Dallas: Season 3, Episodes 18 – 25
Posted by therebelprince on July 31, 2009
By the end of the show’s third season, it was apparent that J.R. Ewing was the centre of this tightknit but quarrelsome Texan dynasty and in the season’s final episodes, the odious oil man manages to make enemies of everyone in Dallas. Having already continued his drilling in Southeast Asian oil fields, JR accepts a challenge on the homefront: Sue Ellen’s divorce suit. For J.R., who has grown tired of his wife’s cold nature, this is a perfect opportunity to prove her a lush, get her out of his life, and keep sole custody of Ewing heir John Ross.
The divorce battle is one of the storyline’s highlights. In “Sue Ellen’s Choice”, she considers giving up her relationship with Dusty to appear saintly in front of the divorce court, all of whom are bound to be on JR’s side. In response, JR fires Kristin as his secretary and separates himself from her, and then bribes Sue Ellen’s private investigator to keep quiet. He wins this round decisively when he makes it look like Sue Ellen has been drinking again (Even though she has been off the bottle since the season began) and – when Dusty is killed in a plane crash – she realises that her emancipation is for nought. It’s a soapy but effective plotline which Linda Gray and Larry Hagman play to the hilt, and it displays why their relationship was so crucial to the show’s success.
Meanwhile, Pam sinks into depression over her inability to conceive – and trouble brews when Jenna Wade (Francine Tacker) returns to town. Tacker takes over the role from Morgan Fairchild this season, and provides good support for Patrick Duffy, who gets to sink his teeth in some good drama this time around. She’ll be back to stay in a few years’ time, but for now Jenna disappears back into the mist. The ill health of Diiger (Keenan Wynn) helps bring the couple back together, and sets in motion the future of the Barnes storyline.
Everything ties back to the body previously found on Southfork. It turns out to be former ranch hand Hutch McKinney, and Jock is implicated in his death. In what was supposed to be the finale, “Jock’s Trial”, the Ewing patriarch takes the stand to defend himself. The press fiasco surrounding the trial is neatly done and minor characters get nice moments, such as Sheriff Fenton Washburn (Barry Corbin) having to betray Jock and turn him in. On his deathbed, Digger makes a full confession of the incident: Hutch began an affair with Rebecca Barnes (played in flashbacks by Victoria Principal), and Digger killed him. Keenan Wynn gets some touching moments in his final scene, reuniting with Ellie and then telling Pam that he isn’t her father: Hutch is. It all leads to Pam hunting for her mother, Rebecca, who is very much alive but location unknown.
Everyone is well-used in these final episodes. Ellie befriends local charity tycoon Matt Devlin (Don Porter) in the seeds of feelings of separation from Jock; Donna (Susan Howard) works with Ellie while she and Ray avoid the fact that they are hopelessly in love; Cliff – socially free-falling thanks to JR and Alan Beam’s manipulations – manages to get a job in the D.A.’s office thanks to Bobby; and Lucy and Alan’s engagement is the toast of the town. Lucy’s second thoughts on her relationship come at the same time as J.R’s: initially the engagement was a way to get his niece out of Dallas. Now that Jock approves and wants to set Alan up handsomely, it is a blight on J.R.’s plans.
The season’s climax is the result of political unrest in Southeast Asia. J.R. learns from his sources that there will be a revolution, and the fields will be absorbed by the government. Aware that he is goign to lose a fortune, J.R. sets about convincing all of the major players in the Dallas oil cartel – Wade Luce, Andy Bradley, Jordan Lee, Seth Stone (now played by Ed Kenney) – and some minor players such as Vaughn Leland, to buy up his fields at a seemingly irresistible price. In the closing moments of “The Wheeler Dealer”, JR wakes and turns on the news (one of about three instances throughout the entire run where someone at Southfork watches television) to learn the revolution has taken place, and he has driven his colleagues to bankruptcy. In the day that follows, Hagman manages to perfectly convey JR’s complacency with what he has done, while also delicately displaying the fear that his daddy will learn the truth.
