Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 164 — ‘If at First You Don’t Succeed’

Dallas, If at First You Don't Succeed, Katherine Wentworth, Morgan Brittany

Take another shot

The final scene in “If at First You Don’t Succeed” is another example of how music helps tell the stories on “Dallas.” As Bobby sleeps in his hospital bed, Katherine enters the room, fills a syringe with poison and prepares to inject him. This is supposed to be the moment the audience realizes Katherine fired the gunshots that landed Bobby in the hospital in the first place, although I suspect most viewers who saw this episode in 1984 had long since figured that out. The revelation is gripping nonetheless, thanks mostly to composer Richard Lewis Warren, whose music conveys emotion in ways images alone cannot.

Consider how much work Warren’s score does here. The scene requires Morgan Brittany to enter the room, walk to the nightstand, set down her purse, retrieve the syringe, fill it with poison, squirt a little (an especially nice touch) and stare menacingly at Patrick Duffy. All of this takes a little less than a minute, which is longer than it sounds when you consider there’s no dialogue and we don’t see Katherine’s face until the last few seconds. Nevertheless, Warren’s visceral score — the whirring strings, the escalating keys — makes the scene positively Hitchcockian. The music holds our attention, every step of the way. Of course, don’t overlook Brittany, who has never looked more sinister. Also, during the freeze frame, notice how Philip Capice’s credit moves from its usual spot in the center of the screen to the lower third, as if Katherine has willed the show’s executive producer out of her way.

This climactic moment aside, the “Who Shot Bobby?” mystery turns out to be much less interesting than it seemed three decades ago. The storyline’s truest bright spot is the way it reignites Pam’s spark, giving Victoria Principal some of her best material since “Dallas’s” first two seasons. For example, when “If at First You Don’t Succeed” begins, Pam confronts J.R. outside the Ewing Oil building and accuses him of trying to frame Cliff for the shooting. It’s one of J.R. and Pam’s great clashes, especially when she vows to join Cliff’s side in the Barnes/Ewing feud. “I’m not going to rest until all our family scores are settled,” she says, leaving J.R. looking more than a little unnerved. Later, when Sue Ellen visits Pam at home and tries to defend her husband, Pam is aghast — and she doesn’t hesitate to show it. Sue Ellen becomes equally indignant and suggests it might be time for the Barneses and the Ewings to go their separate ways, prompting Pam to snap, “Then why don’t you start, Sue Ellen, by leaving here right now?”

Too bad Donna’s storyline doesn’t hold up as well. I like how the writers have Bobby name Donna his proxy at Ewing Oil, if only because it’s good to see a “Dallas” woman in a position of authority for a change. Unfortunately, Donna comes off as a bit of a nag when dealing with J.R. at the office. She does give him this episode’s most memorable line, though, when she wonders how Cliff’s arrest is affecting Pam. J.R.’s memorable response — “I don’t give a damn about Pam” — is one of those times you know exactly what he’s going to say before it rolls off his tongue. A nicer moment comes when Clayton visits the Krebbs’ home to say goodbye to Ray and Donna before leaving to join Miss Ellie on their honeymoon in Greece. Before Clayton climbs into his Rolls Royce to head to the airport, Donna tells him she loves him, and he says it back to her. I don’t know if this exchange was scripted or if Susan Howard and Howard Keel ad-libbed it, but I’m glad it’s here.

“If at First You Don’t Succeed” is also notable because it brings Deborah Shelton to “Dallas” as Mandy Winger, who arrives as Cliff’s love interest but ends up becoming J.R.’s longest-running mistress. This episode also marks the first appearance of Cliff’s painting of himself, an ideal accessory for Ken Kercheval’s self-centered character, along with the icky scene where J.R. seduces sweaty Sue Ellen in the Southfork exercise room. (Couldn’t these two find another spot in that big house to get it on?) Also, notice that when Katherine hears the radio bulletin that Cliff has been cleared in Bobby’s shooting, the newscaster (“John Shaw”) is the same one who announces Bobby’s shooting in this season’s first episode and his death during the season finale. Additionally, there are quite a few nods to “Dallas’s” past, including the scene where Sue Ellen tells Jenna about Dusty’s paralysis, a storyline from the fourth and fifth seasons, and Lucy’s visit to the Hot Biscuit, the roadside diner where Valene worked during the second season.

Scenes like these do more than reward the memories of longtime viewers. They also make “Dallas” seem like something more than a television show, as if the series has become its own little world. Aren’t you glad we get to inhabit it too?

Grade: B


Dallas, If at First You Don't Succeed, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Get another room


Season 8, Episode 3

Airdate: October 12, 1984

Audience: 24 million homes, ranking 7th in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Cliff is cleared in Bobby’s shooting when mystery woman Mandy Winger comes forward and reveals he spent the night with her. Bobby considers having risky surgery to restore his eyesight, upsetting Jenna. J.R. seduces Sue Ellen, who defends his actions to Clayton, Donna and Pam. Lucy is offered a waitressing job at a diner where Valene once worked. While Bobby sleeps, Katherine sneaks into his room and prepares to inject him with poison.

Cast: Norman Bennett (Al), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), James L. Brown (Detective Harry McSween), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Jenny Gago (Nurse), Gerald Gordon (Dr. Carter), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Bill Morey (Leo Wakefield), Joanna Miles (Martha Randolph), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Marina Rice (Angela), Mitchell Ryan (Captain Merwin Fogerty), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

“If at First You Don’t Succeed” is available on DVD and at Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 160 — ‘Hush, Hush, Sweet Jessie’

Alexis Smith, Dallas, Hush Hush Sweet Jessie, Lady Jessica Farlow Montford

How sweet she is

What do I love about the final scene in “Hush, Hush, Sweet Jessie”? Oh, pretty much everything. The Ewings stand in the Southfork driveway, panicked because no one knows the whereabouts of Miss Ellie and Jessica, whose murderous past has finally come to light. Suddenly, Donna arrives in Ray’s pickup truck. She gets out, bloodied and shaken, and explains that she’s just come from the Krebbs’ home, where Jessica knocked her out, swiped one of Ray’s handguns, took Ellie and drove who-knows-where in Donna’s car. J.R. looks stricken. “We’ve got to find them,” he says. “Jessica has killed once. Who knows what she’ll do with Mama?” Duh-duh-duh!

Is this a moment of pure camp? Yes, of course. How could any scene that requires the audience to imagine Alexis Smith abducting Barbara Bel Geddes at gunpoint not be campy? And what about the way Donna announces her news? Shouldn’t she hop out of Ray’s truck and offer the most important facts first: “Hey, everyone, Jessica has kidnapped Miss Ellie!” Instead, Donna tells the story chronologically; this allows the episode to end with the dramatic revelation that Mama has been abducted, but it isn’t very realistic. There’s also this: After Larry Hagman delivers his “We’ve got to find them” line, we get a reaction shot from Howard Keel and Patrick Duffy, who stand side by side and turn their eyes to the camera in near perfect unison. It’s priceless.

And yet despite all this, the scene is undeniably thrilling. The most valuable actors are Hagman, who makes J.R.’s concern easy to believe, and Susan Howard, whose halting, anguished delivery is pitch-perfect. She gets a big assist from the brilliant composer Richard Lewis Warren, whose underscore lends urgency to the entire sequence. I especially love how there’s no music during most of Donna’s monologue until she recalls awakening after Jessica knocked her out. Warren slowly brings in the orchestra when Donna says, “And then when I came to … they were both gone.” By the time she gets to this line — “Ray, she took one of your guns!” — the music has swelled. Can any “Dallas” fan watch this part without getting goose bumps?

