Dallas review – season 8 episode 176

“Lock Up in Laredo.”

Dallas TV series season 7 review Jenna Wade

Thanks to the dispute over DALLAS between the BBC and ITV, (boring, boring) the show had been off the air for quite some time (if not quite as long as the BBC originally threatened) when this episode originally aired in the UK, so it was a bit like watching a season premiere. It even kicks off, like all good season openers do, with the regular characters reacting to the news of last “season’s” calamitous cliff-hanger.

And so it is we find Clayton and Ellie waiting anxiously at Southfork for the rest of the family to arrive home. JR, Jamie, Sue Ellen and Bobby soon appear, all smiling eerily like the Stepford Ewings. “We were gonna go dancin’, but we decided to come back and have a night-cap with you instead,” explains JR with uncharacteristic bonhomie to his fake mama and despised step-daddy. Clayton and Ellie waste no time in wiping the weird smiles from their faces. “Bobby, we had a phone call a little while ago from Jenna,” Clayton begins. “She’s been arrested,” Ellie chimes in, “for murder … She called from the police station in Laredo.” “They’re charging her with the murder of Naldo Marchetta.” Patrick Duffy’s reaction to this bombshell doesn’t quite convince. His voice is strangely high-pitched and the whole situation feels enjoyably absurd. The Ewing boys soon leap into action. “I’ve got to get to Laredo!” exclaims Bobby. “I’m gonna get her the best criminal lawyer in the state!” announces JR.

Opening scene aside, there’s something very satisfying about watching various characters trying to wrap their heads around Jenna’s ordeal. It’s fun, for instance, to see Cliff and Mandy jump to the wrong conclusions after seeing the front page headline (“DALLAS SOCIALITE HELD FOR MURDER IN LAREDO”) in the Dallas Press. After reading that Jenna was found “next to the body of her husband Renaldo Marchetta,” Cliff theorises that “maybe they never got a divorce.” “And that’s why she didn’t show up at the wedding,” decides Mandy. “She couldn’t marry Bobby!”

The fact that the on screen characters are bemused by the melodramatic nature of Jenna’s story (two kidnappings, a secret wedding, a shooting, an arrest for murder, a still missing child) actually makes it feel more credible: if real people were confronted with such a bizarre series of events, this is plausibly how they might react. So it’s important that we should see Bobby trying to piece together events as he visits a near hysterical Jenna in a Laredo jail. “Bobby, you gotta find Charlie,” she urges him, before spilling out her story backwards. “Naldo sent her to Rome … He took her from school. He turned her over to some woman who was working with him … That’s why I went away with him. He said that if I didn’t do everything he said, I’d never see Charlie again.” “He forced you to marry him?” he asks, the penny finally dropping. Now Bobby knows almost as much as we do, it’s time to start filling in the rest of the blanks. “Jenna, what happened here, here in Laredo?” he asks. “We didn’t get here until after dark,” she replies. “We’d been driving for hours. I thought we were going to some airport and then on to Rome, but then he brought me to that hotel … He said he was gonna meet someone to get some money … He unlocked the door and he went inside. That’s it … I started to go inside the room. Before I could, someone grabbed me. I must have passed out. The next thing I remember, the police are there. Naldo’s dead. I’ve got the gun in my hand. Bobby, I’m scared.”

JR’s vow to find Jenna “the best criminal lawyer in the state” results in the return of Scotty Demarest. “Demarest? That’s great!” exclaims Ray. “Scotty Demarest? That is great!” Clayton concurs. “He’s one of the best lawyers in Texas …!” “Demarest is a terrific lawyer,” Ray adds for good measure. Such fulsome praise belies Scotty’s 0% success rate as a defender of Ewing clients on trial for murder. It was only Digger’s deathbed confession that exonerated Jock of killing Hutch McKinney five years earlier, and he will be unable to prevent the equally innocent Jenna of being found guilty of this crime.

