Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 119 — ‘A Ewing is a Ewing’

A Ewing is a Ewing, Dallas, Holly Harwood, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Lois Chiles

It’s complicated

The most unsettling moment in “A Ewing is a Ewing”: Holly Harwood arrives for an after-hours meeting at J.R.’s office, where he chastises her for telling one of Harwood Oil’s top customers that J.R. has become a silent partner in the company. Holly expresses regret — not for letting the cat out of the bag, but for going into business with J.R. in the first place. She turns her back to him. J.R. approaches from behind, reaches around and slowly begins to unbutton her jacket. “No, J.R. I don’t want this,” she says. He pulls the jacket off her shoulders. “You won’t enjoy it,” she continues. His reply: “You better make damn sure I do.”

The scene ends here, but there’s no doubt intercourse occurs. (Later in “A Ewing is a Ewing,” Holly pulls a gun on J.R. and tells him what transpired in his office will never happen again.) The question is: Is this rape? I can’t decide. On the one hand, Holly tells J.R. “no,” but he has sex with her anyway. How can that be anything but assault? On the other hand, I wonder why Holly makes no attempt to run away or to fight J.R. when he begins disrobing her. This woman is no shrinking violet, as the gun scene later in the episode demonstrates.

Given the ambiguity, perhaps a better question is: What did the people who made “Dallas” want the audience to think when this scene was broadcast 30 years ago? It seems shocking to think that a network television show would allow its lead character to rape a woman (this was CBS in the 1980s, not AMC today), so I wonder if the producers and writers merely saw this as another example of J.R. running roughshod over one of his enemies? Could it be the people behind the scenes didn’t grasp that this might be construed as an act of sexual violence? To be fair, society has a greater understanding of rape today than it did three decades ago, but it’s not like nothing was known about these kinds of crimes back then. Perhaps these two facts are telling: None of the producers listed in the “Dallas” credits during the 1982-83 season are women, and of the 28 episodes produced that year, all but one were written by men. (Linda Elstad wrote “Requiem,” which aired three weeks after “A Ewing is a Ewing.”).

Regardless of what this scene is supposed to depict, I dislike it. I’m usually willing to forgive J.R. his sins, even when my conscience tries to tug me in the other direction. I’m an unapologetic J.R. apologist. J.R. is cheating in a business deal? I say: He’s just trying to make his daddy proud, and who can’t sympathize with that? J.R. is cheating on Sue Ellen? In my mind, he’s merely revealing his foibles. But even I can’t justify my hero’s behavior in this scene. Make no mistake: This is not one of J.R.’s sly seductions. I hate how he how he stands in the doorway of his office and beckons Holly into the room by saying, “Come on, hon. Come on.” He treats her like a child or worse, a pet.

The scene invites comparisons to another disturbing “Dallas” sequence — this one from the 10th episode, “Black Market Baby” — when J.R. angrily pins Sue Ellen to their bed and forces himself on her, despite her repeatedly saying, “I don’t want you.” I don’t like that scene any more than the one with Holly, but keep in mind: It was filmed in 1978, before Larry Hagman had perfected the smiling warrior routine that made him so endearing to fans like me. Other soap opera icons have similar skeletons in their closet — Luke raped Laura before they became a couple on “General Hospital,” while Blake forced himself on Krystle during an early episode of “Dynasty” — but once Luke and Blake were redeemed, their shows were loathe to remind audiences of the characters’ past sins. Why would “Dallas” want to risk the affection that fans had for J.R., unless the show was feeling long in the tooth and trying to recapture some of its earlier edge?

Of course, no matter how distressing I find J.R. and Holly’s scene, I still appreciate how good Hagman and Lois Chiles are in it. Hagman, who also directed “A Ewing is a Ewing,” wisely avoids any hint of mischief, choosing instead to play J.R. as purely menacing. Chiles, in the meantime, makes us feel Holly’s sense of trepidation when she arrives for their meeting, as well as the disgust that grips her when J.R. begins unbuttoning her jacket. Hagman and Chiles are also terrific in the scene where Holly pulls the gun on J.R. I like how he snickers when she produces the weapon, only to breathe a private sigh of relief the moment he exits the room. Frankly, it’s cathartic to see J.R. scared.

