Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 23 – ‘Love and Family’

Bobby Ewing, Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval, Love and Family, Patrick Duffy, TNT

Walking tall

The final moments in “Love and Family” give me chills. Bobby tells Sue Ellen they need to act like J.R. and let Cliff believe he’s won, and then as a rousing rock tune rises in the background, Bobby raises a glass of bourbon to a framed photograph of his beaming big brother. Cut to John Ross and Pamela standing before a justice of the peace (John Ross: “You doing this because you love me, or because you hate your father?” Pamela: “I do.”), then to Cliff as he sweeps into Ewing Energies and takes the keys from Bobby. “I can only imagine the look on J.R.’s face right about now,” Cliff smirks. “Me too,” Bobby responds. As our hero walks away in slow motion, a sly smile breaks across his face, the drumbeat builds, the screen fades to black, and all I can think is: Damn, this show is cool.

Patrick Duffy’s smile recalls all the classic “Dallas” episodes that end with J.R.’s grin, but we feel the character’s presence throughout this episode. Christopher’s obsession with beating Cliff recalls J.R.’s own efforts to outmaneuver him during the original series. Likewise, John Ross’s ploy to snag a piece of Barnes Global by marrying Pamela bears the hallmarks of an old-school, whatever-it-takes J.R. scheme. Even the way Bobby subtly pressures John Ross into the marriage is a little J.R.-esque. Perhaps the lesson here is that J.R.’s values weren’t his alone; they belong to the whole Ewing family. This is why we shouldn’t question “Dallas’s” ability to keep going after Larry Hagman’s death. His loss leaves a hole that will never be filled, but the “Dallas” themes have always been bigger than any one character. So far the new show has done a hell of a good job reminding us of this.

In addition to keeping J.R.’s spirit alive, “Love and Honor” director Randy Zisk also showcases Brenda Strong and Emma Bell, who deliver standout performances during Ann’s confrontation with her daughter at the scene of Emma’s car wreck. My heart breaks for Emma when she lashes out at Ann for allowing the controlling Rylands to take her away when she was a child (“You escaped! You did four years! I did 20, Ann!”). I also cheer when Ann tells her daughter she won’t bail her out until she agrees to get help for her addictions. “Why are you doing this?” Emma screams as Sheriff Derrick leads her away in handcuffs. “Because I’m your mother!” Ann responds. This is probably Bell’s best scene yet and Strong’s finest moment since Ann’s testimony in “Trial and Error.” (Perhaps not coincidentally, that episode, like “Love and Family,” was written by John Whelpley, who joined the “Dallas” writing team this season.)

“Love and Family’s” other great performances come from Jordana Brewster and Kuno Becker, who knock me out in the scene where Drew finally confesses his role in the rig explosion to Elena. Brewster has to convey a lot of emotions – shock, anger, disappointment – all in the same breath. She sells every one. Likewise, Becker makes me feel Drew’s anguish and guilt. These two actors have another terrific scene at the end of the episode when Elena and Carmen (Marlene Forte, who holds her own against her on-screen children) bring Drew money and bid him farewell as he sets off to find Harris’s missing henchman, Roy Vickers. It’s a measure of how much I’ve come to like Becker that as I watch Drew ride away on his motorcycle, I find myself worried for the character.

The same thing can’t be said about Cliff. The scene where we learn Katherine willed her share of the Barnes-Wentworth empire to him raised the ire of “Dallas” diehards who remember there was never any love lost between those two characters. I suspect we’re going to find out there’s more to this story. Perhaps Cliff cheated Katherine out of her share, or maybe she faked her death and is in cahoots with him in his plot against the Ewings. (On “Dallas,” stranger alliances have occurred.) Either way, this seems to be another nail in Cliff’s coffin. The character has turned so villainous; it’s hard for me to imagine how the show can redeem him.

