Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 186 — ‘Sentences’

Dallas, Jenna Wade, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, Sentences

It’s a crime

Do you hate to see the judge send Jenna Wade to prison in “Sentences”? I do. Not because I think it’s unfair to punish Priscilla Beaulieu Presley’s character for a crime she didn’t commit. No, I’m sorry to see Jenna go to jail because I know she’ll be free by the end of the season. Think about it: If “Dallas” took place in real time, Jenna’s seven-year sentence means she’d be released in the spring of 1992, about a year after the series had gone off the air. How nice would it have been to never have to look at her again after this episode?

I know that sounds harsh, so let me make something clear: I have nothing against Presley, who is a capable and appealing actress. My gripe is with her hollow character. Jenna’s personality changes depending on whatever the story calls for. When the show needed someone to threaten Bobby and Pam’s marriage, Jenna (played by Morgan Fairchild and later, Francine Tacker) was a conniving vixen. Once Bobby and Pam were divorced and Patrick Duffy needed a new leading lady, Jenna was recast with Presley and turned into someone the audience could root for: a down-on-her-luck single mom who was willing to wait tables to make ends meet. Now that “Dallas” is laying the groundwork for Bobby and Pam’s reconciliation, Jenna has been reduced to a plot device. She exists solely to illustrate Bobby’s nobility: He’s such a good guy, he’ll fight to keep her out of jail, even though his heart belongs to another woman.

More than anything, this is why Jenna’s eighth-season storyline is one of “Dallas’s” worst narrative miscues. The show is asking the audience to invest in a character who is maddeningly inconsistent. To get an idea of what I mean, imagine if Sue Ellen was tried for murder instead of Jenna. Sure, we’d probably complain the court scenes were draggy, but the writers also would have had a deeper, richer character to build a storyline around. Sue Ellen might have collapsed under the pressure of a trial or she might have risen to the occasion and fought to prove her innocence, but you can bet the character would have been recognizable in either instance. Jenna, on the other hand, becomes a different person every time her circumstances change.

As much as Presley’s character weighs down “Sentences,” the episode isn’t a total loss. The show continues to slowly restore Larry Hagman’s character, giving J.R. a good scene in which he shows Nathan Billings the tape he made of him sleeping with Rhonda Cummings. When Billings sees himself on the TV, director Michael Preece appears to zoom in on actor Nicolas Pryor while pulling back the camera, a neat trick that recalls a similar shot of Roy Scheider in “Jaws.” (Spielberg himself borrowed the technique from Hitchcock.) In another clever touch, Preece uses the mirrors in J.R. and Sue Ellen’s bedroom to show us both characters’ expressions when she confronts him about his affair with Mandy. I also like how J.R. initially denies the affair, but as he stands at the dresser and slowly empties his pockets, he eventually unburdens himself and acknowledges the truth: Not only is he sleeping with Mandy, he’s fallen for her.

“Sentences” also offers an encounter between J.R. and Pam, although it isn’t quite as entertaining as their confrontation a few episodes ago in “Legacy of Hate.” J.R. visits his ex-sister-in-law and says that now that Jenna has gone to jail, he hopes Bobby and Pam will reconcile. Her response (“Did you suddenly find religion, or did your doctor tell you that you only have a week to live?”) isn’t as amusing today as it was in 1985, but more importantly, I wish we knew what J.R. is up to. Are we supposed to assume he wants Pam back on Southfork so she’ll stop supporting Cliff’s lawsuit to seize two-thirds of Ewing Oil? Ambiguities aside, I love how this scene begins: Pam is giving Christopher an afternoon snack when J.R. arrives and bends down to receive a kiss from the boy, only to end up with a cheek full of graham cracker crumbs. Eric Farlow’s reaction upon spotting Hagman (“Uncle J.R.!”) is also charming.

