Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 40 — ‘Brave New World’

Brave New World, Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, TNT, Which Ewing Dies?

Going down

Throughout “Dallas’s” third season, John Ross strives to honor J.R. without becoming him. He wears Daddy’s wristwatch and belt buckle and embarks on one ambitious scheme after another, hoping to emulate J.R.’s business successes without repeating his personal failures. Nothing goes according to plan, of course, and by the end of the season’s final hour, “Brave New World,” John Ross has lost his company, his wife and his family’s goodwill. In a climactic scene, the young man who was so eager to be a better man than J.R. — the son who previously slammed his hand on Sue Ellen’s kitchen counter and insisted he wasn’t his father — stands before her and Uncle Bobby and repeats this assertion, this time with a caveat. “I’m not just like my father,” John Ross says. “I’m worse.”

Chilling? Yes, but also poignant. The truth is, John Ross isn’t worse than J.R. Not by a long shot. John Ross is more heroic than his father, as we see at the beginning of “Brave New World,” when he defeats the drug cartel and tries to avenge Emma’s rape by nearly killing Luis. John Ross is also much more emotional than J.R., which we witness during this episode’s elevator scene, when — having lost it all — he collapses in tears and listens to an old voice mail in which J.R. says he’s proud of him. How could anyone this sensitive be worse than J.R.? Maybe the setbacks John Ross experienced this season will harden him and make him as cruel and as calculating as his father, but he’s not there yet.

Regardless of how bad John Ross becomes, there’s no denying how good Josh Henderson is at articulating his character’s complexities. Henderson allows us to feel John Ross’s vein-popping rage in “Brave New World’s” opening scene, when John Ross slams Luis to the floor, digs a gun barrel into his face and screams, “You regret what you did to her now? Huh?” Henderson offers a different kind of anger in the scene with Bobby and Sue Ellen, when he doesn’t deliver the “I’m worse” line as much as he growls it. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s the elevator scene, which is moving not just because we hear Larry Hagman’s voice, but also because we see Henderson’s tears. (By the way: J.R.’s voice mail comes from a phone conversation between him and John Ross in the first-season episode “The Price You Pay,” and the song that plays when John Ross begins weeping was written and performed by Henderson. Is there anything he can’t do?)

If John Ross’s elevator breakdown supplies “Brave New World” with its emotional high point, what is there to say about Christopher’s death at the end of the episode? Even though TNT’s promos warned us a Ewing would die, this is still a shocking moment. Much of the credit goes to Jordana Brewster, whose anguish is palpable when Elena sees Christopher’s car blow up with him inside. (And yes, that is supposed to be Christopher, even though we don’t actually see Jesse Metcalfe get behind the wheel.) Nevertheless, this doesn’t feel like the blaze-of-glory exit the heroic Christopher deserves. Is the audience supposed to admire him for dying while helping Elena? Sorry, but I can’t fathom why he remains so devoted to her after all the terrible choices she’s made. I recognize killing off Metcalfe opens lots of new storytelling avenues for this series, but I can’t help but wish Elena had been the one to blow up instead.

Christopher’s death puts a grisly punctuation mark on this season’s better-than-expected drug cartel storyline. There’s also a nifty musical montage in which the braided henchman Jacobo kills Luis and El Pozolero in their jail cell before a cane-wielding Nicolas is revealed as the mastermind behind the murders. (The cool song that powers this sequence: Eric Church’s “Devil, Devil.”) Other highlights include Mitch Pileggi’s beautiful performance when Harris professes his love for Ann, as well as Elena and Nicolas’s dramatic showdown, although I wish she hadn’t shot him. Now virtually every leading lady on this show has plugged someone. Likewise, I could do without Judith Light’s mugging when John Ross tells Bobby and Sue Ellen he’s worse than J.R. — a scene that should’ve been reserved for Ewings only. (And isn’t it funny how the elevator doors open and reveal Judith at the precise moment John Ross announces she’s the new railroad commissioner?)

Criticisms aside, “Brave New World,” which comes from scriptwriter Robert Rovner and director Steve Robin, brings the third season to a satisfying conclusion and resets the table for “Dallas’s” fourth year — and TNT willing, there’ll be one. The scene where Bobby and Sue Ellen foil Pamela’s plan to reclaim Ewing Global is heartening because it suggests the Barnes/Ewing feud isn’t over, despite what Pamela told Cliff a few episodes ago. I especially like how Pamela accuses her in-laws of screwing her over like Jock cheated Digger. (Is she wrong?) The other promising development: the addition of Tracey McKay to the Bobby/Ann/Harris triangle — especially if it means Tracey and Harris will join forces against the newly reconciled couple.

“Dallas’s” most intriguing new storyline, of course, is John Ross’s discovery that J.R. has a secret daughter. Like all “Dallas” fans, I have lots of questions about this one, beginning with the obvious: Who’s the mama? I figured the young woman would turn out to be the product of J.R.’s marriage to Cally, although executive producer Cynthia Cidre tells Dallas Decoder the daughter’s mother is dead. (Cally is still alive in this “Dallas” universe, or at least she was when she showed up at J.R.’s funeral last season.) Will the mother turn out to be J.R.’s longtime secretary Sly, who slept with him shortly before he fired her at the end of the original series? What if Kristin Shepard didn’t suffer a miscarriage after J.R. impregnated her in 1980? Could the daughter be the product of J.R.’s romp with Katherine Wentworth, who may or may not be lurking around somewhere? The mind reels.

More questions: How is John Ross going to use the existence of a half-sister to his advantage? You might think someone like him wouldn’t want other siblings hanging around, especially if there’s a possibility they could stake a claim on his inheritance. On the other hand, he must have something up his sleeve. How else to explain his toast to J.R. and his “Thank you, Daddy” line in the final shot? (Is this a nod to the classic scene where J.R. gazes at the heavens and thanks Jock after sneaking a peek at his will?) There’s also the question of where John Ross’s sister will fit into “Dallas’s” romantic sphere. If she likes guys, she doesn’t have a lot of options among the show’s main cast members, does she? If, however, she likes gals, there are a few tantalizing possibilities. This could be fertile new storytelling terrain for “Dallas,” although I’m not sure the show would want to go that route after the uproar over John Ross, Pamela and Emma’s threesome this year.

Then again, maybe that’s all the more reason to do it.

Grade: B


Brave New World, Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Jesse Metcalfe, TNT, Which Ewing Dies?

Hot wheel


Season 3, Episode 15

Telecast: September 22, 2014

Audience: 1.72 million viewers on September 22

Writer: Robert Rovner

Director: Steve Robin

Synopsis: John Ross’s commandos rescue him and the Mexican police arrest El Pozolero and Luis, who are later murdered in their jail cells by Nicolas’s henchman. When the government seizes the cartel’s Ewing Global assets, Pamela plans to buy them back, but Bobby and Sue Ellen beat her to the punch, infuriating both John Ross and Pamela. Bobby and Ann reconcile, but she becomes alarmed when she finds him comforting a grieving Tracey. Elena realizes Nicolas is responsible for Drew’s death and shoots Nicolas in a fit of anger, but he escapes. John Ross walks in on Pamela and Nasir in bed and later forms an alliance with Judith, who returns Candace’s blue dress to him, replaces Bobby on the railroad commission, and gets her hands on Harris’s tape of her drug deals. Emma gives one of Harris’s secret files to John Ross, who discovers J.R. has a daughter and tells Bum to find her. Elena learns she’s pregnant and is getting ready to leave a gas station when a car bomb planted by another one of Nicolas’s henchmen goes off, killing Christopher.

Cast: Emma Bell (Emma Ryland), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Melinda Clarke (Tracey McKay), Juan Pablo Di Pace (Nicolas Treviño), Akari Draco (Sheriff Derrick), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Antonio Jaramillo (Luis), Judith Light (Judith Ryland), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Kevin Page (Bum), Pete Partida (Jacobo), Gino Anthony Pesi (George Tatangelo), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Carlos Sandoval (El Pozolero), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Mikal Vega (Walter)

“Brave New World” is available at, Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 34 — ‘Denial, Anger, Acceptance’

Dallas, Denial Anger Acceptance, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

The blues

By “Dallas” standards, “Denial, Anger, Acceptance” is a relatively low-key episode. It includes an action sequence at the top of the hour, when Bobby and Christopher rescue Sue Ellen and Bo from the Southfork fire, as well as a trademark fake-out and unexpected death in the final scene. Mostly, though, the characters bide their time by sitting around a hospital waiting room, reflecting on their terrible choices and wondering when the next shoe will drop. Flames not withstanding, the Ewings haven’t gone to hell. They’re in purgatory.

