Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘But It Was So Beautiful, Cliff’

Never upset this woman

Never upset this woman

In “Dallas’s” fifth-season episode “The Big Shut Down,” Cliff (Ken Kercheval) is in his office at Wentworth Tool and Die, discussing the hospitalized Pam with Rebecca and Katherine (Priscilla Pointer, Morgan Brittany), who’ve dropped by on their way to the airport.

CLIFF: You don’t need to worry about Pam. Mama and I will visit her. Although I must admit: I don’t relish bumping into a Ewing every time we go out there.

REBECCA: Cliff, the only Ewings who ever come to see Pam are Bobby and Ellie.

KATHERINE: [Smiling] I can understand why Pam fell in love with Bobby.

CLIFF: [Snickers] I’m sure you can. I must say, it wasn’t the greatest day in my life.

REBECCA: Cliff, I don’t want a replay of your problems with the Ewings. Besides, if we don’t hurry, we’re going to miss the plane. You know what the traffic’s like on the expressway in the mornings.

As Rebecca speaks, Katherine looks around the room quizzically.

KATHERINE: You know, everything in this office looks so different. I guess because I was three feet high the last time I saw it.

CLIFF: No, I don’t think so. It’s probably because I just had the whole place redecorated.

KATHERINE: Oh, I remember. [Pointing] Daddy had an antique cabinet right there. It was wood with a bold grain, probably oak or something.

CLIFF: Right, you’re right, yeah. I had it moved out because I just like kind of an openness.

KATHERINE: But it was so beautiful, Cliff.

CLIFF: It’s in the storeroom. If you want it, it’s yours.

KATHERINE: [Sighs] No, I’m just surprised you moved it. It always seemed to belong right there. [Smiles icily] Well, Mother, let’s go.

Katherine grabs her purse from a chair and she and Rebecca head for the door.

CLIFF: You all have a safe trip.

REBECCA: I’ll call you later.

After Rebecca and Katherine exit, Cliff surveys the room with raised eyebrows.

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘Mama, You Didn’t Take Any Licorice’

He remembers, Mama

He remembers, Mama

In “Dallas’s” fourth-season episode “Full Circle,” Cliff (Ken Kercheval), dressed in a three-piece suit, nervously straightens his apartment when there is a knock at the door. He opens it, revealing Rebecca (Priscilla Pointer).

REBECCA: Hello.

CLIFF: Hi. Come on in.

REBECCA: You look wonderful.

CLIFF: You too. Maybe I should have known who you were when you came in the office the other day but then, I don’t know. You didn’t look exactly like I expected you to.

REBECCA: Oh?

CLIFF: No. You look kind of um … poised.

REBECCA: [She smiles, then notices the spread on his coffee table] Oh, Cliff. You didn’t have to go to that trouble.

CLIFF: No, it’s no trouble. I’ve got some coffee going. I’ll check to see if it’s done. [Walks into the kitchen] Uh, it’s done. [Peering into the living room] You want some coffee? How do you take it?

REBECCA: Black, please.

He pours two cups, carries them into the living room on saucers and hands one to her.

CLIFF: We can sit down.

REBECCA: You’ve done very well for yourself, haven’t you Cliff?

They sit on the sofa.

CLIFF: Uh, I’ve done OK. I’ve bounced around a bit, from job to job.

REBECCA: But you put yourself through law school.

CLIFF: Yeah, I did that. [Not making eye contact] But that’s a long time ago. Now Pam. Now, let’s see. Now, I don’t think she told me where she found you.

REBECCA: The first time was in Houston.

CLIFF: [Looks at her, then looks away] Did you live there very long?

REBECCA: Yes, we…. We, we sound like two strangers, don’t we? I didn’t want it to be that way. [Moves toward him, but he rises and stands]

CLIFF: It wasn’t my decision. You ran out on me. I was barely 5 years old and you pretended to be dead and you left me with a baby sister and a drunken father. Why?

REBECCA: It wasn’t like…. It’s so, it’s so hard to explain.

CLIFF: I can imagine it’s hard to explain. A mother running out on her own two kids. I don’t know how in the hell a woman can do that. [Screaming] Do you have any idea what it’s like to be 5 years old and be told that your mother’s dead only to find out the truth is that she didn’t want you! That she was only thinking about herself!

REBECCA: [Grabs her pocketbook, rises and walks toward Cliff, who stands not looking at her] I, I didn’t expect you to forgive me anymore than I can forgive myself. [Voice cracking] But, oh how I prayed that you could try.

CLIFF: I have tried! [She opens the door.] Mama. [Grabs a bowl from the coffee table, holds it out for her] You didn’t take any licorice and I remembered you liked it.

