Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 128 — ‘Tangled Web’

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, Tangled Web

Truth hurts

Sue Ellen refuses to believe Holly Harwood’s claim that she’s sleeping with J.R., so Holly invites her to visit her home and see for herself. At the end of “Tangled Web,” Sue Ellen accepts the challenge. Our heroine, clad in a huge fur coat, parks her car in Holly’s driveway, where J.R.’s Mercedes sits. She exits the vehicle and slowly walks toward the house, her heels clicking and clacking with every step. The door is unlocked, and for a moment, Sue Ellen seems to lose her nerve. But she presses on, and in the final shot, she stands silently in the bedroom doorway and sees her husband making love to Holly.

This is a brilliant, devastating sequence. The shots of Sue Ellen are interspersed with scenes of J.R. and Holly in bed; the audience knows what Sue Ellen is going to see before she does, allowing the tension to build until it’s almost unbearable. Director Nicholas Sgarro shows Sue Ellen parking her car, and then he cuts to J.R., wrapped in a bed sheet, popping open a fresh bottle of champagne as Holly massages his shoulders. We see Sue Ellen begin to cross the driveway, and then we cut to Holly pulling J.R. close. For most of Sue Ellen’s scenes, there is no underscore; the only sounds we hear are her heels on the driveway, some crickets in the distance and the soft music playing in Holly’s bedroom. And then, the final shot: a tight close-up of Linda Gray’s tear-streaked face. In a poignant touch, we hear her sniffle as the frame freezes and the credits flash.

When I listed “Dallas’s” 35 greatest moments in the spring, I ranked this scene at No. 20. I now wonder if I should have moved it a little higher. The sequence is much more artistic than what we usually see from “Dallas” and other early ’80s television dramas. The toggling between Sue Ellen in the driveway and J.R. and Holly in bed reminds me of the crosscuts that have become a signature of TNT’s “Dallas,” although if these scenes were produced today, it almost certainly wouldn’t be so eerie and quiet. The sequence also makes me wish Sgarro had directed more episodes of the original series. “Tangled Web” is his only “Dallas” credit, although he helmed 54 hours of “Knots Landing” and no doubt had a hand in establishing that show’s stylish look.

“Tangled Web’s” ending is easily this episode’s best moment, but it isn’t the only good one. I also like when Miss Ellie questions Clayton about his relationship with Sue Ellen. Barbara Bel Geddes stammers through her dialogue, as Ellie gradually musters the courage to ask Clayton if Sue Ellen is the mystery woman he once loved. Bel Geddes’ halting delivery is her trademark and one of the reasons Ellie always feels so believable. She speaks the way people do in real life. The actress also possesses a sincerity that other “Dallas” cast members, no matter how wonderful they are, lack. Consider the “Tangled Web” scene where Ray tells Aunt Lil that Jock was his father. This is another moving scene, and Kate Reid is quite good here, but her delivery feels more deliberate than Bel Geddes’. When I watch Reid, I never forget I’m seeing an actress affecting a homespun, humble sensibility, whereas Bel Geddes regularly disappears into her role. In other words: Lil comes off like a character, while Ellie feels like a person.

“Tangled Web” also offers several fun moments, including the scene where J.R., returning from his triumphant tour of the Caribbean, sweeps into the Ewing Oil offices with presents for the secretaries and a box of cigars for Bobby. “That little deal I made down in Cuba is going to make me the new daddy of Ewing Oil. Have a Havana?” J.R. says, reaching into his suit pocket and retrieving a cigar for his brother. (I wonder how Larry Hagman, an anti-smoking zealot, felt about that line?) Indeed, David Paulsen’s script is chock full of terrific one-liners. Katherine to Cliff, after he denies Bobby the use of the Tundra Torque: “You vicious little man!” Clayton to Sue Ellen, after she’s told him about J.R.’s trip: “Doggone, old J.R. went to Cuba. And they let him out?” Afton, after Cliff laments that he thought of himself “for once” in his life: “For once? No, not for once. For always! Cliff, you are the only person you ever do think of!”

“Tangled Web” also marks the end of Pam’s vacation on the French Riviera, one of my least favorite sixth-season subplots. Pam has left Bobby, but is it really appropriate for her to travel halfway around the world with Mark Graison, a man who quite obviously has designs on her? Toward the end of “Tangled Web,” Pam seems poised to sleep with Mark, but the mood is killed when Afton calls to warn her that Katherine has set her sights on Bobby. It reminds me of the fourth-season episode “Start the Revolution With Me,” when a tipsy Pam is having a jolly time in her hotel room with Alex Ward — until Bobby calls from Dallas.

