Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 180 — ‘Sins of the Fathers’

Dallas, Deborah Shelton, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Mandy Winger, Sins of the Fathers

Darkest before dawn

You know J.R. Ewing is having a bad week when he gets kneed in the groin and it’s the least of his problems. Such is our hero’s fate in “Sins of the Fathers.” The assault-by-patella occurs when J.R. tries to force himself upon Sue Ellen and she strikes back as only she can. He’s also rejected by Mandy, the gorgeous model who has proven immune to his charms, and then a judge freezes Ewing Oil’s assets after Cliff sues to snag a piece of the company. J.R.’s greatest indignity comes in the last scene, when his grand plan to use aging roughneck Alf Brindle to counter Cliff’s lawsuit backfires spectacularly.

Do all these misfortunes mean J.R. is losing his touch? Well, no, actually. We’ve merely arrived at the moment during a “Dallas” season when it looks like the character’s luck has finally run out. In previous years, this happened when J.R. got tossed into a Cuban jail cell, when he was forced to ask Cliff for an extension on a loan, when a state senate committee closed in on his illegal dealings overseas. In each instance, J.R. escaped harm and came out on top. There’s little doubt he’ll also recover from his setbacks in “Sins of the Fathers,” which might explain why his storyline this season feels so ho-hum. Even when this episode aired in 1985, audiences must have thought: We’ve seen this movie before. We know how it’s going to end.

Of course, “Sins of the Fathers” isn’t a rehash altogether. Consider J.R. and Sue Ellen’s fight scene, which begins with her leading him to believe she’s going to spend the night with Cliff. J.R. angrily pulls Sue Ellen into his bedroom, throws her onto the bed and begins kissing her. “I know what you like, darlin’,” he says. It’s reminiscent of two encounters from past episodes (“Black Market Baby,” “Rodeo”) — until Sue Ellen knees her husband, pushes him off of her and says, “And I know what you like — and I’m sure that wasn’t it.” I’m no fan of violence, but how can you not feel proud of Linda Gray’s character at this moment? After all these years, Sue Ellen has finally learned how to stop J.R. from taking advantage of her.

“Sins of the Fathers” scriptwriter Leonard Katzman and Larry Hagman, who directed the episode, find other ways to keep things fresh. When the Ewings track down Brindle in Galveston, J.R. and Ray go there together to speak to him. It’s the first time the half-brothers have paired up since their memorable trip to Waco during the first season. Later, the Ewings bring Brindle to Cliff’s condo to confront him, marking J.R.’s first visit there. And then there’s Jenna’s kitchen scene, which sheds new light on Priscilla Beaulieu Presley’s character. While kneading dough, Jenna recalls how she learned to bake from her father because her mother didn’t know how. “She never did teach me anything,” Jenna says, making me wonder what their relationship was like. (Perhaps this would have made a better storyline than Naldo’s yawn-inducing murder trial.)

Mostly, though, “Sins of the Fathers” is another eighth-season episode that celebrates “Dallas’s” history. During J.R. and Sue Ellen’s fight, she points out all the women he’s shared with Cliff (Julie Grey, Afton Cooper, herself). Mandy walks out on Cliff with a suitcase in her hand, just like Afton did in the season opener. To shield Ewing Oil assets from Cliff, J.R. turns again to Carl Hardesty, who helped him set up a series of dummy corporations during the sixth season. Bobby stumbles across a newspaper article about Lee Evans, the pilot who witnessed Jock’s helicopter crash during Season 5. (Since this scene never leads to a bigger storyline, I’m guessing it’s included here to promote “Who Killed Jock Ewing?”, a “Dallas” novel that was published in 1985 and features Evans as a character.)

I also appreciate “Sins of the Fathers’” attention to detail, a signature of both Katzman and Hagman. When Pam arrives at the Oil Baron’s Club for her lunch date with Bobby, notice how one of the extras cranes his neck to check out Victoria Principal as she breezes past him. Why do I get the feeling Hagman, in his role as director, instructed the extra to do this? Likewise, what are we to make of the scene where Harv shows up at the Ewing Oil offices with a piece of tissue stuck to his face and explains he was so rattled by J.R.’s call earlier that morning, he nicked himself shaving? Perhaps Katzman wrote this into the script, or maybe George O. Petrie actually cut himself on the day the episode was filmed. This also seems like the kind of thing Hagman might have come up with, just because he thought it would amuse the audience.

If that’s the case, he was right.