He walks toward her and they embrace while sobbing.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 76 – ‘Full Circle’

Look Mom, no grudges

Look Mom, no grudges

The famous scene from “Full Circle” – when Cliff tearfully offers his estranged mother a bowl of licorice, her favorite candy – is one of my earliest “Dallas” memories. I was 7 when this episode debuted, and I remember watching it and feeling sorry for Cliff. All these years later, the moment still moves me.

Ken Kercheval has called Cliff and Rebecca’s reconciliation his favorite “Dallas” scene, and it’s easy to see why he likes it. Kercheval is always fascinating to watch, but during the course of this four-and-a-half-minute sequence, he’s called upon to convey a whole spectrum of emotion: from nervousness to rage to mercy. The actor hits every note with precision.

The most impressive part of Kercheval’s performance might be how he seems to avoid looking at Priscilla Pointer. When I interviewed Kercheval in the summer, he talked about another of his favorite scenes – this one with Barbara Bel Geddes – and mentioned how helpful it is for actors to maintain eye contact so they can take “cues” from each other. Kercheval doesn’t appear to do that with Pointer during the “licorice scene.” This probably made the performance more challenging, but it lends the scene power. Seeing how difficult it is for Cliff to look Rebecca in the eye helps us realize how hard it is for him to face the truth about her shortcomings.

Michael Preece’s direction here is terrific – I especially like how he has Kercheval jump to his feet when Cliff calls out Rebecca’s sins – as well as Bruce Broughton’s lush score, which swells when mother and son finally embrace.

Then there’s Arthur Bernard Lewis’s clever dialogue. At the end of the scene, Lewis could have given Kercheval a straightforward line to signal Cliff’s last-minute change of heart – something like, “Wait, Mom, don’t go” – but instead, Lewis has Cliff offer her the licorice. Why? I think the line achieves two things: Having Cliff refer to candy – something so closely associated with childhood – reminds us how long it’s been since he last saw Rebecca. More importantly, the licorice symbolizes how Cliff in many ways is still the wounded little boy whose mother abandoned him.

If any other character was given a line like this (imagine J.R. or Bobby saying it), it might seem childish, but with Cliff, it’s flat-out moving. Cliff is the most revenge-prone character in “Dallas” history, yet for once in his life, he’s willing to set aside his animus. This is a moment of genuine growth for Cliff.

I also love the “Full Circle” sequence where Preece’s camera follows Mary Crosby’s legs as Kristin marches across a hotel lobby to Bruce Broughton’s jaunty score. This is a fun scene, but it’s also a little prophetic: The confidence in Crosby’s stride makes her look buoyant – and as we now know, this won’t be the last time we see Kristin float.

Grade: A

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Walk to remember

Walk to remember

‘FULL CIRCLE’

Season 4, Episode 22

Airdate: April 17, 1981

Audience: 24.4 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Cliff forgives Rebecca and presents Bobby’s committee with evidence linking J.R. to the counter-revolution in Asia. Kristin returns and extorts money from Jordan Lee, who believes he is the father of her newborn son. Sue Ellen runs into Dusty, who is learning to walk again. Pam is devastated to learn she cannot bear children. Lucy leaves Mitch.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Ellen Bry (Jean), Gerald Castillo (Luis Hernandez), Mary Crosby (Kristin Shepard), 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), David Healy (Senator Harbin), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), John Randolph (Lincoln Hargrove), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Christopher Stone (Dave Stratton), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Jay Varela (Senator Arvilla), Joseph Warren (Senator Dickson), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

The Dallas Decoder Interview: Ken Kercheval

Ken Kercheval

TNT’s “Dallas” just finished its first season with three big revelations: Cliff Barnes is Rebecca’s father (!), the mastermind behind her scheme (!!), and the owner of a really cool jet (!!!). Ken Kercheval, Cliff’s real-life alter ego, graciously spoke to me this week about his iconic character and what the future might hold for the Barneses and the Ewings.

So tell me: What’s it like to be playing Cliff Barnes again after all these years?

Same old, same old. I know this guy pretty well so it’s just like putting on the same set of clothes that you wore a few years back.

When the producers invited you to reprise the role, did they talk to you about the direction they were planning to take Cliff?

The only thing they said is that he had gone off and become very, very, very rich. Richer than the Ewings. That’s it. That’s absolutely all I know.

Cliff has done a pretty mean thing, using his daughter to get back at the Ewings – including his nephew Christopher. What do you think of that?

Damned if I know. I swear, I don’t have a clue. [The producers] are very, very close-mouthed about where they’re going with it.

Will you be back next season?

I will be. So far they only have four episodes written and I know I’m in the fourth one. I’ll be filming that at the very beginning of November, and then I go to England to do the Irving Berlin musical “White Christmas.”

Maybe you’ll get to work with Linda Gray again. You two always had great chemistry.

She’s always fun to work with. She knows what she’s doing. I think [the writers] should rekindle Cliff and Sue Ellen’s love affair.

Cliff in “The Last Hurrah” (Photo credit: Zade Rosenthal/TNT)

I think that would be great.