I think it’s also worth considering how J.R. treats Sue Ellen in “A Ewing is a Ewing.” At the beginning of the second act, he “confides” in Sue Ellen that he needs someone to refine his crude and suggests she could ask Clayton Farlow to do it on his behalf. Sue Ellen resists this idea, so J.R. exploits her Achilles heel: He suggests that without Clayton’s help, he might lose the contest for Ewing Oil, thus robbing John Ross of his birthright. “It’s funny, isn’t it?” J.R. says. “The one thing I need to beat Bobby, to secure our future — the future of our little boy — is in the hands of a man that despises me.”

This is the second time in recent episodes that J.R. has used Sue Ellen as a pawn in the battle for Ewing Oil: In “Fringe Benefits,” he asks her to host a dinner party for Gil Thurman, even though he knows the lecherous Thurman will make a pass at her. That scheme ends disastrously, and Sue Ellen’s appeal to Clayton in “A Ewing is a Ewing” doesn’t turn out much better. Clayton feels she’s taking advantage of their friendship by asking him to help J.R. and storms away. It makes me wonder: Was this J.R.’s goal all along, to drive a wedge between his wife and Clayton?

Like J.R., Bobby shows he’s also willing to use people to get what he wants in “A Ewing is a Ewing.” (No doubt Bobby’s emulation of his brother inspired this episode’s title.) When Bobby discovers J.R. is in cahoots with energy commissioner George Hicks, Bobby hires Wendy, one of Carl Daggett’s prostitutes, to begin dating Hicks so she can dig up dirt on him. (The seeds for this subplot were planted in “Where There’s a Will,” which introduced the terrific character actor Charles Napier as Daggett, an old friend of Bobby’s.) In “A Ewing is a Ewing’s” memorable final scene, Pam arrives for dinner with Bobby at an out-of-the-way restaurant, but she’s unaware the only reason he asked her out for the evening is so he can spy on Wendy and Hicks, who are drinking on the other side of the room. Bobby isn’t just using Wendy; he’s using his wife too.

I suppose I should be disappointed in Bobby, but I’m not. It’s rather satisfying to see him shed his good-guy veneer, at least for a little while. Or maybe it’s just that after everything else that goes down in this episode, seeing Bobby dabble in prostitution and blackmail doesn’t seem so bad.

Grade: B

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A Ewing is a Ewing, Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy

Yep, he’s a Ewing

‘A EWING IS A EWING’

Season 6, Episode 16

Airdate: January 28, 1983

Audience: 22.3 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Frank Furino

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: After J.R. pressures Holly into having sex with him, she pulls a gun on him and declares their relationship is now strictly business. Bobby discovers J.R. is in cahoots with George Hicks, a member of the Texas Energy Commission, and hires a prostitute to set up Hicks. Clayton reacts angrily when Sue Ellen asks him to refine J.R.’s crude and leaves for Galveston, where he spends time with the vacationing Miss Ellie. The cartel buys out Bobby’s share of the Wellington property. Cliff urges his party to recruit J.R. as a candidate for office. Mark continues to pursue Pam.

Cast: John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Ion Berger (detective), Robert Burleigh (Harry), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), April Clough (Wendy), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), John Dennis (Ned), 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), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Paul Mantee (General Cochran), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Charles Napier (Carl Daggett), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Arlen Dean Snyder (George Hicks), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 82 – ‘The Sweet Smell of Revenge’

Saved, for now

Saved, for now

I’ve always considered Pam’s mental breakdown in “The Sweet Smell of Revenge” to be out of character for her. The woman who tries to jump off a high-rise rooftop in this episode isn’t the strong, spirited heroine I fell for when “Dallas” began. On the other hand, the show deserves credit for taking a creative risk with this storyline – and Victoria Principal deserves praise for delivering a gutsy performance.

Mental illness wasn’t depicted a lot on television during this era – and when the subject was addressed, it was often played for laughs (see the patients on “The Bob Newhart Show”). “Dallas” breaks a little ground with Pam’s storyline, even if some of the language in Linda Elstad’s “Sweet Smell of Revenge” script – psychiatrist Dr. Conrad suggests depressed people are consumed with “self-hatred” – doesn’t quite jive with how we think of the disorder today.

For the most part, though, this episode feels progressive, especially when it comes to the reaction of Pam’s family members to her diagnosis. None of them judge or mock her (not even J.R.!), nor do they pity her; they just want her to get better. Above all, I appreciate how “The Sweet Smell of Revenge” stops trying to link Pam’s depression to her fertility problems, even if the show later reverses course and once again presents motherhood as the cure-all for Pam’s crisis.

