Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 98 – ‘The Prodigal’

Welcome back

Welcome back

“The Prodigal” marks the triumphant return of Pam Ewing. What’s that you say? You didn’t realize she had gone away? Well, consider this: The Pam who emerges during “Dallas’s” third season – the one who cries a lot and obsesses over having children – doesn’t bear much resemblance to the strong-willed, independent-minded heroine we meet when the show begins. That’s the Pam we see again in “The Prodigal.” It’s nice to have her back.

Pam’s “return” comes toward the end of the episode, when a frightened Lucy tells her that Roger has become obsessed with her. (Lucy leaves out the detail about having sex with Roger after discovering the shrine he’s built to her.) Pam springs into action and asks for the location of Roger’s studio. “Don’t you think you should wait for Bobby?” Lucy asks. Pam ignores the question. “Lucy, what’s the address?”

The next time we see Pam, she’s entering Roger’s studio, where she introduces herself as Lucy’s aunt and explains she’s there to deliver “a warning.” Roger smirks. “A warning? You’re too pretty to give warnings,” he says. Pam tells him to “cut out the phony charm” and orders him to stay away from Lucy. He responds by asking if she plans to “sic the Ewing family” on him if he fails to obey. “Maybe, but I don’t think I’ll have to,” Pam says. “I can take care of people like you myself.”

See what I mean? This is the Pam I fell in love with during early “Dallas” episodes like “Lessons,” when she rescues Lucy from her high school blackmailer, and “Black Market Baby,” when she stands up to Bobby’s chauvinism. Victoria Principal always delivers great performances – even when Pam is weepy and preoccupied with children – but the actress is at her best during moments like these. In this scene, Pam is calm and direct, which makes her seem genuinely intimidating. Principal makes me believe Pam is a woman you don’t want to mess with.

Pam and Roger’s encounter is one of several great confrontations in “The Prodigal.” I also love when Katherine and Cliff get in a screaming match over his management of her father’s company (Katherine: “You disgusting little man!” Cliff: “I might be a disgusting little man, but I am president of Wentworth Tool and Die now!”), as well as Afton’s visit to Sue Ellen’s townhouse, where they exchange deliciously bitchy barbs (Afton: “We both do seem to have the same taste in men.” Sue Ellen: “The fact that you were sleeping with my ex-husband doesn’t mean we have the same taste in anything.”).

I also like the scene where Clayton visits Afton in her dressing room to learn more about Cliff, his rival for Sue Ellen’s affections. Howard Keel and Audrey Landers are two of my favorite “Dallas” performers, and it’s nice to see them share screen time. But I also can’t help but think: Since these two have such gorgeous singing voices, wouldn’t it have been nice if this scene had been set to music?

Grade: A

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Just duet

Just duet

‘THE PRODIGAL’

Season 5, Episode 21

Airdate: March 5, 1982

Audience: 28.4 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: J.R. uncovers evidence Christopher is his son. Bobby threatens Farraday when he returns to Dallas and demands hush money. Pam warns Roger to stay away from Lucy. While researching her new book, Donna learns Jock and Sam once staged a land grab that resulted in another man’s suicide. Afton tells Sue Ellen that Clayton is in love with her. Katherine clashes with Cliff and cozies up to J.R.

Cast: Lewis Arquette (Dr. Kensington) Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Peter Brandon (Lowell Greer), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Bill Erwin (Abel Greeley), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Phyllis Flax (Mrs. Chambers), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Art Hindle (Jeff Farraday), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Gary Pagett (Murphy), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dennis Redfield (Roger Larson), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Ray Wise (Blair Sullivan)

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

The Best & Worst of Dallas: Season 1

“Dallas’s” first season is comprised of just five episodes, but there’s no shortage of things to cheer and jeer.

Performances

Dallas, Digger's Daughter, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Own it, honey

Sorry Mr. Hagman, but Victoria Principal owns Season 1. The actress makes Pam confident and charming, with a laugh that would make Julia Roberts envious. Pam is also unapologetically sexual, making her one of television’s breakthrough women characters. If you’ve forgotten how intriguing Pam is when “Dallas” begins – and how terrific Principal is in the role – go watch any of the first five episodes. She’s the best thing about each one.

