Dallas (the next generation): Season 2, Episode 3

“It’s a rare and beautiful thing when enemies share a common goal.” – JR

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Previously, on Dallas: Much hi energy treachery last week:

  • Christopher’s court hearing to annul his marriage to Pamela didn’t go too well when The Real Rebecca Sutter sold him out for a suitcase full of Barnes cash.
  • The new evil Pamela upset her dad’s sinister henchman Frank, who promptly sent Christopher a damning cellphone incriminating her in the disappearance of The Real Rebecca Sutter’s brother.
  • JR went a-blackmailin’ the local prosecutor to save Sue Ellen’s reputation (and her ass) from jail.
  • John Ross, having formed an alliance with his worst enemy/best shag Pamela, stepped up his efforts to regain control of Ewing Energies by helping Elena become an equal partner while she’s still in hock to his mother.
  • And Bobby, doggedly investigating why Ann’s secret daughter wants nothing to do with her, discovered the real secret – Harris had kidnapped her himself, and given her to his evil (and younger-looking than he is) mother to raise as a twisted snob.

With all this in place and the clockwork running, this week’s episode settled down into a slightly less manic pace, as the chess game continued. At least until the last couple of minutes, when it suddenly dropped a massive plot bomb shocker.

There was an awful lot of unlikely alliances being forged left right and centre; JR, able to sense Frank’s annoyance with Pamela, came to an … arrangement which could inconvenience her somewhat. Frank is going to contrive to have the body of Tommy Sutter turn up (with JR’s eager help), which would not only annoy The Real Rebecca Sutter, but would probably result in Pamela going to jail.

John Ross, meanwhile, had a surprisingly easy time enlisting the help of his mother in calling in Elena’s debt. Well, maybe not that surprising, really; he’s momma’s little boy, and Elena broke his black heart. So into Elena’s office Sue Ellen strode, superimposed badly on the CG view outside the window, to demand recompense. She looked mighty pissed; well, as pissed as she can look with a face that’s somewhat restricted in mobility.

Apparently, Elena hadn’t made good on her debt because her attempts to drill at the Old Henderson Place had been hampered by ‘a salt dome’ . Fortunately,at this point her drilling-mad little brother (of whom we’ve never heard before) turned up back at the old homestead. Fresh from a spell in the army that cured him of his juvenile delinquency by acting on political delinquency in Iraq, his name is Drew, and he’s going to be the show’s latest hunk. Seething with bitterness at the death of their father trying to drill for oil in a place that doesn’t have any oil, he’s also going to be ideal for helping Elena get past that ‘salt dome’…

Elsewhere, Christopher had got the drop on The Real Rebecca Sutter and dragged her to the local police department, where her description of her brother was strangely at odds with Christopher’s. Could it be that the Tommy Sutter we met last year wasn’t Tommy Sutter after all, and there’s a Real Tommy Sutter out there to go with his sister?

Probably not – I’d guess The Real Rebecca Sutter was just lying. Either way, it made the cops suspicious enough to visit Pamela’s old condo, where some CSI-style shenanigans revealed an awful lot of bloodstains in the places Frank hadn’t been able to properly clean. It’s so hard to find good help these days. Apparently, the spatter patterns were enough for the cop to conclude that they were from someone being shot, probably fatally – Gil Grissom would be proud.

So, could stuff be going pear-shaped for Pamela this early into her career in evil? I think not. If she’s any kind of a match for John Ross (beyond arguing about who goes on top), she’ll find a way out of this.

Who’s double-crossing who this week?

The same guys as last week, ie virtually the entire cast.

The Real Rebecca Sutter is still being fickle; now she works for Christopher, now she works for Pamela, now she works for herself. Christopher’s feeding her with suspicion about the fate of her brother at Pamela’s hands though, so she’ll have to make a decision pretty soon. My decision would be to vamoose before she gets a visit from Frank, as almost every lead in to commercial now seems to be a slow zoom onto his pursed-lipped, sinister face.

