Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘You’re the Dangerous One’

Alexis Smith, Bobby Ewing, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Lady Jessica Montford, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Sue Ellen Ewing, Unexpected

Takes one to know one

In “The Unexpected,” a seventh-season “Dallas” episode, Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes), J.R. (Larry Hagman), Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), Bobby (Patrick Duffy), Ray (Steve Kanaly), Donna (Susan Howard) and Lucy (Charlene Tilton) are in the Southfork living room, awaiting Clayton and Jessica’s arrival.

J.R.: Mama, would you relax? You look like you’re going to pounce on Lady Montford when she walks through the door.

Clayton and Jessica (Howard Keel, Alexis Smith) enter.

CLAYTON: Well, if that’s what she’s going to do, now’s the time to do it.

JESSICA: Better be careful. As Clayton can tell you, folks used to say I wrastle mountain lions down in San Angelo. And there’s one thing I want to get straight from the beginning. Please don’t “Lady Montford” me to death. I answer to “Jessie.”

CLAYTON: She’s also shy, I might add.

ELLIE: Welcome to Southfork, Jessie. [Approaches, takes Jessica’s hands.]

JESSICA: Thank you, Miss Ellie. I was so anxious to see what you looked like, I asked Clayton to show me a snapshot. The man didn’t have any.

ELLIE: Well, we’ll have to fix that.

JESSICA: You sure waited a long time before you asked someone to marry you, Clayton. [Patting Ellie’s hands] But I think she was worth waiting for.

ELLIE: Thank you, Jessie.

JESSICA: [Slipping her hands out of Ellie’s] You know, I thought he was going to stay single for the rest of his life. Either that, or marry someone half his age. [J.R. chuckles]

ELLIE: Jessie, I’d you to meet my family. This is my granddaughter Lucy.

LUCY: Hi.

ELLIE: And my daughters-in-law Donna and Sue Ellen. [They smile and nod] And my three sons, J.R. and Bobby and Ray.

JESSICA: Well, I’m certainly happy to meet you. [Chuckles] Now I know I’ve been away from Texas too long. I’d forgotten how handsome they grew the men in this state.

BOBBY: Well, we thank you.

JESSICA: Now, all I want to know is, which ones are married and which ones play around, or both. [Chuckles] Oh, I’m only kidding, Sue Ellen and Donna. But I can’t remember which one belongs to which since there are three sons and only two daughters-in-law.

DONNA: Well, you’d have to fight me for the silver-haired one here.

JESSICA: No, I think I’d rather tackle another mountain lion. Sue Ellen?

SUE ELLEN: I’m married to J.R.

JESSICA: I see. Well, that leaves Bobby as the single one.

J.R.: Well, that’s only temporary. The ladies are lining up for him.

JESSICA: I’m not surprised. But on the way back from the airport, Clayton spent almost as much time talking about you, J.R., as he did about Miss Ellie. I have a feeling you’re the dangerous one.

J.R.: Well, yes, I have that reputation. But I’m kind to my family and close friends.

JESSICA: [Smiling] Then I think want to be your friend. [To Ellie] I especially want to be your friend.

ELLIE: [Smiling] I’d like that.

JESSICA: Sometimes I come on a little strong. If I do, slap me down. You know, Clayton, there was a nice young man out there struggling with my excess baggage. Did he make it?

CLAYTON: He’s here now. [Takes two shopping bags from Raoul, hands them to Jessica]

JESSICA: Well, there’s China and linen for the ladies — very British — and wool sweaters for the men. I hope I guessed the sizes right. Bobby, would you fix me a little bourbon and branch? Now where’s that special box?

CLAYTON: [Holds up a long wooden case] This one?

JESSICA: [Opens it, removes a sword] I think it’s appropriate to give this to the eldest male member of the Ewing family. It belonged to Henry’s great-grandfather. It hung over the mantel in our home. [Presents it to J.R.]

J.R.: [Hands his drink to Sue Ellen] Darlin’, would you please? Well, this is beautiful. [Takes the sword] Are you sure you want to give us a family heirloom?

JESSICA: Yes, I am. I want your family to know how important this marriage is to me.

ELLIE: Thank you, Jessica.

BOBBY: [Hands her a drink] Jessica?

JESSICA: Oh, thank you. [Raises her glass] To the Ewings … and to the Farlows.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 155 — ‘The Unexpected’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Bobby Ewing, Charlene Tilton, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Lucy Ewing, Miss Ellie Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Steve Kanaly, Sue Ellen Ewing, Susan Howard, Unexpected

Keeping it real

Lady Jessica Montford makes her memorable debut at the end of “The Unexpected,” sweeping into the Southfork living room on the arm of brother Clayton Farlow and introducing herself to her future in-laws as only she can. Jessica is brazen, asking which Ewing husbands “play around” on their wives, and a little baffling, gifting J.R. with an antique sword. The scene is like something out of a stage play, which should come as no surprise since actress Alexis Smith was a major Broadway star. At one point, with Clayton standing behind her, Jessica asks him a question without turning to face him. It’s as if Smith can’t bring herself to break the theater’s golden rule: Never turn your back on the audience.