Episodes

I tend to like my “Dallas” dark, which might be why “Digger’s Daughter” is my favorite first-season entry. Some of this has to do with the writing, but a lot of it has to with the weather: This episode was filmed in the real-life Dallas in early 1978, when the city was in the midst of its coldest-ever winter, and all those stark landscapes and lifeless skies make it one of the show’s moodiest, broodiest hours. It’s also remarkable how many “Dallas” hallmarks are present from the very beginning: the Southfork cocktail hour, J.R. and Bobby’s Cain-and-Abel shtick, J.R.’s daddy issues, everyone’s obsession with the firstborn grandson.

Some fans consider “Lessons” the season’s lowlight. I don’t. Yes, the episode’s main plot – Lucy is skipping school! – makes “Lessons” feel more like an “ABC Afterschool Special” than “Dallas,” but don’t overlook the many wonderful character-building moments here, including Miss Ellie and Pam’s coffee talk and the precedent-setting office scene between J.R. and Bobby. As an added bonus, “Lessons” concludes with that ’70stastic disco sequence, which only gets more fabulous with age.

Scenes

Hands down, the season’s best scene showcases two characters you’ve probably forgotten: Tilly and Sam, the gossipy caterers who appear in “Barbecue” and are never seen or mentioned again. Irma P. Hall and Haskel Craver are a hoot; imagine the cheeky, “Downton Abbey” vibe they would have lent the show if they had become regulars.

No scene qualifies as the first season’s “worst,” although hindsight being what it is, I could do without all those shots of Lucy and Ray cavorting in the hayloft.

Supporting Players

Dallas, Julie Grey, Tina Louise

Grey matters

Oh, how I love Tina Louise in “Spy in the House.” Of all of J.R.’s mistresses, Julie Grey will always be my favorite because Louise makes the character feel so heartbreakingly real. I can’t help but root for Julie, even when she doesn’t root for herself.

My least favorite guest star: Cooper Huckabee, who cackles his way through his role as Payton Allen, Brian Dennehy’s “Winds of Vengeance” sidekick.

Locales

I know this puts me in the minority among “Dallas” diehards, but I like the estate used as Southfork during the first season. The compound-style setting – one big house for Jock and Miss Ellie, surrounded by a series of smaller homes for each son and his wife – feels more credible as a wealthy family’s homestead.

Worst set: Sky Blue, the Braddock disco where the Ewings shake their booties in “Lessons,” is the least convincing nightclub I’ve ever seen. Was this place a Sizzler in real life?

Costumes

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Seeing red

Bobby’s leather jacket is iconic and also metaphorical: He’s wearing it at the beginning of “Digger’s Daughter” when he and Pam are nervously headed to Southfork to announce their nuptials. We wonder: Are the Ewings are going to tan Bobby’s actual hide when they discover he has wed a Barnes?

Worst wardrobe choice: J.R.’s garish red belt buckle. Of course, as gaudy as it is, at least it’s not covered in gold and stamped with the character’s initials like the one he sports on the new TNT series.

Behind the Scenes

Every time I watch these early episodes, I can’t help but wonder what direction “Dallas” might have taken if creator David Jacobs had retained control of the series after the first season. Jacobs is a television genius; if he had stuck around, I have no doubt this great show would have turned out even greater.

What do you love and loathe about “Dallas’s” first season? Share your comments below and read more “Best & Worst” reviews.

The Art of Dallas: ‘Lessons’

Hal (Larry Tanner), a Southfork ranch hand, and Ray (Steve Kanaly) are seen in this 1978 publicity shot from “Lessons,” a first-season “Dallas” episode.

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘Of Course We’re Not Enemies’

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

His alone

In “Lessons,” a first-season “Dallas” episode, J.R. (Larry Hagman) sits on his office sofa and chats with Bobby (Patrick Duffy).

J.R.: I want to tell you how you filled your daddy’s heart with joy when you decided to settle down and come into the business with me.

BOBBY: Well, that’s just it. I’m in the business. I think I have a right to know everything there is to know.

