The Best & Worst of Dallas: Season 7

“Dallas’s” seventh season clocks in at 30 hours, making it the show’s longest season yet. Does quantity equal quality?


Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval

Winning loser

If Cliff Barnes were played by anyone other than Ken Kercheval, we’d probably hate him. Cliff is foolish, petty, self-centered — yet throughout the seventh season, Kercheval brings a startling amount of vulnerability to the role. Cliff doesn’t want to beat J.R. as much as he wants to be J.R. — and who can blame him for that? The more I watch Kercheval, the more I appreciate his ability to balance Cliff’s bombast with pathos and humanity. What a great actor.


Is there anything more satisfying than seeing J.R. climb back to the top? When the season begins, his marriage to Sue Ellen is on the rocks, Bobby and Pam’s pending divorce is no longer a sure thing and Cliff is stealing big deals out from under him. By the end of the year, J.R. has everyone right where he wants them: Sue Ellen is back in his bedroom, Bobby is poised to marry Jenna and Cliff’s life is ruined. Once again, we’re reminded of a fundamental truth: “Dallas” is at its best when J.R. is at his worst.

Best storyline runners-up: Ray’s trial for euthanizing Mickey, a plot twist that dared to inject some topicality into “Dallas’s” narrative mix, and Miss Ellie’s struggle to tell Clayton about her mastectomy, another sensitively handled subplot that’s still ahead of its time. The season’s most disappointing stories: No, not Sue Ellen and Peter’s affair, which at least had the whole fortysomething-woman-gets-in-touch-with-her-sexuality thing going for it. Instead, the last-and-least prize goes to Bobby and Jenna’s “love story,” as dreary a romance as “Dallas” has ever offered.


Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Bag that nag, honey

“The Road Back” delivers the most exciting episode opening in “Dallas” history. Southfork is ablaze when Bobby roars into the driveway in his convertible, leaps into the pool and races into the house to rescue the Ewings. This episode also gives us the classic scene where Pam admonishes Sue Ellen for sipping champagne and Sue Ellen purrs, “Pam, don’t be a nag.” What “Dallas” fan hasn’t dreamed of saying that to Victoria Principal’s character?


I’ve written before about how much I love the scene where J.R. visits Pam and warns her to not call off her divorce from Bobby. The score, the staging, the performances — this is a highlight of the series, not just the season. Best scene runners-up: Bobby’s shocking shooting, Bobby and Pam’s breakup in Thanksgiving Square, Pam slapping Katherine, J.R. accusing Sue Ellen of treating him like a “stud service,” J.R. confronting Sly about her spying and any time Larry Hagman shared a screen with Kercheval.

Worst scene: Lady Jessica picks up a knife in the Southfork kitchen and wonders whether she should chop Miss Ellie’s vegetables or Mama herself. Who thought turning “Dallas” into a horror movie was a good idea?

Supporting Players

Dallas, John Beck, Mark Graison

Good. Bye.

John Beck shines in “Love Stories,” the episode where Mark Graison learns he’s dying and quietly slips out of Pam’s life. This is the most interesting thing Mark ever did; too bad for the underappreciated Beck it came during the character’s farewell. At the other end of the spectrum: Alexis Smith. Yes, she brought admirable gusto to her role as Lady Jessica, but if I wanted to see someone named Alexis camp it up, “Dallas” isn’t the show I’d watch.

Behind the Scenes

And now let us pause to honor Bradford May, whose brilliant cinematography transformed the seventh season into “Dallas’s” most gorgeous year ever. Under his lighting, Southfork was exquisite, Ewing Oil finally looked like a real executive suite and the Oil Baron’s Club radiated class and sophistication. “The May way” elevated the storytelling this season, making it easier to overlook flaws in other aspects of the production. He departed “Dallas” before the season concluded — one of the great blunders on a show that had more than a few — but his contribution to this franchise will never be forgotten.

The year’s other backstage VIP: Jerrold Immel, whose seventh-season version of the “Dallas” theme music remains my favorite. Every time I watch the titles and hear Immel’s synthesized riff (it occurs right when the split-screen sequence starts), I can’t help but smile.


Christopher Atkins, Dallas, Peter Richards

Little boy, blue

I usually don’t complain about good-looking dudes showing skin, but Peter’s Speedo is the worst costume in “Dallas” history. Every time he pranced around in that thing, we were reminded how Christopher Atkins — an otherwise fine actor — was too boyish to play Peter, who is supposed to be so studly, Sue Ellen can’t resist him. (Sue Ellen swooning over Mickey in his jean cutoffs? That I’d believe.) Best accessory: Katherine’s hats, of course.


