Goodbye, ‘Dallas’!

Dallas, Larry Hagman, TNT

Into that good night

Saying goodbye to “Dallas” isn’t hard because I never got used to the show being back in the first place. Like many fans, I grew up with the original series, watching it with my family on Friday nights for more than a decade. When “Dallas” went off the air in 1991, I kept on watching — first in cable reruns, then on mail-order VHS tapes and finally on DVD. I used to imagine the show returning someday, but I never expected it to actually happen. Once it did, it felt like I was living my own version of a “Dallas” dream season. Pam Ewing’s may have ended after 31 episodes, but mine lasted three whole years.

Like all dreams, this one was a bit surreal. On the new “Dallas,” J.R. was old, Bobby answered to “Robert” and Sue Ellen was sometimes missing in action. But once the show found its groove — and once Linda Gray moved front and center — I came to love it. This was a darker, edgier interpretation of the “Dallas” I once knew, but it was still “Dallas,” and it went on to deliver moments that became all-time favorites: J.R. returning ownership of Southfork to Bobby. Ann secretly recording Harris, then socking him. The revelation that Rebecca is Pamela. Sue Ellen getting drunk on the night before J.R.’s funeral. Bobby’s slow-motion walk away from Cliff. John Ross declaring that he’s not his father. All those Johnny Cash musical montages.

The more I watched, the more the new series transported me back to my childhood. On the morning after every episode, I received a phone call from my mom, who could hardly wait to gab about what happened to the Ewings the night before. Our conversations were a lot like the post-“Dallas” discussions we used to have around the Saturday morning breakfast table when I was a kid. “Dallas” also became something I could share with my husband Andrew, who spent years being mystified by my obsession with the original series. (The first time I sat him down to watch “Digger’s Daughter,” he dozed off before Bobby and Pam arrived at Southfork.) The new show hooked Andrew right away, though, and he came to enjoy it as much as me.

More than anything, I loved covering “Dallas” for this website. I got to critique episodes, interview cast members and compile list after list of “Dallas” minutiae. Writing about the show also took me back to my youth, when I used to sit at the kitchen table, pecking out “Dallas” story ideas that I’d mail to Leonard Katzman, the original show’s producer. He never wrote back, but my Dallas Decoder posts received lots of feedback from fellow fans who were eager to comment and share their own thoughts about the show. I loved hearing from them, as well as all the folks who helped me “fanalyze” the series during my weekly #DallasChat discussions on Twitter. Together, we became our own “Dallas” family, bonding over our shared love for the new series.

Does that sound corny? I’m sure it does, but it’s true. Yes, “Dallas” was a soap opera, a TV show, flickering images inside the box in front of the living room sofa. But to a lot of us, it meant so much more. I wrote about the series whenever I found a spare moment, whether it was late at night at home or on the train during my morning commute. I’ve also lugged my laptop to beaches and national parks, and on more than one occasion, I’ve asked Andrew to reschedule dinner reservations or rearrange weekend plans so I could complete some Dallas Decoder writing project. He never complained — not even on the night we had to delay our anniversary dinner because I had a phone interview with Julie Gonzalo. (It probably didn’t hurt that Andrew and I share a not-so-secret crush on Pamela Rebecca Barnes Ewing Ewing.)

Through it all, watching, writing and chatting about “Dallas” was an extended, please-don’t-wake-me moment — with two exceptions. The first came two years ago, when my childhood hero Larry Hagman died. Like all “Dallas” fans, I hated losing him, although I was grateful the new series gave him an opportunity to leave us playing the character he loved most. The second tough moment was far more personal: the death of my older brother last year. Growing up, Rick was our family’s version of J.R. He was forever breaking the rules and landing in hot water with people — including the multiple girlfriends he was always juggling — but since he possessed one of the world’s great smiles, you could never stay mad at him. One month after Bobby stood at J.R.’s gravesite and paid tribute to his big brother, I found myself standing in a church, eulogizing mine. Losing Rick is the hardest thing I ever experienced, but I’m so glad I had this website, which offered a welcome distraction when I needed it most.

“Dallas” also provided me with one of the coolest experiences of my life: Earlier this year, the show’s costume designer, the wonderful Rachel Sage Kunin, allowed me to shadow her for a “day in the life” story for Dallas Decoder. Andrew joined me as we followed Rachel around and watched her prepare the cast’s wardrobe for the third-season finale. She also took us on a tour of the soundstages; we actually got to wander around the Southfork living room and the Ewing Global offices! I could hardly believe my good fortune. I planned to post the story after the season finale aired in September, but then TNT canceled the series and I shifted into #SaveDallas mode. Now that those efforts have ended, I look forward to finally sharing the piece soon.

Speaking of #SaveDallas: As I wrote last week, I was proud to be part of the legion of fans who came together and tried to rescue the series after its cancellation. We didn’t succeed in saving the Ewings, but we did let the world know how much they mean to us. As for the cancellation itself: I believe “Dallas’s” ratings drop can be attributed to a lot of factors, including its tough time slot and the loss of fans who felt the show strayed from the spirit of the original series. Some of these folks are Dallas Decoder regulars, and even though they don’t share my affection for the new series, they never begrudged me my opinion. I thank them for this. I also thank all the readers who did love the show and came along with me for the ride. I hope you had fun.

So even though I’m disappointed “Dallas” is ending and even though I’ll miss it, it’s not hard to say goodbye. My favorite TV show returned for three years. I got to watch it, to write about it, and to share it with my family and fellow fans. It was a joyful experience; to ask for anything more almost feels greedy. I thank the cast for delivering so many performances that moved me, and I thank the many gifted people who worked behind the scenes. Once again, I also thank everyone who reads this site. Make no mistake: “Dallas” has ended but Dallas Decoder is going to stick around. I still have things I want to say about the show, and I still want to hear what all of you think. We have great conversations ahead.

That brings me to the other reason it isn’t hard to say goodbye to “Dallas,” which is this: It’s not a final farewell. We’re unlikely to see another “Dallas” series anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean the Ewings won’t return with new adventures in the future. Maybe it won’t be a TV show; perhaps the stories will be told through other forms of media. Consider the serendipity of the timing of “Dallas’s” end, which came a few days shy of the anniversary of Mr. Hagman’s death. Just as J.R. will never really leave us, I refuse to believe we’ve seen the last of his family. Someday, somehow, “Dallas” will return — and with any luck, I’ll be here to take the ride all over again.

After all, who says dreams can’t come true twice?

How do you feel about the end of “Dallas”? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

The Dallas Decoder Interview: Margaret Michaels

Dallas, Margaret Michaels, Pam Ewing

Margaret Michaels

Margaret Michaels occupies a unique place in “Dallas” history. In 1988, one year after Victoria Principal left the original series, Michaels played Pam Ewing in two scenes designed to give the character closure after her fiery car crash and disappearance from Southfork. The following season, Michaels returned for a few episodes as Jeanne O’Brien, a Pam lookalike. I spoke to her recently about her “Dallas” experiences.

Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get the role of Pam?

I have a very dear friend who was a stuntwoman and happened to be the driver who ran over Bobby in the episode where he supposedly died. She and I were visiting the set of one of Patrick Duffy’s TV movies, and when my friend introduced me to him, he asked if I was an actress. The next thing I knew, I was reading for [“Dallas” producer] Leonard Katzman.

No kidding? So Katherine Wentworth’s stunt double is friends with the other Pam Ewing?

Isn’t that funny? My friend, Linda, is such a kick. I used to go with her when she was doing stunts with [stuntman] Hal Needham. We’d watch them blow up cars in San Pedro. She’s a fun friend, let me tell you. [Laughs]

So when you met Patrick, did he remark on your resemblance to Victoria?

I don’t remember him making that comment, but he must have felt that way, otherwise I would not have met with Leonard.

