Dallas TNT old versus the new

“Changing of the Guard.”

The old versus the new.

By James Holmes


The episode title is a telling one. On one hand, it’s a nod to the original series, what with it also being the name given to the Season 5 premiere. In a more literal sense, it marks the beginning of a new era. Whereas the original “Changing of the Guard” referred to Bobby taking over from JR as President of Ewing Oil, the change in 2012 is more about who now has control of the series itself.

A statement of intent can be read into the opening moments of the new series, although I didn’t catch it myself on first or even second viewing. Amidst the leisurely, idyllic scene setting (cattle, trees, horses, the land) comes a caption. Lest we were in any doubt, it informs us that this land is: “Southfork Ranch, Dallas, Texas”. That’s “Southfork Ranch, Dallas, Texas”. Not “Southfork Ranch near Dallas, Texas” or more specifically “Southfork Ranch, Braddock County, near Dallas, Texas” as it was for the thirteen years of the original series. No. Instead, what this caption tells us, intentionally or otherwise, is that Braddock County is now a relic of a bygone era, Leonard Katzman’s era. This is Cynthia Cidre’s DALLAS.

This means that as well as being a continuation of the Ewing saga, it is also a new version of it. This isn’t entirely unprecedented. There have been many DALLASes: David Jacobs’ mini-series, Lee Raintree’s “Original DALLAS novel”, Uncle Lenny’s TV series, Peter Dunne’s Dream Season, Jacobs’ EARLY YEARS prequel, the TV movie sequels and even the depiction of the DALLAS characters refracted through the prism of KNOTS LANDING. While each of these dealt with the same characters, the same saga, they did so in different, often contradictory ways.

The slow aerial opening shot suddenly lurches forward to reveal an oil rig poking out above the tree tops. Oil versus the land, man versus nature — a classic theme of DALLAS in all its forms. An iconic sight yet still an incongruous one, it reminded me of the corn field in the first X-FILES movie that conceals futuristic domes full of alien bees. The camera slows again, allowing us to take in a drilling site and riggers doing whatever it is that riggers do. Cut to a female body reclining on a camper bed. The woman is disturbed by a beeping noise coming from her computer. It’s only when she turns to speak the first words of the series that we see her pretty Mexican face.

“John Ross, wake up!”

Let’s break that down. “John Ross …”: The first words of the original series belonged to woman speaking a man’s name (“Bobby James Ewing …”) so that fits. And if the rest of the line Pam uttered thirty-four years ago (“… I don’t believe you!”) can be read as a tacit acknowledgement to the audience that the journey they’re about to embark on will be at times a credulity-stretching piece of fiction, then Sexy Mexican Woman’s “Wake up!” could be regarded as equally meta. The Ewing saga, which lest we forget, spent in a year inside a character’s subconscious as she slept, has been dormant since 1991, or 1996 if you include JR RETURNS (or even 1998 if you’re counting WAR OF THE EWINGS). Either way, it’s time for DALLAS and its viewers to wake up and join the twenty-first century.

The camera cuts to John Ross, or rather to his Stetson as he lies on his back on his cot, his head obscured from view. The Stetson having been synonymous with JR in the old series, this is a introductory moment that subtly acknowledges the past while looking to the future — the changing of the guard indeed. John Ross sits up, his back still to the camera. Sexy Mexican calls his name again. “I’m getting a reading, John,” she adds. “PULL THE DRILL, PULL IT NOW!” Galvanised by her urgency, the soundtrack music turns into a march and John Ross gets to his feet, tossing off his hat. The camera follows it as it lands on his bed, then back to John Ross who is now running towards the drill thingy, encouraging the excited looking, mostly non-white crew. We now get a chance to look at John Ross properly. Whereas Omri Katz’s incarnation had the soft features befitting a pampered son and heir, as did Larry Hagman in his early years as JR, (remember the Season 2 scene where Jock playfully pats his son’s paunch?) this version has something of the redneck about him. While still meeting the physical requirements of any self respecting TV hunk in 2012, he also has a hungry, rat-faced look about him and a similar runtish quality to that which David Marshall Grant brought to the role of the young Digger Barnes. Indeed, as “black gold” rains down on the whoopin’ hollerin’ crew, (“Cap that thing!”) this could easily be a wildcatting scene from DALLAS THE EARLY YEARS, save for the presence of Sexy Mexican Woman and her laptop (providing another contrast between the past and the present). “There’s more than 10,000 barrels, John!” she declares, to the delight of all present. As workmen happily fist each other, (or whatever you call it when you bang your knuckles against someone else’s) John Ross and Sexy Mexican embrace in the dappled sunlight before indulging in two lines of exposition so classically DALLAS as to warm the heart. “How you gonna tell Bobby?” she asks. “No one’s ever been allowed to drill on Southfork.” “I’ve staked everything on this,” he replies. “All I’ve ever wanted. Trust me.” This is followed by another embrace, both of them now covered in oil – the equivalent of which in the first episode of the original series would be Ray and Pam’s fully clothed dip in the lake. Then there’s another cinematic aerial shot and a blast of fiddle music to take us out of the scene.

This is replaced by near silence and a more traditional DALLAS establishing shot, one of a glass building, a few miles and a world away from Southfork. This takes us inside a boring looking office and a close up of an older man’s freckly hands, his fingers fiddling nervously with a wedding ring. The camera pans up to a glum looking Bobby – greyer of hair, heavier of eyelid, bushier of brow, but still in good nick. (To which wife does the ring refer – Pam, April, or is there a new Mrs Ewing in town?) A white-coated doctor, black but not too black, enters. From his familial tone (“Hey, Bobby”) we might infer this is a Harlan Danvers for the twenty-first century. He announces that Bobby is suffering from a gastro intestinal something something tumour, i.e., a rare form of cancer. As rare as the rare form of leukaemia that did (or perhaps didn’t) for Mark Graison, he doesn’t say. “It’s a hell of a piece of news to deliver on a man’s birthday,” he adds. Leaving aside that no member of the Ewing family has even had a birthday since 1980 (both Gary and Jock), it’s also a hell of a piece of news to deliver in a new show’s second scene. Off hand, I can think of only two other series to give their leading man a fatal prognosis in their opening episode. In the brilliantly brilliant BREAKING BAD, Walter White’s cancer is the springboard for everything that follows. Simply put, without the illness, there would be no series. In the brilliantly rubbish DYNASTY II: THE COLBYS, Charlton Heston’s terminal condition is a big fat cheat, later explained away as a clerical error and serving only as a medical McGuffin that allows the wealthy patriarch to gather his clan and make controversial changes to his empire. Bobby’s closing words of the scene, “I’ve got family business to attend to before anybody knows I’m dying”, suggest he’ll be following Jason Colby’s lead.

Conversely, given Bobby’s chequered history with death, one could argue that saddling him, of all characters, with a terminal illness is quite a ballsy move by the programme makers. Possibly the most damaging side effect of the Dream Season was that DALLAS then seemed to suffer a loss of nerve in matters of life and death. After resurrecting Bobby so blithely, it was as if they were too embarrassed to expect the audience to take any other character’s mortality seriously. Hence, Pam’s botched exit and the aftermath of JR’s shooting by Sue Ellen being played mostly for laughs. Nothing was allowed to really matter anymore. By giving Bobby cancer, and daring to play the story-line straight, the new series is sending a message that it refuses to be cowed by the legacy of Pam’s Dream. We may not objectively believe that the show is about to kill off Patrick Duffy, but that it is willing to take seriously the possibility of death is enough. If the characters can believe in their own mortality, then we can believe in the characters.

Oh, and before he leaves the doctor’ office, Bobby also finds time to mention that “my son is getting married in a couple of days.” So that’s a potentially contentious oil strike, a fatal illness and an impending wedding, all before the opening credits. Speaking of which, here they are.

And they’re the same, only different. Same theme, same freeway in the opening shot, same still-futuristic looking buildings (oh look, there’s the gold one where Barnes Wentworth used to be), the same three way split formats, but now some are horizontal as well as vertical, and everything moves much faster. It’s a quick succession of Texas architecture, cowboys and cattle, a shot of the gusher we just saw on Southfork, and cast credits. There are no pictures of the actors, no “in alphabetical order”, just a list of names that mostly don’t mean very much yet. The first is the most familiar: Jesse DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES Metcalfe. His name fulfils the same function as Patrick MAN FROM ATLANTIS Duffy’s did in the original titles back in 1978, as in “Oh that’s the guy who was in that other show that just got cancelled.” When we get to the end of the credits, they pull out the big guns (“With Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray and Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing”) like they used to do with “And Starring Joan Collins” on DYNASTY. Then there’s nod to David Jacobs (which is more than he used to get on the original series’ opening titles) followed by that familiar swoop in on the Southfork house that still stirs and thrills, but that now has Cynthia Cidre’s name where Uncle Lenny’s used to be.