The rest of “Hush, Hush, Sweet Jessie” is almost as good. Smith is as over-the-top as ever when Jessica finally unravels in Ray and Donna’s kitchen, but Bel Geddes, with her believably bewildered expression, manages to keep the scene grounded. Meanwhile, Katherine proves she can wheel and deal with the best of them when she agrees to buy Cliff’s share of Wentworth Tool & Die at a bargain-basement price, and it’s great fun to see Morgan Brittany deliver lines like “Oil, oil, everywhere, and not a drop for Cliff.” Also, how can you not love the long-awaited moment when Pam confronts Katherine after learning she forged the letter that broke up her marriage to Bobby? The slap Pam delivers must be one of the most cathartic moments in “Dallas” history, and isn’t it nice to see Victoria Principal demonstrate some of the spark that once made her character so compelling?

“Hush, Hush, Sweet Jessie” raises a few other questions that probably wouldn’t occur to anyone but “Dallas” devotees. Here’s one: At the beginning of the episode, Lucy speaks on the phone to Jackie, Cliff’s secretary. Is this the first, and perhaps only, time these two women interact? Here’s another: After J.R. confronts Clayton and Ray with Jessica’s diary in a Braddock parking lot, the three men hop into J.R.’s Mercedes and hightail it back to the ranch. Is this the first time we’ve seen J.R. and Ray share a ride since they palled around in the first-season episode “Winds of Vengeance”?

There’s also this: When the producers named this episode, they were surely offering a loving nod to the 1964 thriller “Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” which starred Bette Davis as a wealthy spinster driven mad by her scheming cousin, played by Olivia de Havilland. (Future “Dallas” star George Kennedy has a small role too.) The film, which received seven Oscar nominations, is now regarded by some as a camp classic. Did the “Dallas” producers know this episode would achieve a similar distinction?

Grade: A


Bobby Ewing, Charlene Tilton, Clayton Farlow, Dallas, Donna Culver Krebbs, Hush Hush Sweet Jessie, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Lucy Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Through the looking glass


Season 7, Episode 29

Airdate: May 11, 1984

Audience: 20.4 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Gwen Arner

Synopsis: Pam learns Mark knew he was dying and killed himself. Cliff reluctantly sells his share of Wentworth Tool & Die to Katherine, whom Pam slaps after she discovers Katherine’s role in ending her marriage to Bobby. Clayton tells Ray and Donna that Dusty is actually Jessica’s son. After J.R. uncovers evidence Jessica killed Clayton’s first wife, she kidnaps Miss Ellie.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), James L. Brown (Detective Harry McSween), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), 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), Bill Morey (Leo Wakefield), Charles Parks (Fred Robbins), Edmund Penney (doctor), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Alexis Smith (Lady Jessica Montfort), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), D.J. Zacker (Louis)

“Hush, Hush, Sweet Jessie” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

The Dal-List: Classic ‘Dallas’s’ 13 Most Harrowing Kidnappings

Ann Ewing, Boxed In, Brenda Strong, Dallas, Emma Bell, Emma Ryland, TNT

Your turn, Annie

The Ewings discover Ann and Emma (Brenda Strong, Emma Bell) have been kidnapped in “Boxed In,” TNT’s latest “Dallas” episode. Fortunately, our favorite TV family has plenty of experience dealing with this kind of thing. Here’s a look at the 13 most harrowing kidnappings from the original series.

Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Greg Evigan, Lucy Ewing, Willie Gust

Far out!

13. Lucy (1978). When the Ewings refused to let Valene come to Lucy’s birthday party, Lucy ran away from Southfork and hitched a ride with Willie Gust (Greg Evigan) — and who can blame her? Willie had the tightest jeans, the most feathery hair and the grooviest custom van in Texas, right down to the wall-to-wall fake-fur carpeting. Too bad Willie was also a lunatic who ended up taking Lucy (Charlene Tilton) on a cross-Texas crime spree. Bobby rescued her, of course, but we never found out what happened to Willie. Was he really as psychotic as he seemed? Or were those jeans merely cutting off the circulation to his brain?

Dallas, John Ross Ewing

J.R. Duncan

12. John Ross (1979). Hey, remember when Sue Ellen nipped a little too much from her “special bottle” of Scope, escaped from the sanitarium, wrecked her car and gave birth to John Ross? And remember how Priscilla Duncan (Sheila Larken) quietly snatched the baby from the hospital? And then remember how happy we all were when Pam figured out what happened and reunited J.R. and Sue Ellen with their son? Well, hindsight being what it is, am I the only one who now thinks John Ross might have been better off with Ms. Duncan? Sure, she was nuts, but think of all the daddy issues the kid would’ve avoided.

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Who shut up J.R.?

11. J.R. Ex-mobster Joseph Lombardi wanted answers when his son Nick Pearce plunged to his death after tussling with J.R. (Larry Hagman) on a high-rise balcony, so Lombardi sent his goons after our hero. They bound and gagged J.R. and brought him to a cheap motel, where Lombardi grilled him about the night Nick died. J.R. insisted it was all an accident — and fortunately Sue Ellen confirmed his account, prompting Lombardi to release him. It was cool to see Hagman act opposite the great Joseph Campanella, and we have to give Lombardi props for stand up to ol’ J.R. But would I want to see him kidnapped again? Fahgettaboudit.

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy

Cuff him if you can

10. Bobby. “Dallas” has given us a lot of credibility-stretching storylines over the years (cough, cough Haleyville), but you know what I’ll never believe? I’ll never believe that Bobby James Ewing (Patrick Duffy) — that strapping, hunk of Grade A Texas beefcake — could be outmuscled by the clowns who kidnapped him during the middle of the show’s second season. For goodness sakes, Bobby is the kind of guy who can take on a barroom full of drunk cowboys and walk away without a scratch. The only thing more ridiculous than seeing him abducted is seeing the Ewings turn to Cliff Barnes to rescue him!

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Darlin’ detained

9. Sue Ellen. Oh, for the love of Pete. Sue Ellen, what have you gone and done now? Did you really allow that creep B.D. Calhoun to slip you a mickey so he could photograph himself with you and send the pictures to J.R.? Didn’t you learn not to trust strange men during Pam’s dream the previous season? Actually, even though Sue Ellen should have known better, this subplot marked the beginning of a turning point in her marriage: Once J.R. vanquished Calhoun, he felt so bad about what happened to his family, he finally kicked that Winger tramp to the curb. Hmmm. On second thought, maybe Sue Ellen knew what she was doing all along.

Dallas, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Welcome to the jungle

8. Pam. When an old back injury flared up during “Dallas’s” ninth season, Victoria Principal took a break from the show, leaving the writers scrambling to explain her absence. Their solution? Have Pam kidnapped by jungle mercenaries, of course! The subplot proves surprisingly effective, especially when we see Cliff’s determination to rescue his sister. (Their reunion after the bad guys release her is one of many great scenes between Principal and Ken Kercheval.) Looking back, I can’t help but wonder: Why couldn’t “Dallas” come up with a good storyline to explain Principal’s absence when she left the show for good two years later?

Dallas, Daniel Pilon, Jenna Wade, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley

Take her. Please.

7. Jenna. When Jenna (Priscilla Beaulieu Presley) fled Dallas on the day she was supposed to marry Bobby, she left behind a note that explained she had fallen in love with someone else and was running away. Except that wasn’t true: Jenna’s ex Renaldo Marchetta (Daniel Pilon) had kidnapped her and forced her to pen the letter to throw the Ewings off their trail. When this storyline aired during the winter and spring of 1985, I spent weeks on the edge of my seat, anxious to see how it would turn out. Little did I know things would end on such a tragic note, when Dreadful Jenna™ returned to Southfork. Oh, the humanity!