I do too!

You two filmed a scene this season that was cut before TNT showed the episode [“The Last Hurrah”] on television. Can you tell us what we missed?

There’s a scene outside the opera house where we’re walking along [and] I’ve offered [Sue Ellen] my financial support for her running for governor. And she says she has to turn it down. And I [say], “Why? Have you got a better offer?” And I just stop her and say, “J.R. is absolutely never going to change. Don’t bank on [him] because the man will never change.”

It’s a shame we didn’t get to see that. Hopefully when the first season is released on DVD, the scenes that were edited out will be included as extras.

Maybe. I never could figure out why they were cut. To begin with, the one scene was replaced by the birthing of that calf.

What did you make of that?

I thought, what’s that relevant to? I didn’t understand it. But, you know, it’s not my place to understand it. I think the writers are extremely clever. And I know that Cynthia [Cidre, the executive producer] told me that her team of writers sat down and watched every single episode that had ever been filmed of the [original] show. I said, “I hope they got paid well.” That’s a lot of work.

What was it like to film the airport hangar scene where Rebecca is revealed as Cliff’s daughter?

Cold. Very, very, very cold. But it was nice working with Julie [Gonzalo, who plays Rebecca]. She’s so good! Among the younger cast, she’s the only one besides [Jesse Metcalfe, who plays Christopher] that I’ve done a scene with.

You think highly of Cynthia Cidre, too.

She’s fantastic. Oh, she is one smart woman. She really knows what she’s doing.

If we can go back in time for a minute, you and Larry Hagman are the only actors who were regulars during all 14 seasons of the original “Dallas.” Do you have favorite scenes from the old show that stand out?

When I first reunited with my mom [Rebecca Wentworth, played by Priscilla Pointer], I think, is my favorite scene.

The “licorice scene” where Cliff tearfully offers his mother her favorite candy. I love that one too.

That was a powerful scene for me.

You also had one with Barbara Bel Geddes, where Cliff sits with Miss Ellie on a park bench and basically makes amends for the whole Barnes-Ewing feud.

Oh, definitely. I remember that scene very well because we almost never worked together. [Before filming] I went to her trailer and we were going over the lines and I said, “Well, right here, when I say this line, can you turn and look at me?” And she thought about it and said, “Well, I don’t think that would be right, Kenny.” So then when we filmed the scene, I delivered that line and she didn’t look at me so I didn’t say my next line. And so finally she looked at me. And when the scene was over, she said, “You dirty dog. I told you I didn’t want to look at you and you tricked me into looking at you!”

Barbara was my best friend on the show, off stage. My very best friend. She’d say, “Kenny, if you were just a little bit older or I was a little bit younger….”

When you were playing Cliff the first time around, did you like him?

Yeah, I did. I really did. I thought he was a nice guy too. J.R. was coming after my ass all the time, so I was always had to defend myself. If I did something that wasn’t quite right, it’s because I had to.

Well, now Cliff seems to have the upper hand. I’m looking forward to seeing what his next move will be.

I am too!

Share your comments below and read more interviews from Dallas Decoder.

The Dallas Decoder Guide to That Darned Barnes Family

Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Jesse Metcalfe, Julie Gonzalo, Pamela Rebecca Barnes Ewing, Revelations, TNT

Pamela redux

The Barneses are back: In “Revelations,” the first-season finale of TNT’s “Dallas,” we learned Rebecca Sutter Ewing is Pamela Rebecca Barnes, Cliff’s daughter. Need a refresher on the rest of the Barneses? Here’s a look at who’s who, how they’re related to each other and the Ewings and some of their family traditions, including their penchant for interesting headgear and shooting people. Also listed: the actors who portrayed the characters on the two “Dallas” series.

The Elders

Dallas, David Wayne, Digger Barnes, Keenan Wynn

Double Diggers

• WILLARD “DIGGER” BARNES: Boozy wildcatter who claimed Jock Ewing cheated him out of his share of Ewing Oil and stole his girl, Miss Ellie. Liked hats. Remembered for two deathbed confessions: 1. He shot and killed wife Rebecca’s lover, Hutch McKinney; 2. McKinney was Pam’s real dad. Played by David Wayne and Keenan Wynn.

Dallas, Priscilla Pointer, Rebecca Barnes Wentworth

Runaway Rebecca

• REBECCA BARNES WENTWORTH: Digger’s wife and Cliff and Pam’s mama. After lover Hutch McKinney’s murder, ran away, became a secretary and married her boss, Houston tycoon Herbert Wentworth. Was believed dead for many years until Pam found her. Died (for real this time) from injuries sustained in a plane crash while waging corporate warfare against the Ewings. Favorite candy: black licoricePlayed by Priscilla Pointer and Victoria Principal (in a flashback).