Let’s talk about that. You spent a year on the daytime soap “Santa Barbara” before “Dallas.” Had anyone commented on your resemblance to Victoria before?

First of all, I think we all look like someone. And several people had said they thought we looked alike. I think if we were standing next to one another, people might not make that distinction. Yet photographically, it certainly works. And please keep in mind: I’ve never met Victoria Principal. I do have a couple of friends who know both of us, and they say we have a strong resemblance. I’ve always taken that as a compliment.

Dallas, Margaret Michaels, Pam Ewing

Once a heroine

So you read for Mr. Katzman, and then you got the part. Was it intimidating to step into the role of Pam, even if it was for just one episode?

I think it’s difficult for any actor to fill the role of a beloved character like Pam. She was established by Victoria, who was loved both as Victoria and as Pam. And so as an actor, you want to get it right. And as a fan who watched the show, you really, really want to be believable. So I understood the importance of that scene.

Ah, so you were a fan of the show?

Absolutely! I think everyone I knew was a fan of “Dallas.”

That’s very cool! Your familiarity with the show must have been helpful to you in preparing for the role.

It was, certainly. I already knew that Bobby was the love of Pam’s life. I knew that stepping away from your child in order to save them from more heartbreak had to be probably one of the most difficult decisions she would ever make. And I also knew that her love for and bond with her brother Cliff would make seeing him again almost impossible. That’s a tremendous amount of information for an actor to go into a scene with. So for me, I think having created the raspy voice, in addition to the scars on my neck and face, probably made it easier for me to slide into that role.

Oh, interesting. You changed your voice for the scene?

I did. I tried to mimic that of a burn victim because, of course, Pam’s crash was an absolute explosion of fire. I’ve always found it amazing that anyone could have survived it.

Yes. She’s a miracle woman!

But that kind of intense fire, it doesn’t just disfigure a person’s face, it damages their vocal cords. So I tried to make [my voice] a little raspy, so there wasn’t clarity to each sentence. I’ve had family members who were with the fire department, and my husband had a very good friend who ran a burn center. And when someone has had a tremendous insult to their vocal cords, it alters the sound of their voice.

You also mentioned the makeup you wore. Was that very involved?

Very involved, and that’s why I applaud the makeup department. It takes a long time to build that kind of scar tissue on the neck and face. Actually, that may have taken as long as doing the scene.

So what was it like to actually film the scene? It’s a heartbreaking moment — Pam telling Cliff she never wants to see him again.

The thing that pops into my mind first is walking onto that set and how quiet and respectful it was. That’s not always the case when you walk onto a set, until they start rolling. Michael Preece was directing that episode — and wow, Michael is truly an actor’s director. And Ken Kercheval is really a wonderful actor. He was so real. It was difficult to hold in all those emotions as Pam while watching Cliff plead for his sister to come back home.

And then Cliff walks away, and Pam is left alone with her doctor — and that’s when the audience learns she’s dying and sent Cliff away to protect him from the truth.

The wonderful part of that was it allowed me to take all this pinned up emotion from my scene with Ken and take it into the next scene with the doctor.

It sounds like you really enjoyed working with him.

The whole experience was wonderful — solemn, but wonderful. I have to tell you: On the day we shot this and I walked onto that set, I had to wonder how it was for the crew. For years, they worked with one actress as Pamela Ewing, and then suddenly they’re presented with a scene where both the character and the storyline have closure, and an entirely different person steps into the role. But the crew was lovely.

So what kind of reaction did you receive after that episode aired? Did you hear from fans?

I did. It was odd because I already had a fan base from “Santa Barbara,” and there were people who wrote and were very positive. I was thankful for that. Yet I also think this was really difficult for people who were true fans of Victoria and Pam to accept me in this role, and I think that’s completely understandable.

Dallas, Margaret Michaels, Pam Ewing

Repeat performance

Well, the producers must have liked what they saw because they invited you to return the following season as Pam’s double, Jeanne.

I was completely surprised when that happened. It was an out of the blue phone call. They asked, “Would you want to come back and do this character, Jeanne O’Brien?” And I thought, “Of course.” No one even questions that. It was a wonderful set to work on.

How did playing Jeanne compare to playing Pam?

It’s totally different than coming in and taking over a role that someone else created. Now you get to create all the nuances of Jeanne O’Brien. Each time I got a script, there was another layer of her personality. In my mind, I think she was trying so desperately to climb that ladder of success without really knowing who she was. I think she was very ambitious, and I do not think she was prepared for a guy like Bobby Ewing. It’s sort of like having your knight in shining armor arrive, only to realize the knight belongs to someone else, and there’s nothing you can do about it. [Laughs]

Jeanne was quite a bit different from Pam, wasn’t she?

There was that one scene in her house where she attempts to transform herself into Pam and seduces Bobby. When I got that script and read that scene, it was the first time I thought she had a darker, more manipulative, almost desperate side to herself. Because initially, she was all over the place. She was a smart real estate woman, and then all of a sudden she was the cute, sweet little date, and now I’ve got a scene where she tries to look exactly like his ex-wife. You have to wonder: What type of personality makes that choice?

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Jeanne O'Brien, Margaret Michaels

Seeing double

And when you played Jeanne, you finally got to work with Patrick.

I absolutely loved him. He is just a wonderful human being. He’s kind and nurturing, and as an actor, he’s talented and giving. Every single time I worked with him was just pure joy.

He and Larry Hagman were famous for their practical jokes on the set. Were you ever a victim of their pranks?

Was I a victim? [Laughs] Let me tell you, it wasn’t just Larry and Patrick. It was also Ken Kercheval.

Oh, really? I haven’t heard about him before.

I don’t think Ken orchestrated anything, but he wasn’t adverse to being the quiet participant who didn’t give me a heads up. There were actually a few times where I felt like I was in the Abbott and Costello routine, “Who’s on First?” And trust me: When you’re the new kid on the show, you are not on first.

Ken also directed one of the Jeanne O’Brien episodes.

He did. He directed that darker scene where Jeanne seduces Bobby. And Larry of course directed one [of the other episodes], and as directors, both Ken and Larry were exceptional. They knew exactly what they wanted. Because they played key characters on “Dallas,” their insight into the show worked very well for them behind the lens.

Dallas, Larry Hagman, Margaret Michaels, Patrick Duffy

Who’s on first?

Do you stay in touch with any of the cast members?

I have friends who have run into Patrick and I think, “Why don’t I ever run into Patrick?” [Laughs] But I have to tell you: My husband and I were once boarding a flight from New York, and Larry and his wife were on the same flight with us. So I had an opportunity to fly from New York to L.A. and chat with him. This was years ago, and I’m always grateful now that he’s gone that I had an opportunity to spend a little bit of time with him.

So on the new “Dallas,” Pam is supposed to be dead, but a lot of fans are hoping she’ll come back — and many of them would be very happy to see you in the role.

First, I’m flattered to hear that. I was a fan of the old “Dallas” and I’m a fan of the new “Dallas.” I just love Josh Henderson and Jesse Metcalfe. They are so wonderful. I love Elena and Pamela. I adore Sue Ellen. I like her so much now because she has come into her own. And of course, like all the fans, I was hoping for that J.R./Sue Ellen reunion. Oh, and I have to tell you this, because I love this so much: I think having Cliff Barnes return as the mega-wealthy villain is pure genius.

Isn’t he great on the new show?

He’s fabulous. And Patrick’s character has layers upon layers. Bobby’s really grown into his own. I love how strong he is, and I love how he has a little bit of bad boy in him now. I think that’s a good thing for him. And you talk about Pam, but I have to tell you: I really like Bobby and Ann. I think she’s wonderful.

Oh, how nice!

So as for Pam returning? This is the only way I know how to put this: In life, we miss our family members that we lose. And art imitates life, and fans miss the characters that they lose — yet it doesn’t always mean we get them back. I think Cynthia Cidre knows exactly what she’s doing.

