Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 127 — ‘Cuba Libre’

Cuba Libre, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Black box

J.R. hopscotches across the Caribbean in “Cuba Libre,” making this one of the first “Dallas” episodes that require location subtitles. Our hero flies first to Puerto Rico, where he persuades Garcia, the greedy middleman in his Cuban oil deal, to slash his “fee” by 90 percent. Next, J.R. visits Havana to claim the $40 million owed to him by the mysterious moneyman Perez. This trip doesn’t go as smoothly. As soon as J.R. arrives at the airport, Cuban soldiers seize him with no explanation. J.R. protests his treatment loudly, and in the memorable final scene, as the soldiers toss him into a jail cell and slam the door, we hear him shout, “Hey! Hey! My name is J.R. Ewing!”

None of J.R.’s scenes are actually filmed in foreign locales, but the producers do an adequate job faking it. (This is also true of the scenes involving Pam, who spends this hour in the French Riviera, where Mark Graison shamelessly ignores his promise to leave her alone while she’s on vacation.) Stock footage is used for the establishing shots, with most of the scenes filmed on soundstages. One shot is nifty. Before the Cubans jail J.R., they interrogate him in a room that is pitch black, except for the ceiling light that shines on him. Filmmakers have been using this trick in interrogation scenes for years, but when it’s a scowl-faced Larry Hagman surrounded by darkness, the effect is especially sinister. (Almost three decades later, Marc Roskin would discover this for himself when he shoots a wizened Hagman in a pitch-black room in the TNT episode “The Last Hurrah.”)

The international intrigue in “Cuba Libre” is nicely balanced with several scenes that showcase the warmth within the family Ewing. Donna encourages Miss Ellie to admit that she might be developing feelings for Clayton, while Ray gently assures Mickey that his visiting mother, the homespun Lil Trotter, will have no trouble fitting in with the wealthy Ewings. I also like the scene where Sue Ellen visits Ewing Oil to quiz Bobby about J.R.’s relationship with Holly Harwood. The exchange, which draws on the easy rapport between Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy, ends with Bobby admiring Sue Ellen’s loyalty to her husband. “It’s not very often that I envy J.R. Maybe today I do, just a little,” he says before giving her a sweet peck on the cheek.

Duffy and Gray also figure into this episode’s sharpest scenes. In the first, Bobby visits the Cattleman’s Club and runs into Cliff, who offers to buy his frozen Canadian property. “Barnes, hell will freeze a lot colder than that field before I sell anything to you,” Bobby says. Cliff’s below-the-belt response: “So will your marriage.” Meanwhile, Sue Ellen visits Holly and tells her she doesn’t believe Holly’s claim that she’s having an affair with J.R. “You are a very sick little girl,” Sue Ellen seethes. I probably should feel sorry for Sue Ellen in this scene, since her faith in her husband is obviously misplaced. Yet somehow, this feels like a moment of triumph for Sue Ellen. Maybe it’s because no one delivers bitchy dialogue better than Gray.

The true champ in “Cuba Libre,” though, is Katherine Wentworth. She arranges for Bobby to use the Tundra Torque, an experiment drill bit developed by Wentworth Tool and Die, to penetrate his frozen Canadian field. Cliff finds out and refuses to give his blessing, but no matter. Bobby still seems mighty impressed by Katherine’s efforts to help him win the contest for Ewing Oil. Indeed, twice in this episode, Katherine brings high-ranking executives from the Wentworth companies to Bobby’s office to help him solve his Canadian drilling problem. Neither meeting lasts more than two minutes, making me wonder why these conversations couldn’t have been conducted over the phone.

Maybe these men know something the “Dallas” characters have yet to figure out: When Katherine Wentworth asks you to do something, you don’t turn her down.

Grade: B


Cuba Libre, Dallas, Katherine Wentworth, Morgan Brittany

Never say never


Season 6, Episode 24

Airdate: March 25, 1983

Audience: 20.9 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Robert C. Thompson

Synopsis: J.R. pays off Garcia and travels to Cuba, where he’s thrown in jail. Katherine tells Bobby he can use the Tundra Torque, a cold-weather drill bit being developed by Wentworth Tool and Die, but Cliff refuses to give his blessing. After Bobby tells Sue Ellen that Holly has a vendetta against J.R., Sue Ellen concludes Holly is lying about her affair with J.R. Mark charms Pam during their trip to France. Lil visits and questions Mickey’s relationship with Lucy.

Cast: John Anderson (Richard McIntyre), Rita Rogers Aragon (Cuban guide), Terrence Beasor (businessman), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Henry Darrow (Garcia), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Erwin Fuller (businessman), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Alice Hirson (Mavis Anderson), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Britt Leach (Sperry), Santos Morales (Cuban leader), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Robert Pinkerton (Elliot), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Hansford Rowe (Andrew Forrest), Susan Saldivar (Maria), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Thomas Thomas (businessman), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 4 – ‘The Last Hurrah’

Bobby Ewing, Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Jesse Metcalfe, Last Hurrah, Patrick Duffy, TNT

Fence and sensibility

I like “The Last Hurrah,” but I can’t help but feel a little disappointed by it. This episode brings together more characters from the original “Dallas” than any TNT entry so far – in addition to J.R., Bobby and Sue Ellen, we get to see Lucy, Ray and Cliff – yet none of these old favorites have much interaction with each other.

