Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 107 — ‘The Big Ball’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Bobby Ewing, Big Ball, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Miss Ellie Ewing, Patrick Duffy

Mama’s family

No matter how often I see it, the next-to-last scene in “The Big Ball” always gives me goose bumps. Punk Anderson stands before a packed ballroom of tuxedo-clad oilmen and their gussied up wives and announces the establishment of the Jock Ewing memorial scholarship. “I don’t know what old Jock would have said about this, but … maybe Miss Ellie could speak for him,” Punk says. The camera cuts to the Ewing matriarch, who is weeping at a table with her family. Silence. Slowly, Bobby rises and begins clapping, followed — one by one — by J.R., Pam and Sue Ellen. Finally, the entire room erupts as Ellie’s sons escort her to the stage.

The speech that follows proves worthy of the dramatic setup. “Jock Ewing was a great man, measured in the only true value of a man. Not in money or power, but in friends,” Ellie says. This is my favorite line in Leonard Katzman’s script. I don’t remember watching “The Big Ball” on the night it debuted in 1982, but I remember reading that statement a few years later in Laura von Wormer’s “Dallas” book. I’ve never forgotten it. I also love how Barbara Bel Geddes delivers the line and the rest of the speech. This is one of those moments when Bel Geddes makes me forget I’m watching an actress playing a TV character. In that moment, she is a Texas widow eulogizing her husband in front of their family and friends. It’s a beautiful, moving performance.

“The Big Ball” is the first “Dallas” episode set at the Oil Baron’s Ball, which became one of the show’s best-loved traditions. In later years, the ball is the setting for big, dramatic showdowns and even a food fight or two, but the affair depicted here is rather subdued. Not that I’m complaining. The real appeal of the Oil Baron’s Ball episodes has always come from seeing the entire “Dallas” universe in one room. From this perspective, “The Big Ball” doesn’t disappoint. In addition to Ellie and her sons and their significant others, this ball brings together Cliff, Rebecca, Clayton, Jordan, Marilee, Holly and an interesting newcomer: Frank Crutcher, played by the old western actor Dale Robertson, who had recently concluded a brief-but-memorable run on rival soap “Dynasty.”

The ballroom sequences contrast nicely with the scenes set in Emporia, Kansas, where Ray and Donna attend the funeral of Amos Krebbs. I don’t know where these scenes were shot — my guess is they were filmed somewhere in North Texas — but it looks and feels like a sleepy town in the Midwest. When Ray and Donna arrive at Aunt Lil’s house, notice the neighbors sitting on the front porch across the street. The guest stars lend an air of authenticity too: Kate Reid is utterly believable in her second appearance as humble, homespun Lil, while Timothy Patrick Murphy is terrific in his “Dallas” debut as cocky, restless Mickey.

I also can’t help but feel touched by Steve Kanaly’s heartfelt performance in the scene where Amos is buried. Ray, who doesn’t want his Kansas relatives to know that he was really Jock Ewing’s son, kneels at his mother Margaret’s tombstone. “Probably better that it happened this way, Mama,” Ray says. “Nobody knows the truth. Chances are old Amos is probably headed in the opposite direction than you anyhow.” Besides serving as this episode’s other great speech, Ray’s monologue puts a nice punctuation mark on the saga of Jock, Amos and Margaret, which was revealed in the fourth-season classic “The Fourth Son.” The funeral might be for Amos, but Margaret is the one we end up mourning in this scene.

“The Big Ball” also features Jared Martin’s first appearance on “Dallas” since Dusty bid Sue Ellen farewell in the fifth-season episode “Starting Over.” I’ve always loved Martin’s chemistry with Linda Gray, but frankly their characters annoy me a little here. Dusty rides out to a Southern Cross pasture to find Sue Ellen, they have a heart-to-heart talk and then they return together to the house where — surprise! — he introduces her to his new wife. It makes for a dramatic moment, but couldn’t Dusty have found a kinder way to let Sue Ellen know he has married another woman? The disappointment ends up sending Sue Ellen back to Southfork, and not a moment too soon. After all, she does have a child to raise, doesn’t she?

Grade: A


Big Ball, Dallas, Kate Reid, Lil Trotter, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

No place like home


Season 6, Episode 4

Airdate: October 22, 1982

Audience: 20.7 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Sue Ellen leaves the Southern Cross after Dusty visits with his new wife. Ray and Donna go to Kansas for Amos’s funeral, where they meet Mickey Trotter, Ray’s angry young cousin. At the Oil Baron’s Ball, Miss Ellie meets Frank Crutcher and Pam discovers her mother is dating Clayton. After the ball, Ellie decides to have Jock declared legally dead.

Cast: Melody Anderson (Linda Farlow), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), 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), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Dale Robertson (Frank Crutcher), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

The Art of Dallas: ‘Starting Over’

Dusty (Jared Martin) returns to the rodeo circuit in this 1981 publicity shot from “Starting Over,” a fifth-season “Dallas” episode.

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘We Have Four Sons, You Know’

Saving the day, again

Saving the day, again

In “Dallas’s” fifth-season episode “Starting Over,” Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) summons Ray (Steve Kanaly) to the Southfork living room, where they sit across from each other.

ELLIE: I know that in the past, you and Jock used to have these conversations, but in his absence, I, I guess I’ll have to be the one to do it.

RAY: I’m not sure I understand, Miss Ellie.

ELLIE: Well, Donna feels that you’re in some kind of difficulty. And you won’t talk to her about it.