Nicely stated, but what about Jeanne? Would you ever be interested in playing that role again?

Oh, yeah. Sure. She’s a fun gal.

Dallas, Margaret Michaels, Pam Ewing

Never settle

What do you think became of Jeanne? Where do you suppose she is today?

[Laughs] Well, I don’t think Jeanne would have settled for the mundane. Knowing her, I think she probably married an older, wealthy businessman who probably taught her everything she needed to know about the corporate world. And by now, I would think she’s either divorced, maybe widowed. Regardless, I think she’s certainly doing well on her own.

And what about Margaret Michaels? Can you tell us what you’re up to these days?

Oh, sure. I actually changed my focus and started putting my creative energy in writing. I had so many stories and ideas pinned up in my brain for so long, so I decided to put them on paper. So I have a couple of production companies. I have two partners, and we have a feature that’s ready to go. I also wrote a television movie for the holiday season, and I created a series. I’ve already written the pilot, and three episodes are finished. I know all the little twists and turns and where the characters are going. I just wish all the ideas would float out of my head and download themselves onto my USB without my having to type anything. [Laughs]

Are these projects “Dallas” fans can see soon?

I’m talking to people. This is an interesting business. My feeling is this: When you’re shooting it, then you know it’s a done deal. Until then, it’s all conversation and negotiation.

Spoken like a smart businesswoman. Jeanne would be proud!

[Laughs] Well, I just truly love doing this. I enjoy every moment of the process.

Share your comments below and read more interviews from Dallas Decoder.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 151 — ‘When the Bough Breaks’

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, When the Bough Breaks

The goodbye girl

“When the Bough Breaks” marks another turning point in the life of Sue Ellen Ewing. In the episode’s final scene, Peter tells Sue Ellen how sorry he is about her recent miscarriage; he believes he was the unborn child’s father, and he had hoped they could raise it together. When Sue Ellen hears this, she’s horrified. She suddenly realizes how naïve Peter is — and how wrong she was to begin a relationship with him. After declaring their affair over, she begins to walk away, and then she stops, looks back at him and says, “Oh, I know the pain you must be going through right now because I’ve been there. But it passes. It always does. You just stay out of my life.”

The scene brings back memories of the second-season classic “For Love or Money,” when Cliff dumps Sue Ellen because he’s afraid their affair will hurt his political career, although I suspect that’s not the comparison Leonard Katzman had in mind when he wrote “When the Bough Breaks.” My guess is Katzman wanted the audience to see Sue Ellen’s breakup with Peter as another example of how she’s becoming more like J.R. This is one of the underlying themes of “Dallas’s” seventh season, going back to “The Oil Baron’s Ball,” when Sue Ellen treats J.R. like a sexual plaything. Now she’s walking away from a disillusioned young lover, just like J.R. did with Julie, Kristin, Afton and so many others.

Sue Ellen’s emulation of her husband becomes a source of professional success during “Dallas’s” later seasons, but in these seventh-season episodes, it’s fascinating to watch her mimic him in a quest for personal empowerment. Of course, the “old” Sue Ellen is still present too. In “When the Bough Breaks,” her snobbish tendencies are on display when Peter suggests they could have raised the child together; looking around his tiny apartment, she says, “You expect me to leave Southfork, J.R., for you? To raise a child and live here?” It’s also worth pointing out that unlike J.R., who dumps his mistresses when he tires of them, Sue Ellen leaves Peter because she believes it’s what’s best for him. Indeed, her parting words to him reflect both her sense of compassion (“I’ve been there”) and her cynicism (“It passes; it always does”).

As clever as Katzman’s writing is, what impresses me most about this scene is how Linda Gray fills in the blanks in his script. For example, Sue Ellen breaks up with Peter when she realizes how misguided he is, but Katzman never gives her a line to this effect. So how do we know what Sue Ellen is feeling? Because Gray conveys it through her eyes, which widen with the sad realization that she’s led this young man astray. It’s a subtle moment, demonstrating why Gray is such a great actress.

I wish I could say something similar about Gray’s co-star. Christopher Atkins is an appealing performer, and he’s quietly effective in scenes like the one where Peter visits Sue Ellen in the hospital and kisses her while she sleeps. But anytime the script calls for Atkins and Gray to profess their love for each other, I’m reminded how badly miscast he is. It’s not just that Atkins looks too young; he acts too young. In the breakup scene, when he discovers Sue Ellen and J.R. still sleep together on occasion, he breaks into a full-fledged pout. Moments later, Sue Ellen tells him, “Peter, I have very strong feelings for you.” I can’t help but think: Why?

“When the Bough Breaks” includes two more scenes I like. In the first, Cliff persuades Pam to join him in the offshore oil auction by appealing to her sense of family. “The main reason I dislike the Ewings so much is because they’ve always been this big family that stood together … and all we ever had was each other,” he says. This is a revealing moment. I’ve always believed that a lot of Cliff’s hatred is rooted in jealousy. The man who was abandoned by his mother as a child doesn’t long for the Ewings’ power and possessions as much as he longs for the close bond they share. In the episode’s other great scene, J.R. takes Marilee to dinner and tries to plant seeds of doubt in her mind about her partnership with Cliff. Larry Hagman is as sly as ever, but don’t overlook Fern Fitzgerald, who has the tougher task. She must signal to the audience that J.R. has rattled her character without letting J.R. himself know. She does it nicely.

“When the Bough Breaks” includes a few head scratchers too. The doctor who treats Sue Ellen after her miscarriage is quiet a blabbermouth: Not only does she announce Sue Ellen’s miscarriage to everyone in the waiting room, she also suggests there’s nothing keeping J.R. and his wife from trying again to have another child. So much for doctor-patient confidentiality. I also roll my eyes when Bobby once again presses Jenna to tell him if he’s Charlie’s biological father and she once again refuses to discuss the subject. Can someone explain Jenna’s rationale? If Bobby’s father, doesn’t he have a right to know? If he’s not, why does she refuse to put his mind at ease?

More than ever, I want Bobby to dump wishy-washy Jenna and patch things up with Pam. Maybe that’s the point?

Grade: B

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Christopher Atkins, Dallas, Linda Gray, Peter Richards, Sue Ellen Ewing, When the Bough Breaks

Death to smoochy

‘WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS’

Season 7, Episode 20

Airdate: February 17, 1984

Audience: 22 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Nick Havinga

Synopsis: Sue Ellen comes home from the hospital and breaks up with Peter. While J.R. tries to undermine Marilee and Cliff’s partnership, Cliff persuades Pam to join him in the offshore oil auction. In Malibu, Katherine meets Naldo, who tells her the identity of Charlie’s father. Clayton rejects Bobby’s invitation to do business with Ewing Oil. Ray and Donna continue snooping into Edgar’s past.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany, Anne Gee Byrd (Dr. Jeffries), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Glenn Corbett (Paul Morgan), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie Dugan), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Anne Lucas (Cassie), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Daniel Pilon (Renaldo Marchetta), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donegan Smith (Earl Johnson), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 145 — ‘Peter’s Principles’

Christopher Atkins, Dallas, Peter Richards, Peter's Principles

What principles?

Since I began re-watching “Dallas’s” seventh season for the first time in years, I’ve been surprised by how interesting I find Sue Ellen’s affair with college student Peter Richards. I used to dismiss their romance as hopelessly gimmicky — J.R.’s wife chases a younger man! — but now that I’m older and hopefully a little wiser, the relationship makes perfect sense. I can see how Sue Ellen might turn to a man like Peter to regain her confidence after all those years of being mistreated by J.R. Or at least that’s how I felt before “Peter’s Principles.” This is the episode where Sue Ellen and Peter sleep together for the first time, but instead of illuminating the reasons these characters are attracted to each other, the love scene reveals the storyline’s flaws. It turns out there are quite a few.