A man’s hands opening a metal container. Dry ice billows forth as he lifts out … an alien foetus? No, a lump of ice, to which he sets fire. “Go on, touch it,” he says. We see his face, and it’s the guy who was in that other show that just got cancelled talking to two old timers on the verandah of some sort of country club. (Say, is this where JR met with that retired general to talk about BD Calhoun early on in Season 9?) Reassuringly impenetrable dialogue about flammable ice, methane and the Chinese follows. This is exactly kind of gobbledygook they can never capture in DALLAS fan fiction, where the only business stories are about voting shares and company takeovers, but this kind of detailed stuff that no one really understands has always been the motor on which DALLAS runs. Seems Mr DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES is after a patent. “What about Bobby Ewing funding you?” asks one of the older guys. “My father is out of the energy business,” replies the guy from DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES aka Bobby Ewing’s son aka … Christopher? Lucas? Let’s go with Christopher. And that’s right, Bobby has been out of the energy business — since roughly about the time he became a senator in 1981. “He’s happy raising cattle on Southfork,” Christopher adds — which is consistent with where Bobby was at the end of the series. The old timers offer Christopher a crappy deal. “I ain’t a virgin,” he replies, snapping his head from to one to other, “but I ain’t a whore either.” It’s a fun line, especially coming from the son of the former company pimp. The two guys smirk and patronise him and call him “son”. A pretty brunette chick in tennis whites approaches and starts speaking French. (Interesting in Retrospect Alert: Even in her very first scene, this character is pretending to be something she isn’t.) Fortunately for us philistines, Pretty Chick’s dialogue is subtitled (a DALLAS first!). She’s asking for help, which results in her luring Christopher into the ladies locker room. (Say, this is starting to remind me of the sexy health spa scenes at the beginning of both Bond movie THUNDERBALL and its remake, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN.) Next thing you know, they’re kissing and giggling (a result of a nicely spontaneous moment where Christopher bangs his head on a locker) and Pretty Chick’s panties are round her ankles.

And accompanying all of this, the “Also starring” credits are back, with Callard Harris (whoever he is) taking over from Mary Crosby, Randolph Powell, Audrey Landers, et al. Then there’s a “Guest starring” section which is another mixture of new and old: Leonor Varela, Steve Kanaly, Marlene Forte, Charlene Tilton, Kelvin Yu. And look how the caucasian sounding names are in the minority!

Just as the moment where Pretty Chick’s panties hit the floor recalls Lucy’s coyly outrageous strip in Mitch’s apartment thirty-two years earlier, and her and Christopher’s inappropriately-situated coupling recalls Lucy and Ray’s in the hayloft in “Digger’s Daughter”, so their saucy, stifled laughter echoes Bobby and Pam’s in same instalment. Back then, the lovebirds were overheard by Jock and JR on the porch at Southfork. This time, it’s a Mrs Stanfield. Not to be confused with the mighty Mrs Scotfield of Season 9, this Mrs S is more in the mould of Marilee Stone during her Daughters of the Alamo period. “Christopher Ewing, is that you behind that wall of lockers?” she asks, helpfully confirming that we’ve guessed the identity of Bobby’s kid correctly. “I hope that’s your fiancee in there with you.” The couple shuffle bashfully into view. Pretty Chick introduces herself as “Rebecca Sutter. What must you think of us?”

Indeed, what is any DALLAS viewer to think of a character called Rebecca? How often has that name, and in how many forms, resurfaced in DALLAS history? The first, seemingly dead, Rebecca was introduced (in the form of Pamela Ewing) in a Season 2 flashback to 1952. A season later, she rose from the dead in the guise of an old woman, only to die again in the Crash of ’83. Six years later, out of the primordial ooze and in defiance of vasectomies and genetic diseases came the spawn of Cliff Barnes, ickle Pamela Rebecca, who then vanished as quickly as she arrived, before reappearing in JR RETURNS in 1996. Like the previous Rebecca, Pamela Rebecca had the power to transform herself, this time preternaturally ageing from a three year old child into a young adult within the space of six years. Now here comes yet another Rebecca, this time engaged to the first Rebecca’s son, the second Rebecca’s grandson, and the third and fourth Rebecca’s cousin. What are we to make of her indeed? We’ll spend the whole season figuring that one out.

Mrs Stanfield assures the horny young couple that Christopher’s father “would crow with pride” at their sexual shenanigans. If such braggadocio doesn’t quite chime with the Bobby we remember from the original series, it does with the image we were given of him prior to his marriage to Pam. Lee Raintree’s novel called him “The Screwing Ewing.” “You could have had any woman in Texas,” as JR reminds him in “Digger’s Daughter”. “I didn’t want that anymore,” he replies, tacitly acknowledging his own reputation.

‘He turned on to his back and his eyes opened — washed-out blue eyes that had peered ten thousand miles on the watch for trouble. Beloved face, she thought, stamped with eye wrinkles from staring into blizzard and blistered suns, carved with heavy slashes of determination around the now-sunken mouth, scarred with what he’d wanted and where he had been.’ That’s Lee Raintree’s description of Miss Ellie’s daddy as he lies dying, but it kinda sorta applies to Bobby in the next scene. Granted, he’s on horseback instead of his deathbed and his eyes aren’t blue, but there’s an aged weariness as he surveys the land, a sense of Southfork history evoked as much by our memories as his. This sense of poignancy carries through into the rest of the sequence as we watch Bobby from a distance being all ranchy, riding with the cattle, while some horses do their thing. Then the camera pulls back into a grand sweeping shot of the land, some alt country on the soundtrack and it feels like a movie.

Slow cross-fade to the exterior of the house, the front of the house, mind you, the side they ever only used to show in the opening credits. “Sure be interesting to see Christopher and John Ross together again,” twangs a disembodied female voice, followed by a dissolve onto a still-sad Bobby sitting on a couch. “Has Elena seen Christopher since he’s been back?” continues Twangy Voice, her face concealed from view as she moves about in the background. Seems we’re in Bobby’s marital quarters. “She knows he’s gettin’ married,” Bobby replies. “She’s with John Ross now.” “Something happened between those two, Bobby,” says Twangy. We glimpse her side on, but she’s too faraway for us to make out her features. “And whatever it was sent Christopher running off to Asia …” This looks like an actual room instead of a set. Oh look, now she’s in full view … no wait, her head’s lowered as she places something on the bed so we can’t make her face out. “… into Rebecca’s arms.” There’s a close up of Bobby, with Twangy moving about in the background, but the camera’s chopped her head off. There’s an awful lot of exposition in her dialogue, names and relationships that I probably should be paying attention to, but I’m too busy getting my bearings to take it all in. Who is that woman? Presumably, she’s Bobby’s wife, but which one? It couldn’t be …? Finally we cut back to her. She’s in shadow, but we can see enough to know it isn’t April back from her Parisian grave or Pam from the plastic surgeon’s. Bobby picks up a travel brochure and changes the subject to cruises. “What cruise?” she asks, finally standing still long enough to for us to see that Bobby’s shacked up with Cliff’s too-tall one night fling from Season 9.

You know, Twangy, a cruise — one of those never ending things Miss Ellie didn’t come back from. But there again, Miss Ellie never wore white pants as spray-on tight as the ones we now see Twangy, or Annie as Bobby refers to her, is wearing. “You hate travelling,” says Annie. It’s reassuring to know that at least one Ewing is as parochial as he always was — although in fairness to Bobby, seeing your bride slaughtered on your French honeymoon is enough to anyone off foreign travel for a while. Bobby’s line about Annie wanting to “spend our golden years abroad” suggests that the couple have already been together for a while. “Robert James Ewing,” Annie replies, “we are nowhere near our golden years.” Robert James Ewing – not only does this echo the very first line of DALLAS dialogue, (Pam’s “Bobby James Ewing”), but the change from Bobby to Robert (a name by which he was never referred to in the original series; even his headstone in the Dream Season said Bobby) seems to carry with it the same intent as the transition from Braddock to Dallas County: it’s more solid, more rooted in the “real” world. “Isn’t time I did something my wife wanted to do?” asks Bobby, a line that implies marriage, loyalty, devotion. And it’s there in the smile and kiss that follows — instantly you buy that these people could have been together since CBS first pulled the plug after Season 13, or at least since Michelle Johnson toddled back to kindergarten at the end of WAR OF THE EWINGS. (According to the pre-show blurb, it’s only seven years, but that’s still longer than all three of Bobby’s previous marriages put together.)

Remember the scene in “Digger’s Daughter” where Pam and Cliff find Digger in a bar bragging about an oil strike of his? (“Now, nineteen and thirty was my year. My partner and I walked out right here in Texas, and I just followed my nose, and I said ‘Here!'”) Well, this opening episode finds John Ross doing the very same thing: “Now they said you gotta be crazy to go drilling these days. It was scary at first. A year ago, my beautiful Elena and I, we started plotting our venture.” At this, he grabs Sexy Mexican Girl and starts kissing her, accompanied by appreciative whooping from the burly extras we saw in the opening scene (Digger’s barflies having been replaced by John Ross’s riggers). So now we know that Sex Mex is called Elena (hey, sounds like Ellie!) and, thanks to Exposition Annie in the previous scene, that she has some prior connection with Christopher. (“Something happened between those two, Bobby, and whatever it was sent Christopher running off to Asia.”)

“I can’t thank you enough for sticking with me,” John Ross tells his workers, all wide eyed and sincere, before telling them to take their families away for the weekend. “It’s on me.” Aww, what a boss, what a guy. Then he breaks away from the backslapping, sidles up to a grizzled dude on a bar stool and hands him a bundle of notes. “This is for not telling my uncle about drilling on Southfork,” he murmurs. It’s a totally JR moment, followed by a totally JR quote from Old Grizzly: “Betting against JR’s son would have been like betting against the Dallas Cowboys. Downright unpatriotic.” So much has been going on already, it’s a surprise to realise that we’re 9 minutes 47 seconds into the new series before JR has been so much as referred to.

JR is evoked again as John Ross ventures outside the bar (and just look at the hip-hop style graffiti on the walls — DALLAS hasn’t been this far downtown since Sue Ellen’s wobble on the wild side during Pam’s Dream). An evil looking red car pulls up. A window is lowered and John Ross addresses the unseen occupant. “If there’s one thing my daddy taught me …” he begins, and who doesn’t have Larry Hagman saying, “Like my daddy always said …” playing inside their heads? “… it was to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. You stay tuned.” Guess we’ll have to if we wanna know who’s in the car. For some reason, the ghost of Katherine Wentworth looms large.

