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…