When “Peter’s Principles” begins, Sue Ellen is worried because the Ewings haven’t heard from Peter in several days. She suspects he is upset because she recently told him their flirtation can’t continue, so she contacts one of his classmates and learns Peter has dropped out of school. When Sue Ellen finally tracks down Peter, he doesn’t want to speak to her, but she doesn’t give up on him. She goes to his apartment the next day and urges him not to abandon his studies. Peter tells Sue Ellen that if he can’t have her, college no longer matters to him. She hesitates for a moment, then says, “If I were with you, if we saw each other, would you go back to the university?” Peter’s response: “Yes, it would all be completely different then.” Before you know it, Sue Ellen is kissing Peter as he lays her down on the bed.

Groan. Until this scene, which is the last one in “Peter’s Principles,” I liked how Arthur Bernard Lewis’s script depicted Sue Ellen as a woman with determination and purpose. She works hard to find Peter and persuade him to go back to school, displaying the kind of gumption we haven’t seen from her since “The Oil Baron’s Ball,” the episode where she treats J.R. like a sexual plaything. By the end of “Peter’s Principles,” though, Sue Ellen has reverted back to her old habit of allowing men to dominate her. When she asks Peter if he’ll go back to school if she starts a relationship with him, what does she expect him to say? Sue Ellen doesn’t just allow Peter to pull her strings; she puts the controls in his hand.

Besides undermining Linda Gray’s character, the scene suggests “Dallas” is chickening out on the entire storyline. For a show dominated by alpha males, Sue Ellen and Peter’s relationship has been refreshingly different. The last time “Dallas” depicted a May/December romance, an aging man (Jock Ewing) became involved with a younger woman (Julie Grey). This time around, the gender roles are reversed: Sue Ellen, who is in her 40s, flirts with Peter, who is in his 20s. But instead of showing her going to bed with him merely to fulfill her own sexual desires, Lewis’s script tries to cast Sue Ellen’s choice as some kind of noble sacrifice. She essentially tells Peter, “OK, I’ll have sex with you if you promise to go back to school and study hard.” Why can’t Sue Ellen have a carefree fling like the men on this show?

I suppose all of this can be viewed as another example of Sue Ellen’s self-delusion. Maybe she can’t bring herself to admit her attraction to Peter, so she fools herself into believing she’s merely providing him with the incentive he needs to get an education. But then what are we to make of the fact that we never see these characters in bed together? In the final shot, as Peter moves Sue Ellen onto the bed, the screen goes black and the closing credits flash, making this one of the few times “Dallas” skips its traditional freeze frame. It’s as if the producers can’t quite bring themselves to showing this relationship being consummated.

Then again: Maybe we’ve seen enough. Leonard Katzman, “Dallas’s” executive producer, once called this storyline the show’s “biggest mistake” because Christopher Atkins looked too young to play Peter. It’s not fair to lay the blame at Atkins’ feet, although the actor was too boyish to be believable as Sue Ellen’s lover. Don’t get me wrong: Atkins is a good actor who does a nice job conveying his character’s awkward transition into adulthood. Peter can be charming one minute and petulant the next, just like a lot of real-life college students. Atkins’ youthfulness also works well in his scenes with Larry Hagman, where Peter is the fair-haired Luke Skywalker to J.R.’s black-hearted Darth Vader. But whenever the script calls for Peter and Sue Ellen to share a romantic moment, I can’t help but wish he looked a little older.

But even if Sue Ellen and Peter’s love scene in “Peter’s Principles” worked better, it still wouldn’t be the most provocative moment in this episode. No, that distinction belongs to the wonderful exchange where Miss Ellie admits to Donna that she’s nervous about marrying Clayton because she hasn’t “been” with a man since Jock died. This conversation, which takes place while Ellie and Donna are exercising in the Southfork fitness room, lets us know Ellie remains a sexual creature. This would be a progressive idea for television to address today, so I can only imagine how extraordinary it must have seemed 30 years ago. Both actors are quite good here: Barbara Bel Geddes conveys Ellie’s quiet anxiety without sacrificing the character’s dignity, while Susan Howard’s gentle responses signal Donna’s respect for the Ewing matriarch. I especially like when Ellie says that she and Clayton “never had any real physical contact … beyond a kiss and a hug,” and Donna responds, “Yes, ma’am. I understand.” This is exactly how I would expect Donna to treat a woman like Ellie.

“Peter’s Principles” also shows Clayton confiding in Ray his own unease about marrying Ellie and moving onto “another man’s ranch and into another man’s house.” This marks the beginning of Clayton and Ray’s friendship, a relationship that makes a lot of sense given the outsider status both men occupy in the family Ewing. I also like the “Peter’s Principles” scene where Bobby and Pam have dinner because it makes them seem like two mature people who have remained friends despite the fact they are ex-spouses. This exchange is also useful because it helps the audience understand how much risk is involved in Cliff’s offshore oil venture, which is one of the major subplots in the coming episodes. As Bobby explains to Pam, it can cost as much as $300,000 to tow a rig to a drilling site, $40,000 a day to rent the rig and $20,000 a day to operate it. These numbers boggle my mind today; imagine how big they must have seemed three decades ago.

There’s also a lot of humor in “Peter’s Principles,” beginning with J.R.’s quips about Clayon’s son (“Dusty or Steve or what the hell ever that rodeo rider calls himself nowadays”) and Ray’s wife (“You sure married a winner”). I also like when Clayton announces he’s taking Ellie to see a revival of “Camelot” — a sly reference to one of Howard Keel’s famous stage roles. Other funny moments are unintentional: The exterior shot of Peter’s apartment is the same one used for Mitch Cooper’s residence during the fourth season; look closely and you’ll even see Mitch’s Mustang parked near the curb. Also, as much as I love Ellie and Donna’s scene in the fitness room, I can’t help but notice that despite all of Howard’s huffing and puffing while doing her character’s leg lifts, there’s no weight on the bar.

Poor Donna. Perhaps she would benefit from some professional training at Pam’s aerobics studio. Come to think of it, whatever became of that place?

Grade: B

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Dallas, Peter's Principles, Philip Capice

Fade to black

‘PETER’S PRINCIPLES’

Season 7, Episode 14

Airdate: January 6, 1984

Audience: 21.3 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Patrick Duffy

Synopsis: Sue Ellen learns Peter has dropped out of school but persuades him to return by sleeping with him. J.R. continues digging for dirt on Clayton and confirms a dark secret about Edgar. Clayton and Ellie harbor private reservations about marrying each other. Marilee expresses interest in joining Cliff’s offshore oil venture and comes between him and Afton. Bobby and Pam have dinner, upsetting Jenna and Mark.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Martin E. Brooks (Edgar Randolph), James L. Brown (Detective Harry McSween), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Al Dunlap  (decorator), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), David Gale (Melvin), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Anne Lucas (Cassie), Lee Montgomery (Jerry Hunter), Louis R. Plante (Robert)Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Julie Ronnie (student), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

“Peter’s Principles” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 143 — ‘Barbecue Four’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Barbecue Four, Dallas, Miss Ellie Ewing

The return

Mama’s back! In “Barbecue Four,” Barbara Bel Geddes returns to “Dallas” after being absent from the previous 11 episodes. In real life, the actress was recovering from heart surgery, so the producers temporarily wrote her out of the show by having Clayton whisk Miss Ellie away so she could distance herself from J.R. and Bobby’s bitter battle for Ewing Oil. I’m glad “Dallas” gave Bel Geddes time off, but I wish the writers had come up with a better excuse for her character’s absence. Ellie is so emotionally fragile, she had to run away? That’s not the mama I know.

