Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 135 — ‘My Brother’s Keeper’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, My Brother's Keeper

Brotherly love

J.R. goes through “My Brother’s Keeper” trying to buck up Bobby, who’s feeling down as his divorce date approaches. In a memorable scene, the brothers go out for a night on the town, where J.R. arranges for Bobby to bump into a call girl he hired to take Bobby’s mind off his troubles. Does it matter that J.R. is also secretly plotting to shut Bobby out of Ewing Oil, or that J.R. knows Pam will be at the restaurant and will spot her estranged husband dining with the other woman? Of course it matters. But even though J.R. has ulterior motives, the concern he displays for his brother in this episode feels very real.

It’s another example of what makes J.R. a forerunner for the protagonists of modern television drama. As critic Matt Zoller Seitz recently noted, one of the reasons the final hours of “Breaking Bad” were so riveting is because they showed how Walter White, the loving husband and father, and Heisenberg, his ruthless alter ego, had come to co-exist within the same mind and body. You can say something similar about J.R. Even though he’s scheming against Bobby and helped orchestrate the breakup of his marriage, he genuinely loves his brother and wants to help him cope with the loss of Pam and Christopher. J.R. is nothing if not a compartmentalist.

Like J.R., Cliff also balances his love for a sibling with his desire to advance his own agenda. In Cliff’s case, he wants Pam to divorce Bobby so she can marry Mark and pave the way for Cliff, Pam and Mark to form a business partnership. But unlike J.R.’s relationship with Bobby, Cliff’s affection for Pam feels a little less complicated. Watch the sweet scene in “My Brother’s Keeper” where Cliff insists on accompanying Pam to the courthouse for her divorce hearing. The warm rapport between Ken Kercheval and Victoria Principal makes me believe Cliff’s concern for Pam trumps everything else. (Interestingly enough, J.R. and Cliff essentially switch roles on TNT’s “Dallas,” where J.R. extols the virtues of putting family first and Cliff is willing to sacrifice his own daughter in his war against the Ewings.)

Three more scenes in “My Brother’s Keeper” deserve mentioning. In the first, Donna stands with Ray at a fence outside their house as he laments the tragedy that has befallen his family since Amos Krebbs’ funeral a year earlier. The shot echoes one from “Where There’s a Will,” the sixth-season episode where Ray and Donna stand in the same spot as he debates whether to attend the funeral. I also like the “My Brother’s Keeper” scene where Bobby and Pam sit silently in an office while their lawyers politely discuss the terms of their divorce. Patrick Duffy and Victoria Principal avoid eye contact throughout this sequence, making it feel even sadder than their farewell conversation at the end of the previous episode.

My other favorite scene from “My Brother’s Keeper” is also notable for what isn’t said. It comes at the end of the second act, when Katherine answers a knock on Pam’s hotel room door. “Who is it?” Katherine asks. The voice on the other side of the door belongs to Cliff, who jovially asks: “Who are you?” The eye roll that Morgan Brittany offers in response is priceless. In an episode that leaves us pondering sibling connections, this scene is a reminder that some of these relationships aren’t complicated at all.

Grade: B


Dallas, Donna Krebbs, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Susan Howard

Don’t fence him in


Season 7, Episode 4

Airdate: October 21, 1983

Audience: 21.2 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Bobby and Pam’s divorce is finalized. J.R. and Bobby learn their battle has depleted Ewing Oil’s reserves. Mickey tells Ray he doesn’t want to live as an invalid. Sue Ellen gets to know Peter.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Stephanie Blackmore (Serena Wald), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Lew Brown (Clarence Colby), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Glenn Corbett (Paul Morgan), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Sean McGraw (Moran), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Tracy Scoggins (Diane Kelly), Harold Suggs (Judge Thornby), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Chana Vowell (Dee)

“My Brother’s Keeper” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 119 — ‘A Ewing is a Ewing’

A Ewing is a Ewing, Dallas, Holly Harwood, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Lois Chiles

It’s complicated

The most unsettling moment in “A Ewing is a Ewing”: Holly Harwood arrives for an after-hours meeting at J.R.’s office, where he chastises her for telling one of Harwood Oil’s top customers that J.R. has become a silent partner in the company. Holly expresses regret — not for letting the cat out of the bag, but for going into business with J.R. in the first place. She turns her back to him. J.R. approaches from behind, reaches around and slowly begins to unbutton her jacket. “No, J.R. I don’t want this,” she says. He pulls the jacket off her shoulders. “You won’t enjoy it,” she continues. His reply: “You better make damn sure I do.”