Regardless, the best thing about “The Sweet Smell of Revenge” is Principal, who does some of her finest work on “Dallas” in this episode – particularly in the scene where Dr. Conrad meets Pam after her suicide attempt. Principal goes through an emotional gamut here – from numbness to anger to despair – yet she never goes overboard. It’s a really good performance.

Watching this scene, I thought about how Pam was one of television’s most popular heroines when this episode aired in 1981. I don’t know if Principal had qualms about the writers sending her character into such dark territory; maybe she welcomed the challenge. Whatever the case, the actress gives it her all. It’s hard not to admire that, no matter how I feel about the storyline itself.

Grade: B

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Mothers

Mothers

‘THE SWEET SMELL OF REVENGE’

Season 5, Episode 5

Airdate: November 6, 1981

Audience: 22.3 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Linda Elstad

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: Bobby has Pam committed to a sanitarium after she tries to jump off a building. Later, he receives a call from a man who wants $2,000 for information about Kristin and her infant son, Christopher. J.R. schemes to cut off the oil supply to the Farlow refineries. Ray and Punk consider a new real estate deal. Dr. Waring offers Mitch an internship.

Cast: Barbara Babcock (Liz Craig), Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Deborah Benson (secretary), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), J.R. Clark (Earl Holiday), Patrick Duffy (Senator Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Laurence Haddon (Franklin Horner), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Art Hindle (caller), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), David Tress (Walter Sher), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson), Gretchen Wyler (Dr. Dagmara Conrad)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 71 – ‘The New Mrs. Ewing’

Hitched

Hitched

“The New Mrs. Ewing” is probably supposed to refer to Donna, who marries Ray in this episode’s fourth act, but it could easily apply to any of “Dallas’s” women. There’s something new about all of them in this installment.

Consider Sue Ellen, who is depressed at the top of the hour because Dusty has sent her away. She visits Dr. Elby, who declares her willingness to let Dusty go is a sign of personal growth. “By putting Dusty’s desires before your own, you’ve made a really mature decision,” Elby says.

With her spirits lifted, Sue Ellen turns again to Clint, only to discover he now has cold feet about having an affair with her. This time, Sue Ellen doesn’t take “no” for an answer. She aggressively seduces Clint, and while I suppose we should admire her for taking charge of her own sexuality, isn’t this just another example of Sue Ellen only being able to find fulfillment in the arms of a man?

Leslie also takes on a new role in “The New Mrs. Ewing” when she dares to offer an opinion during J.R.’s meeting with Jordan and Marilee, who want him to join the cartel’s new strip-mining venture. Leslie tells the group the unsavory project could ruin the image she has cultivated Ewing Oil – a comment that angers Jordan and Marilee and embarrasses J.R., who chastises Leslie for interfering with his business.

But the reprimand J.R. gives Leslie is nothing compared to the chewing-out he receives when Jock gets wind of her antics. “My own son, letting some little no-account alley cat swing you around by your big toe,” Jock says. The line is undeniably corny, but I suspect it’s only because scriptwriter Linda Elstad wants us to see how ridiculous Jock’s views are.

The other “Dallas” women also move into new roles in this episode, including Lucy, who gets a job as a spokesmodel (“Miss Young Dallas”) for Alex’s latest magazine, and Pam, who becomes a political wife when Bobby wins his state senate race. Meanwhile, Miss Ellie adopts a new, angrier persona: She gets into an argument with Jock and J.R., telling them, “You both sicken me.”

Wow, that’s harsh! As far as this new Mrs. Ewing is concerned, I think I’d like the old one back.

Grade: B

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Step by step

Step by step

‘THE NEW MRS. EWING’

Season 4, Episode 17

Airdate: February 27, 1981

Audience: 23.5 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Linda Elstad

Director: Patrick Duffy

Synopsis: Bobby is elected state senator, hires Cliff as an aide and tells Alex to stay away from Pam. Leslie costs J.R. a deal, angering him. Sue Ellen sleeps with Clint. Lucy becomes Miss Young Dallas. Ray and Donna are married. Miss Ellie learns Jock is behind the Takapa development.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Jeff Cooper (Dr. Simon Elby), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Senator Bobby Ewing), Joel Fabiani (Alex Ward), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Susan Flannery (Leslie Stewart), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Sherrill Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Monte Markham (Clint Ogden), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Robert Sampson (Justin Carlisle), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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