But Frank may not be quite the henchman Pamela thinks he is, now he’s under the spell of the wily JR. What corpse-conjuring antics will they cook up in an attempt to cage the Barnes bitch?

And does Sue Ellen even realise that her son has become the new JR, and is manipulating her into screwing over every other Ewing? Actually, perhaps. She used to turn a blind eye to it often enough with JR (though booze probably helped).

Hey look, it’s that hombre from that thing:

Elena’s newfound long-lost little brother Drew is played with a surly snarl by Mexican actor Kuno Becker. Soccer film fans may remember him from such movies as Goal. And Goal 2. And Goal 3.

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What on Earth is Judith Ryland wearing this week?

After last week’s nifty Servalan dress/Glenn Close hair combo, this week Judith was to be found lurking around the Dallas Police Department wearing her hair down and what appeared to be a cast-off ensemble from Cher:

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Given the pose, you could charitably assume she’d been picked up for streetwalking.

This week’s big cliffhanger:

Well, they finally pushed her too far.

Yes, Ann Ewing might have appeared both tough and saintly, but that secret daughter is plainly her Achilles heel. She spent the episode trying to reconcile with young Emma by the novel method of having her dragged down to the local police station. But even a heartfelt chat in the interview room failed to convince Emma that she wasn’t the monster Harris and Judith said she was. Funny, that.

Later, overhearing a policeman inform Bobby that Harris was not, technically, guilty of anything, Ann snuck out glassy-eyed to endure more lecherous torment from Harris in her quest for answers. After lip-lickingly probing her clothing to ensure she wasn’t wired again, Harris went on to (perhaps unwisely) push her to the brink of madness by taunting her about missing the experience of her daughter’s childhood.

So she shot him.

Dallas has always thrived on a good shooting – the most memorable being the first time JR was shot, which was enough of an event to be covered on the BBC News. The novelty wore off when the ratings-hungry producers kept having him shot, but, hateable though he is, the shooting of Harris felt similarly seismic. Will he recover? Well, Mitch Pileggi’s in the opening credits and it’s only episode 3. What do you think?

The faces!

Side note: one of the things I’d hoped they’d change this year was to have the cast’s faces in the credits (the way Dallas used to be) ideally in a triptych format:

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Sadly, they haven’t done that. So here’s a fan made one that’s pretty good; it doesn’t have the triptych thing, but at least has the cast visible:

The way it should be.

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

“That grin makes you look like trouble. And my daddy told me to stay away from trouble.”

So, them feudin’ Ewings are back, quicker than I expected on the UK screens. Looks like Channel 5 showed the season premiere the very night after the US broadcast – though they only showed one of the two eps shown over the pond, meaning they’ll presumably remain a week behind. Quicker than the period of months from last year, though.

And woo-hoo! My blog is back. Haven’t written anything for a month; it’s not like there haven’t been interesting political events and TV shows, just that my new job has kept me incredibly busy. But now the Ewings are back, I have a deadline to carry on from last year…

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Previously, on Dallas: You might need a moment to remember last year’s gloriously convoluted plotlines of betrayal, sex and very big Stetsons. Fortunately, all through this first episode, the characters involved kept meeting up and telling each other things they must logically already know for our benefit:

  • Sue Ellen’s still running for Texas governor, and still has no recognisable party affiliation. But she’s doing well, apparently, so here’s the cue for things to go pear-shaped for her campaign. Wait, remember all that bribery and double dealing she engaged in last year?
  • Exposition-spewing lawyer Lou (the ever-reliable Glenn Morshower) popped up to remind us (and Christopher) that Christopher had married a conwoman whose fake brother had spurred her on to steal Ewing money and secrets even while Christopher impregnated her with twins. “She’ll never see those kids,” snarled Christopher – a neat trick, given that she’s still gestating them.
  • Christopher and John Ross had come together to set up a new company, Ewing Energies, which would combine the former’s love of green energy with the latter’s love of oil. Naturally, they were instantly at loggerheads, with JR lurking behind to pull John Ross’ bitter twisted strings.
  • Bobby’s saintly wife Ann has a Dark Secret – one which slimy ex-husband Harris Ryland threatened to reveal to Bobby. Ann used to have a daughter – but what happened to her?
  • And in a stunning twist which most people probably saw coming, Christopher’s conwoman wife (who’d already murdered her fake brother) turned out to be the daughter of none other than … Cliff Barnes!