Was this J.R.’s quippiest season yet? I can’t think of another year where he delivered so many classic gems. To Pam: “I don’t give a damn about you or your happiness, honey. But I do care about what’s good for me.” To Katherine: “Loving always makes me thirsty.” To Edgar: “Once you give up integrity, the rest is a piece of cake.” My favorite, though, is this one, which he delivered to Vaughn: “J.R. Ewing doesn’t get ulcers. He gives ’em.” That one should have hung on a sign above his office door, don’t you think?

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

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘That’s What Brothers Are For’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Love Stories, Patrick Duffy

Bro code

In “Love Stories,” a seventh-season “Dallas” episode, Bobby (Patrick Duffy) enters the Southfork living room, where J.R. (Larry Hagman) is fixing himself a drink.

BOBBY: Is there some reason you didn’t come into work today? I wanted to talk to you.

J.R.: And a good evening to you too, Bob. Want a drink?


J.R.: That sounds serious. Something happen?

BOBBY: Katherine Wentworth.

J.R.: Yeah, what about her?

BOBBY: What’d you do to her?

J.R.: A gentleman never kisses and tells.

BOBBY: Does the same gentleman make tape recordings in bed?

J.R.: Did she say I did that?

BOBBY: She said that you blackmailed her with them, that you played them for me.

J.R.: I swear I’m beginning to think that whole Barnes-Wentworth clan is paranoid. [Turns to face him] Did I play a tape for you?

BOBBY: No, but she thinks you did. Why do you mess with people’s minds like that?

J.R.: Bob, do you care if I spend a couple of pleasant moments with Katherine?

BOBBY: I don’t give a damn what you do, as long as it doesn’t hurt other people.

J.R.: You mean Katherine? [Takes a sip]

BOBBY: I mean Sue Ellen too. What happens when she finds out?

J.R.: Well, I’m sure not going to tell her. And I don’t think you will either. Bob, it’s time we had a little brother to brother talk.

BOBBY: I think we just had it. [Turns to leave]

J.R.: No, no. I don’t mean about me. I mean about you.

BOBBY: And what makes you think you’re qualified?

J.R.: [Slowly circles Bobby] Well, I’m no saint, but I know one when I see one. Bobby, you go around telling everybody how to live their lives and setting up rules and regulations that only you can live up to.

BOBBY: You know, this is wonderful coming from you.

J.R.: Well, I’ve made some mistakes in my life, but not the kind of mistake you’re about to make.

BOBBY: And what mistake is that?

J.R.: Jenna Wade. She loves you, Bob. And so does her little girl. She’d make you a wonderful wife—if you’d just let her.

BOBBY: It’s none of your business.

J.R.: The hell it’s not. When Jenna jilted you, you made the tragic mistake of your life when you married Pam. But you’re free of her now. At least you ought to be. She’s marrying Mark Graison, and I think that’s best thing in the world for you.

BOBBY: You know, your concern for me is truly touching — if concern is what it is.

J.R.: Well, whatever my reasons, what I’m saying makes sense. You should have married Jenna a long time ago, Bob. You’ve known each other since you were kids. And she was more like us than Pam ever was. And she’s willing to wait for you, but she’s not going to wait forever. Now if I’m wrong, just tell me. [Walks toward Jock’s painting, faces it]

BOBBY: I’d love to. But for once, you may be right. I just wonder why you bother.

J.R.: Because I care. [Turns to face him] That’s what brothers are for. [Raises his glass] To love and marriage.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 159 — ‘Love Stories’

Dallas, John Beck, Love Stories, Mark Graison

Leaving his mark

I don’t remember how I felt about Mark Graison’s death when I saw “Love Stories” as a kid, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t move me now. John Beck’s character was never one of my favorites; his shameless pursuit of Pam while she was still married to Bobby was a turnoff during Mark’s earliest appearances, and then he never grew much once he got together with Pam. Mark was more plot device than person — just another detour on Romeo and Juliet’s road to reunion. Nevertheless, he receives the kind of graceful, dignified exit that eludes so many of “Dallas’s” most iconic figures. (Yes, Pam, I’m looking at you.)