Regardless, it’s good to have Bel Geddes back. She is the original “Dallas’s” best actress, bringing warmth and grace to a show that could always use a little more of both. Bel Geddes makes Ellie feel like the kind of person you might know in real life, which can’t be said about a lot of other “Dallas” characters, no matter how much we love them. I didn’t realize how much I missed her until she pops up again in “Barbecue Four.” (On the other hand, Bel Geddes’ time away did offer a bright spot: It allowed Sue Ellen to finally fulfill her dream of becoming the lady of the manor. It’s fun to see her take charge of planning the annual Ewing Barbecue in this episode and the previous one, and I like how the writers use Sue Ellen to fill the void left by Southfork’s original nurturer-in-chief. In “The Quality of Mercy,” for example, we see Sue Ellen give Lucy advice on coping with Mickey’s paralysis. If Bel Geddes had been around, I suspect Ellie would have been the one dispensing wisdom to Lucy.)

I also appreciate how “Barbecue Four” scriptwriter Arthur Bernard Lewis and director Leonard Katzman give Bel Geddes a dramatic entrance. It begins with the Ewings gathered in the Southfork dining room, where J.R. is lobbing one sly insult after another at his relatives. (My favorite: “That’s right, Ray. You sit where Gary used to. You two have so much in common.”) When J.R. raises his glass in tribute to “Ewing traditions,” we hear a woman’s familiar voice off-screen: “May we join you in that toast?” The camera cuts to Bel Geddes and Howard Keel standing in the doorway as Katzman zooms in on Ellie; soon all the Ewings are on their feet, hugging and kissing their beaming mama. It’s another reminder of why Bel Geddes is so essential to “Dallas.” When she’s around, these characters feel like a family.

Of course, the cozy atmosphere doesn’t last long. After the Ewings have welcomed Ellie home, she sits at the table and invites Clayton to join the family for dinner. He silently takes a place across from her, sliding into the seat Jock once occupied. Ellie smiles nonchalantly, but Bobby and Ray appear unnerved and J.R. looks positively stricken. What I like best about this moment is how it plays on the audience’s familiarity with “Dallas’s” customs. No mention of Jock is made, but none is needed. Katzman and Lewis trust the viewer to recognize what a momentous occasion it is to see another man sitting in Jock’s seat. I feel sorry for Clayton — the poor chap doesn’t know what he’s getting into, does he? — but no matter how you feel about Keel’s character, the fact that “Dallas” is able to create a dramatic moment out of someone sitting down is impressive.

“Barbecue Four” also includes a lot of other fun scenes, including the sequence where J.R. drops by Pam’s house to invite her, Cliff and their significant others to the Ewings’ annual barbecue. The only thing that amuses me more than seeing J.R. pretend to be nice to the Barneses is seeing how Cliff and Pam seem to buy his Mr. Nice Guy act. Then again, Larry Hagman almost convinces me that J.R. is being sincere. The barbecue scenes are also a kick. These events always yield a dramatic moment or two, and this one is no exception: Bobby has a tense confrontation with Mark, Sue Ellen sneaks off to the barn to see Peter and Pam runs into Charlie Wade, who doesn’t seem to hold a grudge against Pam for swiping her doll during the second season.

Lewis’s script seems to contain a couple of inside jokes too. In one scene, Peter and Lucy exit a movie theater after seeing a sci-fi flick. He bemoans the plot and declares, “It’ll drive me right back to TV.” Is this a nod to Christopher Atkins’ own film career? (A few weeks before “Barbecue Four” debuted, the actor’s latest film, “A Night in Heaven,” was released. He played an exotic dancer who fell for an older woman.) Later, Afton watches Cliff stuffing himself with food at the barbecue and compares him to a squirrel getting ready for winter. His response: “Baby, this is going to be the best winter ever. It’s going to be Christmas every day.” Is it a coincidence that Cliff refers to the holiday in this episode, which debuted nine days before Christmas 1983?

Finally, some casting trivia. “Barbecue Four” introduces Pat Colbért as Dora Mae, the hostess at the Oil Baron’s Club, while Peyton E. Park once again plays Larry, the Ewings’ caterer, who also appeared in the two previous barbecue-themed episodes. Most notably, Mitch Pileggi makes his “Dallas” debut in “Barbecue Four.” The actor, who now stars on TNT’s “Dallas” as Harris Ryland, had a few small roles on the original series, beginning with a part in this episode as a rowdy cowboy who harasses Jenna while she’s waiting tables. In the scene, Bobby tries to rescue Jenna, but she sends him away and says she can take care of herself as Pileggi flashes his wicked grin at Patrick Duffy. Who knew these two were just getting warmed up?

Grade: B

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Barbecue Four, Clayton Farlow, Dallas, Howard Keel

Changing of the guard

‘BARBECUE FOUR’

Season 7, Episode 12

Airdate: December 16, 1983

Audience: 22 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Miss Ellie returns home and announces her engagement to Clayton. With J.R.’s blessing, Sly feeds Cliff information about a lucrative deal, which Cliff steals. Ray and Donna entertain her friend Edgar Randolph, a federal government official who is overseeing the auction of offshore oil leases. Peter accepts Lucy’s invitation to the Ewing Barbecue, where he sneaks off with Sue Ellen and professes his love for her. Katherine travels to Italy and obtains a copy of Charlie’s birth certificate, which lists Bobby as the father.

Cast: Christopher Albee (Travis Boyd), Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Martin E. Brooks (Edgar Randolph), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), 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), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Anne Lucas (Cassie), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Alberto Morin (Armando Sidoni), Peyton E. Park (Larry), Mitch Pileggi (bar patron), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Peter Renaday (Rigsby), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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

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) — then 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.

The Dallas Decoder Interview: Steve Kanaly

Dallas, J.R.'s Masterpiece, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, TNT

Steve Kanaly

Steve Kanaly will be in Texas this week to film his latest guest spot as Ray Krebbs on TNT’s “Dallas.” I spoke to him recently about what it’s been like to walk in Ray’s boots for the past 35 years — and what the future might hold for everyone’s favorite cowboy.

I’m so excited you’re going to be visiting “Dallas” again. What can you tell us about this appearance?

I’m only in a single episode at this point. I made this bad joke more than a year ago, before Larry [Hagman] passed away, that they’re going to have Ray and Lucy in whenever there’s a wedding or a funeral. And that’s pretty much been the story. This is another wedding. It’ll be a big Southfork extravaganza.

Do you have a lot of lines? Fans like me want to see more of Ray.

No, it’s not a lot of lines, but that’s heartening to hear. I’m torn. Do you say, “No, thanks”? Or do you say, “OK, thank you. I’ll continue to be part of the background”? So I end up listening to all of my friends who tell me, “Take the money! Go be part of it. Something good might come of it.” [Laughs] But it’s still a thrill to say that you’re part of this phenomenon of “Dallas.” And this is the first year they’re going to have to get along without the J.R. character, so I want to wish them luck and help where I can. If being on the show helps, then I’m happy to do it.

Would you want to become a regular on the new show?

My wife says, “Be careful what you wish for.” They’re now filming the entire series in Dallas. I love Dallas, but I also love living in Southern California. I have a whole lifestyle here that I wouldn’t want to lose. And Dallas is nice, but I’d like to just be there on occasion. I would not want to be a regular character, if they’re listening out there. I’d like to appear more often.

And Charlene Tilton will be joining you again?

Yeah. And Afton [Audrey Landers] is in this show too. I saw the script and she has a nice role. I think the producers are going to stay with the younger offsprings’ storylines and the old guys will come in from time to time. They’re not really interested in going back to what we did before. And I have a lot of people on social networks saying, “We’ve got to get Ray back. Ray’s my favorite.” It’s all very flattering. I just wish somebody at the studio would pay attention. [Laughs]

There’s also been talk about bringing back Priscilla Presley as Jenna Wade. Ray could figure into that storyline.

