Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 125 — ‘The Sting’

Ben Piazza, Dallas, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Sting


Which Ewing brother do you root for in “The Sting”? I cheer for Bobby at the top of the hour, when he thwarts J.R.’s illegal sale of 100 million barrels of oil to Cuba. It’s nice to see Bobby finally outfox J.R., who’s been riding high in their fight for control of Ewing Oil. Of course, once Bobby secures his victory, my sympathies shift to J.R. With his plot foiled, J.R. finds himself at the mercy of Garcia, the unscrupulous middleman in the Cuban deal. How can you not feel for sorry for the old boy as he squirms under Garcia’s thumb?

The effortless switching in the role of underdog makes “The Sting” an especially clever episode of “Dallas.” I also love the terrific opening sequence, which picks up where “Caribbean Connection,” the previous hour, left off. J.R.’s crony Walt Driscoll rushes out of his motel room, cash-stuffed briefcase in hand, as he heads to the airport to complete the Cuban deal. As he pulls out of the parking lot in his big Oldsmobile, Ray’s pickup truck suddenly strikes it. With Driscoll distracted, Bobby emerges from the crowd of sidewalk gawkers and switches the briefcase with the replica he commissioned in “Caribbean Connection.” Bobby then follows Driscoll to the airport, where he watches as security guards discover a stash of guns in the briefcase and haul him away.

These are fun, exciting scenes. Jerrold Immel’s tingling underscore, which is also heard when Southfork goes up in flames in the sixth-season finale, lends the sequence a sense of mystery. The music fits the action beautifully since we don’t know what Bobby’s up to until the guns are finally revealed. The establishing shots are crucial too. Imagine if Larry Elikann, the director, and Fred W. Berger, the editor, hadn’t shown Driscoll placing his briefcase on the passenger seat when he gets into his car. We’d have no idea what Bobby is doing when he reaches inside the car and switches the real case with the fake one. I also like how “The Sting” plays on the audience’s familiarity with “Dallas.” The moment we see a white pickup’s fender enter the frame, we know instantly whose truck this is.

The other keys to the success of this sequence: Ben Piazza and Steve Kanaly. Piazza, one of the great “Dallas” guest stars, is believably bewildered as the hapless, in-over-his-head Driscoll. I kind of feel bad for the guy when Ray rams his Oldsmobile, and again when those hulking security guards find the guns in his case. Kanaly, in the meantime, is a hoot. What a kick to see Ray pretend to be the kind of straight-and-narrow, by-the-book yokel who insists on flagging down a cop after a fender bender. Kanaly looks like he’s having a ball here, as well as in two other scenes. In the first, a very drunk Ray and Bobby stumble home after celebrating their coup. Later, Ray confronts J.R. and confirms his role in the sting against him. The scene reminds us that this is Ray’s victory as much as it is Bobby’s.

Speaking of J.R.: “The Sting” showcases Larry Hagman too. He gives some of his best performances when J.R.’s back is to the wall, as this episode demonstrates J.R. is flustered when he finds Driscoll behind bars, enraged when he discovers Bobby undermined him and desperate when he tries to salvage the deal with Garcia. David Paulsen’s script also gives Hagman one great line after another. I love when J.R. refuses to bail out Driscoll, telling him, “I wouldn’t give you the dust off my car.” Later, after he’s ended another frustrating phone call with Garcia, J.R. looks up from his desk and sees Holly striding into his office. “When it rains, it pours,” he says, rubbing his temple. Hagman delivers another great line when Katherine drops by Ewing Oil and tells J.R. the two of them have something to talk about. “Oh, don’t tell me. Not Cliff Barnes. I couldn’t handle that,” he says.

“The Sting” also does a nice job exploring Bobby and Pam’s increasingly awkward separation. Miss Ellie and Clayton bump into Pam while she’s dining with Mark in a restaurant, resulting in an uncomfortable moment for everyone. (In one of the show’s most amusing understatements, Ellie tells Clayton, “In many ways, Dallas is a very small place.”) Later, when Bobby arrives at Pam’s hotel room to pick up Christopher for the weekend, the topic of Pam’s date with Mark comes up. Katherine inserts herself into the conversation. “Bobby, it’s not the way it sounds. … Pam was just trying to help Cliff,” she says. This prompts Pam to snap, “Katherine, stop it! I don’t have anything to hide.”

