Dallas: Season 3, Episodes 9 – 17
Posted by therebelprince on July 30, 2009
When “Mastectomy” aired at No. 5 in the ratings (for the show’s second time), it kicked off a spree of Top 10 episodes which would only be failed once for the remainder of the season (in “The Heiress”). Dallas was now the show on everyone’s lips, and it isn’t hard to figure out why. The show is sharp, soapy and unanimously well acted this season.
Things kick off with Barbara Bel Geddes‘ masterful two-parter “Mastectomy“. As Miss Ellie goes under the knife for breast cancer surgery, her devestation, depression and fears are possibly the show’s most moving character-centered storyline. Her slow recovery – in fact, years later, Miss Ellie’s disfigured breast will be the cause of consternation in her second marriage – is indicative of the show’s willingness to remember its past. (With the exception, of course, of Lucy and Ray: as the producers began seeding things for the revelation that Ray is a Ewing, they made sure that all the audience members had forgotten that nasty little affair.)
Miss Ellie’s surgery can’t stop the progress of others though:
Sue Ellen begins a passionate affair with Dusty Farlow (Jared Martin), the cowboy who possesses everything J.R. does not. Fearful about her child’s welfare, though, Sue Ellen holds back from committing completely to her lover. Martin has a fine chemistry with Linda Gray which outshines any of Sue Ellen’s other lovers (particularly the Christopher Atkins catastrophe, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it!).
J.R. has his own distractions: as he mortgages Southfork – his parents’ beloved home – to drill for oil in Southeast Asian oil fields, he has to navigate the tricky waters of politics. Cliff Barnes now sits on the Texas oil board (the OLM) and his one mission is to bring J.R. Ewing down. It is Bobby, however, who ruins J.R’s plans when he exposes them to the whole family. This is the first time that the family have had to truly face J.R’s duplicity (although of course it comes as a genuine surprise to none of them, except perhaps Jock whose denial has always been powerful), and it is handled very well. Bel Geddes and Jim Davis get some great scenes, as does Patrick Duffy who milks all he can from a chance to play up Bobby’s one-note moral indignation. Miss Ellie is forced to open up part of the Southfork ranch for oil drilling – explicitly opposing the wishes of her late father – estranging her trust from J.R. but getting him exactly what he wants. (Secretly, of course, J.R. continues drilling in Southeast Asia).
Alan Beam (Randolph Powell) proves himself quite the villain. He proposes to Lucy, primarily so that J.R. can get her out of the city and away from the Ewing fortune. He also goes undercover in Cliff’s organisation, all the time feigning a feud with J.R. to keep his cover.
Larry Hagman’s first directed episode, “Mother of the Year”, is one of the season’s strongest installments: Linda Gray is at turns fascinating and moving as Sue Ellen, who begins bonding with her son John Ross while also considering her future and giving her all to her psychiatric sessions. Through her therapy with Dr. Elby (Jeff Cooper), Sue Ellen’s background and her reasons for staying with J.R. are more fully and realistically explored here than they will be in the future, where it often seemed as if Gray’s contract was the only thing holding Sue Ellen and J.R. together. (But that’s something we’ll explore when we reach the show’s downturn).
Larry Hagman, meanwhile, is brilliant as J.R., now plotting to divorce Sue Ellen while implicating her in anything that he can, as long as he can keep the child. But he’s slowing beginning to tire of the spiteful Kristin, only there’s no way to get rid of her without implicating himself in an affair.
The emotional aspects of the season are always cleverly mixed with the intrigue and suspense. Gary Ewing returns to Southfork, now played by Ted Shackelford since David Ackroyd had other committments. He reunites with Valene (Joan Van Ark) and the duo move to California, starting a thirteen-year run on Knot’s Landing. (The two shows will have an on-again off-again relationship which we’ll explore more fully once we hit the dream season.)
Pam’s attachment to John Ross leads to an obsession with having a child. And Sheriff Fenton Washburn (Barry Corbin)’s discovery of a body in the corner of Southfork leads to an investigation which Jock welcomes, though he appears to know more than he is letting on.
Meanwhile, Steve Kanaly finally gets some meaty work when Ray enters a relationship with recently widowed Donna Culver (Susan Howard). It’s a relationship that will often play second fiddle to just about every other character on the show, but it’s a good start in giving Ray more to do on the show.
* E.J. Andre makes a great guest appearance as “Mr. Eugene”, a business mentor to Bobby and one man who can’t be bought by J.R. Tom Fuccello also takes the reins as State Senator Dave Culver, son of old Ewing ally Sam. And we meet Serena Wald (Stephanie Blackmore), J.R.’s sometime mistress and, often, his only true friend. Their relationship is a interesting one which I’ve always enjoyed, and Blackmore has an effortless chemistry with Hagman.
* There’s another new living room photograph of the Ewing clan! This one, I think, will remain until Jock’s portrait goes up in a couple of seasons’ time.
The batch ends with “Paternity Suit”, in which a haphazard comment by Digger leads to a scandal at Southfork, and demand for a paternity test on John Ross. It’s wonderful to see where the family’s true allegiances lie in this situation. Jock only ever thinks that Cliff is a liar, while Miss Ellie has to keep her resolve together under the underlying knowledge that the Ewing marriages seem to always teeter on a cliff edge. Bobby and Pamela, of course, are not fooled and the tension is the household is stronger then ever.
It concludes with one of the greatest scenes from Dallas – possibly from television – when J.R., assured at last that the boy is his, bonds with his infant son for the first time. It was one of Hagman’s favourite moments, and it’s a touching powerhouse performance from him.
The consequence? Cliff Barnes, pitched and tossed on the wave of the Ewings, remains committed to bringing them down. But he’s going to have a fight on his hands.
Next time: the greatest cliffhanger in television history brings Dallas to the world stage.
And in other news, I’ve finally ordered season 11 on DVD. Bring on the decline and fall!