Nevertheless, Scotty’s return is a welcome one. Like Aunt Maggie’s brief appearance, it is a pleasing link to the golden days of Season 2. He makes his first appearance at Jenna’s bail hearing, where she pleads not guilty to Naldo’s murder. The convoluted nature of her situation is once again acknowledged on screen and used by the Prosecuting District Attorney (or whatever that Latino fella’s official title is) to impede Scotty’s attempts to have her released on bail. First, Charlie’s unknown whereabouts (“somewhere out of the country”) are used to suggest Jenna may prove a flight risk: “Any bail that she might post might be less important to her than getting away.” Scotty’s assertion that Charlie has been kidnapped fails to impress. “The police have no report of any kidnapping,” shrugs Latino Man. “Your Honour, we haven’t had time to gather the necessary evidence,” Scotty blusters, “but I assure you it will be forthcoming.” “When it is, I’ll examine it,” replies Judge Langley flatly. “Until then I’m inclined to agree with the state.” Scotty requests a moment to confer with Bobby, who tosses a suggestion of class discrimination into the mix: “Scotty, what the hell is going on? Murder is a bailable offence, for Cliff Barnes or Katherine Wentworth.” Scotty suggests they up the offer of bail to a million dollars and he agrees. “My client is not a wealthy woman,” Scotty tells the judge. “However, she was engaged to Mr Bobby Ewing of Dallas before this unfortunate event occurred. Now he agrees to post any bail that you might choose. A million dollars. Hell, two million!” “If she was engaged to Mr Ewing,” asks the prosecution drily, “then why did she just marry the deceased?” Scotty thinks better of trying to explain the soap opera plot Jenna is involved in. “It’s very complex, Your Honour,” he says. “It certainly is,” the judge agrees. “Too complex for the court to release her without knowing a whole lot more.” “But if the Ewings are not afraid Miss Wade will skip bail,” he persists, “why should the state be?” “Maybe the Ewings can afford the loss,” the judge replies sardonically. “Bail denied!” Ah, it’s always refreshing to find someone in authority unimpressed by the Ewing money. While it furthers neither the “Who Killed Naldo?” mystery nor Bobby and Jenna’s relationship, I love all the detail of this scene. It’s really interesting to watch a familiar character get caught up in the legal system. More importantly, Bobby’s efforts to get the judge’s verdict overturned will dovetail with a couple of other story-lines at the end of this episode, taking the season off in a new (if long awaited) direction.

In the meantime, Bobby and Scotty search for anything that might shed some light on Charlie’s disappearance and/or the night Naldo was killed. Bobby goes through Naldo’s luggage while Scotty looks for witnesses who might have seen Naldo and Jenna at the hotel. Their first clue is discovered in the glove compartment of Naldo’s rental car: the photos he showed Jenna of Charlie boarding a private plane.

While Bobby is Laredo, Pam is in the Caribbean, but there is still a link between them. “I woke up in the middle of the night with the strangest feeling,” Pam tells Gerald Kane the morning after Jenna’s arrest, “like a premonition or something … like I should get on a plane and go right back to Dallas.” It would seem that her visit to Lydia the psychic has left Pam with some supernatural side effects, which spookily foreshadow (and vaguely explain) her year long dream, which is chockfull of information and precognition that a non-psychic Pam would have no access to. (Wow, it’s almost as if Paulsen and co had consulted Lydia themselves, found out that they would have to retroactively explain away a year as never having happened, and so gave Pam a grounding in THE TWILIGHT ZONE beforehand.)

“I’ll tell you something bizarre,” Cliff tells Mandy after reading about Jenna in the newspaper. “Pam called me at three o’clock this morning, said she woke up with a premonition that she oughta come home.” He grabs for the phone. “You gonna call her now?” asks Mandy. “Pam? Hell no! I’m callin’ Jackie. Tell her in case Pam calls into the office this morning, just to be sure and not say anything about it. The less she knows about Bobby’s affairs the better.” Mandy doesn’t say anything, but we can see that she isn’t impressed.

This is the episode where JR and Mandy’s feelings for one another seem to move up a gear. During a conversation with Serena, JR indicates that Mandy is more than just another potential conquest: “Serena I tell you, this is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life … I’m gonna make somethin’ happen all right and when I do, it’s gonna be the sweetest victory I’ve ever had …. because she’s the girlfriend of Cliff Barnes and I’m gonna take her away from him.”

As far as Mandy is concerned, JR’s yellow roses and attentive phone messages contrast favourably with the casual treatment she is receiving from Cliff. “Put them in a vase and help me make dinner,” Cliff tells her after she shows him JR’s bouquet. “I got some chicken I wanna heat up.” “I wanna go out! Some place nice!” Mandy protests. “You know, you could take a lesson from your friend JR. He may be a killer in business, but he sure knows how to treat a lady.” “You’re not fallin’ for that champagne and caviar bit?” scoffs Cliff. “Come on, make some salad dressing.”