Grade: B

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Dallas, Linda Gray, Sins of the Fathers, Sue Ellen Ewing

Don’t mess with Miss Texas

‘SINS OF THE FATHERS’

Season 8, Episode 19

Airdate: February 8, 1985

Audience: 21.2 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: A judge freezes Ewing Oil’s assets but later reverses the decision. The Ewings track down Alf Brindle, a roughneck who worked for Jock, Jason and Digger, but the man accidentally offers evidence that supports and Cliff and Jamie’s claim. Mandy leaves Cliff but refuses to see J.R. Sue Ellen mends fences with Pam, who is given fresh reason to believe Mark is still alive. Jenna worries about her trial. Lucy and Eddie break ground on their construction project.

Cast: Beau Billingslea (Dr. Miller), John Carter (Carl Hardesty), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephan Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eddie Firestone (Alf Brindle), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Dean Santoro (Raymond Furguson), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Harvey Vernon (Judge Harding), Kathleen York (Betty)

“Sins of the Fathers” is available on DVD and at Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 163 — ‘Battle Lines’

Battle Lines, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Ewing blues

Bobby has lost his eyesight in “Battle Lines,” but J.R. has lost his mojo. The eldest Ewing brother is unusually angsty in this episode: He’s guilty because he believes the bullets that blinded Bobby were meant for him, he’s nervous because his would-be assassin is still on the loose, he’s depressed because his scheme to ruin Cliff Barnes has backfired spectacularly, turning Dallas’s biggest born loser into an overnight success in the oil business. It’s never fun to see J.R. down and out, but these moments tend to give us insight into his character. This one is no exception.

In one revealing scene, J.R. is leaving for work when John Ross asks him if he’s planning to take over Ewing Oil now that Uncle Bobby is in the hospital. J.R. leans down, looks the boy in the eye and tells him he plans to win control of the company some day, but not while Bobby is sick. “With family, you play fair,” J.R. says. “There are rules to follow, and if you do, you’ll be able to live with yourself.” Larry Hagman’s delivery is so sincere, you get the feeling J.R. believes what he’s saying. Who knew the master of deception was so good at deceiving himself? Later, we see J.R. lose his cool — twice. First, he argues with Donna after she arrives at Ewing Oil to look after the ailing Bobby’s interests, and then J.R. clashes with Cliff, dousing him with champagne during a dust-up at the Oil Baron’s Club.

Toward the end of “Battle Lines,” J.R. finally opens up to Sue Ellen about everything that’s bothering him. This might be the episode’s most revealing moment of all. “Dallas” rarely lets us know what J.R. is really thinking; when it happens, it usually comes in the form of a monologue delivered to Jock’s painting. Here, J.R. sits on the Southfork patio and confesses all to Sue Ellen, who is so moved by her husband’s display of vulnerability, she takes his hand and assures him everything will be okay. It’s a rare example of these two behaving like spouses who share their problems instead of using them to undermine each other. It’s also the first time in more than a year that Sue Ellen has shown J.R. real affection, and it turns out to be just what the doctor ordered: In the episode’s final scene, J.R. lurks nearby as his goons from the police squad arrest Cliff for Bobby’s shooting. Does J.R. genuinely believe Cliff is guilty, or is he merely taking advantage of an opportunity to pin a major crime on his rival? The answer isn’t clear, but one thing is indisputable: It’s good to see him get his groove back.

J.R. and Cliff’s shifting fortunes lend “Battle Lines” a neat bit of symmetry: J.R. is in the doldrums until the final scene, while Cliff rides high throughout this episode, only to crash at the end. It’s nice to see Cliff succeed for a change, and I always think it’s interesting how he emulates J.R. Cliff uses Marilee for sex in “Killer at Large,” the previous episode, and in “Battle Lines” he sacks Vaughn with J.R.-like efficiency. I also like Cliff’s scenes with Pam in this episode — including their stroll from her swimming pool to her house, which director Nick Havinga films in an unbroken tracking shot — as well as the arrest scene, which ends with Pam looking infuriated when she realizes J.R. orchestrated her brother’s arrest. (One oddity: Why does one detective announce the charge against Cliff while another cop simultaneously reads him his rights?)

Speaking of Pam: I like the scene where she tells Bobby that Katherine forged the letter that broke up their marriage. The couple sits on a bench on the hospital grounds, mimicking their breakup scene in Thanksgiving Square one year earlier. And even though Bobby’s blindness offers an unmistakable metaphor for his inability to see through Katherine’s scheme, I’m no fan of this storyline. Unlike J.R.’s post-shooting paralysis, which humbled his character and made for interesting storytelling, sticking Patrick Duffy behind those oversized dark glasses does his character no favors. Bobby looks weak and ineffectual, and that’s not what the audience needs from him. If the show wanted to use his near-death experience to explore different facets of his character, I would have gone in the other direction and made him royally angry that he took a couple of slugs that were intended for his brother.