The woman of the hour, once again, is Linda Gray. Sue Ellen experiences all the emotions in the episode’s title — she denies she has a drinking problem to the ER doctor, she gets angry when she sees John Ross, she finally accepts the fact that she’s made destructive choices too — and Gray nails each scene. My favorite: the “acceptance” sequence, when Sue Ellen remembers taking a lighter to John Ross and Pamela’s wedding invitation and concludes — wrongly — that she’s responsible for the Southfork fire. Panicked and desperate for a taste of alcohol, she swipes some aftershave from the hospital gift shop, ducks into a quiet corridor and brings the bottle to her lips. It’s not unlike seeing Sue Ellen standing in the gutter, swigging from a brown paper bag during the original show’s “dream season.”

This time around, though, Sue Ellen doesn’t hit rock bottom. Instead, she tosses the aftershave into the trash and goes to the waiting room, where she tells Bobby, Ann and Christopher that she caused the fire. The more meaningful confession comes when Sue Ellen says, “I’m an alcoholic — and I will be, until I die.” It’s the moment a lot of “Dallas” fans have been waiting for since our heroine fell off the wagon before J.R.’s funeral, a year-and-a-half ago. As much as we admire Gray’s performances when Sue Ellen is struggling, the version of the character we love most is the savvy J.R. protégé who outmaneuvered John Ross and Governor McConaughey earlier this season. Now that Sue Ellen has admitted her problem, let’s hope she recovers her mojo. The Ewings need her.

“Denial, Anger, Acceptance” also gets a lift from Patrick Duffy and Brenda Strong, two pros who make Bobby and Ann’s marital strife feel genuine and painful. I’m less enthused with John Ross and Pamela’s domestic drama. Here’s how she explains to John Ross why she downed a bottle of pills and initiated their threesome with Emma: “I did what I did so that every time you think about screwing that piece of trash, all you’ll be able to see is me on the floor with my eyes rolled back in my head. Sexy, huh?” No, silly is more like it. It often feels like the “Dallas” producers come up with a fantastic scenario — in this case, the wife who’s been cheated on decides to join her husband and his mistress in bed — and then the writers work backward to come up with a reason for the characters to behave this way. Sometimes this approach works fine; this time, it doesn’t.

Nevertheless, all the principals are effective in their scenes. Josh Henderson makes John Ross’s regret seem sincere (especially in his scene with Duffy) and Emma Bell once again shows us Emma’s vulnerabilities, while Julie Gonzalo slides effortlessly back into bitch mode, a side of Pamela we haven’t seen since the second season. It’s going to be fun to see Pamela back on the warpath, especially if the show uses her scorn to put the Barnes/Ewing conflict front and center. Watching Pamela seek revenge against John Ross because he screwed around on her might not be as epic as seeing Cliff and J.R. wage war over blood and oil, but as long as this show has a Barnes and a Ewing at each other’s throats, I’ll be happy.

Regarding the episode-ending fake-out: I like how Bruce Rasmussen’s script leads us to believe Sue Ellen caused the fire, only to reveal the actual culprit is ne’er-do-well Drew Ramos, the character many of us suspected all along. I’m not much of a fan of this season’s drug cartel storyline, but Drew’s execution at the hands of Nicolas’s cronies is nicely done. Kuno Becker has never been better — I love how he delivers Drew’s line about saving a seat in hell for Nicolas — while Juan Pablo Di Pace makes his character feel equal parts sinister and desperate. When I interviewed Di Pace last week, he told me director Steve Robin wanted Nicolas to come off as this “cold, badass guy,” but after several takes, Di Pace couldn’t help but cry. I’m glad the show went with a version that shows Nicolas’s eyes welling up; it’s nice to know there’s a shred of humanity left to this character. Some fans may worry that Nicolas isn’t long for this world now that “Dallas” has turned him into a killer, but remember: Pamela killed Tommy during the first season and Ann shot Harris last year.

The rest of “Denial, Anger, Acceptance” is hit or miss. Judith Light is fun to watch, although a little restraint now and then would be nice. The Southfork fire sequence isn’t quite as dramatic as the 1983 version, and one of the exterior shots that show a CGI’d tent covering the damaged wing isn’t very convincing. On the other hand, I like how Sue Ellen’s flashbacks to the fire are tinted in reds and golds, while Drew’s are shaded in blues and grays. I also like the editing at the top of the hour, when the shot of Bobby scooping up Sue Ellen cuts to a scene of John Ross lifting Pamela off the hotel room floor.

“Dallas” diehards will remember Bobby is also the one who pulled Sue Ellen from Southfork the last time it burned. Perhaps one day she’ll rescue him, although first she needs to finish saving herself.

Grade: B


Dallas, Denial Anger Acceptance, Drew Ramos, Kuno Becker, TNT

Adios, Drew


Season 3, Episode 9

Telecast: August 18, 2014

Audience: 1.97 million viewers on August 18

Writer: Bruce Rasmussen

Director: Steve Robin

Synopsis: Bobby and Christopher rescue Sue Ellen and Bo from the Southfork fire. Sue Ellen confesses she started the fire, but the real culprit is Drew, who is detained by the cartel and later executed as Nicholas watches. Pamela tells John Ross she overdosed to ruin his affair with Emma. Elena learns Nicolas sent the video to Pamela and leaves him an angry voice mail. After Judith tells Bobby she saw Ann and Harris kissing, Bobby suggests Ann leave Southfork while he supervises the reconstruction. Bo, injured in the fire, undergoes surgery and shares a tender reunion with Heather and Michael.

Cast: Kuno Becker (Drew Ramos), Emma Bell (Emma Ryland), Donny Boaz (Bo McCabe), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Bryan Chatlien (Jake), Dallas Clark (Michael McCabe), Jon Michael Davis (Dr. Pander), Juan Pablo Di Pace (Nicolas Treviño), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Cynthia Jackson (nurse), Antonio Jaramillo (Luis), Judith Light (Judith Ryland), Leticia Magana (Dr. Razack), AnnaLynne McCord (Heather McCabe), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Joe Nemmers (Lt. Bennett), Pete Partida (Jacobo), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Emily Warfield (Dr. Hirsch)

“Denial, Anger, Acceptance” is available at, Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

The Dallas Decoder Interview: Juan Pablo Di Pace

Dallas, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Nicolas Trevino, TNT

Juan Pablo Di Pace

Spoiler alert! “Dallas” surprised viewers this week when Juan Pablo Di Pace’s character, Nicolas Treviño, stood by and watched his partners in crime execute his lifelong friend, Drew Ramos (Kuno Becker). I spoke to Di Pace last week about Nicolas’s dark turn and what will happen next on the TNT drama.

Dude, you killed Drew!

I know, I know. I’m so happy I did. [Laughs]

How’d you find out your character was going to become a killer?

There was sense among the cast that someone was going to die. Then it became clear it was Drew, and then when I read the script, I thought, “Oh, it’s me! I’m the killer!” [Laughs] But it’s a horrible thing. He’s like Nicolas’s half-brother.

What was it like to film the big scene where Drew takes the bullet?

It was hard. The producers really wanted to show that Nicolas is this badass, cold guy. So I went there and I was really cold. I went in thinking, “OK, I’m not going to feel anything. I’m not going to cry.” And all of a sudden, in the last take, my eyes were bawling. It just felt so wrong. It’s inevitable that Nicolas would feel something because Drew’s family.

How long did that scene take to film?

Steve Robin, the director of that episode, wanted me to do it many times because he really wanted different sizes of the shot. It was a very intense half-day, but I absolutely love Kuno Becker. He’s wonderful to work with. So it was a great day, all in all. But it certainly gives Nicolas a twist. Everyone was wondering, “Is this guy a complete monster?” Yes, he is a monster.

Dallas, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Nicolas Trevino, TNT

Introducing Mr. Trevino

So when you joined the “Dallas” cast, did you know this was the direction Nicolas was going in?

Well, when I joined the show, it was very, very fast. I had just arrived in L.A. I was just breezily going through my first week [there], and then I get the call: “Put yourself on tape for ‘Dallas.’” I did that, and two days later, I’m talking to Cynthia [Cidre, the show’s executive producer]. And then a day after that, I’m in Dallas shooting. So I had no time to think about the enormity of it all. But what Cynthia did — which was great — was on that flight from L.A. to Dallas, she explained to me the whole two seasons prior, and she explained the arc of the character in Season 3.

What did she tell you about Nicolas?

She mentioned that he’s not what he seems, but I did not predict he was going to be a killer. That was definitely a big surprise for me.

Would you have preferred knowing that from the start?

In this profession, you always have to readjust. I don’t know if you remember the first season of “24,” but Nina Meyers was Jack’s sidekick, and at the end of the season, they told the actress, “Oh, by the way, you’re the mole.” So as an actor, you always want to know, but sometimes the producers don’t tell you so you don’t play what’s coming.

