Re-watching Season 4

Discussion in 'Dallas Season Reviews' started by James from London, Jan 6, 2017.

  1. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    Many thanks to @Toni, who managed to retrieve this thread for me. (I can't remember how long ago I wrote this gubbins, and I don't necessarily agree with myself anymore.)

    "Missing Heir".

    When people talk of DALLAS in terms of being the kind of quality television that no longer gets made, I can't help but feel cynical and think back to (albeit enjoyable) episodes like this, where I find hard to believe that all those involved were exactly striving for excellence.

    The opening scene of this season is set on the studio Southfork set, (which looks faker than ever) with JR and Cliff each accusing the other of murder. It's enjoyably clunky. The DVD transfer may not be the best in the world, but you can still see the reds of JR's eyes and Cliff's pool matted hair in more detail than ever before.

    Perhaps it's the absence of Jock and Miss Ellie to provide a suitably alarmed response, but there is a distinct lack of urgency in this episode. Kristin mysteriously dying in the family pool, possibly at JR's hands; JR's son being kidnapped by Pam--these should be huge events, but everyone seems to carry on as normal. A couple of days after Kristin's death, there's Pam breakfasting by the scene of the crime, the broken railing of the balcony still visible. JR comes out and throws a few empty threats her way; otherwise, their relationship continues the way it always has. One notable difference is that, during his spat with Pam, JR refuses to be physically intimidated by Bobby. "I'm not gonna lay down for you this time," he says, and for the first time it looks like he might be ready to throw a punch, until Ray intervenes.

    Even by her own standards, Victoria Principal comes across as pretty vacant in this episode. Bobby helpfully explains to Donna that Pam is "troubled" because of her "obsession" with having a baby, which is all news to us. Sure, she was kinda mopey towards the end of Season 3, but the idea that she might be mentally disturbed comes out of nowhere.

    There is an interesting parallel between JR attempting to wield power in Braddock regarding the investigation into Kristin's death and the influence Clayton Farlow has over the sheriff of San Remo County. "You also mow his lawn on your day off, sheriff?" enquires JR in the episode's best scene, a showdown at the Southern Cross Ranch (which looks far swankier than Southfork) between JR and McSween on one side and the Farlow gang on the other. This is the first time JR and Clayton, and only the second time JR and Dusty, have come face to face. ("You're that rodeo rider, made a pass at my wife.") Sue Ellen gets a great entrance. "John Ross stays with me. I'm suing you for divorce," she announces, striding into the scene. JR leads her over to the gazebo and breaks the news of Kristin's death. The accusations fly and the continuity goes haywire--thanks to the Texas winds, Sue Ellen suddenly acquires four different hairstyles and every time the camera cuts to her, she looks completely different: unkempt and windblown one minute, perfectly groomed the next. It's really funny. And while she appears shocked and upset over Kristin's death, she seems perfectly happy and content during a scene with Dusty a short while later.

    Lucy, meanwhile, seems to have fallen through a hole in the space/time continuum. In the penultimate episode of Season 3, she found Mitch with another woman and stormed out of their condo, heading for Southfork. She did not show up there during the season finale, which covered a period of at least two weeks. Finally, in this episode, she reaches her destination. Having got to Southfork, she then immediately arrives back at the condo to tearfully break the news to Mitch that their marriage is definitely over and it's all her fault. (No mention of the other woman.) She's then back at Southfork talking to Bobby, (happily taking a dip in Kristin's watery grave) and tells him, in their last ever one-to-one scene of the series, that she does want to get back together with Mitch, but doesn't know how. In the midst of all this, Leigh McCloskey finally gets to bring a bit of edge to Mitch, and there's a nice scene between he and Afton, where she suddenly emerges as the savvier sibling.
     
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  2. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    "Gone But Not Forgotten”.

    In a way, the theme of Season 4 is one loss for JR--his son, his wife, his daddy. There is an interesting attempt to show his vulnerable side in this episode--standing in the doorway of an empty nursery, then breaking the bad news about John Ross to Mama on the phone--which might have been more effective had JR spent more than thirty seconds with his son during the previous season.

    Cliff's scenes with Jeremy Wendell and Afton in this episode and Bobby last week help establish his image as the show's perpetual loser. Afton even spells it out to him: "You're a loser." Ironically, during the restaurant scene where Cliff tells Rebecca how down on his luck he is, the future Barnes/Wentworth building looms large in the background.

    Sly makes her Ewing Oil debut (and looking so young and innocent! Who could have predicted she'd end up First Lady of the Academy Awards?), Wendell has his first encounter with Cliff (and then disappears for three years), Bobby and Clayton meet, and Lucy and Donna have their first and only one-to-one scene of the series. Donna advises Lucy to fight for her man, and so Lucy does a complete 360 on last week's decision to end it all with Mitch. Gee, if Donna told her to open a post office in Timbuctoo or sing "Hanky Panky" on national television or publicly call her beloved Victoria Principal a bitch, would she do that too?? A scene between Afton and JR writes both Mama Arliss and Mitch's old apartment out of the show forever (or at least until Peter Richards moves in). Season 4 is bookended by sexual rejection for Afton: JR turns her down here, and Cliff does the same in the final episode.

    There is a sharpness to the images on the DVD which add a nice depth, especially to the courtroom scenes during Kristin's inquest. And isn't that Leo Wakefield, future controller of Barnes/Wentworth in the judge's chair? The accidental death verdict wraps up the "Body in the Pool" story a little too neatly, although JR's exchange with Sheriff Washburn outside the courtroom ("Your job is safe here in Braddock"), accompanied by a snakelike rattle on the soundtrack, allows for some ambiguity regarding his involvement. How playfully latter day KNOTS LANDING would have dealt with this story, showing us fantasy flashbacks to what might have happened on that fateful night. DALLAS's style is too linear for that, but it would have been very cool to see at least some version of JR's encounter with a trippy Kristin. Although writer Arthur Bernard Lewis does his best to relate Kristin's downfall to her upbringing at the hands of Patricia, ("We were like dolls created to fulfill Mama's fantasies," Sue Ellen tells Dusty, also referring to her father's drinking for the first time) the Kristin of Seasons 2 and 3 was so resourceful that it's hard to imagine her self-destructing without seeing it.

    There's an air of anti-climax not just around this story, but also the sequence in which the Southfork helicopter dramatically lands at the Southern Cross, surrounded by armed guards, only for Bobby to disembark looking for his dopey wife, and the final scene in which, after an episode of devious scheming, JR allows Dusty to snatch back John Ross so easily at the airport. It's a clumsily staged scene which leaves Linda Gray, in particular, looking ridiculous.
     
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  3. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    "Showdown at San Angelo.”

    It's interesting how often the hustle and bustle of airport scenes have been used to gloss over cast transitions--the changing faces of Digger, Kristin, Jenna and Miss Ellie--and absences, in this case Jock's. He's much missed. How much more of a smackdown Pam would have received for handing John Ross over to Sue Ellen had he still been around! Still, it's nice to have BBG back to usher in two new eras--DALLAS: THE EXERCISE YEARS begin not with barren Pammy's erotic aerobics but in this episode with Miss Ellie on her stationery bicyclette. She also instigates DALLAS: THE DOMESTIC YEARS, with the not so grand unveiling of the Southfork kitchen. (In fact, everyone's got the cooking bug--Ellie does her chili thing, Rebecca feeds Cliff some tortured calf, and Cliff returns the favour by whipping up "the best omelette in Dallas". Meanwhile, Donna wastes no time in slipping into Sue Ellen's seat at the Ewing dinner table). Miss Ellie also finds time to replace Bobby as Lucy's confidante. "We just didn't belong to together," declares Lucy of Mitch, having apparently forgotten last week's impassioned vow to fight for her marriage. Gee, d'you think the writers gave any thought to Lucy's emotional arc this season?

    Over the club, we're treated to a couple of poptastic tracks from Afton (I particularly like the reaction of the extras--nodding at one another in speechless disbelief as the sheer genius of these 90 second musical extravaganzas: "Today he sent me roses ..."), after which she and the newly doctored Mitch have the exact same conversation they had two episodes ago about how he needs to make money if he's going to win Lucy back.

    There's more deja vu when Bobby and Pam visit the adoption lady who gives them the exact same spiel Sue Ellen was given back in "Black Market Baby" to explain the shortage of available newborns. ("With abortion and the Pill, the supply is very limited, etc.") Pam is so depressed she has a nightmare. Thankfully, Bobby wakes her before she can dream of emerald mines, medical centres, sign language and Linda Gray with hair like Andy Warhol.

    Rebecca introduces Cliff to Wentworth Tool and Die, which he never even knew existed Somehow, I don't think the ginormous Wentworth Industries is even a glint in the writers' portfolio at this point.

    At the Southern Cross, Sue Ellen has enough problems to star in her own spin-off soap--guilt over Kristin's death, frustration over the early-to-bed-early-to-rise regime enforced by Clayton (which contrasts greatly with the late night gadabout he becomes in Season 6), guilt and frustration over Dusty's impotence--but none of them are explored in much detail. Miss Ellie flies to the Southern Cross and encounters Clayton for the first time. "Not the best circumstances to meet in," he tells her. She then indulges in a by proxy pissing contest with him over John Ross ("My husband usually gets what he wants.") before ultimately siding with Clayton over Jock by refusing to bundle the kid into the helicopter.
     
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  4. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    "Little Boy Lost.”

    I take back all I said about the writers having not yet invented Wentworth Industries, as Cliff refers to the company in this episode. But why doesn't he (or anyone else in Dallas, for that matter) appear to have heard of it before now? "The corporate headquarters were in Houston and the late Mr Wentworth kept a very low profile," explains Tool and Die's fat controller somewhat inadequately.

    There's some interesting mother/son action in this episode. Firstly, Miss Ellie lays down the law to JR--"As long as your daddy isn't here, I guess it's gonna have to be me that has to keep an eye on you"--thereby changing the dynamic between the two characters for the next couple of seasons. (Mind you, Ellie's back to burying her head in the sand by the end of this episode: "I don't wanna hear any more about it," she says after listening to JR chatter on happily about how he plans to pervert the course of justice at his and Sue Ellen's preliminary divorce and custody hearing). Also, there's a sweet scene between Cliff and Rebecca in which Cliff gives his mama fair warning as to how this season may end up: "You have to remember one thing - I have always had big dreams so if I start moving too far too fast, then you have to slow me down.”

    Afton's days on the Ewing payroll are numbered after she fails to felate JR's judge. "You're losing your grip, Afton," he warns her as Mitch looks on. Then comes one of DALLAS's most hilariously bad moments as Mitch saves the life of a woman choking on a chicken bone. My favourite part is when he wipes her face with the same napkin she's just puked into. The poor cow seems to have coughed up her vocal chords at the same time, for she remains stubbornly (yet cheerfully) mute throughout the rest of her scenes. And let us take a moment to ponder the sheer, wondrous convenience of Mitch, a newly qualified doctor who needs to make some serious money in order to save his ridiculous marriage, incurring the gratitude of a woman whose husband just happens to be extremely wealthy and a doctor! (Perhaps wisely, Charlene's nowhere to be seen in this episode; maybe she's pulling a late shift at the Timbuctoo Post Office.)

    A big shout out to Barry Nelson as Sue Ellen's bouffanted attorney Arthur Elrod who brings some gentle gravitas to his scenes, especially when he warns Sue Ellen that, while sluts, drunks and unfit mothers might win custody of their children in New York and California as a matter of course, in Texas--"the last bastion of male chauvinism"--things are different. "But that's idiocy!" hisses Sue Ellen. In the event, Arthur skilfully transforms her into "Sue Ellen of Assissi", leaving JR grimacing in defeat for the third freeze frame in row. His scheming is usually a lot more effective than this, but the writers need to keep him on the losing side for the first half of the season, so that he can spend the second half trying to win back what he's lost. Thus the character, and the show, feel a little compromised at present. And what's Donna doing in the courtroom? Is she now providing Miss Ellie with a chauffering service in exchange for all the free meals she's been scoffing at Southfork? Oh yeah, and Pam goes into a catatonic trance. Sigh. Just jump off a building already.

    P.S. Katherine makes her entrance, in a debut appearance so low key I almost forgot to mention it!
     
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  5. James from London

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    "The Sweet Smell of Revenge.”

    So on the very same day Katherine comes to town, Pam tries to throw herself off a roof. I'm guessing someone in the DALLAS writers' room came up with the idea of sticking Victoria Principal on top of a building and then worked backwards to fit a plot around it. It's an impressively shot scene, if sort of generic; the kind of stunt that wouldn't look out of place on almost any 70s or 80s action show. Indeed, as a crowd gathers below, one can almost hear them speculate, "Is that Lindsay Wagner up there?”

    The news reaches Miss Ellie as she is simultaneously making the most disgusting looking jam and chocolate sponge cake I've ever seen and counselling Lucy, who has changed her marital mind once again, deciding that she and Mitch could make a go of things once they've had a chance to cool off. Bobby assures Mama that Pam has survived her ordeal, blusher intact. What's odd is that no one is in any hurry to tell Rebecca. Aren't they afraid she'll hear about it on the news? Isn't "EWING ON THE EDGE" a pithy enough headline? Ellie finally gets around to calling her the following day, and they arrange to meet. This leads to Rebecca's first scene with anyone other than her children. She and Ellie greet each other like old friends, even though Ellie claimed in Season 2 to have hardly known Rebecca. She tells Rebecca not to blame herself for Pam's whatever-it-is. "If only I knew how to stop," Rebecca replies, in that regally marytered way of hers. Au contraire: if only she knew how to start blaming herself, this might be a halfway interesting storyline.

    Rebecca's guilt and Pam's anger over her abandonment should be the focus of the story of Pam's recovery, allowing us to finally discover exactly why Rebecca deserted her kids. But DALLAS isn't really interested in mothers and daughters. It's all about the boys. So the breakdown is little more than a plot device to keep Pam in the Zippity Doodah Sanitorium long enough for Bobby buy JR's baby and then spend the rest of the season covering it up. To that end, Jeff Farraday arrives in town with news of one "Little Christopher Shepard”.

    Back to Katherine's arrival: over margaritas, we learn she's a daredevil on the ski slopes. If this sounds somewhat at odds with the buttoned up, almost prim Katherine we get to know in Season 5, it at least serves the purpose of contrasting her jetsetty upbringing and lifestyle with that of Cliff, aka "the last of the dedicated public servants." Mark Graison's nude skydiving later fulfils a similar function. Katherine's face falls further than Pam would have done off that building when she hears that Cliff is running her father's first company.