Cliff’s Corner

Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval

Presto-chango

• CLIFF BARNES: Digger and Rebecca’s son. Inherited mama’s money and daddy’s genetic disorder, hatred for Ewings. Unfortunate tendencies to pursue women involved with archenemy J.R., marry blondes to snag a piece of Ewing Oil. Frequent career-changer: lawyer-turned-politician-turned-bureaucrat-turned-prosecutor-turned-oilman-turned-evil mastermind. Regularly accused of murder and shooting Ewings, but known to have killed only one man: mobster Johnny Dancer. Sharp dresser. Favorite food: Chinese. Favorite activity: revenge. Played by Ken Kercheval.

Afton Cooper, Audrey Landers, Dallas

Steal her away

• AFTON COOPER: Sexy southern songbird who dreamed of a better life. Seduced J.R., then fell for Cliff. In-law to the Ewings: brother Mitch married and divorced Lucy, then married and divorced her again. After longing for someone to steal her away, Afton finally left town on her own carrying Cliff’s child, whom she named Pamela Rebecca. Married and divorced alcoholic gambler/con artist Harrison Van Buren III. Despite questionable taste in men, probably the smartest character among this bunch. Played by Audrey Landers.

Dallas, Jenna Pangburn, Julie Gonzalo, Pamela Rebecca Barnes, TNT

Daddy’s girl

• PAMELA REBECCA BARNES: Cliff and Afton’s daughter. Like Aunt Katherine, broke up a relationship with forged correspondence (an e-mail). Like Aunt Pam, married a Ewing (Christopher). Like Granddaddy Digger and Daddy Cliff, shot and killed a man (ex-lover/fake brother/hat wearer Tommy Sutter). Pregnant with Ewing spawn. Played by Julie Gonzalo. Previously played by Jenna Pangburn.

Dallas, Faran Tahir, Frank Ashkani, TNT

Daddy’s boy

• FRANK ASHKANI: Real name: Raheed Durani. Cliff’s right hand/driver/designated disposer of dead bodies. Not a fan of Tommy Sutter. According to J.R.’s private eye Bum, Cliff plucked Frank off the streets of Islamabad 30 years ago and paid for his fancy education, nice wardrobe and – presumably – frequent trips to the barber. Sometimes referred to as “Smiling Frank.” Doesn’t actually smile. Played by Faran Tahir.

Pam’s Portion

Dallas, Margaret Michaels, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Pam-o-rama

• PAMELA BARNES EWING: Daughter of Rebecca Barnes Wentworth and lover Hutch McKinney; raised by Digger and Aunt Maggie Monahan. Super heroine. Suffered bouts of mental instability and at least one 31-hour nightmare. Occasional wearer of hats. Bad driver. Like her mama, abandoned her own family. Probably dead, but hopefully not. Played by Victoria Principal, Margaret Michaels and at least one heavily bandaged extra.

Bobby, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, TNT

Ewing-in-law

• BOBBY EWING: Golden son. Fell in love with Pam and thought she was so nice, married her twice. Usually a supportive spouse, but not always. Not a fan of brother-in-law Cliff in the beginning, but eventually became his pal and made him a partner in Ewing Oil. The lingering warmth will probably fade when Bobby discovers Cliff is once again plotting against the Ewings. Additional potential complicating factor: new wife/gun fetishist Ann may or may not have had a one-night stand with Cliff in 1987. Played by Patrick Duffy.

Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Jesse Metcalfe, Joshua Harris, TNT

Half-breed

• CHRISTOPHER EWING: Golden son’s golden son. Adopted, making marriage to cousin Rebecca Barnes only slightly less icky than it might be otherwise. May not have Barnes blood coursing through his veins, but inherited the family’s gun habit: as a boy, Christopher shot at John Ross. Dream meal: eggs and toast. Played by Jesse Metcalfe. Previously played by Eric Farlow and Joshua Harris.

The Wentworth Wing

Dallas, Katherine Wentworth, Morgan Brittany

She’s all hat

• KATHERINE WENTWORTH: Herbert and Rebecca Wentworth’s daughter. Television journalist/Christopher’s babysitter/ultimate diva. Hated Cliff. Not a big Pam fan, either: wanted Bobby for herself, so Katherine broke up his first marriage to Pam with a forged letter. Later shot him. Known for visiting sick relatives in hospital and making threatening comments/trying to kill them while they sleep. Most amazing hat collection ever. Disliked tomato juice. Played by Morgan Brittany.

Monahan Members

Dallas, James Canning, Maggie Monahan, Philip Levien, Sarah Cunningham

The lost ones

• AUNT MAGGIE MONAHAN and COUSIN JIMMY MONAHAN: Maggie was Digger’s long-suffering sister who helped raise Cliff and Pam. Rocked hats with the best of them. Her son: Jimmy, the Chuck Cunningham/Judy Winslow of “Dallas.” After two appearances in 1978, never seen nor mentioned again. Aunt Maggie was played by Sarah Cunningham; Cousin Jimmy was played by James Canning and Philip Levien.

