Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘What Happened, J.R.?’

The Ewing touch

The Ewing touch

In “Dallas’s” fourth-season episode “New Beginnings,” J.R. and Sue Ellen (Larry Hagman, Linda Gray) put John Ross (Tyler Banks) to sleep in his crib.

J.R.: Handsome little devil, isn’t he?

SUE ELLEN: He has eyes exactly like yours, J.R. That’s the first thing that attracted me to you.

J.R.: Is that right? I thought it was my money.

SUE ELLEN: Well, I had several suitors with a lot of money. No, it was your eyes. They always seemed to be hiding secrets. Things you knew about the world that no one else knew.

J.R.: Sue Ellen, what are you talking about?

They leave the nursery and enter the bedroom.

SUE ELLEN: You know something? My mama didn’t want me to marry you at first.

J.R.: Now don’t tell me she wanted you to marry that poor boy you were going around with. What’s his name? Clint something or other? [Removes his jacket, unties his necktie]

SUE ELLEN: No, no, not him. She had Billy Frompton picked out for me.

J.R.: [Chuckles] Billy Frompton. Billy turned into a blimp.

SUE ELLEN: I know, but his daddy was loaded. He had oil and uranium and diamonds and coal and things like that.

J.R.: And you picked me because of my eyes?

SUE ELLEN: And because of the way you speak. [Runs her fingers up his arm] You know, every time you talked to me, I got the shivers.

He walks away, tosses his jacket on the bed, sits on the sofa.

SUE ELLEN: You know, J.R., I’ve always wanted to ask you something. With all those ladies in the state of Texas after you … why me?

She sits and looks at him while he stares at the ceiling.

J.R.: Well, once upon a time, I was a judge in the Miss Texas beauty contest. And after awhile, you run all those girls through the contest, and it looks like a cattle auction in Fort Worth.

SUE ELLEN: [Smiling] I felt the same way too.

J.R.: Then we got down to the bathing suit category. And all those pretty little girls prancing around, trying to look sexy. And then there you were, Sue Ellen. Not trying to do anything. Just looking more sexy than any of them. And you had something else: You looked like a lady. The combination was … [he smiles] devastating. [She closes her eyes, then touches his shirt collar]

SUE ELLEN: You know, I was so frightened when you first brought me to Southfork to meet your parents. They were such imposing figures. I never thought they’d like me.

J.R.: Well, Mama took to you right off. And Daddy too.

SUE ELLEN: We’ve had some good times, J.R. We’ve done some good things too.

J.R.: The best thing we did was that little boy sleeping in the next room.

SUE ELLEN: What happened, J.R.? What happened? Why can’t it be like that again, like it was those first years?

She touches his lips.

J.R.: Sue Ellen –

The phone rings. She answers it.

SUE ELLEN: Hello? [Pauses] Yes. [Her posture stiffens.] It’s Kristin. Calling from California. She just gave birth to a baby boy. You have another son.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 75 – ‘New Beginnings’

War and remembrance

War and remembrance

Sometimes “Dallas” is more than entertaining – it’s damn near magical. This happens when everything that goes into making the show – the writing, the acting, the music and so on – comes together in ways that are so pitch-perfect, you can’t help but feel you’re witnessing something special. The final scene in “New Beginnings” is one of these moments.

It begins when J.R. comes home late and finds Sue Ellen asleep in John Ross’s darkened nursery, having dozed off while rocking him. She awakens and helps J.R. put the boy in his crib, and then the couple moves into their bedroom, where they reminisce about their courtship.

The exchange that follows is extraordinary. J.R. and Sue Ellen spend much of their lives at war with each other, but in this scene we finally see them take off their armor, which director Irving J. Moore symbolizes by putting Linda Gray in a bathrobe and having Larry Hagman remove his suit jacket and necktie as they deliver their dialogue.

The conversation itself, written by Arthur Bernard Lewis, paints a lovely picture of what J.R. and Sue Ellen were like when their love was new. With Richard Lewis Warren’s soft piano music playing in the background, we listen to J.R. describe seeing Sue Ellen for the first time, during the Miss Texas beauty pageant, and we envision how poised she must have looked on that stage. We then hear Sue Ellen recall how “frightened” she was when J.R. brought her to Southfork to meet Jock and Miss Ellie, and we imagine a sweeter, shyer Sue Ellen walking into that big house on the arm of a younger, beaming J.R.

Lewis’s dialogue is also poetic in the way it captures the unique qualities Hagman and Gray bring to their roles. Here’s how Sue Ellen remembers J.R.’s eyes: “They always seemed to be hiding secrets. Things you knew about the world that no one else knew.” And here’s how he recalls her beauty pageant performance: “All those pretty young girls were prancing around and trying to look sexy. And then, there you were, Sue Ellen. Not trying to do anything. Just looking more sexy than any of them. And you had something else. You looked like a lady.” Have better descriptions of these characters ever been written?