    JR, meanwhile, embarks on his latest Outrageous Scheme of the Year, but watching him buy up the Farlows' oil to get them to evict Sue Ellen just isn't as much fun as to seeing him mortgage Southfork or finance a revolution. Maybe it's the lack of Daddy looking over his shoulder. It does, however, shift the focus on the Farlows away from Dusty and onto Clayton: "I've seen Clayton Farlow when he's angry," some oil distributor or tank farm owner or other warns JR. Sue Ellen's scenes with Dusty feel a little imbalanced. Linda Gray's in the opening credits so she gets to do all the gushy acting, while Jared Martin--who currently has the more interesting role to play--is stuck thanklessly (impotently) on the sidelines, internalising his character's suffering in silence. I guess being a supporting actor is tough when your character is the one in need of support. Afton's got the balance right--in this episode, she urges Mitch to intern for Dr Waring the same way she persuades Cliff to accept the job at Barnes Wentworth a year later. Susan Howard gets the week off.
     
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  6. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    "The Big Shut Down.”

    A historical moment takes place offscreen as Jock's flight from Washington to South America makes an unexpected stopover in Dallas. Not only is this the final time the great man ever sets foot on his native soil, but also the last opportunity he has to see his wife and sons. Of course, none of the characters yet realise the significance of this meeting, but in retrospect, it is poignant that neither Bobby nor JR can be reached in time to see their father.

    Bobby is at Brooktree Psychiatric, visiting a depressed Pam. ("I let you down, Bobby," she tells him. "If I went away you'd find someone else, someone who could give you a family" - six years later, that is exactly what she does.) JR, meanwhile, is locked in talks at the Cattleman's Bank where he is trying to raise a loan of $2,000,000 so that he can buy up all of the Farlows' oil supply and put them out of business unless they surrender Sue Ellen and John Ross to him. He learns that the key decision maker is Vaughn Leland, last seen in DALLAS threatening JR's life after being double-crossed by him at the end of Season 2 (and currently to be seen on JamesNet in DARK SHADOWS, where he seems to be cuddling Harvey Beth Lacey whenever he isn't blackmailing Joan Bennett). When JR returns to the office to find that his secretary has neglected to alert him to Jock's visit, he teaches her the most vital fact she will need during her tenure at Ewing Oil:"Sly - I know you're new here but for your future reference, there's nothing more important than my daddy."

    Jock may have only been gone for a handful of episodes at this point but his absence can already be felt by both characters and viewers. Gone forever (as far as the audience is concerned) is Jock's den: that darkly wooden, masculine room that, for all the family portraits gazing down from the walls, was a place of secrets--the place that Jock would retreat to for a sneaky cigar away from Miss Ellie's watchful gaze, where Sue Ellen would make a furtive call to a lover, or simply drink herself into oblivion. It is the room in which JR made the crucial calls that brought about the downfalls of his brother Gary and Pam's brother Cliff, where Bobby quietly demanded (always mindful that Mama and Daddy were in the next room) JR tell him the truth, once and for all, about the Red Files. In its place, we now have Miss Ellie's kitchen, (not seen onscreen since the show was filmed entirely on location in Texas back in '78). In contrast to the den, this new set is bright and airy. Instead of secret whispers and hushed intrigue, we have Donna dropping by to scrounge a cup of coffee and finding Miss Ellie looking through a recipe book: "When Jock was here, the family sat down for dinner at six sharp," she sighs. "Now with Sue Ellen gone and Pam in the hospital, everyone just wanders in whenever they feel like it." So begins Ellie's struggle to "keep the family together" in Jock's absence. It's a battle she will fight for many years to come, and she soon realises that it will take more than a few new recipes for her to succeed.

    This episode also sees the first meeting between Pam and half-sister Katherine, who comes to see her at Brooktree. For some bizarre reason, neither Rebecca nor Cliff is present for this potentially traumatic visit. Presumably, they are busy bonding over some more liquorice. Spookily, the scene foreshadows the sisters' final onscreen encounter which also involves Katherine visiting Pam in a hospital room, some six years later ... "I can understand why Pam fell in love with Bobby," says Katherine dreamily. The exact moment where she first sets eyes on the object of her affection is another historical moment that takes place offscreen during this episode. This comment, plus her strange reaction to the way Cliff has redecorated her late father's office, is the first indication that all is not right under that Scarlett O'Hara hairdo.

    Lucy and Mitch have their first meeting since the season premiere when they bump into each other at a CHILDREN OF THE CORN theme party. "I just want us to be good together," Lucy tells him.

    Another memorable scene takes place between Sue Ellen and Clayton at the Southern Cross. Sue Ellens recalls this scene two years later when JR is pumping her for information about Clayton: "I was out riding one day and I came across Clayton letting his horse graze. He was looking something further away ... He told me that it was the house where Dusty was born, and where his wife had died ... After she died, he tore down all the ruins so that nothing would be left." It is this recollection that goes on to fuel JR's theory that Clayton murdered his first wife for the insurance money. More immediately, the scene serves to expand Clayton's character and show him as more than just Dusty's daddy. "I'm a man who needs a family, Sue Ellen," he tells her. The is the beginning of their friendship developing independently of Dusty.

    The episode ends with JR making his loan arrangement with Vaughn Leland. This is the first indication that JR can sometimes be quite sloppy in his business dealings. It doesn't take Vaughn, a mere banker, very long to discover that oil prices are about to drop in the short term and that JR, by stockpiling millions of barrels worth, will be unable to offload it all in time to pay back the loan. Blithely unaware of this fact, JR signs the contract that may very well bring Ewing Oil to the brink of ruin .... (again.)
     
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  7. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    "Blocked."

    The fourth season was quite a transitional one for DALLAS. Much of the dramatic tension of the show in its first three years was derived from having all the Ewing family members living under the same roof. By the end of Season 3, however, JR and Sue Ellen's ten-year marriage had burnt itself out - it would have strained the show's credibility to keep them together any longer. As well as the departure of Sue Ellen and John Ross from Southfork, the death of Jim Davis necessitated the writing out of Jock Ewing.

    When I originally watched the early episodes of Season 4 back in 1981, I can remember feeling for the first time that the show, while still enjoyable, was lacking a certain something - an urgency, a tension. In retrospect, faced with both the loss of DALLAS's patriarchal figure and the break up of the compelling Hagman/Gray double act, it would have perhaps been surprising if the show had not suffered, at least temporarily, from this sudden shift in dynamics.

    According to Suzy Kalter's "Complete Book of DALLAS", the episode run of each season of the show was divided into thirds, known as "blocks". The scriptwriters would then convene three times during the year to map out the events of each block, which would contain roughly ten to twelve episodes, depending on how many the network had commissioned for that year. The first block of a season would typically begin by resolving the previous season's cliffhanger, and end around the time of the annual Ewing barbecue - usually with a dramatic revelation or discovery, that would then propel the show into its next block. In between, there is often a tendency for the drama to sag slightly, as though the show is treading water before picking up steam around, say, episodes 9 or 10. This pattern can most clearly be detected in Seasons 4, 7, 10 and 11. (Conversely, the seasons that aren't burdened with resolving a cliffhanger: Seasons 8, 9 and 12--where the opening episode picks up from Bobby's death, his return, and Sue Ellen's departure respectively--seem to get off to a much stronger start. Seasons 2, 5 and 6 do not fit into either pattern, as they were consistently strong throughout, and I have to admit to not being quite sure what to make of Season 13!)

    Watching this episode again, there is a nagging feeling that some of the characters--chiefly Pam and JR--are being shaped to fit into the storylines, rather than the other way round. Pam's mental illness feels somewhat contrived and unconvincing when compared with Sue Ellen's meltdown at the end of Season 1. There was something inevitable about Sue Ellen's situation--the traits in her character of self-delusion and self-destruction had been established as far back as the mini-series. Pam's disorder, meanwhile, seems to have sprung almost out of nowhere. When Dr Conrad tells Bobby in this episode that Pam's "need for a child is rooted in her own unhappy childhood," I find myself wondering, "What unhappy childhood?" Back at the beginning of Season 1, we hear Pam reminiscing fondly with her Aunt Maggie about her early life and, despite his alcoholism, she appeared to enjoy a close relationship with Digger; the fact that he forgave her so quickly for the cardinal sin of marrying a Ewing testifies to the strength of their relationship. Here Pam refers to "the loneliness I've always felt," implying that she has always been a sad and isolated person. Again, there is no evidence for this. The Pam of Season 1 is assertive and confident, her healthy outlook contrasting favourably with that of her sister-in-law. ("You didn't marry another Sue Ellen," she tells Bobby at one point.) Certainly, she became more withdrawn and troubled in Seasons 2 and 3 because of discoveries about the past (neurofibromatosis, the truth surrounding her parentage), but these discoveries were nevertheless made in the present and were not due to any scars or trauma she had been carrying from childhood. Despite Dr Conrad's warning that Pam "may be heading for a full blown psychotic breakdown," Pam's illness is explored only superficially by the writers. Its main purpose is as a dramatic device to keep her out of the way until Bobby can figure out the apparent truth of Christopher's paternity.

    Speaking of which, Bobby finally manages to cross Jordan Lee off the list of potential daddies in this ep. Gee Bob, is it that hard to figure out? Don't you recall the time you reprimanded JR for the amount of attention he was paying to his wife's sister, back in Season 2?? It will take another three episodes for Bobby to put two and two together, for Pam to discharge herself from the hospital, and for us to see what happens When Storylines Collide. By that time, as Season 4 reaches the end of its first "block", the lives of nearly all of the characters will have been turned upside down--and this is before they hear the news of Jock's death. In the meantime, we must make do with JR and Sue Ellen doing battle while living in completely different cities; not much opportunity for sparks to fly there.

    Notably, this episode marks the final telephone conversation between JR and his daddy. Ironically, the topic is none other Clayton Farlow, the man who will one day step into Jock's shoes. In retrospect, there is almost a sense of the torch being passed in this episode, as the final scene marks the very first one on one confrontation between JR and Clayton. There will be many man-to-man confrontations between them over the years, but here it is Clayton who impresses. He cuts a dashing figure in this scene, somewhat reminiscent of an older Clark Gable, and a far cry from the pompous oaf he becomes in later years. The plot JR has hatched against the Farlows--notably, the first business deal he has undertaken since his father's absence--seems majorly flawed and ill thought through. Sure, JR has taken huge risks before (notably those involving the South East Asian oil fields), but he went into those ventures with eyes wide open, aware of the potential for failure as well as success. In the case of stockpiling the Farlows' oil, however, he has made two major miscalculations. Firstly, he badly underestimates his opponent's sense of honour. Clayton greets JR's proposition ("I'm willing to sell you that oil, if you send [Sue Ellen and John Ross] packing") with a blank refusal. "No deal, JR."

    JR: "She means nothing to you."

    Clayton: "You're wrong. I respect her, and she means everything to my son."

    Secondly, JR appears to be unaware, unlike banker Vaughn Leland and even Clayton, that the price of oil is "on the slide". This means that JR, by stockpiling millions of barrels' worth, stands to lose a fortune--or, as Clayton puts it: "By the time your daddy gets back from South America, there just might not be a Ewing Oil!"

    What is to account for these misjudgements by JR, up till now an extremely savvy businessman and acute judge of his enemies' weaknesses? My theory is that now that Jock is no longer around to restrain his excesses, the programme makers, unwilling to let their anti-hero run riot, have decided that it is JR himself - via his own impulsiveness and apparent stupidity - who must trip himself up. Although "JR - The Buffoon Years" is still a long way off, the seeds of the character's deterioration may well have been sewn with this storyline.
     
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  8. James from London

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    "The Split"

    Everybody's talking about the big drop in the price of crude. Donna thinks it'll be good for the economy. In reply, JR puts a somewhat subversive spin on the famous saying, "What's good for General Motors is good for America" when he says, "What's good for the economy is not necessarily good for Ewing Oil." Miss Ellie is taken aback by the near-blasphemy of this remark. "JR, that's a dreadful thing to say!" she exclaims. "It's true, Momma. You know that," he shrugs. This exchange is a good illustration of the point made by Julie Burchill in an introduction to Jacqueline Susann's trashy novel, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS: "Like many mainstream entertainments, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is far more critical of the American Dream than many avowedly 'subversive' projects. As DALLAS showed American big business to be corrupt and filthy through and through, so DOLLS protractedly and minutely picks apart the 'magic' of show business."

    Well, maybe not all big business is corrupt and filthy, as Clayton insists his workers be kept on at half salary despite the shutdown of his refineries.

    Vaughn Leland is enjoying JR's twitchiness, ("As near as I can figure it, you've just lost $5,000,000 overnight") and so JR tries to keep him sweet by pimping Afton to him. Afton's refusal ("No way, Jose") and JR's subsequent attempt to manhandle her provide Mitch with his coolest moment of the series (or, perhaps more accurately, least uncool moment) when he hits JR: "I've been wanting to bop him for some time now!" "You're finished, honey," JR tells Afton. "There's a million tramps like you in this town. I'm just gonna have to find myself another one." He finds Barbara Stock, later Liz Adams in Season 12, here as the second actress to play Heather Wilson, the prospective secretary whom JR interviewed at the beginning of the season ("I was told you weren't interested in how fast a girl ... types?"). Heather doesn't share Afton's aversion to Vaughn Leland; perhaps she's a DARK SHADOWS fan. This incident is a key turning point for Afton's character: "I've just realised I've been going the wrong way down a one-way street," she tells Mitch, renouncing her bad ways in favour of some not quite so bad ones. "What if I could help you get JR Ewing?" she proposes to Cliff. "There's a lot I want in this world, a lot that I need. The reasons don't really matter. For a while there, I thought JR could help me get it, but I couldn't pay his price. He made me feel unclean and I hated myself, but I hate him more. I wanna get back at him. I know you do, too." Ironically, by introducing Cliff to Vaughn for a game of "pin the tail on the Ewing", it is Afton who reignites the feud between Cliff and JR, resulting in Cliff's suicide attempt at the end of the season.

    While the rest of the world is ganging up against him, JR has not lost sight of his original objective, to get John Ross away from the Farlows. To that end, he and Dusty have their memorable confrontation at the Cotton Bowl: "How long do you think she's gonna stay with a sexual washout?"

    All in all, this instalment is a marked improvement on the preceding episodes of Season 4. The audience (not to mention Donna and JR) have been anticipating that Ray's career as a business tycoon will take a nosedive since the end of Season 3 and the action is finally starting to catch up with our expectations. None too subtly, Ray gets the phone call telling him that the foundations of his latest venture are flawed in the very same scene that Donna's book gets a publisher. "It's one of the best biographies I've ever read," the publisher gushes like a walking bookjacket. "Wonderful ... Extraordinary ... A national bestseller." "You're really serious, aren't you?" replies Donna with a remarkable absence of modesty. And so begins the theme that will recur throughout the Krebbs' marriage: Donna has the Midas Touch, while everything Ray touches turns to crap.

