Dallas review – episode 177. WINDS OF WAR

“Winds of War.” Written and Directed by Leonard Katzman.

The preceding episode began with Miss Ellie and Clayton as the bearers of bad news, telling an unusually cheerful JR, Bobby, Sue Ellen and Jamie upon their return to Southfork of Jenna’s arrest for murder. This week, the situation is reversed as Clayton and Ellie enter the house, chuckling all-purposefully, to be greeted by the sight of a denim clad Jamie, her bags packed and an upside down smile on her long face. “She’s leavin’, Mama, and good riddance,” barks JR by way of explanation as he pours himself a drink at the bar. “”This is my home … She’s family,” protests Ellie, feebly attempting to assert her authority. “Family or not, I don’t want her sponging off us anymore,” JR insists. Nor me. In fact, it’s rather satisfying to hear JR pour scorn on Jamie’s lame makeover scenes from earlier in the season: “I wonder how many $500 dresses she’s got stashed upstairs in her closets? Not to mention the new car of course …” “Don’t worry, I’ll get it back to you as soon as I can,” retorts Jamie. “You really are the pits!” She bids farewell to Clayton, hugs Miss Ellie, and leaves. “Why, JR? What brought this on?” demands Donna Reed, looking truly strange as she marches across the living room with her rock hard bouffant and cellophane sex dress. “She’s an outsider and Lord knows we don’t need any more of those around this house!” JR snaps. There is a short silence as Ellie looks awkwardly at Clayton, for whom this remark was clearly intended. He asks her to wait for him upstairs. She meekly obeys and the two men are left alone together for the first time in over a year.

Since Miss Ellie and Clayton have returned from their honeymoon, JR has honoured his promise “not gonna cause Mama anymore grief” and refrained from exhibiting any animosity towards his step-father. Happily, that changes in this scene. “Clayton, you married my mother,” he tells him, “You’re her husband, that’s all. You’re not a Ewing. What goes on between Ewings is none of your damn business.” “Well!” exclaims Clayton. “It’s about time you let your real feelin’s out. I’ve been a little nervous about you pussy footin’ around me.” He takes a step towards to JR, pointing his fingers towards him in a jabbing motion: “Now let’s understand things. Your mama is a Farlow now. You and Bobby are the only Ewings left, with the exception of that little girl you just threw out of here, and if she does what I think she will, it might be something you might regret for a very long time.” “What the hell are you talkin’ about?” snaps JR. “That document of hers. Now that she’s not living here, what’s she got to lose by using it?” “That document is as phoney as a seven dollar bill.” “Is it?” “Mm hm.” “You better hope so, because my guess is she won’t waste any time getting back at you. You may have just cost the Ewings Ewing Oil!”

There’s a real spark between the two actors during this exchange, and it’s a welcome reminder that there’s more to Howard Keel than traipsing round after Donna Reed. This is one of the few occasions in Season 7 when he gets a scene he can sink his teeth into. Now that the writers have abandoned the going-nowhere “Clayton Adjusts To Life At Southfork” story-line, he has instead been assigned the role of Miss Ellie’s full time protector. This, in turn, means that Ellie must turned into the kind of fragile creature who needs protecting. It’s quite a shift from the Miss Ellie of the early years who dealt with her dysfunctional family by simply shutting her eyes to that which she did not wish to see. And while she suffered a near breakdown at the end of Season 5, that was in reaction to specific events she was unable to avoid or control. In comparison, Miss Ellie Mark 2 seems overwhelmed by her family’s problems: Each fresh story-line, from Jason’s document to Jenna’s arrest to JR and Sue Ellen’s fight to Jamie’s new apartment, is a source of fretful concern for her. It’s as if she’s struggling to cope with living inside a soap opera. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to walk in that door and not be faced with another problem?” she sighs while dining with Clayton at the Oil Barons’. However light-heartedly, the newlyweds now begin to distance themselves from the rest of the family (“You ever thought about running away from home?” he asks. “A lot,” she replies) in such a way that the never-ending cruise they embark on at the end of the series makes a kind of logical sense.