Dallas, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Nicolas Trevino, TNT

Boardroom debut

I have to tell you: I liked Nicolas so much as the charming rapscallion. I loved his first scene, where he breezes into the boardroom and upsets the Ewings’ apple cart.

That’s what’s fun about playing him. He has these different colors. He’s a guy with a secret, and he’s always hiding stuff. You know, in the beginning, we thought, “Elena is the one person he can tell everything to.” Not anymore. Now he has to hide the death of Drew, and that really affects Nicolas a lot. It’s stirring inside of him the rest of the season.

Well, let’s talk about his relationship with Elena. What’s up with the whole diaphragm-puncturing business?

Elena is the love of his life. I mean, that is one true thing about him. He adores her and doesn’t want to lose her, but he also knows he won’t be able to keep everything from her for very long. And when she finds out, it’s not going to be pretty. So I think the puncturing of the diaphragm is his way of securing a place in her life. Having a child together means having a connection to her that is beyond all the bad stuff that he’s doing for the cartel. It’s a twisted plan, of course. It’s very Nicolas. [Laughs]

So he’s killing people and he’s sabotaging people’s birth control. What else are we going to see him do this year?

I’d tell you but I’d have to kill you. [Laughs]

Oh, no. Nicolas is coming after me now!

I’m just going to say, toward the end of the season, it gets very exciting. The “Dallas” writers have this talent for giving you the cliffhanger, and I can tell you there’s another “Oh my God” moment before the season ends.

Dallas, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Nicolas Trevino, TNT

Connected forever?

Oh, good. So how are you enjoying working with the cast?

I love it. Jordana [Brewster] was the first person I did a scene with when I arrived, fresh off the boat. She’s just a dream to work with. And the rest of the cast is just a hoot. Julie Gonzalo is so funny. Linda Gray is the greatest woman on the planet. So beautiful and gracious. She gave me this huge hug when I finished my boardroom scene and said, “I’m so excited you’re here.” And you know, to have that hug from Sue Ellen was spectacular.

There are a lot of people who’d like to get a hug from Sue Ellen.

And then there’s Patrick Duffy. The boardroom scene was on my second day, and I was pretty nervous. It was a big speech, so I was kind of walking backwards and forwards, going through my lines, and the rest of the cast was — I won’t say distant, but giving me my space. And so Patrick comes up to me and says, “By the way, Juan, we know how freaked out you are and how difficult this is, because we’ve all been there, so we will talk to you properly in about two weeks’ time.” [Laughs] And that was so nice because when you first join a show, it’s so nerve-wracking, and you want to do the best you can. That was really sweet of him to say that.

And he directed one of the upcoming episodes. What was that like?

That man is so talented. You’ll see that. That episode is an actors’ episode. There’s a lot of confrontation and dialogue. He did an incredible job of jumping out of the director’s chair and then [acting in] these really intense scenes. It’s the kind of episode where you say, “So this is the season finale, right?” And it’s not. There are three or four more after that.

It sounds like you’re enjoying being part of this ensemble.

We’ve had so many laughs. I watched all the Oscar-nominated movies this year with Emma Bell and Brenda Strong. We went to the cinema a lot when we weren’t shooting. It’s a really chill team, and very tight as well. We’re like a family.

Dallas, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Nicolas Trevino, TNT

Suit up for more!

And what are you hearing about the show returning for a fourth year?

Well, we’re just thinking positively. It’s difficult for a lot of shows to make it to season 2 or 3, so we’re really blessed the show’s gone this far. But we’re just looking forward to going back to Dallas.

Good. Are you hopeful you’ll be part of the fourth season?

Yep, I’m hopeful. Because Nicolas’s character … I can’t tell you anything.

Well, I’m worried about the guy because once you start killing people….

Yeah, I know. He’s treading a very fine line.

Besides “Dallas,” you just completed a movie with Matthew Morrison from “Glee.” What was that like?

It was great. Matthew’s a really cool, talented guy. It’s an independent film about this guy who loses his father to cancer and can’t really deal with that, so he decides to go onto a reality show like “The Bachelorette.” So I play this guy who’s called Dunkin, and he’s his nemesis on the show. I’m playing a manipulative character, someone who’s using his charms to get what he wants, and manipulating people’s feelings to win the show.

Sounds like a fun movie. When will that come out?

It’s being prepared for the Sundance festival, so sometime early next year.

You also write and direct.

Right. I’m finishing a script that I’ve been writing for five years with a friend from Argentina. I’ve directed five or six short films and couple of music videos when I was living in the U.K. I love it. I still have to do my first feature, but right now, I’m just excited to be Nicolas. I cannot wait for people to see more of him because he’s a twisted, twisted guy.

Share your comments below and read more interviews from Dallas Decoder.

Emmy Voting is Underway. Will ‘Dallas’ Make the Cut?



Will “Dallas” receive Primetime Emmy nominations this year? The conventional wisdom says no, although at this early stage, the TNT drama is a contender — along with more than 100 other shows.

The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences released the preliminary ballots this week. Academy members are asked to vote for their favorites in each category through June 20; the final nominations will be announced July 10.

The preliminary ballots list hundreds of shows and individuals. Most submissions come from networks and production companies, although anyone can pay the entry fee and submit themselves for consideration.

In the dramatic series categories, the preliminary ballots list Patrick Duffy and Josh Henderson as lead actor contenders, while Linda Gray is the show’s sole candidate for a lead actress nomination.

The other “Dallas” cast members — Emma Bell, Jordana Brewster, Juan Pablo Di Pace, Julie Gonzalo, Jesse Metcalfe, Mitch Pileggi and Brenda Strong — are listed in the supporting categories. The ballots also list two guest stars: Judith Light and AnnaLynne McCord.

“Dallas” is also one of 108 shows on the ballot for best dramatic series, while director Steve Robin is up for a nomination for helming “Like Father, Like Son,” the episode where John Ross confronts Sue Ellen over her drinking.

It may be heartening to see “Dallas” listed in these races, but don’t get your hopes up, fellow fans. Each category has only a handful of available slots for nominations, which are expected to go to critical darlings such as “Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones” and the resurgent “The Good Wife.”

It’s also worth remembering “Dallas’s” tortured history with the Emmys: Although Barbara Bel Geddes won the lead dramatic actress race in 1980, the series picked up only a handful of nominations during its heyday. The tradition continued last year, when the academy snubbed Larry Hagman in the supporting actor race and shamefully omitted him from the special tributes during the Emmy broadcast.

The 2014 ballots also contain a few oddities where “Dallas” is concerned: The “D” in Di Pace’s name isn’t capitalized, Gonzalo’s character is listed as “Rebecca Sutter” and voters are asked to consider Light’s work in “Venomous Creatures,” a second-season episode that falls outside this year’s eligibility time frame.

Do you think “Dallas” deserves Emmy nominations this year? Share your comments below and read more news from Dallas Decoder.

Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 31 — ‘Like Father, Like Son’

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Like Father Like Son, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT


Josh Henderson is a revelation in “Like Father, Like Son.” I’ve admired Henderson’s work on “Dallas” from the beginning, but I didn’t know he was capable of the kind of performance he delivers in this episode. In some scenes, I want to reach through my screen and break John Ross in two; in others, my heart breaks for him. This reminds me of the early days of the original series, when we were beginning to discover what J.R. Ewing and Larry Hagman were made of. John Ross is becoming as bad as J.R.; will we one day say Henderson is as good as Hagman? Time will tell, but what a thrilling prospect to consider.

The dramatic highpoint in “Like Father, Like Son” is the scene where John Ross confronts Sue Ellen over her betrayal. This is a two-minute emotional roller coaster, and Henderson brings us along for the whole gut-wrenching ride. We feel everything John Ross does: his rage when he storms into his mother’s house, his incredulity when she accuses him of cheating, his disappointment when he realizes how drunk she is. I especially love when John Ross holds up Sue Ellen’s bottle of booze and says, “Why are you doing this to yourself again, huh?” It’s one of the best lines in Julia Cohen’s taut script because it shows how much John Ross cares about Sue Ellen while inviting us to consider what it must have been like for him to grow up with an alcoholic mother. As much time as I’ve devoted to “Dallas” over the years, I’m not sure that’s something I’ve thought much about until now.

Of course, nothing gives me chills like the moment John Ross slams his hand on Sue Ellen’s kitchen counter and exclaims, “I am not my father!” Henderson delivers the line with such uncontrolled force, it feels like the most genuine thing John Ross has ever said. Indeed, his statement is very true: John Ross loves J.R. and takes pride in being his son, as evidenced by the fact that he runs around wearing Daddy’s wristwatch. But I believe John Ross sees himself as being a better man than J.R. We witnessed this in the first-season classic “Family Business,” when John Ross urged J.R. to return ownership of Southfork to the cancer-stricken Bobby, and we see it again in this episode, when John Ross rejects Candace’s overtures. (Would J.R. have turned down the advances of a comely secretary?) This is why Sue Ellen’s accusations sting her son more than we might have expected.

