This time J.R. Ewing really is dead. Episode 8 of the second season of Dallas on TNT put the character in the ground once and for all, with veteran cast members from ye olden days standing graveside: Steve Kanaly as Southfork ranch hand Ray Krebbs; Ray’s once-upon-a-time hayloft canoodling partner, Lucy Ewing, played again by Charlene Tilton; her daddy, Gary Ewing (Ted Shackelford); J.R.’s mistress, Mandy Winger (Deborah Shelton); and his last young bride, Cally (Cathy Podewell).
It remains a mystery exactly who killed J.R. Was it a petty thief in Nuevo Laredo who broke into J.R.’s hotel room and shot him? Or did new Ewing nemesis Harris Ryland (Mitch Pileggi) have something to do with it?
Exec producer Cynthia Cidre wrote this week’s script, titled “J.R.’s Masterpiece.” Directed by Michael M. Robin, it was certainly the strongest hour of the season so far (seven more episodes to go), featuring a heart-tugging emotional breakdown by Patrick Duffy as Bobby.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban all uttered nice bits of dialogue.
Linda Gray, the strongest player in this series reboot, turned in a beautiful performance with her reading of a letter from former hubby J.R. as she stood over his casket. Seems the ol’ rascal had fallen back in love with the former Miss Texas. His letter, delivered to Sue Ellen the day before he died, expressed apologies for all his misdeeds and asked if he could take her to dinner sometime.
Gray’s tears were genuinely moving. She and actor Larry Hagman were close friends for 30 years, so she probably didn’t need to dig too far into The Method to feel her character’s grief. (Hagman died November 23, having completed five episodes this season.)
More highs, lows and in-betweens:
Sad songs: The slowed-down arrangement of the opening theme set the somber tone for this week’s send-off of the show’s central character. Sue Ellen’s visit to J.R.’s Southfork bedroom, where she caressed their wedding photo, was set to the bittersweet tune “The Bottom” by Houston singer-songwriter Charlie Robison. Lyrics: No need to worry about tomorrow/Cause you're not here/I'm going all the way down/To the bottom.
As cast members old and new watched J.R.’s coffin lowered, the music was “Down to the River to Pray,” from the soundtrack to O, Brother, Where Art Thou? (Get it?)
Nobody mentioned frackin’ methane: What this season of Dallas has lacked is exploration of personal relationships instead of all that phony passion for the exploration of oil and methane. Less shop talk and more family drama made this week’s show the kind of compelling experience for viewers that keeps us tuning in.
Best line: “I’m a bit drunk now,” said Sue Ellen, standing at J.R.’s grave and admitting she fell off the wagon the night before. (Linda Gray at 72 is at least twice the actress she was 30 years ago.)
Wake-up call: The wake for J.R. at Dallas Petroleum Club stirred up interesting new couplings. Sue Ellen flirted with brother-in-law Gary (though maybe just for oil lease reasons). And J.R.’s son, John Ross (Josh Henderson), engaged in some steamy smooch-fu with step-cousin Emma (Emma Webb) in the back seat of his (or somebody’s) car.
Locals paying tribute: Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban all uttered nice bits of dialogue in their wake-scene cameos.
J.R.’s favorite cocktail: Bourbon and Branch, which was served at the wake. Here’s the recipe.
Damn, Pam: Before he was killed in Nuevo Laredo, J.R. had been in Abu Dhabi searching for Pamela Barnes Ewing, birth-mom to Christopher (Jesse Metcalf). This is where the new Dallas breaks the mythology of the old one. Pam, played back in the day by Victoria Principal, was shown being blown to smithereens in a car wreck with an oil tanker in series one’s episode 282.
They made a half-baked attempt at bringing on a “new” Pam with a reconstructed face (played only once by Margaret Michaels), but even that Pam said she had only weeks to live. Because Principal has turned down all requests to reprise her role, it’s a mystery who will be playing the new-new Pamela Barnes Ewing.
Coming up: Joan Van Ark returns at Gary’s wife, Valene. (They were the couple at the center of Dallas spin-off Knots Landing.) And Bobby has to reexamine his life and marriage in the post-J.R. universe.
New episodes of Dallas air at 8 pm, Mondays on cable’s TNT, with frequent reruns.