I wish the same thing could be said about the series itself. “Dallas” always distinguished itself through the believability of its performances, but “The Unexpected” is another example of how the show cranked up the camp to compete with rival soap “Dynasty,” which was skyrocketing in the ratings at the time with over-the-top storylines and acting. Until this episode, the “Dallas” audience only had to contend with Morgan Brittany’s gentle nibbling of scenery; now we have Smith inhaling it with abandon. Consider “The Unexpected’s” final scene, when Miss Ellie walks Jessica to her guest room, tells her how happy she is to welcome her to the family and closes the door. Jessica’s smile turns to a scowl. “Family?” she says, standing in the middle of the room, alone. “Oh, I don’t think so. I wouldn’t count on you marrying brother Clayton, Miss Ellie. I wouldn’t count on it all.” I’ll admit this moment amuses me, but it also makes me cringe a little.

Let me be clear: It’s not that I dislike Smith or don’t admire the gusto she brings to her role. My point is that her broad performance feels out of place on “Dallas.” On the other hand, Jessica’s swing-for-the-fences debut in “The Unexpected” gives me new appreciation for the regular cast members — particularly the always wonderful Barbara Bel Geddes, who manages to exude warmth, sincerity and the slightest hint of skepticism in Ellie’s scenes with Jessica. Perhaps my opinion will change as I watch “Dallas’s” remaining seventh-season episodes, but in this segment at least, Smith makes Jessica feel like a character, while Bel Geddes makes Ellie feel like a person.

Other storylines in “The Unexpected” yield mixed reactions too, especially where “Dallas’s” leading ladies are concerned. It’s good to see Sue Ellen wise up — she realizes J.R. is only being nice to Peter because he’s hatching some sort of plot against him — but I wish she had the gumption to do something about it. Meanwhile, Lucy finally figures out Peter isn’t interested in her, but only after she sacrifices her self-respect by throwing herself at him. Then there’s Pam, who’s wrong to ask Mark’s doctor to not tell him he’s dying, even if I admire her selflessness in accepting his marriage proposal. (This is another step in Pam’s lamentable journey toward sainthood, but so far it hasn’t gotten too annoying.) The only heroine who doesn’t disappoint me is Afton, who gets so fed up with having to cook breakfast for distracted Cliff and demanding Vaughn, she simply walks out of the kitchen and leaves them to fend for themselves. Good for her.

The other highlights of “The Unexpected” include J.R.’s crashing of Cliff and Vaughn’s lunchtime negotiation at the Oil Baron’s Club, where J.R. slyly manipulates Cliff into signing the paperwork for Vaughn’s loophole-riddled loan. I also like the scene of J.R. and Serena in bed, where he reveals to her — and the audience — that Sue Ellen, not Peter, is the real target of his scheme. “I’ll tell you, she’s like a runaway mare with a bit between her teeth,” J.R. says. “I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried affection, patience, understanding. But she won’t pay attention to anything.” This is a great moment because I love hearing Larry Hagman’s drawl when he delivers that “runaway mare” line, but also because you get the feeling J.R. has convinced himself what he’s saying is true.

There are also two nice segues in “The Unexpected.” In the first, J.R. tells Katherine he’ll give her the tape of them having sex “when Pamela Ewing becomes Mrs. Mark Graison.” Cut to Mark and Pam at a restaurant, where he pours her a glass of champagne and says, “Mrs. Mark Graison — that has a nice ring to it.” Later, the scene that introduces Jessica ends with her raising a glass of bourbon and toasting, “To the Ewings … and to the Farlows.” Cut to another restaurant, where a jubilant Cliff toasts the newly engaged Pam and Mark. “To the Barneses and the Graisons,” Cliff says. He continues by praising “the union of these important families into the biggest, most powerful dynasty in Texas.”

Watch it, Barnes. No need for any “dynasty” talk here. Your show does fine on its own, thank you very much.

Grade: B

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Alexis Smith, Clayton Farlow, Dallas, Howard Keel, Lady Jessica Montford, Unexpected

Our Alexis

‘THE UNEXPECTED’

Season 7, Episode 24

Airdate: March 16, 1984

Audience: 20.6 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Nick Havinga

Synopsis: After Pam asks Dr. Kenderson to not tell Mark he’s dying, she accepts Mark’s marriage proposal, hurting Bobby. J.R. manipulates Cliff into accepting Vaughn’s loan, even though the terms put Barnes-Wentworth at risk. Sue Ellen grows suspicious of J.R.’s friendliness toward Peter. Clayton’s sister Jessica Montford arrives and privately vows to prevent his marriage to Miss Ellie.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Stephanie Blackmore (Serena Wald), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Robert Donavan (Metcalf), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Wendy Fulton (Jan Higgins), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie Dugan), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Bill Morey (Leo Wakefield), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Alexis Smith (Lady Jessica Montford), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

“The Unexpected” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.