Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘Hello, Edgar’

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Twelve Mile Limit

Flower power

In “Twleve Mile Limit,” a seventh-season “Dallas” episode, J.R. (Larry Hagman) enters Edgar’s hospital room and places a bouquet of flowers at the foot of the bed, just as Edgar (Martin E. Brooks) awakens.

J.R.: Hello, Edgar. [Removes his hat] Thought I’d bring a little something to brighten up your room.

EDGAR: What are you doing here?

J.R.: So you decided to take the easy way out, did you? I’m disappointed in you. I thought you were more intelligent than that.

EDGAR: Actually, I would rather die than give you what you want.

J.R.: Well, that’s easy enough for you to say, but what about your wife and your children?

EDGAR: At least if I died, they wouldn’t know about my past.

J.R.: Oh, sure they would. I’d break your story to the newspapers before you turned cold in the ground.

EDGAR: Even then you’d do that?

J.R.: Well, naturally. So if you’re thinking of repeating that booze and pills act, forget it. It’s not going to do you any good.

EDGAR: But why? What purpose would it serve?

J.R.: It would testify to the fact that J.R. Ewing always keeps his promises.

EDGAR: [Shouting] You’re not a human being, you’re scum!

J.R.: Edgar, I know how you feel. But it’s not going to change the way things are. Now don’t make it hard on yourself. [Smiles] I’m really a nice fellow when I get what I want. [Turns to leave, stops and looks back at Edgar] Oh, and by the way: Don’t you ever mention my name to Donna Krebbs again — or you’ll really regret that you didn’t die today.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 149 — ‘Twelve Mile Limit’

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Twelve Mile Limit

What a nice man!

The final scene in “Twelve Mile Limit” begins with a shot of a man in a brown suit carrying a big bouquet of flowers into Edgar Randolph’s hospital room. We don’t see the mystery man’s face until he places the basket on a tray table and the camera pans up, revealing that it’s J.R. “Hello, Edgar. Thought I’d bring a little something to brighten your room,” he says. The words are perfectly innocent, but when Larry Hagman delivers them, they sound positively chilling. This isn’t going to your typical “Dallas” social call, not that such a thing really exists.

Indeed, Edgar is in the hospital because he overdosed on pills and booze to avoid being blackmailed by J.R. What’s J.R. up to? The show hasn’t made that clear. We know J.R. wants Edgar, a high-ranking federal official, to leak him top-secret information about a forthcoming public auction of offshore oil leases. We also know J.R. plans to use this information to get revenge against Cliff, although we’re not entirely sure how. Additionally, J.R. has told Edgar that if he doesn’t cooperate, J.R. will expose a dark secret from his past, although we don’t know what the secret is.

That’s a lot of missing information, and yet the absence of these details does nothing to detract from the power of the hospital scene. Like so many great moments on “Dallas,” this one allows the audience to experience a lot of contradictory emotions at once: We feel sorry for Edgar, but heaven help us, we also get a kick out of watching J.R. exert his power over him. At one point, J.R. tells Edgar that if he tries to kill himself again and succeeds, J.R. will expose his secret to his wife and children anyway. Edgar is horrified. “But why? What purpose would it serve?” he asks. J.R.’s response: “It would testify to the fact that J.R. Ewing always keeps his promises.” My goodness, how mean — and how delicious — is that?

I discussed this scene the other day with Hill Place Blog, who suggested J.R. is so vicious here because Edgar’s sins are so dark; for once, J.R. gets to feel morally superior to somebody. This is an interesting idea, although I’m not sure J.R. cares that much about morality one way or the other. Whatever his character’s motivation may be, I love how Hagman plays off Martin E. Brooks, who is entirely believable as poor, flustered Edgar. After J.R. threatens to expose his secret if he dies, Edgar shouts, “You’re not a human being, you’re scum!” J.R. calmly responds, “Edgar, I know how you feel. But it’s not going to change the way things are. Now don’t make it hard on yourself.” Hagman then takes a beat, smiles and says, “I’m really a nice fellow when I get what I want.” Perfect.

The “scum”/“nice fellow” exchange was one of the first clips shown during last year’s PBS retrospective of the 1980s prime-time soap operas. At the time, I was surprised by the scene’s inclusion — I figured the producers would’ve chosen one of J.R.’s more memorable acts of cruelty, like one of the scenes where he smacks down Cliff Barnes — but now that I’ve seen J.R. and Edgar’s clash with fresh eyes, I appreciate it more. If you’re looking for a singular scene that showcases both J.R.’s villainy and Hagman’s genius, this one is as good as any.

A few more moments in “Twelve Mile Limit” deserve mentioning. In one, Ray and Donna storm into J.R.’s office to accuse him of blackmailing Edgar to win the auction, only to have J.R. tell them he has no intention of bidding. Before you know it, Ray and Donna are essentially apologizing to J.R., who gleefully plays up his indignation. “I sure am glad the wheels of justice are not controlled by people like you,” he says. In another fun scene, Cliff meets Sly in a darkened restaurant so he can reluctantly pay her the money she requested for inside information about J.R.’s dealings. As Cliff reaches inside his jacket to retrieve his checkbook, he says, “Ten thousand dollars, right?” Sly furrows her brow. “Yes, but cash, please.” Debbie Rennard’s oh-so-innocent delivery is downright Hagman-esque.

The other standout moment in “Twelve Mile Limit” is a little more sober-minded. At the end of the show’s previous episode, when Miss Ellie tells Clayton about her mastectomy, he embraces her warmly and tells her it doesn’t matter. In “Twelve Mile Limit,” Clayton confesses to Ray that he’s not as comfortable as he let on. “It bothered me, and I’m not proud about that. Why does a man have to feel that way about something like that?” Clayton says. His confession is a bit surprising, but it also feels very honest. I would imagine a lot of men who find themselves in these situations in real life struggle with the same kinds of feelings.

I also like how Howard Keel never makes Clayton feel like anything less than a gentleman. If another actor was playing this character, we might think Clayton was a lout for saying he was afraid to see Miss Ellie without her clothes on; the character could also come off as weak or namby-pamby. Not with Keel, who strikes the perfect balance between strength and sensitivity in this scene and so many others. If anything, Clayton’s willingness to give voice to feelings he isn’t “proud” of makes him feel even stronger.

In fact, the only thing that gives me pause about this scene comes at the end, when Ray tells Clayton, “Well, I just got this feeling that when the time comes, it’s all going to turn out fine.” I certainly hope not! What fun would that be?

Grade: A

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Clayton Farlow, Dallas, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Twelve Mile Limit

Real men

‘TWELVE MILE LIMIT’

Season 7, Episode 18

Airdate: February 3, 1984

Audience: 22.4 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Patrick Duffy

Synopsis: Clayton harbors private reservations about having sex with Miss Ellie. J.R. learns Clayton may have killed his first wife to collect the insurance money. When Edgar tries to commit suicide, Ray and Donna suspect he was being blackmailed by J.R. Sly tells Cliff that J.R. plans to bid on three offshore leases. Mark proposes to Pam, but she tells him she needs time to think about it. While Afton is out of town, Cliff sleeps with Marilee. Katherine comes closer to finding Naldo.

Cast: John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Martin E. Brooks (Edgar Randolph), James L. Brown (Detective Harry McSween), Danone Camden (Kendall), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Ray Girardin (Richard Stevens), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie Dugan), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Joanna Miles (Martha Randolph), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Deborah Rennard (Sly), Donegan Smith (Earl Johnson)

“Twelve Mile Limit” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.