RAY: Well, no disrespect to you, Miss Ellie, but I don’t think it’s anything we ought to talk about either.

ELLIE: But you would talk to Jock.

RAY: [Looking down] I guess.

ELLIE: Do you feel it’s a sign of weakness to talk to a woman about your problems?

RAY: [Smiles sheepishly] No, it’s not that, exactly.

ELLIE: Ray, you know how much I care about you. If you’re in some kind of trouble, why, why won’t you let us help you?

RAY: It’s kind of complicated. I know you and Jock think of me as a Ewing now. But I still think of myself as Ray Krebbs. And I’ve never really done anything to prove that I was as good as the rest of the Ewings.

ELLIE: There’s nothing to prove, Ray. We care about you because of what you are. And above all of us, Donna loves you for yourself.

RAY: But don’t you see? I have to prove it to Donna more than anyone. Look who she was married to: Sam Culver. He was a great man in this state.

ELLIE: You know that Sam’s and Donna’s marriage was for different reasons than yours.

RAY: I know that. But, I mean, look at Donna. She can sit down and in her spare time, she can write what looks like a bestseller. Now how could she be happy married to a cowboy?

ELLIE: You’ve talked about all the reasons for not talking to anyone, but you still haven’t said anything about your problem.

RAY: Well, I guess I just plain got in over my head. You know, the San Antonio deal that Punk and I set up? Well, when he went to South America, I went ahead on my own. I found out I didn’t know half of what I thought I did. Now I’m in danger of losing the whole thing.

ELLIE: And what do you need?

RAY: [Sighs] Another $3 million. Most of what I have invested at this point is Donna’s money. Now how could I go to her and say, “We’re going to lose the whole thing unless you give me another $3 million?”

ELLIE: Your not thinking enough of Donna to tell her hurts a lot more than losing the money would.

RAY: It’s not like I didn’t want to tell her. I just couldn’t. I still can’t.

ELLIE: Will you accept help from me? It’s the same thing I’d do for Bobby or Gary or J.R. if they needed it. [Smiles] We have four sons, you know. And you’re one of them.

RAY: Yes, ma’am. I’d be very grateful. I don’t know how I could ever thank you.

ELLIE: You don’t have to thank me. And if you like, no one else needs to know about this. I think Donna should, but that’s up to you.

RAY: Well, I’d rather try to get out of this mess myself before I tell her anything. I really would like Donna to be proud of me.

ELLIE: All right. Tomorrow morning, you and I will go to see Franklin Horner. I’m sure Ewing Oil can lend you the $3 million. [Ray smiles]

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 87 – ‘Starting Over’



At the end of “Starting Over,” Bobby enters the Southfork foyer holding Christopher, the infant he believes J.R. fathered with Kristin. Bobby plans to confront his brother with the boy, but when Pam spots the newborn, she assumes her husband has finally found a child for them to adopt. “It happened!” Pam says after she snatches Christopher from Bobby’s arms. “Oh, we’ve got a baby to adopt!”

Freeze frame. Flash credits. Roll eyes.

Since the baby at the center of this scene will grow up to be Jesse Metcalfe’s character on TNT’s “Dallas,” this is one of the most consequential moments in the history of the franchise. It’s also one of the silliest. Do the writers really expect us to believe Pam would see Bobby with a baby and automatically assume it’s for her? For a woman who just checked out of a mental hospital, Pam has never seemed loonier.

Despite this, “Starting Over” is one of the fifth season’s strongest entries. The scene where Sue Ellen finally acknowledges she and Dusty have grown apart is nicely written, even if the dialogue isn’t quite as poetic as the couple’s previous farewell in the fourth-season entry “Lover, Come Back.” I also like “Starting Over’s” shot of J.R., lying alone in his shadowy New York City hotel room. It brings to mind the “Gone But Not Forgotten” scene where J.R. stands silently in the Southfork nursery, missing John Ross. This has been a dark season for our hero, hasn’t it?

My favorite scene of all comes at the beginning of “Starting Over’s” third act, when Miss Ellie summons Ray to the Southfork living room and gently gets him to admit: a) he’s bitten off more than he can chew with his latest real estate deal; and b) he should accept help from her. Ellie isn’t necessarily closer to Ray than she is to her biological sons, but their relationship feels more mature. This makes sense. Ellie and Ray did become “mother” and “son” as adults, and as she once pointed out, neither was born with the Ewing name.

More than anything, I love watching Barbara Bel Geddes and Steve Kanaly perform together. Both are terrific actors who make their characters feel like relatable people. They keep “Dallas” grounded, which is important – especially when Pam is running around Southfork, snatching babies.

Grade: A


Dark times

Dark times


Season 5, Episode 10

Airdate: December 11, 1981

Audience: 23.2 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Bobby determines J.R. is Christopher’s father and brings him to Southfork, where Pam assumes the boy is a child for her and Bobby to adopt. Miss Ellie agrees to loan Ray $3 million from Ewing Oil to salvage his development deal, then discovers J.R. has depleted the company’s cash reserves. Sue Ellen breaks up with Dusty after he returns to the rodeo circuit.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Edmund Gilbert (Paul Winslow), Bruce Gray (Dr. Alan Cosby), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Laurence Haddon (Franklin Horner), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Art Hindle (Jeff Farraday), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), Barry Nelson (Arthur Elrod), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Gretchen Wyler (Dr. Dagmara Conrad)

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