Dallas (the next generation)–Season 1, Episode 9

“I’m back honey. And I’m gonna be bigger than ever.” – JR to Sue Ellen

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Previously, on Dallas: Last week the Ewings all pulled together to help John Ross, who was in a spot of bother in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

  • Vicente from Venezuela had John Ross beaten up; in his country, you don’t wait too long for your oil
  • JR, still planning some fantastically elaborate deception of Cliff Barnes, took time out to lurk over his son’s bedside in a quick cameo
  • Bobby, after agonising to Miss Ellie’s gravestone, decided to allow the drilling on Southfork so that Vicente would release the evidence exonerating John Ross
  • Sue Ellen went at it from a different angle, using her not-yet-Governor position to bribe/blackmail the coroner into saying it was suicide
  • Christopher, shocked at Bobby’s decision to drill, made a sacrifice of his own and offered his methane process to Vicente instead of the oil
  • Satisfied by the sight of a burning ice cube on his table, Vicente released the evidence and John Ross was freed
  • And we discovered that Rebecca’s brother Tommy is still after the methane process. And (gasp!) he’s not her brother after all!

This week, with Vicente presumably on his way back to Venezuela a happy Bond villain, you’d think the Ewings could relax for a bit, and take stock. After all, Tommy’s not much of a threat, is he? But other problems are lurking in the wings, and not all of them are people. The Ewings, however, seem blissfully unaware of this, and decide to relax for a bit, and take stock.

Yessir, it looks like a nice peaceful time on the old Ewing ranch. Sure, there’s still the problem that JR actually owns the place, but he’s been AWOL for so long it doesn’t seem that urgent. Bobby was working on how to rectify that. Christopher took the time to rebond with Rebecca over a shopping trip, coming back with some twin cuddly monkeys for his twin babies. What could possibly spoil such an idyll?

Well, Tommy for a start. Yes, he’s not much of a villain compared to Vicente or JR, but he wasn’t nice to Rebecca, threatening to twist off the cuddly monkeys’ heads if she doesn’t get him Christopher’s lab keycard pronto. But she’s still got that whole conscience thing going on, and even when presented with an opportunity to filch it out of Christopher’s fancy sportscar she couldn’t go through with it. Makes you wonder how she ever made a living as a con artist.

Bobby, bless his optimistic soul, was still trying to reconcile the family – something of a doomed operation, but he’s not giving up even after 33 years. Unfortunately, just as he was metaphorically banging John Ross’ and Christopher’s head together, something finally gave way in his own head and he had a crippling aneurysm. That’s the lesson of Dallas; not only do nice guys finish last, they keep suffering lethal infirmities for their troubles.

It might be a blessing in disguise though, as it provoked yet another round of revelations about the various secrets everyone was keeping. John Ross finally found out about Bobby’s cancer (though that’s cleared up apparently), and was racked with guilt for behaving like a bastard (or JR, anyway) when he found that Bobby had been prepared to drill to save his ass. This led to a round of soul searching on John Ross’ part, including an ill-advised attempt at emoting: “I love my father. But he’s so lost in his own anger and bitterness that there’s no room for anybody else.”

Bobby apparently needs yet another operation, but first the doctor needs to get his blood pressure down. Good luck with that; have you seen what goes on in the Ewing household? As if to make it even worse for poor old Bobby (but better for us) JR was finally back. Having learned of his brother’s various ailments, he was full of contrition. Well, a bit anyway: “OK I admit, I have lapses when I do wrong now and then.”

Ann was less than pleased to see him (would you be, after he’s caused all the plots of this season) and chased him away with threats of shooting in a “vital area, since you have no heart”. Having correctly diagnosed him as a sociopath, she then unwisely left the ranch with him still there.

He wasn’t alone for long though; when Sue Ellen found out he was there she went absolutely ballistic, and we were treated to a classic JR/Sue Ellen showdown just like in the good old days. She slapped him, they shouted at each other, she stormed out, leaving him looking oddly satisfied. That’s probably as close as their relationship ever gets to sex.

Sue Ellen’s got more to worry about than just JR though, as Harris Ryland popped up in a creepy cameo to leer at her political corruptibility. “What sets you apart is your malleability to my needs,” was the line Mitch Pileggi delivered with enough slime to make anyone shudder.

He also taunted her with what looked like the largest glass of wine you can get, but she’s not falling off the wagon – yet. Unfortunately, Ryland’s knowledge of her attempts to bribe/blackmail the coroner, together with his attempt to use her campaign to launder dirty money, have finally persuaded her to give up the gubernatorial race she previously seemed so confident about. Just as well really; after George W Bush and Rick Perry, I doubt any Texan would believe in her “honesty” anyway.

Still taking stock, John Ross and Christopher found a quiet moment to reflect on their fathers’ feud. “Jock, he set ‘em against each other,” opined John Ross; leading both to the idea that they could do better. This involved a wary alliance as “Ewing Energies”, with room enough for John Ross’ love of oil and Christopher’s love of… well, whatever that methane thing is all about.

And JR too was struck with a sudden unexpected bout of decency. Faced with the prospect of his brother’s death, he signed the deed for Southfork back over to Bobby free of charge. “If you die, I get that back,” was his halfhearted attempt to still be a bastard about it.

So now, we’re right back where we started, plotwise – with the added benefit of John Ross turning away from the Dark Side. But there’s still an episode to go. What more can there be to do?

Who’s double crossing who this week?

Well, there’s still Tommy. Ryland might have had his villainy thwarted by Sue Ellen preemptively pulling out of politics, but Tommy was still very keen on getting that methane process. Apparently, he had “one of the richest guys in the world on the hook”. And his contact turned out to be none other than Cliff’s scary “driver” Frank Ashkani. Looks like there might have been a point to JR’s anti-Cliff scheming after all..

This week’s big cliffhanger

Three for the price of one this week, in a montage dramatically soundtracked by Johnny Cash’s apocalyptic When the Man Comes Around. Lou the Lawyer got onto Bobby with the news that fake Marta had a Cloud account full of data that just might incriminate JR in the fraud to buy Southfork. Is Bobby prepared to risk his brother being sent to jail after he’s just been given Southfork back? “Let me know what you find.”

If he can, anyway. After hearing that, and the good news that John Ross and Christopher were burying the hatchet (not in each other’s heads for once), Bobby’s poor overheated brain could take no more of the intense drama and he keeled over with another aneurysm.

Rebecca, for her part, had had enough of Tommy being ineffectually nasty, and popped to the bank to withdraw her gun. As you do. Inevitably, Tommy turned up for a bit more threatening, there was a struggle, and the twin cuddly monkeys were spattered with blood. But whose?