The scene ends here, but there’s no doubt intercourse occurs. (Later in “A Ewing is a Ewing,” Holly pulls a gun on J.R. and tells him what transpired in his office will never happen again.) The question is: Is this rape? I can’t decide. On the one hand, Holly tells J.R. “no,” but he has sex with her anyway. How can that be anything but assault? On the other hand, I wonder why Holly makes no attempt to run away or to fight J.R. when he begins disrobing her. This woman is no shrinking violet, as the gun scene later in the episode demonstrates.

Given the ambiguity, perhaps a better question is: What did the people who made “Dallas” want the audience to think when this scene was broadcast 30 years ago? It seems shocking to think that a network television show would allow its lead character to rape a woman (this was CBS in the 1980s, not AMC today), so I wonder if the producers and writers merely saw this as another example of J.R. running roughshod over one of his enemies? Could it be the people behind the scenes didn’t grasp that this might be construed as an act of sexual violence? To be fair, society has a greater understanding of rape today than it did three decades ago, but it’s not like nothing was known about these kinds of crimes back then. Perhaps these two facts are telling: None of the producers listed in the “Dallas” credits during the 1982-83 season are women, and of the 28 episodes produced that year, all but one were written by men. (Linda Elstad wrote “Requiem,” which aired three weeks after “A Ewing is a Ewing.”).

Regardless of what this scene is supposed to depict, I dislike it. I’m usually willing to forgive J.R. his sins, even when my conscience tries to tug me in the other direction. I’m an unapologetic J.R. apologist. J.R. is cheating in a business deal? I say: He’s just trying to make his daddy proud, and who can’t sympathize with that? J.R. is cheating on Sue Ellen? In my mind, he’s merely revealing his foibles. But even I can’t justify my hero’s behavior in this scene. Make no mistake: This is not one of J.R.’s sly seductions. I hate how he how he stands in the doorway of his office and beckons Holly into the room by saying, “Come on, hon. Come on.” He treats her like a child or worse, a pet.

The scene invites comparisons to another disturbing “Dallas” sequence — this one from the 10th episode, “Black Market Baby” — when J.R. angrily pins Sue Ellen to their bed and forces himself on her, despite her repeatedly saying, “I don’t want you.” I don’t like that scene any more than the one with Holly, but keep in mind: It was filmed in 1978, before Larry Hagman had perfected the smiling warrior routine that made him so endearing to fans like me. Other soap opera icons have similar skeletons in their closet — Luke raped Laura before they became a couple on “General Hospital,” while Blake forced himself on Krystle during an early episode of “Dynasty” — but once Luke and Blake were redeemed, their shows were loathe to remind audiences of the characters’ past sins. Why would “Dallas” want to risk the affection that fans had for J.R., unless the show was feeling long in the tooth and trying to recapture some of its earlier edge?

Of course, no matter how distressing I find J.R. and Holly’s scene, I still appreciate how good Hagman and Lois Chiles are in it. Hagman, who also directed “A Ewing is a Ewing,” wisely avoids any hint of mischief, choosing instead to play J.R. as purely menacing. Chiles, in the meantime, makes us feel Holly’s sense of trepidation when she arrives for their meeting, as well as the disgust that grips her when J.R. begins unbuttoning her jacket. Hagman and Chiles are also terrific in the scene where Holly pulls the gun on J.R. I like how he snickers when she produces the weapon, only to breathe a private sigh of relief the moment he exits the room. Frankly, it’s cathartic to see J.R. scared.

I think it’s also worth considering how J.R. treats Sue Ellen in “A Ewing is a Ewing.” At the beginning of the second act, he “confides” in Sue Ellen that he needs someone to refine his crude and suggests she could ask Clayton Farlow to do it on his behalf. Sue Ellen resists this idea, so J.R. exploits her Achilles heel: He suggests that without Clayton’s help, he might lose the contest for Ewing Oil, thus robbing John Ross of his birthright. “It’s funny, isn’t it?” J.R. says. “The one thing I need to beat Bobby, to secure our future — the future of our little boy — is in the hands of a man that despises me.”

This is the second time in recent episodes that J.R. has used Sue Ellen as a pawn in the battle for Ewing Oil: In “Fringe Benefits,” he asks her to host a dinner party for Gil Thurman, even though he knows the lecherous Thurman will make a pass at her. That scheme ends disastrously, and Sue Ellen’s appeal to Clayton in “A Ewing is a Ewing” doesn’t turn out much better. Clayton feels she’s taking advantage of their friendship by asking him to help J.R. and storms away. It makes me wonder: Was this J.R.’s goal all along, to drive a wedge between his wife and Clayton?

