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Cult TV, Gen Y rants, and endless opera.

“Dallas”: Season 4, Episodes 9 – 16

Posted by therebelprince on August 12, 2009

This time around in Dallas, there’s a lot of set-up and little pay-off, although we meet several long-time players in the game.

Among them: Rebecca Barnes Wentworth (Priscilla Pointer), Pam’s estranged mother now living as the wife of tycoon Herbert Wentworth (John Martin). The reunion is shortlived, however, when Pamela learns that Rebecca doesn’t want to risk her relationship with her husband and daughter. Then there’s Jeremy Wendell (William Smithers) of Westar Oil, who begins doing business with Bobby in “Executive Wife”, the episode which irreversibly crowns Dallas as a serial. While season three had developed various storylines over its arc, season four began using every character in tandem during most episodes. As a result, Dallas was now a genuine water cooler show: fans had little choice but to tune in, or hope they could catch up at work the next day. The battle for Ewing Oil takes on a new dimension once JR returns to work. Bobby has taken over, and he isn’t giving up this time. As he is forced to choose between Westar and the “little guy”, Brady York (Ted Gehring), Bobby is also losing his wife and being undermined by JR who is busy preparing a coup in Southeast Asia to get his much-hyped oil wells back. When at last Bobby leaves the business, he vows never to return – which we all know will last less than a year.

Patrick Duffy was only contracted through the end of season five, and his intention was to leave at that point. I can see why: Bobby just doesn’t develop as a character, at least not on his first trip into the business sphere. His loss of Pam’s interest, when she is wooed by Alex Ward (Joel Fabiani), is one of the season’s most drawn out plotlines but it also establishes one of the series’ most painful relationship conceits: the interminable wait. After a series of flirtations, Pam evantually reaches the stage of considering Alex and then always backing out. Sometimes he initiates; sometimes she does. Sometims they make it to dinner first; sometimes she backs out beforehand.  It’s a tale as old as time – and Sue Ellen does the same with her college sweet Clint Ogden (Monte Markham) – but it’s definitely the key vestige proving Dallas to be an episodic soap opera. On DVD, it kinda makes the storylines run together, but it’s really a minor quibble in this otherwise well-paced season. JR faces a deliberate case of waiting with Leslie Stewart (Susan Flannery), his PR agent who won’t let him sleep with her until their business deals succeed. Flannery is convincing as the scheming Leslie, but I can’t help wondering if she’s the one woman whose chemistry Hagman claims he disliked. She’ll disappear without a trace at season’s end either way, but pave the way for years of manipulative business associates who blur the lines between J.R.’s personal and professional lives.

Elsewhere, Lucy and Mitch have a whirlwind romance and end up getting married in the two-parter “End of the Road” (the 10th episode in a row this season to reach number 1). It brings to town his mother Arliss (Anne Francis) and sister Afton (Audrey Landers), who will cause so much drama on the series in years to come. I welcome the Coopers with open arms, since any class discrepancy is an occasion for JR to sharpen his claws. Having grown up without money, Afton and Mitch take completely opposite approaches to their new situation. Within a few episodes, the newlyweds are already arguing over money and their perceptions of one another. When Mitch was eventually written out of the show, the producers apparently told Leigh McCloskey they had exhausted the storylines for such a ‘nice’ character. I’m not sure I entirely support these claims, since we’ll pretty much see them tackle this one storyline in different guises for the next two years. But anyhow…

The more interesting Cooper sibling, Afton, makes a successful play for JR who in turn agrees to help push her singing career. Audrey Landers is pitch-perfect as the pouty Afton, although I think she gets better as the seasons pass, and the writers focus less on her “singing” career and more on her role as a maturing member of the family feud. With Lucy fulfilling the “youth”-oriented programming, Afton was allowed to get involved with the grown-up affairs, although she will end up singing the same tune – so to speak – on several occasions.

Meanwhile, the “nicer” couples on the show go through surprising amounts of conflict. Donna and Ray break up over the differences in their lives, but an ill-fated relationship with Cliff during a political campaign sends her back into Ray’s arms. And Miss Ellie and Jock come to blows over the Takapa development. For Ellie, she’s trying to stop the devestation of this marshland from an environmental perspective. For Jock, it’s a solid business opportunity to build a resort and shopping district. Thank God, may I say, that we finally get some meaty material for Barbara Bel Geddes and Jim Davis, and they handle it with aplomb. It’s also a pity, since by this point Davis was suffering from blood cancer and his treatment was taking a heavy toll. Suddenly, Jock spends a lot of time sitting down or appearing poorly lit if at all. It was a crushing feeling for everyone on set, but we’ll always have Jock Ewing shouting “I. AM. TAKAPA!”

Last, but most certainly not least, Sue Ellen tracks a car that has been following her around town. In “Lover, Come Back” she discovers that it is none other than Steven “Dusty” Farlow, her former love. Jared Martin, speaking in Barbara A. Curran‘s fabulous book “Dallas: The Complete History of the World’s Favourite Prime Time Soap” seems surprised to have been asked back. He shouldn’t’ve been, since he shares the finest onscreen chemistry with Sue Ellen and his character provides the kind of man that Sue Ellen would’ve fallen in love with had she been spared the years of her mother’s psychotic rich husband schemes. Dusty is paralysed from the airplane crash, and also impotent, and can’t bring himself to deal with Sue Ellen. But she’s willing to try…

Diverse observations:

* Cliff Barnes is an odd character in the first four seasons. I love the man, and I love Ken Kercheval‘s quirky portrayal, but I’m really surprised he lasted this long without any real power as an opponent to JR. Instead he exists solely to lose over and over, and it won’t be until next season that he has the resources to even attempt to take on JR. Either long foresight on the producers’ part, or they just really enjoyed kicking the little guy.

* Gary and Val drop by for the wedding, for one of Val’s few appearances from “Knot’s Landing”. Reportedly, David Jacobs didn’t want “Dallas” to influence his show, so Lucy rarely crossed back over, to the disappointment of many fans. In the long run, it was a great thought on Jacobs‘ part. One of the weaknesses of other sister shows (such as Buffy and Angel) is that, years after the fact, it’s hard to watch one without the other because crossover episodes (or even major events) affect the timeline so much.

* We say goodbye to Connie (Jeanna Michaels), who is replaced as the second Ewing secretary by Phyllis (Deborah Trannelli) who will remain there through thick and thin.

* And we say hello to Dusty’s father Clayton, played by the soulful Howard Keel, who’ll remain with us on-and-off for the remainder of the show’s run. It’s interesting that he makes his first appearance in the same episode where it becomes clear that Jock and Ellie are separating.

* And as Dallas continued to announce its presence to the world, Dynasty popped up on television screens in January 1981. It would quickly rise to be a valiant opponent, but I think we can all agree it was the lesser of the two.


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    “Dallas”: Season 4, Episodes 9 – 16 « The Rebel Prince TV Blog

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