Bobby is shown into a room. An elderly man sits with his back to him, and to us. “So how’s he doing?” Bobby asks. “In and out,” replies a nurse. “Clinical depression’s like that.” Bobby approaches the man, partly hidden by shadows (even though it’s daylight outside). There’s a framed picture of a blond haired toddler (Tyler Banks with highlights?) and a pair of old man’s glasses next to him, but he doesn’t respond to Bobby’s presence. Only when Bobby pulls up a chair and sits down do we see JR’s face.

Wizened and sans toupee, Hagman looks less like JR of old than Jack Jones, the sinister businessman he cameoed as in Oliver Stone’s NIXON. The snow drifts posing as eyebrows are a new addition. He stares into nowhere, a sad faraway look in his watery eyes. There’s a dissolve from his face to Bobby’s, a device usually employed to denote the passing of time. It does so here, in more ways than one, as Bobby begins to speak of the past, his eyes looking even more sad and faraway than his brother’s. “All those fights, JR, over Ewing Oil and Southfork,” he sighs. “Those fights changed me, changed me in a way I don’t like.” The Jock-instigated battle between JR and Bobby in Season 5 springs immediately to mind here. There’s another cross fade, to the toddler pic again and then the camera moves up to JR’s impassive face. “I worry about Christopher and John Ross,” continues Bobby. “I want them to have a chance to be a family without all the bitterness and bad blood you and I had.” “Be a family …”, the very words spoken by Dream Bobby on his deathbed. Bobby’s words also echo Miss Ellie’s words to him, or rather his grave, in Season 8: “I wanna do what’s right, Bobby, for your little Christopher and for little John Ross. “I don’t want them to inherit unhappiness.” Back then, her solution was to sell Ewing Oil; here, Bobby’s is to sell Southfork. Plus ça change … but while the dialogue and the plotting might be standard DALLAS fare (and hooray for that), Bobby’s words in this scene drip with melancholy and regret, with a poignancy rarely seen on the original series. “I don’t want them to be like us,” he adds, an admission of failure so blatant as to be positively Un-American. I’m reminded of the scene between JR and Bobby at the end of Season 5, the night before the fire at Southfork when they both take stock of the destruction their fight for the company has wrought on the family. If one were to suspend the original series there and say that nothing has happened to the characters in the intervening time except the ageing process, then this scene would be an ideal place to resume to the story, if only from an emotional standpoint.

“All that bein’ said, I do miss you,” Bobby tells JR, smiling wryly. Then he winces in pain and places his hand on his stomach, as if literally feeling his own mortality. There’s something terribly poignant about watching these two aged actors playing these two aged brothers in the knowledge that while one of them is physically ailing on screen, the other is doing so in reality. Add to this what we know of Duffy and Hagman’s mutual and long standing affection, and it becomes impossible to hear Bobby’s departing line, “I hope you know — always loved ya” (delivered in the most offhand, throwaway manner possible, which only serves to make it more touching) without the barriers between the fictional and the real beginning to blur. There’s a strong sense of both reality and, weirdly for an opening episode of new series, finality to this tender moment.

Bobby kisses JR gently on the top of his head and leaves. In lieu of any kind of detectable response from JR, the scene ends with the camera focusing on his hands, specifically on the monogrammed initials on his watch strap (“J.R.”). It’s as though the programme itself is saying that if JR isn’t yet ready to announce his presence, we’ll do it for him. It’s the polar opposite of the closing moments of “Cuba Libre”, the Season 5 episode where JR finds himself marched into a Cuban jail cell. “I’m not gonna be silent for anybody,” he insisted back then. “My name is …” (and by this point, the cell door had been slammed shut leaving our television screens in total darkness) “… JR EWING!”

The scene gives us no indication of how long JR has been in the nursing home. It could be a full twenty-one years, a direct result of his encounter with Joel Grey and his red contact lenses at the end of Season 13. It seems more likely, however, that his stay began sometime after the events of WAR OF THE EWINGS. (Heck, that was enough to render me clinically depressed and all I did was watch the bloody thing.)

Dinnertime at Southfork. Oh goody! But first, our first peek at the interior of the house (Bobby’s bedroom notwithstanding). The front door and staircase are roughly where they always used to be, which is reassuring. The hallway looks sort of the same, but also different — smaller, maybe. The living room now has … a kitchen in the middle of it. Which is … useful, I guess? Christopher is telling Bobby about his earlier meeting while the ladies, Annie and Rebecca, make mute chit chat. (That much hasn’t changed.) Christopher is complaining that he’s only been left with two options: “Accepting government subsidies or bending over for the venture capitalists.” “Christopher, you know Mama doesn’t like sodomy related metaphors when supper’s on the table,” one half expects Bobby to reply, but this isn’t 1978 anymore. “Is it really so difficult for you to ask me for money?” he asks instead. “Yeah, yeah it is,” Christopher admits. This little father/son exchange is very different to the business conversation Bobby had with his daddy in the first episode of the original series where he simply announced that his intention to become an executive in the family business.

We’re introduced to Carmen the cook who not only has a speaking role, but also receives a friendly kiss from Christopher. Needless to say, such fraternising with the downstairs staff would have been unthinkable in the original series. I’m not sure approve myself – Carmen augments her meagre dialogue with lots of “ha ha!” and “ya ya!” noises, which is potentially annoying. “Does she cook?” she asks Christopher of Rebecca. “She’ll never make mole [a Mexican sauce apparently: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandsty…s-mole-recipe] like Elena. You and my daughter made such a beautiful couple.” Gee, even if Carmen weren’t a mere underling, that’s a pretty insensitive thing to say to guy in front of his bride-to-be two days before their wedding. (A comparison could be drawn here between Carmen’s insensitivity and Lucy deliberately revelling in Pam’s discomfort when ex-flame Ray shows up during that first living room scene in “Digger’s Daughter”).

What Carmen lacks in discretion she makes up for in expeditionary dialogue, however, for we now know that as well as being John Ross’s squeeze and business partner, Elena is also Christopher’s ex-girlfriend and the cook’s daughter. “See what you did,” Carmen says to Christopher as Elena arrives at the gathering on John Ross’s arm. This underlines what Annie said earlier, that Christopher is somehow responsible for John Ross and Elena being together. Carmen’s rueful tone is also the first note of disapproval to be sounded for John Ross in the new series.

John Ross (who has brought with him to the party what appears to be a bottle of beer decorated with a ribbon) introduces himself to cousin-in-law to-be Rebecca in much the same friendly manner JR did his new sister-in-law Pam in “Digger’s Daughter”. Just as a wary Bobby cut short the tour of the homestead JR gave Pam, so Christopher hastily interrupts John Ross here. “Watch out, worst hound dog west of the Mississippi,” he mock-warns Rebecca. Back in April 78, JR’s masked his true feelings with a smile and a chuckle and it’s the same now for John Ross and Christopher, who greet each other with a handshake and semi-embrace. From the exchange between the two cousins and their respective girlfriends, we learn that Christopher has been back from Asia for three weeks, but that it’s been a lot longer since he’s seen John Ross – or Elena. “You look different,” he tells her. “Opened an office in Dallas tracking oil leases,” she replies. “Gotta dress the part.” There follows a silent beat between them, suggesting unfinished business. More controversially, as Rebecca and Elena introduce themselves, we learn that Elena “grew up with” Christopher and John Ross. Forget “Dallas County” and “Robert Ewing”, this is the boldest bit of revisionism yet!

A Porsche pulls up in the old Southfork driveway (yes, the old Southfork driveway; be still my heart). In three quick cuts, (the snappy editing in this episode is so cool, you just know Uncle Lenny would have hated it) the car door opens, a high heeled boot hits the ground and quicker than you can say, “Well if it isn’t the next governor,” Sue Ellen’s walking towards her son. His greeting is cool, reserved. He addresses her as Mother as opposed to Mama the way squeaky Omri Katz did. “So nice to see you,” he tells her formally. Indeed it is. She looks great, if a little frail. There’s some jaunty-yet-ominous plucking on the soundtrack as they head inside the house.

And so to dinner. This is most not definitely the Southfork dining room we’re used to. In fact, it more resembles what we had in David Jacobs’ mini series, in that it is apparently a real room in a real house instead of a set, only perhaps less imposing and less atmospheric. While Bobby sits at the head of the table (in a camera terms, where Miss Ellie used to sit), Annie is seated at his left (Bobby’s old chair) rather than opposite him at the other end. Sue Ellen takes JR’s place at Bobby’s right, with John Ross and Elena occupying Sue Ellen and Lucy’s former positions. Opposite them are Christopher replacing his mama, and Rebecca in the seat traditionally reserved for half breeds and black sheep. While Elena’s whisperings to John Ross elicit a jealous look from Christopher, an oblivious Rebecca is explaining to the rest of the family how her only bridesmaid can’t make it to the wedding. “Rebecca’s parents, they died in a plane crash,” volunteers Christopher, and everyone nods and looks a little sad. This bit actually made me laugh out loud when I first saw it. However impressively earthy and edgy New DALLAS may appear, it’s still fundamentally a show where being orphaned by a plane crash is just one of those things. Plus there’s the added frisson in hearing the name Rebecca connected with the words plane crash.

(Interesting in Retrospect Alert: Back in Season 4 of the original series, when Bobby was trying to keep secret the fact that Christopher was the offspring of a Ewing in-law, he made up a story that both his parents had died in a car crash …)

“She’s got a brother,” adds Christopher, “but not much way in the way of family.” A casually mentioned brother? Jamie Ewing had one of those — the (at least to begin with) deliciously devious Jack. “Shouldn’t Tommy be here by now?” Christopher asks Rebecca. Her brother’s called Tommy? Tracey Lawton had one of those — the delightfully demented Tommy MacKay. “Yeah, I’m real worried about him,” replies Rebecca, not sounding very worried at all. Well, I’m definitely intrigued.