The morning after the night before, Sue Ellen greets her husband with slammed doors and angry glares. “Sue Ellen, we had a bargain,” JR reminds her. “You agreed to move back into my room and my bed, and the first little misunderstanding, you spend the night in one of the guest bedrooms.” No mention is made of the basis of that agreement: Peter Richards’ freedom. If JR’s bite is truly as bad as his end-of-Season-6 bark, Peter should now be on the receiving end of a cavity search by some of New York’s finest. And perhaps he is. Let’s hope so.

This is hardly the first time JR has been caught with his boots parked under the wrong bed, and this time around, Uncle Lenny plays the situation for laughs. “I was with Congressman Hooker’s daughter,” he tells Sue Ellen, trying to bluff his way out of trouble. (That’s Congressman Hooker’s daughter, who is presumably best friends with Senator Streetwalker’s niece.) “I could be her godfather. She wanted to have lunch with me to tell me she was getting married … When I told her that I was gonna give her and her husband a trip around the world as a present, well, she got carried away, started kissing me and that’s what Jamie saw, and on that she built this whole contrived story about me cheating on you.” Sue Ellen’s reaction is also quite funny. “That’s really a wonderful story, JR,” she tells him solemnly. “For a moment, I almost believed you.” The rest of her dialogue is nothing we haven’t hear her say before, however: “JR, you hurt me. Doesn’t that bother you at all? I loved you and you betrayed me again. Do you really need other women that much?”

In Season 10, Sue Ellen has a great speech in which she describes her method of coping with marriage to JR as “The Three Ds: Drink, Divorce and Doing unto him what he has always done to me.” The latter of these is a post-dream innovation. Back In Season 7, Sue Ellen’s “Ds” stand for Drink, Divorce and Denial, each of which she considers, then discounts, in reaction to JR’s latest betrayal. In spite of her initial dismissal of his Judge Hooker explanation, she hides behind it later in the episode. “Lookit, I’m sorry for what happened, but I saw what I saw,” Jamie tells her over lunch at the Oil Barons’. “He explained all of that to me,” Sue Ellen replies. “She was an old friend of the family.” While denial has permeated Sue Ellen’s behaviour since the series began, this is the most blatant example of her pretending to believe something she knows not to be true, and it makes her look kinda ridiculous. Certainly Jamie isn’t impressed: “Oh come on, Sue Ellen! You can’t tell me that you really believe that.” “You just don’t understand him,” Sue Ellen replies lamely. “No, I don’t understand you. You know, you’re not anything like I thought you were … I may not have had much in Alaska, but at least I had my values, I knew right from wrong, and I don’t think any of you rich Ewings do.” Sue Ellen’s behaviour serves as a (slightly contrived) turning point for Jamie: it somehow allows her to go from being mad at just JR to furious with the whole family. (“The way I feel right now, I don’t wanna have anything to do with any of the Ewings, and that includes you!”) This takes her a step closer to her decision to side with Cliff against them. “Here’s your car keys, Sue Ellen,” she says in parting. “Thanks for everything. It was a real education.”

Having dabbled in denial, Sue Ellen now turns to drink. “Double vodka,” she gasps in Cassie’s direction. Cassie, the cheeky bitch, dares to query the order. Somewhere along the line, Sue Ellen’s alcohol intake has gone from being a problem scarcely acknowledged by the Ewings themselves, to something about which even a dopey waitress feels she can offer an opinion.“Cassie, just bring it!” Sue Ellen hisses. The scene ends there, but Sue Ellen fills us in on what happens next during a living room scene with JR later that evening: “I sat in a bar for an hour staring at a double vodka, thinkin’ about Jamie, you, our lives.” “But you didn’t drink it, did you?” asks JR. “No,” she replies, “because in the end you weren’t worth it.” So with denial and drink discounted, Sue Ellen addresses her final option–divorce. “Oh I wouldn’t do that,” she tells JR, “because I have earned the right to be here! God knows, I have paid the price for that privilege.” (Linda Gray is quite impressive here, baring her teeth and flashing her eyes at Hagman as she spits out those ‘p’ words: “paid … price … privilege”.) In the end, Sue Ellen decides to reprise her separate bedroom shtick: “I am movin’ into Jamie’s old room. I’m gonna stay here to protect my son, but don’t you ever come near me. You do what you what when you want, but don’t you ever explain anything to me again, because I don’t care anymore.” Gray’s great, but the scene lacks the poignancy of the very similar Sue Ellen/JR scene at the beginning of Season 6 (“Your sex life is your affair from now on. Oh, I realise it won’t be as much fun anymore because you won’t be cheating on me, but that’s your problem.” “You’ll pay for this, Sue Ellen.” “I already have.”).