B.D. Calhoun, Dallas, Hunter von Leer, John Ross Ewing, Omri Katz

Captive audience

6. John Ross (1986). Here we go again. After B.D. Calhoun (Hunter von Leer) kidnapped and released Sue Ellen, he set his sights on John Ross (Omri Katz), J.R. and Sue Ellen’s son. Calhoun snatched the kid from a hotel pool in Los Angeles, where J.R. and Bobby sent their wives and boys to protect them from the threat Calhoun posed. The crazed mercenary forced little John Ross to make a hostage tape, which turned Sue Ellen into a blubbering mess when she watched it. Fear not, honey: The Ewing brothers eventually rescued John Ross, who would grow up to star alongside Emma Ryland in a much different kind of video.

Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Lucy Ewing

Gagged, reeling

5. Lucy (1982). Well, what do you know? Lucy’s been kidnapped yet again. This time, the culprit is Roger Larson, the photographer who helped turn her into Texas’s tiniest top model. Unlike most of the other kidnappings on this list, Roger didn’t abduct Lucy for ransom or revenge — he was obsessed with her. He kept the Ewing heiress locked in a room plastered with the pictures he took of her. (Do stalkers do this in real life, or only on TV?) Bobby and Pam eventually rescued Lucy, but not before Pam told off Roger in one of Principal’s best scenes. Gee, like Sue Ellen, maybe Lucy should’ve gotten kidnapped more often too.

Joan Van Ark, Knots Landing, Valene Ewing

Feet first

4. Lucy (Early 1960s). Lucy’s first kidnapping is an integral part of “Dallas” lore. It’s mentioned in the first episode, when Lucy recalls how J.R.’s “old boys” snatched her from Valene’s arms when she was a baby and brought her to Southfork to be raised by Jock and Miss Ellie. We finally saw the kidnapping in a “Knots Landing” flashback, where we learned the ugly mess probably could’ve been prevented: No, I’m not referring to the fact that Lillimae refused to let Val (Joan Van Ark) into her shack when J.R.’s henchmen were chasing her. I’m talking about the fact Val was barefoot when she was trying to outrun them. Good grief, Val. Buy some shoes.

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, Tyler Banks

Carry on

3. John Ross (1981). When Sue Ellen and John Ross went to live at the Southern Cross, J.R. was determined to get his boy back. He saw an opportunity when Sue Ellen took the child with her to Kristin’s funeral in New Mexico. Mother and son were gliding through a Love Field terminal when two of J.R.’s thugs approached. While one man distracted Sue Ellen, the other snatched the child. Suddenly, Dusty Farlow and a trio of Southern Cross cowboys swarmed the dude holding John Ross. “Give us the boy,” Dusty demanded — and of course the guy did. This might have been “Dallas’s” briefest abduction, but wasn’t it exciting!

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Miss Ellie Ewing

Trunk show

2. Miss Ellie. Look everybody, Donna’s here! What’s wrong, Donna? You seem upset. What’s that, you say? Jessica called Dusty and told him Clayton’s wedding to Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) is off? And then Jessica knocked you out with the phone? And then she stole your car? And then she took Mama?! Geez, Donna, couldn’t you have given us that last bit of information first? No matter. Between Susan Howard’s pained delivery and Richard Lewis Warren’s tension-building score, the scene where the Ewings discover Mama has been abducted by loony tune Jessica is positively thrilling — even if Donna did bury the lede.

April Ewing, Dallas, Sheree J. Wilson

Grand theft auto

1. April. Every abduction on this list ends happily for the victim — except this one. The original “Dallas” kicked off its final season with the kidnapping of April (Sheree J. Wilson) during her Parisian honeymoon with Bobby. The storyline was a little complicated — the culprit was Hillary Taylor (Susan Lucci), a mystery woman who took April so she could assume her identity and make a big speech at an OPEC conference — and yet it was also a dramatic thrill ride. Fans expected Bobby to get his bride back by the time all was said and done — and so imagine our surprise when she was gunned down at the conference. It was a hell of a way to start the original show’s last season, telegraphing to the audience that this would be the year anything could happen on “Dallas” — and damn near did.

Which kidnapping did you find most harrowing on “Dallas”? Share your thoughts below and read more “Dal-Lists.”

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 150 — ‘Where is Poppa?’

Christopher Atkins, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Peter Richards, Where is Poppa?

Who’s the daddy?

No matter how many times I see the Ewings rush to the hospital when one of their own gets sick or injured, it always moves me. Besides generating drama and suspense, these scenes also remind us that the characters care about each other, despite all their squabbling. Consider what happens in “Where is Poppa?” At the beginning of the episode, J.R. and Sue Ellen have one of their nasty marital spats, but in the fourth act, when he receives word at the office that she’s been struck by a car, he drops everything and races to Dallas Memorial. In moments like this, there’s no doubt this man loves his wife.

“Where is Poppa?” also delivers a nifty twist in the final scene, when the doctor who’s been treating Sue Ellen informs the family that she sustained only minor injuries — although the accident did cause her to suffer a miscarriage. What’s that, you say? You didn’t know Sue Ellen was pregnant? Apparently no one did, including Sue Ellen herself. Of course, “Dallas” has given us plenty of foreshadowing and other clues. Two episodes ago, J.R. told his wife how much he wished they could have another child; in the previous segment, she had breakfast in bed because she felt queasy. Now we know she was probably experiencing morning sickness.

Details like these feel like little rewards for attentive viewers. So does the episode’s final shot. After the doctor reveals Sue Ellen had a miscarriage, J.R. and Peter stand next to each other and wear stunned expressions. This is a clever ending because it leaves us pondering a big mystery — which man was the father of Sue Ellen’s unborn child? — without anyone ever actually asking the question. It’s also one of the few occasions where the audience has more information than J.R. We know Sue Ellen has slept with Peter, but J.R. doesn’t. This lends the scene unexpected poignancy; not only has he lost a child, he’s also lost a wife — metaphorically speaking, that is.

Other highlights of “Where is Poppa?” include Richard Lewis Warren’s score, which adds urgency to the sequence where the news of Sue Ellen’s accident spreads to the various Ewings. I also like the scene where Donna takes Paul Morgan to lunch to see if he knows anything about Edgar Randolph, who she suspects is being blackmailed by J.R. Besides giving the show an excuse to bring back Glenn Corbett, this scene represents another example of “Dallas’s” attention to detail. After all, the show has established that both Edgar and Paul are protégés of Donna’s first husband Sam Culver, so it makes sense that she would turn to Paul for information about Edgar.

Another good scene: J.R. takes Sly to lunch for her birthday and she tells him she used the $10,000 “bonus” she received from Cliff to help her brother start his own machine shop. Since Sly’s brother’s troubles were the reason she got swept up in the corporate espionage game in the first place, I’m glad scriptwriter Arthur Bernard Lewis took the time to give us an update on the brother’s life. It’s a nice touch.

I also appreciate how this episode’s title carries multiple meetings. “Where is Poppa?” refers to the mystery over the father of Sue Ellen’s child, but it can also be seen as a nod to Katherine’s mission to determine if Bobby or Naldo Marchetta is the father of Jenna Wade’s daughter, Charlie. During this episode’s third act, J.R. and Katherine are concluding one of their midday trysts when her private eye calls to let her know that he’s finally tracked down Naldo, who now lives in Los Angeles. Morgan Brittany is terrific in this scene; as Katherine, she shifts effortlessly from being disgusted over having to sleep with J.R. again to being giddy over the news that Naldo has finally been found. Larry Hagman is also a hoot, especially when he delivers one of J.R.’s immortal lines: “You got anything to drink around here? Some orange juice or coffee? Loving always makes me thirsty.”

So “loving” makes J.R. thirsty, huh? No wonder he always has a drink in his hand.

Grade: B


Charlie Wade, Dallas, Shalane McCall, Where is Poppa?

Who’s your daddy?