“The Sting” is also remembered as the episode where Lucy finally tells Mickey she was once raped. Charlene Tilton delivers a tender, moving performance, and so does Timothy Patrick Murphy, who makes his character’s sweetness every bit as believable as the cockiness he exhibited when he joined the show. I also like the exchange where Lucy and Mickey share their first kiss. “Lucy, I never asked a girl if I could kiss her. I just always did it. I’m not real sure what to do right at this moment,” he says. Is there any doubt this is Lucy’s most charming romance?

The other highlight of “The Sting”: Elikann’s direction, which is much more artful than what we usually see on “Dallas.” In addition to his work in the opening sequence, I love when Elikann has Patrick Duffy and Hagman lock eyes and shout at each other in the scene where J.R. confronts Bobby. I also like how J.R.’s roll in the hay with Serena ends with him popping a bottle of champagne, and then the scene switches to a waiter popping a cork in the restaurant where Pam and Mark are dining. Interestingly, although Elikann directed several “Knots Landing” episodes and the “Dallas: The Early Years” TV movie, “The Sting” is the only “Dallas” episode he helmed. Perhaps an exchange between Hagman and “Dallas” creator David Jacobs holds a clue. Elikann’s name comes up in the audio commentary on the “Reunion, Part 2” DVD, which was recorded in 2004. Jacobs remembers the director being “very gruff” and tells Hagman that Elikann recently died. “Did he?” Hagman responds. “Good.” He was kidding … I think.

Grade: A


Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Lucy Ewing, Mickey Trotter, Timothy Patrick Murphy

Good romance


Season 6, Episode 22

Airdate: March 11, 1983

Audience: 23.1 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Larry Elikann

Synopsis: Bobby plants guns in Driscoll’s case, which leads to Driscoll’s arrest at the airport. Garcia, Driscoll’s contact in Puerto Rico, demands $10 million from J.R. to complete the Cuban oil deal. Holly vows revenge against J.R. when she discovers the deal is in jeopardy. Katherine offers to spy on Bobby for J.R. After telling him about her past, Lucy and Mickey make love. Pam and Mark’s deepening relationship angers Bobby.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Stephanie Blackmore (Serena), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Henry Darrow (Garcia), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Russ Marin (Matthew), Ben Piazza (Walt Driscoll), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), John Reilly (Roy Ralston), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 96 – ‘Adoption’

Our heroine

Our heroine

“Adoption” is one classic scene after another, but my favorite moment is Donna’s showdown with Bonnie, the barfly who’s been sleeping with Ray. The dialogue from scriptwriter Howard Lakin is wonderfully bitchy, and Susan Howard delivers it with steely aplomb. I also have to hand it to guest star Lindsay Bloom, who manages to make Bonnie seem less like a vixen than a sad woman who makes bad choices.

The confrontation begins when Donna, clad in a full-length fur coat, enters the Longview bar and approaches Bonnie, whom Donna caught in bed with Ray at the end of the previous episode. After exchanging unpleasantries (“I wanted to see what the competition looked like – with clothes on”), Donna offers Bonnie $5,000 to leave town. “You’re crazy,” Bonnie says. Donna keeps upping the price; by the time she reaches $15,000, Bonnie is ready to pack her bags. That’s when Donna reduces her offer by a third. “Now that we know what you are, let’s haggle over your fee,” she says. Before all is said and done, Bonnie has tossed a drink in Donna’s face and Donna has struck Bonnie, sending her to the sawdust-covered floor.

It might be tempting to think of this as another soap opera catfight, but that wouldn’t do the scene justice. To begin with, Donna isn’t your typical “Dallas” heroine. She’s the show’s most consistently admirable character – always strong, always smart, always sincere. When we see Donna throw that punch, we know it’s not out of desperation. She’s fighting for Ray because she wants him, not because she needs him.

Howard deserves much credit for making her character so believable. Like Barbara Bel Geddes, Howard possesses an effortless grace; both actresses seem to have good instincts and are smart enough to trust them. And while I generally try to avoid commenting on the physical appearance of “Dallas” actors, this must be said: Howard is one of the most naturally beautiful women to ever appear on the show, and that’s another reason Donna seems like the kind of person you might know in real life. It also doesn’t hurt that Howard is an honest-to-goodness Texan, so she sounds as authentic as she looks. In the scene with Bonnie, notice how Donna’s line, “You mean go to you?” becomes “Yew mean go to yew?” The lilting drawl is almost hypnotic.

