The Best & Worst of Dallas: Season 4

“Dallas’s” fourth season was the show’s most-watched. Is it also the best?


Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Lows and highs

In Season 4, J.R. recovers from an assassination attempt, learns to walk again and suffers a humiliating exile from Ewing Oil. Through it all, Larry Hagman never misses a beat. The actor takes us deeper into J.R.’s psyche, revealing vulnerabilities we never dreamed the character was capable of. If you love Hagman’s complex performance on TNT’s “Dallas,” re-watch the classic show’s fourth season. This is where those seeds are planted.


Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Leslie Stewart, Susan Flannery

Blonde ambition

“Who Shot J.R.?” turned “Dallas” into a global phenomenon, so you might expect the show to spend Season 4 playing it safe. Instead, it takes a creative risk by tackling sexism. This theme is best personified by pioneering PR whiz Leslie Stewart, but the gender wars are also seen when Miss Ellie calls out chauvinistic Jock, Lucy gets a career and Donna emerges as the top choice for a state senate seat. Who says “Dallas” isn’t progressive?

Season 4’s weakest subplot: Mr. Ewing goes to Austin. I love the idea of “Dallas” delving into politics, but Bobby’s conduct as a member of the state senate strains credibility. Shouldn’t Senator Ewing have recused himself from the legislature’s hearings into his parents’ fight over the Takapa Lake development – or its inquiry into J.R.’s foreign affairs? Where’s an ethics committee when you need one?


Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Here comes the son

“The Fourth Son” is one of the finest hours of “Dallas” ever made. The episode, beautifully written by Howard Lakin (his first script for the show) and directed by Irving J. Moore, officially brings Ray into the Ewing fold and reminds us why Jock is such a revered figure in the “Dallas” mythos. Father-son relationships are integral to “Dallas” – especially on the TNT series – and no episode explores that theme better than this one.

To demonstrate how uneven episodic television can be, one week after “The Fourth Son” debuted, “Dallas” gave us “Trouble at Ewing 23,” which is easily my least-favorite Season 4 entry. I never know what’s worst: the cringe-inducing special effects when the oil field goes up in flames – or the fact Luther Gillis sheds not a single drop of blood after J.R.’s hired guns pump him full of lead.


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

Scene from a marriage

How do you know when a “Dallas” scene is classic? When you only need one or two lines of dialogue to describe it. By that standard, the show’s fourth year probably offers more great moments than any other season: “It was you, Kristin, who shot J.R.” “He’s not your daddy. I am.” “You are my mother.” “Real power is something you take.” “Don’t make me see myself in your eyes.” “Mama, you didn’t take any licorice.”

Any one of these scenes qualifies for “best of” honors, but my sentimental favorite remains the “New Beginnings” moment when J.R. and Sue Ellen reminisce about their courtship. Next to J.R. and Bobby’s sibling rivalry, J.R. and Sue Ellen’s love affair is “Dallas’s” most enduring relationship. If you want to understand why these two can’t stay away from each other, watch this scene.

Supporting Players

Dallas, Leslie Stewart, Susan Flannery

Pioneer woman

No surprise here: I love Leslie. The oh-so-cool Susan Flannery was the ideal choice to play the character, whose business savvy, scheming ways and unapologetic sexuality make her J.R.’s equal and the template for prime-time divas like Abby Cunningham and Alexis Carrington. “Dallas’s” writers seemed to lose interest in Leslie after awhile, but before her storyline peters out, no character in Season 4 is more fascinating.

At the other end of the spectrum lie Alex Ward and Clint Ogden, the utterly forgettable characters who romance Pam and Sue Ellen during the second half of the season. Don’t blame Joel Fabiani and Monte Markham, who are both fine actors; blame the writers, who colored Alex and Clint in shades of plain vanilla.


As much as I love the iconic dresses Sue Ellen wears in “Who Done It?,” nothing compares to Jock’s lion’s head medallion, the perfect accessory to symbolize Jim Davis’s role as father of the Ewing pride.