There’s always talk. The last time we saw Ray, he was married to Jenna and raising Bobby’s baby. So that’s what I keep telling the guys on the new show. What about Bobby’s baby? [Laughs]

Bobby’s baby is probably 25 now!

Right. I’ve got a 25-year-old that I’ve been raising over in Europe. [Laughs] If Ray Krebbs ever comes back in a big way, that would be one avenue they could pursue.

Dallas, J.R.'s Masterpiece, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, TNT

Final goodbye

Your most recent appearance on the new show was J.R.’s funeral. What was that experience like?

It was very moving. I had been to two celebrations of Larry’s life — one here at his home in Ojai, where I live, and one in Santa Monica. And they were lovely, beautiful events. But it was not a final closing for me — not like playing that scene. It was really cold that day, and something happened when we filmed that scene that never happened to me at any other time in my 44-year career. I was the first guy to speak, and we had done a couple of rehearsals, and it was real quiet because of the somber nature of the moment. And I delivered my speech and I walk off and the next person comes up, and there are eight of us that do this. Well, it’s an uncut scene that runs for eight or nine minutes. And everybody does this without a flub.

Oh, wow.

Not one. And the director came up afterwards and said, “OK, that’s great. Everybody stay where you are. We’re going to go again. We’re going to move the cameras and come in tighter.” And you know, I’ll be darned if everybody wasn’t letter perfect again. I can’t explain it. I’ve never seen this before on a film set.

Maybe Larry was smiling down on everyone.

It was my final goodbye to Larry, although I really can’t say my final goodbye. Larry was my neighbor. From my kitchen table, I can look up on this hilltop where his house was. So Larry’s on my mind every day.

That’s so nice. Let me ask you one more thing about that scene. After Sue Ellen gives her speech, she’s upset and as she returns to her seat, Ray reaches out and takes her hand. Did the director tell you to do that?

No, that was something I wanted to do. I feel so often that they don’t write these things as well as they might. There’s a lot of family interaction that should go on — like in real families — and that was just something that I wanted to add.

I noticed it when I watched the episode and thought, “Oh, that’s so sweet.” It was a small gesture, but it says so much about who Ray is.

That was it. You don’t know if they’re going to pay any attention to that or not. You want to make the most out of your moment. That’s the thing: Even when I go back and I’m doing kind of a walk-on, I want to make the most out of it.

Dallas, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Back in the day

Let’s talk about this great character of Ray Krebbs. I’ve got to tell you: My dad loves you. You’re the reason he watched “Dallas.” He grew up loving westerns and considered Ray the last of the TV cowboys.

That’s very flattering. In my first meeting for “Dallas,” my agent told me, “Oh, there’s three male roles that you could possibly play: J.R., Bobby or this guy Ray Krebbs.” And then I saw the script. Well, here’s this cowboy that’s got a girlfriend up in the barn. He runs a ranch in Texas and flies a helicopter, and I’m thinking, “Well, hell, this is my only chance to play a western character. And what a cool one.” Because like your father and a lot of other people my age, we grew up on old westerns. It was Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy. And of course John Wayne and Gary Cooper and all the big film stars that played westerns. And then suddenly westerns dried up. So this was my chance to play a western character and pay homage to the blue-collar guys who work hard and try hard and don’t always get the attention.

Was that the secret of Ray’s appeal — he was someone the audience could identify with?

Yeah, very much so. And the writers and the producers always wanted to make Ray very vulnerable. Pride was his big hurdle in life. You know, he tries a lot things and he fails many times, but he kind of always bounces back. He’s always a very honest and straightforward guy. You can always trust Ray to do what he thinks is right.

Did Ray change as the show progressed?

I think there were a lot of changes in the character. The arc was over 11 years. In the beginning, Ray was pretty loose and fancy-free. In the first episode, he was J.R.’s buddy and he was up in the hayloft with this teenage girl. And then there’s the period of Ray and Donna, and then he graduates to being a Ewing. That, by the way, was a huge thing for me.

Tell me about that.

In the third year of the show, I was not happy. They were not giving Ray Krebbs anything to do, and the show was moving further away from ranch life. So I’m thinking, “Gee, I don’t need this. I have a film career I can go back to.” And Larry Hagman said, “Hey, whoa. Don’t run off here. This thing’s about to catch on. We need you.” And so we came up with some story ideas. I had one I liked, which is Ray marries a Mexican girl. They didn’t want to do that then. The other one was, Ray was an illegitimate son of Jock. So thank you, Larry, for convincing me.

Were you two good buddies?

Yeah, the whole cast was very familial. Larry, from the beginning, having had another series experience, saw that it was an ensemble show. He was looking to be at the top of the heap from the very beginning, but he also knew that we all had to work together and act as a family to promote the show and to bring out the chemistry. He was a leader in that way. And we all joined the club. We became a family. I had my life at home with my wife and children and I had my life with my “Dallas” family.

Besides Ray finding out he was Jock’s son, what are your other favorite storylines? Mine is Ray’s relationship with his cousin Mickey Trotter, and how he tries to take him under his wing the way Jock did with Ray.

The Mickey Trotter stuff was, once again, a case of: It’s Ray’s turn. When you have a big cast, it can’t always be your turn. And when it is, you can get excited about it.

Do you remember working with Timothy Patrick Murphy?

Well, sure. He was a great young guy. Always prepared. Easy to get along with. He had a nice edge to him at times. I thought he did a great job as Mickey.

I want to ask you about one of my other favorite moments, which is your performance during Bobby’s deathbed scene. There’s a shot of you just standing there, holding Susan Howard and sobbing. It never fails to move me.

For me, it really was saying goodbye to a friend [Patrick Duffy], who you love. It wasn’t hard to find that emotion. We were all pretty upset that he was not going to be on the show anymore.

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

Ray and Donna

I mentioned Susan Howard. How did you enjoy working with her?

We got along real well. She’s a very sweet girl. She brought a lot of nice things to the show — and she’s a real Texan. Our families got along well. She was a little bossy. [Laughs] And so I would come home and I would complain to my real wife about my stage wife bossing me around. [Laughs]

Well, you know, Donna was a little bossy.

That was her character too. Ray and Donna became one unit. It was “Ray and Donna.” And you know, you sometimes wish it didn’t quite happen like that. It’s better when they’re struggling in some way.

How did you feel when they wrote her out of the show? Because as you say, you were a pair and suddenly half of you were gone.

It’s just one of those things that nobody could do anything about. There were internal issues that were going on, and from my perspective it meant that there was an opening for Ray Krebbs to branch out and do other things — other business things, a new wife, new storylines. You know, after you’ve been on a show for a long time, you’re looking for those kinds of opportunities, so it was a mixed blessing. I know she was not happy leaving. But that’s just the way it turned out.

Let me get back to one thing. We touched on this briefly, but how are you and Ray alike and how are you different?

Well, I try to be honest with everybody in my personal life. I would say that Ray was like that, a straight shooter. I’m definitely a hard worker, which Ray was. I don’t have quite the amount of pride that he did. I don’t struggle with that. Ray had kind of a violent side to him that I don’t have. But you know, Ray was a guy that I liked to be. It was fun to be Ray. I never wanted to be any of the other characters. I never wished that I was Bobby or J.R. I know Kenny Kercheval wanted to play Ray. I think he was happy to be Cliff Barnes in the end.

I think I’ve read where he auditioned for Ray. I can’t even wrap my mind around what that would have been like.

He would have been good. He’s a wonderful actor. But they let me kind of develop this character. Certainly the story had a lot to do with it, but how I wanted to play it was pretty much was what I got to do and I can thank [producer] Leonard Katzman for that. Leonard trusted me. He was the guy who kind of gave me the nod for the part to begin with. If there was a lot of Steve Kanaly in Ray or a lot of Ray in Steve Kanaly, I don’t know. They got kind of mixed up along the way.