Yet no matter how much John Ross might want to think of himself as being “better” than J.R, he can’t resist all of his dark impulses: At the end of “Like Father, Like Son,” John Ross takes advantage of Sue Ellen’s relapse by blackmailing Judge Blackwell to send her to rehab against her will. (Blackwell: “You certainly are just like your father.” John Ross: “You hear that enough, eventually you start to believe it.”) Is John Ross doing this because it will help his mother, or because it will make it easier for him to take Ewing Global public and seize control of the company? Perhaps we’ll never know, and maybe in John Ross’s mind, there’s no difference. I’m not sure J.R. saw too many distinctions when he committed Sue Ellen to a sanitarium during the original “Dallas.” Yes, J.R. knew his wife needed help for her alcoholism, but he was also eager to get her out of the way before she spilled their marital secrets to the rest of the family.

Regardless of John Ross’s motivation, I admire Henderson’s willingness to take his character into such dark territory. I also have to hand it to Linda Gray, who fearlessly takes Sue Ellen back to her roots. In the confrontation with John Ross, Sue Ellen stands in her kitchen, drinking openly; there’s no more discreet nipping from the flask. This is not the confident, successful Sue Ellen we’ve come to know; this is the old-school, deeply vulnerable Sue Ellen. She lashes out at John Ross and blames him for her problems (“You did this to me!”), just like she used to do with J.R. I’ve gotten so used to seeing Gray play Sue Ellen as a functional alcoholic, it’s surprising to see the character lose control like this.

The most startling moment: John Ross denies he’s cheating and Sue Ellen screams, “Bullshit!” Did you ever dream you’d see Miss Texas use this kind of language? It’s shocking, and yet it makes perfect sense: The love of Sue Ellen’s life is dead, her relationship with her son is broken, and now she’s back on the bottle. Sue Ellen’s entire identity is slipping away; of course her sense of decorum would go with it. I also love Gray’s reaction shots during this sequence. As John Ross loses control and gets choked up, so does Sue Ellen. Just as our hearts break for John Ross, so does hers. It’s similar to what Gray did in “J.R.’s Masterpiece,” when she became the audience’s avatar and allowed us to express our grief through her. Will someone please give this woman an Emmy already?

Together, Sue Ellen’s relapse and John Ross’s descent into full-fledged J.R.-dom fit with the broader theme of “Like Father, Like Son,” which shows how the “Dallas” characters struggle to break old patterns. We also see this when Ann urges Emma to find a man who will love her and not use her for sex. The pained expression on Emma Bell’s face at the end of this scene suggests Ann’s words have sunk in, but of course Emma later has, ahem, relations with John Ross in exchange for the file he wants on the judge. (After he satisfies her — without ever undressing himself, notably — she tells him, “Now go home and kiss your wife.” This might be “Dallas’s” naughtiest moment ever.) Even Bobby gives in to his baser instincts, using his new position as the railroad commissioner to threaten Nicolas. I suppose I should chastise “Dallas” for once again taking a dim view of public service, but at least Bobby isn’t patronizing Judith’s brothel like most of the other political figures on this show.

There’s much more to like about “Like Father, Like Son,” especially the slow-motion sequence that director Steve Robin gives us at the end of the episode, when John Ross walks away from Bobby after telling him he’s going to use Sue Ellen’s power of attorney in his bid to take Ewing Global public. Unlike Patrick Duffy’s slow-mo walk during Season 2, which felt so triumphant, Henderson’s version is positively chilling. I also love Jesse Metcalfe’s adorable scenes with Dallas Clark (yes, that’s his name), the child actor who plays little Michael, as well as Metcalfe’s charming rapport with AnnaLynne McCord’s Heather. McCord has proven an especially welcome addition to this show. I know a lot of fans watch “Dallas” for escapism, but isn’t it nice to see Heather experience a real-life problem like finding last-minute child care?

This episode’s other highlight: The dueling boys’ and girls’ nights out on the town, although just once, I’d like to see television characters in these kinds of settings have to shout at each other over the sound of the music, the way people do in real-life nightclubs. As my husband Andrew pointed out, the sequence with the women brings a touch of “Sex and the City” to “Dallas,” except one of the ladies is cheating with the other’s husband, and a third is trying to prove it. By the way: Cynthia Addai-Robinson brings an undeniable sense of cool to her scenes as Jasper, Elena’s private eye. How much fun would it be to see her go toe to toe with Kevin Page’s Bum (who is sadly missing from this episode, along with Mitch Pileggi’s Harris)?

Meanwhile, some fans are wondering how Carter McKay, George Kennedy’s character from the original “Dallas’s” final seasons, has a grandson as old as Hunter, who is introduced in this episode as one of John Ross’s childhood friends. As far as we know, Tracey and Tommy, Carter’s children, didn’t have kids of their own. In light of this episode’s boardroom showdown, there’s also confusion in Fan Land about the ownership of Ewing Global and how it’s divided. I, too, wish the show handled these details better, so my only advice to fellow fans — and I know this won’t satisfy many of you — is to just go with it.

My other gripe has to do with Harris’s accordion file. It’s become a treasure trove for storyline purposes, so I wish the show had made it an updated version of J.R.’s infamous “red file” instead; it would have been another nifty way to keep Larry Hagman’s spirit alive. Then again, Josh Henderson is doing a pretty good job of doing that on his own.

Grade: A


Dallas, Linda Gray, Like Father Like Son, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Slipping away


Season 3, Episode 6

Telecast: March 31, 2014

Audience: 1.82 million viewers on March 31

Writer: Julie Cohen

Director: Steve Robin

Synopsis: Bobby gives control of his Ewing Global shares to Christopher and, in his new role as railroad commissioner, vows to scrutinize Nicolas’s Texas holdings. Elena hires a private eye to follow John Ross and discovers he’s cheating with Emma. John Ross’s childhood friend, Hunter McKay, gives him the idea of taking Ewing Global public. John Ross gets support from Nicolas, who aims to take control of the company once it goes public, and also Sue Ellen, but when she gets the impression John Ross is cheating with Candace, she votes against her son, incurring his wrath. John Ross blackmails a judge into having Sue Ellen committed to rehab against her will and tells Bobby he has her power of attorney, which gives him her vote to take the company public.

Cast: Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Jasper), Emma Bell (Emma Ryland), Donny Boaz (Bo McCabe), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Dallas Clark (Michael), Jude Demorest (Candace), Juan Pablo Di Pace (Nicolas Treviño), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Rick Herod (Judge Blackwell), Fran Kranz (Hunter McKay), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Bryan Pitts (paramedic), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Kenneisha Thompson (police officer)

“Like Father, Like Son” is available at, and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 26 – ‘The Return’

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Return, TNT

That smile

Now that “Dallas” fans know who killed J.R., we can turn our attention to a much trickier question: Who’ll be J.R.? We all realize Larry Hagman is irreplaceable, but we also understand TNT’s sequel series needs a character who can keep the plots — and on this show, that means the plottin’ and the schemin’ — moving forward the way J.R. did. Last year, the producers seemed to toy with several possible successors — even white-knight father/son duo Bobby and Christopher got in touch with their inner J.R.s — but in “The Return,” John Ross emerges as Daddy’s true heir. It’s the obvious choice. It’s also the smart one.

I’ve been a fan of Josh Henderson’s sly performance from the beginning, even comparing him to “Dallas’s” most famous alum, Brad Pitt, in my first review of the TNT series. Most of what I wrote then remains true: Henderson still has an effortless, seductive charm, and even when John Ross is up to no good, you still find him alluring. But it’s no longer accurate to call Henderson or his character “boyish,” as I did two years ago. Maybe it’s the fact that John Ross is now married and a big-shot oilman in his own right — or maybe it’s the fact that Henderson’s pecs have seemingly grown three cup sizes, as Entertainment Weekly cheekily pointed out last week — but John Ross is now much more man than boy.

Wisely, “The Return” wastes no time establishing him as “Dallas’s” new J.R., who turns out be a lot like the old one. John Ross frolics with his mistress in a hotel room, comes home and lies to his wife about his whereabouts (he says he was in Houston, buying her a “proper” engagement ring), sweet talks his mama when she frets about his ambition, clashes with Bobby over Southfork’s future (To remodel or not to remodel? To drill or not to drill?) and wheels and deals in the boardroom, where he enthusiastically declares Ewing Global is going to be “bigger than Exxon and BP combined.” (Shades of J.R.’s oft-repeated vow to make Ewing Oil the “biggest independent oil company in the state of Texas.”) John Ross even sports J.R.’s wristwatch and belt buckle, and even though the latter looks kind of big on him, is that so bad? I see it as a symbol of how carrying J.R.’s legacy will always be a burden for John Ross, no matter how muscular he gets.

