Dallas: Season 4, Episodes 17 – 23
Posted by therebelprince on August 13, 2009
In the fourth season, Dallas was nominated for four Golden Globes, six Emmys and a People’s Choice Award (which it won). Alongside this, it came in at #1 in the Nielsens and was the subject of every magazine headline and watercooler discussion. It was the era of the soap opera, and while its peak would only last for half a decade, the era helped define television as a serialised narrative form, where character dimensions and consequences could actually take on meaning. In the meantime, watercoolers across America were getting their biggest workout as the exploits of the Ewing family took the airwaves by storm. But enough of hyperbole, let’s talk about the end of the season.
Pam and Bobby recommit to their relationship, but find that Pam’s desire for a baby is going to crush it anyway. Bless Victoria Principal’s heart for sticking with this storyline (when Linda Gray or Larry Hagman got bored, they’d just yell at the writers until they got what they wanted) but it feels like this has been all Pam has wanted for years now. I can’t wait till she finally gets Christopher and settles down. Anyway, when Rebecca Barnes Wentworth’s husband dies, she returns to her children: Pam, who welcomes her with open arms, and Cliff, who takes a while to come around. Bobby and Cliff form a business alliance, in what seems like a bit of a tortured effort to keep Cliff’s presence constructive. They’ll finally develop him next season, so we’re almost there, but in the meantime Ken Kercheval is lucky that he was contracted because he feels like the least relevant character (apart from Lucy) for these early seasons. In the meantime, Priscilla Pointer is a wonderful addition to the older cast members. Not only does she convincingly look like a mother to all three of her TV children, but she’s a stalwart theatre actress who manages to breathe life into her sometimes repetitive scenes.
Ray and Donna also marry, in “The New Mrs. Ewing”. Unfortunately, they’re such a tightknit couple that no drama can really be milked from this situation: the end of the season sees a strained subplot in which Ray, settling in to his life as a Ewing and husband to a wealthy wife, gets involved in costly development projects with Punk Anderson (Morgan Woodward) but has trouble communicating with Donna. It’s mercifully short-lived, however. At their best, Ray and Donna represented a great Southfork couple in a way that even Bobby and Pam rarely could (only perhaps in season one, and then again just after the dream) but as secondary characters, the writers often forgot to provide them with anything even remotely interesting. And sadly, their most interesting storyline as a couple – the adoption plot we’ll see down the track – was ultimately rendered a fantasy. For now, though, both Ray and Donna have their own storylines as confidantes and partners for Jock and Ellie respectively. Steve Kanlay and Susan Howard both prove their acting strength throughout the show, so it’s nice to have them around to even out the melodramatics of the other couples.
Case in point: Sue Ellen and JR who are further apart than ever. After Clint (Monte Markham) recommits to his wife, Sue Ellen puts all her effort into convincing Dusty the cowboy that they’re meant to be, and finally succeeds. With Pam’s help, she absconds with John Ross to the Southern Cross ranch where Dusty and Clayton take her in. It’s a nice surprise to see Sue Ellen stand up for herself so strongly, and thankfully the show won’t quickly forget these actions next season. Although inevitably the writers realised that the couple were better together, so Dusty leaves in a bit of a huff next season.
The battle for Ewing Oil is put on hold a little here to focus on the fractured relationships of each of the Ewings. (We do get some nonsense about JR plotting to sell Ewing Oil, but it’s really just stalling until the producers could figure out the Jock situation). The Jock/Ellie separation is cut short, however, by Jim Davis’ absences. He was being treated for his blood cancer by this point, but it was taking its toll. After an aborted divorce storyline, Ellie and Jock leave on a second honeymoon while Davis battles his cancer. It’s a shock to see the great man so cowed, and every critic and cast member has spoken about the loss of Jock in the family dynamic. We’ll discuss it more next season, but it certainly had a double-edged consequence: on the one hand, it removed such an iconic element of Dallas; on the other, it combined with Digger’s death and Rebecca’s imminent one to allow for the rise of the next generation.
Over in youth-oriented land, Lucy’s modelling career takes off which further estranges her from Mitch. You know what? The entire storyline is contrived and desperate. I accept that this marriage was almost definitely doomed to fail, and I think it’s nice to see Lucy constantly return to her money (she’ll never be her parents), but it’s already blatantly clear that she’s an extraneous character in the series. The producers could have used this time to develop Lucy as a character, or if they wanted to be cynical they could have done the opposite with Mitch, corrupting him with the money and the power. Instead, both sides of the couple stick to their corners, and as a result nothing actually comes of the situation. Afton Cooper, on the other hand, hooks up with Cliff and they form a surprisingly solid couple. She’ll constantly tell Cliff what he wants and needs, and she’ll never quite understand his love of cheap Chinese food, but for all that, Afton will always be Cliff’s most exciting partner. Jamie will only want him for her own vindication, and Mandy will only want him because he isn’t JR. Afton certainly has her own psychological hang-ups, but I’m pretty certain somewhere deep down she loved Cliff Barnes.
With Knot’s Landing, Dynasty and Falcon Crest on the air, 1981 was the beginning of the soap opera era. Despite this, the finale is relatively tame (although how could you beat Who Shot JR?). In “Ewing Gate” (written and directed by Leonard Katzman), JR goes on trial for his shonky business practices. Among the witnesses: Jordan Lee (Don Starr), Marilee Stone (Fern Fitzgerald) and Leslie Stewart (Susan Flannery, who disappears with a whimper after the trial). It’s pretty rudimentary, and the easy acquittal is not surprising, but we do get some good moments from the family, particularly Ellie who decides not to tell Jock about the situation, and JR himself, who fires Louella (Meg Gallagher) in a burst of rage at allowing crucial witnesses to testify. Kristin is back in town, being her usual conniving self by convincing every oil man that they are the father of her baby and should pay up. The cliffhanger, a body in the Southfork pool with JR standing triumphantly above on the balcony, is also not particularly surprising. We can’t for a second believe that it is Pamela or Sue Ellen, and it’s only fitting that we’ll learn next season it is Kristin.
All in all, Dallas season four is an enjoyable aftermath to Who Shot JR? It doesn’t have the same emotional resonance that we’ll get with season 5, nor does it have the overarching continuity of season 6. But it would be the last to feature the perfect ensemble. By the time the season finished airing, Jim Davis had passed away. The great Jock Ewing was gone, the last of the original players in the Barnes/Ewing feud. (Well, except Ellie, but she was always an unwilling participant) In his place, JR could rise to become more loathsome and villainous than before – and Cliff Barnes wouldn’t be far behind.
Next time: Pam gets a kid, Katherine Wentworth arrives, and someone rather foolishly gives Cliff Barnes a heap of money.