Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 9 – ‘Bypass’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Bypass, Dallas, Dan Ammerman, Dr. Harlan Danvers, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing

Ticker shock

“Bypass” has a little bit of everything – a health crisis, family squabbling, corporate intrigue. There’s not much romance, but there is a cattle drive.

The small moments in this episode are among its best, beginning with Jock and Miss Ellie’s heart-to-heart in his hospital room. As he lies in bed, with medical tubes taped to his chest, he urges Ellie to “keep the family together” if “anything happens” to him.

Like Jock’s plea with Bobby and Pam to stay at Southfork at the end of “Barbecue,” this scene reminds us how much family means to the Ewing patriarch. Jock is usually so gruff; it’s always nice to see his sentimental side.

“Bypass” also casts J.R. in a softer light. Yes, he does a dastardly thing when he forges Jock’s will so he can drill for oil on Southfork once his father dies, but remember: J.R. sets this plot in motion before Jock gets sick. After the heart attack, J.R. doesn’t have much enthusiasm for the scheme and seemingly goes through with it only after Jeb and Willie Joe pressure him.

Another small-but-revealing moment comes when Sue Ellen arrives at the Braddock emergency room, not knowing which Ewing is being treated there, and is relieved to discover J.R. isn’t the patient. “I thought it was you,” she tells him.

Later, when J.R. expresses regret about bringing Jock to a small-town hospital not equipped to effectively treat him, Sue Ellen reassures him, “J.R., you did the right thing.” Aside from being sweet, this exchange helps blunt the ugliness of Sue Ellen’s behavior later in the episode, when she drunkenly sashays around Southfork and threatens to evict Pam if Jock dies.

But as much as I appreciate the human drama in “Bypass,” my favorite part of this episode is the lightning-fast cattle drive at the top of the hour.

The sequence begins with a grounds-eye view of the herd as it surges forward, trampling the earth and covering director Corey Allen’s camera lens with clods of Texas dirt. Then, when Jock dashes off to round up some strays, Allen keeps the camera fixed on Jim Davis as he rides high in his saddle. It’s almost as if we’re bouncing alongside Jock.

Throw in John Parker’s triumphant score and Robert Jessup’s sumptuous cinematography and you have an exhilarating action sequence. It’s a fine way to open one of “Dallas’s” finest early episodes.

Grade: A


Bypass, Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing

Power steering


Season 2, Episode 4

Airdate: October 14, 1978

Audience: 10.7 million homes, ranking 52nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Corey Allen

Synopsis: Jock suffers a heart attack and is rushed to the hospital. J.R. shows cronies Jeb Ames and Willie Joe Garr a codicil to Jock’s will that gives J.R. permission to drill on Southfork when Jock dies, but Jeb and Willie Joe don’t know J.R. forged it. Bobby takes leave from Ewing Oil to help run the ranch. Jock’s bypass surgery saves his life.

Cast: Dan Ammerman (Dr. Harlan Danvers), John Ashton (Willie Joe Garr), Barbara Babcock (Liz Craig), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Lisa Lemole (Susan), Ed Nelson (Jeb Ames), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 8 – ‘Old Acquaintance’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Jenna Wade, Morgan Fairchild, Old Acquaintance, Patrick Duffy

Devil in a red blouse

“Old Acquaintance” should not be forgotten. This isn’t one of “Dallas’s” all-time best episodes, but it includes one of my all-time favorite “Dallas” scenes: the pep talk Miss Ellie gives Pam when it looks like her marriage to Bobby is on the rocks.

The conversation begins with Pam lamenting Bobby’s preoccupation with his old flame Jenna Wade and her daughter Charlie.

“I knew a woman once,” Ellie says. “Her man couldn’t decide whether or not to do right by her – so she took a horsewhip to him. Helped him make up his mind fast.”

“I don’t think a horsewhip would work with Bobby,” Pam responds.

“I don’t see why not. It worked on his daddy all right.”

It’s fun to imagine Ellie as a young spitfire, whipping Jock into shape. It isn’t a difficult mental picture to draw, either. Barbara Bel Geddes is wonderful as the Ewings’ wise, soft-spoken matriarch, but if you’ve seen her spirited performance in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 classic “Vertigo,” you know Bel Geddes, like Ellie, had a lot of spunk when she was younger.

Speaking of elegant actresses: Morgan Fairchild makes a marvelous Jenna Wade.

Fairchild is remembered as one of the great vixens of 1980s television, so it’s a bit surprising to see how restrained she is here. The actress resists the temptation to make Jenna bitchy. Instead, she plays her as a woman whose machinations are rooted in desperation, not vindictiveness.

“Old Acquaintance” is also memorable thanks to Robert Jessup’s sumptuous cinematography, particularly in Bobby and Jenna’s scenes in the park and during Ellie’s pep talk, when Victoria Principal’s raven hair pops against the backdrop of that green-gold Southfork pasture.

Of course, not everything here works: “Old Acquaintance” makes Pam seem pretty foolish when Bobby takes her to meet Jenna and Charlie at the little girl’s school.

During the visit, Pam sits in Bobby’s car and admires Charlie’s ragdoll Jewel – then accidentally leaves with it. You have to wonder: How does Pam not realize she’s holding the doll when she and Bobby drive away?

Forgetting an old acquaintance is understandable, but come on, Pam. You just met Jewel!

Grade: B


Dallas, Jenna Wade, Maynard Anderson, Melissa Anderson, Morgan Fairchild, Nicki Flacks, Old Acquaintance, Peter Mark Richman

Blonde in a bind


Season 2, Episode 3

Airdate: October 7, 1978

Audience: 9.6 million homes, ranking 58th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Camille Marchetta

Director: Alex March

Synopsis: Jenna Wade, Bobby’s old flame, turns to him when her married lover ends their affair. Bobby suspects he may be the father of Jenna’s daughter Charlie and begins spending his free time with them. Pam confronts Jenna, who admits Bobby isn’t the father, and Bobby and Pam reconcile.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Morgan Fairchild (Jenna Wade), Laurie Lynn Myers (Charlie Wade), Nicki Flacks (Melissa Anderson), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Peter Mark Richman (Maynard Anderson), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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

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.