Some might consider Pam’s perm to be Season 4’s worst fashion choice – but those people are wrong because that ’do is awesome.


Best: “If you were on the side of the angels, you wouldn’t need Leslie Stewart.” – Leslie’s droll observation during the well-written scene where she persuades J.R. to hire her.

Worst: “My own son, letting some little no-account alley cat swing you by your big toe.” – The most memorable line during the tongue-lashing Jock gives J.R. after Leslie costs Ewing Oil a big deal. Watch it, Jock! That’s our Leslie you’re talking about.

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 66 – ‘End of the Road, Part 2’

Big fat Ewing wedding

Big fat Ewing wedding

“End of the Road, Part 2” aired three days after President Reagan’s inauguration, and as if on cue, the episode ushers in a bigger, glossier version of “Dallas.” The show has always been about big things (big homes, big business, big egos), but this hour seems to mark the moment the producers decide even bigger is even better.

This episode’s centerpiece is Lucy’s wedding, which demonstrates how much “Dallas’s” cast has ballooned during the fourth season. In addition to the main characters, the wedding is attended by Alex Ward, Clint Ogden and the Coopers, none of whom were around just a few episodes ago. It’s odd to see these newcomers get so much screen time at a Ewing family event.

To make matter worse, some of the familiar faces act like people we don’t know. I get that Pam feels vulnerable after her mother’s rejection, but would she really allow herself to be tempted by Alex? Likewise, Miss Ellie’s sudden resentment toward Ray feels forced, especially in light of the warm embrace she gave him in “Trouble at Ewing 23.”

It also doesn’t help that the wedding scenes are filmed on “Dallas’s” Hollywood soundstage, which looks even faker than usual. To create the illusion this is a large affair, the producers squeeze dozens of extras onto the set, but this only succeeds in making everyone look claustrophobic. In the scene where Sue Ellen and Clint sit at a table and chat, I find myself worrying the couples on the dance floor are going to waltz right over them.

Yes, there are a handful of nice moments in “End of the Road, Part 2,” including the scene where Jock, J.R. and Bobby duck out of the reception to talk shop in the living room. It evokes the opening of “The Godfather,” when Don Corleone does business on his daughter’s wedding day.

I also like how director Irving J. Moore allows us to hear the murmuring in the crowd when Lucy comes down the aisle (“Look at that dress!”), as well as when he switches perspective and shows the attendees from Lucy’s point of view.

Still, I can’t help but notice how “Dallas” seems to lose a little perspective of its own with this episode.

Grade: B


Stare and stare alike

Stare and stare alike


Season 4, Episode 12

Airdate: January 23, 1981

Audience: 28.3 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: Mitch and Lucy marry. During the reception, J.R. sleeps with Afton, while Sue Ellen flirts with ex-boyfriend Clint Ogden. Bobby salvages his big deals but resigns as Ewing Oil’s president.

Cast: Barbara Babcock (Liz Craig), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Karlene Crockett (Muriel Gillis), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Joel Fabiani (Alex Ward), Anne Francis (Arliss Cooper), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Ted Gehring (Brady York), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Sherill Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Monte Markham (Clint Ogden), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Jeanna Michaels (Connie), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Robert Rockwell (minister), Ted Shackelford (Gary Ewing), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Joan Van Ark (Valene Ewing)

“End of the Road, Part 2” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

The Art of Dallas: ‘Trouble at Ewing 23’

Bobby (Patrick Duffy) confronts J.R. (Larry Hagman) over the botched handling of a ransom demand in this 1980 publicity shot from “Trouble at Ewing 23,” a fourth-season “Dallas” episode.

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘You’re a Ewing now’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Miss Ellie Ewing, Trouble at Ewing 23

She knows

In “Trouble at Ewing 23,” a fourth-season “Dallas” episode, Ray (Steve Kanaly) finds Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) with her horse in the stable.