Lest we forget, this is all part of a chain of events set in motion by Bobby’s request to Jamie to have JR contact Judge Samuelson on his behalf. “I asked him to call Judge Langley down here and tell him what good folks we Ewings are, maybe get him to reverse himself and set bail for Jenna,” Bobby explains to Scotty Demarest in Laredo. The irony is that his efforts may all be for naught: “He’ll either do your friend a favour and set bail,” warns Scotty, “or else … get himself irritated by you interfering that way.”

The investigation into Naldo’s killing has revealed a conundrum: “The police responded to call from somebody at the hotel who said he heard a lotta noise and then a shot from the room Jenna was in.” However, none of the hotel residents subsequently questioned heard anything. Meanwhile, ballistic tests have revealed that “Naldo was shot with his own gun … The only prints on it were smudged, they looked very much like Naldo’s, and a full set of Jenna’s.” Bobby is worried for his fiancee: “She’s gonna get convicted if we don’t do better than this.”

Later, meeting with Jenna in her only scene of the episode, Scotty and Bobby theorise as to the true identity of Naldo’s murderer. “Naldo said he was expecting a large sum of money,” says Bobby. “We’re talkin’ about drugs,” Scotty speculates, “What else could it be here on the border?” “… Why would they kill him?” asks Bobby. (Oh Bobby, have you forgotten your own involvement in The Case of Jeff Faraday and the Stupid Drug Dealers already?) “What about Charlie?” bleats Jenna. “What good is any of that if we can’t find her?!”

Oh yeah, Charlie. Any hopes that she might be discreetly forgotten about are dashed by a phone call Bobby receives from Veronica Robinson. “I have Charlie. I don’t want her, but I won’t just abandon her.” “What do you want?” “A lot of money.” They arrange to meet at the Pier at Venice Beach the following morning. (Say, isn’t that where Justin Lee Collins just accosted Linda Gray?)

So Bobby travels to California (from where, just like Jenna and Charlie, Val and her babies have also disappeared–only everyone thinks the babies are dead and Val thinks she’s called Verna and oh it’s complicated). He meets with Veronica, played with a believable combination of flakiness and regret by Gail Strickland, who later becomes somebody or other’s mother on MELROSE PLACE. She asks Bobby for $50,000 and relates her tale of Naldo-related woe: “We were lovers for many years until I ran out of money … Six months ago, he came back into my life. He said he was gonna come into a lot of money. If I helped him, we could be together again. All I had to do was take care of his daughter and meet him in Singapore next month.” “All this talk about taking Charlie out of the country, that was all misdirection?” Bobby asks. “Naldo was wonderful at misdirection,” she replies wryly (I really like that line; I don’t know why). He asks her to return to Dallas and testify for Jenna, but she is too scared. “I really am sorry about Miss Wade … Things worked out much differently than I expected.” Charlie is handed over, squeakier than ever, and Bobby records Veronica’s sister’s licence plate with his photographic memory.

By this point in the series, Lucy’s appearances appear to have been rationed to one scene per episode. This week, she and Eddie go into the construction business together. Eddie seems so earnest as he signs the partnership papers drawn up by Harve Smithfield that one wonders if even the actor playing him is aware that he is secretly cheating on Lucy with Lovely Betty. With the rest of her family busy with major story-lines, Lucy must resort to discussing her love life with Harve. Charlene Tilton looks very pretty.