Finally, I like how “Battle Lines” brings together characters who don’t usually interact: Ray and Donna investigate the bugged telephones at Ewing Oil with help from Phyllis, while Lucy and Katherine sit together while visiting Bobby at Dallas Memorial. In the latter scene, though, I can’t help but note how overdressed the women appear. Lucy wears an off-the-shoulder dress that looks more appropriate for a night on the town, while Katherine sports a runway-ready turban. Then again, what do I know? If Sue Ellen can wear a turban to the movies, who says Katherine can’t wear one to the hospital?

Grade: A

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Battle Lines, Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval

All wet

‘BATTLE LINES’

Season 8, Episode 2

Airdate: October 5, 1984

Audience: 24.7 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Nick Havinga

Synopsis: Sly tells Cliff that J.R. doesn’t know she’s working with him. Sue Ellen feels drawn to a newly vulnerable J.R., who orchestrates Cliff’s arrest for Bobby’s shooting. After Pam tells Bobby that Katherine forged the letter that broke them up, Jenna tells Pam to stay away from him. Bobby asks Donna to fill in for him at Ewing Oil.

Cast: Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Jenny Gago (Nurse), Gerald Gordon (Dr. Carter), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Marina Rice (Angela), Mitchell Ryan (Captain Merwin Fogerty), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘You Make J.R. Look Like a Saint’

Afton Cooper, Audrey Landers, Dallas, Killer at Large

Unhappily ever Afton

In “Killer at Large,” “Dallas’s” eighth-season opener, a cheerful Cliff (Ken Kercheval) comes home and begins opening a bottle of champagne when Afton (Audrey Landers) enters carrying a suitcase.

CLIFF: We gotta celebrate.

AFTON: I’ve gotten permission from the police to visit my mother in Biloxi.

CLIFF: You’ve gotten permission from the police? What are you talking about?

AFTON: I need permission from them to leave the state.

CLIFF: Why?

AFTON: [Sets down the suitcase] Cliff, where have you been? Didn’t you hear that Bobby was shot?

CLIFF: Yeah, I heard that he was shot but I don’t know what that’s got to do with us. Why do you have to have permission from the police?

AFTON: I found him just after he was shot. You don’t seem to understand, do you? Bobby was shot in J.R.’s office.

CLIFF: So?

AFTON: Doesn’t that mean something to you?

CLIFF: No. No, why should it? [A beat] Oh, now wait a minute. Unless you think I had something to do with Bobby being shot.

AFTON: Yes. I think you went to the Ewing offices to kill J.R. and you shot Bobby by mistake.

CLIFF: Well, that’s ridiculous. That is absolutely ridiculous. Is that why you went there — to stop me?

AFTON: Yes.

CLIFF: Well, I hope you didn’t tell the police that crazy story. I could be in a lot of trouble!

AFTON: Cliff, where were you last night?

CLIFF: [Chuckles] I got drunk. I slept it off in my car.

AFTON: But where were you drinking?

CLIFF: Uh, I don’t know. I don’t know. Two or three places.

AFTON: You don’t know. You’ve blacked out before so I guess you blacked out again last night.

CLIFF: So I blacked out.

AFTON: Then you could have done the shooting.

CLIFF: Look, if that’s what you want to think, that’s fine. But I got a rich oil strike to celebrate. [Pops the cork]

AFTON: Doesn’t it even bother you that Bobby was shot?

CLIFF: No, not really. No. He’s not married to Pam anymore. He’s a Ewing. [Pours a glass, raises it] Want a drink?

AFTON: I’m not drinking with you. You are the coldest man I have ever met. You make J.R. Ewing look like a saint. [Turns, grabs her suitcase, heads toward the door]

CLIFF: [Laughs] Well, say hello to your mama in her new house. When you coming back? [Grabs the bottle, follows her to the door]

AFTON: [Stops, turns to face him] I’m not.

CLIFF: [Scoffs] Now that’s ridiculous.

AFTON: No. No, Cliff, our relationship is ridiculous. It’s over. I just wish I could say it’s been terrific. I’ll send for the rest of my things. [Turns away]

CLIFF: Just when everything is going great.

AFTON: [Turns back] Great? Great for whom? For you. The only one you’ve ever cared about: Cliff Barnes. [Exits, leaving Cliff standing alone]

CLIFF: [Walks back into the room, takes a sip] Who needs her?

Watch this scene in “Killer at Large,” available on DVD and at Amazon and iTunes, and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 162 — ‘Killer a Large’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Donna Culver Krebbs, Killer at Large, Patrick Duffy, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Reflected glory

“Dallas’s” seventh season winds down with half the cast once again gunning for J.R. In the final scene, an unseen assailant enters the darkened Ewing Oil offices and fires three shots into the back of J.R.’s chair, except he isn’t sitting there — good-guy brother Bobby tumbles to the floor. It’s one of “Dallas’s” greatest fake-outs, establishing the template that TNT’s sequel series would later use to keep viewers on their toes.