What do you remember about the Barneses? Share your comments below and read more “Dallas Decoder Guides.”

The Art of Dallas: ‘The Prodigal Mother’

Rebecca (Priscilla Pointer) comes clean to Pam (Victoria Principal) in this 1981 publicity shot from “The Prodigal Mother,” a fourth-season “Dallas” episode.

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘You Are My Mother’

Mama remembers

Mama remembers

In “Dallas’s” fourth-season episode “The Prodigal Mother,” Rebecca (Priscilla Pointer) approaches Pam (Victoria Principal) outside The Store and asks to walk with her.

REBECCA: Years ago, I closed a door in my mind. I sealed off a part of my life. And I thought it would be sealed off forever. It almost was. I led a comfortable life, happily married to a man that I adore. Then you phoned, making a crack in that seal I thought was so strong. We met. And the crack became larger. And then I saw you and your brother. Both of you together. And I couldn’t. [They sit on a bench.] The whole thing, the whole secret, sealed place broke open. And the past came rushing back. Digger Barnes. Hutch McKinney. And the awful, awful pain of having to abandon my own flesh and blood.

PAM: You are my mother.

REBECCA: Yes, I am.

Pam grabs Rebecca’s hand.

REBECCA: And although you haven’t known me, the newspapers have made it impossible for me to ignore you or Cliff. You can’t imagine the unhappiness of seeing one’s own children and not being able to talk to them.

PAM: That’s what I don’t understand. Why couldn’t you?

REBECCA: [Tears begin streaming down her face] My husband has no idea that I was married. Or that I have two children. He knows nothing about Hutch McKinney. He is not a well man. I think if he found out now, the shock would devastate him.

PAM: Why didn’t you tell him before?

REBECCA: I never divorced Digger. I was afraid that if I tried, he’d find me, and drag me back to that awful life. [Voice begins cracking] Pamela, I saw a chance for happiness, and I took it. Don’t blame me for that.

PAM: Do you mean that now that I’ve found you, we can’t see each other?

REBECCA: [Shakes her head no] I wanted to talk to your brother too. [Voice cracks] I don’t think I could go through this again.

PAM: Well, it’s probably best if you don’t.

REBECCA: Pamela, try to understand. To lose one family in a lifetime is horrible. To lose a second….

PAM: I’m sorry. [Touches Rebecca’s face] Oh, I’m sorry.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 63 – ‘The Prodigal Mother’

The lady in Houston

The lady in Houston

“The Prodigal Mother” reminds me of one of those “women’s pictures” from the 1950s. The episode marks the end of Pam’s search for her long-lost mother, and it’s as gorgeously soapy as anything Douglas Sirk directed. I love it.

More than anything, “The Prodigal Mother” is distinguished by two big, memorable monologues. This is the first script from David Paulsen, who became one of “Dallas’s” most prolific scribes, and boy, does he knock it out of the park with these speeches.

The first speech comes when Pam visits Rebecca Wentworth, the fabulously wealthy woman that Pam’s private detective has identified as Rebecca Barnes, whom Pam and Cliff believed died long ago. In the scene, Rebecca’s maid escorts Pam into the fern-festooned solarium inside her Houston mansion. Rebecca, draped in what appears to be sea-green satin, stands at the other end, leaning against a column. “Won’t you come in?” she says. It’s the kind of thing people only say in movies.

Victoria Principal steps forward and begins Pam’s speech, which is worth recalling it in its entirety:

I’ve rehearsed it a dozen times. Now the words just won’t come out. I know who you are. When I was a child, I used to think about you every day: My mother, who died and went to heaven. And I used to wonder what you were like. What you smelled like. Sometimes, I even thought I could remember. When Digger told us that you died, I could never really accept that. But when Digger was dying and told us about you and Hutch McKinney, I don’t exactly know why, but somehow I knew that you were still alive. And I’ve been searching for you since that day. Everybody told me I shouldn’t. That it was useless. My brother and my husband said that I’d just be more hurt when I found out that you were really dead. But I found you. You’re alive. And I’m so happy. I don’t know how to tell you how happy I am.

Principal’s delivery is really lovely. It feels very brave: With every line, the actress seems to reveal a little more of herself, so much so that by the end of the monologue, her lip looks like it’s quivering uncontrollably. Principal does this a lot during her crying scenes on “Dallas,” and while I sometimes find it a bit much, I don’t here. Here, it’s perfect.

Mama Said

The daughter in Dallas

The daughter in Dallas

“The Prodigal Mother’s” other big speech comes toward the end of the episode, when Rebecca takes Pam on a stroll through the park and and finally admits she is her mother. I remember watching this scene as a child and being struck by Rebecca’s line about how she “closed a door” in her mind. That line has always stuck with me.