    Also livening things up is Jock's letter from South America dividing Ewing Oil into voting shares. This is the first of Jock's jungle epistles that will continue to arrive for some time after his death. Legal documents, love letters, codicils, codicils to codicils ... between all his writing and his malaria-induced ravings to Wyatt Haynes, it's a wonder Jock found time to drill for oil during his stint in South America. Dramatically, the voting shares arrangement serves as kind of a dummy run for the JR/Bobby contest in Season 5. The morning after the reading of each document, Miss Ellie and Donna have a near-identical post-mortem on the Southfork patio where they discuss Miss Ellie's doubts, ("I'm not sure Jock did the right thing") the possible competition between JR and Bobby ("He's opened the door to a lot of rivalry between the boys") and the reactions of Ray (pleased) and Gary (ambivalent) to their lesser involvement. We glimpse Gary in conversation with Val in their Californian kitchen, looking so blond and tanned he could almost pass for Peter O'Toole in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Oh yes, and Bobby resigns as senator. "I had things in mind when I took that senate seat over and I think I've accomplished some of them." Really? I musta missed that episode.
     
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  9. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    "Five Dollars a Barrel"

    There is an element of the BATMAN movie from the 60s in this episode, as various of JR's enemies--Cliff, Afton, Vaughn Leland and the cartel boys--team up to get revenge. "We're here because we share a common emotion ... We all hate JR Ewing," Cliff explains to all but Afton. (Her work in the vengeance arena now complete, she will in future devote her time to being clingy and/or supportive towards Cliff, and increasingly perceptive about the hidden motivations of everyone from Clayton Farlow to Katherine Wentworth).


    This episode contains JR and Gary's only one to one scene outside of KNOTS LANDING, JR's first one to one scene with Ray since finding out he was a Ewing, (having minded his manners while Jock was around, JR grows increasingly insulting towards Ray this season, and from the scene in which Ray refuses to hand over his Ewing Oil voting shares, the hostility intensifies) and, remarkably, only the second JR/Cliff scene of the entire series. Their previous confrontation was way back in Season 1 after JR discovered Cliff's affair with Sue Ellen. Since then, they have glared at each other across a few courtrooms, been separated by Jock in a restaurant, and accused each other of murder after Kristin's death, but never been alone in a scene together. They make up for lost time in this episode with no less than three two-handers. In the first, Cliff stops by Ewing Oil--"What the hell are you doing here, Barnes? I oughta have you sent to that nut house your crazy sister's in"--to tell JR that he and the cartel have clubbed together to buy up JR's loan. He later visits JR again, to offer him a ten-day extension on the loan at 25%, in return for "Ewing 6 ... the field that split up your daddy and mine" (who knew?). Finally, at the end of the episode, a near speechless JR goes to see Cliff and admits, "I need that extension." "I can't believe it!" crows Cliff. "After all these years, I've finally whipped JR Ewing!" Indeed he has, but it would be even more impressive if he had something to show for it other than an oil field we'd never previously heard of.

    JR is more than usually powerless in this episode--black sheep brothers Ray and Gary refuse to be intimidated by him, while Gary and Cliff both laugh in his face. "You're a dead man, JR," Cliff tells him, echoing the mental state of a more literally impotent character: "I'm not alive!" Dusty tells Sue Ellen, having spent the last two episodes continually rewatching his rodeo scenes on the DALLAS Season 3 box set. Like Peedurr two years later, he also has jealousy issues around Sue Ellen's visits to her hairdresser.

    Dusty and JR aren't the only helpless males in this episode--we are also treated to a strange scene of Mitch interning with Dr Waring, in which he is reduced to hand holding the mother of a teenage patient. Other than illustrating that Mitch is as capable of being emasculated in the work place as he is in his marriage, it's hard to know what purpose this scene serves. Is it just for laughs, or are we supposed to be genuinely interested in Mitch's working day?

    Meanwhile, with unsubtle yet pleasing irony, the writers continue to hammer home the A STAR IS BORN dynamic of Donna and Ray's relationship--in the same scene that she excitedly prepares to fly off to meet her publishers, he (in desperate need of money to save his deal) receives a call from Adam Carrington's doctor telling him that the meeting of the bank's loan committee has been postponed. Ray puts down the phone, Donna asks if anything is wrong, he lies, they hug, and she does that same worried look over his shoulder that she's been doing for the past four hundred episodes. And Bobby finally makes a link between JR and Kristin's baby: "It was you all along, JR!" "Well, duh!" cries every man, woman and child watching across the globe. Give that man a prize.
     
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  10. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    "Starting Over"

    Events are finally on the move. Couples that have been held in a holding pattern for the past ten episodes, seemingly destined to play out the same scenes until the end of time--Bobby and Pam, Sue Ellen and Dusty, Ray and Donna-- start to break free. Dusty, in particular, has made remarkable progress since the last episode: he's gone from walking with a cane to rounding up cattle to competing in a rodeo, all within the space of about three days. He should make a video.

    Clayton's observation that "men have a habit of trying to prove things" might be in reference to Dusty, but it applies equally to Ray. For once, Sue Ellen and Donna are in the same boat. In a great Southfork living room scene, (which begins with Miss Ellie, in a shocking breach of soap opera etiquette, attempting to play her own theme on the piano. What next? Karen Mackenzie performing the KNOTS theme on the trumpet? Joan Collins attempting DYNASTY on the kazoo?) it is Donna who articulates for the first time Ray's need to prove himself worthy of Jock. "In a way, I guess Ray is competing with all your sons." It is this need which will inform his actions for the rest of the series. Later Ray admits his Achilles heel to Miss Ellie: "I've never really done anything to prove that I was as good as the rest of the Ewings." Not only do Donna and Sue Ellen find themselves shut out by their partners, ("I don't think it matters to him if I love him or not," says Sue Ellen bitterly. "I just really wish that you had enough faith in me," laments Donna of Ray's reluctance to confide in her) but their very presence seems to compound the man's sense of inadequacy. (Sue Ellen to Dusty: "I'm just a constant reminder of your only failure." Ray to Miss Ellie: "I have to prove it to Donna more than anyone. ... How could she be happy married to a cowboy?")

    Given that they fell for one another at a Southfork rodeo, it is appropriate that Sue Ellen and Dusty's relationship should end at a similar event. There's an eerie moment where a bunch of hootin' and hollerin' day players interrupt Dusty and Sue Ellen's farewell to reclaim Jared Martin as one of their own. He is absorbed into the crowd like a scene from NIGHT OF THE LIVING EXTRAS. Linda Gray gives good weepy, but the main point of the scene is to get Sue Ellen away from the Southern Cross paddling pool and back to the Dallas torture chamber where she belongs.

    Amongst all this activity, Lucy and Cliff celebrate last week's victories (he got Ewing 6 and she got Gary's voting proxy) by taking the episode off, and JR also keeps a low profile. After being smugly informed at the beginning of the episode by Vaughn Leland that "there's not gonna be anymore JR Ewing at Ewing Oil" once his ten-day loan extension is up, he flies to New York in a desperate attempt to solve his problem by floating the company on the stock exchange. It's always struck me as unlikely that JR would fly halfway across America before learning that such a process would take months rather than days, but it serves the dramatic purpose of isolating JR from the rest of the characters (specifically Bobby and Ellie) until the final moments of the episode where three or four storylines converge with dramatic, nay, life-changing consequences, KNOTS LANDING style.

    In a touching exchange, Miss Ellie convinces Ray to accept from her the $3,000,000 he needs to keep his deal afloat. ("We have four sons, you know, and you're one of them.") And so they go to visit Val Ewing's evil gynaecologist (who becomes the first character outside of immediate friends and family to acknowledge Ray as a Ewing when he refers to him as Ellie's "other son.") He gives them the bad news that "at the moment, your cash reserve is practically nil ... JR has taken out some very large loans ... $200 million... He had to back the loan with Ewing Oil assets." Ellie is shocked: "You think he may default??" (And of course, the real reason JR is in the bind that he is is because of his need to prove himself to Jock.) Then everything starts getting all convergey and KNOTSian. Bobby, having heard from Phyllis that JR is heading straight back to Southfork upon his return from New York, pays Jeff Farraday $30,000 in return for JR's kid and a fresh pair of diapers. He then calls Donna, asking her to keep Ellie away from the house so that he can confront JR alone. However, he hasn't bargained on Pam checking herself out of the nuthouse, having informed the annoyingly hairy Dr Conrad that "I think now I understand why my mother left ... " (Great. Feel like explaining it to the rest of us, Pammy?) "... and I don't hold it against her anymore." ("Anymore"? When exactly did Pam exhibit any resentment towards Rebecca?) As Donna leads Miss Ellie away from the ranch, they continue their discussion of Ray. (Donna: "That damn pride of his!" Ellie: "Ewing men are stubborn.") But when Ellie's sees JR's car, she decides to follow him back inside the house: "I wanna talk to you ... right now!" she declares. Bobby arrives home with Christopher ("Let's see how your daddy feels about having another son to raise," he says without moving his lips) where he cringes upon hearing Ellie and JR arguing in the living room. But that ain't nothin' to his reaction as Pam descends the stairs and spots Christopher. "We've got a baby to adopt!" she squeals, grabbing the kid and doing her patented trembly acting. The camera closes in on Bobby thinking "Oh shhhh-i-i-i-t!", while Miss Ellie seizes the opportunity to hop back on the piano stool for a rousing version of the end credit theme.
     
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  11. James from London

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    "Waterloo at Southfork"

    "I can't believe it ... It's incredible! ... Seems like a miracle, doesn't it? ... I still can't believe it!" Such is Pam's reaction to arguably DALLAS's most far-fetched storyline to date. All Bobby can do is smile and nod and inwardly curse those darn writers and their KNOTS LANDING ways! Other questions are harder to avoid. Miss Ellie asking, "How did you do it, Bobby?" Pam wondering, "What agency did he come from?" The pediatrician requesting Christopher's medical records. And so the unintentionally buttock clenching remarks: "He already looks like a Ewing, doesn't he?" coos an oblivious Pam. The only person who isn't asking any questions is Bobby's mother-in-law. During their first ever scene together, (and her first scene at Southfork) Rebecca simply hugs him and says, "Bobby, I don't know how you did it, but God bless you for it. For Pam's sake and mine." Cliff also stops by the ranch with a stuffed animal for Christopher and to gloat at JR. This short scene had evidently forgotten by the time Pam introduced Christopher to Cliff in Season 5 with the words, "You have never seen him. Your own nephew."

    Of course, the most implausible part of Christopher-gate is the instant change in Pam's psyche. "She's a whole new person," is Bobby's expert medical analysis when he stops by Brooktree the morning after Christopher's arrival. "Having Christopher seems to have made her well almost overnight." Bear in mind that all Pam has done by this point is feed the kid some spinach without choking him. "I'm delighted," beams Dr Conrad. "That's good news." Yeah, the heck with aftercare and check ups! To the credit of the hirsute doctor, she at least pulls an enigmatic face at the end of the scene (although that might be the actress wondering where her next gig's coming from. THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY, as it turns out.)

    Miss Ellie does not allow the appearance of an instant Ewing (just add hot water) to distract her from her "unfinished business". No, not her piano practice, but her confrontation with JR: "I wanna know what's going on," she demands. "I bought that oil to do a swap off with Clayton Farlow," JR explains. "All he has to do to get it is throw Sue Ellen off his ranch ... I want my boy back, and I don't care what it takes or who I have to break to do it." "Then you're gonna have to break me, JR." Miss Ellie flies to the Southern Cross where she and Clayton have their first scene alone together. ("I'd like to sell your oil back to you." "I'm prepared to offer you $33 a barrel.") The timing of this scene is interesting--it comes one episode before Jock's helicopter crash, and it's hard not to conclude that Clayton is already being groomed as a kind of replacement for him. A direct comparison between the two men is made when Clayton asks how Jock would have reacted had he been on the receiving end of JR's scheme. "He would have told him to go to hell," replies Ellie. "That's exactly what I did," laughs Clayton.

    As ludicrous as DALLAS can be at times, its sense of narrative irony is often irresistible. There are two examples in this episode, both to do with the timing of coinciding events. Clayton points out the first example: "It's strange, isn't it? After all this, all JR's wheeling and dealing, all the manipulation and expense he went to to get Sue Ellen to leave the Southern Cross, she's gone ahead and left anyway. On her own." And the second comes when Miss Ellie calls the family together to decide JR's future at Ewing Oil. Before the others arrive, Ellie tells Ray: "I'm now in a position to give you that loan you wanted." "It's too late," replies Ray, a few short hours after selling his share of the deal at a loss of one million dollars. Ouch!

    Lucy and Ray vote to remove JR as president, but interestingly, no one disputes JR's claim that "Bobby pretty much proved last year that he can't run Ewing Oil alone" and that he, JR, is the only one qualified to head the company. That a year later Bobby would be regarded as JR's business equal is testament to the persuasive writing of Season 5. At the end of the meeting, after Ellie has decreed Bobby return to Ewing Oil to "keep an eye" on JR, she again points out the irony of the situation: "Isn't it funny, JR, with all your conniving, you got what you wanted in spite of yourself. Or didn't you know that Sue Ellen and John Ross have left the Southern Cross for good?" And so the scene that was meant to spell defeat for JR ends with his chuckle of victory.

    Miss Ellie also finds time to put the cartel in their place ("You were supposed to be Jock's friend, Jordan") and even manages a rare reprimand for Cliff ("How long are you going to perpetuate this stupid Barnes/Ewing feud?") before launching into one of her most memorable speeches: "I don't apologise for what my son did. It's a family matter. We may be wrong or we may be right, but we're Ewings, we stick together and that's what makes us unbeatable." I like to imagine it's this speech that's at the back of Cliff's mind during the Season 6 scene where he tells Pam "What's always bothered me most about the Ewings ... is that they're this big family who always stick together against the outsiders."

    Ray's downward spiral commences, and he and Donna have the first row as a married couple. Donna: "You know, I have tried every way I know to show you that I love you just the way you are. [Slamming a cupboard door in frustration.] What the hell difference does it make?" Ray: "... Look at you. My wife, the girl that has everything. You got looks, you got brains, you got political savvy. You can sit down and write a book and-boom-just like that, I guarantee you it's gonna be a best seller. And look at the dummy you're married to you ... Is it finally gettin' to ya?!" What I love about Ray and Donna's relationship, and what makes them such a believable couple, is that this is essentially the same argument they've been having since Season 2 and will continue to have up until their divorce (rubbish Season 8 notwithstanding). That's what real couples do!

    Mitch meets the peculiar Evelyn "I'm getting a new face" Michaelson and gains sister Afton as roomie. It's an indication of how unimportant a character Lucy has become that we only learn from a throwaway remark of Mitch's that "she's not Miss Young Dallas anymore."