The problem is “Who Shot Bobby?” mimics “Who Shot J.R.?” too closely. What begins as a wink to “Dallas’s” most famous moment quickly becomes an imitation, and not a particularly good one. “Killer at Large,” the eighth-season opener, begins with Afton discovering Bobby moments after he’s shot. It’s not unlike the cleaning lady finding J.R. in 1980, although Afton’s reaction isn’t quite as campy. (No high-pitched shrieks and dropped feather dusters here.) We also see the Ewings assemble at Dallas Memorial Hospital to keep vigil for Bobby, just like they did with J.R., and both victims ultimately survive their shootings, but not without complications: J.R. is paralyzed while Bobby is blinded.

I’m sure fans appreciated the homage when “Killer at Large” debuted. It had been years since the “Who Shot J.R.?” episodes aired, so it was probably a kick to relive the mystery, this time with Bobby as the victim. Thirty years later, though, the remake comes off as uninspired. The producers don’t even bother to film Bobby being rushed out of the Ewing Oil lobby and into the waiting ambulance; they merely recycle the four-year-old footage of J.R. on the stretcher. Not helping matters: Most of the actors in “Killer at Large” look bored, and the mystery surrounding the shooter’s identity isn’t all that mysterious. Two characters — Peter and Edgar — are cleared by the end of the episode, leaving Sue Ellen, Cliff and Katherine as the remaining suspects. Was there any doubt in 1984 how that would turn out?

The episode isn’t a total wash. I like director Leonard Katzman’s shot of Ray and Donna spotting the TV news report about Bobby’s shooting while standing near a downtown department store window. Just think: Most of us probably watched this episode in 1984 on that kind of bulky TV set. It’s also fun to see Dennis Haysbert — the future President Palmer on “24” — cast in one of his first TV roles as Bobby’s doctor, although I’m more intrigued when Karen Radcliffe pops up as a nurse. Radcliffe will return to “Dallas” three years later as the nightingale who helps Pam run away after her car accident; should we assume she’s playing the same character in both appearances? I also like when Pam runs into Katherine in the hospital parking lot and refuses to allow her inside to see Bobby. It’s always nice to see Pam use her backbone to stand up for the people she cares about, not nag them.

“Killer at Large” also is notable as the first “Dallas” episode that doesn’t feature Barbara Bel Geddes in the opening credits. She departed the series at the end of the previous season, although Donna Reed won’t show up as her replacement for a few more episodes. Meanwhile, Howard Keel and Priscilla Beaulieu Presley get promoted to the title sequence in this episode, while Travilla begins his two-year run as the show’s costume designer. He makes his mark almost immediately: The actresses look a little more stylish than usual, especially Fern Fitzgerald, who sports slit sleeves when Marilee confronts J.R., and Audrey Landers, who wears a striking red hat and suit during Afton’s farewell to Cliff.

Afton’s poignant departure, by the way, is this episode’s other saving grace. It’s the rare example of a “Dallas” character receiving a decent sendoff, and even though Landers’ character isn’t as iconic as any of the Ewings or Barneses, her goodbye nonetheless signals the end of an era. “Killer at Large” is an eighth-season premiere, and it feels like it. “Dallas” is beginning to lose steam after almost a decade on the air, and so as Afton gives Cliff the kiss-off and heads for the door, I can’t help but think: This lady is getting out while the getting’s good.

Grade: C

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Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Killer at Large, Patrick Duffy

Lazy eye

‘KILLER AT LARGE’

Season 8, Episode 1

Airdate: September 28, 1984

Audience: 22.4 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: The shooting blinds Bobby, who is hospitalized while the police search for the assailant. J.R., believing he was the target, names Edgar as a prime suspect and is surprised when police tell him Edgar has an alibi. Sue Ellen reluctantly returns to J.R.’s bedroom, where she hides a gun. Afton leaves Cliff, who can’t recall his whereabouts during the shooting. Pam and Jenna rush to Bobby’s side while Katherine makes plans to move to Houston.

Cast: Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Martin E. Brooks (Edgar Randolph), Cora Cordona (Pearl), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Jenny Gago (Nurse), Gerald Gordon (Dr. Carter), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Dennis Haysbert (Dr. Forbes), Rose Ann Holloway (Irene), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), J.T. O’Connor (Patterson), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Karen Radcliffe (Jane), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Jill Scroggin (Sally), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Mitchell Ryan (Captain Merwin Fogerty), Randy Tallman (Dr. Halperson), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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