More and more, I wonder if we might be witnessing the last hurrah of Cliff Barnes. Ken Kercheval was positively chilling at the beginning of the season, when Cliff was so focused on bringing down the Ewings, he allowed Frank to kill himself rather than disrupt his schemes. Since J.R.’s death, Kercheval has given us glimpses of the man Cliff used to be – a sweeping hand gesture here, a self-satisfied smirk there – which is a clever way of signaling how Cliff is letting his guard down. (Costume designer Rachel Sage Kunin’s choices for Cliff’s wardrobe might be telling too. Notice how his all-black outfits are slowly giving way to more colorful garments. Even the old pocket squares are back.) With the Rylands now established as potent Ewing foes, I wonder if John Ross and Pamela’s wedding in this episode will mark the beginning of a new chapter in the Barnes/Ewing feud – or will it serve as a kind of denouement?

With these questions on my mind, I can’t help but find Bobby’s slow-motion walk away from Cliff at the end of this episode kind of poignant. After all these years, Cliff has gotten his revenge. (Tellingly, the title of the terrific song that plays during this sequence is “My Time Has Come” by the Bowery Riots.) Even if you don’t like Cliff, you have to admire his persistence. You also have to admit: It’s going to be mighty satisfying to see the Ewings take this bastard down.

Grade: A

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Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Julie Gonzalo, Love and Family, Pamela Barnes, TNT

Here we go again?

‘LOVE AND FAMILY’

Season 2, Episode 13

Telecast: April 8, 2013

Writer: John Whelpley

Director: Randy Zisk

Audience: 2.4 million viewers on April 8

Synopsis: John Ross marries Pamela after she persuades Cliff to give her one-third of Barnes Global. Cliff takes control of Ewing Energies. After Emma gets high and wrecks her car, Ann refuses to bail her out. Drew confesses his role in the bombing to Elena, who gives him money after he goes on the run to find the missing Vickers. Christopher and Elena leave for Zurich to find Pam.

Cast: Kuno Becker (Drew Ramos), Will Beinbrink (Curran), Emma Bell (Emma Brown), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Ralph Brown (justice of the peace), Ron Corning (news anchor), Jerry Cotton (judge), Akai Draco (Sheriff Derrick), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Todd Everett (prosecutor), Alex Fernandez (Roy Vickers), Marlene Forte (Carmen Ramos), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Barnes), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Cynthia Izaguirre (news anchor), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Kevin Page (Bum), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Steven Weber (Governor Sam McConaughey)

“Love and Family” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 5 – ‘Truth and Consequences’

Ann Ewing, Brenda Strong, Dallas, TNT, Truth and Consequences

The ex files

“Truth and Consequences” offers a nice showcase for Brenda Strong and Julie Gonzalo, who haven’t had much to do on TNT’s “Dallas” until now. Both actresses make the most of the opportunities they’re given, delivering solid performances that add dimension to their characters, Ann and Rebecca, the newest Ewing wives.

Throughout this episode, Ann reminds me of “Dallas” heroines past. Seeing her stand up to J.R. (“They warned me. My whole marriage, they told me about you.”) recalls some of Pam’s best confrontations with him, while the scene where Ann, clad in her signature pearls, offers Rebecca some much-needed motherly advice evokes warm memories of Miss Ellie. This isn’t a coincidence. Ann exists to fill the void left by both Pam and Ellie, two of the old show’s most beloved characters, which means Strong might have the most thankless job of all among TNT’s “Dallas” cast.

This is why Ann’s visit to smug ex-husband Harris Ryland, played to the hilt by Mitch Pileggi, is so pivotal. With this exchange, Ann begins to come into her own as a character. She may not share Pam’s history with Bobby or Ellie’s connection to the land, but at least now we know Ann is willing to stick her neck out to help her husband fight for Southfork. This is the kind of wife our hero deserves, and the classy Strong fills the role nicely. Bravo.

Gonzalo does impressive work in “Truth and Consequences,” too. The young actress is moving during Rebecca’s tearful confession to Christopher in the barn (“You need to believe I love you!”), and her desperation is palpable when Rebecca turns to Ann for comfort and counsel. I’m not convinced the audience should trust Rebecca, but Gonzalo is helping transform her into “Dallas’s” most intriguing character.

