His lips move, but the rest of his face stays stony still. Josh Henderson, the young actor who plays John Ross Ewing, J.R. and Sue Ellen's son, maintains a frozen countenance through every episode of Dallas on cable's TNT.
It's sort of fascinating to watch. Will he ever smile? Will his eyes ever squint or his chin ever quiver under that awful little jazz patch?
Titled "Like Father, Like Son," the March 31 installment, written by Julia Cohen and directed by Steve Robin, was all about John Ross, mainly the many reasons he's a slimy sumbitch like ol' J.R. Pity that Henderson didn't get to work with Hagman long enough to pick up some of his evil twinkle. Hagman played a villain as if he were the only one in on the joke.
Henderson allowed his usual stoic countenance to break. His eyes teared up, his jaw moved, even his hair was emoting.
Toward the end of this week's hour, Henderson's face could be seen moving. Just for a moment and just the tee-niniest bit, but he did attempt facial expression. Keep that clip for Emmy consideration.
John Ross is an ambitious little twerp this season, determined to buy a bunch of Arctic oil leases — every time they start talking about the "Arctic play," I get a craving for a Klondike Bar — and to take Ewing Global public so that he can buy up a controlling share of the company. Uncle Bobby (Patrick Duffy), now appointed Texas Railroad Commissioner to foil nephew John Ross' plans to frack on Southfork property, won't hear of that.
Ewing Global is a family bidness, though it's never clear who owns how many shares. This week alone, Bobby signed over all of his shares to son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe, still rocking the facial stubble); newcomer Nicolas Trevino (Juan Pablo di Pace) claimed the shares grabbed from Cliff Barnes when the two family companies merged (Cliff's in a Mexican prison ... oh, don't ask); and Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) lost her shares to her son. More about that in a mo'.
Nicolas, who used to be called Joaquin, is in cahoots with Elena (Jordana Brewster), who used to be in cahoots, a.k.a. bed, with Christopher. They're plotting to get Cliff Barnes out of jail and to take down Ewing Global from the inside. Cliff has been trying to do that since the Reagan years, and look where it's gotten him. Some people never learn.
Nicolas and Elena think if they can prove John Ross is screwing around on his new wife, Pamela (Julia Gonzalo), he'll bend to their will. Sue Ellen already knows John Ross has been having an affair with Emma (Emma Bell), the daughter of Bobby's second wife, Annie (Brenda Strong).
He doesn't have to go far to get frisky. Emma lives at Southfork, across the hall from John Ross and Pamela. Sue Ellen even hires a private detective to do surveillance on her philandering son, which seems like a huge waste of cash given that Sue Ellen also lives at Southfork, and the distance between the rooms in that rabbit warren isn't wide enough to swing a rabbit.
The plot by Nicolas and Elena is to get John Ross' buxom assistant, Candace (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), to catch some of his DNA on her dress, which they'll then use to blackmail him. Not sure how that's going to make him powerless. A DNA-stained frock didn't even bring down a president, after all.
But John Ross doesn't take the bait. When Candace, in a late night at the office, undresses and offers herself to her boss as casually as an Applebee's waitress suggesting jalapeño poppers, he just stares back and says, "I appreciate your enthusiasm, but you gotta start takin' no for an answer ... ain't ever gonna happen."
Meanwhile, Emma, Pamela and Elena go out together for cocktails. Elena brings up Candace's obvious office flirtation with John Ross. Emma, smirking, tells Pamela, "John Ross would never cheat on you."
She's a dirty little girl, that Emma. Later in the episode, she lures John Ross to their sexing room at the Omni hotel and presents a convincing oral argument about a certain act she wants him to perform on her. "Now go home and kiss your wife," she says, pushing him off afterward. Snap.
Between the drinking and conniving and blackmailing, things go on a booze-ward turn for Sue Ellen this week. Her son's behavior has driven her back to the bottle. "I may be drunk on power, but you, you're just drunk," John Ross snarls at his mother as the show's soundtrack amps up some Celtic drumming. (Maybe she's drinking Irish whiskey.)
Things come to a head in the Ewing Global conference room as John Ross asks for a vote on taking the company public. Pamela and Nicolas vote "aye." But when they get to Sue Ellen, she answers slowly, "I vote ... no." That sends John Ross' eyebrows up one millimeter in shock.
Back at the ranch later, John Ross storms into the kitchen to find his mother swacked on hard liquor poured from a Waterford decanter. "What the hell is wrong with you!" he yells.
"You lied to my face, John Ross!" she slurs (about his sex-fling with Emma, which he claimed had ended). "How clever you are with words. Just like J.R. — once a cheater, always a cheater."
John Ross insists he's being faithful to Pamela. Sue Ellen doesn't believe him. "Bullshit!" she shouts, reaffirming that this season the TNT programmers are allowing at least one "bullshit" per episode.
"I am not my father!" John Ross counters. And right here is where actor Josh Henderson allowed his usual stoic countenance to break. His eyes teared up, his jaw moved, even his hair was emoting. "You're so busy seeing the ghost of J.R. in me, you cannot stop to take a hard look in the damn mirror."
Cut to later that same night with Sue Ellen in the kitchen doing combat with a stubborn wine bottle opener. Ding dong! goes the doorbell at Southfork. It's the police, coming to take a stumbling-drunk Sue Ellen off for a psych evaluation ordered by ... her own son!
Yes, John Ross has called in law enforcement, claiming his mom is "out of control" and violent. He informs Bobby and Annie of this, adding that with Sue Ellen non compos mentis, he, John Ross, will gain control of her shares of Ewing Global.
With the red lights of the ambulance bathing John Ross' face in a scarlet glow as he watches them take the sobbing Sue Ellen off to the snake pit, actor Henderson, for the first time this season and maybe ever on this series, looked believably emotional. As if his character were genuinely conflicted about this dastardly betrayal of his own mother, even if it is for her own good in the end.
Some darn fine acting work this week, Mr. Henderson. You dug deep, kid. So deep you might even call it fracting.
TNT offers a double episode of Dallas on April 7. Catch all episodes in rerun at TNT online. New episodes of Dallas air at 8 pm CST every Monday, with a rerun on the cable channel right after.