John Ross mischievously volunteers Elena to be Rebecca’s bridesmaid. Christopher seethes and Elena demurs, while Annie, Bobby and Sue Ellen awkwardly shift butt-cheeks in their seats. “I’d love it, Elena,” insists a wide-eyed Rebecca, “I mean, you’re like Christopher’s sister.” “It would be an honour,” replies a tight-lipped Elena, as trapped as Bobby was thirty years earlier when JR announced to the family that Bobby was to be his best man. John Ross smirks to himself now, in much the same way as his daddy did then. Meanwhile, like Elena, we’re left looking at Rebecca and wondering, how much is she for real?

So far this dinner scene has focused on the younger generation, but whenever the camera swings her way, all eyes are on a thus far silent Sue Ellen to see which incarnation of the character we’re going to get — the fascinatingly brittle, multi-layered version of the original series’ early years, the slightly dull Nice Woman Linda Gray edition of the middle years, or some variation of the two, i.e. what we got in her later seasons. In the absence of any dialogue, she’s thus far reverted to doing that thing with her eyes she did when she was just “the brunette on the couch”, i.e., silently glaring while giving off a kind of mocking cynicism. There’s something deliciously off centre about it. I particularly like her unimpressed, nodding response to the news of Rebecca’s orphan status. Is she bored, contemptuous, drunk — or all three? It’s impossible to say, but riveting to watch.

When eventually Sue Ellen does speak, it’s to her saintly ex-brother-in-law. How Sue Ellen relates to Bobby is generally a good indicator of where she’s at. If she regards him with suspicion and/or hostility, she’s being either Snobby, Competitive Sue Ellen or Emotionally Guarded Sue Ellen. If she behaves in an overtly clingy or dependent manner towards him, then she is Neurotic or Alcoholic Sue Ellen. If she treats him convivially and with respect, then she’s more than likely Blandly Well Adjusted Sue Ellen. “Have you seen JR, Bobby?” she asks, unsmiling, haughty and forbidding. Great – Snobby, Competitive Sue Ellen, my favourite kind! “I saw him this afternoon,” Bobby replies.

After a shot of Annie’s surprised reaction, Bobby turns to his nephew. “You should go see your father,” he tells him gravely, his voice carrying more than a hint of admonishment, possibly for the bridesmaid prank John Ross has just played, “before it’s too late.” “I got nothing to say to him,” John Ross replies. This is the first hint we get that all is not well between father and son, and that all those bedside “I wuv you too, Daddy” scenes between Larry Hagman and Omri Katz are a thing of the past. “You will regret time you don’t spend with your family, son,” chides Bobby, every inch the patriarch. If the advice he dispenses is different in tone to that given by Jock to JR in “Digger’s Daughter”, it carries the same authority, even if John Ross doesn’t meekly cow tow to his elder the way his daddy once did. Instead, he trains his attention on Christopher as a way of riling Bobby. “I hear you came home with some kind of energy scheme to save the world,” he says sarcastically. Bobby is not happy. This kind of conflict is just what he’d hope to avoid. “Here I was, hoping to tempt you to go wildcatting with me,” continues John Ross, parodying (consciously or otherwise) Jock’s wish of JR and Bobby working side by side. “Oil’s the past, John Ross,” smiles Christopher confidently. “Alternative’s the future.” The past and the future — there’s that “changing of the guard” theme again. “This country’s quickly running out of resources,” he adds. “With all due respect, cousin, that’s a load,” John Ross replies, adopting the same combination of Southern civility and contempt as his daddy did in “Digger’s Daughter” (“Did your brother put you up to this, Miss Barnes?”). “With all due respect,” counters Christopher, “you have no idea what you’re talking about.” By now, Bobby is angry, but when he gets to his feet his voice is calm and measured: “I have been thinking all evening about how to best say this and there really is no best way … but there is no doubt in my mind, it’s the right thing to do. I’ve decided the time has come to sell Southfork.” The first reaction shot goes to an open mouthed Elena, who shares eye contact with John Ross. This is followed by a frown from Christopher, an ambiguous look from Sue Ellen and a perturbed Annie looking down at the table. One is suddenly aware that Ann has been as silent at this gathering as JR was in the nursing home scene. John Ross stands. “Better get your truck then,” he tells Bobby. “Come with me.”

Then it’s back to the drill site for one of the best ever scenes of DALLAS in any of its forms. For some reason, Southfork at night (the real Southfork, that is, not the cardboard patio set) has always been pretty darn irresistible and here, infused with a golden hue, aerial shots and excitingly shaky camera work, it is more so than ever. From on high, we see two trucks pull up. Then cut to Christopher walking, already mad as hell. “What the hell are you doin’?” he demands of his cousin. “No more’n Jock did,” replies an unrepentant John Ross. “Drillin’ for oil on Southfork.” “Miss Ellie threw Jock’s rig off the ranch,” Christopher protests. “Eighty years ago, Christopher!” shouts John Ross, squaring up to him.

Wow, wow and thrice wow. Talk about evoking the past. Here we go right to the heart of the original series back story: oil versus land, Ewing versus Southworth, what Jock told JR when they drove out to Section 40 in Season 1 (“That’s where I first discovered oil, right after I married your mama. Old Man Southworth damn near skinned me alive after he found out what I’d done. Barely tolerated me the way it was. Hated all oil men. He said they ruined the ranges and stank up the air, and he figured the only way to live off the land decently was to raise cattle. So to keep the peace, I capped this thing off.”) How stirring that the first time Jock and Miss Ellie are spoken of in this new series it’s by the next generation, who refer to them not as Grandpa and Grandma as Omri K and Joshua H would have back in the day, but using their first names – “Jock” and “Miss Ellie” – those iconic names tossed so casually out of the mouths of babes. “Eighty years ago, Christopher!” Jesus, I can remember when it was a mere fifty. And it kind of brings it home that Barbara Bel Geddes or no Barbara Bel Geddes, Miss Ellie would be dead by now anyway. It’s so obvious no one has to mention it … but it’s there, that sense of the past, only now there’s even more of a past to sense.

In his mama’s absence, it falls to Bobby to echo her words. “You have no right to drill on this land,” he tells his nephew quietly. “I’m a Ewing,” John Ross snaps. “I’ve every right.” Jock may have been willing to keep the peace and cap this thing off, but his grandson isn’t. Bobby glares at him and it’s a perfect, classic stand off. It could almost be eighty years ago.

But then Elena steps between them in her functions of both pacifier (“We only confirmed the find this morning, Bobby, John was gonna tell you tonight”) and, with her twenty first century laptop, pretty girl scientist (a potentially cartoon role she somehow fulfils more plausibly than, say, Bond girl Denise Richards did as Dr Christmas Jones in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH). However, Elena’s intervention only serves to add another layer to the conflict. “You’re a part of this??” Christopher asks her in anger and dismay. She mentions something complicated about reserves and seismic surveys, taps on her laptop and declares, “If I’m right, you are sitting on a couple of billion barrels of light, sweet crude. The most sought after crude oil in the world.” “This will make us richer than we ever imagined, Uncle Bobby,” adds a salivating John Ross. “It’ll change everything.” The implication seems to be that this discovery is separate and apart from the oil found by Jock under Section 40 of the ranch all those years ago, and its detection has only been made possible by twenty-first century technology, as represented here by Professor Bikini Feminist, aka Elena, and her MacBook Pro.

Finally, Bobby snaps, his voice again thick with experience shaped by the 1982/3 season: “I am sick to death of this family devouring itself over money! This is exactly what I didn’t wanna happen!” Ah, the old “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in” device, beloved of sequels, reunions and whatever the heck one wishes to classify this new series as.

“John knew it would be hard to convince you,” continues the coolheaded Elena. “All he’s asking is that you think about this.” “Think about what?” demands Christopher, who goes on to say something technical about formations that are two miles deep. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Christopher,” she replies, and to be honest I don’t either. “It’s the end of the ranch, Elena!” he shouts for the benefit of Luddites like me, and it kind of reminds me of the Industrial-Revolution-crushes-England’s-green-and-pleasant-land section of the Olympics Opening Ceremony. “Oil’s in your blood,” Elena replies, going on the attack (while simultaneously ignoring his adoptive status). “When did you turn your back on it?” “When I got away from everything that was toxic around these parts,” he tells her. It later becomes apparent that by toxic, Christopher is referring to Elena herself. In the context of this scene, it seems to mean something bigger and as yet not fully explained — whatever Bobby has been railing against and brooding about in his scenes with the family, whatever it is that has estranged John Ross from his father and cousin, and why Sue Ellen has been staring ambiguously at everyone.

While the youngsters have been arguing, Bobby has made his way over to the drill itself. As he dips his fingers in a small puddle of crude, the crew watch him silently, their arms folded. Then he sniffs it or tastes it or whatever oil men do. Is he tempted by it, even monetarily? After all, if oil’s in Christopher’s blood, it sure as heck is in Bobby’s too. But whatever he’s thinking, he answers to a higher calling: “I promised Mama there would be no drilling on Southfork” – which is just what she promised her daddy on his deathbed in the prologue of Lee Raintree’s original series novelisation:

‘The ranch,’ he whispered, the tone and words lipping downhill together, ‘the land, Ellie. They want to drill holes in my land, my daddy’s land. They – they want to stink up the air and spoil the water and turn the grass black. Don’t-‘ His eyes blinked shut and opened with a struggle. ‘Don’t let ‘em do it to this land. Promise me that, daughter.’

‘Yes,’ she said, her eyes squeezed shut and a raw-hide band tightened across her chest. ‘Yes, Daddy – I promise.’

And inside, she pleaded with a God who must be listening, who must now be very near, that she might keep her word.