Just as Principal shines during her monologue, Priscilla Pointer does a terrific job delivering hers. Like Barbara Bel Geddes, Pointer is a New York stage veteran who knows how to tone things down for the more intimate confines of television. Pointer’s mannerisms and expressions never feel anything less than natural. She will always be one of my favorite “Dallas” actresses.

I also love how the scene between Pam and Rebecca sounds. When it begins, it’s so quiet – almost eerily so. Aside from the dialogue, the only thing we hear are the women’s heels on the sidewalk and a few birds chirping in the distance. It’s as if the whole world has come to a standstill, and for these two characters, I suppose it has.

And even though Rebecca did an awful thing by abandoning her two small children, this scene makes it impossible for me to dislike her. For this, Paulsen deserves a lot of credit. His dialogue humanizes Rebecca, particularly when she explains why she never divorced Digger. “I was afraid that if I tried, he’d find me, and drag me back to that awful life,” she says. Based on what we know about bitter, miserable Digger, can we honestly blame her? Rebecca might not deserve our respect, but after this scene, she’s at least entitled to some of our sympathy.

Of course, the most haunting part of Pam and Rebecca’s exchange is how it foreshadows Pam’s own tragic character arc, which I hope TNT’s “Dallas” will someday resolve. Imagine seeing Principal sitting on a park bench with Jesse Metcalfe as Pam explains why she abandoned Christopher and Bobby, all those years ago. If done well, it would be even more powerful than what we witness in “The Prodigal Mother.”

Party Lines

The grand sweep

The grand sweep

In another Sirkian masterstroke, before Rebecca comes clean to Pam, Paulsen’s script has the woman run into each in the most glamorous of settings: the black-tie fundraiser for gubernatorial candidate Dave Culver, which the Ewings attend. I love how Irving J. Moore directs the sequence, positioning his camera in the crowd as the Ewings arrive with a grand, all-smiles, glad-handing sweep through the ballroom.

Moore also allows the viewer to eavesdrop on the characters as they comment on the action around them. My favorite exchange begins when Sue Ellen slyly points out the guest of honor is “about as liberal a politician as the state of Texas allows. Ewing money usually never flows in that direction.” J.R.’s response that “Ewing money always flows in the direction of power” is perfect – and perfectly plausible.

“The Prodigal Mother’s” other great scene is its last. Pam, having just agreed to keep Rebecca’s identity secret, comes to Cliff’s apartment to tell him what she learned during her visit to Houston. As expected, Cliff, who believes Pam shouldn’t be digging up the past, doesn’t try to conceal his indifference.

“So, do we have a mother?” he asks.

Pam is silent. Cliff again asks what she learned during her trip.

Finally, she lies and tells him her detective was mistaken. Principal then delivers the episode’s final line, which is its best. “The lady in Houston,” she says, “was just a lady in Houston.”

Oh, that line gets me every time. What sacrifice! What noble suffering! What exquisite agony!

What a great episode.

Grade: A+

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Benchwarmers

Benchwarmers

‘THE PRODIGAL MOTHER’

Season 4, Episode 9

Airdate: January 2, 1981

Audience: 28.1 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: Pam’s detective tracks down her mother: Rebecca Wentworth, the wife a wealthy Houston industrialist. Rebecca tearfully admits her real identity to Pam but says she doesn’t want her ill husband to know the truth. Lucy proposes to Mitch, who accepts.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Michael Bell (Les Crowley), Karlene Crockett (Muriel Gillis), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jerry Haynes (Pat Powers), Richard Herd (John Mackey), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), John Martin (Herbert Wentworth), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

The Dallas Decoder Interview: David W. of Dallas Divas Derby

The best thing about starting Dallas Decoder has been meeting fellow “Dallas” fans like David W., the genius behind Dallas Divas Derby, a new online brackets game that pits the show’s women characters against each other. David has really interesting ideas about “Dallas” and graciously agreed to share some here. Read what he has to say – and be sure to visit his site to vote for your favorite diva.

Dallas Divas Derby is great! How did you come up with the idea for the site?

Oh, thank you. I’m a lifelong “Dallas” fan and an interactive designer in my previous professional life, and I’d been thinking for years that it would be fun to make an online interactive family tree for the Ewing and Barnes families. Other projects and life prevented me from realizing that, but when TNT’s new show was announced, it struck me that it might be interesting to create some kind of online activity for fans to refresh their memories about “Dallas” history.

I’d always felt pretty strongly that “Dallas’s” best years were seasons 1 through 9, when it focused on a well-rounded ensemble cast and featured strong writing for the men and women alike. If you watch the show in its entirety, you see that the writing for the women begins strong, if a little sexist in some instances, and grows steadily better, peaking during the dream season.