You once did a TV Guide interview where you said people on the set would call you Ray.

Not just the set! [Laughs]

You said that that didn’t happen so much to Linda [Gray] or Larry. No one called them Sue Ellen and J.R. in real life.

Larry would call me Ray sometimes. [Laughs] This was when we were neighbors in Ojai! “Hey, Ray. Oh, I mean Steve.” So it was an enduring character, I think. And I did my homework. I went to the rodeo all the time. And I made friends with all these cowboys. I went into the cattle business. This is funny: The first week I’m on the show, this one guy, who was a Teamster captain and a cowboy, came up and said, “Well, Mr. Kanaly, you’re doing a real good job with this Ray Krebbs, but I’ve got to tell you: Around here, see, nobody wears them damn Levi’s. You got to wear Wrangler’s. You’ve got to wear boot-cut Wranglers. That’s what the real cowboys wear.” So I began to understand that there was a real fashion and you had to pay attention. The cowboys and the people who love the westerns are very critical of what they see. And if you don’t have the right jeans on, or if you wear your hat in some funny way, or if it’s an odd hat in their opinion, they’re going to notice.

Switching gears a bit: You recently filmed a guest spot for “DeVanity,” an online serial.

Yeah. The producer, Michael Caruso, sent me some material and it was a six-page scene. And I read it and said, “Hell, this is good!” And Michael told me, “Well, I wrote it for you.” So I was obligated to say yes. And it’s virtually for zero money. But all the years I ever did “Dallas,” I think the longest scene I ever had was with Barbara Bel Geddes, and it was five pages.

So besides acting, what else are you up to these days?

I’m happily married to my original wife for 38 years. We’re best buds. We’re very invested in being grandparents. We have four grandkids now and they’re all up in San Francisco, so we try to go up there once a month for at least a week or so. One of my other main things is staying healthy, so I work out every day. I do that nearby at a school where I’m a volunteer, teaching a program that has to do with sport shooting. It’s very rewarding. And I paint and play the piano. I’ve done that all of my life.

Tell me about your painting.

I do watercolor, transparent watercolors. It’s something that I’ve done for years.

It’s hard to imagine Ray Krebbs picking up a paintbrush, unless he’s whitewashing a fence maybe.

Yeah, right. I guess there’s one area where Ray and Steve are not at all alike.

Share your comments below and read more interviews from Dallas Decoder.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 137 — ‘Check and Mate’

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

Endgame

“Check and Mate” brings J.R. and Bobby’s contest for control of Ewing Oil to a satisfying but somewhat silly conclusion. In the final scene, the brothers learn J.R. boosted the company’s profits by $40 million, making him the clear-cut winner. With his victory clenched, J.R. announces he’s reneging on his earlier promise to split the company with Bobby, even if Bobby comes up short. Suddenly, Bobby receives some last-minute news: He just made a killing on his Canadian drilling deal, making him the contest’s winner. J.R. wants to go back to their original power-sharing deal — and of course Bobby agrees. Would we expect anything less from this show?

Indeed, this is another example of “Dallas’s” rather fanciful approach to big business. J.R. and Bobby receive the contest results while meeting with lawyer Harv Smithfield on the last day of the competition. Legally, shouldn’t this meeting have taken place the following day, when all the profits could have been counted? Also, in the previous episode, Bobby’s Canadian partner Thornton McLeish still hadn’t struck oil; now we learn Bobby and McLeish not only hit big, they managed to sell their shares to some bigger oil companies. Talk about a fast sale!

But even if this scene stretches credulity, it remains one of the best corporate showdowns from a series that practically invented them. Bobby’s 11th-hour victory is surprising and dramatic; I usually don’t like to see J.R. get beat, but when Bobby does it, I let it slide. Besides, Larry Hagman gets to show a lot of range here — unabashed smugness when J.R. thinks he’s won, muted humility when he realizes he’s lost — and that’s always fun to watch. (I also appreciate how the sequence includes one last letter from Jock, whose explanation that the true purpose of the contest was to bring his sons together makes the storyline feel like Jock’s version of J.R.’s master plan from the TNT series. Or maybe it’s the other way around.)

The lasting consequences of J.R. and Bobby’s fight yields mixed feelings too. There’s no doubt the battle has changed Bobby, who compromised his integrity in his quest for power and ended up losing his wife and son along the way. Bobby is now a damaged man, and Patrick Duffy does a nice job imbuing his character with a sad, soulful weariness. I wish we could say something similar about J.R. After the Southfork fire, J.R. had an attack of conscience and agreed to jointly run Ewing Oil with Bobby, regardless of which brother won the competition. He changed his mind pretty quickly and spent the episodes before “Check and Mate” secretly plotting to stab Bobby in the back when the final results were announced. No one wants to see J.R. turn into a good guy, but wouldn’t it have been more interesting to watch him wrestle with breaking his promise to Bobby? It would have revealed a new depth to J.R.’s character and made the yearlong battle for Ewing Oil, one of “Dallas’s” milestone moments, feel even more meaningful.

Even with these slight shortcomings, “Check and Mate” remains the seventh season’s strongest hour yet. With J.R. and Bobby’s war ending, the show shifts its attention to two supporting characters: Ray and Donna, whose marriage is rocked after Ray is arrested for Mickey’s mercy killing. (This makes Mickey one of the last casualties in the war for Ewing Oil, along with Rebecca Wentworth and Walt Driscoll.) Did Ray pull the plug? Or was it Lil, the only other person in the room at the time? Steve Kanaly is a portrait of quiet resolve as Ray goes through this episode refusing to discuss what happened in the moments before Mickey’s death. The silence is frustrating, but it’s also perfectly in keeping with the character of Ray, a laconic cowboy if ever there was one. Whether Ray pulled the plug himself or he’s simply taking the fall to protect Lil, we wouldn’t expect him to talk about it.

Even if Ray doesn’t have much to say, Kanaly still manages to give the audience a sense of Ray’s inner torment. In “Check and Mate’s” moving next-to-last scene, he sits at the patio table outside his home and asks the deeply depressed Lil for permission to bury Mickey at Southfork. Kanaly’s delivery breaks my heart, but as I watched this scene I remembered Ray and Jock’s memorable conversation at that very table in “The Fourth Son,” when the old man told Ray he was his son. It’s a subtle but poignant reminder of how Ray tried to take Mickey under his arm, the way Jock did with Ray, and how Ray’s efforts ultimately fell short. On the other hand, whether Ray killed his cousin himself or he’s just protecting Lil, is he not exhibiting a Jock-like sense of duty and honor?

Like Kanaly, Susan Howard also makes the most of her time in the spotlight. She has two terrific moments in “Check and Mate.” In the first act, Donna speaks to Ray in jail after his arrest; the glass partition separating the couple feels like a stand-in for the bigger barrier, which is Ray’s willingness to open up about the circumstances surrounding Mickey’s death. Donna seems to believe Ray disconnected Mickey’s life-support system, and Howard makes her character’s disappointment palpable. “Nobody has the right to play God,” she says with signature breathiness. Donna’s reaction makes sense, given the character’s strong moralistic bent. It’s another example of how well “Check and Mate” scriptwriter David Paulsen knows these characters.

Howard’s second great moment comes at the beginning of the third act, when Donna rides out to a Southfork pasture to confront Ray about his lack of willingness to defend himself. She reminds her husband that his only duty wasn’t to ease Mickey’s suffering; Ray also has an obligation to his marriage. Once again, Paulsen gives Howard a great line, and she delivers it beautifully: “You’re what I wanted all my life. You may not think your life is worth saving, but I sure as hell do.” With this single line, Paulsen manages to encapsulate Donna’s entire history with Ray, including her affair with him during her marriage to Sam Culver and when she rescued Ray from depression after Jock’s death.