As the episode progresses, Jenna’s situation looks increasingly bleak, as even her own lawyer begins to question her story. “I tell you, if I were the DA I’d love this case,” Scotty sighs during a phone call to Bobby, now back in Dallas. “There was nothin’ found to indicate that anybody but Naldo and Jenna were in that room … Could she be hidin’ somethin’ from us?” “Maybe there’s somethin’ she’s afraid to tell you,” speculates JR, relegated to the uncharacteristic role of bystander in this story-line. “The only reason she’d lie is if she actually killed Naldo and she was tryin’ to cover it up,” Bobby replies. “Is that what you think?”

This atmosphere of suspicion leads to the best bit of the episode, as Scotty probes Jenna about the events leading up to Naldo’s murder. It’s an unusual scene for DALLAS–a two hander lasting more than five minutes, but without a single reference to either the Ewings or the oil business. By glossy soap standards, the scene has a gritty feel to it. The surroundings–a prison interview room–are drab. Jenna is dressed plainly, her hair tied back, and she’s wearing as little make up as Lorimar regulations will allow. It’s the kind of sequence more characteristic of KNOTS LANDING, in that it takes a generic TV drama situation–a lawyer questioning his client–and explores it in more depth than might conventionally be expected. Rarest of all, it features a half decent performance by Priscilla Presley. True, no one’s gonna mistake her for Vanessa Redgrave, or even Morgan Fairchild, but she nevertheless does a reasonable job of portraying Jenna as a woman on the verge of exhaustion yet still frantic for news of her daughter.

Stephen Elliott (aka the real life Mr Mavis Anderson)’s charismatic performance as Scotty drives the scene. With his inch thick Southern accent and inherent theatricality, he is compelling to watch. In a way, the character of Scotty is performing too. He bobs and weaves around Jenna–sometimes gentle, sometimes severe–as if he were cross examining her on the witness stand. As a result, the scene has more of a shape than we’re used to seeing on DALLAS (i.e. there are quiet bits, then shouty bits, followed by more quiet bits then more shouty bits).

A smiling Scotty enters the scene to find Jenna seated at a table. She immediately asks him about Charlie. “Didn’t come here to talk about Charlie,” he tells her in his lazy, soothing drawl. “But you’ve got to find her!” “We’re lookin’ everywhere,” he mumbles reassuringly. “We’ve put out missin’ persons bulletins, contact the airlines, I-talian immigration. Everythin’ possible’s bein’ done.”

He then asks what happened after she and Naldo got to the hotel room. “Not again,” snaps an exasperated Jenna. “I told you before, I don’t remember!” “We’re gonna go over it again,” Scotty tells her firmly. “What happened?” “Naldo opened the door and went inside.” “You followed him.” “Before I could, someone grabbed me and pulled me in.” “Who was that?” “I don’t know.” “Was Naldo alone? Was there anybody else there?” “I don’t know. It was dark. I didn’t see anybody. That hand just came out and grabbed me. That’s all I remember.”

He changes tack, suggesting it was Naldo who grabbed her. “No!” Jenna insists. Scotty ignores her: “He went in first, he turned right around, grabbed you. You told me he tried to rape you?” “But that was then.” “Well maybe he tried to rape you again.” “Don’t you think I’d remember if he tried again?” “I don’t think you’re tellin’ me what you remember!” he shouts. “Mr Demarest!” she gasps.

She breaks away from the table, and turns to face the wall. She rests her head against it, then looks back at him. “Why are you pushing me like this?” she asks. “If I’m gonna help you, Jenna, I gotta know what happened.” “All I know is what Naldo told me. We went to the hotel to rest, then he was gonna have this meeting. Then we were going to Rome.” “Suppose there was no meetin’?” “What do you mean?” “Just suppose he was lyin’ about the meetin’.” “He had no reason to lie about that.” “He did if he took you to that hotel to rape you!”

He gets up and moves towards her, adopting a more intimate, coaxing tone. “Now we talked to a lotta folks on that floor. Nobody saw anybody but you and him that went in or outta that room.” “There had to have been somebody else there,” she insists. “If there was you woulda seen him!!” he suddenly explodes. She hits the wall in frustration and lowers her head.

“All right, Jenna, all right,” he says, making a big play of going along with her version of events. “Somebody grabbed you. Now, you musta struggled?” Jenna’s face is to the wall, her eyes are shut. “I think I did for a minute. I was groggy,” she says. Scotty seizes on this. “Groggy? What d’you mean, groggy? Somebody hit you on the head?” “No.” “Did you feel anythin’?” “No.” “Did you hear anythin’?” She shakes her head. “Did you smell anythin’?” She hesitates, then remembers: “There was this funny odour.” “Funny odour? What do you mean? Paint? Perfume? What, what?” “Chemical smell.” “Chloroform?” “I don’t know what that smells like, but it’s possible.”