Like J.R., Bobby shows he’s also willing to use people to get what he wants in “A Ewing is a Ewing.” (No doubt Bobby’s emulation of his brother inspired this episode’s title.) When Bobby discovers J.R. is in cahoots with energy commissioner George Hicks, Bobby hires Wendy, one of Carl Daggett’s prostitutes, to begin dating Hicks so she can dig up dirt on him. (The seeds for this subplot were planted in “Where There’s a Will,” which introduced the terrific character actor Charles Napier as Daggett, an old friend of Bobby’s.) In “A Ewing is a Ewing’s” memorable final scene, Pam arrives for dinner with Bobby at an out-of-the-way restaurant, but she’s unaware the only reason he asked her out for the evening is so he can spy on Wendy and Hicks, who are drinking on the other side of the room. Bobby isn’t just using Wendy; he’s using his wife too.

I suppose I should be disappointed in Bobby, but I’m not. It’s rather satisfying to see him shed his good-guy veneer, at least for a little while. Or maybe it’s just that after everything else that goes down in this episode, seeing Bobby dabble in prostitution and blackmail doesn’t seem so bad.

Grade: B


A Ewing is a Ewing, Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy

Yep, he’s a Ewing


Season 6, Episode 16

Airdate: January 28, 1983

Audience: 22.3 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Frank Furino

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: After J.R. pressures Holly into having sex with him, she pulls a gun on him and declares their relationship is now strictly business. Bobby discovers J.R. is in cahoots with George Hicks, a member of the Texas Energy Commission, and hires a prostitute to set up Hicks. Clayton reacts angrily when Sue Ellen asks him to refine J.R.’s crude and leaves for Galveston, where he spends time with the vacationing Miss Ellie. The cartel buys out Bobby’s share of the Wellington property. Cliff urges his party to recruit J.R. as a candidate for office. Mark continues to pursue Pam.

Cast: John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Ion Berger (detective), Robert Burleigh (Harry), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), April Clough (Wendy), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), John Dennis (Ned), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Paul Mantee (General Cochran), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Charles Napier (Carl Daggett), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Arlen Dean Snyder (George Hicks), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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

The Art of Dallas: ‘Where There’s a Will’

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Serena, Stephanie Blackmore, Where There's a Will

Serena and J.R. (Stephanie Blackmore, Larry Hagman) complete another scheme in this 1982 publicity shot from “Where There’s a Will,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode.

Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘Where There’s a Way, There’s a Will’

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Serena, Stephanie Blackmore, Where There's a Will

Cash and carry

In “Where There’s a Will,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode, John (Robin Strand) is dressing in the Ewing condo while Serena (Stephanie Blackmore) lounges in bed.

SERENA: You’re not leaving already?

JOHN: Gotta get home.

SERENA: Don’t be silly. It’s still early.

JOHN: It’s nearly 10.

SERENA: Aren’t you enjoying yourself?

JOHN: [Sits on bed] Are you kidding? Your husband must have been a fool to divorce you.

SERENA: He’s a lot older. We just weren’t compatible. Not like us. [Kisses him]

J.R. (Larry Hagman) enters.

J.R.: Oh, excuse me. [Noticing John] John Baxter?

JOHN: Mr. Ewing, what are you doing here?

J.R.: Well, this is a Ewing condo. Serena was just staying here.

SERENA: I’m sorry, J.R. I thought I’d be gone by now.

J.R.: Good Lord, what is Harv Smithfield going to say when he hears his brand-new son-in-law is in bed with another woman.

JOHN: Mr. Ewing, you wouldn’t say anything to him, would you?

J.R.: Well, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m a firm believer in the sanctity of marriage — and I’m damned disappointed in you, John.

JOHN: Yes, sir. I can imagine that you are. But you wouldn’t say anything to Mr. Smithfield, would you?

J.R.: Well, I’m going to give it some thought. I’ll call you tomorrow. I’m sure we can work something out. In the meantime, you might get out of here and go back to your little bride.

JOHN: Yes, sir. [Scoops up his clothes, rushes away]

SERENA: [Smiling] I hope that was what you wanted, J.R.

J.R. [Sits on the bed, reaches into his pocket, pulls out an envelope and hands it to her] That’s exactly what I wanted, my dear. And like my daddy used to say, “Where there’s a way, there’s a will.’”

