The Best & Worst of Dallas: Season 6

There’s lots to love and little to loathe about “Dallas’s” sixth season.


Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Oh, darlin’

Every cast member shines during Season 6, but Linda Gray’s performance during Sue Ellen’s alcoholic spiral makes her first among equals. Sue Ellen doesn’t just lose her self-respect; she comes close to losing her life when she drives drunk and crashes J.R.’s car. What impresses me most about Gray is how she keeps the audience rooting for Sue Ellen, even when she makes mistakes. What an amazing performance.

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy

Still our hero

Give it up for Patrick Duffy too. If you were surprised to see Bobby unleash his inner junkyard dog on the most recent season of TNT’s “Dallas,” then check out Season 6 of the original series, which marks the first time the character reveals his ferocious side. The “Dallas” writers take Bobby to a very dark place during the yearlong contest for Ewing Oil, but Duffy makes sure we never forget he’s still the Bobby Ewing we know and love. Bravo.


Speaking of J.R. and Bobby’s contest: It’s too early for me to call this “Dallas’s” all-time greatest plot — I still have eight more seasons to revisit — but it’s hard to imagine anything surpassing the battle royale between the brothers Ewing. The reason the storyline succeeds isn’t the premise, which — let’s face it — is more than a little implausible. (A major corporation splits in half for a year to determine which of its top two executives should be in charge?) No, this arc works because it involves every character and showcases their complexities. Is it surprising to see Bobby play dirty or to witness J.R. wracked with guilt at season’s end? Sure, yet it never feels out of character for them. “Dallas” is always at its best when the characters, not the writers, drive the narrative, and that’s never been truer than it is here.


Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Power hour

This is the first season that I’ve reviewed in which none of the episodes received anything less than a “B” grade. For the record: Year 6 consists of 28 hours, and I handed out nine “B’s,” 16 “A’s” and three (!) “A+’s.” My favorite is “Penultimate,” a powerful hour of television that deals with the fallout from Sue Ellen’s accident and leaves us wondering: What’s more destructive — her addiction to booze or her addiction to J.R.?


The final moments in “Tangled Web” never fail to give me chills. We’re with Sue Ellen every step of the way when she walks across Holly’s driveway, enters the house and sees her in bed with J.R. (Trivia: My readers tell me when this scene was broadcast in 1983, it was scored, but for whatever reason the music doesn’t appear on the DVD. I’d love to see the original version, but I must say: The lonely sounds of Sue Ellen’s heels clicking and clacking help make this scene so effective.) More great moments: Cliff comes to terms with his guilt over Rebecca’s death (this is Ken Kercheval at his most brilliant) and three scenes that showcase the incomparable Barbara Bel Geddes — Miss Ellie predicts the future for Sue Ellen, eulogizes Jock a the Oil Baron’s Ball and testifies at the hearing to overturn his will.

Hands down, my least favorite scene: In “A Ewing is a Ewing,” J.R. comes on to Holly and she tells him “no,” but he has sex with her anyway. Was this really necessary to demonstrate J.R.’s villainy?

Supporting Players

Dallas, Mickey Trotter, Timothy Patrick Murphy


Do you despise cocky Mickey Trotter when he arrives at the beginning of Season 6? Are you surprised when he tries to save Sue Ellen at the end of the year? If you answer “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second, then credit Timothy Patrick Murphy, who does a nice job turning Mickey from a punk into a prince over the course of the season. Also, thanks to Murphy, Lucy finally gets a leading man worthy of Charlene Tilton’s charm.


Jock’s portrait is introduced during “Dallas’s” fifth season, but the show makes magnificent use of it throughout Season 6. Jock looms in the background of so many crucial scenes, including the will reading, which marks one of the few occasions when all of the Ewings are together in one room (even Gary’s there!), and J.R. and Ray’s fistfight in “Ewing Inferno,” when all hell breaks loose — literally. TNT, take note: This is how you use a portrait to help keep alive a character’s memory.


Dallas, Donna Krebbs, Susan Howard

Red hat mama

I love Pam’s upswept hairdo and western dress in “Barbecue Three,” her print skirt in “Brothers and Sisters” and Afton’s navy blouse/white skirt combo in “The Ewing Blues,” but my favorite fashion statement is made by Susan Howard, who sports a striking red hat when Donna attends the inaugural meeting of the Texas Energy Commission (also “Barbecue Three”). Eat your heart out, Katherine Wentworth!


Throughout Season 6, Larry Hagman zings like no one else. Here’s J.R. to Holly, upon spotting her lounging around her pool with a shirtless stud: “Traveling with the intellectual set, I see.” To Mickey, after the young man announces he’s a Trotter, not a Krebbs: “Oh, well. I’m bound to sleep more soundly tonight knowing that.” To Katherine, upon hearing she has something to discuss with him: “Oh, don’t tell me. Not Cliff Barnes. I couldn’t handle that.” In the end, though, my favorite quip comes from Sue Ellen, who is aghast when J.R. criticizes Pam for giving “aid and comfort to the opposition” during the hearing to overturn Jock’s will. “Opposition?” Sue Ellen says. “J.R., that’s your mother.”

What do you love and loathe about “Dallas’s” sixth season? Share your comments below and read more “Best & Worst” reviews.

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘Was Sue Ellen That Woman?’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Miss Ellie Ewing, Tangled Web

The other woman

In “Tangled Web,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode, Miss Ellie and Clayton (Barbara Bel Geddes, Howard Keel) sit in the dining room at the Cattleman’s Club.

CLAYTON: I think what I ought to do is lease a place for awhile, don’t you? That way I can look around a little more leisurely. What do you think, Ellie?

ELLIE: If that’s what you want.

CLAYTON: Well, I think it’d be the wise thing to do. [Silence] Ellie, are you all right? Is something troubling you?

ELLIE: Clayton, tell me. Why did you leave San Angelo?

CLAYTON: [Chuckles] Well, I thought I told you. Don’t you remember?

ELLIE: You told me that you were running away from memories.

CLAYTON: That’s right. Memories that concerned Southern Cross. They had no place in my life anymore. I wanted to erase them from my mind.

ELLIE: Have you been successful in doing that?

CLAYTON: Not completely, but I’m trying. Why do you ask?

ELLIE: Well, when we, when we met at Galveston that time, you were very troubled over a woman. So much that you had to get away from her and go down to the gulf. Clayton, were you in love with this woman?

CLAYTON: Yes, I was. Or at least I thought I was.

ELLIE: Clayton, I’ve been thinking about you and Sue Ellen. And all the things she said. Your attitude toward each other. Clayton, was Sue Ellen that woman?

CLAYTON: Yes. [Ellie rubs her temples.] Ellie, try to understand. Sue Ellen came to my home. She was in love with my son. And that relationship didn’t work for her. She didn’t know which way to turn. She was desperately in need. And I felt that I had to comfort her some way. And before I knew it, I found myself in love with her.

ELLIE: Did you tell her that?

CLAYTON: No. She thought of me as a father. She never recognized my feelings.

ELLIE: Well, didn’t you tell her how you felt?

CLAYTON: Yes, I tried, but I just couldn’t seem to get through to her. [Silence] Ellie, that part of my life is over now.

ELLIE: [Looking down] Is it?

CLAYTON: Yes, it is. And the feelings that I had for Sue Ellen then are gone. [Grabs her hand] If it eases your mind, nothing happened between us. Nothing.

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

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, Tangled Web

Truth hurts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: A


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



Season 6, Episode 25

Airdate: April 1, 1983

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

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Nicholas Sgarro

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

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

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