In the years since “Dallas” ended, much of the lore of the show had been framed around the Ewing brothers’ saga. We all know the story. It’s a good one, but it has been told over and over again from the same male perspective. As I watched the show in reruns and on DVD as an adult, I gained a whole new appreciation for the female characters and actresses. I learned about Barbara Bel Geddes, Alexis Smith, Priscilla Pointer and Martha Scott’s stage and film careers, and I appreciated their rich nuanced performances even more. And my admiration for Linda Gray, Victoria Principal and Susan Howard grew deeper watching them evolve over the years. And then you had amazing villains like Kristin and Katherine, which I loved as a boy and appreciated even more as an adult.

For me personally, those actresses made a huge impression when I watched the show as a kid, and I became really interested in looking back at “Dallas” from the perspective of the female characters somehow. When you do, you realize how vital they were to the show’s success. You see huge arcs like Sue Ellen going from repressed alcoholic beauty queen, to strong female executive and mother, and Pam from strong-willed poor country girl from the wrong side of the tracks, to successful, confident independent businesswoman. I think for me personally, I identified closely with those arcs.

Though not a huge sports fan, I’d worked previously on interactive ad campaigns for the March Madness NCAA college basketball games, and I learned about that whole brackets game phenomenon that’s so popular among fans and office pools.

While re-watching “Dallas” this spring, it dawned on me that when you watch over the years, you see some recurring character archetypes common among the women. So I started scribbling down character names and playing around with them on paper, and grouping them based on similarities, and bingo, my earlier ideas about an interactive family tree merged into the brackets game idea!

Talk a little bit about how you came up with your matchups. There seems to be a method to your madness.

I quickly surveyed the entire 14 seasons to see if there’d be enough interesting characters that would work, and there were! Then I researched about how teams are “seeded” in brackets games based on their wins and losses, and it dawned on me, the characters could be similarly “seeded” based on the number of episodes they’d been in. In essence, each episode they were in counted as a “win” for them.

When I did the math, the results were really interesting to me. Similar archetypes often ended up paired against each other, like the case of “Sinister Sisters” Katherine Wentworth and Jessica Montford. When I saw that, I knew I had to make the game, even if only other die-hard “Dallas” geeks would appreciate it. It interested me, so that’s what drove me. And I was unemployed, so that helped too.

Once I did all that math, things happened very quickly to build the site. I knew we’d need a database, so I met with a dear friend who is a Ruby on Rails developer, and he volunteered to help. He made it possible for me to make the site a reality.

You know the characters really well. It sounds like you’ve been a fan of the show for a long time.

I started watching “Dallas” almost at its beginning, even though I was only 8 at the time. My parents, usually very conservative in what they allowed us to watch as kids, were quickly fans of the show, and somehow let us watch along with them.

I remember in the late ’70s being fascinated by the idea of Southfork. I was growing up in suburban Detroit, so the idea of a ranch, with all that land and a big family living together really fascinated me.

I remember often watching the show on Friday nights, and then getting up early the next day to play with my Legos in front of Saturday morning cartoons. I’d sit there for hours building elaborate Lego Southforks and Southern Crosses, and then I’d use Matchbox cars that matched all of the main character’s cars, and I’d re-play “Dallas” all morning. I even built a replica of Sue Ellen’s condo because I thought it was so glamorous and I was so happy to see her on her own, away from evil J.R. Mind you, I was like 10 or something.

I became the go-to guy in the family for episode re-caps. If my grandmother missed an episode, she’d have me re-tell it all to her the next time I saw her. Later in junior high and high school, I’d have “Dallas” finale parties for my entire family, and make cakes with oil derricks on them and things like that. It was ridiculous.

I love it! In general, what do you think of the way “Dallas” depicts women?

I do think the show’s portrayal of women really mirrors the idea of women in our pop culture from the late ’70s through the mid-80s. Not all of that is good, but I think it was pretty spot on.

For example, for my mom and my friends’ moms who were middle-class suburban housewives negotiating the idea of entering the working world, the evolutions of Sue Ellen, Donna, Pam and others was something that resonated. It was the point in time when the option and expectation of being a stay-at-home mom started to evaporate for many American women due to economic needs.

On “Dallas,” much of the early writing for these women focuses on tension between them and their husbands about their roles in the family. Sue Ellen’s meant to be a society wife and crank out Ewing heirs. Her life is booze, ladies’ luncheons and affairs. Pam wants to keep working and hates the society life, but struggles with Bobby’s sexist expectations for her to stay at home, and Ray struggles hugely with the idea that Donna is making more money than him, and what that means for his masculinity. And of course, Ellie is the traditional heart of the show, a true grandmother archetype.

As the Regan era/corporate greed era takes hold in the ’80s, you see Pam, Donna and eventually Sue Ellen staking claim to a desire to be successful professionally in their own right. They each pursue it differently, but they all eventually challenge their partners for respect, and you get to see all these previously traditional men dealing with the idea that their women are becoming fiercely independent. I think again, that mirrored what was happening in society to a degree.

