The Blog Formerly Known as Rebel Prince

Cult TV, Gen Y rants, and endless opera.

Dallas: Season 3, Episodes 1 – 8

Posted by therebelprince on July 26, 2009

Welcome back to the Dallas retrospective reviews. This time, we look at the show’s evolution into a bona fide hit, and how smoothly it took that success.

After having a bumpy second season in the ratings, Dallas rebounded strongly, beginning the season in the top 10 and continuing to rise. The kidnapping of Baby John Ross, which opens the season, plays nicely into the respective fears of JR and Sue Ellen – he that he’ll lose the heir, she that she’ll lose her place by his side. And Cliff Barnes is finally pulled into the main storyline when he learns of a family genetic condition, neurofibromatosis, which he may have passed down to the boy – if it is, in fact, his son. For Pam, this news carries deeper meaning: after she loses another baby in utero, she is certain she can never carry a child to term.

Series creator David Jacobs, who had been relatively uninvolved with the show after the first episodes, was now completely separated as he worked on the Gary/Valene-centered spin-off “Knot’s Landing“, which is seeded here in “Secrets” where Lucy and her mother (Joan Van Ark) are finally reunited against J.R.

It’s a cleverly plotted opening to the season, which puts in place a myriad of pieces which will come into play later. The writers – under the steady hand of Leonard Katzman – were firmly committed to the serialised structure, and thankfully the audience response paid off.

Early on in the season we meet Alan Beam (Randolph Powell), a handsome lawyer who becomes J.R.’s trainee. Beam has little to do in these early episodes except function as a sounding post for J.R as he prepares his devious plan to mortgage Southfork and pay for drilling in a risky oil field in “Southeast Asia” (this mysterious locale is never referred to, even on the televison news, as anything but “Southeast Asia”). Then there’s Kristin (Mary Crosby), Sue Ellen’s vitriolic sister who begins an affair with J.R. and replaces Louella – on an enforced leave of absence – as his secretary. Sue Ellen’s response to this is a post-natal rejection of her baby, and a desire to become independent, which she exercises primarily through therapy with Dr. Simon Elby (Jeff Cooper) and compiling a growing barrage of witty ripostes to J.R.’s putdowns.

The show is much more tightly paced now, with arc episodes like “Rodeo” feeding into half a dozen storylines, while more plot-central episodes like “The Dove Hunt” – in which J.R. and Jock, the hunters, are hunted by some past enemies – are cleverly constructed. It feels like a very smooth ride this year, and there’s no wonder it captured the audience’s attention. The growing collection of supporting characters allows for great development on all fronts: J.R’s successful attempts to wheel and deal his way into the good graces of the Dallas oil cartel are always enjoyable (though they’ll grow tiresome by the time season ten rolls around!). And Pam continues to develop her life outside of Southfork as she attempts to remain independent of the Ewing name.

Probably the highlight of this batch is “Rodeo”, a Camille Marchetta-penned episode in which the first Southfork rodeo is attended by “Dusty” Farlow (Jared Martin, right), a cowboy who steals Sue Ellen’s heart, and earns the ire of J.R. for his efforts. Martin is marvellous – he looks and sounds like a 50s movie star, and convincingly pulls off spurs and a cowboy hat – and he plays well opposite Linda Gray. It’s also nice to see J.R. jealous for once rather than just vindictive. His envy of Dusty is a nice touch given the constant implications that J.R.’s smarts far outweigh his physical prowess (and courage).

Diverse observations:

* We meet here Keenan Wynn, David Wayne‘s replacement as Digger. Wayne was very effective as the drunken Digger, but Wynn brings a sense of vulnerability to this emotionally broken, down-and-out old man. When he shows up at the Rodeo hoping to see John Ross, his alleged grandchild, it is devestating to see him turned away. For Digger, this desire to have a Ewing children is more than just the money or the name: it’s a return to Ellie’s heart which she knows he can never have. But we’ll get to that tragedy later in the season.

* Also met: Ewing lawyer Harve Smithfield (George Petrie) and businessman Vaughn Leland (Dennis Patrick).

As with most of the future seasons of the show, so much that is placed in the early episodes is set-up for the season’s climactic moments. What makes this a helluva lot more watchable than the later rubbish is that the characters and their relationships are just as important to the writers as the plot’s endgame. Beyon this, the plotlines are well-paced so that all conflict is not put on hold for two-thirds of a season just to pay off in February sweeps.

Linda Gray and Victoria Principal get centre stage this time around as the Ewing women begin their fight for independence, while Charlene Tilton and Steve Kanaly languish in the wings. It is the beginning of a constant unevenness in terms of character use, but here and now those people at the front are getting great stuff to work with.

Next time: Miss Ellie goes under the knife; Alan Beam goes undercover; Gary returns; and J.R.’s plans are exposed to his own family (for the first time of many).

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