Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 138 — ‘Ray’s Trial’

Dallas, Ray Krebbs, Ray's Trial, Steve Kanaly

His day in court

I always remembered the mystery surrounding Mickey Trotter’s death as boiling down to a single question: Did Ray or Lil pull the plug on him? Last week, when I re-watched “Ray’s Trial” for the first time in a few years, I realized “Dallas” also poses a second, more complicated question: Did Mickey want to live or die? Ray and Lucy each offer different answers during the course of the episode, and technically, both of their statements are accurate. Does that mean both statements are also true? I’m not sure anyone can answer that definitively, which makes the storyline feel a lot more interesting than I previously gave it credit for.

To appreciate this aspect of “Ray’s Trial,” it’s worth remembering two crucial scenes from the preceding episodes. In “My Brother’s Keeper,” when Mickey is struggling to come to grips with his paralysis, he pulls Ray aside and tells him, “The idea of living like a vegetable with some damn machine keeping me alive disgusts me. It’s the worst horror I can imagine. … If it happens, I hope and pray that no one’s going to let me live that way.” Later, in “The Quality of Mercy,” Mickey’s mood brightens when he realizes Lucy is determined to stand by him despite the fact that he’ll never walk again. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll get married yet,” Mickey tells her.

But this is “Dallas,” so of course that never happens. When Mickey slips into a coma, his respirator is disconnected off-screen by either Ray or Lil, the two people with him at the time. The district attorney charges Ray, although the show goes out of its way to drop hints that the real culprit is Lil and Ray is only covering up for her. “Dallas” doesn’t solve the mystery until the next episode, allowing the audience to spend “Ray’s Trial” pondering what Mickey wanted, which turns out to be the more interesting question anyway. At the top of the hour, Ray meets with his lawyer and recalls Mickey’s “worst horror” comment, holding this up as evidence that Mickey preferred death to being kept alive via medical machinery. Later, when Lucy testifies at Ray’s trial, she recalls the marriage plans she and Mickey were making before he slipped into the coma. “He wanted to live. He really did,” she says.

Once again, these are two characters offering two technically accurate but fundamentally different answers to the question of whether Mickey wanted to live or die. Who you choose to believe may come down to where you stand on the issue of euthanasia, which is where “Ray’s Trial” ultimately falls short. Scriptwriter Arthur Bernard Lewis doesn’t devote much time to examining the moral implications of Mickey’s death, which is somewhat surprising considering the difference of opinion Ray and Donna apparently bring to the issue. At one point, Ray tells his lawyer, “What I did was not immoral.” This seems to put him at odds with Donna, whose personal beliefs are hinted at in the previous episode when she declares, “Nobody has the right to play God.” So why doesn’t “Ray’s Trial” give us a scene of husband and wife debating the issue?

Even if the material feels incomplete, Steve Kanaly makes the most of it. In my recent interview with him, Kanaly recalled growing up watching westerns and admiring actors like Gary Cooper. The comment must have lodged itself in the back of my mind because when I watched “Ray’s Trial” a few days later, I was struck by how much Kanaly reminds me of Cooper. The actors share similarly quiet, dignified mannerisms, and both are able to say a lot without uttering a single line of dialogue. In Kanaly’s case, watch his haunted eyes in this episode and you’ll see everything that the script doesn’t tell us about what Ray is feeling.

The other performer to watch is Charlene Tilton, who appears only twice but makes a lasting impression. She does a beautiful job delivering Lucy’s tearful testimony, which supplies “Ray’s Trial” with its moment of emotional catharsis. My favorite scene, though, comes a few moments later, when Donna comforts Lucy in the courthouse corridor after Lucy reluctantly testifies against Ray. This is a brief scene and the script doesn’t give Tilton much dialogue, but none is needed. Her anguished expression says it all. The courtroom scenes also feature a couple of old pros — Richard Jaeckel as prosecutor Percy Meredith and Glenn Corbett as Paul Morgan, Ray’s defense lawyer — as well as a young Steven Williams, who appears here as a bailiff and later plays the police captain on “21 Jump Street.”

This episode’s other notable moments include Mark Graison’s polo match, which might be “Dallas’s” most thrilling horseback riding sequence since Jock Ewing surged across the Southfork plains at the beginning of the second-season classic “Bypass.” “Ray’s Trial” also marks Lois Chiles’ final appearance as Holly Harwood. In her last scene, Holly approaches J.R. in a cocktail lounge and taunts him over losing the battle for Ewing Oil. Besides giving Chiles one last opportunity to spar with Larry Hagman, I like how this scene mimics J.R. and Holly’s first on-screen encounter, which also takes place in a cocktail lounge.

The other highlight of “Ray’s Trial” is the arrival of Priscilla Presley, who makes her “Dallas” debut as Jenna Wade. It’s a fine first appearance, although it includes a bit of a curiosity. In one of Presley’s scenes, Bobby pulls up in front of Jenna’s home as she approaches the sidewalk. He invites her to join him for lunch, but when director Michael Preece offers us a close-up shot of Bobby’s car radio, we see the clock reads “5:45.” From this, we can deduce one of two things: Either Ewings eat lunch very late, which makes them a lot different than you and me, or Bobby has yet to figure out how to set the clock in his car, in which case he’s just like us.