Other small but memorable moments in “Sentences” include Jackie interrupting Cliff and Pam to relay a radio news bulletin that Jenna has been found guilty. Sherril Lynn Katzman is quite good here; her expression lets us know that Jackie realizes her announcement will annoy Cliff, but she’s going to deliver the news anyway because Pam deserves to know. I also get a kick out of a later scene in which Cliff bursts into Pam’s office to tell her that Bobby has confessed to being Charlie’s father to gain custody of her. Who doesn’t get a kick out of Cliff’s description of the girl: “What’s that kid’s name? Charlie?” (At least Cliff is better informed than Ray, who mistakenly refers to Mickey as his nephew in this episode.)

“Sentences” also includes a memorable scene at the Oil Baron’s Club, where Marilee runs into Sue Ellen and eagerly tells her that J.R. was recently spotted around town with Mandy. This is delicious and fun, and not just because Linda Gray and Fern Fitzgerald are dressed to the nines. It’s also interesting to see the actresses share a scene and be reminded that their characters were once ladies who lunched and volunteered together on the charity circuit. The death of Marilee’s husband and her rise to power in his company moved her out of Sue Ellen’s orbit and into J.R.’s, but when you go back and watch Fitzgerald’s early appearances, you can see hints of the snide, cutting character she’d eventually become. Marilee’s steady, consistent development over the years makes her another contrast with whichever-the-way-the-wind blows Jenna.

You can also see Marilee as a template for Sue Ellen, who’ll eventually join her frenemy in the business world. At this point during “Dallas’s” run, though, Sue Ellen and Marilee are leading very different lives, although it’s not like they have nothing in common. I mean, do these bitches know how to rock a hat or what?

Grade: B


Dallas, Linda Gray, Sentences, Sue Ellen Ewing

Top hat


Season 8, Episode 25

Airdate: March 29, 1985

Audience: 19.5 million homes, ranking 6th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: J.R. blackmails Billings into shutting down Cliff’s offshore oil operation and urges Pam to reconcile with Bobby. When Jenna is sentenced to a seven-year prison term, Bobby is awarded custody of Charlie and resumes his investigation into Veronica’s death. Marilee tells Sue Ellen about J.R.’s affair with Mandy. Ray urges Lucy to contact Mitch.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), Pat Colbert (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Marj Dusay (Bernice Billings), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Heidi Hagman (Jury Forewoman), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Virginia Kiser (Judge Roberta Fenerty), Frederic Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Laura Malone (Janice Hopper), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Allan Miller (Assistant District Attorney Frederick Hoskins), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Nicholas Pryor (Nathan Billings), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Dean Santoro (Raymond Furguson), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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

Dallas Parallels: Stand by Your Women

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, TNT

On the surface, Bobby Ewing’s taste in women seems to run the gamut. Blondes, brunettes, redheads — he’s loved ’em all. But dig a little deeper and a common denominator emerges: Most of the women in Bobby’s life need rescuing from one thing or another, whether it’s salvation from their own neuroses (Pam), their scandalous pasts (April) or their psychotic, homicidal mothers (Jory). Bobby’s attraction to ladies like this should come as no surprise. He has the biggest hero complex on “Dallas,” so of course he’s going to be drawn to women in jeopardy.

Indeed, no matter what kind of drama Bobby’s wives or girlfriends bring into his life, you can always count on him to stand by them — even when they run afoul of the law. This has happened twice on “Dallas.” During the original show’s eighth season, Bobby’s on-again/off-again fiancée Jenna Wade goes on trial after being accused of shooting and killing her on-again/off-again husband, Naldo Marchetta. History repeats itself during the second season of TNT’s “Dallas,” when Bobby’s wife Ann goes on trial for shooting her ex-husband, Harris Ryland.

There’s a major difference in the two storylines, of course, which is this: Jenna didn’t actually shoot Naldo, while Ann most definitely shot Harris. But no matter. What counts is how Bobby supports Jenna and Ann throughout their ordeals. In both storylines, we see him console the accused women, give them pep talks and help their lawyers devise defense strategies. He also testifies in both trials, although he’s called as a witness for the prosecution during Jenna’s proceedings. (Awkward!)

