched all the characters and made “Tundra Torque” part of every “Dallas” diehard’s vocabulary. We never like to see J.R. get beat, but when Bobby does it, we let it slide.

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Ellie Saves the Day, Miss Ellie Ewing

To the rescue

7. Ellie saves Southfork. J.R. secretly mortgages Southfork to finance a risky deal, only to have it blow up in his face. With the loans due, the Ewings scramble to pay the banks but come up empty. After a stroll around the ranch, Ellie gathers everyone and announces she’ll raise the cash by allowing Ewing Oil to drill on the land. It’s an early example of an enduring “Dallas” theme: Sometimes you have to set aside your principles to protect your family.

Dallas, Fall of the House of Ewing, John Ross Ewing, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Omri Katz

Don’t forget it, boy

6. J.R. schools John Ross. J.R. is giving John Ross one last look around Ewing Oil when Wendell, the new owner, orders them off the premises. “Take this eyesore with you,” he says as he reaches for Jock’s portrait. J.R. is incensed: “Touch that painting and I’ll kill where you stand!” J.R. takes the picture off the wall, holds it aloft and – with trumpets blaring in the background – declares: “John Ross, this is Ewing Oil.” I dare you to watch this scene without getting chills.

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Executive Wife, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, Patrick Duffy

Word

5. Jock schools Bobby. Bobby, furious that Jock has yanked millions of dollars out of Ewing Oil without telling him, interrupts Daddy’s lunch at the Cattlemen’s Club. “You gave me the power to run that company, and damn it, I intend to run it,” Bobby fumes. “Let me tell you something, boy,” Jock huffs. “If I did give you power, you got nothing. Nobody gives you power. Real power is something you take!” Six words that sum up the Ewing creed – and “Dallas” itself.

Dallas, Family Business, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, TNT

The man

4. The man comes around. The TNT episode “Family Business” ends on a thrilling note: With Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” playing in the background, Rebecca shoots Tommy, while back at the ranch, seriously ill Bobby collapses. The most poignant moment of all comes before the montage, when J.R. glances at Ellie’s picture, takes a shot of bourbon and signs the Southfork deed, returning ownership to Bobby. In that instant, our hero grows. So does “Dallas.”

Dallas, J.R.'s Masterpiece, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Farewell, J.R.

3. J.R.’s funeral. “Dallas” bids farewell to J.R. with a moving, instant-classic episode featuring Emmy-worthy performances from Gray and Duffy. Who’ll ever forget Sue Ellen getting drunk in J.R.’s bedroom the night before his burial, or her heartbreaking eulogy? What about the poignant final scene, when Bobby spots J.R.’s hat and tearfully declares, “I love you brother.” This is the moment the TNT series rose to the occasion – and then surpassed it.

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Pam Ewing, Swan Song, Victoria Principal

Saving the day, again

2. “Swan Song.” Leonard Katzman’s masterpiece. Donna reveals her pregnancy to Ray. J.R. threatens to send Sue Ellen back in the sanitarium. Pam nobly tells Bobby to go back to Jenna, but he chooses Pam instead. It culminates with the dramatic driveway sequence in which Katherine runs over Bobby, followed by his deathbed farewell, the most moving scene in “Dallas” history. It’s all so beautifully done, it’s almost enough to make you regret it turned out be a dream.

Dallas, House Divided, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Top gun

1. “Who Shot J.R.?” “Dallas’s” most famous storyline is also its greatest extended moment, and not just because it sparked a worldwide phenomenon. Nothing better demonstrates the show’s ability to create multi-dimensional characters who fascinate audiences and make us care. Despite his dastardliness, after J.R. was shot, we couldn’t help but feel sympathetic toward him as he struggled to regain his ability to walk and cope with his exile from Ewing Oil. Likewise, once Kristin was identified as his assailant – in a broadcast watched by 83 million people – how could you not feel sorry for her, especially after J.R. vowed to “handle” her his “own way”? Will “Dallas” ever top this moment? Who knows? I just hope the people who make the show never stop trying.

Now it’s your turn. Share your choices for “Dallas’s” greatest moments below and read more “Dal-Lists.”