With only one more episode to go, this triumvirate of gasp-making cliffhangers is enough to ensure you’ll be rushing back for next week, to catch the season finale…

How Mr Hammond learned to stop worrying and love Trident

“Our own independent nuclear deterrent… has helped to keep the peace for more than forty years.” – Margaret Thatcher, 1983

“Glory be to the Bomb, and to the Holy Fallout.” – Insane mutant, Beneath the Planet of the Apes

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Philip Hammond and his spads inspect the missiles at Faslane

When I was a teenager, in the mid-1980s, it wasn’t a question of if the world would be destroyed in a nuclear holocaust – it was when.

After forty years of teeth-bared, nuclear-armed confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, it felt like a miracle that we were still walking the tightrope and hadn’t fallen off. When hardened Cold Warrior Ronald Reagan was elected US President in 1980, and immediately started referring to the Soviets as “the evil empire”, it felt like we were starting to wobble on that tightrope very alarmingly.

Popular culture reflected our anxieties, warping our expectations and filling us with apocalyptic paranoia. We might have thought the post-nuclear wasteland replete with adventure after movies like Damnation Alley or Mad Max 2, but we were soon disabused of that notion with the horrific realism (and even that was toned down somewhat) of TV movies such as The Day After and Threads, both of which gave the teenage me nightmares for weeks. Even Raymond Briggs, author/artist of cuddly Christmas favourite The Snowman, got in on the act with cartoon downer When the Wind Blows, which gave kids the opportunity to watch two loveable pensioners die a horrifically protracted death of radiation poisoning.

The music too reflected the sense of inevitable impending doom. When the Wind Blows boasted a doomy score by Pink Floyd arch-miserablist Roger Waters, whose 1983 Floyd album The Final Cut ended with a charming depiction of nuclear holocaust, Two Suns in the Sunset (“could be the human race is run”). Liverpool dance pop band Frankie Goes to Hollywood followed up gay sex celebration Relax with the doomy Two Tribes, which opened with a mock nuclear attack announcement and whose video featured lookalikes of the US and USSR Presidents fighting to the death in an arena.

Apocalyptic paranoia goes dance.

Our own Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, had swung back into power after a supreme burst of sabre-rattling in the Falkland Islands, in which she used the sledgehammer of the British military to crush the less than effective conscripts of stupidly aggressive Argentine dictator Leopoldo Galtieri. Following that, she became extremely chummy with Reagan, whose idea of humour was the unintentionally recorded gag, “we begin bombing in five minutes”, which put the Soviet army on a high alert status. We became paranoid that every misinterpreted radar shadow of a flock of geese would spark off a retaliatory ICBM strike. It was only a matter of time.

But by some miracle, it didn’t happen. Against all expectations, President Reagan sat down with new, moderate Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, and negotiated the climbdown from the Cold War that would culminate in the collapse of the totalitarian USSR in 1991. For ten years, we lived free from apocalyptic paranoia – until September 11 2001 brought the golden opportunity of a new threat, different in nature but similarly all-pervading. Guns blazing, George W Bush declared “war on terror”, ignoring the fact that, traditionally, wars are fought between two states, not one state and a mobile group of fanatics with no national allegiance.

Bush’s problem was that, like the First World War generals whose tactic was to charge machine gun emplacements with cavalry, he was trying to fight the war before the one he was actually fighting. Al Qaeda are not “the Reds”, with a conveniently available selection of cities to rain destruction on; they’re a group of fanatical opportunists most of whose weapons consist of vests with TNT sewn into them. Faced with this, “let’s bomb the bastards” makes absolutely no tactical sense, because they’re in the middle of large populations of otherwise innocent people in otherwise innocent states.

And the reason I bring all this up now is that, in the face of all sanity, military strategy and economic good sense, Conservative Defence Minister Philip Hammond is currently making the same mistake. On Monday, before visiting nuclear submarine base Faslane in Scotland, and in direct contradiction of his party’s Coalition Agreement with the Lib Dems, he unilaterally announced the first steps towards purchasing a like for like replacement for Britain’s Cold War missile system, Trident.

Whoops

“We hold these truths to be self-evident / that all men may be cremated equal” – Vern Partlow, Old Man Atom

This issue has been a political hot potato for some time, and to their credit (whatever their other failings), the Lib Dems seem to be the only English political party who can see this for the massive waste of money and strategic nonsense that it is. Alex Salmond’s SNP, faced with the inconvenience and moral problems of hosting the submarines, has a similar viewpoint. Both make perfect sense – in today’s world, Trident is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Let’s look at the destructive potential of the system. Here comes the maths bit…

Britain has four Vanguard class submarines, each capable of launching 16 Trident II D-5 missiles, each of which can be tipped with up to 8 W76 warheads, with an explosive yield of 100 kilotons (1 kiloton = 1000 tons) each. That’s a total destructive force equivalent to 51200 kilotons of conventional explosives. To put that into perspective, the bomb that annihilated the city of Hiroshima in 1945 had a yield of 16 kilotons. Just one of the multiple warheads carried by each Trident missile is more than six times as destructive as that. Altogether, Britain’s nuclear capability is equivalent to 3200 Hiroshimas.

Now, it is fair to say that the 2010 Strategic Spending Review has limited that substantially, halving the number of missiles each submarine will carry to eight, and limiting the number of warheads carried to a total of 40. That has massively reduced the destructive potential available at any one time to a mere 250 Hiroshimas. But don’t get too relieved – we’re keeping a (reduced) total of 120 warheads actually available; that’s 750 Hiroshimas. And we could strap them onto the missiles and load those missiles at any time – I doubt we’d tell anyone.

This massively excessive destructive potential sort of made sense as a ‘deterrent’ at the height of the Cold War, with two ideologically opposed blocs, armed to the teeth with nukes, growling at each other. The theory was that nobody would launch a first strike for fear of facing equal retaliation; you can’t win a war if the entirety of civilisation is destroyed (which ignored the probability that even if only one side launched its nukes it would effectively devastate the planet). This strategy was known as Mutually Assured Destruction, with the all too appropriate acronym MAD.

But, militarily speaking, what threats do we face now? Learning lessons from Germany, most international rivals now know that the way to best your rivals is not to conquer them but to buy them. Ignoring the small clutch of nations with a limited nuclear capability (North Korea, Israel, potentially Iran) that can’t hold a candle to the West’s nuclear arsenal, the only states currently posing a similar threat to the Soviet Union are China and Russia. Both are too gripped in their own newfound love of capitalism to risk nuclear war; China in particular, by dint of holding the debts for most of the West, doesn’t even need to. All it needs to do is send round the repo men.

