Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 113 — ‘The Wedding’

Dallas, Cliff Barnes, J.R. Ewing, Ken Kercheval, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, Wedding

What is she thinking?

“The Wedding” is a strong episode with a silly ending. In the final scene, J.R. and Sue Ellen stand under a big tent in the Southfork driveway, where a minister is conducting their second marriage ceremony. He asks “if there be any man” who can say why the couple shouldn’t be remarried. Cliff, who is seated in the audience, suddenly springs to his feet. The camera zooms in on Ken Kercheval, the music swells and Philip Capice’s closing credit flashes onto the screen. That’s it.

This is less of a cliffhanger than a pause. Since there was no doubt in 1982 that J.R. and Sue Ellen were indeed going to be remarried, I wonder: What about this scene was supposed to be suspenseful? How big of a jackass Cliff would make of himself when the story resumed the following week? Indeed, most of what everyone remembers about J.R. and Sue Ellen’s second trip to the altar — her dance with Cliff, J.R. and Cliff’s fistfight, the scene where half the actors wind up in the Southfork swimming pool — happens in the follow-up segment, “Post Nuptial.” Couldn’t the “Dallas” producers have put some of that good stuff in “The Wedding”?

Of course, even if the final scene is underwhelming, you have to appreciate the lavishness of J.R. and Sue Ellen’s ceremony. At this point during “Dallas’s” run, Southfork had hosted only one other wedding: Lucy and Mitch’s, which was shot on the show’s Hollywood soundstage. J.R. and Sue Ellen’s nuptials were filmed at the “real” ranch. This makes their event look and feel like an honest-to-goodness outdoor affair, with real blue skies and actual wind blowing through the actors’ hair. When it comes to Southfork, there’s no substitution for the real thing.

“The Wedding” also reminds us how much TV weddings have changed over the years. Director Leonard Katzman shows us every step of Sue Ellen’s walk down the aisle and allows us to hear all the vows recited by the minister (who, by the way, is played by Parley Baer, the veteran character actor who portrayed the hard-of-hearing man J.R. encounters in the “Knots Landing” episode “A Family Matter”). Three decades later, when Christopher and Pamela Rebecca were married in the first episode of TNT’s “Dallas,” their ceremony was depicted in a musical montage set to an Adele song. There was no need to hear the wedding march or the vows because at this point, TV audiences have been “trained” to understand how weddings work.

Besides the ending, my only other gripe with “The Wedding” is the lack of attention paid to Sue Ellen. Here’s a woman who is about to remarry a man who has caused her tremendous pain, yet we never see her question if she’s doing the right thing or reflect on what she learned during the season-and-a-half she spent away from him. Don’t get me wrong: “Dallas” makes a smart decision by reuniting these characters, who are always more entertaining together than they are apart. I just wish Will Lorin’s script had given us a clearer understanding of what’s going on inside Sue Ellen’s head. Then again, maybe she isn’t sure either.

Besides, Miss Ellie and Clayton are the real star attraction of “The Wedding.” He comes to Southfork to escort Sue Ellen down the aisle but winds up spending most of his time with Ellie. Their scenes together showcase the warm rapport between Barbara Bel Geddes and Howard Keel and make it clear to the audience how well-suited their characters are for each other: Clayton laments never having a large family, while Ellie confides her fear that J.R. and Bobby’s contest will tear the Ewings apart. The only moment that rings false occurs when Ellie tells Clayton how much he reminds her of Jock. If you ask me, Keel was an ideal replacement for Jim Davis because their characters were so different. Whereas Jock was rough around the edges, Clayton was a refined gentleman. And yet isn’t it impressive how easily Clayton slides into Jock’s place? By the end of the hour, Clayton is stepping between J.R. and Bobby to keep them from scuffling during a rowdy Southfork cocktail hour and standing at Ellie’s side as she greets the wedding guests. These are things Jock once did, but Clayton handles them well.

Other highlights of “The Wedding” include Lucy’s encounter in the Southfork kitchen with Mickey, where the ranch’s resident rebels take an instant dislike to each other. (Except not really. Like Ellie and Clayton, it’s pretty clear Lucy and Mickey are destined for romance.) I also like J.R.’s visit to Holly, where he recommends she sell one of her company’s divisions to Petro State. Notice that Lorin doesn’t feel obligated to remind us what Petro State is; the “Dallas” producers trust the audience to remember J.R. set up this dummy corporation a few episodes ago. And even though Cliff’s big move at the end of “The Wedding” isn’t all that dramatic, I can’t help but enjoy the scene where J.R. invites his nemesis to the ceremony. Yes, it’s a cruel thing for J.R. to do, but how can you not love seeing the delicious smile Larry Hagman flashes when he encourages Cliff to come watch him marry the woman who dumped him?

The other actor to watch in “The Wedding:” the bearded extra who pops up throughout this episode. He first appears as a patron in the restaurant where Punk summons J.R. for a drink. Later, when Bobby, Pam, Ray and Donna head to the nightclub, we see the bearded man boogeying on the dance floor. Finally, he plays one of the guests at J.R. and Sue Ellen’s wedding. (In the image above, you can see the man’s face behind Sue Ellen’s right shoulder.) Forget whether or not Cliff is going to disrupt the wedding; the real cliffhanger is: Who is this bearded man, and why is he stalking the Ewings?

Grade: A

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Barbara Bel Geddes, Clayton Farlow, Dallas, Miss Ellie Ewing, Wedding

Golden couple

‘THE WEDDING’

Season 6, Episode 10

Airdate: December 3, 1982

Audience: 23.6 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Will Lorin

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Clayton visits Southfork and spends time with Miss Ellie, which hurts Rebecca. At J.R.’s behest, Holly prepares to sell part of her company, unaware the buyer is J.R.’s dummy corporation. Dave persuades Donna to join the new Texas Energy Commission. Lucy and Mickey meet and instantly dislike each other. At J.R. and Sue Ellen’s wedding, when the minister asks for objections, Cliff rises.

Cast: Parley Baer (minister), Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), 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), Doug McGrath (Gentry), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Ray Wise (Blair Sullivan), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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