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 105 — ‘Where There’s a Will’

Dallas, John Baxter, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Robin Strand, Where There's a Will

Let us prey

Larry Hagman has no scenes with his main co-stars in “Where There’s a Will,” but this is still a terrific hour of “Dallas.” The fun comes from watching J.R. scheme to sneak a peek at Jock’s will before the document is unsealed for the rest of the family. Usually when J.R. hatches a plot like this, it takes a few episodes to execute it. Here, J.R. puts his plan in motion in the first scene and completes his mission right before the closing credits roll. The efficient storytelling reminds me of “Dallas’s” earliest episodes, before the show became serialized.

J.R. has two foils in “Where There’s a Will.” The first is Harv Smithfield, the Ewings’ ethical consigliere, who refuses J.R.’s demands to see Jock’s will. In one of George O. Petrie’s many great scenes during his long run on “Dallas,” Harv removes his pince-nez spectacles, looks his bull-headed client in the eye and tells him: “I was your daddy’s attorney before you were born, J.R. My allegiance is to his memory. I will follow his instructions to the letter. No one will see that will until such time as it is read to the entire family.”

J.R. pretends to respect Harv’s decision (“I admire your loyalty to my daddy. Believe me. I’ll never mention that will again.”), but the glint in Hagman’s eye lets us know J.R. isn’t going to give up that easily. Enter Foil No. 2: John Baxter, Harv’s new son-in-law and the latest addition to the Smithfield & Bennett law firm. After Harv turns J.R. down, we see J.R. call John and invite him to lunch at 1 o’clock. Seconds later, J.R. places a call to someone else — we don’t see who it is — and instructs the person on the other line to meet him at the same restaurant at 1:05. “You know what to wear,” J.R. says.

Once we see J.R.’s favorite call girl Serena show up at the restaurant and pretend to be an old Ewing family friend, we have a pretty good idea of what J.R.’s up to. Sure enough, J.R. is conveniently called away from the restaurant, leaving John and Serena alone. The next time we see them, they’re at the Ewing condo, where J.R. walks in on them in bed together. Leonard Katzman, who wrote and directed “Where There’s a Will,” gives this scene enough humor to amuse the audience without letting things devolve into slapstick. “I’m a firm believer in the sanctity of marriage — and I’m damned disappointed in you,” J.R. says before the shirtless John scoops up his clothes and dashes out of the room.

In the final act, J.R. summons John to the restaurant where this scheme began. (These scenes appear to have been filmed in a real-life white-tablecloth eatery with impressive views of downtown Dallas.) J.R. tells John he’ll keep his fling with Serena secret — if John shows him Jock’s will. Guest star Robin Strand is terrific in this scene. The boyishly handsome, fair-haired actor loosens his necktie as his character begins to feel the weight of J.R.’s pressure. When John tells J.R. that showing him the will would be “betraying a trust,” Hagman licks his lips and waits a beat before delivering J.R.’s next line: “Now, what do you call cheating on your wife? Or more to the point, what would Harv call that?”

Other highlights of “Where There’s a Will” include the scene where Ray tells Donna he’s decided to send money to his Aunt Lil, who is caring for his ill “father” Amos. Steve Kanaly does a nice job conveying Ray’s conflicted feelings, but I also love what Susan Howard does with Donna’s line, “You’re not going to call her and talk to her?” If another actress delivered this dialogue, it might make Donna seem like a nag, but Howard never makes her character seem like anything less than a wise, caring spouse. Patrick Duffy also does a nice job in the scene where Bobby politely brushes off Carl Daggett, the harmlessly sleazy chap looking to drum up business for his escort service.

This episode’s other highlight is the final sequence, when John brings Jock’s will to the darkened Ewing Oil office after hours so J.R. can finally see it. We don’t discover what the document says in this scene, but after we see J.R. smile, cast his eyes upwards and thank Jock, we know whatever’s in the will makes our hero happy. And by golly, hasn’t he earned it?

Grade: A


Dallas, Donna Krebbs, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Susan Howard, Where There's a Will

The good wife


Season 6, Episode 2

Airdate: October 8, 1982

Audience: 19.2 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: J.R. blackmails Harv’s son-in-law into showing him Jock’s will before the document is unsealed for the rest of the family. Lucy tells Pam she’s pregnant and that she’s decided to have an abortion. Sue Ellen visits the Southern Cross. Marilee offers Cliff a job. Ray learns Amos has fallen ill in Kansas.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Stephanie Blackmore (Serena), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Alice Hirson (Mavis Anderson), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Joseph Miller (bartender), Charles Napier (Carl Daggett), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Robin Strand (John Baxter), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Aarika Wells (Millie Laverne), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

“Where There’s a Will” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.