So, this season opener strode in with even more confidence than the last, buoyed by the success of last year’s revival. Noticeably, the new cast seemed to take more prominence over the older ones than previously; a sign, perhaps, that the show can stand on its own feet without the need for past glories.

Probably a good thing – as fans will undoubtedly be aware, JR Ewing is no longer with us. The undoubted star of the original, Larry Hagman sadly passed away late last year. He did complete filming for several episodes of this new season, and was briefly present here for a couple of scenes; but he looked frail, and watching him was tinged with sadness.

Still, it’s looking like his mantle will be well picked up by the younger, fitter (boy, is he fit) John Ross, played as ever by the chiselled Josh Henderson. John Ross wasted no time getting his shirt off in a pre-credits opener that showed him to be the new bad guy in town – not only did he charm a young bride into bed at her father’s house on her hen night, he then promptly used a film of said event to blackmail her reluctant daddy into selling him a trucking firm. Way to go, John Ross!

Other characters introduced last year made a welcome reappearance, a sign that they’ve worked out as popular as the originals. Everyone’s favourite slimy trucking magnate Harris Ryland turned up to loom lecherously behind ex wife Ann, before villainously explaining last years’ blackmail plot and revealing that he values his and Ann’s kidnapped daughter mostly as a bargaining chip to leverage aspiring Governor Sue Ellen. Mitch Pileggi has been promoted to the main cast this year – a sure sign we’ll be seeing a lot of Ryland this season.

Conflicted (and ineffectual) conwoman Rebecca was back too, having had an extended vacation, much to sinister henchman Frank’s displeasure. Thus invigorated, she had a newfound evil veneer suitable for her function as the New Cliff.

Looking good for a pregnant lady, she had a revelatory, exposition-filled confrontation with Bobby and Christopher at the Barnes Global building (“but what’s she doing here??”), which also seems to accommodate corporate vulture Deloitte; perhaps Cliff’s not doing as well as he thinks. Or perhaps the producers just CG’d an extra sign onto the Deloitte building and forgot to remove the original.

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Be that as it may, it was positively Star Wars-esque as these adversaries confronted each other, complete with a parental reveal – “Cliff Barnes is my father!” Yes, Rebecca is actually Pamela Rebecca Barnes, last seen as a wee infant in the late 80s. So now that cat’s out of the bag, it’s time for Pamela/Rebecca to take her father’s place as Darth Barnes. I’m just waiting for the light saber duel.

Family matters

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Having now discovered Rebecca’s true identity as Pamela Rebecca Barnes, daughter of Cliff, all but the most dedicated fans may need reminding that she was born in the original show’s12th season, round about 1988, to Cliff’s ex Afton Cooper, sister of Lucy Ewing’s then husband Mitch. Still no info on the fate of the Pamela we know, Cliff’s half-sister and Bobby’s ex – is Victoria Principal still too busy for a cameo?

Hey look, it’s that guy from that thing:

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No notable guest actors this week, but a quick cameo from former NASCAR driver Ricky Rudd (who is definitely not an actor, on this evidence). Playing himself, Ricky was impressed with Christopher’s methane-fuelled stock car. I wanted to know more about how it worked, but Christopher was less than forthcoming, perhaps worried that Cliff Barnes might be watching.

Who’s double crossing who this week?

Everyone.