Season 7, Episode 19

Airdate: February 10, 1984

Audience: 21.2 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: William F. Claxton

Synopsis: When Sue Ellen is struck by a car, J.R. and Peter learn she was pregnant and suffered a miscarriage. Edgar goes home from the hospital. Marilee agrees to join Cliff’s bid. Katherine learns Naldo lives in Los Angeles.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Fran Bennett (receptionist), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Martin E. Brooks (Edgar Randolph), Anne Gee Byrd (Dr. Jeffries), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Glenn Corbett (Paul Morgan), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Alice Hirson (Mavis Anderson), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie Dugan), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Anne Lucas (Cassie), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Joanna Miles (Martha Randolph), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Donegan Smith (Earl Johnson), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 148 — ‘Eye of the Beholder’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Clayton Farlow, Dallas, Eye of the Beholder, Howard Keel, Miss Ellie Ewing

The natural

At the end of “Eye of the Beholder,” Miss Ellie tearfully tells Clayton that she had breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy years earlier. It’s another moving performance from Barbara Bel Geddes, although when I try to explain why she excels in scenes like this one, I always come up short. Is it her ability to summon tears whenever the script calls for it? Is it her halting delivery, which mimics the way people tend to talk in real life? Or is it some magical, Hagman-esque quality that can’t be described? Whatever the reason, Bel Geddes always makes me forget I’m watching a world of make-believe. She’s amazing.

To be fair, Bel Geddes gets plenty of help from “Eye of the Beholder” scriptwriter Arthur Bernard Lewis, whose unsentimental dialogue ensures Ellie isn’t seen as a figure of self-pity. Here’s how she tells Clayton about her ordeal: “Clayton, I had surgery. I’ve had a mastectomy. The doctor found cancer. They cut off my breast.” This series of clipped, matter-of-fact pronouncements reminds me of Bel Geddes’ wonderful monologue in “Return Engagements,” when Ellie acknowledges her failure to help Gary keep his family together. (“I should’ve fought them. I didn’t. I did nothing.”) Only one line in Ellie’s “Eye of the Beholder” speech gives me pause. After she tells Clayton about her mastectomy, she says, “It affects how I feel about myself, and I know it’s got to be harder for you.” This seems like another example of “Dallas’s” pervasive sexism — and maybe it is — but like it or not, I suspect this is how a lot of women from Ellie’s generation felt.

Regardless, I continue to marvel at “Dallas’s” acknowledgment that Ellie and Clayton, two characters who are supposed to be in their 60s or 70s, are capable of sexual intimacy. Besides “The Golden Girls,” which debuted a year after this episode aired, I can’t think of another show that did more more than “Dallas” to dispel the myth that people stop having sex with they get old. I also appreciate how sensitively “Dallas” handles this material. At the end of the scene, Clayton tells Ellie the mastectomy doesn’t matter to him and sweeps her into his arms. The final freeze frame shows him holding her tightly as Richard Lewis Warren’s soft piano music plays in the background. There’s no big cliffhanger, just two characters expressing their love and commitment to each other. What other prime-time soap opera from this era would be willing to end an episode on such a quiet, dignified note?

Above all, I love how Ellie and Clayton’s storyline mines “Dallas’s” history. “Eye of the Beholder” arrived four seasons after the show’s classic “Mastectomy” episodes, which broke ground by making Ellie one of the first major characters in prime time to get cancer. In “Eye of the Beholder,” the show doesn’t just mention her disease, it turns it into a major subplot and reveals Ellie is still struggling with the same feelings of inadequacy that she did in 1979. Her tearful scene with Clayton harkens to the memorable moment in “Mastectomy, Part 2,” when she comes home after her surgery and breaks down (“I’m deformed”) upon discovering her dresses no longer fit the way they once did.

The show’s history can also be felt in “Eye of the Beholder’s” third act, when Clayton tells Sue Ellen that Ellie has called off the wedding without telling him why. Sue Ellen gently quizzes Clayton and realizes he and Ellie haven’t been intimate with each other. “Don’t give up on her. I don’t think she’s told you everything,” Sue Ellen says. I love this scene for a lot of reasons, beginning with Linda Gray, whose expression lets the audience know that Sue Ellen has it all figured out. This also feels like a moment of growth for Gray’s character. Think back to “Mastectomy, Part 2,” when Sue Ellen reacts to Ellie’s cancer diagnosis by suggesting Jock will reject his wife after her surgery. Four years later, Sue Ellen is wiser, less cynical and more compassionate. When you think about it, if it wasn’t for Sue Ellen encouraging Clayton to not give up on Ellie, Ellie might not have opened up to him and given their relationship another chance. In many ways, Sue Ellen rescues this couple.

“Eye of the Beholder” contains several other nods to “Dallas’s” past, including the warm scene where Bobby and Pam share lunch at the Oil Baron’s Club and reminisce about their wedding. Besides showcasing Patrick Duffy and Victoria Principal’s sparkling chemistry, the scene fills in some blanks for “Dallas” diehards. For example, “Digger’s Daughter” opens with Bobby and Pam stopping at a gas station not long after their spur-of-the-moment wedding in New Orleans. I always wondered: Were the newlyweds coming straight from the chapel? It turns out they weren’t: In “Eye of the Beholder,” we learn the couple spent their wedding night in a motel while making their way back to Southfork. It’s also nice to know “When the Saints Go Marching In” was their wedding music. If that’s not a fitting theme for these two, I don’t know what is.

The other great scenes in “Eye of the Beholder” include Bobby forcing J.R. to sign the paperwork to buy Travis Boyd’s company, which ends with J.R. saying, “I don’t like doing business this way.” Bobby’s response: “Well, I’ll continue your delicate sensibilities some other time, all right?” I also like the scene that introduces Barry Jenner as Jerry Kenderson, Mark Graison’s doctor and confidante; Jenner and John Beck have an easy rapport, making the friendship between their characters feel believable. “Eye of the Beholder” also marks Bill Morey’s first appearance as Barnes-Wentworth’s longtime controller Leo Wakefield, whose weary demeanor makes him a worthy foil for Ken Kercheval’s hyperkinetic Cliff. (Morey previously popped up as a judge in the fifth-season episode “Gone But Not Forgotten.”)

Two more moments, both showcasing Larry Hagman’s comedic talents, deserve mentioning. In the first, J.R. enters the Southfork living room, where Sue Ellen is offering Peter a drink. J.R. accuses his wife of “trying to corrupt that young man,” until he finds out Peter has arrived to escort Lucy to a party. “Oh, in that case you’re going to need a drink,” J.R. says. In Hagman’s other great scene, J.R. takes Edgar Randolph to lunch, where he tells Edgar he wants him to reveal the high bidder in the offshore drilling auction so J.R. can beat the bid. Edgar resists, saying he doesn’t want to cheat the government, but J.R. points out the government will make more money under his scheme. “J.R., you have the amazing ability to make a crooked scheme sound noble,” Edgar says. J.R.’s response: “Edgar, that’s part of my charm.”

For once, he isn’t lying.

Grade: A


Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Eye of the Beholder, Pam Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal

On the march


Season 7, Episode 17

Airdate: January 27, 1984

Audience: 22 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Miss Ellie tells Clayton she doesn’t want to marry him because she had a mastectomy, but he tells her it doesn’t matter. Cliff agrees to sleep with Marilee if she’ll join his offshore drilling venture. J.R. tells Edgar he wants to see the offshore proposals so he can bid higher. Pam realizes Bobby and Jenna are sleeping together.