The fallout is quick and powerful, as the entirety of the Dallas oil community turn against JR with suspicion, only to have Jock and Ellie vigorously defend their son’s innocence. Vaughn Leland is reduced to poverty, Seth Stone kills himself, leaving his wife Marilee (Fern Fitzgerald) in charge of his business, Kristin and Alan form a coalition against JR (which he defuses by having both of them blackmailed until they leave town), and everyone vows to get even.
Meanwhile, the Ewing family falls apart. Sue Ellen turns to drink and battles JR’s attempts to return her to the sanitrium; Bobby grows disgusted with the family ethos and leaves Southfork with Pam in tow; and even Ellie is forced to face J.R.’s amorality.
What it all comes down to is the most famous moment in television history: J.R turns around in his darkened office, and comes into contact with a bullet. “A House Divided”, written by Rena Down and completing the arcs of all the characters, was the first major television primetime cliffhanger. Thanks to the six month wait between seasons (aided by an early finale and a writers’ strike), Dallas became a household name over the summer and would return to its fourth season as the most watched television show to date. It was also a critical success, with the third season nominated for a People’s Choice award, two Golden Globes, four Emmys and a Directors Guild award. (It won the People’s Choice and an Emmy for Barbara Bel Geddes)
It’s superbly crafted, and every character (except, it seems, Ray) comes into the finale with a plausible motive. (Many of them were in fact filmed shooting JR, to avoid spoilers leaking out, and these scenes later aired as a special hosted by Victoria Principal). The third and fourth seasons would be the last time that all the main characters were regularly used with equal merit, and they probably still remain the freshest the show ever was.
Here, we also get the last time that Bobby will be completely free from Ewing Oil: he’ll be called back into service in the aftermath of J.R.’s shooting, and never quite free himself from the company again. (To Patrick Duffy’s supreme relief, given the relative blandess of Bobby Ewing to this point) “Jock’s Trial” is also the last we see of the oxlike strength that Jim Davis could exude (while he’ll get some good scenes in season 4, Davis was suffering heavily from a blood cancer leaving him notably reduced and restrained even as he stoically continued to show up for work). Steve Kanaly and Victoria Principal also get to dig in to some meatier storylines, and even Charlene Tilton gets some good moments with Randolph Powell’s Alan (incidentally, the first male character who in my mind lives up to some of the bodacious females – I don’t get the Duffy attraction, I confess!). Tilton will finally have more to do next season when we meet Mitch, but it’s clear already that a character as disconnected from the business side of the familyas Lucy is, was never going to function on the vital level that Sue Ellen or Bobby could.
All in all, it’s amazing now to think that shooting J.R. was a last minute fix to tide the writers over for two more episodes. Yet everything that came after would stem from this moment, knowing that any of the characters could turn against the other: attack them, ruin them, maybe on occasion have them killed. Dallas was ruthless, and turned the nighttime drama into a serial battleground. (Knots Landing was the first contender, but we’ll soon also be facing off against Dynasty and Falcon Crest).
The first three seasons are a far cry from the uneven quality that is to come. There are barely any extraneous scenes here, and character actions generally tend to pay off quickly- Jenna’s entire storyline takes two episodes this season, whereas similar temptations will last some characters entire seasons of hemming and hawwing. It’s vintage Dallas.
* We learn about Jock’s first wife Amanda (Lesley Woods), kept in an institution ever since she went mad at a young age. Ellie’s reunion with her, and the touching scenes in which Amanda mistakenly believes Bobby is Jock, are tear-inducing. We’ll see her again in several seasons, played by a different actress, where’ll she play a small but crucial role in the development of Ewing Oil.
* And Cliff uncovers an old contract for Ewing 23, which Jock gave to Digger fifty years ago. The Barnes family now have a claim on a Ewing oil field – another item which pits Bobby against JR – which, along with the discovery that Rebecca is still alive, begins to bind together the families even as their feud intensifies.
Next time: Dallas breaks television records when we learn who shot J.R.; Bobby joins the company; and the remaining Ewings are neatly paired off in relationships.
And in the realm of awesome Dallas memorabilia, check out these incredible action figures! Sadly rare to come across now, but certainly something for the collector with time on their hands… If anyone wants to sell theirs, I’d be interested!