Although David Jacobs’ mini-series preceded the book, and according to both the original series and DALLAS THE EARLY YEARS, Miss Ellie’s father (Sam in the novel, Aaron on TV) lived long enough to see her and Jock married, the ranch prosper and at least one of his grandsons born, Raintree’s book, and in particular its opening pages, have for me somehow always been the DALLAS equivalent of the Old Testament, (certainly no other account of the Ewing saga begins earlier in history) and it’s those pages that Bobby’s words in 2012 take me straight back to. And then:

“You don’t think we’re long past carin’ about Miss Ellie’s precious little wishes?” sneers John Ross. What an eye-stingingly, breathtakingly, thrillingly blasphemous line. And it’s that same conflict again: old versus new, land versus oil, CBS DALLAS versus its jumped-up, snot-nosed TNT offspring that has no respect for its past. But what redeems New DALLAS, what makes it more, much more than just another youth obsessed twenty-first century soap is that John Ross’s words (words its hard to imagine anyone, even Cliff Barnes or Jeremy Wendell, saying in the original series) are allowed to land. We see their impact on old DALLAS as Bobby turns back to his nephew and fixes him with a stare. John Ross looks defiantly back. We’re then given a God’s eye view (a God who must be listening, who must now be very near, only this time it’s Bobby not Sam Southworth who’s dying) as Bobby walks over to him. “John Ross, don’t you ever speak my mama’s name in my presence again. You dishonour her.” Again, I’m transported back, this time to the Season 9 episode “Ruthless People”:

“Don’t you ever, ever speak his name in front of me again,” Miss Ellie instructs JR and Bobby with reference to their father. “You dishonoured his name and his company.” The Ewing brothers look suitably ashamed.

Twenty-five years later, there’s just the briefest look of remorse from John Ross before he averts his eyes from Bobby’s.

When JR tries to placate his mother, she refuses to listen: “I have nothing more to say.” Modern Bobby is of a similar mindset: “We’re done talkin’, son.” “As far as Ewing Oil goes,” concludes Miss Ellie in 1987, “it should have died with your daddy.” “Southfork is for sale,” echoes Bobby in 2012. “No oil. Oil alternatives are the future.”

But while Miss Ellie got to make a dignified exit, Bobby’s words provoke yet further conflict. “Keep me out of it, Dad!” yells an angry Christopher, now at odds with everyone else in the scene, but each for specifically different reasons.

However, we’ve barely time to process that before John Ross reaches back into the past once more, for this little gem from 1981: “Bobby’s not your dad. Everybody knows your dad sold you when you were a little baby.” From the original mini-series to Lee Raintree’s prologue to post-Calhoun Season 9 to Season 4’s Jeff Faraday … this scene is like a timey-wimey pinball machine. Can it conceivably get any better? Answer: yes.

“You’ll never be a Ewing, Christopher!” snarls John Ross, squaring up to his non-biological cousin. Christopher makes the first move, they grapple, then hit the ground. “That’s enough!” protests Bobby helplessly, like Jock, Miss Ellie and Ray before him. The boys roll over each other and each gets a punch in before Bobby finally pulls John Ross off of Christopher, separating them. It’s a brief skirmish, but the camera work and editing make it one of the most real looking in DALLAS history. (In’t it marvellous what they can do these days?)

Indeed, it’s the blocking (or the apparent lack thereof) that really makes this scene. Rather than the stationery actors being positioned in all their flatteringly lit glory for the convenience of the (singular) camera as they would have been back in the day, the opposite here feels true: the cameras (plural) are present to record the action, which has a reckless, unpremeditated quality to it. Characters cross in front of the shot while someone else is speaking, and during John Ross’s main speech, we can see Elena brushing her hair out of her face in the background — something that would have been unthinkable during the 70s and 80s. Characters join in the argument as if from nowhere (Christopher in particular). Actors don’t keep to a fixed position. As an audience, we’re not always sure where our focus should be — it’s unsettling, exciting, maybe even a little dangerous.

It’s an intoxicating combination: themes and dialogue which directly evoke DALLAS’s rich history fused with staging and camera work that firmly set it in 2012. Now if the different generations on screen could only mesh so well together … there’d be no show.

The episode then chops back and forth between two similar looking scenes, the way KNOTS LANDING often did and DALLAS tried a couple of times during the Dream Season. One features an angry, wound-licking Christopher and a sympathetic Rebecca, the other a brooding, wound-licking John Ross and a more objective Elena, each couple situated in their respective groovy apartment. I found this sequence a little confusing on first viewing, what with trying to keep track of which pretty brunette was talking to which other pretty brunette about which other pretty brunette, but on subsequent re-watchings, unpacking all the details becomes kinda fun. “He wants money and power,” snarls John Ross about Christoph – oh no wait, I mean the other way round. “Hell, he doesn’t even know the first thing about oil!” John Ross Ewing III – a novice in the oil business? How interesting! Christopher also asserts that it was Elena who found the reserve on Southfork. A Mexican and a woman making such a monumental discovery? How modern! Cut to Elena and John Ross, helpfully wearing less clothing than their (apparently) more wholesome counterparts. Then straight back to Christopher and Rebecca. (Told ya this was confusing.) “He’s just using her,” Christopher continues, “just like he did when we were kids.” OK, so as if all the original back story in the previous scene wasn’t enough, we’re now getting back story that runs parallel to what we ourselves remember of Seasons 9 to 13. “Is Elena what this is all about, Chris?” wonders Rebecca, identifying New DALLAS’s primary love triangle for the first time.

“Two men in love with the same woman, happens all the time,” so spake another Rebecca in another DALLAS season opener called “Changing of the Guard” back in 1982, “but when one of the men is a Ewing, he isn’t content to win the woman fair and square. No, he has to destroy his rival at the same time.” How about when both of the men are called Ewing? “No,” Christopher insists. “This is about me and John Ross.” Oh sure, that conflict works too — whatever the cousin equivalent of Cain and Abel is.

“It’s not worth going to war over,” murmurs Elena in John Ross’s ear. “It’ll tear your family apart.” No poison dripper she. Boy, you’d think a female character with a competent business brain would at least have the decency to be a ruthless femme fatale — but then, that’s always been DYNASTY’s M.O. rather than DALLAS’s. Rather than a devious bitch or even a social climbing wife like early Sue Ellen, Elena sounds more like Peacemaker Pam, only a more focused, less whiny version. Across town, Rebecca echoes Elena’s words. “You’re better than that,” she tells Christopher (but is he?). John Ross gets the last line of the sequence. “I hoped my uncle would listen to reason, but he’s forcing my hand,” he says ominously. This is classic DALLAS irony: by attempting to bring peace to the Ewing clan, Bobby has instead instigated another season long family feud which will have, as they say, Far Reaching Consequences.

The following day. Citing the Hearst Ranch, aka “the largest working ranch in California”, (a real place according to Wikipedia) as an example, Bobby is looking for a way to sell Southfork that will guarantee no future development on it. To that end, he has assembled his lawyer Mitch (apparently this millennium’s answer to Harve Smithfield), Ann (as silent in this scene as she was in her last) and Christopher in a downstairs room at Southfork that looks an awful like Jock’ old den in the early years of the old series (and as such, it’s my favourite room in the house). They are interrupted by the local sheriff (another bit part black actor in an authoritative role) who apologetically serves Bobby with an injunction against the sale of Southfork. It’s from John Ross, who is petitioning to have the terms of Miss Ellie’s will overturned on grounds of mental incompetence, just like Ellie did with Jock’s will in Season 5 — what goes around comes around! “That’s a lie!” protests Christopher for the benefit for new viewers who might otherwise assume that Miss Ellie was indeed bat shit. “If John Ross wants to turn Southfork into a battlefield,” Bobby vows, “I’ll give the – I will give him the fight of his life.” I’m in the fight of my life — how many times did we hear that line in the original series? It’s good to see them back in the ring.

Bobby sees John Ross’s injunction and raises him a court order to stop the drilling. This is served back at the drill site. Damned if I know why, but the subsequent exchange between Bobby and John Ross’s crew is strangely moving: “I know times are rough out there, boys. This ranch has been in my mama’s family 150 years and I promised her no one would ever drill on it. I’m sorry about your jobs.” John Ross orders the workers to stay put. “I ain’t tangling with Bobby Ewing,” replies one. “It’s his ranch,” adds another, as they walk off the site. As with the previous two scenes, this one ends on a note of threat. “We’re not done here, Uncle,” says John Ross to Bobby.

We see Elena entering some swanky bridal shop. She looks uncomfortable, out of place, in contrast to Rebecca looking immaculate in her wedding dress. With her hesitant, slightly tomboyish demeanour, Elena could almost be Pam in “Digger’s Daughter” offering to help lay the dinner table only to be rebuffed by a chilly Sue Ellen – except that Rebecca oozes warmth and confidences. “I knew Chris had a broken heart the moment we met,” she coos. “I was taking a break after passing the bar. I was on a train coming back from Hong Kong airport and Chris was a boy running away from home … I’m gonna try to make my damnedest to make him happy.” They’re interrupted by Sue Ellen and Ann, indulging in some light bickering: “Southfork is John Ross’s home. Bobby can’t turn it into a museum.” “I’d stay out of it if I were you, Sue Ellen.” “It is not your son bein’ robbed.” Perhaps to compensate for entering a scene in mid-conversation whilst trying to establish an ongoing relationship with a character she’s never interacted on screen with before, Linda Gray dials the Southern accent up to eleven during this little exchange. It dilutes a little of the silent power she had in her previous scene. Both women are united in girlish excitement upon seeing Rebecca in her bridal splendour. While they fuss over her, Elena is left to one side. Rebecca looks across at her and smiles. Is it merely a smile of uncomplicated happiness, or something more sinister? Just as at the dinner table, we and Elena are left wondering what’s really going on inside her pretty little head. (Does this make Elena our point of view the way Pam was in the mini-series?)