The other great performance in “Check and Mate” comes from Charlene Tilton, who is moving and believable in the scene where Ray comes home from jail and is greeted by the Lucy, who in her grief-stricken rage beats on his chest and cries, “You murdered him!” It’s another example of how Tilton, when given good material, is a terrific actress. I also have to hand it once again to Howard, who allows the scene to end on a graceful note. “For God’s sake,” Donna says as she tries to comfort Lucy. “Don’t you know that it’s tearing him apart too?”

Like all great “Dallas” episodes, the details in “Check and Mate” are also worth paying attention to. Toward the end of the scene where Sue Ellen offers to throw a barbecue for Peter and his fellow camp counselors, Linda Gray touches Christopher Atkins’ shoulder; right at that moment, composer Bruce Broughton brings a few piano keys into the background score to ensure the audience doesn’t miss the significance of the gesture. Moments later, when Peter runs back into the building to retrieve John Ross, watch how Atkins bounds up the stairs. Peter is still a boy himself, isn’t he?

Elsewhere, director Leonard Katzman also gives us a great shot during the scene where Cliff approaches Sly as she leaves Ewing Oil for her lunch break. Debbie Rennard stands with her back to the building, facing Ken Kercheval, whose face is reflected in the façade. It’s a clever way to get both performers’ faces in the frame, but is it not also a symbol of how Cliff is increasingly reflecting the underhanded sensibilities of the enemy who works there?

Grade: A

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Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Debbie Rennard, Ken Kercheval, Sly Lovegren

Two-faced

‘CHECK AND MATE’

Season 7, Episode 6

Airdate: November 4, 1983

Audience: 22.5 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: The contest for Ewing Oil ends with Bobby the winner, but he agrees to share the company with J.R. When Ray is arrested in Mickey’s death, Donna hires Paul Morgan to represent him, while Lil slips into a deep depression. Pam goes to work with Cliff, who uses inside information from Sly to steal a big deal out from under J.R. Bobby tells Holly can never date her.

Cast: Dan Ammerman (Neil), Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Jack Collins (Russell Slater), Glenn Corbett (Paul Morgan), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), John Hostetter (Gerber), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Kenneth Kimmins (Thorton McLeish), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Bill Thurman (Allen Murphy), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 133 — ‘The Long Goodbye’

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

This time, it’s personal

J.R. Ewing is a man with many enemies, but his conflict with Pam is unique because it reveals his otherwise well-concealed insecurities. When Pam arrives at Southfork, J.R. fears she and Bobby will beat him and Sue Ellen in the “race” to produce the Ewings’ first grandson. It doesn’t happen, but Pam manages to solidify her position within the family nonetheless. One by one, she wins the hearts of the people J.R. loves most: first Bobby, then Jock and Miss Ellie and eventually Sue Ellen. Even John Ross enjoys a special bond with Aunt Pam, at least for a while. In J.R.’s eyes, the family’s affection for Pam gives her power. That’s what makes her dangerous.

The final scene in “The Long Goodbye” draws upon all of this subtext, resulting in one of the all-time great “Dallas” moments. It begins when J.R. turns up unexpectedly on Pam’s doorstep and asks to speak to her. She reluctantly lets him in; little does she realize he’s about to get inside her head too. After exchanging acidic “pleasantries,” J.R. lets Pam know that he’s aware of her plans to reconcile with Bobby. He then tells her that if she doesn’t go through with the divorce, he’ll destroy the people she loves most — beginning with Bobby. “I’ll call off this truce that exists between him and me. We’ll end up in a dogfight that will make what went on before look like a love match,” J.R. says.

Everything about this scene works. Leonard Katzman, who wrote and directed “The Long Goodbye,” has Larry Hagman deliver his lines while slowly circling Victoria Principal, making J.R. seem downright predatory. The dialogue itself is some of Katzman’s sharpest, and Hagman seems to relish every syllable. My favorite exchange: Pam mocks J.R.’s interest in her “happiness” and he responds, “Oh, no. I don’t give a damn about you or your happiness, honey. But I do care what’s good for me.” Principal, in the meantime, gives as good as she gets. When the scene begins, she counters Hagman’s winking bravado with steely sarcasm. But as J.R.’s language grows more venomous, Pam’s face falls, her shoulders drop and her eyes shift downward. By the time he slithers out of the room, she looks genuinely rattled — even though J.R. is probably the one who feels more threatened.

This is the kind of “Dallas” scene you can call up on DVD and enjoy any time, although it’s best appreciated when you consider it within the context of what was happening on the show at the time. Three episodes earlier, at the end of “Dallas’s” sixth season, J.R. had an attack of conscience as his battle with Bobby for control of Ewing Oil reached its destructive crescendo. In “The Road Back” and “The Long Goodbye,” the first two hours of the seventh season, J.R. calls a truce with Bobby and tries to patch up his broken marriage to Sue Ellen. It’s always nice to see “Dallas” showcase J.R.’s softer side, but no one wants J.R. go warm and fuzzy. This is why his confrontation with Pam at the end of “The Long Goodbye” is so crucial. It’s the moment J.R. gets his groove back.

It’s worth considering the scene from Pam’s point of view too. More than anything, Katzman designs “The Long Goodbye” to remind us what a terrific couple Bobby and Pam make. The characters share several charming scenes throughout this episode, including one at Southfork where Pam watches as Bobby returns from a horseback ride with little Christopher. Later, Bobby and Pam spend a night out on the town, where they reflect on their many years together. It feels like “Dallas” is paving the way for the star-crossed lovers to finally reunite. So when J.R. turns up on Pam’s doorstep and throws cold water on their reconciliation, it packs an emotional punch.

“The Long Goodbye” also includes a good scene where Afton accuses Cliff of wanting Pam to divorce Bobby because it will free her to marry Mark, thus allowing Cliff, Mark and Pam to form a business partnership. Cliff concedes his ambition often gets the better of him, but adds that he honestly believes Pam is better off without the Ewings. Ken Kercheval’s delivery here is so sincere, I believe every word Cliff says. In another highlight, Clayton tells Bobby that Miss Ellie is counting on him to be Southfork’s caretaker in her absence, presaging the role Patrick Duffy would go on to fill many years later on TNT’s “Dallas.”

“The Long Goodbye” also delivers another fun scene featuring Sue Ellen, who has been on a roll for the past two episodes, striking her husband with one wicked zinger after another. In this episode, J.R. drops by the pool at the Quorum, the hotel where he’s staying with his wife and John Ross during the reconstruction of Southfork. Sue Ellen tells J.R. she plans to go to the ranch to pick out the new wallpaper for their bedroom, along with a new bedroom for herself. “A new bedroom? What’s wrong with the old one?” J.R. asks. “You’re in it,” she responds. It’s a delicious quip, although I must admit: I cringe when Katzman cuts to a reaction shot from little John Ross, who sits there helplessly as his mother explains she will no longer sleep with her husband.

The things this poor kid witnessed during his childhood. No wonder he grew up to become the man he is today.

Grade: A

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Dallas, Linda Gray, Long Goodbye, Sue Ellen Ewing

Zing!

‘THE LONG GOODBYE’

Season 7, Episode 2

Airdate: October 7, 1983

Audience: 19.9 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Pam considers returning to Bobby, upsetting Katherine, Cliff, Mark and J.R., who tells her he’ll destroy everyone she cares about if she reconciles with his brother. Sue Ellen decides she’ll remain married to J.R., but they’ll have separate bedrooms and separate personal lives. A hopeful Mickey proposes to Lucy and she accepts, but his mood dims when he learns his paralysis is permanent.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), John Beck (Mark Graison), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), John Devlin (Clouse), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Joe Maross (Dr. Blakely), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), George Wallace (accountant)

“The Long Goodbye” 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.