Fur Love or Money

Armor on

Armor on

Of course, as good as Howard is, don’t overlook her character’s fur coat, an essential “Dallas” prop if ever there was one. Larry Hagman, who directed this episode, does a smart thing earlier in “Adoption” when he shows Donna coming home and changing into the fur before heading to the Longview to confront Bonnie. This deliberate wardrobe change lets the audience know two things: Donna isn’t ashamed to be seen as a successful woman, and like her in-laws, she’s willing to use her wealth to intimidate an adversary.

(You might also say Donna’s clash with Bonnie is the moment she becomes a Ewing. After Donna strikes her rival, she retrieves a wad of cash from her coat pocket, peels off a bill and tosses it onto the bar. “Drinks are on Bonnie,” she says. It brings to mind the great scene from the second-season episode “Reunion, Part 2,” when Jock “buys” Pam from drunken Digger.)

As for Bloom: With her frosted bouffant and western shirts, the actress looks a bit like the country singer Barbara Mandrell, which is fitting since Donna and Bonnie’s showdown has the makings of a great country song. It would’ve been easy for Bonnie to come off as a one-note hussy, but Bloom’s performance is so nicely measured, that never happens. Lakin deserves credit here too. At the beginning of the fight scene, before Donna enters the bar, we overhear Bonnie chatting excitedly with one of her girlfriends about a new nightclub in town that has “two dance floors, one raised above the other.” The line makes us realize what a small life Bonnie leads. How can you not pity her?

Into Darkness

Shouldn't he be on the other side?

Shouldn’t he be on the other side?

Like Donna and Bonnie’s barroom brawl, almost all of the great scenes in “Adoption” arouse conflicting emotions. In the first act, J.R. has Ray tossed in the Braddock County jail, where he pressures him to sign over his Ewing Oil voting shares. Harsh? Yes, but is J.R. mistaken when he tells Ray how ashamed Jock would feel by Ray’s recent behavior?

Similarly, how do you feel at the end of the episode, when Sue Ellen tosses the necklace at J.R. and tells him their relationship is “sick, sick, sick!” Are you relieved that Sue Ellen has been reminded of her ex-husband’s sinful nature? Or are you disappointed that their reconciliation has been derailed? I feel both.

“Adoption” also offers the memorable moment when Roger, Lucy’s stalker, becomes enraged and smashes a glass of red wine against the wall of his photography studio, which he has plastered with her pictures. We’ve all seen variations of this scene in dozens of other movies and TV shows about stalkers, but I bet it didn’t seem like a cliché when this episode debuted 30 years ago. Regardless, the shot – and the chilling background music from composer Richard Lewis Warren that accompanies it – still creeps me out.

For every dark moment in “Adoption,” there’s a scene to remind us of the loving connections the Ewings share. At the top of the hour, Miss Ellie finds Donna picking up the dishes she smashed in anger after discovering Ray’s infidelity. “Over the years, I’ve thrown a few plates myself,” Ellie says. Later, Sue Ellen and Pam have a heart-to-heart of their own at Pam’s aerobics studio, where she cautions Sue Ellen about getting back together with J.R.

There’s also the sweet scene where Bobby tells Pam they’ve been granted temporary custody of Christopher, as well as the nice moment when J.R. brings surprise dinner guests Sue Ellen and John Ross into the Southfork kitchen to sample Miss Ellie’s stuffing. (“Adoption” was originally broadcast in February 1982 and isn’t a Thanksgiving episode, but the presence of that giant turkey in Ellie’s kitchen makes it the closest we ever get to seeing the Ewings celebrate the holiday.)

More and more, I’m convinced warm moments like these are one of the secrets of “Dallas’s” success. They help counter the misperception that this is merely the story of rich people behaving badly. The truth is, “Dallas” is a show with a lot heart. If it wasn’t, we never would have allowed it to occupy such a big place in ours.

Grade: A+


Father's day

Father’s day


Season 5, Episode 19

Airdate: February 19, 1982

Audience: 29.9 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Howard Lakin

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: After J.R. has him jailed, Ray signs over his voting shares in Ewing Oil. Donna punches Bonnie and orders her to stay away from Ray. Bobby tells Sue Ellen that Christopher is Kristin’s son, reminding Sue Ellen of J.R.’s past infidelities. Bobby and Pam are awarded preliminary custody of Christopher. Cliff figures out J.R.’s scheme to lure him out of Dallas.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Lindsay Bloom (Bonnie), Vivian Bonnell (clerk), Robert Alan Browne (Breslin), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Art Hindle (Jeff Farraday), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dennis Redfield (Roger Larson), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Ron Tomme (Charles Eccles), Herb Vigran (Judge Thornby), Ray Wise (Blair Sullivan)

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

The Dal-List: Jock Ewing’s 15 Greatest Moments

Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing

We still miss you, Daddy

Last month, Dallas Decoder critiqued “The Search,” the episode where “Dallas” bids farewell to the great Jim Davis. Here’s a look at 15 memorable moments featuring the actor and his mighty character, Jock Ewing.

Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, John Ewing III Part 2,

Naming rights

15. Naming John Ross. The Ewings are in a waiting room at Dallas Memorial Hospital, where Sue Ellen has gone into labor. A nurse enters and tells J.R. his wife has given birth to a son, prompting a beaming Jock to declare, “John Ross Ewing III!” Did it ever occur to the Ewing patriarch that J.R. and Sue Ellen might want to choose their child’s name themselves? Do you think it would’ve mattered to him if they did? (“John Ewing III, Part 2”)

Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, Lucy Ewing, Prodigal Mother

Grandaddy knows best

14. Advising Lucy. The Ewings didn’t always want to hear Jock’s opinion, but usually he was right. Example: When Lucy (Charlene Tilton) was brooding after a spat with Mitch, Jock told her, “He’s a nice enough boy [but] you can do a lot better.” Lucy ignored Jock’s advice – she and Mitch got hitched – but she probably should’ve heeded Granddaddy’s wisdom. After all, the marriage lasted just 12 episodes. (“The Prodigal Mother”)

Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing,  Julie Grey, Julie's Return

Friends with no benefits

13. Leaving Julie. After Jock suffered a heart attack, the Ewings began treating him like an invalid, causing him to turn to flirty ex-secretary Julie (Tina Louise) for comfort. It looked like their relationship might become a full-fledged affair – but Jock knew his limits. “I appreciate your friendship,” he told Julie, adding that things couldn’t go further because it would “hurt Miss Ellie too much.” Smart man. (“Julie’s Return”)

Barbecue, Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing

Family man

12. Comforting Pam. During her first few weeks as a Ewing, poor Pam (Victoria Principal) was bullied, blackmailed, offered a bribe and held hostage. By the time J.R. caused her miscarriage, Bobby and his bride were ready to get the hell off Southfork – until Jock persuaded them to stay. “I want to keep my family together,” he told Pam as he sat at her bedside. It was our first glimpse of the tough Texan’s tender side. (“Barbecue”)

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, Pam Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal, Reunion Part 2

Best. Screencap. Ever.

11. “Buying” Pam. Jock was chilling on the Southfork patio when drunk Digger roared into the driveway, demanding $10,000 for Pam. “Ten thousand! There’s a hundred,” Jock huffed as he tossed a C-note at his ex-partner, who eagerly scooped it up and pronounced his daughter “sold.” If Pam felt insulted, she shouldn’t have. When a Ewing is willing to negotiate your purchase price, you know they truly care. (“Reunion, Part 2”)

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, Miss Ellie Ewing, No More Mr. Nice Guy Part 1

You were thinking it too, Mama

10. Scolding Sue Ellen. Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) has just arrived at Dallas Memorial, where the Ewings are keeping vigil after J.R.’s shooting. Surely Jock will comfort his frantic daughter-in-law, right? Um, no. He accuses Sue Ellen of “gallivanting” while her husband is dying, prompting Kristin to defend Big Sis. “Sue Ellen was sick,” she says. Snaps Jock: “Sick? You mean drunk!” Harsh, but not untrue. (“No More Mr. Nice Guy, Part 1”)

Dallas, Dove Hunt, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing

Stare master

9. Confronting Owens. On a hunting trip, the Ewing men were ambushed by Tom Owens (Richard J. Wilkie), a farmer who claimed Jock ruined him decades earlier. Owens cocked his gun and aimed it at his wounded enemy, who didn’t blink. “If you’re gonna do it, do it!” Jock shouted, moments before the defeated Owens lowered the weapon and declared, “I’m not a killer.” You’re also no match for Jock Ewing, mister. (“The Dove Hunt”)

Dallas, David Wayne, Digger Barnes, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing

Frenemies forever

8. Destroying Digger. When Bobby and Pam announced her pregnancy at the Ewing Barbecue, Jock and Digger (David Wayne) shook hands and called a truce – which lasted all of three minutes. Digger broke the peace by criticizing Jock’s parenting skills, which prompted the Ewing patriarch to deliver a devastating takedown of his ex-partner (“He’s been a loser every day of his life.”) Yeah, it was cruel, but remember: Digger started it. (“Barbecue”)

Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Silent Killer

Guts and glory

7. Joshing J.R. Jock spent a lot of time chewing out J.R. (Larry Hagman), but they had nice moments too. During one cocktail hour, when J.R. joked baby John Ross was becoming a “little fatty,” Jock playfully patted his eldest son’s belly and said, “Just like his daddy.” It was a reminder: Not only was Jock the only Ewing capable of reigning in J.R. – he was also the only one who could get away with razzing him. (“The Silent Killer”)

Daddy Dearest, Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Ghost writer

6. Inspiring J.R. Virtually every “Dallas” episode after Jim Davis’s death seems to depict one Ewing or another taking inspiration from Jock’s memory. In one instance, J.R. stands in front of his daddy’s portrait and reads one of his old letters, which offers classic bits of wisdom like, “Never let the bastards get you down.” This is what makes Jock so cool: He doesn’t need to be alive to keep his family in line. (“Daddy Dearest”)

Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, Survival

Call waiting

5. Dispatching Ray. Another glimpse of Jock’s softer side: When the Ewing plane went down in Louisiana swampland with J.R. and Bobby aboard, the Ewing patriarch sent ranch foreman Ray (Steve Kanaly) to find his sons. The family kept vigil at Southfork until Ray finally called with good news: J.R. and Bobby were alive. “Bring them home,” Jock said. Davis’s eyes were wet when he delivered the line. So were ours. (“Survival”)

Dallas, Fourth Son, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Daddy issues

4. Accepting Ray. In another beautiful performance from Davis, Jock tells Ray he just found out he’s his daddy. The humble cowboy offers to keep this a secret to spare Jock grief from his family, but instead Jock summons everyone to the living room and proudly announces Ray is his son. This was a hard truth for some to accept (cough, cough J.R.), but it demonstrates how Jock never took the easy way out. (“The Fourth Son”)

Dallas, Gary Ewing, Jock Ewing, Jim Davis, Return Engagements, Ted Shackelford

Hug it out, fellas

3. Celebrating Gary and Val. When Jock learned Gary and Val (Ted Shackelford, Joan Van Ark) were getting remarried, he declined to attend; there was too much bad blood between father and son. But moments before the ceremony began, in walked Jock. “I believe I have a son getting married here today,” he said. “I’d like to attend … if I’m welcome.” Awww. You’re always welcome, big guy. (“Return Engagements”)

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Executive Wife, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, Patrick Duffy

Power tip

2. Teaching Bobby. When Bobby (Patrick Duffy) felt Jock was undermining his authority at Ewing Oil, he loudly reminded his daddy that Jock “gave” him the power to run the company. In one of the all-time great “Dallas” scenes, Jock set his “boy” straight: “Nobody gives you power. Real power is something you take!” With those 10 words, Jock established the creed that would define the Ewings for generations to come. (“Executive Wife”)

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, Mastectomy Part 2, Miss Ellie Ewing

Jock the rock

1. Loving Ellie. Few things move me more than the way Jock stood by Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) when she had her mastectomy. While Ellie struggled to deal with the loss of her breast, Jock never left her side, offering her the support and comfort she needed. Jock may have been a rich oil baron and a stern father, but above all, he was a devoted husband and Ellie’s best friend. The way he loved her made us love him. Ellie never stopped missing him. Neither have we. (“Mastectomy, Part 2”)

What do you consider Jock Ewing’s greatest moments? Share your choices below and read more “Dal-Lists.”

The Best & Worst of Dallas: Season 2

“Dallas” was still figuring itself out during its second season, which means there was plenty to hail and heckle.


Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Miss Ellie Ewing

Don’t mess with Mama

Although every member of the ensemble has great moments this season, no one is as consistently wonderful as Barbara Bel Geddes. Miss Ellie becomes a somewhat frustrating character as “Dallas” progresses – she too often casts a blind eye to J.R.’s shenanigans, in my view – but Season 2 is the year you do not want to mess with Mama. We see her demand J.R. clean up his act, order Julie to stay away from Jock and urge Pam to fight for her marriage. (There’s also Ellie’s encounter with the poor sap who makes the mistake of sneaking onto Southfork; see “Scenes” below.) In just about every second-season episode, Bel Geddes demonstrates how lucky “Dallas” is to have her.