Cast: Denny Albee (Travis Boyd), Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Martin E. Brooks (Edgar Randolph), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Barry Jenner (Dr. Jerry Kenderson), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie Dugan), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Anne Lucas (Cassie), Kevin McBride (George), Bill Morey (Leo Wakefield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Donegan Smith (Earl Johnson), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 142 — ‘To Catch a Sly’

Dallas, Debbie Rennard, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Sly Lovegren, To Catch a Sly

Spy another day

One of the reasons J.R. Ewing is so entertaining is because he’s always a few steps ahead of the “Dallas” audience. We watch him plot and scheme, never knowing what trick he’s going to pull out of his sleeve next. That’s why the show’s seventh-season corporate espionage storyline is so unusual. From the beginning, viewers know Cliff Barnes is blackmailing J.R.’s secretary Sly into leaking Ewing Oil secrets, but J.R. is in the dark. Interestingly, this never makes Larry Hagman’s character seem weak or even vulnerable. In fact, it has almost the opposite effect, because we know once J.R. finds out who’s betraying him, there’s going to be hell to pay.

Indeed, that’s pretty much what happens in “To Catch a Sly.” When the episode begins, J.R. has just learned Cliff has a spy at Ewing Oil but he doesn’t know who it is, so he goes to work trying to root out the fink. He finally discovers Sly is the culprit in the fourth act, and in the closing moments, he confronts her. This scene begins with Sly at her desk at the end of a workday, getting ready to go home. J.R. appears in his office doorway and summons her inside. She swallows hard before entering the room, where J.R. makes small talk and begins opening a bottle of wine. “You know, you’ve been looking a little peaked lately, Sly,” he says. She tells him she’s been having “some personal problems,” adding that “it’s nothing serious.” J.R. turns toward her, hands her the glass of wine he just poured and says, “If it’s the problem I’m thinking of, it’s very serious indeed.” Uh-oh.

What follows is one of the great “Dallas” moments. Sly sits in one of J.R.’s guest chairs as he walks to his desk and retrieves a stack of photos that show her and Cliff during some of their secret meetings. The director, Michael Preece, keeps Debbie Rennard in the foreground as Hagman hovers in the distance, holding the pictures aloft. With this shot, Preece encapsulates the whole storyline: Here’s J.R., the businessman who’s been betrayed; Sly, the secretary who’s been forced to double-cross her boss; and Cliff, the smarmy enemy who’s stooped to a new low in his never-ending quest for vengeance. As soon as I saw how Preece framed this scene, I knew it would be the image that accompanied this critique.

As the sequence continues, J.R. slowly shuffles through the photos, showing them to Sly one by one. “You recognize anybody in these pictures?” he asks. She stares at the floor in silence. “Sure, you do,” he says. “This is you, and this is Cliff Barnes.” Hagman’s voice is calm, soft, almost melodic. It reminds me of Mister Rogers addressing an audience of children, although when J.R. speaks this way, it’s anything but reassuring. Preece, who has been focusing on the pictures in a tight close-up, pans upward and allows Hagman’s face to fill the frame. Finally, J.R. poses the question he’s been waiting to ask: “Sly, why did you betray me to that man?”

The line alleviates the tension because it suggests J.R. is going to stop torturing Sly with politeness and cut to the chase. He listens as she tearfully explains how Cliff pressured her to sneak him advanced information about J.R.’s business dealings by threatening to prevent her jailed brother from being paroled. In a clever touch, Rennard doesn’t make eye contact with Hagman until Sly says, “J.R., I love my brother. I couldn’t pass up a chance to help him.” Preece cuts to a reaction shot from J.R., whose face displays a flicker of recognition. He knows a thing or two about brotherly love, after all.

Indeed, this is the moment we know J.R. is going to show Sly mercy. He tells her that he’s pleased she didn’t try to “cover up” when he confronted her with the pictures, and then Hagman lifts the corners of his mouth, ever so slightly. You can practically see the wheels turning inside J.R.’s head. He suggests he’s going to turn Sly into a double agent, using her to feed Cliff bad information. “You’re going to set him up?” she asks. J.R. shakes his head no. “He set himself up,” he says. “What I’m going to do is bring him down — and bring him down very, very hard.”

The episode ends there, leaving us with plenty to ponder. For starters: How twisted is it that J.R. turns out to be pleased by this turn of events? He now has an excuse to go after Cliff with gusto, not that he needs one; batting around Cliff has always been J.R.’s favorite sport. For a moment, I also wondered if J.R.’s vow to “bring him down” reflected paternal feelings toward Sly. In other words: Does he want to avenge her honor after Cliff took advantage of her? Ultimately, I decided that’s not what’s happening here. I have no doubt J.R. has affection for Sly, but if he really cared about her, would he turn her into a double agent? Isn’t he treating her like a pawn, just like Cliff did?

Regardless, Rennard does a nice job conveying Sly’s shame and guilt, as well as the character’s paranoia in her earlier scenes in “To Catch a Sly,” when Sly realizes J.R. is closing in on her. This episode also reminds us how much Hagman’s performance has evolved over the years. Remember: This isn’t the first time one of J.R.’s secretaries has betrayed him. In “Spy in the House,” the show’s third episode, Julie Grey sneaks a copy of Ewing Oil’s notorious “red file” to Cliff. When J.R. discovers Julie double-crossed him, he looks devastated, but Hagman offers no hint that J.R. feels personally wounded by Sly’s treachery. At this point during “Dallas’s” run, the actor had long since honed J.R.’s killer instincts, and that’s what he gives the audience here.

David Paulsen’s sharp script gives us lots to consider besides this final scene. For example, when J.R. drops by Cliff’s office and plants the recording device in his phone, I wondered: Would Cliff really be foolish enough to allow J.R. to use his office when he isn’t there? I decided he would be. I’ve always believed Cliff doesn’t want to beat J.R. as much as he wants to be J.R. Cliff mimics his enemy as far back as the second-season episode “For Love or Money,” when he uses one of J.R.’s own lines to break up with Sue Ellen. Cliff also emulates him when he blackmails Sly, tossing around the word “baby” the way J.R. does “darlin’.” So in “To Catch a Sly,” when J.R. shows up on Cliff’s doorstep to congratulate him on his recent victories over Ewing Oil, I can buy that Cliff is so blinded by the idea that J.R. is impressed with him that he lets down his guard and leaves him alone in his office. Besides, just because Cliff is devious doesn’t mean he’s smart.

“Dallas’s” various romantic entanglements also take interesting twists in “To Catch a Sly.” The episode opens with the newly divorced Pam awakening after sleeping with Mark for the first time, while Bobby continues to resist bedding Jenna, even though she says she wants to have sex with him. Did you ever expect to see a Ewing man insist on taking things slowly with a woman? Meanwhile, Sue Ellen’s ongoing May/December flirtation with Peter Richards leaves me feeling a little cold, at least in this episode. Until now, I’ve been intrigued by Sue Ellen and Peter’s connection, but he seems a little bratty — not to mention stalkerish — when he follows her to her appointment with hairdresser Mr. David. (By the way: Mr. David has evidently moved to new digs since the exterior of his salon doesn’t match the building used in the previous season. And where’s the valet parking?)

Finally, a few words about the technology displayed in “To Catch a Sly.” This episode seems to offer more than the usual share of gadgets and gizmos that were considered cutting-edge in 1983 and now seem hopelessly dated. Examples: J.R. wears a pager on his belt when he visits Cliff’s office, and after he bugs his phone, he listens to the recorded conversations on what appears to be a Sony Walkman. (How, exactly, does the little device that J.R. drops into Cliff’s receiver yield audiocassette recordings of Cliff’s calls?) Later, when Katherine goes to the library to dig up dirt on Jenna, she looks up old newspaper articles on microfiche. Finally, when J.R. brings John Ross to the Ewing Oil offices, the little boy pounds on the keyboard attached to Sly’s computer, which has a monitor that seems to display graphics in two colors: white and blue.