What impresses me most about Henderson — in this episode and others — is how he evokes Hagman’s spirit without ever resorting to imitating the actor. Like Hagman, Henderson possesses one of the great smiles in television, but he uses it differently than the way Hagman used his. Whereas J.R.’s smile often concealed his intentions, John Ross’s lets us know what’s going on inside his head. In “The Return,” Henderson arches his eyebrow and smirks when he’s sparring with Patrick Duffy, but when John Ross is on bended knee proposing to Pamela, watch how the actor’s whole face lights up. This is a smile to melt your heart, reminding us that there’s a sensitive soul beneath all that bravado.

Of course, even though Henderson has become the new face of this franchise, “Dallas” remains a group effort, as “The Return” makes clear. This episode gives almost every member of the ensemble a nice moment or two, although special mention goes to Jordana Brewster, who is such a good actress, she makes Elena’s overnight transformation — literally — into a Ewing enemy seem believable, if not altogether reasonable. (Is Elena unaware of Cliff’s role in blackmailing Drew into blowing up the rig last season?) Brewster’s character has become the latest in a long line of “Dallas” heroines to do Cliff’s dirty work, and I love how the actress holds her own against Ken Kercheval, who is as electric as ever in Cliff’s jailhouse scenes.

I also applaud the introduction of Juan Pablo Di Pace, who makes one of the all-time great “Dallas” debuts when the oh-so-suave Nicolas Treviño sweeps into the Ewing Global boardroom and upsets the family’s apple cart. Treviño has the potential to become an altogether different kind of “Dallas” villain: richer than Jeremy Wendell and Carter McKay and every bit as calculating, but also a heck of a lot hotter. (No offense, William Smithers and George Kennedy.) I’ll never understand how the Ewings lack the “supermajority” they need to sell a division in their own company — just like the whole matter about the Southfork surface rights seems like a bunch of hooey — but let’s face it: “Dallas” has always existed in a universe where the legal realities bear little resemblance to our own.

Besides, I’d rather focus on the other ways in which “The Return” lives up to its title. This episode marks a return to many of the “Dallas” hallmarks that so many of us love, beginning with the revival of the classic three-way split-screen title sequence, which has received widespread acclaim from fans. Under Steve Robin’s direction, “The Return’s” pacing also feels a little more deliberate; there are more old-school, quiet scenes like the one where the women of Southfork sit around the patio and plan Pamela’s wedding; and there are more sequences set outdoors on the ranch, which cinematographer Rodney Charters always showcases in all of its high-definition, green-grass/blue-sky glory. No matter where the characters go on Southfork — whether it’s to the wood-chopping pile or to the “shale formation” where the cattle graze — Charters makes us feel like we’re right there with them.

I also appreciate how this episode’s script, written by co-executive producers Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner, is sprinkled with dialogue that pays homage to classic “Dallas” themes. One example: The tension between moving forward and clinging to old traditions has always been central to the “Dallas” mythology, which we see in Bobby and John Ross’s argument over remodeling Southfork. “It’s about time you learn to respect the past, boy,” Bobby says. John Ross’s cutting response: “The past is what holds us back, Uncle Bobby.” If I heard that line a season or two ago, I might worry it signaled this franchise was going to abandon its history, except the people in charge have long since demonstrated their commitment to preserving “Dallas’s” heritage, even if they sometimes play a little loose with the continuity.

Nothing demonstrates this better than all the references to J.R. in “The Return.” I counted at least 13 instances where he’s mentioned by name, and that doesn’t include lines like the one where Sue Ellen catches John Ross sneaking out of Emma’s bedroom and says, “What’s the matter, Mama? You look like you just seen a ghost.” There are also plenty of visual reminders: the wristwatch, the belt buckle, the gravestone and most importantly, the much-improved portrait hanging in the background at Ewing Global, which makes it seem like J.R. is always peering over someone’s shoulder.

Indeed, as tempting as it is to think of “Dallas’s” third season as the beginning of the post-Hagman era, is such a thing even possible? “The Return” keeps our hero’s memory alive, not that it was in any danger of fading in the first place.

Grade: B


Dallas, Elena Ramos, Jordana Brewster, Return, TNT

Look who’s lurking


Season 3, Episode 1

Telecast: February 24, 2014

Audience: 2.7 million viewers on February 24

Writers: Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner

Director: Steve Robin

Synopsis: Elena forms a secret alliance with Cliff, takes a job at the newly renamed Ewing Global and recruits Nicolas Treviño, a childhood friend who is now a billionaire, to serve as Cliff’s proxy. Emma, Ryland Transport’s new chief executive, gives John Ross control of the company’s drilling and cargo ships so Ewing Global can tap oil and methane reserves in the Arctic. When Nicolas tries to scuttle the Arctic deal, John Ross suggests drilling on Southfork to finance the project, but Bobby disagrees. The Mendez-Ochoa cartel bribes a judge to get Harris out of jail and threatens to kill Emma if Harris doesn’t resume his drug shipments. Christopher meets Heather, a spirited ranch hand.

Cast: Amber Bartlett (Jill), Emma Bell (Emma Ryland), Donny Boaz (Bo McCabe), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Juan Pablo Di Pace (Nicolas Treviño), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Marlene Forte (Carmen Ramos), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), AnnaLynne McCord (Heather), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Kevin Page (Bum), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing)

“The Return” is available at, and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

In Season 3, ‘Dallas’ Resets the Chessboard, J.R. Style

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Linda Gray, Return, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Welcome back, darlins

Who misses J.R.? We all do, but the third season of TNT’s “Dallas” still manages to be fun, freewheeling television — even if our beloved Larry Hagman is no longer there to breathe life into his most famous character. Watching next week’s season premiere is a little like attending a family reunion after the loss of a favorite uncle. You can’t help but wish the old guy was still around, but isn’t it nice to see everyone else again?

Besides, it’s not like J.R. is gone altogether. His memory looms large in Season 3’s first two episodes. Some examples: John Ross inherits his daddy’s Southfork-sized belt buckle and hires contractors to renovate the house using blueprints J.R. commissioned before his death. Bobby, once again at odds with his ambitious nephew, growls that John Ross isn’t “half the man” J.R. was. Bum, the Ewings’ go-to private eye who now doubles as John Ross’s conscience, urges him to “grow into your father’s greatness, not his weakness.” There’s even a much-improved painting of J.R. hanging in the Ewing offices, allowing Hagman’s visage to peer over the shoulders of the other actors as they move around the set.

With so many verbal and visual references to J.R., isn’t the show just reminding us that this franchise has lost its marquee player? Yes, but since most of us can’t tune into “Dallas” without thinking about Hagman anyway, the producers might as well acknowledge the ghost in the room. Besides, when your franchise is built on a character as endlessly fascinating as J.R. Ewing, why not use him to pull everyone’s strings from the great beyond?

That’s why “The Return,” the third-season premiere, resets the “Dallas” chessboard, J.R.-style. The episode — penned by Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner and directed by Steve Robin — picks up 12 hours after last year’s finale, when we learned J.R. was dying of cancer and masterminded his own “murder” so archenemy Cliff Barnes could be framed for the crime, thus ending the Barnes/Ewing feud. (Ha!) The finale also positioned John Ross as J.R.’s heir in every way, and so at the beginning of “The Return,” we learn why the young newlywed went to that hotel room to cheat with Emma, who appears to have traded her pill habit for an addiction to risky encounters with John Ross.

We’ll also hear how John Ross justifies the fling to Kevin Page’s Bum; his excuse will sound familiar to longtime “Dallas” fans who remember how J.R. used to rationalize his cheating on Sue Ellen. This storyline has upset a lot of fans of the John Ross/Pamela pairing, but it allows Josh Henderson to display the sly charisma that makes him almost as much fun to watch as Hagman was in his heyday. And even though John Ross is a cheat, we can’t help but feel charmed by his relationship with Julie Gonzalo’s Pamela, whose smoldering gaze makes her the ideal match for the oh-so-suave Henderson. Let’s acknowledge something else too: As much as we despise Emma, there’s no denying that Emma Bell is terrific in this role. Not since Mary Crosby’s Kristin have “Dallas” viewers had a vixen who’s so much fun to hate.