So we’re left with the threat that Western governments have built up, propaganda-wise as the baddies since the demise of the USSR – terror. And more specifically, terrorists. Government press releases and hysterical news media bombard us daily with nightmare scenarios of suitcase bombs, suicide vests and the ever-looming shadow of the Twin Towers airliner attacks.

Against that, what on Earth is the point of launching a multiple warhead intercontinental ballistic missile? Even if the so-far-unproven spectre of small nations (like Iraq) developing “weapons of mass destruction” comes true, those weapons will be like peashooters against rockets compared to even conventional Western forces. A massive nuclear strike – against any of our current enemies and likely any we may face in future – makes precisely zero strategic sense.

“It’s the last thing they’ll be expecting – a daylight charge over the minefield.” – Arnold J Rimmer, Red Dwarf

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And yet, at the “leaders’ debates” just before the 2010 General Election, both Gordon Brown and David Cameron emphatically insisted that Trident must be replaced with a similar/identical system to maintain Britain’s defences. Why? It made no sense then, and makes even less now, with the repeated mantra that “there’s no money left”. With the massive slashing in public spending on society’s sick and vulnerable, how on earth can anyone justify spending billions on a massive military white elephant?

Brown then, and Cameron now, made no sense from a military perspective in retaining such phenomenal destructive power. With Cameron, you can at least understand the perspective of trying desperately to shore up the illusion that Britain somehow retains the weight it once had as an international power – after all, the very nature of Conservatism is to cling to the past and try to reverse progress. Brown’s Labour Party had no such excuse, and neither does Miliband, who’s been conspicuously quiet on the subject.

However, I’d guess that neither wishes to upset the American defence industry, from whom Trident and any potential replacement would be bought and maintained. Estimates of the overall cost (including new submarines, new missiles, and new or refurbished warheads, plus ongoing maintenance) vary wildly from £25 billion (2006/7 government figures) to £97 billion (2009 Greenpeace estimate). Still, that’s a drop in the ocean compared to the US annual defence budget of $1.4 trillion, most of which I’m pretty sure is spent at home. Put simply, the US defence industry is not desperate for the billions we’d give them, whatever politicians might think. The people of the United Kingdom, on the other hand, are – certainly if George Osborne is to be believed.

To be fair to the pro- camp, all those billions would not be spent in one great lump, whatever the opposition might say or imply. The costs cover a thirty year period; however, it’s still estimated at £1.5 billion to £2 billion per year. That’s a pretty massive sum to be wasting on a weapons system that, even if it made strategic sense as a deterrent, could never actually be used. Particularly when Osborne insists that £10 billion needs to be slashed from the benefit budget because the nation can’t afford it.

And to be fair to the anti- camp, not replacing Trident with an identical system is not the same as complete unilateral disarmament (as espoused in Michael Foot’s 1983 Labour manifesto aka “the longest suicide note in history”). Other nuclear weapons are available. Ideally, ones with slightly more precision than Trident, whose smallest possible effect is the destruction of an entire city. I’d argue that we probably do need nuclear weapons. Just not blunt instruments. Iran is not going to gain the nuclear capability of the USSR overnight; it took them decades to reach that level. If that seriously looks like a threat, we could reconsider. But arming ourselves to the teeth just in case is ridiculous.

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“It is the nuclear missile Harrods would sell you. What more can I say?” – Sir Humphrey Appleby
“Only that it costs £15 billion and we don’t need it.” – Jim Hacker
“Well, you could say that about anything at Harrods.” – Sir Humphrey Appleby
Yes Prime Minister

In the end, spending billions of pounds on a weapons system that no longer makes strategic sense, at a time when, if its proponents are to be believed, we are so desperately short of money that austerity is the only possible solution, is utterly, completely bonkers. Why should other countries seeking to acquire nuclear capability listen to us taking the moral high ground when we can’t give up our own Cold War toys? And regardless of your party allegiance, can you honestly say that a very expensive way of waving your willy around to look important matters more than caring for the vulnerable in your society?

If, like me, you’re old enough to remember the all-pervading fear and certainty of destruction in those last days of the Cold War, it should be enough to cure you of any nostalgic tendencies about it. But the Conservatives love the past, and are intent on hurtling us back there, convinced that it was always a halcyon Golden Age better than the one we have now. Buying another dose of Mutually Assured Destruction may satisfy Philip Hammond’s nostalgic urges, but to the rest of us, it’s just MAD.

The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episode 3–Walk With Me

“Looks like you’re sitting pretty at the end of the world.”

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Welcome to Woodbury.

As I suspected after last week’s total absence of Andrea and Michonne, this week’s Walking Dead focused exclusively on what’s happening with them, with no sight of Rick and the rest of the gang at the prison. The splitting of the narrative into two threads (and two settings) that will inevitably converge at some point is yet another of the strengths of this season compared to the last. Last year’s constant setting of Hershel’s farm was at once claustrophobic and boring, with the hints of budget restrictions preventing us seeing anywhere else; the new setting of the idyllic town of Woodbury, contrasting with the grim bleakness of the prison, already gives a sense of a wider world in the story.

It’s a standard trope in post-apocalyptic fiction that, at some point, our plucky survivors will encounter an idyllic, picture postcard perfect community where everything Seems Too Good To Be True. Because of course it is – these places always have a Dark Secret underpinning their seemingly utopian nature. In this regard, Woodbury is nothing new, and to the show’s credit it trades on that trope by giving us a sense of unease throughout, and revealing some pretty nasty aspects of the place in its very first episode.

As in the comics, the introduction of this new story thread was foreshadowed by the crash of a helicopter, presumably the one we’ve been seeing on and off since about the third episode. It was revealed to be military, a National Guard Huey forced down by an engine malfunction, killing all but one of the crew. Andrea and Michonne were drawn to it, but when they got there another group turned up, professionally killing the walkers with a minimum of fuss under a businesslike, black-clad leader. Meet the Governor.

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Yes, one of the comics’ best-remembered characters (along with Michonne) has finally shown up in the TV show. Played by Britain’s own David Morrissey (with a somewhat variable Georgia accent), his introduction is pretty faithful to that from the comics, but with the significant deviation that two of the heroes are ‘rescued’ by his party and taken back to the stronghold community of Woodbury, thus setting up a whole new narrative. In the comics, Rick and co stumbled over Woodbury and found out pretty quickly that it wasn’t as nice as it looked; here, it looks like Andrea and Michonne are going to settle in blithely (though Michonne at least is very distrustful already) before discovering the place’s Dark Secrets.