Scotty becomes excited: “Then why you couldn’t have done it? Think about it. He got you in that room, he chloroformed you, but you didn’t pass out right away. You went long enough to struggle with him, to fight him. He tried to rape you, you grabbed for his gun–” Jenna looks up at him in alarm: “No!” “–and you shot him with his–” “No!” “–and then, and then, you passed out.” “No,” she whispers. He smiles, reasoning with her in a pleading voice: “How do you know? You say you don’t remember!” “I’m sure I would have remembered something like that!” she insists, almost spluttering.

“If it happened, I need to know. Now don’t hold back on me,” he says in an intense murmur as if he were an evangelical preacher and she a sinner on the verge of speaking in tongues. “Jenna, understand this. Now if things had gone any way like that, then it would change the state’s whole case against you. They couldn’t charge you with murder. It’s self defence.” She sits. He leans over her, watching her keenly. “Sorry,” she says finally. “I just don’t think that’s what happened.” “But you’re not sure?” She bows her head in exhaustion. “”No, no! Maybe something like that did happen,” she concedes wearily. “I just don’t remember.” Scotty sighs heavily: all that for nothing!

Much of this episode’s action takes place away from Dallas. Bobby flies back and forth to Laredo, Ray and Donna are in Austin to look through some more of Sam Culver’s papers, and Pam travels from San Serrano to Jamaica in her search for Mark. “That was so depressing. Those poor people,” she says after a fruitless walk through another clinic full of terminally ill patients. “I hope to God Mark’s not that sick, but if he is he’s going to need me more than ever.” Then she meets that nice Jamaican doctor who pops up later in the season. “Frankly, Mrs Ewing,” he tells her kindly, “I think you’re wasting your time. You’ve tried the only medical clinics he might have been to and I’m sure that the reward you offered sent everybody out looking.” “Well maybe Mark paid people to keep quiet about it,” she suggests. “Jamaica is a very poor island, Mrs Ewing. There’s always somebody who would give him away.” He offers to make enquiries on neighbouring islands on her behalf and she reluctantly decides to return to Dallas. Meanwhile, Gerald Kane looms silently, looking guiltier by the scene. It’s interesting how a few simple touches–an ocean backdrop, a few Caribbean accents–are enough evoke a sense that Pam really is in Jamaica. Compare this with Season 8’s foreign excursions where no amount of onscreen captions or panpipes on the soundtrack could transform the forests of Lorimar into the jungles of Peru.

Towards the end of the episode, JR receives a call from Serena, making her first appearance since Season 6 and her last until Season 10. “I’m getting married,” she announces over drinks. “He’s a plumbing contractor in San Francisco.” For some reason, that line always makes me laugh. She asks JR how he and Sue Ellen are faring. “Things are goin’ very well with her,” he replies. “As a matter of fact, maybe a little too well. To tell you the truth, I’m startin’ to get a little bored.” “Same old JR,” chuckles Serena in that slightly unconvincing way of hers.

By now, Bobby is back in Laredo and trying to get Jenna out of jail. To that end, he calls Ewing Oil looking for his brother. “You’re gonna have to get in touch with JR for me,” he instructs Jamie. “I want him to get in touch with Judge Samuelson and have him call me here in Laredo … It’s very important, Jamie. Have him get to Judge Samuelson as fast as he can.” After failing to reach JR by phone, Jamie turns up at the restaurant. From the bar, she spies him stroking Serena’s face. “I’ve got some time before I meet my fiancee,” Serena is telling him. “How do you feel about coming back to my apartment so that we can really say good-bye?” “That’s the best way of spendin’ an afternoon I can think of,” he laughs. Jamie turns away as they walk past her towards the elevator, then looks to see them groping each other as the doors slide shut. Eww.

Meanwhile, in Austin, Donna’s one woman attempts to keep the document story-line alive finally start to bear fruit. She finds a notation Sam made in a diary: “August 8th, 1930. It looks like Jock, Jason and Digger are getting real close to oil. They’d better hit in a couple of days though or they are gonna run out of money.” Sam would have made this diary entry less than four months after the one Donna discovered in Season 4: “April 13th, 1930. Lord oh lord, what have we done? Jonas killed himself today.” Seems like Sam’s transformation from wildcatter to lawyer was pretty swift. Before Donna can read further, Ray drags her off to dinner.