Much of the power in Mark’s farewell lies in how quiet it is. At the end of the second act, Mark confronts his best friend and physician, Jerry Kenderson, about the mystery surrounding Pam’s surprise decision to marry him. “I got some questions that need answering. I think you’ve got the answers,” Mark tells Jerry. Cut to a darkened restaurant, where we find the two men sitting together as Mark absorbs the news that he’s dying. The stillness of this scene is striking: The dialogue is spare, there’s virtually no underscore and Beck and Barry Jenner deliver nicely measured performances. This could easily have been a maudlin moment, but it plays instead like something from real life — a sad conversation between two longtime friends.

We next see Mark toward the end of the episode, when he’s lying in bed with Pam. Now the tables have turned: For the first time since this storyline began, Mark has more information than his fiancée — he knows he has a terminal illness and that she’s marrying him out of obligation, if not pity. He keeps her blissfully in the dark, telling her how much he loves her, how happy she’s made him, how much he regrets the years they didn’t know each other. I would expect a scene like this to be sappy, but Beck’s delivery is so touchingly sincere, I get caught up in the moment. I can’t decide what’s sadder: Mark’s realization that he’s dying, or that his illness is the thing that finally won him the woman he loves. This is why the scene’s punctuation mark — when Mark silently slips out of the sleeping Pam’s room after giving her one last look — is so poignant. He’s not walking away so much as he’s freeing her. Finally, at the end of the episode, Pam is stunned to learn Mark’s plane has exploded, killing him. (Until he returns during the dream season, that is.)

Maybe it’s because I find Mark so heroic in this episode, but Bobby has rarely annoyed me as much as he does in “Love Stories.” His rejection of Katherine after she confesses her affair with J.R. feels unnecessarily brutal. Bobby is correct, of course, when he tells Katherine that her love for him is “sick,” but does he have to be so mean about it? J.R. hits the nail on the head later in the episode when he prefaces his advice for Bobby’s love life by pointing out his brother’s self-righteousness. “You go around telling everybody how to live their lives and setting up rules and regulations that only you can live up to,” J.R. says. This is at least the third time a “Dallas” character has made this point recently; in “Fools Rush In,” Jenna criticizes Bobby’s sanctimoniousness, while Sue Ellen suggests he’s inflexible. Will Bob ever take the hint?

There are some nice touches sprinkled throughout “Love Stories,” including another cute scene where Miss Ellie and Clayton plan their wedding, as well as a nice nod to “Dallas” history when Pam visits Cliff’s offshore oil rig and mentions how proud Digger would be of him. Mostly, though, this episode feels bogged down by storylines that are taking too long to peak. I’m especially bored with the mystery surrounding the death of Clayton’s first wife, which is being doled out to the audience in dribs and drabs. I suppose the show’s writers were hoping to raise doubts about Clayton’s innocence, but did anyone watching these episodes in 1984 believe he was guilty for even a minute?

This storyline yields one inspired moment in “Love Stories,” however. It happens when Jessica confides in J.R. by the Southfork swimming pool, telling him that Clayton inherited his wife’s trust fund after she perished in the fire at the Southern Cross. Jessica then storms off, leaving J.R. alone. Standing on the patio set, Larry Hagman slips his hands in his pockets, looks askance and stage whispers his character’s next line: “So he did torch it. Now the hell am I going to prove it?” It reminds me a little of Kevin Spacey addressing the audience on “House of Cards” — except I’ll take J.R. Ewing’s quick asides over Frank Underwood’s gimmicky fourth-wall assault any day of the week.

Grade: B


Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Love Stories

Aside effect


Season 7, Episode 28

Airdate: May 4, 1984

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

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: J.R. learns more details about Amy Farlow and pretends to help Peter, whom Sue Ellen bails out of jail. Jessica remains angry with Clayton for selling the Southern Cross. Jenna accepts a marriage proposal from Bobby, who rejects Katherine after she confesses her affair with J.R. When Katherine gets drunk and reveals Pam’s connection to Jerry, Mark confronts Jerry, learns he’s dying and slips out of his fiancée’s life. Pam is later shocked to learn Mark has died in a plane crash.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), James L. Brown (Detective Harry McSween), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Brad Harris (Mason), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Barry Jenner (Dr. Jerry Kenderson), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Bert Kramer (Peter’s lawyer), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Denny Miller (Max Flowers), Bill Morey (Leo Wakefield), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Alexis Smith (Lady Jessica Montfort), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Debisue Voorhees (waitress)

“Love Stories” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.