Perhaps Pam should stop answering the phone call when she goes away. Better yet, maybe she should stop traveling with men who aren’t her husband.

Grade: A


Dallas, Holly Harwood, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Lois Chiles, Tangled Web



Season 6, Episode 25

Airdate: April 1, 1983

Audience: 21.3 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Nicholas Sgarro

Synopsis: J.R. is released from the Cuban jail, collects his $40 million and returns to Dallas. Sue Ellen walks in on J.R. and Holly in bed. Bobby plans to ask for Pam’s help getting the Tundra Torque, but Katherine tells him that Pam is in France with Mark. Afton calls Pam to warn her about Katherine’s interest in Bobby, prompting Pam to cut short her vacation. Clayton tells Miss Ellie that he once loved Sue Ellen. Ray tells Lil that Jock was his father.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), William Bryant (Jackson), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Nate Esformes (Perez), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Dennis Holahan (George Walker), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Kenneth Kimmins (Thornton McLeish), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Cindy Landis (waitress), Tom McFadden (Jackson’s partner), Santos Morales (Cuban leader), Marnie Mosiman (manicurist), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Jacqueline Ray Selleck (Marie Walker), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 69 – ‘The Quest’

Not what she seems

Not what she seems

Things are never quite what they seem in “The Quest.” Several characters go through this episode under false impressions, usually because they’re being duped by the people closest to them.

Consider J.R., who continues to pursue Leslie, not just because he finds her sexually desirable, but also because he believes she has his best interests at heart. This is established during the previous episode, “Start the Revolution with Me,” when J.R. tells Leslie she could “run the world.” Her response, delivered perfectly by Susan Flannery: “No, J.R. But I’d be delighted to help you run it.”

What J.R. doesn’t know is Leslie is secretly tape-recording their conversations. Why? The audience doesn’t know, but it seems safe to assume Leslie is looking out for herself, not J.R.

The idea that Leslie isn’t quite what she seems is also symbolized when J.R. arrives unexpectedly on her doorstep and finds her wearing a bathrobe. He’s confident she’ll let him spend the night, but she tells him she has another date and removes the garment, revealing she’s fully clothed. “I always put it on when I put my makeup on,” Leslie says. You can feel J.R. deflate.

Other example of deceptions and false assumptions in this episode: Mitch is impressed with Lucy’s domestic proclivities, unaware she has secretly hired a maid to clean the condo while he’s in class. Cliff believes Donna is going to help him get appointed to the state senate, only to discover she’s recruited Bobby for the job. Sue Ellen suspects J.R. is having her followed, only to learn he couldn’t care less how she spends her time.

Miss Ellie is the victim of the biggest deception of all. She continues to lead the campaign against the Takapa development, unaware Jock is behind the project. Then again, it’s not like Jock has much of a chance to tell his wife. Ellie has barely spoken to him since Lucy’s wedding, when she lashed out at him for neglecting Gary.

Yet “The Quest” also includes a sweet scene where Ellie comes home late, finds Jock asleep in a chair and tenderly covers him with a blanket. The gesture lets us know she still loves Jock, despite her angry outward attitude.

On “Dallas,” sometimes when things aren’t what they appear, it’s a good thing.

Grade: B


Another Ewing cover-up

Another Ewing cover-up


Season 4, Episode 15

Airdate: February 13, 1981

Audience: 23.8 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Robert J. Shaw

Director: Gunnar Hellström

Synopsis: J.R. continues pursuing Leslie, while Alex gives up on Pam. Donna persuades Bobby to run for Dave’s state senate seat, infuriating Cliff. After confronting the man who has been following her, Sue Ellen makes a shocking discovery.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Len Birman (Claude Brown), Claudia Bryar (cleaning lady), Jeff Cooper (Dr. Simon Elby), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Woody Eney (Appleton), Joel Fabiani (Alex Ward), Susan Flannery (Leslie Stewart), Anne Francis (Arliss Cooper), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Ron Hayes (Hank Johnson), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Sherrill Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), John Lehne (Kyle Bennett), Monte Markham (Clint Ogden), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Martin West (Phil McKenna)

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

Dallas Styles: Pam’s Perm


In “Start the Revolution with Me,” Victoria Principal sports a new hairstyle – a frizzy permanent, one of the fashion fads of the early 1980s.

The look demonstrates how Pam is always ahead of the curve, and it also gives “Dallas” a chance to show how cool Miss Ellie is. She’s the only character to comment on Pam’s new style, telling her, “I love your new hairdo.”