    Anticipation builds throughout the episode for John Ross's custody hearing and it promises to be an almighty blood bath. "We're going all out on this," JR vows to his lawyer, "if I have to drag his mother through the mud from one end of Texas to the other." We're given a list of witnesses that have been subpoenaed: "Dr Rogers from the sanitarium where your wife was committed for alcoholism ... " (oh, I remember him; he looked like Dr Elby with an even higher forehead) "... the day and night nurses who are ready to testify to her violent nature ... " (ooh, are we going to see Hatton the wicked black haired orderly who smuggled Sue Ellen booze in mouthwash bottles and called her a slob? I liked her!) "... Dr Anita Krane who attended her after the automobile crash that almost killed your unborn son..." (Dr Krane kicks ass!) "... and her lover Dusty Farlow" (do you think he'll ride a horse into the courtroom? I think he might!).

    Before the hearing, Miss Ellie issues JR with a warning ("You're only President of Ewing Oil by my graces. One step out of line, such as dragging Sue Ellen's name through the dirt, and I'll change my vote so fast, it'll make your head spin") but surely ol' JR won't let a little thing like that cramp his style? Daddy'll be back soon and those voting shares won't mean diddly. Sure enough, JR arrives at the court house, spoiling for a fight: "I'm gonna get my boy back if I have to tear her little black heart out ... Sue Ellen, I have the witnesses and the depositions to prove that you're a drunk, a tramp and an unfit mother ... I'll fight you till you're in the streets with nothin' more to your name but the clothes on your back and a little tin cup in your hand ... I'm prepared to fight you until Hell freezes over if that's what it takes to get my boy ... By the time I'm finished, you won't have a dime to your name and you'll be up to neck in legal fees." Fantastic! This is what we've been waiting for since JR threatened Sue Ellen with "the messiest divorce you've ever seen" back in Season 1! Bring it on! But once Mama enters the courtroom, old JR practically curls up and dies: "Howard, forget it." For if JR were to make good on his promise to completely destroy Sue Ellen, it would alter the fabric of the entire show. Easier to alter the characters. I love the smell of compromise in the morning ... And so, slowly but surely, it becomes clear that JR's bark is ultimately worse than his bite.
     
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  12. James from London

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    "Barbecue Two"

    "I'd completely forgotten about the barbecue!" exclaims Miss Ellie, which perhaps explains why this annual Ewing event hasn't taken place since 1978. Jogging her memory is caucasian party planner Larry Deltham, who stops by Southfork to ask how many onion rings he should order for the big day (no sign of original caterers, Sam and the lovely Tilly; it'd be nice to think that they've gone organic and/or are now out of the Ewings' price range, but as we learn in Season 7, Tilly has since adopted the slave name of Rose and is picking cotton over at the Graisons'). While talking to Larry, Miss Ellie intitates the Ewing custom of saying no before saying yes whenever the subject of the annual barbecue or the Ewings' attendance at that year's Oil Baron's Ball is first raised: "I don't think we're gonna have a barbecue this year." The news of Jock's imminent return changes her mind.

    After being seperated from one another by various storylines and nut houses for several episodes, there is a feeling of the Ewings reassembling. Not only is Jock on his way home, but Pam is back at Southfork, Sue Ellen has returned to Dallas and Bobby is back at Ewing Oil. "I may have lost a wife but I've gained a watchdog," observes JR drily. This sense of change is all the more welcome after the virtual non-movement of the first ten episodes of the season. In fact, this episode finds almost all the characters either adopting new roles or in a state of transition. After putting one over on JR, Cliff is revelling in his newfound success ("Change that Ewing 6 sign to read Barnes/Wentworth 1") and begins dating Afton. ("After you, all other men turned me off." "Afton, don't you think a little of this has to do with the fact that I'm now President of Wentworth Tool and Die?" "Of course it does.") Her observation to Cliff that "you seem preoccupied" is an indication of what she has to look forward to over the next three years. "I got some news about an old friend," Cliff explains, silently referring to Sue Ellen, now freshly single.

    "I've never been alone before ... I'm sure I'm gonna make a lot of mistakes," she accurately predicts to Clayton, her newly appointed therapist-cum-father figure. "You were the daughter I almost had," he tells her on the set of her brand new town house which looks vaguely like somewhere Joan Crawford or Bette Davis might have lived and suffered glamorously during one of their black and white movies.

    Donna is now a published author and invites the Ewing women to her rather feeble press launch, which consists of one photographer, a publicist and half a bowl of Cheesy Wotsits. Ah, if only Lucy had been too busy to accompany her that morning, she might have been spared the unholy trinity of traumas (kidnapping, rape, abortion) that await her from the moment she accepts Roger Larsen's business card. "You're very photogenic," he tells her, and this is indeed one of those scenes where Lucy looks genuinely gorgeous, rather than resembling one of those strange procelain dolls you see advertised in the back of those Sunday supplements.

    Sue Ellen is left wondering about JR's abrupt volte face at the end of last week's episode when he reneged on his vow "to tear her little black heart out" in court: "Our divorce hearin' coulda been real mean and dirty ... Was it only because Miss Ellie was there?" Of course, the writers aren't going to allow JR to say they wimped out and so they come up with another reason: "It had nothin' to do with Mama. I made the decision that no what my personal loss, I want John Ross to grow up respecting both his parents." This is clearly a lie, clear perhaps even to Sue Ellen, but it moves her anyway. Meanwhile, Lucy questions why JR was so anxious to get his son back in the first place: "Is it really John Ross you're concerned about or is it his ten voting shares?"

    Preparations for the barbecue dominate much of the episode. Miss Ellie's homemade chilli makes its screen debut (magic ingredients: Charlene Tilton's and Larry Hagman's saliva). Meanwhile, Mitch is in his boss's office discussing the diagnosis of a patient with a bleeding nose. Mitch thinks it could be a nosebleed. Dr Waring is impressed: "You're becoming one fine doctor, Mitch" Their discussion is interrupted by an emergency call from Lucy. She's inviting Mitch to the barbecue--STAT! (Perhaps it's fortunate they divorced at such an early stage of Mitch's career; I have visions of Lucy calling him in the middle of keyhole surgery with a code blue crisis: should they have the bathroom painted avocado or Hawaiian magenta?) Pam and Miss Ellie stop by Sue Ellen's and catch her with a hair out of place. ("Oh my Lord, I look a mess!") Miss Ellie summons her to Southfork: "Jock will want to see John Ross and I don't think we should disappoint him." Also on the guest list, Clayton ("I think your daddy will like him"--personally, I think Daddy would have kicked his ass, but we'll never know), Cliff ("Ellie and I talked at great length on the phone," Rebecca explains with typical soap naivete, "We both want to put an end to the Barnes/Ewing feud and this seems like a good time to do it.") and Afton, invited "as a thankyou" for singing in Jim Davis's final scene.

    At the barbecue, Clayton meets Cliff and is reunited with Rebecca. ("I haven't seen you since the heart fundraiser in Houston.") Bobby and Katherine have their first onscreen meeting, with Pam practically pushing them together: "Katherine, why don't you dance with Bobby?" Katherine's line, "I'm tired of the men in New York anyway; the ones I meet are usually on coke or the couch," is a variation on Julie Grey's first season assessment of New York men as "either married, crazy or underage" and Kristin's Season 2 dismissal of California guys--"The ones I met were either married, in therapy, gay, or all three." "... I thought maybe Dallas would change my luck," coos Katherine, and so begins her slow burn obsession with Bob. Ray disses Donna in front of one of her publishers (she seems to have an inexhaustible supply) by delivering the line "Everything my wife does is perfect" with total contempt, while Mitch's hilarious yet excrutiating wobbly head dancing is cut short by an emergency call regarding Evelyn Newface. Lucy, whose early season mood swings regarding her marriage have been replaced by general neediness, goes into a huff.

    An encounter between Cliff and JR at the bar echoes a similar scene between Digger and Jock in the original "Barbecue" episode. "You two know each other?" JR asks when he sees Cliff and Afton together, apparently forgetting that it was he who pimped Afton out to Cliff in the first place. A mild pass from JR ("Do you miss it? ... I'm not talkin' about the room") sends Sue Ellen scurrying onto the dance floor with Cliff. JR watches from the balcony, a sulky expression on his face. What was so fascinating about JR's reaction to Sue Ellen's affair with Cliff back in Season 1 is that he exhibited no sign of jealousy whatsoever. The JR of Season 4, however, is softer, more easily wounded and slightly less interesting. Afton, Katherine, Bobby, Sue Ellen and Clff do a little jig, with Morgan Brittany and Linda Gray evidently too busy focusing on their footwork to remain entirely in character.

    Back inside the house, Miss Ellie hangs up the telephone: "That was Punk," she tells JR with tears running down her face. "Jock was flying in from the interior, by helicopter. It crashed. Theyíve been searching all day. Nothing. The locals have given up. They say that-they say that-oh, they say that Jock is dead!î While Barbara Bel Geddes's delivery of these lines is not unimpressive--it's certainly dramatic--I find it strangely uninvolving. It doesn't feel as if this is news that Miss Ellie has only just heard. There is little sense of shock, of trying to make sense of what she's been told. Obviously, people don't all react the same way in such situations, but I find myself admiring BBG's performance more than believing it.
     
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  13. James from London

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    "The Search"

    A contrast to the previous episode when various Farlows, Wentworths and Coopers attended the Southfork barbecue, this is an 'immediate family only' episode with the Ewings and Punk Anderson practically the only onscreen participants. There are echoes of early stand alone episodes--"Survival", "The Dove Hunt"--with the Ewing men off in the macho wilderness while the women remain at home, keeping a living room vigil and occasionally changing outfits. Unlike any other episode, there is an inbuilt sense of loss; we already know the outcome, that the search for Jock will prove fruitless. A curt telephone conversation between Miss Ellie and a reporter in the opening minutes brings back memories of her "Ray, get me the gun from the hall closet" scene from "Survival". The episode is later referred to directly when she tells Donna, "I feel as if I've been through this before", and flashes back to Jock's reaction upon hearing the news of JR and Bobby's plane crash.

    Flashbacks have been used sparingly on DALLAS up until this point--assorted memories of Hutch McKinney in "Jock's Trial", Sue Ellen's realisation that Kristin was JR's shooter in "Who Done It?" and the revelation of Kristin as the dead body in the pool in "Missing Heir". Like voiceovers, an over-reliance on flashbacks can be a lazy story telling device in drama--why create an interesting subtext to convey what's going on in a character's head when you can just cobble together some old clips for them to "think" back to?--but here it works, both as a tribute to Jim Davis and his character, and as a way of alluding to some of the Ewings' more unspoken feelings.

    The choice of flashbacks is interesting. Jock's hospital bed instruction that Miss Ellie recalls from Season 1, "If anything happens to me, you keep the family together, you hear?" will become her mission statement in Season 5, even as the terms of Jock's own will threaten to tear it apart. Pam's memory echoes this plea for unity as she recalls Jock saying to her in the mini-series, "I wanna keep my family together." In both flashbacks, Jock concedes that Ewing unity is not always easily achieved. "I don't think I've been a very good father," he tells Ellie; "Us Ewings are not an easy family to live with as you found out," he admits to Pam. It's interesting that JR and Ray, the two Ewing sons with an insatiable need to prove themselves to their father, both recall him as a loving benefactor, first bestowing his own name on a new grandson ("John Ross Ewing the third!") then presenting "a whole section of Southfork land" to a mere ranch foreman. Bobby's and Sue Ellen's flashbacks reveal a less generous side to their patriarch. Of course, it's possible that these clips were chosen for the episode for reasons other than the narrative. The scene Sue Ellen flashes back to is the only interaction of note she and Jock ever had, while the scene in which he reminds Bobby that "Real power is somethin' you take!" is just a classic Jock scene.

    Both flashbacks arise out of conversations with Miss Ellie. Early in the episode, Bobby finds her in the kitchen with her head in the fridge, (healthier than the oven, I guess) her thoughts focused on the brothers' search for Jock. "I need to know that you're working together," she tells him. "I want you to take charge." Bobby demurs, saying that no one need take charge, but Ellie persists, reminding him of how he stepped in and ran Ewing Oil after JR was shot (one of three references to the shooting in this episode). "You were there when your daddy and your family needed you. Now you've got to take over again." It is clear from the change in sound quality than an extra line was added in post production to give the subsequent flashback more context. As Miss Ellie walks out of the kitchen, we hear BBG's disembodied voice telling Bobby "You're the one that your daddy always counted on." Bobby's memory, of a ferocious Jock snarling, "So I gave you power, huh? Let me tell you somethin'. If I did give you power, you got nothin'!" suggests that he and his mother do not view Jock in quite the same light. While much is made in Season 5 of the dubious nature of Bobby's business ethics, the show never again acknowledges his ambivalence towards his father's morality in the way that this scene does.

    Like Bobby's, Sue Ellen's flashback is also prompted by an appeal from Miss Ellie to put family first. "I'd like you to stay at Southfork until the men get back ... At times like this, we have to be able to depend on each other. I hope I can count on you." Once again, Barbara Bel Geddes's voice is dubbed over her exit from the scene--"The family should pull together when there's trouble". This is juxtaposed with Sue Ellen's shame-filled recollection of a time when Jock lambasted her for failing the family: "Where were you last night?" he demands. "Your husband may be dying and you're out gallivantin' around some place ... Drunk!" Sue Ellen's in an interesting position during this period of the series. No sooner has she divorced JR than she finds herself summoned back to the family home, first for Jock's homecoming, now for his vigil. To paraphrase Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER PART III, just when she thought she was out ... they try to pull her back in. "Breakin' away from JR has been very difficult for me," she protests, but no one's listening.

    While the brothers traipse through the South American jungle, (very possibly the same all-purpose forest used for "The Dove Hunt" and Pam's emerald expedition in Season 8) each recalling happier times with Daddy (boozing, bar room brawls and the acknowledgement of Ray as Jock's fourth son), the Ewing women pass the time doing what they do best--talking about their men. Specifically, speculating how each of them will react if the worst happens. "What's going to happen if they don't find him?" demands Sue Ellen with characteristic tact. "It just might mean a lot of trouble ahead for the two of us," predicts Donna, referring to herself and Ray. Ding! "Bobby would miss Jock terribly, but he'd adjust if he had to," hazards Pam. Ding! Ding! "JR would go to pieces," Sue Ellen foresees. "He wouldn't have anything left to live for if Jock was dead." Ding! Ding! Ding! Three for three--these girls are good! It's almost as if they've read the scripts for the next few episodes in advance. Lucy has little to contribute to the discussion, beyond running in and out of the living room blubbering, "What about my father? He has nothing. Nothing!" (Woa there, li'l lady; I wouldn't call being fought over by Joan van Ark and Donna Mills exactly nuthin'.)