The show’s tendency to subvert expectations from the comics made me wonder if its version of the Governor might be less of a wrong ‘un than previously, but no, he’s established as a cast-iron baddie by the end of this episode. Again in keeping with the tropes of this genre, he’s a lying, manipulative politician, trading on the faith and wilful blindness of his community to carry out ruthless acts in its name. That hanging corpse outside Woodbury was just a hint; inside lies a secret lab run by a slightly unhinged scientist (notably like the one in Romero’s Day of the Dead), where unspeakable experiments are carried out on the walking dead.

And when the Governor found out from the injured pilot that a whole unit of National Guardsmen are just down the road, he gained their trust with a flag of truce before having them ambushed and massacred for their guns and equipment. He followed this up by telling the town of their “heroic sacrifice” before settling down with a drink in front of masses of fish tanks full of disembodied “living” zombie heads – including the (presumably murdered) helicopter pilot. That’s one of the creepiest images in the comics, and it was good to see it faithfully reproduced here, serving the same purpose – to show us that this guy is not right in the head.

Andrea, though, seems completely taken in, enough to end the episode seemingly flirting with him. Asking what his actual name was, she received the reply, “I’ll never tell” – an acknowledgement, presumably, of the confusion over his identity in the comics and the spin off novel also written by Robert Kirkman.

I’m not sure I buy Andrea’s instant trust quite so easily (although to be fair, she’s still pretty ill), given that she and Michonne were initially ‘captured’ by an old friend she would have every right to distrust. Yes, just as the show introduces a comics favourite in the form of the Governor, this week also saw the re-introduction of a favourite character created purely for the TV version. As was pretty obvious from the instantly recognisable offscreen voice, Merle Dixon is finally back – not as a teasing hallucination this time, but in the flesh, large as life and twice as ugly.

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Michael Rooker, as before, chews up the screen as Merle – and he got a lot of screentime to do it this week. This is no bad thing, as we finally got to learn what happened to him since we last saw him cuffed to a roof in Atlanta and having sawn off his own hand to get free. He’s constructed a nifty stump attachment thingy which can have a bayonet attached to it, and become one of the mainstays of Woodbury, despite the Governor’s sniffy dismissal of him as a barely tamed animal.

So he and Andrea got to fill in each other’s backstories (helpful for us viewers). Andrea, of course, was unaware that you don’t have to be bitten by a walker to turn when you die, while Merle was unaware of how his little brother Daryl had stepped up to the plate in his absence. “He became a valued member of the group,” Andrea supplied rather tactlessly, implying that before then both Dixon brothers had been useless hangers-on.

Merle didn’t seem offended by that. He actually seems to have mellowed a bit; his previous unreconstructed Southern racism was nowhere in evidence, given that he was working with an African-American doctor, and had no special contempt for Michonne. Could he be being groomed for a slightly more heroic role? I rather hope not, he works best as a villain.

The tight-lipped Michonne (referred to by name onscreen for the first time) got to parcel out a little more of her backstory, courtesy of creepy scientist Milton and a nice civilised breakfast. The conversation turned to whether the walkers actually remembered anything of who they had been (“an echo, perhaps”), a possibility an uncomfortable Andrea dismissed, remembering the experience of having to put down her risen sister.

Michonne, though, seemed even more uncomfortable, especially when the question of her armless, jawless zombie ‘helpers’ came up. She’d put them down herself earlier in an unsuccessful attempt to stay hidden; asked who they had been, her hostile refusal to answer spoke volumes. As everyone present worked out, she had known them when they were alive – but only Andrea was foolish enough to press the point, receiving a contemptuous glare for her trouble. After only two episodes of screentime, I’m very much enjoying Danai Gurira in the part; she has the perfect blend of steeliness and inner vulnerability I expected from the comics.

It was a talkier episode than the first two breathlessly-paced, action-filled instalments, but no less compelling for that. We had a whole new scenario to introduce, as well as several very important characters, and even comic fans were probably kept guessing (as I was) by Evan Reilly’s script. Intrigue in place of action is better than the endless arguing that formed much of last season, and there were still plenty of zombies in evidence. It was excellent to see Michael Rooker back as Merle, and David Morrissey made an impressive debut as the Governor, who looks set to be just as memorable on TV as he was in the comics. Another very strong episode from a much-improved show.

Misfits: Series 4, Episode 1

“I just came here to do community service and now I’m going to die locked in a freezer.”

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The end of Misfits’ third season felt like a proper ending for the story – at least as far as the characters we’d come to care about go. Alisha was dead, Simon was off back in time to die saving her previously, Kelly was together with Seth, and all the rest of the gang could do was get on with the rest of their lives.

Given all of that, I was actually a bit surprised to see that it was coming back for a fourth series. But it’s a popular show, and the central premise – that the mysterious storm gave lots of people in the area strange powers – has never been resolved, and leaves plenty of room to introduce new characters.

The trouble is, with Nathan, Simon, Alisha and now (we discover) Kelly all gone, it feels like the human core of the show we’d come to love has been somewhat eviscerated. New characters can come in, but we won’t have the level of emotional investment in them we did with the previous set. This episode faces a high hurdle in accomplishing that. Like the recent series of Being Human (to which it’s often compared), it effectively has to reboot itself, and give us a new set of characters in the hope that we’ll come to like them as much as we did the old ones.

This was helped by the way that we’d already come to like Rudy, who’d stepped in last series to replace Nathan. Joe Gilgun was as great as ever, with perfect comic timing as Rudy got up to his usual un-PC antics. Seth was back too, explaining that Kelly had chosen to stay in Uganda and user her ‘rocket scientist’ power to defuse landmines. He said that he was only back to “pick up their things”, but the fact that he’s there at all makes it seem likely that he’ll be a permanent fixture this series.

For me, though, Seth never felt like a proper part of ‘the gang’ last year, and (through no fault of actor Matthew McNulty) it’s going to take a bit of work before I give much of a damn about what happens to him. For some continuity, original gang member Curtis (the only one left) is still around, but he’d been sidelined so much last year (despite an interesting subplot about his gender-swap power), that he felt like a bit of a loose end. Again, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett has always been great in the part, but since his ‘origin story’, it’s always felt like the writers have struggled to come up with much for him to do, preoccupied as they were with the bigger sturm und drang of the Simon/Alisha epic love story.

So, it’s not all change. We still have Rudy (terrifically funny, but usually incidental to the main action), Seth (broodingly good-looking but with only one previous storyline which is now concluded) and Curtis (whose usual function last year was to sit sulkily on the sidelines and make snarky remarks). Perhaps some entirely new characters will help?