J.R.: Do you? Well, it’s not as simple as that. [Gets up and moves to his desk]

BOBBY: I don’t see why, J.R. We’re brothers – we’re not enemies. [Sits on the desk’s edge]

J.R.: No, of course we’re not enemies. But while you were out there sowing your wild oats, I was learning the business. While you were out there playing football and winning all those honors and everything – I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that – but I was here, busting my butt under our father. And let me tell you, he’s not an easy man to work for.

BOBBY: I think I can appreciate that.

J.R.: Can you? [Sits and leans back in his chair] And in the last few years, you’ve been out there spreading the b’s around, wining and dining friends of Ewing Oil, and hanging out with fancy women and, in general, being charming. I’ve been making the company work – and I’ve been making it grow.

BOBBY: Well, that’s true enough. Ever since I can remember, all you ever thought about was running Ewing Oil. Seems to me you’re doing the thing you love best.

J.R.: I am. Yeah, I truly am. [Chuckles] But what I’m trying to say is this: I’ve had to make decisions and I’ve had to make deals that the man who runs the company has to make. And that’s my business – and mine alone. [Leans forward] And as long as I’m running this company, Bobby, that’s the way it’s going to stay. Does that answer your question?

BOBBY: Oh yeah. Answered a few of ’em I didn’t even ask. [Leaves as J.R. chuckles]

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 2 – ‘Lessons’

Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Lessons, Lucy Ewing, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Driving Miss Lucy

For a teenager on television in the 1970s, Lucy manages to find herself in an awful lot of sexual situations. “Dallas” is surprisingly cavalier about this.

In “Lessons,” Pam is the only Ewing who knows Lucy is sexually active, but when she takes it upon herself to straighten out her rebellious niece, Pam’s priority is addressing Lucy’s truancy, not interfering in her sex life. We never see Pam ask Lucy why she is having sex or whether she is protecting herself against the risk of pregnancy and disease.

“Lessons” is also pretty indifferent about Lucy and Ray’s age gap. She’s a high school student and he’s a silver-haired cowboy, but the only acknowledgment their relationship is immoral – if not illegal – comes when Ray tells Pam the Ewings would “kill” him if they discovered he is Lucy’s lover.

In retrospect, all this is pretty shocking.

“Dallas” debuted in an era when television shows routinely dropped moral messages into scripts involving sensitive subjects. Two months before “Lessons” was broadcast, the drama “James at 15” aired an episode in which its lead character, a 15-year-old boy, lost his virginity to a Swedish exchange student. Network censors insisted the boy and girl exhibit remorse after having sex, prompting the show’s head writer to quit in protest.

With “Lessons,” “Dallas” bucks the trend toward “responsible” television. The show renders no judgment on Lucy’s sexuality, trusting viewers to make their own decisions about her choices.

Not dwelling on the script’s provocative aspects allows the producers to concentrate on fleshing out their characters. For example, “Lessons” includes a conversation between J.R. and Bobby that establishes J.R.’s envy over his youngest brother, as well as a nice scene where Miss Ellie and Pam bond over coffee in the Southfork dining room.

But “Lessons’” most enlightening moment is the climactic sequence in the Braddock disco, where Bobby and Pam dance to an electronic version of Jerrold Immel’s “Dallas” theme music.

This is where we learn the biggest lesson of all: Not only is Victoria Principal a terrific actress when “Dallas” begins – she can dance, too!

Grade: B

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Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Lessons, Lucy Ewing

No class

‘LESSONS’

Season 1, Episode 2

Airdate: April 9, 1978

Audience: 11.1 million homes, ranking 50th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Virginia Aldridge

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: Pam learns Lucy is skipping class to be with Ray and makes her attend school. Lucy retaliates by making it look like her math teacher attacked her, but a classmate knows Lucy faked the attack and tries to blackmail her into sleeping with him. Bobby tells Ray to stay away from Lucy and persuades his niece to give Pam a chance.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Donna Bullock (Connie), Jeffrey Byron (Roger Hurley), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Tina Louise (Julie Grey), Jo McDonnell (Maureen), Ryand Merkey (Mr. Daley), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Larry Tanner (Hal), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Paul Tulley (Mr. Miller)

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