    During one scene, following a collect call to KNOTS LANDING, it looks for a moment as though Lucy's going to have a flashback all of her own. She furrows up her brow, the camera leans in expectantly ... but nothing. The mental effort required to make the screen go all wibbly is clearly beyond the powers of our former Miss Young Dallas. In fairness, there is precious little for Lucy to flash back to. Outside of big family scenes, she and Jock had surprisingly little onscreen interaction. Their meatiest scenes were in "Survival", where he refuses her request that he contact Gary regarding the plane crash, and in Season 3, where he joins the chorus of those telling her she and Mitch are ill-suited.

    Despite the audience knowing Jock's death is a foregone conclusion, the writers go through the motions of attempting to inject some suspense into the episode by having the Ewing boys happen across a man with white hair who has been in a plane crash. Before we see his face, the screen fades momentarily to black, leaving the 1980 audience thinking not, "Omigod, is Jock alive?" but "Omigod, have they recast?" JR dispels such notions by helpfully announcing, "That's not Daddy!" (in much the same way that Miss Ellie's airport transformation into Donna Reed in Season 7 is signposted by Bobby loudly proclaiming, "There's Mama!") This guy's name is Lee Evans (not the gurning comedian, thankfully, but the pilot of a "light plane"--whatever one of those is) whose eyewitness account of Jock's helicopter crash ("Storm ... Suddenly this chopper ... cut part of my tail section. His engine quit ... Other side of the mountains, there's a lake ... That chopper fell like a stone. I saw it hit the water") becomes a part of the Ewings' mythology, to be returned to and embellished on over the years. (It later turns out Chico Steve and Wyatt Haynes were onboard the chopper, too).

    Ray and Bobby go diving in the lake and Ray finds some pieces of the chopper that have yet to absorbed by "the muddy bottom". "Well boys, I guess that's it," says Punk sadly. Bobby does not agree: "I'm going down again." Punk and even JR try to dissuade him--"Bobby, you're exhausted"--but he is insistent. Bobby's dedication and staying power is contrasted with Sue Ellen's lack of same. Pam catches her in her former bedroom, furtively ordering a taxi. "Pam, don't you understand that I'm afraid to stay here?" she protests, but Pam is more concerned with Miss Ellie: "She needs us all here with her now. She wouldn't say it because she's being brave." "I know that, but right now I'm thinkin' about what's gonna happen to me? ... If Jock is dead, JR is gonna fall apart totally and I don't know if I can bring myself to leave him again. Pam, do you remember when he was shot? I never left his side ... He looked so hurt and helpless, just like a little boy ... Pam, I've gotta go now. Right now." "You won't say goodbye to Miss Ellie?" "Pam, you talk to her try to explain." It's a great scene that illustrates both Sue Ellen's vulnerability and her innate selfishness.

    Back in South America, Bobby finds Jock's medallion and cries. Then he tells his brothers: "It's over. Daddy went down in that chopper and he's not comin' back." His acceptance of the reality of the situation bears out Pam's previous assessment of her husband: "Bobby would miss Jock terribly, but he'd adjust if he had to." Just as their wives predicted, JR and Ray are far less equipped to accept the death of their father, with whom they have so much unfinished business. "It can't end here, not in this stinkin' mud hole," JR says--and of course, it wasn't meant to. But some things are beyond even the writers' control.

    The episode cuts from the men at the lake to Ellie in bed, lifting her head as if she senses their discovery. (Time wise, of course, that doesn't make sense.) She thinks back to the scene in Season 3 where she finds Jock asleep in a chair. In spite of their estrangement, she tenderly tucks a blanket around him and removes his glasses, as the effects of Jim Davis's illness beginning to show on his face. She then gets out of bed, wipes a tear from her eye and goes downstairs, tying her dressing gown and sitting at the dining table in the dark. This is Barbara Bel Geddes at her most powerful as an actress--quiet, vulnerable, understated. She flashes back to the gorgeously poignant scene in "Fourth Son" where Ellie looks up at Jock and tells him, "I have the rest of my life to listen to you." The Ewing brothers arrive home. There is no musical score. She looks up at them expectantly. It's left to Bobby to say the words: "I'm sorry, Mama." Just like Sue Ellen, JR is too vulnerable and selfish (i.e. cowardly) to face his mother, and leaves his brothers to explain what happened. "But you didn't find him?" Miss Ellie asks, heartbreakingly. Outside, JR looks skywards and smiles. Somehow, this feels more like a gesture from Larry Hagman than something JR would do, but it's still touching and provides a nice segue to a shot of the now famous portrait of Jock/Jim, with the words "Jim Davis 1909-1981" printed underneath.
     
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  14. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    "Denial"

    We pick up the story a fortnight after the events of "The Search". (While the Ewing boys were off looking for Jock, the programme sneakily relocated back to LA without anyone noticing.) At Ewing Oil, JR is more interested in pouring bourbon than signing contracts. Bobby is left between a rock and a hard place: "I can't move without JR ... he's the President of Ewing Oil and I can't put anything through without his signature." In fact, the only constructive thing Bobby does achieve in this episode is the falsifying of Christopher's birth certificate. He's also under pressure from Harve Smithfield to have Jock declared legally dead: "This is Ewing Oil! This is an enormous estate here, and unless it's settled as soon as possible, the legal complications could be overwhelming."

    And so we come to the subject of Jock's will. "Maybe this is the break you've been waitin' for, Bob," sneers an boozily indifferent JR. "Maybe Daddy left you the whole shootin' match." "He's taken Daddy's death pretty hard", explains Bobby. He's not the only one. "Jock's death hit him real hard," says Donna with reference to Ray after he throws a business proposition back in Punk's face. ("Tell it to the Ewings!") "Hit all of us pretty hard," replies Punk sadly. All but Miss Ellie, it would appear. "She's taking it very well, don't you think?" says Lucy to Pam. "Is it normal, the way she's taking it?" (I guess this is an example of the Lucy Miss Ellie described as "very perceptive" back in Season 1. "Sometimes she can see right through the veneer that we older people like to hide behind.") "Well ..." replies Pam with her usual decisiveness. Ellie's impulse when confronted with a kitchen table full of cards offering condolences is to simply ignore them: "Why don't we clear up this table?" she smiles. "I think it'd be nice if we had dinner in here tonight." She continues to speak of Jock in the present tense: "You know your daddy wants things to continue exactly as they were before he left." When Harve attempts to broach the subject of Jock's will with her, she literally turns her back on him ("I don't care to discuss this any further") until she has regained her composed facade.

    Serena, JR's future "favourite lady of the evening", returns to the bed folds for the first time since Season 2, (Serena: "You told me never to let ya sleep here all night ... You gotta go home." JR: "To what? I haven't got a home. Got no wife, got no daddy, got no son. I got no home to go to") while Ray's former flame Bonnie makes her debut at the Longview Bar. Sue Ellen has had Mrs Chambers and a retro-phone (for that extra 1940s Joan Crawford vibe) installed and has acquired Dee Dee & The Gang as her new social circle--but who are these suburban party animals that she's suddenly attached herself to? I'd given anything to know where she met them. They're certainly not part of her old DOA crowd. Neither do they appear to be in the Ewings' tax bracket--Dee Dee's "Henry'll have a falling down fit if I don't get home and get dinner on the table" exit line makes it clear there's no Raoul and Teresa on her domestic payroll (nor no "Female Eunuch" on her bookshelf, come to that)--plus, she's renting Kenny and Ginger's house from KNOTS LANDING.

    Rather than giving Sue Ellen these out of nowhere friendships, it would have been more interesting to see her attempt to pick up the threads of her old social life. Would the society matrons and cartel wives that she associated with back in Season 1 welcome her with open arms or close ranks against her? Let's not forget that, as far as Dallas society is concerned, the charges against Sue Ellen for shooting JR were dropped not because she was proved innocent, but merely due to a lack of evidence. And there's no gunsmoke without fire ... (surely Dee Dee's gossip-hungry gang, with all their cocktail innuendos about bosses and their secretaries, and wives and their tennis coaches, would agree with that). From being the ultimate society wife at the beginning of the series, Sue Ellen's social reputation must surely now be in tatters, and it would have been nice to see that acknowledged and explored. However, the writers are interested in Sue Ellen's new life only insofar as it propels her back towards the familiar, i.e. her past relationships with Cliff and JR.

    During a scene from Ray and Donna's marriage (excellently played, as ever, by Kanaly and Howard), one really gets a sense that time has passed since we last saw these two together. Three episodes ago, the conflicts in their relationship came bubbling to the surface, but since the news of Jock's helicopter crash, those wounds have gone untreated and it's as though a thin layer of frost has settled over them. (I do realise I'm mixing my metaphors as horribly as Tom Cruise in COCKTAIL, but it is New Year's Day.) In a kind of down-home Texan version of A STAR IS BORN, Donna returns home late from a glitzy(ish) autograph party to find her failure of a husband sitting alone drinking. "Your publisher called ... Your book is Number 5 on the bestseller list and climbing," he tells her before making his excuses and heading to the nearest bar. He is in no way hostile towards her--in fact, they both behave as if everything's fine between them--but he clearly can't get away from her fast enough.

    Similarly, in the two weeks since we last saw them, it seems that the bloom is already off the rose of Afton and Cliff's relationship: "I keep feeling that you're bored with me," she tells him. "Is there someone else?" "No," Cliff replies, but we're not surprised when he makes a late-night call to Sue Ellen: "It's been a long time ... I read about your divorce in the paper and I've been thinking about you." Before she gets the chance to remind him that they saw each other only two weeks ago (although they probably didn't get much time to catch up after their country jig before the news of Jock's crash permeated the barbecue), she is interrupted by the doorbell. Why, it's Tom Flintoff, Dee Dee's party guest with the steely good looks of a catalogue model who moonlights as an assassin*. When Sue Ellen objects to his attempts to rip her blouse off, he bestows upon her The Curse of The Horny Divorcee: "Just you wait. You've been divorced how long--a month? I give you one more month, one more long and lonely month. You'll be calling me!" As if an attempted rape on the doorstep wasn't enough, Sue Ellen's next gentleman caller is even more threatening. (Do not ask for whom the doorbell rings, Sue Ellen. It rings for thee.) "I thought you were gonna be on Southfork when I got back," demands a drunken JR, pushing his way inside her house as if he were half man-half machine Felix Kane in my favourite NEW AVENGERS episode, "Last of the Cybernauts ...?" and she were Joanna Lumley. "You took my daddy's grandson away," accuses JR. "All my life, I tried to make that man proud of me and because of you, he died thinkin' I'd let him down down ... You think I'm gonna let you get away with that?" Sue Ellen threatens him weepily with the police. "Go ahead, call the police--hire yourself some armed guards, double lock your doors, call some attack dogs in--whatever you wanna do, honey, but I guarantee you one thing--I'm gonna get that boy back, and till I do, you're not gonna know one moment's peace anywhere on God's green earth." It's an impressive rant. Unfortunately, JR won't be that mean to her again until the end of Season 7, after he's fallen for Mandy Winger.

    Speaking of violent predatory men, Lucy pays a visit to Roger Larsen. "I felt I could trust you," she says. (I guess this is not an example of the Lucy Miss Ellie described as "very perceptive" back in Season 1.) "I wanna do something with my life!" she babbles. Try waitressing already; you'll find comparatively fewer psychopaths at The Hot Biscuit than in Roger's studio.

    * I recently read on the Dallas Decoder site that the actor who played Tom Flintoff, who died last year, is the real-life uncle of Brian Johnston, the Linda Fairgate-killing architect from KNOTS. https://dallasdecoder.com/2016/12/31/in-memoriam-our-2016-dallas-tributes/
     
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  15. Steven Wayne

    Steven Wayne Soap Chat Member

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    I love re-reading these. Thank you very much for somehow saving them from the soapchat wreckage....
    Just a small note: The final scene of "The Search" did have a musical score originally, apparently removed for the syndicated version and the DVD release. It can still be heard in the German version on the DVD. The same thing happened to the scene where Sue Ellen comes to Holly Harwood's house in 1983.
     
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  16. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    I missed this last bit off the post about "Denial":

    Maybe this is just me, but a scene or an actor's performance that one is already familiar with can seemed dramatically improved when re-watched on DVD. If I didn't know better, for instance, I'd swear that Michele Lee's acting had been digitally enhanced on the DVD of KNOTS LANDING Season 1. So it is with the final scene of this episode, where Bobby attempts to tackle his mother over Jock's death. I'd always found their exchange very well written and dramatically staged, but never terribly moving. Now, however, it seems very different. I think it's to do with the eyes--on DVD, you can see very clearly when an actor genuinely starts to tear up. While it's tempting to read things into an actor's performance that aren't necessarily there, I think it's fair to say that Jim Davis's death had a major impact on the DALLAS cast, and therefore the death of Jock must have resonated with them as well. (I know Patrick Duffy's a Buddhist and all, but he must have felt something!) From the moment Bobby says gently to Miss Ellie, "Daddy is not coming back," the two actors seem genuinely affected, genuinely moved, and there is a kind of clumsiness as they struggle to deliver the rest of their lines. To suddenly see a genuine, as opposed to a heightened or exaggerated, display of emotion on DALLAS (it is a melodrama after all) can seem sort of jarring on first viewing (or even fourth or fifth in my case). "We have to go ahead with that hearing and have Daddy declared legally dead," he continues. Ellie does to Bobby exactly what she did to Harve Smithfield earlier in the episode--she turns her back on him but is not able to regain her composure (her denial) as successfully as before. The speech that follows is compelling, even primal, but I never fully appreciated Barbara Bel Geddes's performance of it until now. "This house is still Jock's house. This family is still Jock's family. You're Jock's son, and I'm Jock's woman, and the rules we live by are the rules he made. And that's the way it will be. He's alive, Bobby ... As long as I believe he's alive, he's alive."

    Poor Bobby: a mad wife, a kidnapped baby, a dead father, a deluded mother, two drunken brothers--this just isn't his season.

    "Head of the Family"

    After a run of five top-notch instalments, this episode feels somewhat bitty and anti-climactic (and, on the DVD print, quite yellow). "The family is beginning to drift apart," laments Miss Ellie, and the further the action drifts from Southfork and Ewing Oil, the weaker the episode becomes. The scenes in Roger's tacky little photography studio are particularly lame. Legs wide, knees bent and clicking away like there's no tomorrow, Dennis Redfield as Roger is evidently aiming for the sexual cool of David Hemmings in BLOW UP, but his hammy bluster ("Show me a little bit of curve!") lands closer to Elmer Fudd. Then there's the sheer unlikeliness of Lucy as Texas's answer to Cheryl Tiegs. As she herself points out endearingly , "I'm not exactly your five foot seven model." When she finally gets in front of the camera, she looks incredibly, devastatingly clueless, as if she were posing for the cover of Lobotomy Weekly. As if it were not enough that Roger is soon to turn psycho, Blair Sullivan, Lucy's couldn't-be-nicer agent, is played by Ray Wise, who will shortly begin his descent into soap depravity by dealing drugs in KNOTS LANDING, before becoming a killer on THE COLBYS, and eventually raping and murdering his own daughter on TWIN PEAKS. Aye, 'twas Blair Sullivan killed Laura Palmer ...