As both luck and the laws of dramatic irony would have it, no sooner has Jamie become estranged from the rest of the Ewings than Cliff’s and Donna’s respective searches for verification of her father’s document start to bear fruit. First Cliff, looking through the box of Digger’s papers he received from Aunt Maggie’s lawyer, finds an old black and white photo of four men with a notation scrawled on the back: “August 10th 1930, Nacogdoches County. We done it. Jock, Jason, Sam and me celebrating the big strike.” “That means the Ewings and Digger hit that discovery well together!” he gasps. Then Donna and Ray return from Austin to announce to the rest of the family that “Jamie may have a real claim to Ewing Oil.” Reads Ray from Sam Culver’s never-ending journal: “August 17th, 1930. On this morning, I went out to the field and met Jock, Jason and Digger. The boys were still celebrating the big strike. Since there are two Ewings and one Barnes, they are calling the newly formed company Ewing Oil … I drew up an agreement between them giving them each one third ownership in the new company.” Ellie and Clayton exchange anxious glances, JR looks nervous, and Sue Ellen gloats at his discomfort. I like it when Sue Ellen gloats.

Again, one of the major strengths of the second half of Season 7 is the almost KNOTSian way that unrelated story-lines and plot points intersect. In this episode, seemingly trivial details–who knows what about Jamie’s whereabouts, and how Pam learns of Jenna’s arrest–overlap and take on a crucial significance.

“Oh I’ve got to get a hold of Jamie Ewing and get my hands on that document!” declares Cliff to an increasingly bored and irritated Mandy. “You’re doing just what JR said you’d do–wasting all your time trying to prove that you own one third of Ewing Oil,” she sighs, flicking through a magazine. “How many deals have you put together at work lately? … You told me you were gonna be the richest oil man in Texas … Maybe then we could go out to dinner one night.” “Don’t start that again!” Cliff snaps with amusing exasperation. Their bickering is interrupted by the arrival of Pam, dejected after her trip to the Caribbean (“I just don’t know where to turn next”). Cliff immediately demonstrates another side of his personality by comforting her and inviting her to spend the night, and then another by lying when she asks, “Has anything been happening while I was away?” “No, not much,” he replies. “I don’t believe you!” whispers Mandy once Pam is safely out of earshot, sounding a little like Bob Dylan in response to an angry fan calling him Judas when he went electric at his infamous 1966 gig at Manchester Free Trade Hall. (My theory is he only did it to drown out Joan Baez’ shrill backing vocals.)

Turning up at Southfork the following morning to collect Christopher, Pam receives the cold shoulder-pad from Sue Ellen who coolly informs Miss Ellie that she’s going to pick Jamie up at her new apartment and take her to lunch. In an attempt to excuse her behaviour, Miss Ellie tells Pam about Jamie: “She and JR got into a fight and she moved out. Sue Ellen was very close to her.” “Poor Sue Ellen,” replies Pam more than generously. “That really makes things more difficult for you …” “At the moment, I’m more worried about Jenna Wade than I am Sue Ellen.” Pam looks at her blankly. “With that murder charge hanging over her head?” Ellie adds. “Didn’t you know?” Clayton asks Pam in surprise. Being new to the family, he has yet to realise that Ewing tradition decrees that Pam be the last person to know about anything. “According to the police, she shot Naldo Marchetta,” he explains. “Shortly after they were married,” Ellie adds. Watching Pam’s straight-faced reaction to this litany of disasters is unintentionally amusing, (“This is so much for me to absorb all at once!”) but there is no disguising the focus of her concern: “What about Bobby? Is he all right?” “I’m afraid that Pam is a long way from being over Bobby,” Ellie concludes after Pam has left. (Of course, BBG’s Ellie would have known that already.)

Then we get a nice little confrontation scene as Pam marches into Barnes Wentworth and, pausing only to dump Christopher in Jackie’s in-tray, angrily demands of her brother, “Why didn’t you tell me about Jenna last night? … I might have done something to help Bobby!” “Bobby doesn’t need any help. Jenna’s the one that’s in jail!” Cliff shoots back, smoothly shifting the focus of the argument. “I knew you’d find out about Jenna today. I just wanted you to get a decent night’s sleep first.” Pam can’t argue with his reasoning, but neither is she fully convinced by it. JR will be able to play on this distrust later in the season when he lays the blame for Pam’s bogus search for Mark at Cliff’s door. For now, she guardedly accepts Cliff’s explanation, as well as an invitation to dinner that evening.