Look closely and you’ll also see the logo of the company that made the machine: Texas Instruments. What else would you expect from the Ewings?

Grade: A


Dallas, Debbie Rennard, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Sly Lovegren, To Catch a Sly



Season 7, Episode 11

Airdate: December 9, 1983

Audience: 23 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: J.R. discovers Sly is spying on him for Cliff and decides to turn her into a double agent. Bobby is bothered when he discovers Pam slept with Mark. Katherine noses around in Jenna’s past. Sue Ellen begins planning the annual Ewing Barbecue and feels envious when Lucy expresses interest in dating Peter.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), James L. Brown (Detective Harry McSween), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie Dugan), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Lisa LeMole (Judy Baker), Edward Mallory (Stanger), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

“To Catch a Sly” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 130 — ‘Penultimate’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Linda Gray, Miss Ellie Ewing, Penultimate, Sue Ellen Ewing

Mama’s here

“Penultimate” is an hour of misery and pain, but it contains love too. The story begins where “Dallas’s” previous episode ends, when Sue Ellen drives drunk and crashes J.R.’s car. The accident leaves her with a broken arm and some scrapes and bruises, while passenger Mickey Trotter fares much worse: He slips into a coma after his spinal cord is injured. This leads to tense scenes, like the one where Lucy calls Sue Ellen a “lousy drunk” and blames her for the crash. Mostly, though, “Penultimate” depicts the Ewings and Krebbses as people who are willing to set aside old hurts and day-to-day grievances to help each other get through a crisis. It’s the kind of thing we routinely witness on this show, yet it never fails to move me.

Howard Lakin’s smart script ensures Sue Ellen remains a sympathetic figure, even though it seems like she did indeed cause the accident. Lakin gives us a scene where a guilt-ridden Sue Ellen apologizes to Lucy and pleads for forgiveness, and even though Lucy refuses to listen, other characters don’t hesitate to show Sue Ellen compassion. The crucial moment comes in the first act, when a sore, stiff Sue Ellen comes home from the hospital and goes to her bedroom with Miss Ellie, who offers to help her change into a nightgown. When Sue Ellen begins to cry, Ellie takes her into her arms and holds her close. It’s a touching scene, and also a clever one. If Ellie is willing to forgive Sue Ellen, why shouldn’t we?

Of course, Linda Gray keeps the audience on Sue Ellen’s side too. Throughout “Penultimate,” Gray carries herself like a woman full of regret; we never doubt that Sue Ellen feels terrible about what she’s done. It doesn’t hurt that she looks awful. Sue Ellen’s face is purple and swollen, her arm is in a cast and in the first few scenes, her sweater is torn and stained with blood. How can you not feel bad for this woman? In the same spirit, how can you not admire Gray? Remember, “Penultimate” was made in an era when television audiences demanded gloss and glamour from their favorite actresses, so Gray’s willingness to be seen in such an unflattering light feels like an act of courage. (Other stars soon followed Gray’s lead. The year after “Penultimate” aired, Farrah Fawcett wore a black eye when she played a battered wife in the TV movie “The Burning Bed.”)

Gray’s most impressive performance in “Penultimate” comes in the final scene, when J.R. enters his bedroom late at night and finds Sue Ellen waiting up for him. She calmly asks why he remarried her if he had no intention of being faithful, and when he begins to speak, she cuts him off. “Stop it! Stop it! I don’t want to hear any more from you!” she shouts. But J.R. continues, telling Sue Ellen that he never meant to hurt her. “Believe me when I say that I love you. I truly love you,” he says. Larry Hagman’s delivery is sincere, but Gray is the one we can’t take our eyes off of. When J.R. professes his love, Gray turns away from Hagman and faces the camera. She’s silent, yet her expression tells us how tormented Sue Ellen feels at that moment. Despite the pain J.R. has caused her, is there any doubt she loves him too?

Cry, Cry Again

Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Lucy Ewing, Penultimate

Tracking her tears

Charlene Tilton supplies “Penultimate” with its other emotional highpoints. After Lucy lashes out at Sue Ellen and calls her a drunk, she bursts into tears and collapses into Ray’s arms. Later, Lucy is with Ray, Donna and Aunt Lil when the doctor informs them Mickey will probably be paralyzed. Once again, Lucy weeps. Both scenes remind us how Tilton always rises to the occasion when she’s given good material, which happens too infrequently on “Dallas.” I also admire how Steve Kanaly makes us feel every ounce of Ray’s anger and frustration over the tragedy that has befallen Mickey, as well as the guilt consuming Ray over bringing his cousin to Texas in the first place. The other performer to watch in these scenes is Kate Reid, who doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, but who doesn’t need any. Her sad, solemn expression says it all.

Not all of the scenes in “Penultimate” are quite so agonizing. When J.R. goes to Holly’s house to confront her over her attempt to ruin his marriage, we expect J.R. to be full of rage. Instead, he plays it cool, politely offering to give up his share of Harwood Oil — if Holly pays him $20 million, that is. Holly balks, and so J.R. leaves her with a not-so-subtle threat. “Holly, you won a hand in a game of poker,” he says. “You’re seeing me in a mood that you’ll never see again. I strongly advise you to take advantage of it, because considering what it’ll cost if you don’t” — here, Hagman pauses — “twenty million dollars will be chickenfeed.”

Later, Bobby urges Holly not to give J.R. the money until after the contest for Ewing Oil ends. Frankly, of all the surprising moves Bobby makes during the sixth season, this one shocks me most. It’s one thing for Bobby to blackmail George Hicks, the crooked energy regulator, or to stage a sting against Walt Driscoll, J.R.’s accomplice in the illegal Cuban oil deal. But after all the suffering the battle for Ewing Oil has caused, Bobby is still willing to wheel and deal to win the contest? Maybe Pam is right. Maybe her husband really has changed.

Hear the Trumpets

Dallas, Donna Krebbs, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Susan Howard

Eye to eye

Like all great “Dallas” episodes, “Penultimate” is a creative achievement on multiple levels. Along with the strong performances and writing, Richard Lewis Warren’s underscore is essential to the episode’s success. In several scenes, a few piano keys give way to the mournful blaring of trumpets. It fits the somber mood perfectly, not that any of us should be surprised. Warren’s music never gets in the way of the storytelling but helps it along, which is why he’s one of my favorite “Dallas” composers.

“Penultimate” also offers some of the sixth season’s niftiest camerawork. The episode opens at the site of the car accident, as an ambulance pulls away and a tow truck backs up to J.R.’s overturned Mercedes. Southfork looms in the distance, lit up in the black sky, until the camera slowly zooms in for a close-up. I also like how director Nick Havinga opens one scene with a tight shot of the Ewings’ liquor cart. In the background, Sue Ellen enters the room and gradually comes into focus as she approaches the booze and reaches for a bottle. Havinga also plays with our depth perception in a shot in the hospital where Kanaly stands in the foreground and exchanges dialogue with Susan Howard, whose position in the background makes Donna look like she’s a few feet shorter than Ray.

Lakin and Havinga also do a nice job keeping the audience in the dark about the extent of Sue Ellen and Mickey’s injuries when “Penultimate” begins. The first scene in the emergency room shows a medical team tending to an unseen patient. Amid the beeps and whirs of the machinery, one of the doctors drops references to irregular breathing patterns and a possible spinal injury. “Looks like there’s a bad fracture in the right leg,” a nurse announces. Says the doctor: “Yeah, we’ll worry about that later. Right now, let’s just try to keep this patient alive.” Moments later, we see J.R. escort a shaken Sue Ellen into a hospital corridor, and only then do we realize Mickey is the patient in critical condition.