Harris’ blackmail of Sue Ellen is back on track with his acquisition of ‘the tape’ (there’s always a tape), and already her gubernatorial campaign is in a bit of a mess with the news appearance of the Medical Examiner she tried to bribe/blackmail last year. Not sure how Harris gains from Sue Ellen not becoming governor, so maybe there’s more than one double cross going on here.

Elena is innocently trying to buy decommissioned oil rigs from an unsuspecting (and near-incoherent) Texan oilman, who is unaware that Christopher’s Secret Methane Plans can turn them into money spinners.

John Ross, trying to gain control of Ewing Energies (and screw over his hated cousin), has forged an unholy alliance with Methane Plan-seeking Pamela/Rebecca Barnes, which hinges on him poaching Christopher’s star witness in the marriage annulment case – the real Rebecca Sutter.

This week’s big cliffhanger:

John Ross’ reveal of his Evil Plan. But also – why does Ann’s daughter know and hate her? What will happen to Sue Ellen’s political ambitions? Will Elena succeed in buying her beloved Christopher some cheap oil rigs? And will the scriptwriters remember Bobby’s brain tumour at an opportune moment?

This was a hugely enjoyable season opener, with the confidence of a show that’s found its niche. It was nice to see JR, frail though he may look, but he doesn’t seem as instrumental to the show’s success as he did last year. Bobby too took something of a back seat, and there was no sign of Cliff, leaving Sue Ellen as the only Dallas veteran with much of a plot. But that’s OK – the new guys have proved their worth in twisted soap opera shenanigans and looking good with not many clothes on. I look forward to their undoubtedly bizarre and implausible goings on over the coming weeks.

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 1

SPOILER WARNING – I’M GOING TO TRY AND REVIEW THESE EPISODES AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE TO THE ORIGINAL U.S. TV BROADCAST. IF YOU’RE IN THE U.K., AND PLANNING TO WATCH THE BROADCAST ON FX THE FOLLOWING FRIDAY, BE AWARE THAT MAJOR PLOT POINTS WILL BE DISCUSSED!

What Lies Ahead

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A much-anticipated adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s ongoing comic book series, last year’s debut season of The Walking Dead was a huge success for cable channel AMC. Like many zombie fans, I love Kirkman’s comic series for its breadth; even long zombie movies like the original Dawn of the Dead don’t have the necessary running time for truly fleshed out characters and lengthy, complex plotting. A monthly comic (if written well, as Kirkman’s is) can do that, and so can a TV show.

With an impressive roster of talent – writer/director Frank Darabont, stars Andrew Lincoln, Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn, plus Bear McCreary on music duties – the TV version of The Walking Dead is an impressive piece of work that’s contributed greatly to the recent trend for genre television being taken seriously as drama. It also helps that cable television is free of the standard and practices imposed on its network equivalent, meaning that the show doesn’t have to stint on the outright gore and violence that’s so essential to the genre.

It’s easy to treat the zombie apocalypse genre less than seriously, and many exploitation movies (notably ones made in Italy) do just that. What Kirkman’s comic, and its TV adaptation, do very well is to create a believable, rounded group of characters within the situation, and make the story as much about them as it is about gory, ravenous walking corpses. In the process, you end up with a piece of work every bit as respectable as the giants of the genre – particularly Romero’s seminal Dawn of the Dead, the movie that really kick started all this.

With a tightly knit six episode first season, The Walking Dead was a great success both with viewers and critics, its validity as drama in no way stinting its real zombie action. A lot of people who normally wouldn’t go near a zombie story were hailing it as impressively watchable. Clearly then, this second season, and its opener in particular, have a lot to live up to.

It doesn’t help that there’ve been some fairly well-publicised ‘creative differences’ behind the scenes between seasons. Frank Darabont, the excellent writer/director who was the driving force behind getting the show on TV in the first place, departed as showrunner under circumstances that vary according to which reports you read. Some say he resigned, others that he was fired, but there’s general consensus that he was none too happy at AMC’s demand for a longer season on a smaller budget. Meanwhile, cast members have reportedly gone in fear that if they disagree with the producers in any way, they’ll be written out – easy enough in a series where violent death is a frequent occurrence.