While Cliff is attempting to manipulate Pam through misinformation, JR is doing the same to Cliff, via Mandy. They discuss Jamie over drinks. “I knew she was lyin’,” he tells her. “I was finally able to prove it … It was just a bad forgery … We just shipped her back to Alaska …” “Is she really a Ewing?” Mandy asks. “Well I guess that’s true enough,” he shrugs. This off-hand concession brings the “Is Jamie an impostor?” plot thread to a rather underwhelming conclusion (the scene where Jenna catches Jamie in an apparent lie about their respective fathers’ friendship to be forever unexplained). “Now that Jamie’s out of my hair, I can devote myself to you full time,” adds JR.

As enjoyably plotted as this episode is, there are a couple of contrivances that do not wholly convince, but are necessary in order to get the characters where they need to be for the final scene. For instance, the restaurant argument between Sue Ellen and Jamie (never the most believable of girlfriends) seems to exist chiefly to rev up Jamie’s anger towards the Ewings. Then when Pam calls Southfork to get the latest on Bobby and Jenna while wearing an unfortunate black and white clown costume, Miss Ellie asks if she has seen Sue Ellen who has yet to return from her lunch date with Jamie (still busy starin’ at that double vodka, no doubt). Why would Ellie ask Pam about Sue Ellen when the two women aren’t even on speaking terms? This isn’t EASTENDERS, where everyone eats, drinks, sleeps with their mother-in-law and gets murdered within the same two mile radius. The query exists solely so that Cliff’s ears can prick up at the mention of Jamie’s name. “Did you hear what she said about Jamie still being in Dallas?” Cliff asks Mandy eagerly once Pam has left for home. “You know what that means?” “For one thing, JR’s been lying to me all along, but why?” asks Mandy. “Don’t you see?” replies Cliff. “He’s known who you are all along. He told you that he shipped her back to Alaska knowing that you’d tell me!”

This development brings Cliff and Mandy to a fork in the road of their relationship. Their reactions to the discovery that JR has been stringing them along could not more different. Mandy is hurt– “He’s been using me, I thought he liked me”–while Cliff is buzzing with excitement: “He thinks he has a direct line to me only I know he’s lying, so I want you to keep seeing him … Now I know for sure I can feed him anything I want him to know!” Cliff and Mandy are now on completely different wavelengths. “I tell you something else,” he continues, “He has really got to be worried about that document Jamie has otherwise why would he try to convince me that he had sent her back to Alaska? I gotta talk to that girl again!” “I’m getting a little tired of everybody using me,” Mandy murmurs to herself. Deborah Shelton’s really good in this scene, totally nailing Mandy’s confusion and disappointment.

Much is made of the decline in Jamie’s living standards since leaving the ranch, (“From the address, it’s hardly the area for a single girl,” sniffs Sue Ellen) but when Cliff tracks her down in the final scene, thanks to “a friend in the phone company,” her surroundings don’t seem that bad. “A little different than Southfork,” Cliff observes. Jamie tells him that the document is still in the bank. “Even after you found out what a snake JR Ewing is?” “JR’s just one of the Ewings,” she replies. Jamie might be feeling somewhat disappointed by her family at this point, but we know that she is not vengeful or malicious by nature–quite the opposite in fact. So Cliff is going to need all his powers of persuasion to coax her into declaring war on her kinfolk. Fortunately for him, he has Uncle Lenny writing his dialogue. Together, they revisit the heart of the DALLAS mythology (albeit slightly rejigged to incorporate Jason): “Both of our daddies died drunk and broke because of one man, Jock Ewing,” he tells Jamie. “He took everything that was rightfully theirs and drove ‘em away … What JR and Bobby have belongs to us as much as them … All we have of our daddies’ lives is memories: two broken drunks. Isn’t it time we did something? We can finally make their lives worthwhile just by takin’ back what was rightfully theirs. Or you can let JR step all over you. You can let him win again. … I’ve got the money to buy the legal help we need. Together we can make Jock and Digger’s lives mean something. We can beat JR.” Jamie does her upside down smile thing: “Maybe you’re right. You know, I’d like nothing more than to see JR Ewing crawl.” “It’s up to you. What do you say?” “I say, let’s do it!”

The end of this episode marks the halfway point of the entire series. As the frame freezes on Cliff, his mouth creasing into a delighted smirk, the sense one is left with–that the worms have finally turned–feels kind of appropriate.

by James Holmes

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