During last year’s execution of the Ewings’ “master plan” against Cliff, almost all of the characters got in touch with their inner J.R., but Season 3 finds the good guys returning to familiar terrain. Patrick Duffy’s Bobby slides back into his role as the heroic guardian of Southfork traditions, while Jesse Metcalfe’s Christopher gets a refreshingly angst-free romance with Heather, a new ranch hand. This role is played with equal parts spunk and sex appeal by AnnaLynne McCord, who was the best part of the CW’s “90210” and makes a welcome addition to “Dallas,” a far better revival.

(Oh, and even though “The Return” begins 12 hours after Season 2 ended, Christopher now sports a face full of scruff. How did he grow a thick beard in a half-day? It’s probably better not to ask. Let’s consider it this era’s version of Sue Ellen’s hair, which magically shortened itself between seasons in the early 1980s, even though mere minutes had passed on screen.)

“The Return” also recasts Elena, once this show’s romantic heroine, into a shrewd schemer out for revenge — or as she calls it, “justice” — after Cliff revealed J.R. once stole oil-rich land from her father, just like Jock supposedly cheated Digger out of half the Ewing fortune. This might seem like a thin premise to extend the Barnes/Ewing feud, but it gives the underappreciated Jordana Brewster something to do besides moon over Henderson and Metcalfe’s characters. Cliff and Elena’s unlikely alliance also includes Nicolas Treviño, a dashing young billionaire played by Juan Pablo Di Pace, another strong addition to this ensemble.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: What about Sue Ellen? It’s no secret Linda Gray’s character is once again headed for rock bottom this season, although she goes nowhere near a drop of booze in “The Return.” Some fans hate to see Sue Ellen drinking again; I’m not wild about the idea either, but I have no doubt Gray will deliver another knockout performance, just like she did last year. She’s Hagman’s truest heir in a lot of ways, including this one: Like him, Gray can say more with an arched eyebrow or a wry smile than most actors can with a script full of dialogue. She exudes Old Hollywood star power, and whether Sue Ellen is drunk or sober, Gray always delivers riveting television.

“Dallas” fans also want to know about a couple of other favorites, including Brenda Strong’s Ann and her dastardly ex-husband Harris, played to menacing perfection by Mitch Pileggi. Regarding them, I’ll only say this: Just because you haven’t read much about their characters in “Dallas’s” pre-premiere publicity doesn’t mean they have nothing to do in the first two episodes. I also don’t want to give anything away about Judith Light’s character Judith Ryland, except to say her return in the season’s second hour, “Trust Me,” is a hoot.

That episode, written by Bruce Rasmussen and directed by Millicent Shelton, features a Ewing family gathering that showcases the brilliance of costume designer Rachel Sage Kunin, who never fails to impress, and hairdresser Charles Yusko, whose contributions to the success of this series shouldn’t be overlooked. You’ll also want to watch “Trust Me” to see the long-awaited reunion between two characters who had a charming scene last year, along with one of the most audacious moments I’ve ever seen on “Dallas” — or any other show, for that matter.

Most importantly, the episode ends with a shock that rocks two characters and will make you reconsider everything you think you know about a third. It’s a twist you’ll never see coming — and another reason this show remains so much fun, even without the man who got the party started.

“Dallas’s” third season begins Monday, February 24, at 9 p.m. Eastern on TNT. Are you excited? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 25 – ‘Legacies’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Legacies, Patrick Duffy, TNT

Brother’s keeper

Will it surprise you to learn that I like “Legacies”? Probably not, judging by some of the comments I’ve received on this website and others lately. Some of you seem to think I’m too generous to the new “Dallas.” If I am, it’s only because I genuinely love the show. I’m also the first to admit it isn’t perfect, as “Legacies” demonstrates. This isn’t the finest hour in “Dallas” history, but it does a nice job resolving the “Who Killed J.R.” mystery and giving his death meaning. Ultimately, isn’t that what all of us want when we lose a loved one?

The episode’s best scene takes place in the Southfork graveyard, where John Ross and Christopher listen as Bobby finally reads aloud the letter J.R. left him. We learn J.R. was dying of cancer and put his master plan in motion because he wanted to end the Barnes/Ewing feud. The plan itself: J.R. had Bum shoot him so Cliff could be framed for J.R.’s “murder.” Outlandish? Sure, but there’s also something profound about the idea that J.R., the ultimate warrior, died wanting to make peace. It’s not out of character either. This is who J.R. was at the end of his life: a kinder, gentler scoundrel who wanted to protect his family, especially when it gave him an excuse to dig into his old bag of tricks.

The letter to Bobby is the centerpiece of Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner’s script. Even though Patrick Duffy and Jesse Metcalfe take turns reading the words, Larry Hagman’s voice is the one I hear. In my favorite passage, J.R. acknowledges the “terrible, hurtful” things he did to Bobby over the years, then adds: “I hope in the quiet place in your heart, where the truth lives, that my jealousy, as powerful as it was, was nothing compared to my love for you.” This isn’t the first time we’ve heard J.R. declare his love for his youngest brother, but it might be the first time Bobby has heard it. (In the past, Bobby was “dead” or unconscious when J.R. poured out his heart to him.) Anyone who has loved and lost a brother will find meaning in this moment.

The gravesite scene also gives us two unforgettable performances. The first comes from Duffy, whose tears move me like nothing else I’ve seen on “Dallas” this season. Bobby is usually such a pillar of strength; to see him lose his composure is touching. I’m also impressed with Kevin Page, who chokes up when Bum tells John Ross that he was the one who ended J.R.’s life. If you buy the premise that J.R. arranged his own death and that Bum pulled the trigger, it’s probably because Page is so convincing in this scene. Did you ever imagine you’d want to give Bum a hug?

“Legacies’” other big revelation comes at the top of the hour, when Christopher learns: a) his mother died of pancreatic cancer, and b) Cliff paid her doctor to create the illusion she was alive so Christopher couldn’t inherit her shares of Barnes Global. I wanted Victoria Principal to return to “Dallas” as much as anyone, but I also appreciate how this twist honors “Dallas” continuity. We last saw Pam in 1988, when we learned she had months to live. Now we find out she died in 1989. The math works. Much more importantly, this scenario redeems Pam. It always seemed out of character for her to abandon her family, so Cidre and Rovner’s script reveals Pam was undergoing experimental treatments so she could reunite with them. If nothing else, the new “Dallas” deserves credit for making sense of Pam’s absence, which was always one of the old show’s biggest blunders.

“Legacies” offers no such redemption for Cliff. To make the J.R.-killed-J.R. twist work, “Dallas” had to turn Cliff into a monster; otherwise, there was no chance the audience would accept the idea of the Ewings framing him for J.R.’s murder. A lot of fans are having a hard time believing Bobby would go along with this. I understand their incredulity, as well as their frustration with the historical rewriting that went into Cliff’s transformation. (His scheme to defraud Christopher must have started toward the end of the original show, when Cliff had become a pretty good guy.) Still, given the severity of Cliff’s crimes, is there any doubt he belongs in jail?

Even if you don’t like what happened to Cliff, you can’t deny Ken Kercheval gave the performance of his career this season. In “Legacies,” Kercheval makes you feel Cliff’s desperation and anger when the police drag him away in handcuffs (“I did not kill J.R.! I did not kill J.R.!”). There’s also something poignant about the scene where Bobby visits Cliff in that dingy Mexican jail. Here’s a son of Jock, giving the son of Digger one last chance to make peace. Confess to your real crimes, Bobby says, and I’ll help you beat this murder rap. But Cliff is defiant to the bitter end: “I have never done anything that the Ewings asked me to do, and I’m not going to start today.”

As far as I’m concerned, Cliff has to stay in jail for the duration of “Dallas.” If he gets out, J.R.’s master plan will fail and our hero’s final “victory” will be nullified. Of course, this doesn’t mean Kercheval can’t continue to appear in jailhouse scenes like the one we get at the end of “Legacies,” when Cliff anoints Elena (of all people!) as the Ewings’ latest antagonist by revealing J.R. cheated her father out of oil-rich land. This is an interesting twist, although the scene ends with a silly sound effect: After Kercheval delivers the last line (“Make the Ewings pay for the sins against your family”), listen closely and you’ll hear Hagman’s cackle mixed into the background music. (While we’re on the subject of poorly executed J.R. tributes, the painting of him revealed at the end of this episode is atrocious.)

“Legacies” director Steve Robin also gives us two memorable musical montages, one of the new show’s best signatures. The first sequence depicts the daughters of “Dallas” betraying their daddies: While Pamela plants the gun in Cliff’s trunk, Emma spikes Harris’s pancake batter, knocking him out long enough to sneak into his safe and swipe the evidence of his drug trafficking. These scenes play out to a reprise of “Liar,” the bluesy number from the Unknown that was previously heard in “False Confessions” when the police arrest Frank for Tommy’s murder.