“Black Market Baby” is the most intriguing, “For Love or Money” is the saddest and “Royal Marriage” is a sentimental favorite, but “John Ewing III, Part 2” gets my vote for the season’s all-around best episode. Linda Gray is mesmerizing in the scene where Sue Ellen tearfully confesses her sins to Bobby, but Larry Hagman, Ken Kercheval and Victoria Principal all have terrific moments too.

Hands down, the season’s weakest hour is “Runaway,” the first – and so far only – “Dallas” episode to receive a “D” grade from me. Run away, indeed.


Ten words of dialogue are all you need to describe Season 2’s best scene: “Ray, get me the shotgun out of the hall closet.”

The worst scene? The “Call Girl” sequence where Leeann Rees (Veronica Hamel) lures drunken Ben Maxwell (Fred Beir) into Pam’s bed while J.R.’s sleazy photographer furiously snaps pictures outside the window. What a farce. I half expect Mr. and Mrs. Roper to come charging into the room, wondering what all the commotion is all about.

Supporting Players

Dallas, Joan Van Ark, Valene Ewing


I don’t care how many times I watch it, Joan Van Ark’s performance at the end of “Reunion, Part 2” always knocks me out. In the blink of an eye, Valene goes from anguished when she bids Gary adieu to enraged when she confronts J.R. for driving away his middle brother. With the exception of Linda Gray, no actress in “Dallas” history has better chemistry with Larry Hagman than Van Ark. What a shame she didn’t spend more time at Southfork.

My least-favorite guest stars: the three actors who portray the bad guys in “Kidnapped.” What’s the bigger crime here: holding Bobby hostage or the witless Edward G. Robinson imitations these villains-of-the-week deliver? Then again, what do you expect when performers are given lines like, “We may have the wrong goose – but he can still lay the golden egg!”


Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal


I loved the striped hoodie, green pants and knee-high tan boots Pam wears during the “Election” scene where Cliff persuades her to organize a fashion show fundraiser for his state senate campaign. You could put this outfit on Jordana Brewster on TNT’s “Dallas” and she’d look just as stylish as Victoria Principal does in 1978.

Pam also gets my vote for worst outfit: the weird “pants dress” she sports in “Black Market Baby.”


Season 1 gives us Jerrold Immel’s classic “Dallas” theme music, but Season 2 brings us many of John Parker’s magical background tunes, including “The Only Lovers,” Bobby and Pam’s theme; “The Adulteress,” Sue Ellen’s bluesy signature; and “The Loyal Foreman,” Ray’s anthem. (If you don’t own it already, do yourself a favor and purchase Parker’s classic “Dallas” soundtrack today.)


Best: “Bobby, come on. Women marry homosexuals all the time. It seems to suit a lot of them.” – J.R.’s response in “Royal Marriage” after Bobby questions his insistence Lucy marry the closeted oil-and-cattle heir Kit Mainwaring.

Worst: In “Fallen Idol,” J.R. expresses his annoyance with Guzzler Bennett’s name-dropping thusly: “The next thing you know, the name of that actress is gonna be Farrah Fawcett-Guzzler.” Oh, J.R.! Leave the pop culture references to Sue Ellen.

What do you love and loathe about “Dallas’s” second season? Share your comments below and read more “Best & Worst” reviews.

Dallas Isn’t ‘Brokeback Southfork,’ But It’s Pretty Gay

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

You go, girl

By today’s standards, “Dallas” isn’t a “gay” show. Southfork never hosts a “Brokeback Mountain”-esque love story. There are no same-sex office romances at Ewing Oil. Dusty Farlow wears ascots to keep dust out of his face, not because he’s fabulous.

Yet “Dallas” is very much a show with gay sensibilities. It regularly explores themes – empowerment, identity, gender roles – that resonate with gay audiences, and often in ways that are surprisingly smart.

I didn’t catch a lot of this while watching the show in the 1980s, when I was a pretty confused gay kid. But when I think about those years now, I wonder if “Dallas’s” gay subtext helps explain its appeal to me. Maybe my middle-school gaydar was stronger than I realized.

Kit, But Not Much Kaboodle

“Dallas” makes subtle references to homosexuality in early episodes like “Election,” when J.R. questions Cliff’s close relationship with his male campaign manager, and “Call Girl,” when J.R. creates a scandal by making it look like Pam is involved in a three-way relationship with a man and another woman.