Both storylines also demonstrate how Bobby is willing to — gasp! — lie to protect his women and their children. When Jenna is convicted and sentenced to prison, Bobby falsely declares he’s the father of her daughter Charlie to prevent the judge from making the little girl a ward of the state. Meanwhile, when the police arrive on Bobby and Ann’s doorstep to question her about Harris’s shooting, Bobby falsely confesses to the crime. His reasoning? He wants to make sure Ann and Harris’s daughter Emma doesn’t get mad at Mom for shooting Dad.

In fact, if the two storylines achieve nothing else, they showcase Bobby’s paternal side. Not long after Jenna is found guilty, Bobby goes home and finds Charlie worried about her mother’s fate. Bobby sits with the girl and sweetly assures her that she’ll always have a home with the Ewings. “You’re going to stay right here on the ranch,” he says. Twenty-eight years later, after Ann is convicted, Bobby visits Emma and tells her, “You have another family at Southfork. If you ever need anything, we’re there.”

See? Good ol’ Bobby is even willing to rescue young women in jeopardy. Would we expect anything less from him?


‘You’re Going to Stay Right Here on the Ranch’

Bobby Ewing, Charlie Wade, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, Setences, Shalane McCall


In “Sentences,” an eighth-season “Dallas” episode, Bobby (Patrick Duffy) enters a Southfork guest room and finds Charlie (Shalane McCall) sitting in the window.

BOBBY: Well, I was wondering if you were going to bed or not.

CHARLIE: Bobby, I can’t sleep.

BOBBY: I understand, honey.

CHARLIE: I’m really scared. [Bobby puts his arm around her.] My father’s dead, my mama’s in jail. I know she didn’t kill him, Bobby. Mama couldn’t kill anyone.

BOBBY: Of course she didn’t kill him. And I’m going to do everything I can to help her too.

CHARLIE: Mama really loves you, Bobby. She didn’t want to marry anyone but you.

BOBBY: I know, I know.

CHARLIE: [Sighs] I bet he was really mean to her.

BOBBY: Hey, now. Don’t think about that. You just remember that your mama would never hurt anybody.

CHARLIE: But I feel so funny now.

BOBBY: Funny how?

CHARLIE: Kind of lost. Like I don’t belong anyplace. I thought I was going to live at Southfork and you’d be my daddy. Now I don’t have anybody.

BOBBY: That’s not true. You’ve got me. And you’re going to stay right here on the ranch.

CHARLIE: I can stay here?

BOBBY: Of course you can.

CHARLIE: Yeah, but will they let you keep me?

BOBBY: Well, I don’t see any way they can stop me.

CHARLIE: Yeah, but nobody thought Mama would be convicted and she was.

BOBBY: Charlie, I swear to you, nothing is going to happen.

CHARLIE: [Embracing him] Oh, Bobby, please help her.

BOBBY: Now, come on. You get in bed and get some sleep. You need your rest. [He walks her to the bed and tucks her in.] OK. Good night, honey. [Kisses her, turns off the lamp]

CHARLIE: Good night.


‘You Have Another Family at Southfork’

Blame Game, Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Emma Bell, Emma Ryland, Patrick Duffy, TNT


In “Blame Game,” a second-season “Dallas” episode, Bobby (Patrick Duffy) approaches Emma (Emma Bell) at the stable.

EMMA: What do you want?

BOBBY: I thought I’d drop by and see how you’re doing, check on you. And to remind you of something: You have another family at Southfork. If you ever need anything, we’re there.

EMMA: I won’t be needing you. I promise. [She pushes her hair back. Bobby smiles.] What? What are you smiling at?

BOBBY: That thing you did with your hair. It’s just like your mom. So like I said, if you need anything.

What do you think of Bobby’s support for Ann, Jenna and their daughters? Share your comments below and read more “Dallas Parallels.”