The second “Legacies” montage, set to the Mavericks’ “Come Unto Me,” shows Elena visiting the heavily guarded compound of Joaquin, a mysterious friend from her childhood. Meanwhile, John Ross visits Emma, who gives him the rest of the papers she stole from Harris. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of John Ross cheating on Pamela, but once I saw the Hagman-esque glint in Josh Henderson’s eye and heard him deliver the scene’s kicker – “Just don’t tell my wife” – I was sold. (On a related note: Is that J.R.’s watch on John Ross’s wrist?)

Does “Legacies” have plot holes? You bet. It appears the police exhume J.R.’s body, pull the slugs out of the chest cavity (shouldn’t this have been done before the burial, by the way?) and match the bullets to Cliff’s gun, all in the time it takes Cliff and Pamela to fly from Dallas to Mexico and check into their hotel. That’s mighty swift police work, even by TV standards. Also, if the police decide to check out Cliff’s claims that he was framed, they could start by talking to the people who work at the bank where John Ross and Pamela planted the belt buckle in Cliff’s safe deposit box.

I suppose finding flubs like these is its own kind of joy, but I got a much bigger kick out of playing detective and trying to solve the “Who Killed J.R.” mystery. Don’t forget: This storyline was created on the fly by people who were working under tight pressure while simultaneously mourning the biggest star “Dallas” will ever know. All things considered, I think Cidre and company did a hell of a job. This was the most fun I had watching television in a long time. Isn’t that the point?

Grade: A


Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval, Legacies, TNT

The bitter end


Season 2, Episode 15

Telecast: April 15, 2013

Writers: Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner

Director: Steve Robin

Audience: 2.9 million viewers on April 15

Synopsis: Christopher learns Pam died in 1989 and that Cliff has been paying her doctor to create the illusion she’s alive to prevent Christopher from inheriting her third of Barnes Global. Vickers is killed on Cliff’s orders. After John Ross and Pamela plant evidence to lead the police to Cliff, he’s arrested for J.R.’s murder. John Ross and Christopher persuade Bobby to read J.R.’s letter, which reveals he was dying of cancer and had Bum shoot him so Cliff could be framed. Harris is arrested after Emma exposes his role in the drug trafficking. Cliff sends Elena documents that prove J.R. stole oil-rich land from her father, prompting her to visit someone from her past named Joaquin. John Ross cheats with Emma, who brings him documents from Harris’s safe.

Cast: Sam Anderson (Dr. David Gordon), Emma Bell (Emma Brown), Karen Borta (reporter), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Cody Daniel (deliveryman), Akai Draco (Sheriff Derrick), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Alex Fernandez (Roy Vickers), Marlene Forte (Carmen Ramos), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Barnes), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Annalee Jefferies (Carina), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Marcus M. Mauldin (Detective Bota), Benito Martinez (policeman), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Kevin Page (Bum), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing)

“Legacies” is available at, and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 19 – ‘Ewings Unite!’

Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ewings Unite, Ken Kercheval, TNT

The twist

There’s a lot to like about “Ewings Unite!,” including Ken Kercheval’s chilling performance in the final scene and the sensational, old-school soap opera showdown between Joan Van Ark and Linda Gray, which is destined to become a “Dallas” classic. Unfortunately, this episode also gives us plenty to lament. Valene’s eagerly awaited reunion with Gary never really happens, there’s seemingly little movement in the “Who Killed J.R.?” mystery, and the bombshell dropped during J.R.’s will reading is silly. This production isn’t just missing the old Hagman magic. Logic has taken a holiday too.

The will reading offers a welcome cameo from the wonderful Barry Corbin, who portrayed Sheriff Washburn on the old “Dallas” and appears here as J.R.’s lawyer. Bruce Rasmussen’s script honors J.R.’s mischievousness by having him leave a bottle of scotch to recovering alcoholic Gary, while Bobby inherits J.R.’s collection of cowboy boots. (This might be an inside joke. Hagman memorably called cowboy boots “the most uncomfortable mode of transport ever invented.”) I’m not going to complain about the omission of absent characters – a full recitation of J.R.’s bequests could have consumed half the episode – but I will gripe about the big surprise: It seems Miss Ellie waited until after J.R.’s death to leave half of Southfork to John Ross.

Ellie’s explanation comes in a letter read by Corbin’s character: “My son J.R. was many things, but he was not a rancher. That’s why I left my beloved Southfork to Bobby. But I hope you understand, Bobby, that J.R.’s sins should not be visited upon my grandson, John Ross.” Come again, Mama? As much as I like the idea of Ellie one-upping J.R. from beyond the grave, this defies belief. Set aside the fact that Ellie and second husband Clayton deeded Southfork to Bobby toward the end of the original series. In the new “Dallas’s” timeline, she left the ranch to Bobby upon her death more than a decade ago. Now Ellie is able to change those terms? I’m no lawyer, but how is this legally possible?

If the show’s goal is to pit John Ross against his uncle – effectively allowing John Ross to take his father’s place in this franchise’s central conflict of J.R. versus Bobby – then I’m all for it. I also like the idea that John Ross’s stake in the ranch means he’ll probably take up residence at Southfork, which I hope will set the stage for more old-fashioned Ewing family gatherings. Still, I wonder: Couldn’t the show have achieved this new power structure without sacrificing its credibility?

“Ewings Unite!” also suggests Cliff’s company, Barnes Global, is a rebranded version of the old Barnes/Wentworth conglomerate he ran on the old show. This also seems to contradict established “Dallas” lore – didn’t Cliff long ago relinquish his stake in those companies? – but I can live with this change since the composition of his corporate assets always seemed needlessly confusing. I’m more bothered by the revisionism in Elena’s storyline. When she challenges Christopher over his blackmail scheme, she declares, “This is why I wanted out of the company.” Whoa! Didn’t Sue Ellen oust Elena from the company against her will? Never mind the old show; if the new “Dallas” isn’t going to respect its own history – and by “history,” I mean stuff that happened three episodes ago – why should we?

The resolution of Gary’s mini-arc and Val’s return yield more mixed feelings. Van Ark is a hoot in the scene where Val confronts Sue Ellen (“Once a bitch, always a bitch!”), a marquee battle between two of television’s greatest soap queens. This doesn’t feel much like the Val I remember, but I like the idea that Van Ark’s character has grown stronger and more confident. “Poor Val” appears to be a memory. I also adore Ted Shackelford’s final scene with Gray, when Sue Ellen sweetly urges Gary to return to his wife before it’s too late. “One day she may be gone and you don’t want to regret the loss of every moment you could have spent with her,” Sue Ellen says. It’s a nice reminder of the wisdom Sue Ellen has gained, as well as the fact that her devious behavior in this episode stems from her grief.

But as much as I appreciate these moments, I want to shake my fist at “Dallas” for not giving us a scene where Gary and Val patch things up. Talk about a missed opportunity. Shackelford and Van Ark are every bit as iconic as “Dallas’s” other famous pairings. To split up the couple is one thing; to only give them a brief appearance together in the Southfork foyer and then leave the fate of their marriage unknown is something else. (So much for engendering goodwill among “Knots Landing” fans.) Of course, if the lack of closure means Gary and Val will return next season to resume their storyline, I’ll be the first to eat these words.

I don’t mean to dwell on my disappointments with “Ewings Unite!” There’s plenty here to admire, including seeing John Ross and Christopher work together; the scene where they gang up on Pamela showcases the nice chemistry between Josh Henderson and Jesse Metcalfe, who play off each other almost as easily as Hagman and Patrick Duffy did during “Dallas’s” heyday. I also appreciate Christopher’s flirtation with the dark side, and how the scene where Elena learns about his blackmail scheme echoes one from the old show where Pam tries to bring Bobby back from the edge. Other highlights include the pairing of impressive newcomers Kuno Becker and Emma Bell, as well as the addition of Annie Wersching, who I hope will stick around as sexy, scheming city transportation official Alison Jones.

More good stuff: the scene where Cliff and Harris form their Legion of Doom-style alliance, as well as when Harris dismisses his new partner in crime as a “paranoid old coot” while speaking to Vickers, who is poised to succeed Frank as this show’s go-to henchman. As far as Cliff’s decision at the end of episode to blow up the Ewing Energies rig, even though pregnant Pamela is on board: I wasn’t that shocked. The version of Cliff we see on TNT’s “Dallas” is more twisted and consumed than the one we remember. Like a lot of longtime fans, I wish I knew how Cliff got this way. Still, as ugly as his actions are, they seem perfectly in tune with the person he’s become.

