Dallas (the next generation): Season 1, Episode 2

“It’s better to be old than to be the devil.” – Mexican proverb (allegedly)

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Previously, on Dallas: In the space of one episode last week, we had an insane amount of plot dumped in our lap (so, business as usual for the Ewings, then). We learned that:

  • Bobby is dying of cancer (sob), which nobody knows except his wife Ann
  • JR is in a care home, suffering from depression (as if)
  • JR’s son John Ross has discovered loads of oil under Southfork, but isn’t allowed to drill there under the terms of Miss Ellie’s will, enforced by Bobby
  • Bobby’s (adopted) son Christopher has a new green energy process using frozen methane (or something), which unfortunately causes earthquakes
  • Christopher has married Rebecca, but only because his former fiancee Elena jilted him
  • Rebecca has a shady brother, and looks distinctly dodgy herself
  • Elena is now going out with John Ross and working with him on the oil drilling
  • Elena never turned up at Christopher’s wedding because of an email purportedly from him calling it off, which he’d never heard about till now, but may have been sent by John Ross to split them up so he could get her
  • Bobby is going to sell Southfork to fund Christopher’s methane thingy (and also to keep it out of John Ross’ drill-happy hands)
  • Marta Del Sol, the lady from the conservation concern he’s selling it to is actually a shill for JR, who’s not very ill after all, and wants Southfork for himself (as usual)
  • But she’s also sleeping with John Ross, and presumably going to betray JR for him…

That’s a lot to pack into a standard length opening episode, and thankfully the second week slows the pace a bit. But not much. There’s still intrigue, sex and Stetsons aplenty, with yet more schemes within schemes revealed by people telling each other things they must logically already know, for our benefit.

“Are you telling me that the only reason we’re together is because someone sent you an email pretending to be Christopher breaking up with you?” John Ross asks Elena, presumably rhetorically as this is exactly what she’s just told him, remembering to be a Ewing bad boy with the parting shot, “screw you, lady!” We are thus reminded of what’s going on in this subplot, and also that John Ross has a hell of a (handsome) poker face. Either that, or he’s not a terribly good actor.

Elsewhere, it looks like both JR’s and John Ross’ cunning plans have hit an early snag, as they’ve both unwisely chosen to bribe the same lawyer to keep Bobby ignorant of what’s going on, and in John Ross’ case to keep JR ignorant that his shill is really John Ross’ shill. Sounds complicated (and it is), so it’s spelled out in an astonishing torrent of exposition from said lawyer the moment John Ross walks into his surprisingly small office. Pausing only to raise his price to $2 million, he pours John Ross an expensive whisky which John Ross doesn’t drink (this happens a lot in Dallas), because he then walks out.

Bobby now knows what we know, that his wife knows what he knows about the cancer. A quick visit to the Ewing love tree ensues, in which generations of Ewing couples have carved their names (but without little hearts, because that would be tasteless). Nice to see “Jock and Ellie” in there, though a little surprising that Bobby’s carving has him paired with Ann rather than Pam. Perhaps he sanded Pam’s name off to carve Ann’s.

Christopher still doesn’t know what Bobby knows, Ann knows and we know that they both know about Bobby’s illness, but he’s worried about the Southfork-selling plan, so decides not to go on honeymoon. Suits Rebecca, whose shifty brother Tommy has been offered a job on the ranch by the credulous Ann. He’ll stand out a bit, as the only Caucasian working there. But now they’re both entrenched. “Don’t get too comfortable being Mrs Ewing,” Tommy sneers, before informing her that they’ve been working on this plan for two years, which I’m guessing she already knew. Who are they? And how does Tommy maintain the exact same length of sinister stubble from week to week?

Christopher and John Ross got a nice scene together at the bar they used to frequent when both were younger (and different actors). The scene cemented their status as the new Bobby and JR, truly their fathers’ sons (even if Christopher is adopted). “We ain’t family,” snarls John Ross, his face contorting in what I’m guessing is meant to be anger. “I’m a Ewing. Everything I am, everything I’d die for, has the Ewing name on it.” To which Christopher replies, “give me a break”, thus echoing the sentiments of the viewer.

In any other show, this sort of clumsy, overheated drama would be difficult to forgive, but in Dallas it’s a vital part of the show’s flavour. It has to be cheesy, glossy and over the top – that’s why we loved it the first time around. And it’s not disappointing in any of those regards now, either.

Thankfully out of his sick bed, JR got lots more to do this week, and Larry Hagman was chewing the scenery all over the place. The dramatic centrepiece was the prestigious Cattle Barons’ Ball, (a real thing which raises money for the American Cancer Society). Given Bobby’s illness in the show and Hagman’s in reality, there was an unexpected note of pathos as JR paused for photos in front of the Society’s logo. But it didn’t last long as the old devil floated through the sea of Stetsons for some much deserved face time with the rest of the old cast.

Pretending to be more infirm than he actually was, JR still managed to lay some threats on Bobby’s duplicitous lawyer (who’s actually working for John Ross, unbeknown to JR, who thinks he’s working for him while Bobby thinks he’s working for him). But it’s his scenes with Bobby and Sue Ellen that stand out, as he makes a convincing job of being a (very hammy) reformed character.

“I’m not gonna forget what you done for me, Bobby,” he told his brother, which Bobby amusingly took at face value. Employing his usual technique of calling every woman he meets “darlin”, he eventually worked his way over to the long-awaited meeting with his ex-wife, only to surprise her by telling her, “you won, honey. And I couldn’t be happier.” It was terrific to see Hagman and Linda Gray together again, and they still have the old chemistry. But is JR really reformed? I’ll believe that when I see it.

Marta Del Sol was at the Ball too, and a desperate John Ross tried to seduce her in order to lay his hands on the money to pay off the lawyer. Marta didn’t seem very happy about this. “Do you remember last time we were lovers John Ross?” she purred menacingly, drugging his drink with a Rohypnol-type thing. “It was an amazing experience.” I’m sure it was, he’s pretty hot. But why drug him when he wanted sex anyway? Unless it was to keep him from spotting the large camera filming them from the ceiling, with a very conspicuous red light flashing on and off.

So, is Marta just into a bit of home video fun, or is John Ross not her first priority after all? Cause that looks like top blackmail material right there. Either way, I was quite happy to see Josh Henderson get his kit off, though slightly baffled as to why he woke up tied up, but still hadn’t taken his boxers off. Ah well, there’s a limit to how far you can go in prime time, I guess.

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But JR was getting suspicious at the delayed call from her father, so he popped down to Mexico to see him. I guess he can afford the flight. Then he met the real Marta, who was very different from the woman he already knows – she’s blonde, for a start. So the cat’s out of the bag for John Ross. But if Marta’s not really working for him or JR, who is she really working for?

It was good to see the intrigue, betrayal and gratuitous rumpy-pumpy continue in the same vein as last week, even if this week was slightly less frantic and OTT. Pretty though the new boys are, though, it’s still Hagman and Duffy who rule the drama here, with able help from Linda Gray. Nonetheless, the new rivalry is coming to the boil nicely, along with the usual overcomplex duplicity. It’s as hard as ever to keep track of who’s betraying who to whom and why. One thing’s for sure – I predict JR is not going to be happy with his son next week. And an angry JR is not to be messed with, so John Ross better look out…