This feels like a missed opportunity when you consider the episode climaxes at the “final” Ewing barbecue, which would seem like an ideal setting to bring together the old gang. Indeed, Bobby organizes the party so friends and family can bid Southfork farewell before he completes the sale of the ranch to the del Sol conservancy. “If you are here, it’s because you have a connection to this ranch and the people who’ve lived on it,” Bobby declares in his speech to the partygoers, but as director Marc Roskin pans the crowd, we see more anonymous extras than familiar faces.

How fun would it have been to watch J.R. trade barbs again with Lucy, or to see Bobby and Ray reminisce about the ranch that has meant so much to them? According to William Keck’s recent TV Guide cover story, Roskin filmed a scene where J.R. and Sue Ellen share a sentimental dance at the party, but it was left on the cutting-room floor. What a shame.

While this might not have been a rollicking Ewing barbecue like days of yore, J.R.’s big scheme in “The Last Hurrah” is as convoluted as some of the eye-rollers he came up with during the old show’s more exasperating moments. To get Bobby’s crooked lawyer Mitch Lobell to call off his extortion scheme and draw up new legal papers making J.R. the sole owner of Southfork, J.R. hatches a plot to photograph Lobell’s son Ricky, a recovering addict with prior convictions, doing drugs. J.R. then threatens to expose Ricky’s lapse unless Lobell cooperates.

J.R. also arranges to have Marta discover John Ross and Elena are getting chummy again because he needs Marta to get angry so she’ll work with him to secretly cut John Ross out of the Southfork deal – but doesn’t this plan seem kinda reckless? J.R. knows Marta is bipolar and has a history of violence; at one point, he calls her “crazier than an outhouse rat.” Is this really the kind of person you want to become mad at your son?

Look, I love seeing TNT’s “Dallas” pay tribute to the original series, but I want it to honor the old show’s best storytelling traditions, not its outlandish impulses.

Of course, there are several solid moments in “The Last Hurrah,” beginning with Bobby and Christopher’s father/son chats, which showcase the nice chemistry developing between Patrick Duffy and Jesse Metcalfe. I also like the scene where John Ross blackmails Rebecca – Josh Henderson delivers the line about her being “an extremely resourceful woman” with a Hagman-esque twinkle – as well as Julie Gonzolo’s performance as the increasingly desperate Rebecca.

I even appreciate scriptwriter Taylor Hamra’s subplot about the birth of the calf, which offers a nice contrast to the sense of finality that hangs over Southfork in the days before the barbecue. It’s probably coincidental, but the calf’s arrival also recalls the birth of a foal in “Bypass,” a classic episode from the original series.

The producers also deserve applause for upholding another longstanding “Dallas” practice: casting great character actors in supporting roles. Leonor Varela seems destined to join the long line of mentally unhinged villainesses in the “Dallas” hall of fame, while veteran Texas actor Richard Dillard is perfectly sleazy as Lobell. Dillard reminds me of Dennis Patrick, who was wonderfully smarmy as Vaughn Leland on the old show.

My favorite part of “The Last Hurrah”: the final moments in the scene where Sue Ellen expresses her concern about John Ross’s reconciliation with his father. After John Ross abruptly ends the conversation, Sue Ellen picks up the box containing Miss Ellie’s pearls, opens it and slowly caresses the beads.

Perhaps this gesture shows how Sue Ellen now understands the pain adult children are capable of causing their aging mamas, or maybe it’s just an expression of how much Sue Ellen misses Ellie and wishes she were still around to dispense motherly advice. Whatever the reason, it’s a lovely reminder that Miss Ellie remains part of “Dallas,” if only in spirit.

Grade: B


Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Last Hurrah, TNT

Less hair, lots of harebrained schemes


Season 1, Episode 4

Telecast: June 27, 2012

Writer: Taylor Hamra

Director: Marc Roskin

Audience: 5.7 million viewers (including 4.1 million viewers on June 27, ranking 15th in the weekly cable ratings)

Synopsis: J.R. blackmails Lobell into calling off his extortion plot and cutting John Ross out of the Southfork sale, making J.R. the ranch’s sole owner. John Ross tries to blackmail Rebecca into helping him with a scheme, but she refuses and resolves to tell Christopher the truth about the e-mail that broke up him and Elena. John Ross and Elena grow closer. Cliff offers to fund Sue Ellen’s gubernatorial campaign, arousing J.R.’s jealousies. Bobby hosts Southfork’s final barbecue, where Rebecca begins her confession to Christopher.

Cast: Margaret Bowman (Miss Henderson), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Richard Dillard (Mitch Lobell), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Marlene Forte (Carmen Ramos), Julie Gonzalo (Rebecca Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Callard Harris (Tommy Sutter), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jason London (Ricky Lobell), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Kevin Page (Bum), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Leonor Varela (Marta del Sol)

“The Last Hurrah” is available at, and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.