Grade: B

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Dallas, Jenna Wade, Priscilla Presley, Ray's Trial

Hello again

‘RAY’S TRIAL’

Season 7, Episode 7

Airdate: November 11, 1983

Audience: 22.4 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Ray goes on trial and frustrates Donna with his reluctance to defend himself. Bobby runs into Jenna, who now works as a waitress. J.R. woos the cartel.

Cast: Charles Aidman (Judge Emmett Brocks), Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Glenn Corbett (Paul Morgan), Michael Cornelison (Dr. Snow), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Steven Fuller (bailiff), Tony Garcia (Raoul), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Richard Jaeckel (Assistant District Attorney Percy Meredith), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing),  Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Joseph R. Maross (Dr. Blakely), Andrea McCall (Tracy Anders), Priscilla Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

“Ray’s Trial” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

The Dallas Decoder Guide to Texas Justice

Rogue’s gallery

Gang’s all here

The Ewings go to court in “Trial and Error,” TNT’s latest “Dallas” episode, and if past is prologue, the experience will be as enlightening as it is entertaining. Here’s what we learned about the Texas legal system from watching the original “Dallas.”

Rush to judgment

Rush to judgment

Justice is swift. (Except when it isn’t.) When someone in the Ewing camp is accused of a crime, the wheels of justice either spin super fast – or grind to a halt. Jock (Jim Davis) was charged with killing Hutch McKinney and indicted a week later, and then his trial lasted all of one day. But when Bobby’s girlfriend Jenna Wade went on trial for murdering Naldo Marchetta, the case dragged on for 11 episodes – almost a third of that season!

Snide and prejudice

Snide and prejudice

What conflict of interest? When Jock’s case went to trial, the assistant prosecutor was – drumroll, please – Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval). Did it matter that Cliff’s father was once Jock’s business partner? Or that Cliff’s sister was married to Jock’s son? Of course not! Look, if Senator Bobby Ewing could preside over a legislative inquiry into J.R.’s shady dealings, surely Cliff could prosecute Jock without prejudice. Right?

Cliff jumping

Cliff jumping

What courtroom etiquette? You know how Christopher has a penchant for courtroom outbursts on TNT’s “Dallas”? Uncle Cliff had the same habit on the old show. Remember when he interrupted a Ewing Oil ownership hearing by loudly telling opponent Jack Ewing, “This is all a setup by J.R. Ewing! You are here to cheat me!” The judge vowed to eject Cliff, but of course he didn’t. Do TV judges ever follow through on that threat?

Greasing the wheels

Chamber of commerce

Judges are for bribing. J.R. (Larry Hagman) never met a judge he didn’t try to influence. When Cliff tried to weasel his way into Ewing Oil, J.R. gave Judge Loeb (Jerry Hardin) some valuable stock tips in exchange for an injunction stalling Cliff’s case. Of course, these things sometimes backfired. When J.R. tried to pressure Jenna’s judge, the judge jacked up her bail to $2 million. Silly jurist. That’s what the Ewings call “pocket change.”

Mr. Cool

Mr. Cool

Scotty Demarest: Texas’s Matlock. Whenever the Ewings landed in hot legal water, they summoned Scotty (Stephen Elliott), an ultra-cool legal eagle whose disarming drawl added a few extra syllables to every word. Scotty’s best stunt: putting accused shooter Jenna on the witness stand and asking her to activate the gun’s “sy-luntz-uh.” She couldn’t, giving “Dallas” its own if-it-doesn’t-fit-you-must-acquit moment.

Spectacles of justice

Spectacles of justice

Harv Smithfield was cool too. Who didn’t love Harv (George O. Petrie), the Ewings’ loyal consigliere? He wasn’t quite as flamboyant as Scotty, but he had a flair for legal theatrics nonetheless. I mean, is it me or did Harv only trot out his lawyerly pince-nez spectacles when he was in court? The other remarkable thing about Harv: He was highly ethical. So how’d he manage to stay on the Ewing payroll for so long?

He must object

He must object

Don’t forget about Cole Young! Cole (Walter Brooke) helped acquit Cliff of Julie Grey’s murder through sheer incredulity. During J.R.’s three-minute testimony against Cliff, Cole objected five times. Cole was especially outraged when he thought the prosecutor was being mean to Pam on the witness stand. As Cole put it: “I protest that, not only as an officer of this court but as a citizen of the great state of Texas!” You tell ’em, Cole!

He’ll smell ya later

He’ll smell ya later

Trials are for stargazing. In addition to Brooke, who famously gave Dustin Hoffman career advice in “The Graduate” (“plastics!”), “Dallas” also gave us stars-in-the-making, including Steven Williams (the boss on “21 Jump Street”) as the bailiff during Ray’s trial for Mickey Trotter’s death and James Avery (Will Smith’s Uncle Phil on “The Fresh Prince Bel-Air”) as the judge in one of little Christopher’s many custody hearings.

Got a stack of those?

Might want a stack of those, just in case

Testify! The amazing thing about the Ewings: They often told the truth in court. For example, Bobby allowed the sordid story of Christopher’s paternity to come out during his final custody fight for the boy. J.R. even delivered potentially damaging testimony against his daddy at Jock’s trial, although he declined to drag Sue Ellen’s name through the mud at their first divorce hearing. Who says miracles don’t happen in “Dallas”?

What have the Ewings taught you about the justice system? Share your comments below and read more “Dallas Decoder Guides.”