It’s also worth considering the context in which J.R. and Sue Ellen’s conversation takes place. Earlier in “New Beginnings,” J.R. visits Leslie’s apartment, where he vows to end his marriage so he can make Leslie his new wife. “I’m filing against Sue Ellen,” he says. Do hearing the words aloud prompt the nostalgic wave that engulfs J.R. at the end of the episode?

And what is Sue Ellen’s frame of mind at the end of “New Beginnings”? In the episode’s first act, Clint’s wife Alisha tells Sue Ellen she is willing to share her husband if that’s what it takes to hold onto him. The conversation leads a guilty Sue Ellen to break up with Clint, but does Alisha’s devotion also inspire Sue Ellen to give her own marriage another chance?

This is what makes the final moments of “New Beginnings” so heartbreaking. Just when it seems like J.R. and Sue Ellen are about to reignite their old spark, the phone rings. She answers and after hearing the voice on the other end, we see her face fall and her posture stiffen. “It’s Kristin, calling from California,” Sue Ellen announces somberly. “She just gave birth to a baby boy. You have another son.”

What a punch to the gut! The words remind us that the past doesn’t just hold memories for J.R. and Sue Ellen to cherish – it also holds mistakes that will haunt them forever.

Grade: A

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Wake-up call

Wake-up call

‘NEW BEGINNINGS’

Season 4, Episode 21

Airdate: April 10, 1981

Audience: 23.3 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: Jock and Miss Ellie depart for a second honeymoon. Sue Ellen ends her affair with Clint after his wife confronts her. Jeremy vows revenge when J.R. backs out of his promise to sell him Ewing Oil. Cliff sleeps with Afton and pumps her for information about J.R. Kristin calls Sue Ellen and tells her she’s given birth to J.R.’s son.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Stephanie Braxton (Alisha Ogden), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Richard Derr (Howard), Patrick Duffy (Senator Bobby Ewing), Susan Flannery (Leslie Stewart), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Culver Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Monte Markham (Clint Ogden), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Craig Stevens (Greg Stewart), Christopher Stone (Dave Stratton), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 74 – ‘Ewing vs. Ewing’

Davis rules

Davis rules

Jim Davis makes his last appearance as Jock in “Dallas’s” 75th hour, “New Beginnings,” but it’s more of a cameo than anything else. His final, “real” performance comes at the end of “Ewing vs. Ewing,” and no matter how many times I watch it, it never fails to move me.

Davis was diagnosed with inoperable cancer during the show’s fourth season, and when you watch these episodes, you can see him physically deteriorate, bit by bit. By the time “Ewing vs. Ewing” was filmed, the actor’s face had puffed up and his voice had been reduced to a rasp. It’s painful to witness.

Yet it’s also damned inspiring. Davis famously soldiered on despite his illness, and producer Leonard Katzman allowed him to continue to play Jock because he knew it was important to keep the actor’s spirits up. Barbara A. Curran’s book “Dallas: The Complete Story of the World’s Favorite Prime-Time Soap” includes an anecdote about how Katzman even gave Davis a peek at the scripts being prepared for the fifth season, just so the actor could see Jock would still be part of the show.

Of course, Jock never appeared during Season 5. Davis died 23 days after the broadcast of “Ewing vs. Ewing,” an uneven episode (Bobby’s use of “personal funds” to settle his senate committee’s debate over the Takapa project is an eye-roller) that nonetheless remains a sentimental favorite on the basis of that touching final scene, when Jock and Miss Ellie finally reconcile after spending half the season at war.

My favorite moment comes when Ellie admits she’s treated Jock unfairly and asks if he can forgive her. Davis delivers Jock’s response (“Nothing to forgive.”) with the same tender conviction he memorably exhibited during the third-season “Mastectomy” episodes.

Barbara Bel Geddes, who is absolutely perfect throughout “Ewing vs. Ewing” and especially in this final scene, gets the episode’s last line – “I love you, Jock” – and as I watch her deliver it, I have no doubt the tears in her eyes are real. I also know Bel Geddes isn’t just speaking for her character. She’s speaking for all of us.

Grade: B

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Hug it out, Mama

Hug it out, Mama

‘EWING VS. EWING’

Season 4, Episode 20

Airdate: April 3, 1981

Audience: 23.3 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leah Markus

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: Bobby forges a compromise in the Takapa fight. Jock and Miss Ellie reconcile. J.R. continues his plann to sell Ewing Oil to Wendell. Cliff meets Afton and Pam tells him their mother is alive.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Cherie Beasley (Tootie Smith), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Senator Bobby Ewing), Susan Flannery (Leslie Stewart), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), John Hart (Senator Carson), Morgan Hart (Jenny Smith), David Healy (Senator Harbin), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Monte Markham (Clint Ogden), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), John Randolph (Lincoln Hargrove), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Craig Stevens (Greg Stewart), Christopher Stone (Dave Stratton), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Jay Varela (Senator Arvilla), Joseph Warren (Senator Dickson), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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