But there’s symbolism in Pam’s do, too. In “Dallas’s” previous episode “Making of a President,” Sue Ellen urges Pam to have an affair with Alex. “Pam, I just want you to protect yourself,” Sue Ellen says. “The Ewing men are all the same. Bobby and J.R. are into the same power trip, and for you to survive, you have two choices: You can either get out, or you can play by their rules.”

Pam seems to resist the advice, but we know she’s really tempted by Alex. This means Pam is becoming more like her morally ambiguous in-laws – particularly Sue Ellen, who has cheated on J.R. with at least three men (Ray, Cliff and Dusty) at this point during “Dallas’s” run.

So is it any wonder Pam shows up in “Start the Revolution with Me” wearing a perm?

Think about it: A “permanent wave,” according to Wikipedia, is created by stretching and softening hair and molding it around the shape of a perm rod. By allowing herself to get close to another man, isn’t Pam doing something similar – stretching the boundaries of matrimony, relaxing her standards, molding herself into the shape of a Ewing? Or maybe Pam just wants Bobby to notice her.

Whatever the case, the perm doesn’t last long – and thankfully, neither does Pam’s flirtation with infidelity.

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘You Have a Trashy Mouth’

Here they go again

Here they go again

In “Dallas’s” fourth-season episode “Start the Revolution with Me,” J.R. (Larry Hagman) comes home late to find Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) seated at their bedroom vanity.

J.R.: Well, you’re up late. Been out? [Places his cowboy hat atop the armoire]

SUE ELLEN: Why, yes, J.R., I have been.

J.R.: Anybody I know? [Removes his jacket, throws it on the bed]

SUE ELLEN: [Primping] You don’t really care.

J.R.: No, I don’t really care. [Sits in a chair behind her]

SUE ELLEN: J.R., you’ve been keeping yourself real busy lately. I heard you hired yourself a public relations woman.

J.R.: That’s right. Leslie Stewart.

SUE ELLEN: [Examining jewelry] You know, darling, I find it very interesting that you hired a woman to tell you how to run your business. It’s always been a Ewing creed that women were seen, not heard.

J.R.: Well, this woman is different. She’s intelligent, talented and creative – and she knows when to keep her mouth shut. [Loosens his necktie]

SUE ELLEN: Have you had her yet?

J.R.: [Sighs] Is that all you ever think about?

SUE ELLEN: No, darling. That’s all you ever think about.

J.R.: Leslie Stewart is a highly qualified professional. She’s doing a brilliant job.

SUE ELLEN: [Smiles] That means you haven’t had her.

J.R.: You have a trashy mouth. Do you know that?

SUE ELLEN: J.R., I know you better than anybody else. And if you haven’t had sex with Miss Leslie Stewart, that means the lady doesn’t want you, not that you haven’t tried. You might be losing your touch.

J.R.: You don’t know a damn thing about it. [Rises, grabs his jacket off the bed, heads for the door]

SUE ELLEN: J.R.? [He stops and turns to face her.] I know all about it.

He leaves, slamming the door behind him.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 68 – ‘Start the Revolution with Me’

No truth in advertising

No truth in advertising

“Start the Revolution with Me” feels a bit like a 1980s version of “Mad Men.” Not only does this fourth-season “Dallas” episode feature lots of talk about advertising, it also shows the Ewings wrestling with changing gender roles, just like the “Mad Men” characters do.

In the episode’s first act, Leslie Stewart, J.R.’s new public relations guru, pitches him some proposed advertising slogans (sample: “Ewing Oil: People Before Profits”), which he scoffs at. “Do you think anybody’s gonna buy that?” J.R. asks with a chuckle. Leslie reminds him the ads will be published in newspapers in New York and London, not his hometown. “J.R., you’re not going to need Dallas. Ewing Oil is going to be an international power,” she coos.

I fell for Leslie during her debut in the previous episode, “Making of a President,” and she continues to fascinate me here. Like all the women on “Dallas,” Leslie is beautiful and feminine, but as “Start the Revolution with Me” demonstrates, she also has all the ambition and confidence of the Ewing men.

With Leslie, it’s important to not just pay attention to what she says, but also how actress Susan Flannery moves. In one of my favorite moments in this episode, Leslie sits at her desk with her arms outstretched behind her head. This confident pose brings to mind a real-life ’80s ad slogan (“Never let them see you sweat”), although Leslie probably doesn’t perspire to begin with.

J.R. doesn’t quite know what to make of Leslie – he flirts with her shamelessly, while she ignores him without apology – and the other women in his life seem a bit bewildered by her too. When J.R. sleeps with his secretary Louella and is unable to perform, she seems to blame Leslie, telling him, “J.R., you shouldn’t let Miss Stewart get to you like this.”