Christopher’s at a computer in a laboratory. Someone called Ken tells him, “I think we triggered an earthquake … There might be a link between harvesting methane and earthquakes!” Someone called Eric (not Eric Barnes, surely?) overhears. Yikes!

John Ross is having a busy day. Having already served an injunction on his uncle and impugned his grandmother’s sanity, he now visits his daddy for the first time in … who knows how long? JR is still in his chair, the framed photograph of the little blond boy (and let’s assume that it’s a picture of a baby Josh Henderson rather than Tyler Banks with a wig on) still by his side. John Ross sees the photo and is visibly moved. With JR seemingly asleep and no one else in the room, it’s a shared private moment between John Ross and the viewer at home. It tells us that however blasphemous (in Ewing terms) his behaviour has been thus far (dismissing both his parents, taunting his cousin, defying his uncle and defiling his grandmother’s memory and her land) there is another side to him; he is not immune to the emotional power of Family. The scene feels a tiny bit like THE GODFATHER, when Michael comes to visit Don Corleone in the hospital after he’s been shot. “Bobby’s selling Southfork to a conservancy, Dad,” John Ross tells his father. “He’s turning Southfork into a park. I – I filed an injunction to overturn the terms of my grandmother’s will, but he’s kicked me off the ranch. I sank a test well on Section 18, on that section of land that’s everybody’s ignored for fifty years. I hit a two billion barrel reserve, but Bobby won’t hear of drilling… He says he has to honour Miss Ellie’s wishes by — by conserving the land. It’s bullshit!”

Swearing on DALLAS? Now that it is exciting. Lee Raintree was the last writer to put cuss words in the Ewings’ mouths, even Miss Ellie’s, and it suits them.

Putting that to one side, what’s interesting is exactly where John Ross is aiming that accusation of “bullshit”. He is calling into question Bobby’s motives for selling the ranch. Rather than to protect his mama’s legacy, “Bobby’s selling Southfork because Christopher came home from China with some alternative energy scheme and he can’t get funding. Bobby’s giving him the money.” Throughout this speech, John Ross has been looking to his father for some response. As none comes, he grows increasingly desperate. Finally, after he has lowered his head in defeat, JR speaks: “Bobby was always a fool, stubborn as a mule, particularly harebrained about that foundling Christopher – [here, his eyes open in mild indignation] not even a Ewing.”

That JR’s first words upon returning from the dead (or wherever TV icons go to after they’ve been off screen for a generation) should to be malign his brother’s intelligence is fitting. He did much the same at the end of his first scene with Bobby in “Return to Camelot”, the Season 9 opener that brought Bobby back from the dead: “You’re a whole lot dumber than I thought a brother of mine could be, with the exception of Gary and Ray of course.” Back then, his words served to undercut all the sentiment that had gone on at Bobby’s graveside during the previous year. Here, it does something similar, helping to blow away any lingering cobwebby memories of a lumbering, self-piteous, sitcom JR waddling around Southfork talking to evil pixies at the end of Season 13. And it’s interesting to hear him pick on “that foundling Christopher”, whom I always felt he was disappointingly nice to during the Joshua Harris years. If this little relationship tweak will result in some long-awaited uncle/nephew conflict then I’m all for it.

JR slowly turns to look at his son. “On what grounds are you contesting my mama’s will?” he asks him. “Mental incompetence,” John Ross replies nervously. There’s a silence as he (and we) wait for JR’s angry response, but it doesn’t come. “The fried chicken ain’t bad here and gimme some of that red jello,” he says instead. “We got some catchin’ up to do, son.” He smiles and John Ross obediently gets to his feet — but then JR grabs him by the arm as suddenly as that hand pops out of the grave at the end of CARRIE. “By the way, I forgive you for not visiting,” he tells him, managing somehow to make this absolution sound sinister. Then he lets him go, and the scene ends with JR smiling. Fade to black.

Lights up on JR downing jello like he once did bourbon. “Tell me what to do, Dad,” pleads John Ross. “I know I can win this in court, but I can’t afford the lawyers. Bobby’s cut me off.” “Son,” JR replies happily, “the courts are for amateurs and the faint of heart. No, this one’s personal.” John Ross smiles uncertainly as if he has no idea what his daddy is talking about.

Look, look — it’s the old shot of Southfork as viewed from the Braddock Road, where the cars used to pull in and out of on their way into Dallas! John Ross’s jeep is parked in front of the locked gates, and he and Elena are sitting inside. Like his daddy did so many times before, he is asking his girlfriend to exploit her past relationship with his rival in order to spy on him: “You and Christopher used to study rocks together … There’s nobody out there knows what he’s up to more than you do … I wanna know if what he’s working on is real or a fantasy. Maybe I can get enough time to make my uncle see reason.” Elena is reluctant. We then cut briefly to a shot of the jeep exterior, then back inside the car where John Ross abruptly changes tack (which makes me wonder if the second half of the scene wasn’t originally the first half, and then got swapped around in the edit).

“Look at us, outside the gates lookin’ in,” he says, sounding suddenly emotional. Although this view of the ranch was used hundreds and hundreds of times as an establishing shot during the old series, very few scenes with dialogue took place here. In fact, I can only recall four: Gary and Val discussing the wisdom of returning to the ranch with Lucy in Season 1; Bobby admitting to Gary that JR had succeeded in driving him and Pam off the ranch before he was shot (Season 3); an exiled Sue Ellen out on bail for shooting JR (Season 3); a nervous Jenna reminiscing with Charlie as she plucks up courage to visit with the family in Season 6. All of these scenes, even the relatively benign one with Jenna, depicted the characters as outsiders — people who had once belonged in ‘the big house’ but no longer did. Now, of all people, it’s John Ross’s turn. “You and I are black sheep, Elena,” he says bitterly. “I’ll always be JR’s son to them, no matter what.” How ironic: For JR, Bobby and Ray, to be recognised as Jock’s son was always the ultimate accolade, the ultimate acceptance. For John Ross, being viewed as JR’s son is the opposite. “And no matter how smart or educated you are,” he tells Elena, “you are always gonna be the cook’s daughter.” So while he inherited his outsider stripes from his daddy, hers are a matter of class and race. “… someone Christopher could just use and throw away,” he adds for good measure, echoing Christopher’s earlier description of his (John Ross’s) treatment of Elena (“He’s just using her, just like he did when we were kids.”). He looks at Elena with big, sad eyes. He certainly sounds sincere, but what if John Ross is simply as good an actor as Josh Henderson is (i.e., really, really good) and all this soul bearing is just his way of following JR’s instructions? “Trust me,” he said to Elena in the bar scene. But can we?

Regardless of his motives, John Ross’s words have the desired effect and Elena is soon letting herself into Christopher’s office/laboratory/apartment thing. He’s asleep on the couch so she starts to snoop around, but then he wakes up. Time for some more back story from the parallel Ewingverse: “Do you remember how hard it was to get you out of bed come round-up time?” Elena asks, pouring Christopher a cup of Joe. “I would get up two hours before dawn, make coffee. ****** [it sure sounds like she’s saying Pamela, but she laughs on the word so it’s hard to be sure] would always catch me. I’d say it was for my mom. She didn’t buy it. She let me get away with it though. I miss her.” “I miss her too,” Christopher replies. Very interesting. From the way they talk about her, Pam could be dead — or alternatively burnt to a crisp and missing presumed dead. If one applies the original series timeline to Elena’s anecdote, the only period that she could have lived at Southfork alongside Pam would have been the 1986/7 season, when Christopher was five or six, and hardly in a position to drink coffee (unless he was as precocious as Barbara Bel Geddes’ character in I REMEMBER MAMA) or round up cattle. So I guess it’s all up for grabs. “It’s a complete disaster. I can’t continue,” announces Christopher – but he’s talking about the earthquake in China not series continuity. Elena seems genuinely sorry for him. He asks why she’s come to see him. “Are you happy?” she asks. “Rebecca’s the best person I know,” he replies. Is he telling the truth? Is she? “Why are you here?” he repeats. She gives him back a ring box and tells him that she wants him to be happy. She sure sounds sincere, as sincere as John Ross did in the last scene, but as with him, how much of what she’s saying is for real and how much is her carrying out instructions?

This is a clever, if slightly risky, way of introducing the new generation of DALLAS characters. Back in 1978, Pam was our portal into the Ewing world. It was through her eyes that we were introduced to the rest of the characters and learnt who was duplicitous and who was trustworthy. The most obvious route in 2012 would have been to repeat that trick with Rebecca, aka the soon-to-be next Mrs Ewing. However, she seems the most enigmatic newcomer of all. Instead, rather than ignore or counter original viewers’ instinctive mistrust of these unfamiliar hot bods who call themselves Ewing, the show has decided to embrace it … and our so our uncertainty and suspicion becomes part of the story we’re being told: Who is telling the truth about what? Who is using who? It’s a risky strategy because if we don’t know who to trust, who are we meant to be rooting for, and if we don’t know who to root for, why should we care what happens to any of them? Well, we’ve still got the old guard, I suppose, but so far Sue Ellen and JR have proved too remote for us to get inside their heads. That just leaves Bobby … but that kind of flies in the face of TV convention. In the first episode of a new series, it’s always the new kid in town, the rookie cop on the beat, the wide-eyed medical student or the innocent governess who takes us by the hand and leads us through the story. Their new experiences on screen mirror ours watching them. So which new character comes closest to representing our point of view?

Perhaps we’re given a clue in the next scene when Elena reports back to John Ross, but tells him nothing of what she has learnt about the earthquake. This suggests that Elena was being honest with Christopher and therefore the one “next generation” character we know to be trustworthy … except by staying loyal to Christopher, she’s compromising herself with John Ross, the man she is apparently involved with … You know something? I think I like not knowing who to trust. It makes things good and complicated.