The jury’s still out on that one. Two new characters popped up; seemingly genial, soft-spoken Scouse lad Finn (Nathan McMullen), and piercing-eyed Jess (Karla Crome). They’ve turned up to do community service, as usual. Yes, that aspect of the show could have been dropped; it’s getting increasingly contrived for the old characters to still be stuck doing community service. But then it wouldn’t be Misfits. It’s a central plank of the show that it’s about young offenders forced into comic book situations when they’d rather be out getting pissed, shagging and breaking stuff – the very misfits of the title. Move it into the wider realm of the outside world being affected by superpowers, and you just turn it into Heroes – and we all know how that ended up.

MisfitsJess

Unfortunately, the new characters didn’t make that much of an impression. Jess seems… well, nice is about the best you can say so far. No idea what crime she committed, but her power appears to be the ability to see through walls. Other than that, the script for this first episode gives us very little of a handle on who she is, and what she’s like, which you’d think would be rather important.

MisfitsFinn

Finn gets a little more depth, and a hint of mystery. He seems a likeable, enough ordinary bloke; his power is an extremely crap variety of telekinesis, which so far has enabled him to shake a plant pot and singularly fail to mind-throw it at Rudy. But we’ve established that he has a tendency to make things up about himself that are often singularly inappropriate – such as telling Jess that he was raped by his uncle to “lighten the mood” when they’re locked into a freezer to die.

And we later discovered that his ‘dog’ Sadie, who he was so concerned about looking after, is actually a bound and gagged young lady strapped to his bed. Interesting idea there – that one of the main characters might actually be a bit of a baddie. Or a nutter, at least. Of course, we still don’t know the full story here, but certainly Finn gets a better shake of the dice in the character depth stakes than Jess, which seemed a little unfair.

With all this weight on the episode to reboot the show, the story (such as it was) felt pretty inconsequential. Rudy, Curtis and Seth had been ‘infected’ by the power of a greedy thief who’d stumbled into the community centre with a briefcase full of money cuffed to his wrist. The effect of his power was to make anyone he touched as fanatically covetous of the money as he was, thus pitting the regulars against each other in an increasingly homicidal, paranoid escalation of mistrust.

It’s basically the ‘standard’ Misfits plot – the gang meet someone else affected by the storm who’s misusing their powers, become affected themselves, find a way to break the spell, and effectively, punish the power-abuser by killing him/her and/or removing the power concerned. True, it was told in an interesting, non-linear way, opening on the rooftop with the gang literally at each other’s throats, weapons drawn, fighting for possession of the case full of money. The story then unfolded with flashback within flashback, with a self-aware Rudy acknowledging that, “I’m what’s known as an ‘unreliable narrator’”. Nice to see he was paying attention in English Literature GCSE.

Along the way, there was a fair bit of fun. Rudy pretending to be the new probation worker (while caught wanking over internet porn) was a laugh, and the script actually had you wondering for a (fairly short) while if he was telling the truth. There was the business of him trying to drug everyone’s drinks left, right and centre, which was played well for laughs (though where did he get these ‘drugs’?), and Seth being somewhat discomfited by Rudy and Curtis wanking themselves to sleep next to him (“it’s a sedative, isn’t it?”).

I said last year that the show was in danger of collapsing under the weight of its complex, massively self-referential time paradox plot arc, so it’s probably a good idea that it’s going back to the episodic, self-contained nature of its first series. The trouble is, not only did it feel inconsequential by comparison, it also felt very much like we’d been here before. It didn’t help that, in a bit of presumably amusingly-intended lampshade-hanging, Rudy kept commenting on the show’s established tropes – “oh, the storm. Yeah, it’s always the storm”, and, of the new, hardass probation worker (an excellent Shaun Dooley), “don’t worry, he’ll probably be dead within a week”.

That last actually points to an increasing credibility gap (insofar as it’s fair to complain about that in a show which features superpowers). The death of the gang’s first two probation workers, back in the first series, led to all kinds of worry about police investigations. But last series they managed to kill off two, one of them in the middle of a major zombie outbreak, and the Thamesmead police don’t seem to have concerned themselves with it at all.

Misfits_Dooley

Still, new probation worker Greg is a breath of fresh air, since the show got rid of the lovable, lackadaisical Shaun last year. Given a great establishing scene – “if you cross me, I will fuck you. And it’ll feel like being fucked by a train. Choo choo.” – he’s presumably going to be around for a while, resetting the balance the show lost with no authority figure to hate.

I have to say, as a longstanding fan of the show, I actually didn’t enjoy this very much. It didn’t help that the plot required the regulars to be acting very out of character, and that at least one of the new characters seemed to have very little depth at all. To be fair, if you’ve never seen the show before, this could be an ideal jumping in point, without the heavy burden of all the old characters’ backstories. But on the basis of this first episode, I’m still unconvinced that it was a good idea for the show to carry on after the finality of the third series’ ending. I’ll stick with it, to see if it pulls off the trick Being Human managed of making me like the new characters as much as the old. So far, though, there’s little evidence of that.

Dallas (the next generation): Season 1, Episode 8

“Turns out we’re not so different after all. We’re both just trying to make our fathers proud” – Christopher Ewing

DallasJohnRossMugshot

Previously, on Dallas: With John Ross banned from drilling on Southfork thanks to a handy document separating the mineral rights from the land rights, things got a little fraught.

  • Vicente from Venezuela, restive at the non-appearance of the oil he was promised, threatened to exercise his right to take Southfork in lieu of payment
  • Christopher learned not only that Rebecca was pregnant and that he was the father, but that she’s actually having twins
  • Dastardly Harris Ryland gave Bobby an envelope detailing Ann’s Dark Past, which he summarily burned without looking at it
  • Marta/Veronica took her stalking of John Ross to new levels by pretending to have kidnapped Elena
  • John Ross had the bright idea of setting Vicente on her, which led to the unfortunate result of her being thrown out of a very high window
  • And the cops turned up at the ranch to arrest John Ross for her murder.

This week, there was more toing and froing about the land/drilling rights to Southfork, and Rebecca moved closer to a reconciliation with Christopher, while Christopher returned to “the lab” to work on his methane drilling thingy. But the most pressing thing on everyone’s minds (including the good guys) was how to get John Ross out of jail. After all, he’s a Ewing – he may be an asshole, but he’s their asshole, and for this family that’s the most important thing.

John Ross has indeed made an unholy mess out of the situation JR left him to deal with – there’s no oil flowing, he’s about to lose Southfork to the Venezuelans and he’s in stir for a murder he didn’t commit. Just when things couldn’t seem to get any worse, Vicente popped in for one of his ‘little chats’.