Given this episode’s emphasis on the women of Southfork, it seems like this would have been an ideal time to let viewers continue getting reacquainted with Sue Ellen, but she doesn’t appear in “Truth and Consequences.” This is the second TNT episode in which Sue Ellen is missing in action; the character is also absent from “The Price You Pay.”

I find this astonishing. Like I wrote last month, with the exception of Larry Hagman, no actor on TNT’s “Dallas” has as much presence as Linda Gray, and it’s a shame the producers have struggled to find a meaningful storyline for her.  The good news is this begins to change with next week’s episode, and not a moment too soon.

Overall, “Truth and Consequences” is a strong hour, with good writing from Robert Rovner and stylish direction from Randy Zisk, whose past credits include “Revenge” and the David Jacobs-produced “Lois & Clark” and “Bodies of Evidence.” I especially like the “Truth and Consequences” scene where J.R. quotes Jock (“Daddy always said beautiful women were the most dangerous”), which prompts an exasperated Bobby to respond, “I know all the things Daddy used to say.” This might be the season’s best line.

Other highlights: the scenes where John Ross and Christopher each show up on Elena’s doorstep at different points during the same night. (Some girls have all the luck.) Elena’s exchange with John Ross is particularly good. I love when he tells her, “You’ve accused me of awful things that I did not do, and yet I’m still here, at your door, asking you to take a chance on me.” Josh Henderson really makes me care about John Ross here; this is probably the actor’s best scene so far.

Moments like these compensate for some of “Truth and Consequences” shortcomings, beginning with J.R. and John Ross’s silly scene at Cowboys Stadium. On “Dallas,” J.R. is supposed to be a prominent Texan, but I don’t think he’s famous enough to warrant having his face flashed on a Jumbotron. The sequence makes TNT’s “Dallas” too self-aware; J.R. is a folk hero in real life, not within the context of the narrative. Not helping matters: Jerry Jones’ cameo, an unwelcome reminder of his appearance in “War of the Ewings,” “Dallas’s” abysmal 1998 reunion movie.

J.R.’s purchase of Southfork, just days after Marta bought it from Bobby, strains credibility, too. It reminds me of “The Decline and Fall of the Ewing Empire,” the next-to-last episode of the original series, when Ewing Oil changed hands two or three times in the course of a single episode.

Likewise, I find it hard to believe Bobby’s hands are as legally tied as Lou, his new lawyer (played by terrific “24” vet Glenn Morshower), claims. The sale to Marta was fraudulent because Marta isn’t really Marta, yet her sale to J.R. is perfectly legal? I wanted Lou to run that by me one more time, but alas, the show moved on instead.

That’s the thing about TNT’s “Dallas:” It’s always moving on.

Grade: B

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Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Julie Gonzalo, Rebecca Sutter Ewing, Truth and Consequences, TNT

Double life wife

‘TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCES’

Season 1, Episode 5

Telecast: July 4, 2012

Writer: Robert Rovner

Director: Randy Zisk

Audience: 5.1 million viewers (including 3.4 million viewers on July 4, ranking 16th in the weekly cable ratings)

Synopsis: Rebecca confesses Tommy sent the e-mail to Elena, prompting Christopher to kick the Sutters off Southfork. Bobby vows to reclaim the ranch after J.R. reveals he’s the new owner and departs Dallas, leaving John Ross in charge until he returns. To slow down J.R. and John Ross, Ann persuades her ex-husband, trucking magnate Harris Ryland, to not haul the oil pumped out of Southfork. Christopher discovers proof John Ross knew Marta’s true identity before she tricked Bobby into selling the ranch.

Cast: Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Rebecca Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Callard Harris (Tommy Sutter), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Jerry Jones (himself), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Glenn Morshower (Lou), Kevin Page (Bum), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Leonor Varela (Marta del Sol)

“Truth and Consequences” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.