RAY: Miss Ellie, I’m very grateful to you.

ELLIE: Oh, Ray.

RAY: No. You accepted me into your family. That’s very important to me.

ELLIE: Ray, Jock told me about his affair with Margaret years ago. I know how fond of you he’s always been. Maybe it should have been more of a shock to me, finding out you were his son. It wasn’t. It was as if part of each of us had always known.

RAY: I want to thank you. The last thing in the world I ever wanted to do would be to hurt you or Jock.

ELLIE: I think you may need more adjusting than either of us. You’re a Ewing now. That’s a lot to take on all at once. I know.

RAY: I’ve been Ray Krebbs for too long now. I just don’t plan on changing anything. That’s why I didn’t want anybody else but the family to know about this.

ELLIE: That may not be so easy, Ray. But welcome to the family. [She kisses him.]

RAY: Thank you.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 62 – ‘Trouble at Ewing 23’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, Trouble at Ewing 23

Little brother, big trouble

“Trouble at Ewing 23” is a decent “Dallas” episode until the fourth act, when everything falls apart. Or is blown apart, to be more precise.

The episode starts off strongly when Ray runs into Miss Ellie in the stable, where he thanks her for welcoming him into the family. Ellie is gracious, but she also expresses concern for Ray. “You’re a Ewing now,” she says. “That’s a lot to take on all at once. I know.” Barbara Bel Geddes and Steve Kanaly each do a nice job in this scene, which helps establish the special bond Ellie and Ray develop as “Dallas” progresses.

“Trouble at Ewing 23’s” other highlight: the scene where Pam drops by Cliff’s apartment unannounced, not knowing Donna is about to arrive for a romantic dinner. When Pam spots a bottle of imported wine chilling in the corner, she realizes Cliff is expecting a woman and teases him.

“It’s the first date,” she says. “Chinese on the second, tacos on the third. Funny how I know all this, isn’t it?” This is a cute scene, well played by Ken Kercheval and Victoria Principal, whose on-screen relationship is one of “Dallas’s” most believable.

Nice moments like these stand in contrast with the rest of “Trouble at Ewing 23,” which isn’t very good. By the fourth act, the show has abandoned everyone else’s storylines to focus on the subplot about a disgruntled Ewing Oil employee’s threat to blow up the drill site in the episode’s title, which J.R. shut in “A House Divided” to prevent Cliff from sharing in the profits.

I like the idea of showing how J.R.’s vindictiveness has unintended consequences – it turns out Gillis, the angry worker, wants revenge because he lost his job when the field closed – but the plot’s execution is lame.

Why does Gillis demand use of the Ewing jet to make his escape? Isn’t he afraid J.R. and Bobby will have police waiting to arrest him when he lands? When the field crew goes looking for Gillis’s hidden-in-plain-sight bombs, why don’t they find them? How long does it take to scour an oil field, anyway?

When the field finally goes up in flames, the special effects are spectacularly fake, but I don’t get too worked up about that. After all, this production is by Lorimar, not Lucasfilm.

Besides, by the time Gillis hits the detonator, my willingness to suspend my disbelief has long since disappeared.

Grade: C


Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, Trouble at Ewing 23

Pain at the pumps


Season 4, Episode 8

Airdate: December 19, 1980

Audience: 26.3 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Louie Elias

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Miss Ellie welcomes Ray. Donna tells him she’s dating Cliff. Pam’s detective finds evidence her mother didn’t die. A disgruntled employee threatens to blow up Ewing 23 if Bobby doesn’t meet his ransom demands. J.R.’s security guards shoot the worker, who detonates the explosives before dying.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Michael Bell (Les Crowley), Ray Colbert (Gillis), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), John Furlong (airport manager), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Laurence Haddon (Franklin Horner), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Richard Herd (John Mackey), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jeanna Michaels (Connie), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Warren Vanders (Harry Owens)

“Trouble at Ewing 23” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.