While I’m sceptical about that last claim – other reports indicate cast members having contracts for multiple seasons – it rarely bodes well for a series to have such ructions in its production team. Thankfully, comic creator Robert Kirkman is still heavily involved with the show, so at least there’s a strong continuity there.

So, there’s a lot riding on this season opener. Penned by Kirkman himself along with Darabont (his final contribution to the show, credited under the pseudonym Ardeth Bey) it had to live up to the excellent first episode of season one, and reintroduce the zombie action that was rather lacking in the previous year’s season finale. It also had to pick up numerous character arcs, notably the one about hero Rick Grimes’ wife Lori having an affair with his best friend Shane, believing Rick to be dead. And a major unresolved point from last year’s finale – just what did CDC scientist Dr Jenner whisper into Rick’s ear shortly before blowing himself up along with his facility?

Thankfully, I can report that this opener acquits itself rather well. Handily opening with a recap of recent events as Rick reports them via walkie talkie to fellow survivor Morgan (yet to reappear after episode 1), it’s intercut with some impressive scenes of various zombies staggering around the deserted Atlanta. Significantly, one of the show’s best assets who’s not been affected by behind the scenes changes is veteran makeup guy Greg Nicotero. Nicotero, who cut his teeth working with Tom Savini on Romero classic Day of the Dead, serves as chief effects bod on the show, and after years of practice is producing some of the best zombies the genre’s ever seen. These are realistically ragged, rotting, mutilated things that look so convincing you can almost smell the rot off them!

The ep really gets going with a superb, lengthy set piece as our heroes get stuck by a broken radiator hose on Dale’s RV, amidst one of mankind’s final great traffic jams. I’ve always found post-apocalyptic drama rather patchy on this whole traffic thing; some show the roads eerily empty, others decide that they’d be clogged with people trying to escape from whatever’s ending the world. I’ve always contended that unless the apocalypse happens in an instant, the latter approach is more believable. Luckily for me, so do the producers of this show, and a sizeable portion of that reduced budget must have been spent on putting together this motley collection of stalled and crashed cars to block our heroes’ way.

And of course, a mammoth herd of zombies turned up to add to the problem. If you’re going to grab viewers with your zombie drama, it’s best to start big, and this episode did. It was a long but heart-poundingly suspenseful set piece as our heroes were forced to hide, mostly underneath the stalled cars. I’d have thought they might be better off inside them, but that was dealt with too as Andrea (Laurie Holden) cowered inside the RV, trying incompetently to reassemble the gun she’d taken apart for cleaning. Of course, if she’d managed, the shot would have brought more zombies running (or staggering, anyway), but she managed to dispose of one curious (and gruesomely made up) zombie that got in by means of a screwdriver handily given to her by Dale, who was hiding on the roof. And thus we got the first (but not the last) bit of real nasty gore in the episode as she rammed the screwdriver into the zombie’s eye socket. Really hard. And repeatedly. Ewww…

Elsewhere, T-Dog and Daryl took an alternative approach to hiding by dragging rotted corpses out of the cars and pulling them on top of themselves, in another nice grossout moment. Actors IronE Singleton and Norman Reedus gave convincing grimaces which conveyed quite how nasty this must have smelled. Indeed, this was a continual motif throughout the episode whenever anyone got near to a zombie, and it’s an aspect that I think has never really been dealt with before in zombie films, so it’s good to see it followed up on here – if you recall the first season, we were shown that zombies don’t chase each other because of the smell of rotting flesh, leading to a really icky sequence where Rick and Glenn had to cover themselves with zombie innards to walk among them undetected.

This whole set piece must have taken up near a third of the episode by itself, and was extremely well-directed. It’s fair to say that the pace slowed a lot after this wound down, as the story concentrated more on the characters. That’s no bad thing (though hardcore zombie fans who just want blood and guts might disagree), as the pared down group left at the end of last season is small enough for some interesting dynamics to be emerging.