    Over at Bette Davis Towers, speculation arises for the first time regarding the true nature of Sue Ellen and Clayton's relationship when he escorts her to one of Dee Dee & the Gang's bitchy, boorish parties. Clayton even does one of his Significant Frowns for the camera, suggesting that all is not as platonic as we have been led to believe. A Southern Cross emergency means that, when it is Sue Ellen's turn to play hostess to this weird bunch of wife swappers, she has to fly solo. "I have an emergency," announces Dee Dee's hubby Henry. "A hand without a drink in it! A ha ha ha!" Sue Ellen hovers nervously, like a convent girl caught in the headlights. A week after being nearly raped by Tom Flintoff, she is groped by Henry. (This pattern repeats itself during her lost weekend of Season 8; as soon as Sue Ellen steps outside of her Ewing cocoon, she is accosted by drunken predatory men.) For the second week in a row, she is denounced in her own house for giving out inappropriate sexual signals--first by Tom, now by Dee Dee. Sue Ellen reacts the same way each time, by blinking helplessly. (You'd never guess she'd spent the last three years zinging bitchy one liners at her husband and sister-in-law, would you?) That'll teach you to socialise with people who ain't in the opening credits, Miss Texas!

    The oddness continues back at the ranch with two disparate yet similar scenes in which Miss Ellie, Pam and Bobby play host to middle-aged, slightly ridiculous female characters in the Southfork living room. The first is Dr Conrad, wheeled on to surruptiously diagnose Miss Ellie's mental state, ("It's denial!" she whispers in Bobby's ear) followed by a sweetly mad lady from an adoption agency, who just happens to drop by--Southfork is on her way home apparently--to offer Bobby and Pam a baby girl. When told they've already acquired Christopher, she announces that she'll simply go over to the home of the next couple on the adoption waiting list and inform them of the happy news instead. So are they on your way home too, Strange Adoption Lady? (One is left with an image of this woman wandering the fields of Braddock, banging on random doors and trying to give away a baby.)

    Bobby finally concocts an explanation for how he and Pam ended up with Christopher. "It was a private adoption. Christopher's parents were killed in a car crash." (As Marky has astutely pointed out, this is a prophecy of sorts, as Christopher will go on to lose both his parents as a result of vehicular collisons--his father, fatally but temporarily, at the end of Season 7; his mother, eccentrically but permanently, at the beginning of Season 10.) The irony of having to turn down a baby he and Pam could have adopted legally and straightforwardly in favour of the complicated kid they've already got is not lost on Bobby.

    Another example of the irony of bad timing comes as the cartel, in memory of Jock, unexpectedly offer Ewing Oil partnership in a land deal. In the previous season, JR went as far as financing a revolution in South East Asia in an effort to get back in the cartel's good graces, in the hopes of winning Jock's approval. Finally he's got what he wanted, but it's too late--Jock is dead and so it no longer means anything. He's more interested in quality mattress time with his Texan honeyz, but they're playing to hard to get. Serena is still sore at the way he rejected her back in Season 2, while Heather, aka Liz Adams, is busy packing for her trip to London with Vaughn Leland. Bon voyage, Heather aka Liz; see you in eight years.

    With JR not pulling his weight at the office, Bobby proposes to Miss Ellie that he take over as company president, but she isn't interested in rocking the boat. "Things have to get back to normal," she insists. "I want us to start acting like a family again. We'll have dinner tonight at seven the way we used to." "Mama, eating together is not gonna solve our problems," Bobby protests, but it nevertheless falls to him to try to pull the family together. He stops by Ray's house to find him drinking beer and watching an afternoon game show. (There's something about a soap character drinking alone and/or watching game shows and/or refusing to let a chambermaid into a motel room to change the sheets that serves as a visual shorthand for internalised self loathing.) Bobby accuses Ray of neglecting his duties on the ranch. An argument ensues, culminating in the best line of the episode as Ray refuses Miss Ellie's dinner invitation: "I didn't dinner at Southfork when Jock was alive; I'll be damned if I'm gonna start eatin' there now!" It's interesting to see Ray in conflict with Bobby, both in this season and later in Season 9.

    In the event, only Bobby and Pam show up for dinner with Miss Ellie. "I'd hoped that dinner tonight would be a new beginning for this family," she sighs as she surveys the half empty table, "but I guess I had my hopes too high." Perhaps not--'a new beginning' effectively commences in the next scene, after JR returns home and snubs his mama and brother. Bobby follows him up to his room: "You think you're the only one mournin' Daddy, don't you? ... Well, you're not. I miss him too, but I know what he'd want if he were alive. He'd want his boys up and doin', and that includes running Ewing Oil the way he ran it." "Bobby, the man is dead," replies a slumped JR. "It doesn't matter anymore." "It does matter!" Bobby insists. "If you let Ewing Oil die of neglect, you kill off everything he ever worked for." He grabs JR by the lapels and propels him towards a mirror. "Look at yourself! Daddy didn't build this company just for you and me. He expected it to be around for his grandkids. Maybe their kids too. Get off your butt, JR; we've got work to do!" He heads for the door. "It'll never be the same, Bob," calls JR from the mirror. Bobby stops and turns. "Maybe it won't," he replies. "That's no reason to do what you're doin'. If this family quits just because he's gone, he didn't leave us very much, did he? Some day you might wanna tell John Ross just what his granddaddy spent his whole life building. How are you plannin' on doin' that, JR?" As Bobby's words sink in, JR contemplates a framed photo of his son. Here we reach a turning point in the series, as the future (John Ross) replaces the past (Jock) as JR's primary motivation for being and scheming. (Needless to say, the legacy JR will pass on to his son ultimately remains bound up with his need to prove himself worthy of his father.) This scene is also significant as possibly the only time we see JR truly listening to Bobby prior to Season 7. It's certainly the first occasion of him taking advice from his brother.

    We subsequently see JR suited and booted and ready to commence his new role as a weekend father. Collecting John Ross from Bette Davis Towers, he finds Sue Ellen breakfasting with Cliff. It's significant that we have viewed each of Sue Ellen and Cliff's two encounters so far this season through JR's eyes. As a result, much of what made the Cliff/Sue Ellen relationship unique and beleilvable in Season 1--a mutual recognition of each other's flaws ("We've always been honest with each other, at least in our fashion"), a poignant yet humorous self awareness that helped humanise the characters, particularly Sue Ellen, in the eyes of the audience ("You Barneses are disgustingly poor")--is lost this time around. Do they still recognise each other? Are they still self aware?--We're given no such insights into their relationship, because the programme is no longer interested in what is between them, only in JR's reaction to seeing them together, and how that reaction will further the plot. While Sue Ellen gets John Ross ready, Cliff gloats over his ownership of The Oilfield Formerly Known As Ewing 6. "Listen, Barnes, I only let you have that field because I knew what pleasure I was gonna get takin' it back from you," JR tells him, his casual tone belying that JR "takin' it back" is what most of the second half of the season will be about.

    Another family dinner is called, and this time everyone but Ray attends, ("I wanna know what's going on with him," Miss Ellie insists. "Frankly, I'd be the last person in the world to know," replies Donna. "I have let him do just about everything except ride over me on horseback. ... I'm beginning not to care anymore") with even John Ross allowed to eat with the grown ups. Over dead cow, Miss Ellie asks Donna about her next book, Lucy about her portfolio, and Pam about the theory of relativity (or maybe it was baby pictures--one of the two). "I feel we're a family again," she announces. "I'm very grateful." Her attention is caught by John Ross. "He's sitting in your daddy's chair, just the way you used to," she says happily to JR, and everyone turns and looks and smiles. "He's really a Ewing, that's for sure," intones JR solemnly. Freeze frame. Whatever. Sure, it makes the sense that the final scene should acknowledge the sea change JR (and consequently the series) has undergone, but from a dramatic standpoint, it's one of DALLAS's dullest end-of-episodes. Cute mute Tyler Banks ain't no Jim Davis, that's for dang sure.
     
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  17. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    "The Phoenix"

    The second episode written by David Paulsen, and the first of three he penned for Season 4.

    This is an odd period of DALLAS. Following the aftermath of Jock's death, the characters feel somehow diminished. Instead of continuing to evolve out of the years that have come before, they've become pawns on a chessboard to be moved around by the demands of the plot. The episode starts with JR showing John Ross around his office for the first time. "Your granddaddy told me everything I know about this business. He'd be so proud if he knew I was doing the same thing with you." Although JR's newfound devotion to his son makes sense in the context of his father's death, its depiction is quite uninteresting, even bland. "You gotta understand that John Ross is the most important thing in the world to me. Nothing comes before him," he tells Marilee Stone later in the episode. For JR to wear his heart so unashamedly on his sleeve, in front of Marilee of all people, seems uncharacteristic to the say the least. I can't imagine Jock being so articulate about, or even in touch with, his paternal feelings when JR was a baby. And surely JR is even more emotionally screwed up than his daddy?

    JR is back at the helm of Ewing Oil where he has a meeting with Carolyn Carter, an associate of Harve Smithfield, to discuss Jock's estate: "Mr Smithfield is only concerned with how the will could divide up the ownership of Ewing Oil ... The will could change things drastically ... All of the heirs would be provided for ... Your brothers could have sons and it seems to me the will would provide for them also." JR reacts with surprise, ("That could spread a hundred shares of stock pretty thin, couldn't it?") as if this idea has never previously occurred to him. However, having forged Jock's will during Season 1, he should at least believe himself to be familiar with the will's contents (even if he is, as yet, unaware of the codicil Jock added while in South America). "Well, son, looks like the longer we delay reading that will, the better off it might be for both of us," he says, addressing a boring picture of his boring child.

    To this end, he takes advantage of his mother's denial over his father's death, announcing to the family that "there's absolutely no reason to read that will and until there is a reason, it's not gonna get read." "Why are you raising Mama's hopes like that?" Bobby asks. "I can't believe you're so unfeeling about this, Bob," he replies with mock-sensitivity. "Mama wants to believe that Daddy's still alive. If she gets any kind of comfort from that, who are we to deprive her of it?" It's fun to see JR behaving in such a manipulative, underhand manner, especially towards his own mother, but it seems unlikely that he would make no attempt to find out about the contents of the will at this stage. Obviously, this is being held over until Season 5 for storyline reasons, but it's clearly an instance of character behaviour being dictated by plot demands rather than the other way round. As it turns out, JR's inheritance will be entirely unaffected by the amount of Ewing heirs, a fact for which his sister-in-laws can be grateful (otherwise, one has images of JR spending the next five years pushing Donna, Val and Jenna out of various haylofts).

    It's somewhere during Season 4 that the cartel seem to shift from reasonably credible businessmen to Texas's answer to The Three Stooges (that's Jordan, Andy and Wade; Marilee's slut credentials somehow exempt her from stooge status). Perhaps it's when Wade Luce says to JR in this episode, "We all loved your daddy." They did?? "I guess I wouldn't have any real problem working with you," harumphs Jordan when JR informs him that he is once again in charge of the company, "and I think Marilee Stone would go along with it [but] Wade and Andy just don't seem to want to get tied up with you again. Unless something happens to change their minds, I'm afraid the cartel just can't go ahead with you." Last time JR attempted to change the cartel's minds, he went to the trouble of financing the overthrow of a foreign government. This time around, he turns to Marilee, who proves far easier to mount than a revolution. ("It was worth the wait," is her very un-Leslie Stewart post-coital verdict.) "You can certainly count on me for anything, JR," she purrs, agreeing to lobby Andy and Wade on his behalf. "Oh, my mama's gonna be so happy to know that we're all workin' together again!" says JR.

    At the end of the episode, we get our first and only glimpse of Jock's office as JR delivers the first of many heartfelt speeches to his daddy's portrait. These kind of speeches, whether delivered to a painting or a headstone, are the prime time soap equivalent of a Shakespearean soliloquy or one of those singsongy voiceovers you get on DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and SEX AND THE CITY--at best, a way for a character to reveal to the audience an aspect of themselves that remains hidden to the rest of the characters; at worst, a lazy kind of verbal shorthand, a way of Spelling Out To Your Dumb Audience information that might otherwise be conveyed with some subtlety and imagination. Other DALLAS characters had their own variation on this device--the most successful being Sue Ellen's therapy sessions with Dr Elby, which sometimes revealed motivations for her behaviour that even she was not aware of while still maintaining her aloof persona in front of the other Ewings; the weirdest being divorce-period Pam's tendency to discuss the convoluted details of her love life with her mute toddler son. JR's speeches will often come at the end of an episode and represent some kind of turning point for the drama, but in and of themselves are rarely more than mediocre; perfectly serviceable, but not terribly inspired. None of them, for example, capture the power of Greg Sumner's one and only speech to his father's portrait on KNOTS LANDING: "I swear on your face never to have a child that I might treat as brutally as you have treated yours ... Congratulations, you have hatched a new breed of barbarian." JR's conversations with Jock's painting might enable him to say the things he felt unable to say when his father was alive, but these things were all the more powerful for being unsaid. For JR to verbalise his feelings reduces his mystery and menace, making him seem somewhat childlike and, again, bland: "I'm sorry, Daddy. I let you down. I just flat gave up. Back at that swamp, you were gone. It was all over. Didn't seem like there was anything worth going on for. I almost forgot. You left us something. You left us the company. You built Ewing Oil from the ground up. Whatever it took, you did it for Ewing Oil and I'm gonna do the same. I'm gonna pass it on bigger and stronger to my son. I'm back, Daddy, and nobody's gonna take Ewing Oil away from me or my son or his son. I swear to you, by God I'm gonna make you proud of me." (After writing all that, I'm trying to think of how many speeches JR actually did made in front of Jock's painting, and I can only think of two! It feels like there were a lot more ...)