The show stops dancing around the issue in “Royal Marriage,” the 1979 episode where Kit Mainwaring, an oil-and-cattle heir who is secretly gay, breaks his engagement to Lucy and comes out of the closet. This episode, which reflects the ’70s trend toward “socially conscious” television (see also: “All in the Family,” “Lou Grant,” et. al.), is handled with surprising sophistication, making Kit one of prime-time television’s breakthrough gay characters.

Kit is also a footnote: “Dallas” ran 14 seasons and produced 357 episodes, yet he is the only character whose homosexuality is ever acknowledged on the show.

There are only fleeting gay allusions in later episodes. During the sixth season, Lucy wonders if John Ross’s camp counselor Peter Richards is gay because he doesn’t want to date her (she doesn’t realize Peter is in love with Sue Ellen), but the show never again identifies a character as being gay.

This isn’t altogether surprising. Prime-time television mostly retreated to the closet during the AIDS hysteria in the 1980s. Also, once “Dallas” became television’s most-watched show, it embraced its escapist bent and pretty much stopped doing “issues” stories. Both factors probably explain why the producers notoriously dropped plans to make villainess Angelica Nero a lesbian during the 1985-86 season.

Sue Ellen: Icon – and Avatar

The absence of gay characters on “Dallas” doesn’t mean the show lacks characters and storylines gay audiences could identify with. Consider Sue Ellen, whose boozing, philandering and sharp tongue make her an icon among gay fans who love camp.

But Sue Ellen shouldn’t be treated only as a joke. If you consider her arc during the course of the series, she makes an ideal avatar for gay audiences.

When “Dallas” begins, Sue Ellen is the show’s most sexually repressed character. In the first-season episode “Spy in the House,” she tries to spark J.R.’s interest with a sexy negligee, only to have him cast it aside and accuse her of being unladylike. J.R.’s rejection sends Sue Ellen into the shadows, where she finds sexual fulfillment with other men and develops her drinking problem. This double life must have felt familiar to gay men and women who spent the ’70s and ’80s trapped in the closet.

By the end of the Reagan era, when AIDS was galvanizing gay people and giving the gay rights movement new momentum, Sue Ellen finally begins pulling herself together. She quits drinking, embarks on a successful business career and leaves J.R. for good.

During Linda Gray’s final appearance on the show in 1989, Sue Ellen turns the tables on J.R. and tells him off, one last time (“You will be the laughingstock of Texas.”). All “Dallas” fans cheered this moment, but for gay viewers, I suspect it had special meaning. Sue Ellen was standing up to her oppressor at a time when many gay Americans were beginning to do the same – in the voting booth, in the workplace, in the streets.

There’s Something About Gary

“Dallas’s” gay viewers might see themselves in other characters, too.

The series often explores the theme of confused identities. Two notable examples: Pam and Ray each learn they were raised by people who aren’t their biological fathers, and for both characters, this discovery triggers a lot of angst.

“Dallas’s” recurring theme of estranged fathers and sons is probably familiar to a lot of gay men. At various points, Jock has tense relations with each of the Ewing boys, especially Gary.

In fact, the dialogue during Gary’s homecoming in the second-season “Reunion” episodes makes me wonder if the producers were considering making the character gay. Pam points out Gary is “different.” Bobby calls him “gentle.” Lucy says she hopes Val will “straighten” him out. Was this coded language, dropped into the scripts to lay the groundwork for Gary’s eventual coming out?

Maybe, maybe not. But a gay Ewing is an interesting idea to contemplate.

Are you listening, TNT?

Do you consider “Dallas” a gay-friendly show? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

The Art of Dallas: ‘Reunion, Part 2’

J.R. (Larry Hagman) pressures Gary (David Ackroyd) to learn the family business in this 1978 publicity shot from “Reunion, Part 2,” a second-season “Dallas” episode.

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘Sold’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, Pam Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Reunion Part 2, Victoria Principal

Cold cash

In “Reunion, Part 2,” a second-season “Dallas” episode, Jock (Jim Davis) is reading the newspaper on the patio when a drunken Digger (David Wayne) drives onto Southfork in a beat-up sports car and gets out carrying get-well gifts Pam (Victoria Principal) brought him earlier.

JOCK: [Approaches Digger, followed by Bobby, Pam, Gary and Val] Barnes, what in the hell do you think you’re doing?

DIGGER: Returning gifts to the ladies auxiliary. [Tosses them onto the driveway] There they are – magazines, quarter books, jigsaw puzzles, whatever. Gifts for the poor and infirm.

PAM: Daddy –

DIGGER: Cease! I have business to discuss. Now, sir, I refuse charity.

