Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘Sue Ellen, I’m in Trouble’

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

Present tense

In “Legacy,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode, Sue Ellen sits alone at the breakfast table on the Southfork patio as J.R. (Larry Hagman) paces and reads the newspaper.

J.R.: I tell you, I’ve never read such depressing news. Rebecca’s poor old husband must be spinning in his grave. He worked his butt off all his life building a fortune under the Wentworth name, and two-thirds of it now goes to some family named Barnes.

SUE ELLEN: Darlin’, get yourself some breakfast and sit down.

J.R.: [Slaps down the newspaper in front of her, points to the article] Look here, look there. The oil company Barnes-Wentworth goes to Cliff Barnes outright. I should have stayed with the funny papers.

SUE ELLEN: I don’t know why you’re so concerned about this.

J.R.: With Pamela an heiress, Barnes wielding major power? When Rebecca was alive, she could at least temper his idiocy. Now that she’s gone, he’s free to do any fool thing he wants to.

SUE ELLEN: I think Rebecca was very wise, the way she took care of her children.

J.R.: [Exasperated] Giving Barnes complete control of that company is like giving John Ross a loaded gun to play with.

SUE ELLEN: [Laughs] J.R., Rebecca’s will shouldn’t concern you at all.

J.R.: Well, Barnes is Bobby’s brother-in-law, you know? And Bobby’s not too far behind me in this little contest we’ve got going.

SUE ELLEN: Cliff’s not going to help him. He hates all the Ewings now.

J.R.: Well, who knows what that lunatic’s going to do? And look where Pam came out on this deal.

SUE ELLEN: Bobby and Pam are separated.

J.R.: Yeah, let’s just hope it stays that way.

SUE ELLEN: I don’t hope any such thing.

J.R.: Sue Ellen, I just mean until I win Ewing Oil. [Snatches back the paper, sits]

SUE ELLEN: Darlin’, you really seem to be worried about all this. Are you afraid we’re going to lose? [Gets up from her seat, sits on the arm of his chair, rubs his shoulders]

J.R.: Sue Ellen, I am in trouble. I lost my variance. Bobby made a killing on that Wellington deal. Pamela inherited a fortune. If they ever get together again, if she starts to help him, they could wield a frightening amount of clout. Really.

SUE ELLEN: I’ve never heard you talk like this before.

J.R.: Like I said Sue Ellen, I’m in trouble. I’ve just got to find a way out.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 122 — ‘Legacy’

Ben Piazza, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Legacy, Walt Driscoll

Into darkness

“Legacy” opens with Pam, having decided to separate from Bobby, packing up her Porsche and driving away with little Christopher. It’s a landmark moment in the life of the series. “Digger’s Daughter” shows Bobby and Pam arriving at Southfork as newlyweds, and now she has spent her last night under that roof as his wife. Soon the couple will be divorced, and even though they’ll eventually remarry and Pam will return to the ranch, things will never quite be the same. I know some fans welcome the changes that Bobby and Pam’s split herald, but as far as I’m concerned, a little bit of the old “Dallas” magic dies the moment she pulls out of that driveway.

Pam’s decision to leave is triggered by the death of her mother Rebecca, whose will reading delivers this episode’s other monumental moment. The Wentworth empire, which Rebecca inherited from her late husband Herbert, is divided among her three children, Cliff, Pam and Katherine. The “Dallas” writers make this division mighty complicated — Cliff gets Barnes-Wentworth Oil, Pam and Katherine split their mother’s shares in Wentworth Industries and all three siblings become equal partners in Wentworth Tool and Die — but no matter. What’s important is that Cliff and Pam are now rich, forever changing the original “Dallas” dynamic of the have-not Barneses versus the wealthy, wanton Ewings. It’s also worth noting that the collection of companies that Rebecca leaves behind becomes the basis for Barnes Global, the conglomerate that Cliff uses as his weapon to bludgeon the Ewings during the second season of TNT’s “Dallas.”