Bobby wakes up in the night with stomach pains. Annie, still ignorant of his cancer, goes to the kitchen-in-the-middle-of-the-living-room to get him some sort of pain reliever. But there’s a prowler! This Mrs Ewing proves herself to be in no need of half-breed ranch hands to do her bidding and fetches herself the shotgun from the hall closet. “I don’t miss, Mister,” she announces. “Not at any range.” Budget be damned, the prowler throws himself through the glass window door thing and runs off into the night. Annie pursues him, but then rather disappointingly, soon gives up. But hey look — we’re at outside — it’s Southfork at night! And it’s the rarely-seen-except-in-the-opening-credits front of the house — where Val told Gary he was the prettiest thing she ever saw and then JR tried to buy her off! Much contented fan boy purring. Back inside, Annie stumbles across Bobby’s cancer medication.

“Next time, Mrs Ewing, shoot him,” advises the sheriff as the action jumps forward. Yeah, and don’t tell nobody about it neither — just bury the body somewhere on the ranch so it can be discovered in twenty years time and they can get a double episode murder trial out of it. From Anne’s behaviour towards Bobby in this scene, it is clear that she is keeping her discovery of his secret a secret from him, making it a secret².

Meanwhile, someone wearing the same plaid shirt as Annie’s prowler is bribing a kid we saw earlier to let him download the contents of Christopher’s hard drive.

Computer machinations continue back at the ranch as Annie covertly googles the name of her husband’s medication, comes up with “gastrointestinal tumours”, and cries. No, I mean she really cries. She completely breaks down.

So far, we know next to nothing about Annie and since her discovery of Bobby’s illness is perhaps a little too neat and none of us really believes he’s going to die anyway, it’s hard to be truly moved by her reaction (and the programme isn’t really asking us to be). However, none of that negates the emotional reality of Brenda Strong’s performance. It’s hard to recall more than a handful of similar, emotionally naked moments in the original series. That it’s treated as a matter of course in the episode possibly highlights a shift that has taken place in television acting styles (particularly on American TV) since DALLAS has been off the air, away from the melodramatic to something more naturalistic and “real”. Compare Strong’s performance in this scene to Victoria Principal’s facial contortions when Pam learns of Mark Graison’s terminal illness in Season 6, for example. Barbara Bel Geddes and Linda Gray, while arguably more consistently successful at pulling off big emotional scenes than Principal, nevertheless employed a mannered style of performance which perhaps owed more to a kind of larger than life theatricality than it did to an authentic depiction of human behaviour. The question is, does that kind of ‘bigness’ best suit an epic show like DALLAS, regardless of what decade it’s being made in? (Of course, it’s not just the acting itself that’s changed since the Lorimar 80s, but also how the actors are lit, which in turn affects how much they are able to move in a scene, which in turn affects pace, etc., but if I start going into all that now, I’ll never finish this bloody thing.)

The day of the wedding. To paraphrase Ray Krebbs in 1986, oil goes up and oil goes down and the world goes around and around, but the only thing that really matters is that the Ewings still get married in the Southfork driveway. Terry Wogan will be delighted. A helicopter touches down amidst the pre-wedding celebrations, just where Clayton’s chopper did just before JR and Sue Ellen’s wedding rehearsal in 1982. This time it’s got “Del Sol Conservancy” written on it rather than “Southern Cross Ranch”. And instead of Howard Keel, it contains Marta Del Sol, who nevertheless also has a beautiful hide. In fact, she looks not unlike a fully grown Sheila Foley. “For my father there’s no higher calling than conserving land,” she tells Bobby. He joins her inside the copter so that they can take an aerial tour of Southfork. This has to be a deliberate homage to the flight Ray and Pam took in “Digger’s Daughter.”

“Who was I kiddin’?” brooded Pam back then as she looked down at the land she had married into. As Bobby surveys the ranch he is about to sell, it looks as though he too he is having misgivings. Not the for the first time this episode, he appears on the verge of tears. “Vast, exquisite views will be protected forever,” soothes and smoothes the lovely Marta. She brings up the subject of John Ross’s injunction. “My mother’s will is inalterable on the issue of trustees,” Bobby tells her emphatically. “No lady was ever more competent than my mama.” If that’s as close to a tribute to Miss Ellie as we get in this episode, then it’s fittingly understated, down to earth one. Bobby winces, his pale, liver-spotted hands scrunching up in pain. He smiles bravely, but has never looked more vulnerable (except maybe when he was dead that time).

Inside the house, Annie looks sadly at what is presumably her and Bobby’s wedding photo, then does the brave smile thing also. Out by the pool, we scan the crowd for familiar faces, but there aren’t any. Guess most of the funny looking extras from the old show are dead now. Oh wait, there’s Ray, looking kinda pudgy but at least his hair’s back to its normal colour after that purple aberration he sported in WAR OF THE EWINGS, and next to him is Charlene Tilton, looking magnificently blowsy. (Even though it would have been perfectly believable for Lucy and Sue Ellen to have blown their respective fortunes on cosmetic surgery during the past twenty years, it’s great that they appear to aged naturally.)

“Uncle Cliff’s not gonna be able to make it,” Christopher tells them, giving the Barnester his first name check of the series. “JR’s not doing so well either. Cue a wisecracking history lesson from Cousin Lucy: “Count your blessings, Christopher. Those two old geezers would still find a reason to fight. The Barnes and the Ewings never did get along. Right, Ray?” “If that’s so,” interrupts Bobby, “then what about Pam and me, Lucy?” On the surface, this might seem nothing but a sweetly gratuitous bit of nostalgia shoehorned in to appease rabid fans of the original series, (even sweeter if you factor in that it was at a Southfork gathering such as this where Pam and Bobby first met as children, at least according to DALLAS THE EARLY YEARS) but with hindsight, it’s also the first clue that the Barnes/Ewing feud isn’t necessarily dead and buried. Lucy addresses Bobby as “Uncle”, the way she never did in the original series, and they hug. Then Bobby and Ray exchange brief but warm pleasantries (happily, there’s no mention of “Yurrup”). Lucy’s face falls at the news of Bobby selling Southfork to Marta, but then Christopher pulls Bobby to one side before she can scream the place down. (Either that or her scripted reaction ended up on the cutting room floor.) Christopher wants to talk to his father about the Southfork deal, but then Rebecca’s brother Tommy arrives looking, well, like an Australian backpacker (or Jamie Ewing in her first scene before anyone realised she was a girl). He and Christopher greet each other with open smiles and backslaps and then Christopher takes him inside for a makeover. Bobby’s attention is then caught by an uninvited guest.

And what would a Southfork wedding/rodeo/barbecue be without an unwanted guest? Remember when Pam tried and failed to head off Digger when he showed up for the Season 2 rodeo, or Cliff when he appeared at JR and Sue Ellen’s wedding, or when Ray tried to evict Wes Parmalee on Pam and Bobby’s big day in Season 9? This time the outsider is John Ross Ewing III. Bobby makes a bee line for him: “You say one word, make a scene. I’ll will not let you ruin my son’s wedding.”

Time passes. While Lucy and Ray mingle with extras, (“I haven’t seen Susan Howard for years, but we still write each other at Christmas”) John Ross makes like a Barnes and heads for the bar. Sue Ellen sidles up to him. “He’s treating her like the deal is done, John Ross,” she whispers in his ear, referring to the sight of Bobby and Marta rhubarbing in the background. Sue Ellen delivers this line in the same Lady Macbeth voice she used in “Reunion” (Season 1) when goading JR about Pam (“Mommy and Daddy have accepted that girl”). Back then, JR slapped her down for interfering (“Don’t you ever tell me how to run my business”). While less severe, John Ross is equally dismissive. “My father’s the firstborn son,” he snaps. “I’m the first born grandson [legitimate grandson, anyway]. Bobby’s not stealing our birthright.” He starts to walk away from his mother, then turns back: “You know if you hadn’t hidden me away in boarding school all those years, my father would have taught me the oil business as he assured me he would and I would be runnin’ Ewing Oil today instead of that idiot Cliff Barnes having stolen it away from us.” “John Ross,” Sue Ellen replies, “I know I have made mistakes. I shouldn’t have used you against JR.”

There’s a lot of information packed into these two lines (not to mention the first reference to Ewing Oil). Firstly, John Ross’s summation of events suggests that the new series is skipping lightly over the events of JR RETURNS. (Either that or if Sue Ellen really did run Ewing Oil, nobody’s in any hurry to mention the fact.) And Sue Ellen’s admission that she deprived JR of the opportunity to raise his son in his own image means she finally made good on the chance remark she made to him in “The Phoenix” (Season 4): “If Ewing Oil does to him [John Ross] what it’s done to you, I’m gonna suggest a different occupation.” While dissecting that episode at tedious length, I made the following observation: Sue Ellen’s opposition to her son following in his father’s footsteps would have been an interesting theme to pursue, but is never verbalised again. Now, it seems, Cidre and the gang have rectified Uncle Lenny’s oversight. In addition, it would appear that Sue Ellen succeeded as a mother where Miss Ellie failed, in that she prevented her son’s father from taking over and moulding (i.e., corrupting) him the way Jock did JR. Strange then that Sue Ellen should now refer to that as a “mistake”.

“For what it’s worth,” she continues, “I have changed … I know you are disdainful of my connections, but they are powerful. Think of me as an ally. I can help.” So Sue Ellen 2012 is both penitent and powerful. It’s an odd combination. In retrospect, her character have been better served if she were one or the other. Before he can accept his mother’s help (let’s call it ‘taking the high road’) John Ross is approached by a Raoul impersonator (a sly acknowledgement of the original DALLAS’s tendency to cast all its Mexican actors in the same part) who hands him a USB stick. “Here’s what you wanted, John Ross,” he murmurs.