With JR still taking a back seat this week, Harris Ryland nowhere to be seen and Marta/Veronica dead, it was up to Vicente to be main bad guy this week, and Carlos Bernard seized the opportunity with relish. “Disloyalty is dangerous,” he purred menacingly at the incarcerated John Ross, adding, “pointing fingers in the wrong direction could be hazardous – to you, and to your family.” And, presumably, to your fingers.

John Ross was probably relived at being spared yet another anecdote about what it’s like “in my country”, but any relief was short lived, because Vicente had a couple of thugs beat the crap out of him in a corridor, promising to kill him the next time if the oil wasn’t forthcoming. Like JR, he still has shreds of decency – he could probably get out if he told the truth about his affair with Marta/Veronica, but he doesn’t want to hurt Elena’s feelings. Very thoughtful, but not much use when you’re being repeatedly kicked in the crotch.

With the stakes clearly outlined by John Ross’ wounds, the Ewing clan closed ranks to find ways to help him. Bobby too was menaced by Vicente, but the “nice Ewing” has a core of steel and isn’t intimidated that easily. Nevertheless, he was prepared (after a chat with his mother’s gravestone) to sacrifice his principles and start drilling if it would save John Ross’ life.

Sue Ellen, once more forced to choose between political integrity and her son, made the wrong choice yet again. “The only way I can see to help John Ross is if I cross a line. A big one,” she agonised to Ann. “And if I do that, what does that make me?” “A mother,” said the sympathetic Ann, having stooped to a few dirty tricks herself. But then, Ann’s not standing for Governor of Texas, a competition in which Sue Ellen seems to be taking victory for granted.

After having previously tried to bribe Harris Ryland with an offer of high office (unnecessarily since he’d already done what she wanted), she was at it again, using a mixture of bribery and blackmail to try and force the coroner to rule Marta/Veronica’s death a suicide. This is obviously going to come back to bite her, especially given the platform she’s running on:

SueEllenLeaflet

And yet again, she’s ruining her reputation all for naught. It was Christopher who had the answer – placate Vicente with a large ice cube. Yes, the process of “using carbon dioxide to extract methane from hydrates” was valuable enough that Exxon were sniffing around it, so Chris figured Vicente would take it as a replacement for his cherished oil – after a quick demo in the living room that seemed a bit dangerous to me:

DallasMethane

Vicente was impressed enough by a man burning an ice cube on his table to favour him with a “where I come from” anecdote; an actually relevant one this time, as he revealed his bigger plan to seize control of Venezuela’s energy industry from President Chavez. Topical! Also probably bollocks…

Never mind, Vicente was impressed enough with the methane to leave Southfork alone and let the police find the secret camera footage showing that Marta/Veronica was alive when John  Ross left her. Of course, Vicente removed the footage of his own men chucking her out of a window – in his country, that sort of incriminating evidence can get you dancing the joropo in a Chavez prison.

Family matters

The Southfork cemetery gave us the chance to remember Miss Ellie’s second husband, after Jock’s death:

DallasMissEllie

Clayton Farlow (portrayed by 1950s king of the musicals Howard Keel) was another oilman who was perhaps ill-prepared for the sheer madness incurred when marrying into the Ewings, and for ten years he endured the wrath of JR. Eventually fed up with the dastardly Ewing’s inability to accept a “replacement” for his father, Clayton took Miss Ellie off on a big trip and then returned without her, giving a less than convincing explanation that she was fed up of dealing with all the Ewing conflict. This is the first time we’ve found out when she actually died.

Who’s double crossing who this week?

In yet another all too brief appearance, JR was shown to still be carrying on his arcane schemes to screw over Cliff Barnes by using his henchman Frank to betray him. Even JR seems to realise that this isn’t really going anywhere, as he hotfooted it back to his Dallas to lurk, crestfallen, over his stricken son’s bedside. Now that would be a scary vision to wake up to.

Elsewhere in the family, Rebecca might be mending fences with Christopher, but her stubbly, shifty brother Tommy was having none of it. He’d heard about Exxon’s interest in Christopher’s methane drilling whatsit, and with billions at stake, he’s not about to let Rebecca’s conscience and pregnancy get in the way of his hirsute evil.

This week’s big cliffhanger

And just to hammer the point home, Tommy grabbed an unwilling Rebecca and gave her a big sloppy kiss. But any worries about Luke/Leia incest shenanigans were quickly put to rest when he sneeringly revealed that (gasp!) he’s not her brother after all!

Another satisfyingly bonkers episode, with Vicente stepping up well as main bad guy – it’s just a shame that he’s presumably now satisfied with the methane doobry, as he’s unlikely to take much more part in the proceedings. But with only two more episodes to go, surely it’s time for JR to return from his extended vacation taunting Cliff Barnes and take back the crown as king of the Dallas baddies….

The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episode 2–Sick

“We took out these walkers, this prison is ours.”

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Warning – contains spoilers!

Having presumably learned a lesson from last year’s fitful pace, this second episode of The Walking Dead’s third season kept up the level of intense action established last week. There was plenty of gore and, importantly, plenty of zombies; but as in all the best zombie stories, the most dangerous threat wasn’t from the shambling dead, but from the greedy, self-interested living.

Readers of the comics will not have been too surprised at last week’s end-of-episode reveal that some of the prisoners had survived, barricaded into the prison cafeteria for nearly a year. But as usual for the show, it looks like their interactions with the heroes (if you can call them that) are taking a very different path from that in the comics. For a start, in the course of only one episode, most of them have now been killed.

The prisoners’ plight, expecting Rick and co to be a rescue team and not comprehending the scale of what’s happened to the world, was an interesting take on the whole post-apocalypse thing. Imagine if you had managed to wait it out, thought you were being rescued, and found out that the whole of civilisation had fallen.

Even then, they scarcely seemed able to grasp it, which was perfectly credible; wanting to borrow cellphones to call their loved ones rather than panicking. It was only when the group’s de facto leader, the aggressive and hyper-macho Tomas (Nick Gomez) pointed out how bad things would have to be outside for people to break into a prison that the reality seemed to sink in.

Tomas was obviously going to be a problem from the start, with he and Rick squaring off to each other as two alpha males vying for territory – if the show had been in smell-o-vision, you could probably have smelled the testosterone. But Tomas was taking his hard man status a little too seriously; as evidenced at the close of the last season, this is a new Rick, more hardened to Shane’s pragmatic view of needing to do anything in order to survive, and unhampered by moral objections from the group now that Dale is gone.