JOCK: So you refuse. Now get off of this ranch.

DIGGER: I refuse charity, but those but those things which are rightfully mine I accept.

JOCK: Well now, what’s rightfully yours this time?

DIGGER: Something there’s no doubt about.

JOCK: What do you want?

DIGGER: Now you took my oil wells and give me nothing in return.

JOCK: I’m sick and tired of hearing that.

DIGGER: You took my oil wells and my money and my sweetheart and I never got a cent for ’em. Well, that’s ancient history.

JOCK: Well, what do you want?

DIGGER: Money!

JOCK: For what?

DIGGER: The only thing I had that you can get.

JOCK: [Turns and sees Pam standing over his shoulder; Bobby, Gary and Val look away] Do you mean to tell me that you want money for Pamela?

DIGGER: Well, she was a Barnes and now she’s a Ewing – just like the oil wells….

JOCK: You’re unbearable, Barnes! How much do you want?

DIGGER: Ten thousand.

JOCK: [Harrumphs] Ten thousand! [He reaches into his jeans pocket, pulls out a wad of cash, peels off a $100 bill and throws it at Digger. It lands on the ground.] There’s a hundred.

DIGGER: [Bends down, scoops up the bill and studies it briefly] Sold.

Digger gets back in the car and drives away. Jock snickers and walks past Bobby and stony-faced Pam.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 7 – ‘Reunion, Part 2’

Charlene Tilton, Dallas, David Ackroyd, Gary Ewing, Joan Van Ark, Lucy Ewing, Valene Ewing

Enter at your own risk

I’m not a big fan of “Reunion, Part 1,” but I love “Reunion, Part 2.” The writing and acting are beautiful.

In this installment’s most memorable sequence, a drunken Digger barrels onto Southfork in his nephew Jimmy’s beat-up sports car and asks Jock to “pay” him for Pam. The Ewings watch as Jock pulls a wad of cash from his pocket and tosses a $100 bill at the feet of his onetime business partner, who scoops it up and proclaims his daughter “sold.”

The attention shifts to Pam, who is humiliated, but I find myself wondering what Gary makes of this embarrassing scene. To him, Digger must seem like a ghost from the future – a vision of the person he’ll become if he doesn’t get away from the Ewings.

Think about it: Gary is already following in Digger’s footsteps. Like Digger, Gary is an alcoholic. Like Digger, he has failed to live up to Jock’s expectations. And like Digger, he has “lost” a daughter to the Ewings.

I believe Gary leaves Southfork at the end of “Reunion, Part 2” not just because he feels pressured by J.R., but also because he doesn’t want to become as embittered as Digger. He says as much when he bids farewell to Valene and tells her, “I’m alright. It took me a long time to realize that. I just don’t belong with them – and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

David Ackroyd is really good in this scene, but Joan Van Ark is magnificent. When Val tells Gary she’s never loved another man like she loved him, you feel her pain.

I also love Van Ark’s performance in the next sequence, when the actress spins on a dime and channels Val’s tears into anger at J.R., who’s been watching her from Southfork’s front porch.

“So what’s my future?” she asks him.

“None around here,” J.R. responds.

“Any choices?”

“Well, $5,000 and an escort out of the state?”

“Any others?”

“An escort out of the state.”

Dialogue this sharp – and acting this good – make me wish scriptwriter David Jacobs and Van Ark had spent more time at Southfork before heading west to “Knots Landing” during “Dallas’s” third season.

The farewell scene is also elevated by Robert Jessup’s cinematography, which makes Southfork’s blue skies and gold-green pastures look stunning. Jessup’s work here reminds us of one of “Dallas’s” great dichotomies: No matter how ugly the characters on this show behave, the scenery around them is always gorgeous.

Grade: A


Dallas, David Ackroyd, Gary Ewing, Joan Van Ark, Valene Ewing

Goodbye, for now


Season 2, Episode 2

Airdate: September 30, 1978

Audience: 9.5 million homes, ranking 59th in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Jacobs

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: Pam is humiliated when her father, Digger Barnes, asks Jock to “pay” him for her. J.R. gives Gary a Ewing Oil subsidiary to run, but when Gary feels pressured, he leaves Southfork without saying goodbye. Val also departs, and J.R. lies and tells the family she asked him for money to leave.

Cast: David Ackroyd (Gary Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Sarah Cunningham (Maggie Monahan), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Joan Van Ark (Valene Ewing), David Wayne (Digger Barnes)

“Reunion, Part 2” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.