Taking the low road, John Ross sneaks into Jock’s den and onto Bobby’s computer. (The screensaver? Some horses — in case Bobby’s too busy to turn his head and look out of the window, presumably. Might have been cute if it was the cover of The Body Principle instead, but VP’s probably still being stingy about image rights.) A couple of clicks later and John Ross knows all he needs to know about those methane induced earthquakes in China. So this must mean that the prowler in plaid who also bribed the kid in Christopher’s office is working for John Ross … or at least I think it does.

John Ross discreetly summons his cousin to the front of the house. The front of the house — twice in the same episode! (Hmm, what’s with that gangway up to the first floor balcony? Maybe Miss Ellie had a stairlift to whizz up and down it in her dotage.) “Your alternative gas is unstable,” John Ross gloats. “What do you think your dad would say if he knew your little experiment could cause the deaths of thousands of people? … Unless you tell your father that you’ve changed your mind, that Southfork is your home and you can’t bear to lose it, unless you can convince your father to take Southfork off the market, I will expose you for the fraud that you are, Christopher!”

There ensues a deliciously soapy pile up of misunderstandings. First, Christopher grabs Elena’s wrist, pulls her inside the house, takes her by the arms and shakes her as he accuses her of betraying his confidence to John Ross (the physicality and anger of the scene is matched by the messiness of the camera work — it all feels immediate and real). She claims not to know he’s talking about. “Don’t lie to me, don’t lie to me!” he shouts. “He doesn’t love you. He uses people, and you wanna know what’s really sick? I trusted you again!” Elena slaps him. “John Ross doesn’t love anyone but himself??” she asks, with angry tears in her eyes. (Jordana Brewster sure looks pretty when she’s angry, like Jennifer Garner pretty.)

Here comes Misunderstanding #2: “You look in the mirror, Christopher. You listen to your own words — ‘I will always love you, but we are two different people from two different worlds. I hope you understand.’ Was I really so wrong for you?” Now it’s Christopher’s turn to claim ignorance. “The email you sent me the day we were supposed to get married,” she tells him. “I never sent you any email!” he insists. (Oh boy, this is like Bobby and Pam discussing Katherine’s letter on the day of his wedding to Jenna if she hadn’t been kidnapped by Naldo!) “I waited for you for six hours,” Christopher continues tearfully, passionately. “I thought you were dead, Elena … When I finally got together with my father, he said you were in Mexico. And the next time I saw you, you’d hooked up with John Ross …” “I only went to Mexico because I couldn’t stand to be here. John Ross found me. I thought I wasn’t good enough.” “No!” he says sharply, as if refuting her story. Then repeats he repeats the word more softly, stroking her face. “Don’t ever say that.”

At the same time as being aware in back of my head that this is another variation of the same story found in probably a hundred or more televnovelas, I’m totally caught up in it. There’s something about the urgency of the scene, the camera work, these actors, and the fact that it’s part of a bigger story which in turn is part of a massive saga that just makes it … matter. They nearly kiss, but instead Christopher marches out to John Ross at the bar, knocks the glass out of his hand, grabs him by the lapels and snarls, ‘I know it was you.’ Then he walks away. And there we have Misunderstanding #3. Also, the shot of the two of them glaring at each other in profile is a classic DALLAS image.


While the party continues outside, Christopher sits across from Bobby in the den and tells all about the earthquake. Far from trying to keep it a secret from his father, as John Ross had assumed, this is what he been about to tell him when he got waylaid by Tommy’s arrival. Bobby, who now possesses the gravitas of Jock (albeit a comparatively mellow Jock), listens silently as Christopher sets out his stall: “All my life, I’ve been trying to put the Ewing name back on top,” he begins. This begs the question — where was the Ewing name before? Is it simply losing their company to “that idiot Cliff Barnes” that has tarnished their reputation or is the accumulation of the thirteen years of scandal wrought by JR in the original series? “This may be hard for you to understand,” Christopher continues, “but I’ve always felt like I needed to earn my way into this family.” This is how all of Jock’s sons felt, (indeed, it motivated most of their actions) although none of them expressed it as freely Christopher does here. While we live in more emotionally articulate times, the danger is that very articulacy could dilute the drama of Christopher’s dilemma. For example, if Ray had been able to express his feelings of inadequacy to Jock and Jock had been able assuage them, Ray wouldn’t have had much of a character arc. Hopefully, the circumstances of Christopher’s early life will prove sufficiently insurmountable as to provide him with a character itch he will never be able to fully scratch. “I know I can do it,” he insists. “I know that I can make Ewing Alternative Energies the next Exxon.” (As a real life corporation, I guess Exxon is to West Star what Dallas County is to Braddock.) Bobby says nothing in reply, and says it very well.

Elsewhere, Marta is in the living room/kitchen area while John Ross lurks in a nearby doorway. They share the briefest of looks before they are joined by Bobby and Christopher. Bobby and Marta shake hands on their deal, John Ross stomps off and Christopher looks moved by his father’s faith in him. Then he looks out at the party, where everything sort of slides into slow motion. This seems to be modern TV grammar for Somebody Making A Momentous Decision. (Vicky McClure had a similar moment in the recent BBC police drama LINE OF DUTY, just before she picked up a chair and shattered her boss’s office window, thereby revealing her status as an undercover cop. You should watch it, it’s really good.)

Cut to “I now pronounce you husband and wife” — so I guess we know what decision Christopher came to. Smiles all round as “Turning Tables” by Adele plays on the soundtrack. Adele, if you please! We’ve come a long way from Garnet McGee or Afton warbling a tune in some honky tonk bar or “Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places” playing on Ray’s truck radio. In fact, this is the first time in DALLAS history that a song has ever been used extra-diegetically. We watch from bridesmaid Elena’s point of view as the other characters laugh and embrace, and the action again goes into slow motion, but this time it’s there to convey the unhappiness she cannot otherwise express. Her eyes and Christopher’s meet amidst the celebration and they share a bittersweet smile. Bobby also looks over at Ann sadly.

There’s another aerial view of the ceremony and we cut, Adele still singing, into a shot straight out of DALLAS THE EARLY YEARS, with John Ross substituting for either a young Digger or Jock (heck, even his ‘tache is period) staggering drunk and mean-eyed down a hotel corridor, swigging from a fifth of bourbon — except that, as he enters his room, we realise we’re not in a hotel in 1935, but in JR’s room at the rest home. As before, JR’s back is to the door, but that’s the only similarity. This time he’s standing, sipping champagne, chuckling and in mid-anecdote: “So I said to him, that’s the oil business. That’s all there is to it.” He turns to John Ross, his chipper demeanour contrasting with his offspring’s sullen one: “Oh hello son, there’s somebody I want you to meet.” And who should be JR’s other guest but the lovely Marta? “Take a load off, son, you look a little queasy!” says JR happily, relieving John Ross of his bottle. (“There’s no point drowning your sorrows, there’ll still be here tomorrow when you come to.”)

JR’s faux fatherly concern, even as he enjoys his son’s discomfort, is a delightful new variation on Hagman’s brand of Machiavellian mischievousness. “I’ve known Marta since she was knee high,” he explains, putting a devilish arm around her waist. “Her daddy and I go way back.” “She’s been working for you this whole time and you didn’t tell me?” John Ross asks. JR finally drops the act: “This is for all the marbles, son. You didn’t think I put all my oil in one barrel, did you? … I’m the successor trustee to my mama’s will. I’m the one who belongs on Southfork. It’s mine and only mine … Oil is my birthright.” He chuckles. “Bobby may not be stupid, but I’m a helluva lot smarter.” He puts on his Stetson for the first time since coming back to life — like he’s getting ready for battle — chuckles some more and clinks glasses with Marta. “There you go, darlin’,” he tells her. “So as I was sayin’, blood may be thicker than water, but oil is thicker than both.” Marta giggles obediently. John Ross looks on, apparently defeated.

Final scene: The evil looking red car from outside of the bar pulls into what appears to be a deserted underground car park. Out climb a pair of legs in a pair of equally evil looking red heels. They stride through a door, down a pathway … and onto the field of Texas Stadium. (Well, if it was good enough for JR and Dusty in ’81 … or was that the Cotton Bowl?) We see a man walking from the opposite direction. The two stand opposite each other. It’s Marta! With John Ross!! She’s a triple agent!!! “Your ambition could fill this building, John Ross,” she purrs. “You want it all, don’t you?” “Marta, you’ve no idea,” he replies. She touches his face. “You were right not to trust JR,” she tells her. “I hope you know what you’re doing.” (Marta’s certainly chattier than she was in the last scene, but essentially she’s there as a sounding board for John Ross.) “Trust me,” he says – the same words he told Elena. “Southfork will be mine and only mine.” Now he’s echoing what JR said not five screen minutes ago (“It’s mine and only mine”). And when he puts his cowboy hat back on, he’s not only mimicking his daddy in the last scene but also bookending the episode, referring back to the moment in the first scene where he took off his hat and tossed it on the cot.

The last line of the first episode of the original series, spoken by JR, served as a declaration of what was to come: “I underestimated the new Mrs Ewing. Well, I surely won’t do that again.” The last line of the first episode of the new series, spoken by JR’s son, does the same thing: “The fun is just beginning.”

There’s a full length shot of John Ross and Marta standing opposite each other in profile. Then we see them shot from above. Then from faraway as dots on a football field. The image reminds us that this is a game. As JR said, “This is for all the marbles”, the marbles being Southfork. And as a pregnant Sue Ellen put it thirty-three years ago, “The winner takes the marbles and goes home.”

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