Fairly early in the episode, he had a cold, matter-of-fact discussion with Lori about whether to just kill the prisoners rather than take any risks, which Lori accepted meekly enough. As it turned out, Rick didn’t even leave it to the last resort. Shane may be dead, but it seems his philosophy lives on in his best friend, who was right to doubt the safety of cohabiting with the prison’s former inmates. That confrontational, “we took it. It’s ours” is virtually a quote from the original Dawn of the Dead, and there, as here, we’re perhaps not meant to sympathise with the man expressing such possessive sentiments. Given the alternative, you see his point; but if Dale had still been around, he might have seen the inmates’ point of view too.

These guys are hardened prisoners, and no clue was given as to why they were incarcerated; it could just as easily have been multiple murder as accounting fraud. The former seemed more likely as evidenced by the ferocity of their attack on the zombies. Completely undisciplined, they went at it violently but stupidly, viciously stabbing at anywhere but the head, contrary to Rick’s instructions. No surprise that, in one of the week’s more inventive gory moments, one of them ended up stabbed in the back by the arm bones of a zombie that had torn off its own hand to escape from a pair of cuffs.

Neither was there much surprise, given what we’d established about him, that Tomas chose to end the debate about trying to save his life by brutally smashing his head to a pulp. It was a surprise, though, quite how much Rick had changed towards Shane’s worldview when presented with Tomas’ sly but unconvincing attempt to kill him by shoving a zombie at him after ‘accidentally’ nearly clouting him with a baseball bat. For a few heart-stopping moments, the two men stared at each other coldly as they’d been doing every couple of minutes since the episode started. Then with nary a change of expression, Rick simply clove Tomas’ head in two with a cleaver. Bet he wasn’t expecting that.

But if viewers were shocked by this display of Rick’s new ruthlessness, it was nothing compared to what happened next. Tomas’ compatriot Andrew (who seemed so upset about Tomas’ death that the implication was they were lovers) made a run for it, with Rick in hot pursuit. And when Andrew stumbled into an exercise yard full of walkers, Rick simply locked him in to be torn apart, listening dispassionately to the screaming.

This is indeed a new Rick, hardening to his situation just as he did in the comics. It makes sense, pragmatically, if he’s to ensure his own survival and that of his group; but it also makes him harder to like as a character. I’m betting that this newfound ruthlessness will be a major plot point in the coming episodes.

It is at least (for now) tempered with a certain sense of fairplay, as he kept to his word in allowing surviving prisoners Oscar and Axel to settle in to the newly cleared adjacent cell block to the gang’s own. This may be a mistake. In the comic, it leads to a very gruesome subplot which looks unlikely in the show as it depends on additional characters not included in the TV scripts. Nonetheless, I can’t see showrunner Glen Mazzara leaving the plot thread of the group’s neighbours simply dangling. Custer-bearded whiner Axel (Lew Temple) seems amenable enough (but is he?), but his compatriot Oscar (Vincent Ward), stubborn enough not to beg for his life with a gun pointed at his head, looks like trouble. Still, my guess is that the show will subvert expectations by showing us that Oscar’s the one who can truly be trusted.

Amid all that action, there was still plenty of time for character moments and development, mostly centring on the rest of the group holding vigil for the unconscious Hershel while Rick, Daryl and T-Dog went off a-hunting. Refreshingly though, the character moments sprang as much from their actions as from sitting around listlessly talking, which seemed to be the main format of season two. Carol, in particular, has become much more self-reliant, partly trained by Hershel in medical techniques. After her mostly passive role in previous seasons, as beaten wife and grieving mother, it was good to see Melissa McBride taking charge here, binding Hershel’s stump and experimenting on a downed walker as practice for Lori’s potential upcoming C-section.

Lori, for her part, seemed to be curbing her tendency to whine at every moment, and even gaining a bit of self-aware humour. And it was she who took charge when Hershel stopped breathing, bravely giving mouth to mouth to a man who might rise from the dead and try to eat her face off. Indeed, it was a genuine shock moment that made me jump when he seemed to lunge for her to do just that; but as it turned out, he was back in the land of the living. This surprised me, as Scott Wilson’s absence from the main cast list, together with daughter Maggie’s heartfelt farewell speech to him, made me fairly certain he was on the way out. The fact that he isn’t is a good example of the show playing with your expectations.

It was a measure of how much better this year’s balance between action and character development seems to be that this week’s cliffhanger centred not on the prisoners, or any threat from the walkers, but on Rick’s ambivalence about his cheating wife, and her eagerness to be forgiven. Rick was at least able to reassure her that she was a good mother, after her earlier shouting match with the increasingly self-reliant Carl; like any good son, Carl seems to be following his dad’s example by hardening his worldview towards ruthlessness in order to survive.

But when it came to talking about where their marriage stood, after some wry discussion on the absence of divorce lawyers after the end of civilisation, the best Rick could offer was “we’re all grateful for what you did”, ie saving Hershel. So much left unspoken and nothing resolved – even amidst the thrills and the gore, it was a quietly powerful moment.

Thus far, I’m loving this new season, which seems to have truly taken the criticisms of last year on board. It’s worth noting that the pace of the previous season flagged as early as halfway through its first episode; here, it’s been breathlessly exciting for two already. Thankfully, though, the writers haven’t tacked to the other side of the balance by giving us nothing but action, gore and zombies; there’s still enough depth and development of character to make these people interesting enough to care about. Because without that, they might as well be the walking dead themselves.

My only disappointment this week was the complete absence of Andrea and Michonne, last seen wandering off towards an unspecified destination. I’m guessing we’ll see a lot more of them next week, as the season’s other major plot thread and location begin to get properly established…

Dallas (the next generation): Season 1, Episode 7

“I really hoped you kids would climb out of the hole this family dug. But JR’s just dragging you down with him.” – Bobby Ewing

DallasJohnRoss

Previously, on Dallas: With JR now sole owner of Southfork, and having buggered off leaving John Ross in charge, the first battles were joined in stopping the dastardly plans to drill on the family’s beloved ranch.

  • Harris Ryland, slimeball and trucking magnate, threatened to expose the saintly Ann’s Dark Past by means of sending her a mysterious necklace with the power to make her dissolve into tears
  • Bobby found this a bit annoying and went round to Ryland’s office to punch him
  • Vicente from Venezuela got all threatening with John Ross about the non-appearance of the oil he’d been promised
  • Marta, whose actual name is Veronica, took her John Ross-stalking to a new level by threatening Elena with a knife through her photo
  • Bobby and Christopher won the first battle over the drilling when Rebecca pointed them to an old document showing that JR’s ownership of the ranch doesn’t include mineral exploitation rights
  • And, in tried and tested soap fashion, we ended on the big cliffhanger that Rebecca is (gasp) pregnant.