Regardless, how fantastic is Kercheval in that scene? Everything about the actor’s body language – the fidgety hands, the shifty eyes – suggests the torment raging within Cliff in that instant. I also appreciate how director Steve Robin heightens the drama with a glimpse of pregnant Pamela’s belly before the bomb goes off, as well as the shot of Vickers kissing the cross around his neck before he pushes the detonation button.

I’m more surprised to see “Ewings Unite!” spend so little time on the “Who Killed J.R.?” mystery, which got off to such a riveting start at the end of the previous episode. After Bobby fills in John Ross and Christopher on the origin of Cliff’s company, he suggests J.R. was searching for Pam because she might be a “silent partner” in Barnes Global and casually reveals that Katherine is dead. Then again, as Dallas Decoder readers have pointed out, this show usually doesn’t mention older characters unless they’re going to figure into the storyline. Could Bobby’s reference to Katherine be the first step toward bringing Morgan Brittany to the new “Dallas”? Who knows? We might look back on this episode one day and realize it offers the biggest clue of all.

Grade: B


Dallas, Ewings Unite, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, TNT

Inherit the earth


Season 2, Episode 9

Telecast: March 18, 2013

Writer: Bruce Rasmussen

Director: Steve Robin

Audience: 2.7 million viewers on March 18

Synopsis: J.R.’s will splits his share of the Southfork mineral rights between Sue Ellen and John Ross. A letter from Miss Ellie reveals John Ross will become co-owner of the ranch with Bobby. When Bobby decides to resume drilling on Southfork, Sue Ellen, who is still drinking, summons Valene to take Gary home. Cliff tries to undermine Ewing Energies’ bid for the city fuel contract, but John Ross and Christopher blackmail transportation official Alison Jones into giving them the contract. Judith threatens to oust Harris at Ryland Transport, then falls down the stairs. After Cliff and Harris join forces, Harris’s henchman Roy Vickers blackmails Drew into sabotaging the Ewing Energies methane extraction rig. Cliff orders Vickers to blow up the rig, even though it will endanger Pamela and the Ewings.

Cast: Kuno Becker (Drew Ramos), Emma Bell (Emma Brown), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Barry Corbin (J.R.’s lawyer), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Alex Fernandez (Roy Vickers), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Barnes), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Kevin Page (Bum), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Ted Shackelford (Gary Ewing), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Joan Van Ark (Valene Ewing), Annie Wersching (Alison Jones)

“Ewings Unite!” is available at, and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 12 – ‘Venomous Creatures’

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, TNT, Venomous Creatures

Changing course

The boldest thing about the new “Dallas” isn’t the salty language or randy sex scenes – it’s the show’s willingness to let J.R. grow as a character. Larry Hagman’s iconic villain threw audiences for a loop last year when he returned ownership of Southfork to Bobby, and he surprises us again in “Venomous Creatures” when he fights to keep Sue Ellen out of jail. No one expects “Dallas” to turn J.R. into a full-fledged hero before he heads into the sunset later this season, but you must admit: Every time he becomes a better man, this becomes a better show.

Aaron Allen’s “Venomous Creatures” script gives Hagman some of his richest material since the new “Dallas” began, and the actor makes the most of it. J.R.’s most revealing moment in this episode comes near the top of the hour, when he tries to buck up Sue Ellen after her electoral defeat. “The best decision you ever made was the day you walked away from me,” J.R. tells her before ticking off a list of her achievements since their divorce. When Sue Ellen informs him the state prosecutor wants to indict her in the bribery scandal, he offers to intervene on her behalf, but she refuses. “I broke the law, and I wouldn’t learn my lesson if I tried to squirm out of this,” she says. J.R.’s winking response: “That’s why you have me, darlin’. I never learn my lesson.”

You don’t have to be a fan of the original “Dallas” to appreciate what’s happening here, but it helps. J.R. Ewing, the scoundrel who once tossed his wife into a sanitarium, has become the savior who’s eager to fight for her freedom. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen him use his power to help someone else, nor is it the first demonstration of the love J.R. feels for Sue Ellen (who has experienced her own share of changes over the years). J.R. had moments like these on the old show too, but they occur more frequently now. This makes J.R. more sympathetic, but it also makes him more believable. It’s as if time and circumstance have humbled him, the way they would any man who has lived a life like his. No matter what J.R. says, he has learned a lesson or two.

By embracing J.R.’s softer side, “Dallas” is taking a creative risk. For almost 35 years, this has been the villain audiences love to hate. Do fans want to see him acting heroically? I hope so. If nothing else, J.R. and Sue Ellen’s “Venomous Creatures” scenes – including the infinitely sweet moment when he shows up on her doorstep and receives that peck on the cheek – allow the new show to capitalize on the radiant warmth between Hagman and Linda Gray. And does it really matter if J.R. is using his power for good or evil? Isn’t seeing him triumph the thing we enjoy most?

Besides, it’s not like all the devilry has been exorcised from this character. J.R. keeps Sue Ellen out of jail not by hiring an army of lawyers to defend her, but by blackmailing the prosecutor into letting her off the hook. “Venomous Creatures” also shows him urging John Ross to embrace his dark side, including that delicious scene before the opening credits when J.R. finds his embittered son watching Christopher and Elena canoodling in the Southfork driveway. “Love. Hate. Jealousy. Mix ’em up and they make a mean martini,” J.R. says.

Later, in my favorite scene from “Venomous Creatures,” J.R. reminds Julie Gonzalo’s character of his track record when it comes to ridding his family of women named Pamela Barnes. This is a wonderful homage to one of the all-time great “Dallas” rivalries, but it also offers another hint of how J.R. has changed. When he tells Pamela to stay away from Ewing Energies and she points out he isn’t “part of that company,” he responds: “No, but I’m part of that family.” Usually when J.R. claims he’s protecting the Ewings, he doesn’t mean it. This time, I believe he does.

Hagman supplies “Venomous Creatures” with most of its great moments, but not all of them. The sequence where John Ross storms off the elevator to get to Pamela is electric, evoking the famous “Body Heat” scene where William Hurt smashes the window to get to Kathleen Turner. Pairing J.R.’s son and Cliff’s daughter is inspired, and it doesn’t hurt that Josh Henderson and Julie Gonzalo have undeniable chemistry. I also love how director Steve Robin stages the beginning of the scene, with the two characters circling the room – never taking their eyes off each other – as they dicker over the terms of their alliance. Also: How great is it that Pamela is the one who summons John Ross back to the penthouse to, um, seal their deal?

More highlights: The crosscutting in the scenes between Sue Ellen and Ann at Southfork and J.R. and the prosecutor on the golf course is beautifully executed. I especially love when Sue Ellen compares being tempted by the glass of wine to the temptation to allow J.R. rescue her (“For the first time in his damn life, J.R. was the lesser of two evils”). Meanwhile, Jesse Metcalfe and Jordana Brewster continue to charm as super-couple-in-the-making Christopher and Elena, even if the outcome of his annulment hearing defies logic.

The other fun moment in “Venomous Creatures” is the introduction of Judith Light’s character, Judith Brown Ryland. In my interview last week with Allen, the “Venomous Creatures” scriptwriter, he predicted “Dallas” fans will love watching Light “swing for the fences” with this role. I don’t doubt it. Light is irresistibly watchable in her “Dallas” debut, but she’s not the only reason this scene works. Pay attention to Patrick Duffy, who keeps Bobby’s confrontation with Judith rooted in reality. Our hero’s indignation is righteous, but it’s also nicely measured.

It takes a great actor to hold his own against a scene-stealer like Light, but if anyone is up to the task, it’s Duffy. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Grade: A


Dallas, Judith Brown Ryland, Judith Light, TNT, Venomous Creatures



Season 2, Episode 2

Telecast: January 28, 2013

Writer: Aaron Allen

Director: Steve Robin

Audience: 2.9 million viewers on January 28

Synopsis: Following Sue Ellen’s defeat in the gubernatorial race, the state prosecutor threatens to indict her, but J.R. blackmails him into letting her off the hook. After the Ewings agree to make Elena a full partner in Ewing Energies, Pamela and John Ross become lovers and form a secret alliance to snag a piece of Christopher’s share during the divorce. Christopher discovers Becky was part of Pamela and Tommy’s con. Bobby learns Emma was kidnapped by Harris and raised by his mother, Judith Brown Ryland.

Cast: Amber Bartlett (Jill), Devin Bonnée (courier), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Akai Draco (Sheriff Derrick), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Barnes), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Jason Kravitz (Pamela’s lawyer), Judith Light (Judith Ryland), Alex McKenna (Becky Sutter), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Liz Mikel (Judge Rhonda Mason), Natalie Quintanilla (John Ross’s secretary), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Faran Tahir (Frank Ashkani), Todd Terry (State’s Attorney Peter Bedford)

“Venomous Creatures” is available at, and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.