Sue Ellen also puts J.R. on the defensive. “You know, darling,” she quips, “I find it very interesting that you hired a woman to tell you how to run your business. It’s always been a Ewing creed that women were seen, not heard.” His response (“Leslie Stewart is a highly qualified professional. She’s doing a brilliant job.”) demonstrates the sheepishness he feels about handing control of his image over to a woman.

With so much emphasis on female empowerment, you have to wonder if the “revolution” cited in this episode’s title refers to J.R.’s cockamamie scheme to overthrow a foreign government or to the sexual revolution, which began in the 1960s and was still lingering when this segment aired in 1981. Indeed, Leslie’s arrival seems to herald a deliberate attempt by the “Dallas” producers to show how women were making progress as the show – and its audience – moved into the new decade.

In another telling scene in “Start the Revolution with Me,” after Dave Culver announces he’s going to accept the governor’s appointment to the U.S. Senate, Dave and his advisers agree Donna should replace him in the state legislature. Talk about revolutionary: This might not seem like a big deal today, but in 1981, just 12 percent of state lawmakers were women. (That number has since doubled.) Donna ultimately demurs, but it’s nice the producers showed her being considered.

Of course, not all the “Dallas” women are role models. This episode also shows Sue Ellen moving closer to an affair with Clint, another example of how the character seems only to find fulfillment in the arms of a man, while Pam continues to contemplate an affair with Alex.

Meanwhile, Lucy tells Mitch she wants to quit school so she can be a full-time wife to him. To Mitch’s credit, he urges Lucy to reconsider. “School’s important,” Mitch says. “You have to have something in your life that makes you feel complete and satisfied.”

Leslie couldn’t have said it better herself.

Grade: A


Cool heads

Cool heads


Season 4, Episode 14

Airdate: February 6, 1981

Audience: 24.6 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Rena Down

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: J.R. begins engineering a revolution in the Asian nation where Ewing Oil’s wells were nationalized. Leslie resists J.R.’s advances. On a business trip, Pam almost sleeps with Alex. Sue Ellen suspects someone is following her. Dave accepts an appointment to the U.S. Senate and suggests Donna replace him in Austin, but she declines.

Cast: Barbara Babcock (Liz Craig), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Len Birman (Claude Brown), Jeff Cooper (Dr. Simon Elby), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Joel Fabiani (Alex Ward), Susan Flannery (Leslie Stewart), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Ron Hayes (Hank Johnson), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Sherrill Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Monte Markham (Clint Ogden), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Warren Munson (Paul Winslow), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Martin West (Phil McKenna), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

“Start the Revolution with Me” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Dallas Styles: Lucy’s Wedding

Sue Ellen’s dress, part 1

Lucy’s wedding in the fourth-season episode “End of the Road, Part 2,” gives the “Dallas” cast a chance to dress up and show off like never before. No one rises to the occasion quite like Linda Gray, who gets to wear two outfits.

When the ceremony begins, Sue Ellen wears a brownish-gray satin dress with shoulders so wide, it makes Gray look like she’s been wrapped in a king-sized bedspread.

… And part 2

This might be intentional. During the reception, a waiter spills a drink on Sue Ellen, and when she retreats to her bedroom to change, she discovers J.R. has been sleeping with Afton – in the same bed he shares with Sue Ellen.

Old-fashioned girl

Until this point, Sue Ellen has been resisting the charms of her old college boyfriend Clint Ogden, a guest at the wedding who has been shamelessly flirting with her. Once she knows J.R. is cheating on her again – and with her “bedspread dress” stained – Sue Ellen apparently decides she has nothing to lose.

She changes into a much different outfit: a form-fitting pinkish-orange garment with three big white flowers printed on the front.

The u-shaped neckline swoops down across Gray’s chest and leaves her shoulders exposed, making this dress much sleeker and sexier than the bedspread. Sue Ellen seems to be letting the world know she’s available again.

Lucy’s wedding gown is also revealing – figuratively, that is. She gets fitted for the dress in “End of the Road, Part 1,” when we learn Miss Ellie wore the gown during her wedding to Jock a half-century earlier.

This seems appropriate. Lucy is a modern girl in almost every sense of the word, but she harbors some pretty outdated ideas about marriage.

In “Start the Revolution with Me,” a later fourth-season episode, Lucy suggests she’d like to drop out of school so she can become a full-time wife to Mitch. At that point, it becomes clear: Lucy didn’t just inherit a wedding dress from the 1930s; she got a Depression era mentality to go along with it.