This week, the focus was mainly on Rebecca’s pregnancy and John Ross’ increasingly frantic attempts to get round the legal obstacle to his drilling before being subjected to Venezuelan vengeance. With JR barely appearing (again), you’d think the show might be losing steam in the absence of its villain. Not a bit of it; John Ross might not be cutting it as a junior JR (yet), but there’s baddies oozing out of the Texan woodwork all over the place. Harris Ryland, Marta/Veronica and Vicente from Venezuela make for a good trio of antagonists while JR takes a break to play double dealing poker with Cliff Barnes.

John Ross had another bad week; JR has really dropped him in it. Has he got what it takes to be his father’s son and come up smelling of roses while screwing over everyone else? On current evidence, no. He may have his oil trucks running again (thanks to Bobby’s Ryland-punching antics), but he can’t drill any oil to put in them. This is a problem, as Vicente from Venzuela, a man with the demeanour of a minor league Bond villain, is not a patient man.

Peremptorily summoned to the black-clad bad guy’s lair, John Ross was all out of excuses. This gave Vicente the chance to deliver his usual style of veiled threats disguised as anecdotes about his home country. This week, it was about dancing. “You know, we have a dance in Venezuela called the joropo…” This was then described in more detail than was perhaps necessary before Vicente reached the point. “I can spot a good dancer when I see one Mr Ewing, and you are not a good dancer.”

Rightly terrified of a man whose idea of a threat is dance instructions, John Ross was getting pretty desperate, so he took Lucy out to lunch. Lucy’s appearances thus far have been fairly pointless cameos, so when John Ross started asking her to help sway her father Gary into allowing the drilling, it looked like she might actually have a plotline for the first time this series. Alas, any such hopes held by avowed fans of Charlene Tilton were quickly dashed as she went straight round to Bobby to blow the whistle on John Ross’ connivances.

Which left John Ross with only the unpalatable option of literally begging his uncle to allow the drilling before Vicente could send some heavies round to teach him to dance. Bobby’s refusal was predictable, but it looked like he at least enjoyed seeing John Ross grovel.

So, like every spoiled little boy in a jam, he went crying to his mom, the only levelheaded one in the family (for now – let’s hope no one pours her a drink). Sue Ellen had the sensible idea of asking for Elena’s help; what with her money funding Elena’s oil venture at “the old Henderson place”, Elena could hardly refuse the loan of a few barrels to keep Vicente in dancing shoes.

But John Ross had more to worry about than just Vicente, as bunny-boiling Marta/Veronica had taken to following Elena about and giving her evil glares. After last week’s knife/photo intersection, this is clearly a worrying development. But John Ross has enough of his dad in him to use one enemy against another; so he told Vicente a quick fib that she’d been creaming money off the deal, and asked the footloose Venezuelan to “put a scare into her”.

Unfortunately Vicente is not a man who does things by half measures. Having found Marta himself at a nearby hotel, John Ross had a bit of a row which involved him calling her a “crazy messed-up bitch” while she uttered things that people only say in soap operas such as “I’ve earned my way out of the slums of Caracas!” Then, just as John Ross finished this delightful exchange and left, Vicente’s heavies turned up and threw her out of the fifth storey window. Evidently her joropo had not been up to scratch.

Ann and Bobby weren’t having a great time either. The problem of Ann’s Dark Past keeps making her burst into tears at inopportune moments, such as Rebecca’s pregnancy scan (it’s twins), and lie to Bobby about shopping while she’s really hanging out at a children’s playground staring wistfully at young mothers.

The logical conclusion to draw is that Ann’s Dark Past involves her having had (and presumably given up) a child when she was younger. Fortunately for Bobby, Harris Ryland had an envelope containing everything about the Dark Past, which for some reason he was happy to give to Bobby (after having threatened him with assault charges). His motives seem inexplicable – maybe he’s just doing it for devilment.

If he was hoping to gum up the works of their marriage though, he hadn’t taken Bobby’s unfeasible decency into account. Showing Ann the mystery envelope, he then threw it onto the fire saying that when she was ready, she could tell him anything. Fortunately for Ann, he didn’t glance into the fire to see the photos of a younger her holding a child; fortunately for us, the camera did. Though why this would be such a cause of shame in this day and age seems perplexing.

Family matters

With Lucy almost having a plot this week, viewers may need reminding who her father, the much-mentioned Gary, is. Gary Ewing was the middle, boring Ewing brother between JR and Bobby when the show first began in 1978. As a third wheel in the nice guy/ nasty guy dynamic of Bobby and JR, he served little function dramatically, so the writers gave him an alcohol problem, forgetting that the show already had one alcoholic in Sue Ellen. That having failed to pique anyone’s interest, Gary was summarily shunted out of Dallas in season 3 and sent to launch lower rent spinoff show Knots Landing, which actually outlived its parent show by two years.

Who’s double crossing who this week?

Given one scene in this week’s episode (shot in the same limo he was in a couple of weeks ago), JR is still scheming to bring down Cliff Barnes, who never did make an appearance in Vegas. His henchman/PI, the bizarrely named Bum, has discovered that Cliff’s henchman was adopted as a child by Cliff and given a wonderful lifestyle, but no inheritance, which might make him feel a bit aggrieved. As JR comments, “a cheated man is a dangerous man”.

Given that we’ve barely seen Cliff this series, and he seems to have no part in any of the plotlines, JR’s obsession with him looks a trifle odd. But at least it gave him a scene in the episode, however perfunctory; he’s still the best thing about Dallas, and his continuing absence from the main action seems a shame.

This week’s big cliffhanger

Having delved deep into the Big Box of Soap Cliches for last week’s “I’m pregnant” shocker, another old favourite was wheeled out this week as the police turned up at Southfork hot on the heels of John Ross. It seems they want to have a word with him about the murder of a woman he’d been witnessed having a furious argument with. Actually, these were the same cops who’d turned up at the ranch earlier to charge Bobby with Ryland’s assault; either Dallas has something of a police shortage, or these two comprise the special Ewing Unit needed to deal with the family’s frequent brushes with the law.

Three episodes to go, and the show’s still entertainingly implausible and mad, though the absence of JR is definitely felt. One or two plotlines – like Ann’s Dark Past – seem fairly pointless and redundant, but this is a show that can never have too much going on. And at least we finally discovered that Bum’s actual name is Steve Jones, which makes it even more bizarre that he’d voluntarily call himself Bum. Perhaps people kept mistaking him for the Welsh TV presenter…