This turns out to be the episode’s most suspenseful moment. The only other mystery presented here is the identity of the driver of the car that struck Sue Ellen and Mickey’s vehicle, which won’t be revealed until the next episode. Indeed, “Penultimate” serves mostly as a prelude to that installment — not that I’m complaining. The season’s plot lines may not advance much during this hour, but the characters do. Isn’t that more interesting anyway?

Grade: A+


Dallas, Mickey Trotter, Timothy Patrick Murphy

Critical condition


Season 6, Episode 27

Airdate: April 29, 1983

Audience: 19 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Howard Lakin

Director: Nick Havinga

Synopsis: While Mickey lies in a coma, doctors determine he’ll likely be paralyzed. Sheriff Washburn tells J.R. that Sue Ellen will be charged with manslaughter if Mickey dies. Ray urges Washburn to find the driver of the car that struck Sue Ellen and Mickey’s vehicle. After J.R. invites Holly to buy him out of her company, Bobby urges her to delay her payment to him until the contest for Ewing Oil is over. Cliff pressures Pam not to give Bobby the drill bit.

Cast: John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Barry Corbin (Sheriff Fenton Washburn), Michael Cornelison (Dr. Snow), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Alice Hirson (Mavis Anderson), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Joe Maross (Dr. Blakely), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Micheky Trotter), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson), John Zaremba (Dr. Harlan Danvers)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 124 — ‘Caribbean Connection’

Bobby Ewing, Caribbean Connection, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Scene to remember

The final moments in “Caribbean Connection” set up one of “Dallas’s” best week-to-week cliffhangers. J.R. is in a seedy cocktail lounge, delivering $100,000 in cash to Walt Driscoll, along with instructions for him to use the money to pay off the middleman in their scheme to sell oil to Cuba. Little does J.R. know that Bobby has discovered J.R.’s plot and is in midst of creating a replica of Driscoll’s briefcase. The next time we see Bobby, he’s on his office phone talking to Ray, who has followed Driscoll to his motel. “I’m on my way. You keep him busy if you have to,” Bobby says. He rushes through the Ewing Oil reception area and runs into J.R., who steps off the elevator as Bobby steps on. The ever-cocky J.R. tells Bobby that it’s going to be “a red-letter day” for his half of the company. Bobby smiles slyly. “Maybe you’re right, J.R.,” he says. “Maybe it will be a day to remember.”

Freeze frame, cue questions: What is Bobby up to? Where’s the dummy briefcase? How will Ray keep Driscoll from getting away? And who is “Ted,” the person Bobby tells Ray to call before he hangs up the phone? The audience won’t learn the answers until the next episode, the appropriately titled “The Sting,” but no matter. Like all great cliffhangers, this sequence is done so well, we don’t require an immediate resolution. Watching this piece of expertly made television is its own form of satisfaction. Surely Patrick Duffy, who directed “Caribbean Connection,” and editor Lloyd Richardson deserve a lot of credit, but no one contributes more to the success of this sequence than composer Richard Lewis Warren. His underscore, with a steady beat that mimics a ticking clock, adds urgency and tension, making this one of the sixth season’s highlights.

Bobby’s attempt to foil J.R.’s Cuban deal also offers another example of how much the younger brother has changed since the fight for Ewing Oil began. Earlier in “Caribbean Connection,” we see Bobby snoop around Sly’s desk in search of evidence linking J.R. to Driscoll. Later, Bobby and Ray sneak into Driscoll’s hotel room seeking more clues. Bobby is also unusually cranky in this episode: He snaps at Ray when they’re staking out Driscoll in the motel parking lot and he’s rude to Afton when she tells him that Pam helped Cliff forge a business deal between with Mark Graison. “It’s amazing how nice she can be to some people, isn’t it?” Bobby sniffs. The sadness that he felt when Pam left him a few episodes ago has gradually turned into anger. Now Bobby seems downright bitter. Notably, this is the first “Dallas” episode in which Duffy and Victoria Principal have no scenes together.

“Caribbean Connection” yields several other good moments, including Donna’s confrontation with Mickey. I’ve always believed she was a little hard on him in this scene, especially when she calls him a “cocky, snotty little kid.” Then again, who can blame her? The audience knows that Mickey has softened since he arrived at Southfork, but Donna hasn’t been privy to his transformation, which has mostly occurred in his private conversations with Lucy. Besides, the most important part of this scene isn’t what it reveals about Donna and Mickey’s relationship to each other, but what it reveals about Mickey’s feelings toward his cousin. “Ray happens to think the world of you. … I just keep thinking that one of these days, you are going to let him down with a great big thud,” Donna says. Mickey’s response: “I won’t let Ray down!” Timothy Patrick Murphy delivers the line with such conviction, there’s no doubt that Mickey has come to think the world of Ray too.

Another great scene in “Caribbean Connection”: J.R. and Sue Ellen’s meeting with Roy Ralston, the local TV host who’s trying to talk J.R. into running for office. Sue Ellen worries a campaign could bring their marital skeletons out of the closet, but she tells J.R. she’ll go along with his political aspirations regardless. “I’m touched, Sue Ellen. I truly am,” J.R. responds. The exchange brings to mind a terrific deleted scene from the new “Dallas’s” first-season DVD set in which Sue Ellen, now a gubernatorial candidate, tells her campaign backers that she won’t run away from her scandalous past. The “Caribbean Connection” scene also seems unusually relevant, given the real-life political headlines from recent years. Ralston predicts voters won’t hold J.R. and Sue Ellen’s marital troubles against them. He tells the couple: “Despite all your earlier problems, you’re still together and more in love than ever before. I can just see it: True love conquers all!”

Spoken like a modern-day politico, huh?

Grade: B


Caribbean Connection, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Modern marriage


Season 6, Episode 21

Airdate: March 4, 1983

Audience: 20.9 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Will Lorin

Director: Patrick Duffy

Synopsis: J.R. pressures Holly to send 50 million barrels of oil to Puerto Rico, unaware the real destination is Cuba. Bobby discovers J.R.’s connection to Driscoll and works with Ray to set up Driscoll. Katherine encourages Mark to keep pursuing Pam. Sue Ellen worries her past will hurt J.R.’s political prospects. Mickey and Donna clash.

Cast: E.J. André (Eugene Bullock), Mary Armstrong (Louise), Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Sly), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Dulcie Jordan (maid), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Ben Piazza (Walt Driscoll), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), John Reilly (Roy Ralston), Patricia Richarde (Ms. Finch), Joey Sheck (Mark’s friend), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 110 — ‘Hit and Run’

Dallas, Hit and Run, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman


To fully appreciate how much composer Richard Lewis Warren contributes to “Hit and Run,” I challenge you to an experiment. First, turn off the volume and watch the sequence where reckless driver Carol Driscoll strikes the pedestrian. Without music, it plays like a series of disjointed shots: Here’s Carol leaving the beauty parlor, there she is getting behind the wheel of her Cadillac Seville, now she’s screaming as a body smashes her windshield. Next, watch the scene again with the volume up. Warren’s dramatic strings unite the images into a narrative, lending the scene urgency, tension and suspense. The music, more than anything else, makes this the episode’s most memorable moment.

Of course, the scheme behind Carol’s mishap is pretty compelling too. J.R. wants to blackmail her husband Walt, an ethical state government official, into doing him a favor. To gain leverage, J.R. taps dirty cop Harry McSween to orchestrate Carol’s collision, which ends with the pedestrian’s “friend” assuring Carol that the man she struck is perfectly fine and that Carol should go home — which she does, foolishly. Little does she know the two men are part of a scheme to ensnare her husband. In the episode’s closing moments, J.R. happens to be visiting the Driscolls when McSween arrives and announces Carol is in big trouble for fleeing an accident scene. J.R. offers to intervene — and Walt eagerly accepts. “J.R., if you could get my wife out of this, I’d owe you. I really would,” he says.