    Now that Sue Ellen no longer has Dr Elby with whom to discuss her inner life, she no longer has much of an inner life. For the plot demands of Season 4, she must exist almost entirely on the surface, reacting to whatever situation is placed in front of her. When JR drops John Ross off at Bette Davis Towers, she voices her disapproval of their tour of the Ewing offices: "If Ewing Oil does to him what it does to you, I'm gonna suggest a different occupation," she snaps at JR. (Sue Ellen's opposition to her son following in his father's footsteps would have been an interesting theme to pursue, but is never verbalised again.) JR responds with a dig at her single status: "Sue Ellen, you used to get more action when you were married to me ... I know some cowboys might help you out." Rattled, she calls Cliff. They go out to dinner and he gets kissy with her. "You know how I feel about you," he tells her. "It hasn't changed, not for me." The last time Cliff described his feelings for Sue Ellen was in Season 2, when he called her "a parasite, incapable of loving." Clearly, his feelings have changed, but the show isn't interested in exploring how. Sue Ellen's reply--"I'm not ready to have an intense relationship again, not right now. I'm not over Dusty yet. It might take a long time for those wounds to heal."--sounds like a press release.

    DALLAS might be soap than saga at this point, but is not without its pleasures. The most enjoyable scene of the episode comes as Afton makes her "classy club" singing debut. At the risk of damning Audrey Landers with faint praise, her slow and sexy rendition of the old standard "All of Me" is my favourite of all Afton's musical performances. (It's actually spoiled me for all other versions of the song, which now sound oddly sped up as if the singer's rushing for a bus. I find myself thinking, "Slow down Frank, take it easy Ella--get into the Afton groove.") The fun starts as Sue Ellen arrives on Clayton's arm. "You didn't tell me Afton would be singin' here," she murmurs. She sees Afton with Cliff. Cliff sees her with Clayton. Clayton sees Sue Ellen seeing Cliff with Afton. Afton sees Cliff seeing Sue Ellen. And everybody lies except Afton. Cliff lies to Sue Ellen about Afton ("It's business more than friendship"). Sue Ellen lies to Clayton about Afton ("I stopped crying over JR's girlfriends long before the divorce") and Cliff ("We're just old friends") and Clayton lies to himself. "The last thing I'd ever want is to cause you unhappiness," he tells Sue Ellen dreamily.

    Elsewhere, Pam drops a couple of her regular Christopher clangers that make Bobby's heart stop beating momentarily: "The more I see him the more he favours the Ewings! ... Miss Ellie's always saying he looks like one of the family!" Lucy finally gets the hang of the modelling lark, vamping in culottes and working Roger up into a frenzy ("That's it, that's it! Oh yes, this is gonna look so great!"). So much so that he spies on her from a distance while she's out shopping with Mitch, (who now seems less like an estranged husband than Lucy's new best girlfriend) pressing himself against a wall as he watches her hair going all bouncy.

    The oft-mentioned supply store owner Mr McGregor, aka Afferton the fussy wedding planner from the first episode of DYNASTY, finally makes it on screen to complain to Miss Ellie about Southfork's unpaid feed bill. The smackdown Ellie lays on Ray ("You're a Ewing and you're going to have to start acting like one") closely resembles the one she gave Pam after Jock's heart attack in Season 1 ("Pam, you're a Ewing now. Act like it."). When Ellie's words to Ray fall on deaf ears, Bobby tracks Ray down to the Longview Bar. Bonnie has just made an intriguing suggestion: "Why don't we ride over to Billybob's in Fort Worth, do a little heel kickin'?" They might even bump into Jenna Wade waiting tables. It's interesting to compare Bobby's exchange with Ray in this scene ("I have stopped carin' about the way you live your own life, but there's work to do at Southfork and if you don't wanna do it, I'll find somebody who will." "... Will you get off my back, please?" "I will as soon as you shape up and shape up means running Southfork the way it's supposed to be run") to a similar barroom confrontation in Season 5, only this time it's Ray urging Mickey to get his act together. ("You better start comin' around, Mickey, because you are a flat out disgrace." "I gotta beer gettin' warm over there.") When Ray tries to provoke Bobby, ("Come on, hit me!") one is reminded of the disco punch Bobby threw at Ray in "Lessons", back at the beginning of Season 1, only this time he restrains himself: "You're not worth hittin', Ray." So Ray and Bonnie check into the Low Self Esteem Motel. "Ray, I knew it would be good bein' with you again, but I didn't know it would be this good," says Bonnie, sounding even more satisfied than Marilee Stone.

    Back at the Ewing dinner table, Ray's absence has not gone unnoticed. JR's remark that "Ray was always uncomfortable eating with the family. I mean, after all we do use knives and forks ..." prompts the best line of the episode, delivered by Donna: "I see your back to your normal self, JR. Disgusting as that may be." It's the way she tells 'em.
     
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  18. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    My Father, My Son

    It ís time for JR and Donnaís fourth annual confrontation scene! (Sadly, it ís also the last. Their next and final one-to-one encounter takes place in the Season 9 premiere.) JR letting himself into the Krebbs' house and helping himself from the fridge while Donna is in the bedroom packing is reminiscent of the way he would make himself at home on those early season visits to Val's house in KNOTS LANDING. JR's encounters with his sisters-in-law are always interesting. Despite their wariness and suspicion of him, he almost always finds a way to get past their defences. He is particularly adept at finding Pam's vulnerable spots during her separation from Bobby during Seasons 6 and 7, and it is he, in an early episode of KNOTS penned by David Paulsen, who first points out to Val the fatal weakness in her marriage--Gary's long dormant, but slowly awakening, sense of ambition: "Gary's got a noose around his neck and you're hangin' on to the other end, draggin' him down." JR's ability to hone in on his opponent's weaknesses is addressed directly in Season 1, first by JR himself when he says to Cliff in "For Love Or Money", "You wanna know why Iím so successful? Cos I know how to play the other man's game", and then by Sue Ellen in the season finale: "Your brother has that wonderful knack of finding one's weak spot, the Achilles' heel. Takes the knife and goes right up to the hilt," she tells Bobby bitterly. So it is that, for all Donna's intelligence and moral superiority, she is unable to refute the truth of JR's words: "You're a smart lady. I think you know why Ray is going downhill. It's because he couldn't cope with being a Ewing. He couldn't compete with us--Hell honey, he can't even compete with you--and you're never gonna have a happy marriage until Ray realises that being the foreman on Southfork is what he's cut out for, and there's nothin' wrong with that. But it'll never happen as long as he hangs on to those votin' shares. They're his last link with the Ewings."

    As well as reading other people, JR also has the ability--at least during the first few years of the show--to keep his own vulnerabilities under wraps. Whatever his feelings about Sue Ellen and Cliff's affair in Season 1, he keeps them to himself, exhibiting no signs of jealousy. His emotions are his own business. The glimpses we get of his tender side, such as his breakdown at Sue Ellen's bedside at the end of the season, are brief and surprising, and he is all the more dangerous and compelling a character for that element of mystery. In the post-Jock era of Season 4, however, something has changed. In this episode, for instance, JR is out with Jordan and Marilee celebrating their new deal ("I'm hungry as a horse. I think I'll have the biggest steak in the house!") when he spies Sue Ellen and Cliff canoodling on the other side of the restaurant (again, we're viewing them from afar, through JR's eyes). Unlike the enigmatic character of old, JR is clearly perturbed, so much so that he even stops speaking mid-sentence. Marilee reads him like a book. "The winds have shifted," she observes. (Ironically, the comment she makes to keep the conversation going--"You were probably going to say how smart we were to option that adjacent property"--is the first reference to the land JR will later use to engineer Cliff's downfall.)

    Mistakenly believing that Sue Ellen and Cliff are already sleeping together, JR pays Afton a little visit. This is their first encounter since their bust-up over Vaughn Leland, and itís one of the two best scenes of the episode. Initially, JR employs the same "I read people pretty well" shtick he used on Donna at the beginning of the instalment: "You know what I always liked about you, Afton? When you knew what you wanted, you went after it. Now, are you gonna let Sue Ellen take Cliff away from you?" How interesting it is that Afton, supposed dumb blonde that she is, now does something that Donna, for all her intellect, could not--she turns the tables on JR Ewing: "Why you should you care about that?" she asks him. "I thought you and Sue Ellen hated each other. I figured neither one of you gave a damn what the other did. But you know, you sound like a man carrying a torch for his ex-wife." Rather wonderfully, she then laughs at JR and he has to stand there and take it: "Now what really surprises me is that you could possibly care about anyone besides JR Ewing. I love it! I think youíre jealous. I think youíre jealous right out of your cotton picking gourd!"

    In the next, equally good, scene we get to see Afton's vulnerable side (the side she was smart enough to keep hidden from JR) as she confronts Cliff: "Are you trying to get even with JR, fooling around with his ex-wife? Is that what this is? ... The truth, Cliff." "No," he replies. "I'll admit it started out that way a long time ago, but then something happened. She wanted me and I blew it." (This again refers back to the events of "For Love or Money", in which Sue Ellen originally left Southfork for Cliff only for JR get her back by "playing the other manís game", i.e. identifying Cliff's weak spot: "I know what you want, Barnes. I know what you need. You need power.") "Are you in love with her?" asks Afton. "... The truth? Yeah," admits Cliff. Then comes the warning, the portent of doom that elevates Afton's status from that of just another Barnes/Ewing mistress to the closest DALLAS will ever come to a true seer of, like, stuff: "You'll never get her, Cliff. JR will crucify you first ... JR will never, never let you have Sue Ellen. I donít know how he'll do it, but he will stop you." "He canít lay a glove on me," Cliff insists, "because I've got the power now." (Ah, power--Cliff's weak spot, which once again will ensure he doesnít get Sue Ellen.)

    Suzy Kalter writes in The Complete Book of DALLAS: "Look for the turning point to be placed approximately ten episodes before the last show." Well, we're ten episodes from the end of the season here and, sure enough, Afton's words to Cliff anticipate the finale's cliff-hanger: "He'll break you ... only this time, you may not be able to pick up all the pieces."

    To that end, JR enlists the aid of Wally Hampton aka Matt Devlin aka Duke Carlisle, aka lovely barrel shaped, falsetto-voiced actor Claude Earl Jones, to lure Cliff to Tulsa with the promise of a bogus job as Chief Operating Officer of Walco. Katherine, meanwhile, mocks the ambitions Cliff has for her father's company, but he clings to his notion that power conquers all: "I gotta lot of reasons that I wanna make it Number One." Rebecca gives him her blessing. "I'd like you to lighten up on your brother," she tells Katherine, which is as close as she ever gets to acknowledging her youngest daughter's dark side. "If he wants to make Wentworth Tool and Die his mission in life, well, so be it."

    The episode's more, um, eccentric moments come courtesy of Pam and Lucy. While Bobby is seeking ways to adopt Christopher legally, (the casual revelation from his lawyer that they'll need an affidavit from Sue Ellen "saying there's no knowledge of the father and no objection to the adoption" is a masterstroke of soap plotting) Pam is introduced by Liz Craig and Jackie to the wonders of aerobics. Not only does she take to exercise like a Pope to praying, but she manages to do so without appearing to perspire or even pant for breath, unlike mere mortal Liz (but, hey, while Victoria Principal might have the beauty empire, Barbara Babcock (Liz) is still the one with the Emmy in her downstairs toilet, even if it is for horrible HILL STREET BLUES).

    Liz is refreshingly unimpressed by the miracles to motherhood: "I think my brain would turn to mush", (a pretty fair assessment of Pam's mental state this season) and asks Pam back to the work at The Store. How very Season 1 of her, but while Pam isn't interested, Bobby--once so opposed to the idea of his wife working--is now all for it. His reasoning seems a little strange: With Pam working at The Store, he hopes, she will be too busy to attend Christopherís adoption hearing. Like Pam ever allowed a little thing like a regular job to prevent her from taking an afternoon or a day or week off whenever the fancy took her or the plot required it.

    Lucy, meanwhile, is at her hilarious, ridiculous, stupidest best in this episode. "Roger, these are fantastic! ... Oh wow!" she gasps, hyperventilating with excitement at her own portfolio. "This is our collaboration--you and me!" rants Roger, as if he were describing a masterplan for world domination rather than a couple of 10x8s of Lucy in a furry purple hat. Lucy nods uncomprehendingly at such five syllable words--all she's interested in is showing Mitch her pretty pictures. Alas, the sight of Mitch and Evelyn Michaelson in matching tennis outfits is enough to kill her self-centred buzz and she runs away blubbering into the night. (What I don't get is Evelyn turning up at Mitch's condo already wearing her tennis outfit. Perhaps this is normal practice--I seem to remember an early scene of Bobby and Pam leaving Southfork similarly attired--but don't posh tennis club have changing rooms? If she and Mitch were going swimming, would Evelyn have arrived at his door in a bikini? If they were deep sea diving, would she have shown up in a snorkel and flippers?)

    Later, Lucy and/or Charlene, (it's hard to say where the actress ends and the ludicrousness begins) arrives several hours late for a photo session wearing a pair of dark glasses and announcing, "I don't think I can work today." However, the diva effect is somewhat undermined by her crawling around on all fours, picking up furry purple pictures that a temperamental Roger has thrown all over the floor. She tells him about Mitch. "I discovered yesterday that heís interested in another woman!" she squeals. "Another woman than you?? He can't be!!" says Roger, incredulously. "Can't he see how beautiful you are??" (Lest Dennis Redfield's performance be too subtle, some helpful "This man is clearly insane" music starts playing on the soundtrack at this point.) "How can he stand to be away from you? How can he wanna be with anyone else?" Roger kisses Lucy; Lucy kisses Roger. Then he suddenly grabs his ... camera. "Let's get to work!" he announces as Lucy stands there, a vacant expression on her face. "That's the look I want! Yes! Yes!" he moans, clicking away. Mitch then shows up at Southfork to explain himself. "What's to explain?" barks Lucy. "You go for older women! ...Goodbye, Mitch!" And Leigh McCloskey heads home to stick his head in the gas oven.

    At this point in the series, Sue Ellen is like the ball on a pinball machine, buffeted from situation (i.e. man) to the next as the plot requires, with scarcely an introspective thought in her head. Last week, after JR was mean to her, she turned to Cliff. Now with Cliff proving too drunk ("I can't believe I got that messed up last night!") and too clingy, she turns to Clayton, and when he turns out to be unavailable, she starts drifting back to JR. Along the way, she attempts to interest Mrs Chambers in an after-hours game of backgammon (Mrs C hastily invents a pressing engagement with a nephew) before briefly, not to mention phallically, caressing a decanter of generic looking booze. (The first time I saw this scene, I remember mentally cheering her on: "Go on, woman! Do it! Drink!") The weekend rolls around again and JR stops by to collect John Ross. He invites Sue Ellen to accompany them to the kiddie park: "When was the last time you sat on a seesaw or had yourself a hot dog?î he asks irresistibly. There follows DALLAS's first ever montage (and, rest assured, thereíll be no more such homosexual editing until Season 8) as JR and John Ross run around the park observed by a tentative Sue Ellen. The bit in the maze is fun ("C'mon, buddy!" ad-libs Larry), while the encounter between John Ross and the organ grinder's monkey is slightly creepy--the monkey and Tyler Banks both look equally haunted. "Sue Ellen, I wanna thank you for about the nicest day I can remember," says JR at the end and Sue Ellen doesn't know quite how to react. (So what's new?) There's a very nice atmosphere to this whole sequence--an innocence, with an undertone of melancholy and perhaps something more sinister. As they drive away from the park, John Ross lets go of his balloon and the camera follows it as it floats away into the sky. It's a simple but evocative image--suggesting the fleeting nature of happiness, perhaps? Answers on a postcard, please.