Beyond these turning points, “Legacy” offers some unusually nifty camerawork. This is the fifth episode directed by Patrick Duffy, who once again demonstrates a flair for visual storytelling. Two of my favorite shots are found in the sequence where J.R. and Walt Driscoll meet after hours at Ewing Oil. Duffy positions the camera behind the reception desk as Driscoll arrives and steps off the elevator, a unique angle that, as far as I can remember, is never repeated. Moments later, J.R. stands in the foreground, shrouded in darkness, as Driscoll sits behind him, counting the money from their crooked oil deal. The shot makes Larry Hagman look utterly sinister.

I also admire Duffy’s inventive approach in the opening scene. After Pam’s Porsche pulls out of the driveway, Duffy pans the camera upward to reveal J.R. watching from the balcony. We rarely see the Ewings up there — the shot of J.R. gazing at Kristin’s dead body in the swimming pool in “Ewing-Gate” is a notable exception — so it’s neat to see Duffy put this part of the Southfork set to use. (Perhaps the “Dallas” actors are particularly attuned to this sort of thing: When Hagman directed the third-season episode “Mother of the Year,” he showed Lucy sliding down the Southfork bannister — the first time we see someone descend those famous stairs in that manner.) The “Legacy” shot of J.R. on the balcony also reminds us that he was hovering in the shadows the last time Pam left Bobby, at the end of “The Red File, Part 1” a second-season classic.

Scriptwriter Robert Sherman doesn’t deliver many new insights into the characters, but he does a nice of reinforcing what we’ve come to expect from them. I especially like the scene where J.R. paces on the patio, ranting about the outcome of Rebecca’s will reading. It’s always fun to hear J.R. insult Cliff — in this scene, he calls him a “lunatic” and predicts he’ll now be free to do “any fool thing” he wishes — but beyond the humor, the scene allows Sue Ellen to once again serve as J.R.’s confidant. Ever since the state revoked his permission to pump extra oil, J.R. has publicly declared the loss is no big deal. Here, he tells his wife the truth: “I’m in trouble.” It’s nice to see J.R. treat Sue Ellen as a partner — and that’s how she seems to think of herself too. Notice how she asks him, “Are you afraid we’re going to lose?”

Another good scene: Sue Ellen tells Clayton she’s upset that he’s seeing Miss Ellie. “I thought you were my friend,” she says. This prompts Clayton to confess that he was once in love with Sue Ellen, but since growing close to Ellie, he realizes Sue Ellen isn’t the woman for him. “Clayton, I just don’t understand,” she says. His response: “Not then, and not now.” This dialogue makes Sue Ellen seem a bit more self-absorbed than she was when Clayton was secretly pining for her at the end of the fifth season, but Linda Gray manages to make her character sympathetic nonetheless.

The other highlight of “Legacy” is the scene where Lucy and Muriel pull Mickey out of the Braddock saloon after a thuggish cowboy punches out his lights. The next time we see Mickey and Lucy, he’s waking up in his car with his head on her shoulder. It’s a charming moment and the first time we’ve seen the troubled Lucy demonstrate her growing affection for him. More than anything, I like seeing a woman coming to a man’s rescue on “Dallas,” which marks a real departure for a show with chauvinistic tendencies. Of course, I know before all is said done, Mickey will end up rescuing Lucy. Or maybe he already has.

Grade: B

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Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Lucy Ewing, Mickey Trotter, Timothy Patrick Murphy

Cold shoulder no more

‘LEGACY’

Season 6, Episode 19

Airdate: February 18, 1983

Audience: 21.5 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Robert Sherman

Director: Patrick Duffy

Synopsis: Pam takes Christopher and moves into a hotel. Cliff inherits Barnes-Wentworth Oil from Rebecca, while ownership of Wentworth Tool and Die is split evenly among Cliff, Pam and Katherine. J.R., fearing Bobby and the newly wealthy Pam will reunite and join forces against him, offers to end the contest for Ewing Oil, but Bobby refuses. J.R. is forced to sell some of his gas stations and completes his first illegal shipment to Cuba. Clayton tells Sue Ellen he once loved her but now realizes she wasn’t the right woman for him. Lucy rescues Mickey from a bar brawl.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), J.P. Bumstead (Horace), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Karlene Crockett (Muriel Gillis), Michael Currie (Sam Reynolds), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Chuck Hicks (bar patron), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Kenneth Kimmins (Thornton McLeish), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Ben Piazza (Walt Driscoll), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Tom Rosqui (Teddy), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Bill Zuckert (Bill)

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