Ben Piazza and Martha Smith are terrific as the naïve, desperate Driscolls, but this moment, like so many others in “Hit and Run,” belongs to Larry Hagman. In the final shot, Walt and Carol stand together as J.R. faces them, grips their shoulders and gazes into their eyes. It’s the kind of sincere, everything’s-going-to-be-OK gesture that Bill Clinton used when comforting disaster victims during his presidency. “Carol, Walt, what are friends for?” J.R. says. As Hagman delivers the line, Warren brings back the dramatic strings from the accident scene and lets it play through the freeze frame of J.R.’s self-satisfied half-smile. This is a great ending.

The other subplot in “Hit and Run” has Bobby weighing whether to join the McLeish brothers in their Canadian drilling venture. Bobby’s dilemma: The deal is all-but-guaranteed to produce a big windfall, but the money might not start rolling in until after the contest for Ewing Oil ends. “I refuse to make a perfect deal just so J.R. can inherit it,” Bobby tells Pam. Scriptwriter Howard Lakin does a nice job making sure we understand the risk Bobby faces. At the end of the episode, when Bobby announces he’s going to take a chance and join the McLeish deal, it feels like a moment of high drama.

In the meantime, “Hit and Run” gives Victoria Principal some of the best scenes she’s had at this point during “Dallas’s” sixth season. I like Pam’s cute exchange with Bobby in the Southfork living room, as well as the scene where she entertains the McLeish brothers, which foreshadows the business savvy she’ll demonstrate in later seasons. Principal’s best moment, though, is Pam’s confrontation with Rebecca, who is consumed with getting Cliff to resume his fight with the Ewings. “Mother, you’ve always had strength. You proved that when you left your children to go out and start a new life. It’s a cold, calculating kind of strength. Is that what you want for Cliff?” Pam asks. Principal delivers the line sharply, and it’s nice to see the “Dallas” producers haven’t forgotten Rebecca’s sins.

Other highlights of “Hit and Run” include the first appearance of Annie, Lucy’s photographer. Fay Hauser plays the role in three guest spots, becoming one of the few African American actors to appear with anything approaching regularity on “Dallas.” The episode also gives us John Larroquette’s debut as Lucy’s lawyer, Philip Colton. It’s a small role, but Larroquette manages to give us a glimpse of the charm that would later make him one of television’s most popular actors.

But make no mistake: The only scenes stolen in “Hit and Run” have Hagman’s fingerprints on them. In addition to the sequence where J.R. comes to the rescue of the hapless Driscolls, this episode gives us J.R.’s classic first encounter with Ray’s cousin and Southfork’s newest ranch hand, Mickey Trotter. When J.R. says it’s good to know there’s “a whole wagonload of Krebbses running the ranch now,” Mickey points out that he doesn’t share Ray’s last name. “Oh, well,” J.R. responds. “I’m bound to sleep more soundly tonight knowing that.”

Grade: A


Ben Piazza, Carol Driscoll, Dallas, Hit and Run, Martha Smith, Walt Driscoll



Season 6, Episode 7

Airdate: November 12, 1982

Audience: 20.6 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Howard Lakin

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: J.R. secretly orchestrates a hit-and-run accident involving Driscoll’s wife, then offers to get her out of trouble with the police. Bobby joins the McLeish deal. Cliff begins his job as president of Barnes-Wentworth Oil. Pam objects to Rebecca’s vow to get revenge against the Ewings. Lucy prepares for her divorce.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), James Brown (Detective Harry McSween), Paul Carr (Ted Prince), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Nicholas Hammond (Bill Johnson), Fay Hauser (Annie), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Kenneth Kimmins (Thornton McLeish), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), John Larroquette (Phillip Colton), J. Patrick McNamara (Jarrett McLeish), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Ben Piazza (Walt Driscoll), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Dale Robertson (Frank Crutcher), Martha Smith (Carol Driscoll), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Ray Wise (Blair Sullivan), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 100 – ‘Blackmail’

Dark room

Dark room

In “Blackmail,” J.R., armed with newly obtained evidence that suggests Christopher is his biological son, comes home to Southfork and enters the nursery. It’s a dark and stormy night, and the little boy is whimpering in his crib as thunder crackles outside. J.R. doesn’t comfort the child, though. He merely watches him. “Hello Christopher,” J.R. says. “You don’t know it, but I’m your daddy. I wonder how your Aunt Pam would feel about it, if she found out?”

The line is made all the more ominous by the wicked smile Larry Hagman flashes after he delivers it. We don’t discover what J.R. is plotting until later in the episode, when he tells Bobby he’ll reveal the “truth” about Christopher’s paternity unless Bobby agrees to do his bidding at Ewing Oil. This is one of J.R.’s most despicable deeds, and not just because he’s using his own child to blackmail his brother. Consider: J.R. grew up with the pain that came from knowing Jock favored Bobby over him. Yet here J.R. is many years later, following in his father’s footsteps: J.R. has one son he adores (John Ross) and another (Christopher) he’s treating as a pawn in his quest for power.

In a clever touch, “Dallas” underlines J.R.’s favoritism by evoking the third-season classic “Paternity Suit.” In that episode, J.R. receives the blood test results that prove he’s John Ross’s father and visits the nursery, where he picks up the boy for the first time. This tender moment stands in sharp contrast with J.R.’s crib-side encounter with Christopher in “Blackmail.” (And even though we’ll soon learn Christopher is not J.R.’s child, “Dallas” doesn’t abandon the theme of J.R. emulating Jock’s parenting style. Toward the end of the show’s run, J.R. learns he has an illegitimate son, James, whose arrival leaves John Ross feeling like the neglected brother.)

The nursery scene isn’t the only dark moment in “Blackmail.” Bobby discovers Farraday’s dead body inside his dingy apartment, while Roger strikes Lucy and knocks her to the floor when she tries to escape from his captivity. I love the suspenseful music that composer Richard Lewis Warren uses to score both sequences, as well as the camera work from director Michael Preece. These two also collaborate nicely in the scene where the grieving Miss Ellie sits alone at the Southfork breakfast table and breaks into tears; Warren’s music grows more mournful as Preece slowly zooms in on Barbara Bel Geddes.

Bel Geddes helps supply “Blackmail” with its other highlight: the scene where Donna sits with Ellie in the Southfork kitchen and tells her the story of how Jock and Sam Culver’s land grab a half-century earlier resulted in another man’s suicide. Ellie refuses to accept the truth and threatens to sue Donna if she includes the story in the biography of Sam she’s writing. I love how Bel Geddes goes from disbelief to rage in a matter of seconds; Susan Howard’s performance is equally heartbreaking.

This scene, perhaps more so than any other in “Blackmail,” makes me appreciate how “Dallas” eschewed gimmicks during its heyday. When I was younger, I used to watch this episode and wonder why the show didn’t bring in a special guest star or deliver a major plot twist to mark its 100th hour. Now I realize: When your cast includes great actresses like Barbara Bel Geddes and Susan Howard, who needs stunts?

Grade: A


Woman alone

Woman alone


Season 5, Episode 23

Airdate: March 19, 1982

Audience: 26.9 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: J.R. tells Bobby he’s Christopher’s father and vows to keep quiet if Bobby cedes control of his voting shares. Cliff moves forward with his drilling project, even after J.R. reveals the land is dry. Miss Ellie explodes when Donna asks for permission to publish the story of Jock’s land grab. Roger holds Lucy captive. The police question Bobby after Farraday is discovered dead.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Jonathan Goldsmith (Joe Smith), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Art Hindle (Jeff Farraday), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Bob Hoy (Detective Howard), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Leigh McCloskey (Dr. Mitch Cooper), Pamela Murphy (Marie), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dennis Redfield (Roger Larson), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Tom Stern (Detective White), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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