    Back at the ranch, JR tells a sleepy John Ross a bedtime story about a baby bear and a skunk and then adds, "I have a feeling your mama's gonna be back on Southfork real soon." The music box type score is then augmented by sinister sounding strings. "I have a feelin' we'll be together real soon," JR confirms. Again, there is a mixture of the innocent and the ominous--particularly when one realises that John Ross is apparently tucked up in JR's bed. Well, if it's good enough for The King of Pop ... Season 4's rehash of the JR/Sue Ellen/Cliff triangle is basically a decaffeinated version of their original Season 1 and 2 arc, but as long as one can get past the fact that JR and Sue Ellen arenít quite as interesting or three-dimensional as they once were--the plot now drives the characters instead of the other way round--there is still much about it to enjoy.
     
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  19. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Enthusiast

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    "Anniversary"

    Another David Paulsen episode. Sunday morning and JR is on his bedroom phone as John Ross plays on the floor. "Time is running out and I need that film right now," he says into the receiver, adding that ìit was shot in 1967. This immediately sets up a question which wonít be answered until the final minutes of the episode: What film from 1967 could JR be possibly be referring to? (That year's Oscar winner was IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT which is, you know, Southern, but surely a little too liberal in its politics to be screened on the Ewing family projector.)

    The mystery is one of two plot strands in this episode directly involving JR. The other begins when he drops by the Krebbs house to find Ray drinking his breakfast. "Say, you runnin' the ranch by phone nowadays, Ray?" This is the first real conversation between these two since before Ray "became" a Ewing; in fact, it's their first since Ray visited JR in hospital after he was shot and attempted to rekindle their friendship by recalling the wild times they used to share. JR refers to those times again in this scene: "Say, remember when you were a Krebbs and I was a Ewing and everyone was comfortable?" He then hones in on Ray's weak spot, just as he did Donna's in last week's episode: "Fact is, youíre a lot smarter than I ever gave you credit for ... Bobby and Mama and Daddy, they believe you're a real Ewing and all along, you knew you weren't. You knew you didn't have the make-up of a real Ewing or the style, and I knew it too ... Ray, youíre a Krebbs, you always have been, and your big problems started when you found out you had Ewing blood." Having diagnosed his problem, he now offers Ray a solution: "You can solve everything by bein' a Krebbs again, maybe leavin' Southfork and goin' back to Kansas, I dunno, checkin' out your mama's family, diggin' up your own real roots."--boy, that is so Season 5--"Forget the Ewings and forget Ewing Oil. Give me your proxy for those ten voting shares. That's your last tie to my family. You'll be free then. Really free, Ray." Ray tells him to get out. "I'm right, you know I'm right," he casually insists.

    Returning John Ross to Bette Davis Towers, JR surprises Sue Ellen with an in-house banquet: "I'd like for our boy to have dinner with the family. He misses that." (Lets skip over the fact that John Ross never once had "dinner with the family" before his parents' divorce; heck, he was lucky if they let him out that crib more than once a month.) "The way to a woman's heart is through her catering service," JR claims. It also appears to affect her memory. Only a week earlier, JR was taunting Sue Ellen over her non-existent sex life, even offering to send round a couple of cowboys to help her out. Two weeks before that, he had her pinned against a wall and was threatening her with all manner of mental torture. A trip to the kiddie park and a fancy dinner later, all that is forgotten. "I think he's changed," she tells Clayton before going on to describe JR as "thoughtful, warm, generous. There's no bitterness at all." "Sue Ellen, youíre on your own for the very first time," replies Clayton in his role of a more tactful Dr Elby. "You maybe seeing JR differently, remembering only the good things about your marriage to him ... I know how vulnerable you are." There's a thin line between vulnerable and stupid; for all her layers of denial and delusion, the writers have successfully managed to keep Sue Ellen on the right side of stupidity--until now.

    Back at work on Monday, JR continues with his mystery quest. "I have to have that film and I need it now!" he insists, instructing Sly to badger someone called Chester until he finds it. (But what it? SWEET CHARITY perhaps? Nah, too musical). He then receives a phone call from a barman who informs him of the whereabouts of a certain someone he is keeping tabs on. We realise who that someone is when JR, after regretfully informing Mama that he won't be home for dinner, follows Ray and Bonnie under cover of darkness from the Longview Bar to the Low Self Esteem Motel.

    While Bobby moves closer to legalising Christopher's adoption, Pam is introducing Lucy to the wonders of aerobics as Miss Ellie looks on. "It's the latest craze," she enthuses. "Women are even skipping lunch to work out in places all over Dallas!" Yep, according to Planet Pam, eating disorders are the new black. (This is VP's second leotard scene in as many episodes. Seems that while too many swimsuit scenes per season constitutes "abuse" in Principal's book, wearing a leotard whenever one has a beauty empire promote is classed as something else. Self-abuse, perhaps?) "Sight of you ladies is enough to snap a man's eyes open in the morning," remarks a passing JR--an interesting statement given that two of three ladies in the scene are his blood relatives. Still, thereís nothing like some low-level incest to kick start the day. Pam invites Miss Ellie to come feel the burn. "Not on your life," Barbara Bel Geddes replies vehemently before slipping behind one of the SF pillars to sneak a cigarette and yodel a rugby song. Two DALLAS mainstays, The Store and Liz Craig, are to be sacrificed on the altar of Pamís "latest craze" (and possibly Victoria Principalís cross promotion?). Bobby is anxious to get Pam back to work, but The Store remains a child free zone. "I'd love it, but Harrison Paige, he's not that much into women's lib,î" Liz tells Bobby over lunch. Barbara Babcock exhibits remarkable self-control by not whipping out her recently acquired Emmy and plonking it on the table during this, her final scene. Bye bye Liz, your acidic wit oft provided a welcome respite from Pamís dumb bell sweetness.

    Over at Cliff's, the menu is less healthy. "He's serving left-over food from a doggy bag!" Katherine informs Rebecca as he empties a carton of half chewed chow mein into a wok. For possibly the only time in the series, Katherine actually seems to be having fun in this scene, laughing and ad-libbing away like a good'un. However, by the time Cliff returns from a phone call crowing that Wally Hampton is flying in from Tulsa to see him, ("He controls one of the largest conglomerates in the South West so it can only mean a major business deal for Wentworth Tool and Die") she's remembered that she's meant to be evil and shoots him one of her patented if-looks-could-kill glares.

    Two mornings later, it's time for Cliff's visit from wonderful Wally and his equally impressive gut. "Do you drink this time of day?" Cliff asks him. "No son," Wally replies. "I generally start a whole lot earlier. A ha ha!" He offers Cliff an impressive sounding deal to become Olco Industries' Chief Operating Officer ("triple your salary ... a very heavy expense account, cos I don't like to see my people get hurt too much tax wise"). The only hitch? It would mean Cliff relocating to Tulsa, Oklahoma. "There is someone in Dallas I'd hate to leave behind," Cliff admits. During the course of Wally's response, Claude Earl Jones's vocal range travels from polite Southern gentleman to raucous good ole boy to hypnotic snake oil salesman. "She must be a very special lady. WELL, HELL, SON! FLY HER UP THERE! YOUíRE GONNA HAVE YOUR OWN DAMN JET ANYWAY! Cliff it's a marvellous opportunity." This subplot might be short-lived, but it serves to remind the viewer of what motivates Cliffís ambition while underlining the closeness of his new-found relationship with Rebecca. "How you do love the trappings of luxury," she observes wryly. "I do," he agrees, "because I was without 'em for too long ... Can you imagine what Digger would say if he alive, how proud heíd be? His own son running a company bigger than Ewing Oil." "I'm sure heíd be very proud," Rebecca replies, looking like she's just swallowed a bee. She then adds that despite her personal misgivings at losing him to another city: "If you want this job, I'm behind you all the way."

    "Chester finally came through!" Sly tells JR. (I know, BONNIE AND CLYDE! Nah, too nouvelle vague) She hands him a videotape which he loads into the top of one of them newfangled VCR machines. Then he calls Sue Ellen, telling her he has a something to show her the following evening, but it must remain a secret until then. Bobby also has a surprise for his wife--Pamís Aerobics Unlimited. Turning Pam into an instant business owner doesn't work--it's too easy, too DYNASTY; it has no resonance. The business will subsequently disappear as quickly as it arrived, (la) mirage style. Still, it's worth losing Liz Craig for a look at that all-important creche--a bleak looking room containing a handful of sad-faced, unattended children.

    Mitch kisses Evelyn! He then flees her apartment (which bears a suspiciously close resemblance to Holly Harwood's future bedroom) with the encouraging words, "It's wrong for me to go to bed with you!" Not a woman easily discouraged, Evelyn calls Lucy and asks her to lunch. This throws Lucy into a tizzy and she turns to Gran'ma for advice. "What are you, a little girl?" asks Ellie, putting the finishing touches to one of her nasty looking cakes. "That's what I think most of the time," replies Lucy, fighting her instinct to grab the cake bowl and lick it clean. "You're a woman," Ellie tells her, "a married woman and if you want to remain married, you may have to fight a little harder than you have been ... You and Mitch have been letting things ride for a long time now. Youíre gonna have to decide if you really want Mitch back. After that, you'll figure out what you have to do." This is a watered down version of the horsewhip speech Miss Ellie gave to Pam in Season 1 and will repeat to Cally later on. She presumably thought better of giving Lucy the full strength version knowing that she'd probably take it literally and show up to see Mitch at the hospital brandishing a whip. (Oh, and she'd probably get the whip tangled in her hair and then they'd have to operate to remove it and the whole thing would just be a mess.) Lucy's troubled mood doesn't escape JR's notice when the family assemble that evening for pre dinner drinks. "Lucy, don't look so glum," he advises her. "Don't you know rich folks are always happy?" Donna arrives, hot foot from researchin' in Laredo. "I think I have done more reading in the past few days than I did in my entire four years at college," she tells Miss Ellie. Uh uh. Didn't Donna explain to Bobby in this very room three years earlier how she didn't finish college, that she dropped out twice due to her the deaths of her parents? "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public," observes JR in reference to the success of Donna's book. (Now would be that the same American public who have made DALLAS a No. 1 show?) There's a strikingly handsome shot of the family going into dinner--Donna and Ellie leading the way, JR and a huffy Lucy following behind. On his way past Donna's chair, JR offers an apology for his earlier remark: "It was uncalled for. I know you and Ray are having a tough time right now and I'm sorry I needled you the way I did." Miss Ellie is pleased and pats his hand encouragingly as he takes his seat.

    Later that night, Donna gets a call about Ray from the Low Self Esteem Motel. "He's in pretty bad shape," the desk clerk tells her. There's a great reveal as the timid looking clerk hangs up and Bruce Broughton's score does this great thumping, thwacking ... thing (it definitely is Broughton's score this time; I checked!) as the camera pans across the desk to JR handing over a fistful of dollars. The set up he engineers here for Donna and Ray ranks as one of his meanest moments of the season; whatís particularly impressive is that no one ever learns of his involvement. This leads into the best scene of the episode as Donna finds Ray and Bonnie in bed together. She contains her anger with the line, "Well at least now I know how you have been spending your time," before storming out. Bonnie and Ray's subsequent exchange is strangely poignant. "You can't say you didn't want something like this to happen," Bonnie says gently. "Everyone in town has seen you and me together." "You think I meant to hurt her?" "No, but Ray, we never even tried to hide." As she speaks, it's as if the truth of her words is dawning on them both for the first time, as if the reality of their situation is only just beginning to sink in: "Look where we are now. In a motel in Braddock with your truck parked out front. Donít tell me you didnít want her to find out. Ray, am I wrong?" "No," he replies calmly, accepting the inevitable. "She has no choice but to leave me now."

    As one adulterous relationship peters out, another strikes up. Lucy does it with Roger on a bean bag after her restaurant encounter with Evelyn Michaelson--a camper variation on Sue Ellen and Alicia Ogden's "ladies who lunch and want the same men" scene from Season 3. A comparison can also be made between Lucy and Evelyn here, and Lucy's mama Val and Judy Trent, Gary's other woman during the previous year of KNOTS LANDING. Val and Lucy are both inarticulate child-women in states of almost arrested development, (albeit for different reasons: Valís back story and Joan van Arkís performance imbue that character's behaviour with a sense of history and psychological depth, whereas Lucy is simply dumb as a box of hair) while Evelyn and Judy Trent share a similarly brittle persona--sophisticated and confident on the outside with more than a hint of desperation underneath. Judy to Val about Gary: "Do you have anything in common anymore? ... Whatever brought you together and held you together doesnít exist anymore." Evelyn to Lucy about Mitch: "You and he aren't compatible. You're from different worlds." Lucy attempts to defend her corner, ("Aren't you a little old to be chasing after my husband?") but is no match for Evelyn's quick tongue ("Lucy, marriage is more than just an interlude before divorce") and geisha style euphemisms: "I could make him happy. I already have." Rendered speechless by her opponent, Lucy bumbles out of the restaurant and onto Rogerís bean bag. "I wouldnít let him get away with it," murmurs Roger, grabbing her head and kissing it. "You have to get back at him, Lucy." The hammy acting, the feverish Broughton score, the dark lighting ... it all adds up to an enjoyably absurd scene.

    Far more sedate by comparison is JR's end of episode visit to Sue Ellen, complete with flowers ("You certainly do baffle me, JR") and that mysterious videotape. (Um ... 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY? Nah, too 1968.) In fact, it contains footage of the 1967 Miss Texas beauty pageant where JR and Sue Ellen first met "fourteen years ago tonight." Oh. Ultimately, that event is more interesting to hear about (e.g. during JR and Sue Ellen's reminisces at the end of "New Beginnings", Season 3 or JR's monologue in "Those Eyes", Season 8) than to see re-enacted, but Linda Gray just about gets away with playing a younger version of herself, even if it does render laughable JR's line: "You haven't changed a bit." We glean from the tape that Sue Ellen is 5' 7", 34 years old (well, hard liquor can be very ageing) and, strangely, that one of her fellow contestants was named Mary Lou Barnes. The episode ends with JR and Sue Ellen sharing a tender kiss, which goes to prove that the way to a woman's heart is not so much through her catering service as her show reel.
     
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  20. Ray&Donna

    Ray&Donna Soap Chat TV Fanatic

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    I loved these threads, and am glad this one was recovered :)
     
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