Back at the ranch, Donna Reed is looking more Agent Provocateur than Daughters of the Alamo in a weirdly kinky dress that appears to have been made out of black cellophane. “I guess everything’s beginning to get me,” she murmurs on the patio. “That business with Jenna’s a real shocker,” nods Clayton. “It’s not only that,” she continues. “It’s also that paper that Jamie’s got …” This is the first of several scenes throughout the rest of the series which find Clayton and Miss Ellie commenting anxiously on various ongoing story-lines that involve the rest of the family. Like a cross between a Greek chorus and a “Previously on DALLAS …” re-cap, it’s a way of keeping them involved in the action as they grow increasingly less central to it. As they remark on how well behaved JR has been of late (“Isn’t it funny? When everything else is going so badly, he’s the one bright spot in the family”) and how he’s avoided conflict with members of the family, (specifically Jamie, Sue Ellen and Clayton) the scene acquires an air of ominous optimism, of the kind familiar to viewers of EASTENDERS, where someone will inevitably declare “This is going to the best Christmas Walford’s ever seen” shortly before a piano falls out of sky and instantly flattens a family of four.

DALLAS’s metaphorical piano is teetering in mid-air as JR arrives home to overhear Jamie explaining to Bobby on the phone how she spoke Judge Samuelson herself. “The judge is a very important man,” JR snaps. “You shoulda waited for me.” “I did more than that,” she shoots back. “I went out to try and find you.” This stops JR in his tracks. “Find me?” he asks. There’s a parallel here with the Season 5 living room scene in which Sue Ellen confronts JR over his dalliance with Holly and he attempts to bluff it out, before realising that he has already been caught red handed. “There you were,” Jamie continues, “hugging some tall gorgeous blonde who seemed to know you pretty well.” Sue Ellen appears on the stairs. Despite glittering furiously in a (much nicer than usual) Travilla gown only a few feet away from them, she remains undetected by JR and Jamie. Guess the Ewings aren’t big on peripheral vision. “That woman happens to be a business associate!” JR insists. “Another business associate like the one that you were hugging at the barbecue?” asks Jamie. “Only this time you weren’t just hugging her. You were groping her and kissing her and you probably spent the rest of the afternoon in bed with her. JR, how could do that to Sue Ellen?” “I’d like to know the answer to that myself,” Sue Ellen pipes up, and JR and Jamie all but give themselves whiplash turning round to look at her. “You bastard,” she half-whispers. “I knew things between us were too good to last.”

Of the four occasions during the series when a blissfully ignorant Sue Ellen is confronted by JR’s infidelities, this scene feels the least inspired (perhaps unsurprisingly, given how dull their reconciliation has been this time around). It lacks the deliciousness of her discovery of JR and Afton’s dishevelled bed linen in Season 3, the nail-biting tension of the sequence where she walks into Holly’s trap in Season 5, and the sheer elegance of the moment in Season 10 where she spies JR kissing Kimberly Cryder in a glass elevator before continuing her conversation with Nicholas Pearce as if nothing had happened.

JR turns his wrath on Jamie, accusing her of lying. “She’s a troublemaker, Sue Ellen. I want her out of this house tonight!” “No!” Sue Ellen shouts. “That’s OK, Sue Ellen,” huffs Jamie. “I don’t wanna stay here anymore either. I’ve had all that I can take. And you know, JR, I told you I wasn’t gonna use that document, I never wanted to hurt the family, but maybe now I will. Maybe now I’ll show you just how real a Ewing I am.” She goes upstairs to pack, leaving Sue Ellen and JR alone together. “It’s happening all over again, isn’t it? The sneaking around, the cheating.” “I’m not cheatin’ on you!” “Shut up! I don’t wanna hear any more of your lies!” Perhaps because of the DYNASTY-style blocking of the scene, which requires Linda Gray to emote her lines while standing stock still at the bottom of the stairs, there’s a stiltedness to her performance similar to Patrick Duffy’s at the beginning of the episode. Once she is free to move, however, there is a noticeable difference in her delivery. “Congratulations. You had a wonderful day for yourself, didn’t you?” she says to JR as she ascends the stairs. “You got rid of Jamie and you got rid of me.” Her last line, which she delivers almost as an afterthought, contains some of Sue Ellen’s delectable trademark bitterness: “I hope she fights you for Ewing Oil and I hope she wins. Because then you’ll know exactly how I feel tonight.”

No matter the shortcomings of the scene, it’s still a tremendously exciting end to the episode. It feels like a pay-off from everything that nearly happened at the end of the barbecue episode four weeks earlier, where Jamie caught JR and Marilee almost kissing, Sue Ellen was almost upset, JR almost threw Jamie off the ranch, and Jamie almost made a claim for her share of Ewing Oil.

By James Holmes

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