On the “villains” side, you see people like Marilee Stone, Holly Harwood, Kristin and others using their gender and sexuality to gain power, and as weapons. Some of that feels pretty sexist now, but if you look at mainstream films of the era, the meme was everywhere. The mainstream white male was intrigued by – and simultaneously threatened by – strong independent businesswomen.

Of course now, looking back, especially amongst many of the supporting females, you do see lots of stereotypically weak secretaries, hookers, tramps and thieves, and some of that feels dated and uninteresting.

Since voting began on Dallas Divas Derby, what’s been the biggest surprise? Has any diva done better than you expected?

Ha ha, yes! My developer partner and I have kept our hands out of the voting, but based on my personal preferences, I’m not a big Cally Harper fan, no offense to Cathy Podewell. I just thought, in reference to what we were just talking about, that Cally was written as this incredibly one-dimensional country girl caricature, and from a very older white urban male slant. I never really felt like she fit with the rest of the cast.

What we’ve heard from fans online and seen in the voting so far, though, is that she has more fans than haters. She won her Round 1 match against Kimberly Cryder and really never was behind in that vote based on what we saw. She was always the favorite, though the voting was close.

For the purposes of the game though, we’re actually quite happy that the two Mrs. J.R. Ewings will go head-to-head in Round 2 on May 16. It should be a good match for fans of both her and Sue Ellen.

You also had some “Dallas”-worthy drama with a hacker. What happened?

Yes, we did! Well, you know, I’m not a professional programmer, and I wanted to keep the game simple and easy for users. I underestimated the level of security we’d need at first though.

Our Bring Her Back vote was meant to be a straight-up horse race for fans to vote in real-time for any of the “living” characters they wanted to see back on the new series. Unlike the brackets game, where match results are revealed every Wednesday morning – to promote Wednesday as the new day for “Dallas” on TNT – the Bring Her Back vote is always live on the site, so users can see the actual vote numbers.

This bred some fierce rivalry between a few Katherine Wentworth and Lucy Ewing fans earlier this month. We saw first a huge, and rather humanly impossible, spike in BHB votes for Lucy overnight one night. And we started to get complaints from Katherine fans, so we investigated. We found that at least one person, if not a couple, had “hacked” the BHB voting overnight, and within hours we had numbers in the thousands jumping back and forth for Lucy and Katherine. It was headed to the stratosphere, but clear the votes weren’t “real.”

We’d like to think we’re that popular, and though we do allow users to vote more than once, it reached a humanly impossible rate of voting, based on our other stats. So we had to add some more protections to the voting code, to prevent over-the-top gaming of the system, while trying to keep it easy and fun for users.

Since we’d been watching the vote closely, we made the call to remove the hacked BHB votes from the system so our fans could continue to play the game and feel like they had a chance.

Luckily, none of that affected any numbers on the brackets game, so that voting to date hasn’t been compromised. This is just meant to be a fun thing for fans and we hope everyone who wants to participate can and express their preferences in the voting.

OK, I must ask: Do you have a personal favorite “Dallas” diva?

This is a hard one for me. We’re trying to remain agnostic in the vote, and there are so many different types of characters to choose from.

On the heroines’ side, Sue Ellen has been an icon for me since I was a kid. I related to her struggles and her growth towards independence. I still love her and am so happy she’s back.

On a more complicated level, it’s Pam for me. I loved her in the beginning of the show as the tough poor country girl arriving at Southfork, then lost a bit of interest during her obsession to have a baby and the weird writing around some of that, but loved her again in Seasons 7 through 9 as she returned to strength and came into her own. Victoria Principal’s performances leading up to and after Bobby’s death still haunt me today. Those were award worthy in my book. They made a huge impact on my psyche as a teen. In my opinion though, the writers ran Pam into a ditch in Season 10 though, moving her to the periphery and weakening her. The way Pam was written out made many fans dislike her, and I think that was a huge detriment to the show’s legacy. We’re supposed to believe the show’s original leading lady, who desperately fought to have a successful marriage to Bobby and have a child, suddenly decides to leave them to go die alone with a stranger? It was stupid writing and it hurt the character and the show.

On the villains’ side, Katherine was my number one favorite, followed closely by Jessica Montford and Kristin. All could’ve lasted on the show longer in my opinion. Heck, I even enjoyed Angelica Nero as a super-villain. It was fun to see a woman besting J.R. in scheming.

I think you’re wise to praise Angelica. If she doesn’t win her next round against Mandy Winger, she might start blowing stuff up again!

Ha ha, indeed! She was fantastic. I’m keeping my eye out for exploding briefcases. Luckily I don’t own a Ferrari. I will add this though, we’ve learned during the Derby to not underestimate Katherine Wentworth fans. Things could get interesting if Angelica and Katherine face-off later in the Derby. I’m secretly hoping they might.