Among these is Andrea’s antipathy towards Dale, who last season forced her to flee the impending destruction of the CDC by threatening to remain with her if she didn’t leave. Andrea, it turns out, really resents Dale for this, feeling that he undermined her choice to end her life by guilt tripping her into leaving. Dale, for his part, is worried that her desire to commit suicide is far from gone, and is reluctant to trust her with a gun. This came to a head in a nicely played scene between regular Darabont alumni Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn, and is clearly far from resolved. What makes it interesting for the reader of the comics is the knowledge that there, Andrea and Dale end up as a couple. But the TV show is taking the wise course of cherry picking certain plot points and set pieces from the comic without being a slavish adaptation, so there’s no guarantee of that happening here.

The group actually splits up too, as Rick and various others head off as two parties to search for little Sophia, who ran off screaming as a zombie spotted her underneath a car. Meanwhile, Dale and T-Dog remained with the RV, with Dale revealing that he’d actually fixed the radiator some time ago, but kept it secret so the others wouldn’t move on without finding Sophia. With the heroes now effectively split into three groups, there’s a lot more scope for subplots about them not being able to find each other while getting into their own, separate jeopardies – a good plan for the season, in my opinion.

While this latter half of the episode is undoubtedly less intense than the traffic jam/zombie herd set piece, there’s still plenty of gore and nastiness to keep the hardcore zombie fans happy. As Rick kills the walkers who’d been chasing Sophia, the camera lingers quite a while as he very graphically bashes one’s head in with a rock. Later, he and Daryl kill another with a crossbow bolt, and in order to ensure that it hasn’t just eaten Sophia, open it up to check its stomach contents. Again, the looks on the actors’ faces conveyed just how gross this must smell, and even I couldn’t restrain myself from saying out loud, “Ewww.”

There’s also some gruesome zombie killing in a local church, as the search for Sophia leads our heroes to holy ground. This also gives some of the characters a chance to reveal themselves via the South’s fractious relationship with religion, as the camera frequently lingers on the crucifix at the altar. Sophia’s mother Carol (Melissa McBride) is, unsurprisingly, very religious, and takes the opportunity to pray fervently for her daughter to be found. Rick, however, is more ambivalent. Andrew Lincoln continues to give a good performance as, wracked by doubt, he prays to a God he’s not sure he even believes in for a sign that he’s doing the right thing. I’ve always liked Lincoln as an actor, so it’s no surprise that he’s good here, but I’m still impressed with his convincing Georgia accent (though if anyone from Georgia is reading this, they will probably know better than I how good it is).

The episode climaxes with another set piece lifted from the comic, and very nicely directed it is too. Seeing a majestic stag in the woods, Rick’s son Carl is entranced, and creeps towards it while Rick motions Shane not to shoot it. It’s a magical moment which, just as in the comic, is brutally interrupted when an unseen shooter blows a hole in both the stag and Carl’s stomach. For those who haven’t read the comic, I won’t speculate on what happens next as it looks to be identical – suffice to say, we’re about to meet some new characters.

A promising start, then, for a show that had a lot to live up to after its first year. Of course, this is also the last episode with any Darabont involvement, so it remains to be seen whether later instalments will be as good. I’d also say that, in its bid to impress from the outset, this opener has probably had a lot more money spent on it than others will have, so the budgetary restrictions that led to Darabont’s departure may become more noticeable too. Nonetheless, we’ve got some seeds here for a very promising season. I’m guessing we’ll see more memorable set pieces and characters from the comic making an appearance, but I’m also hopeful that we might see a return for Michael Rooker’s formidable redneck Merle, a  creation of the TV show whose fate remains unknown. And we still don’t know what Dr Jenner whispered to Rick, the script teasingly dancing around the issue as Rick brings Morgan up to speed on the walkie talkie at the start. Whatever happens, new showrunner Glen Mazzara has some big shoes to fill; let’s hope he does it well.