Re-watching the Ewingverse ... alphabetically!

James from London

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Caribbean Connection (DALLAS, 04 Mar 83) v Carousel (DALLAS, 28 Oct 88)

In Caribbean Connection, Sue Ellen is JR’s strongest advocate. “He’s a different man and I just know that,” she tells Miss Ellie dreamily. “I’m working at my marriage … I’m gonna do everything in my power to make sure we never break up again.” Bobby, meanwhile, is JR’s fiercest opponent. He and Ray break into Walt Driscoll’s motel room where they discover that JR plans to sell a million barrels of oil to Cuba, illegally. Bobby vows to stop him.

In Carousel, Sue Ellen and Bobby have swapped positions. Instead of standing by her man, Sue Ellen has just shot him in cold blood and thinks he’s dead. “You mean to tell me that that bastard is still alive?” she asks in dismay when she finds out he isn’t. Rather than doing “everything in my power to make sure we never break up again,” she instructs her lawyer to do “whatever it takes for a clean and fast divorce.”

JR may not be dying, but he orders his doctor to make it seem like he is. His motive is the same as when he was selling oil to the Cubans: to strengthen his position at Ewing Oil. Now as then, Bobby sees through the deception but ends up taking him back into Ewing Oil anyway. “He’s my brother. That’s the bottom line. I love him,” he tells Sue Ellen during a really great scene at Southfork. “It’s a little strange to hear you defend him as well as you know him,” she replies — a tad richly given that’s what she’s spent half her life doing.

Carousel is such a great season opener. With JR and Sue Ellen loudly accusing each other of murder and with a genuine desire to see one another behind bars, their mutual hatred is at an all-time high. Sue Ellen’s vengeful mood is complemented by her wild mane of Medusa-like curls, just as her matronly mullet of five years earlier is equally appropriate for the political wife she hopes to become. As she and JR discuss the possibility of him running for office, she worries about the attendant publicity: “I don’t want my life to become an open book, but if you want me to do it, JR, I will.” "I'm touched, Sue Ellen," he replies. In Carousel, ironically, it’s the prospect of scandalous headlines (specifically, their effect on John Ross) that obliges them both, reluctantly, to drop the charges against one another. But that doesn’t stop them threatening each other’s lives right up until the closing credits.

Lucy performs the same function in both eps, that of Southfork’s resident wisecracker. “It’s a tense time in the old breakfast room today,” she observes in Caribbean Connection as JR and Bobby glare at each other across the eggs and bacon. In Carousel, she scolds Sue Ellen for botching her attempt on JR’s life. “If you’re gonna try again, I’d be happy to help steady the gun,” she offers cheerfully.

In 1983, Cliff is on a high after his first meeting with Mark Graison ("He's a terrific guy!"). When we first see him in 1988, he is equally excited at the prospect of flying to Florida where Pam has been spotted for the first time since her disappearance. Pam and Bobby are living apart in ’83 and Katherine meets with Mark (at the same racquet club where Pam once lunched with Leanne Rees) to encourage his pursuit of her sister. This leads to Pam accepting Mark’s dinner invitation — the first time they’ve been out together without the pretext of trying to helping Miss Ellie or Cliff. By 1988, Pam has moved even further away from Bobby, and indeed the rest of her family. “That part of my life is over,” she tells Cliff firmly. “Forget you ever had a sister … We’re never gonna see each other again.” This news is so devastating to Cliff that it literally splits him into two people — the fumbling, flappy one we’ll continue to see on screen and the one who coldly commits the evil deeds we’ll eventually learn about in New DALLAS.

While house-hunting in 1983, Clayton admits to Miss Ellie that he’s really hankering for “something like Southfork.” Five years later, he’s wangled half-ownership of Southfork and has moved from buyer to seller as he shows Carter Mackay round the Krebbs ranch on Ray's behalf.

Speaking of houses, I was extremely over-excited to realise that the living room Cliff and April are standing in when they first get to Florida in their search for Pam is the very same one where Pam and April’s eventual successor, Ann Ewing, will shoot her ex-husband in cold blood.

And the winner is ... Carousel

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James from London

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Cat and Mouse (DALLAS, 30 Jan 87) v Catharsis (KNOTS, 28 Oct 82)

Bobby to Ray in Caribbean Connection (1983): “If JR is selling to an embargo country, and our government finds out about it and we don't stop him, that's the end of Ewing Oil!"

JR to Bobby in Cat and Mouse (1987): “If the Feds find out about this, they’ll shut us down, Bobby. Ewing Oil will lose its franchise and we’ll go to prison!”

So Bobby’s obliged to help cover JR’s tracks again, only this time they’re doing it together. This leads to some private eye-style sleuthing (Bobby learns bad guy BD Calhoun’s residence by blowing up a photo of his hotel room to reveal a helpfully monogrammed pillow) followed by some cop show derring-do (JR and Bobby burst into BD’s room, armed and dangerous). There’s more of the same in California, 1982, where Karen Fairgate takes the law into her own hands in an attempt to entrap her husband’s killers.

I’ve never been overly impressed with Karen’s story in Catharsis — the hierarchy of interchangeable thugs specialising in stolen auto parts is little confusing, and Karen single-handedly succeeding where the legal system has failed by bringing the bad guys to justice has always felt like an unconvincingly pat conclusion to such a game-changing storyline. Watching it afresh, however, I realise that the whole point (and pleasure) of Karen’s scheme is that she is an “ordinary” woman out of her depth, but who blunders onwards regardless, as boyfriend Mack and brother Joe watching from the sidelines with increasing bemusement.

I know Kevin Dobson likes to tell the story of how he watched Sid go over a cliff and then said, “I just got a job”, but another possibility is that the producers saw how well Karen bounced off Joe in Season 3, realised she couldn’t marry her brother (although you can almost imagine Michael Filerman pitching the idea) and so created another hotheaded New Yorker who continually yells at Karen while having her best interests at heart. It’s interesting to have Mack and Joe share both the screen and most of the same personality traits during this handover period. They actually complement each other really well.

Meanwhile, Cat and Mouse is full of examples of what made the immediate Post-Dream Era of DALLAS so refreshing. There’s bad girl April chattering excitedly about suing Jack and Jamie for their shares of Ewing Oil while JR is doing unmentionable things to her just below screen level. “Malicious intent — it has such a nice ring to it!” she giggles. (Granted, that line ‘s not exactly Dorothy Parker, but it’s still more amusing than all of April’s limp jokes during her final three seasons combined.) There’s also the slow and sad, death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts dissolution of Ray and Donna’s marriage. While Donna concedes that she’s coming to terms with their breakup “little by little”, Ray’s jealousy over her friendship with Senator Dowling reawakens some old insecurities: “I could never be the man that Donna wanted, no matter what I did, how I felt about her. I could never measure up.” Ray is nothing but not consistent — he could have delivered this dialogue at almost any point in their relationship, even before they were married.

There’s also some unfinished business between the equally estranged Gary and Val in Catharsis. In this situation, Abby’s the jealous one when she finds out Gary has invited Val to Dallas for the reading of Jock’s will. Val turns him down flat. "What in the world would he think I'd wanna go to Dallas for?!" she exclaims indignantly. Lilimae reckons the reality of his daddy’s death has just hit him "and he probably wanted to talk about it to somebody who loves him.” “Then let him go to her,” Val replies bitterly.

When Sue Ellen fails to arrive home in Cat and Mouse, it’s notable that Pam is the Ewing most concerned she might have fallen off the wagon and ended up in trouble. Perhaps she’s remembering a dream she once had. When Sue Ellen finally does show up the next morning and is unable to remember where she’s been, the family assume the worst. “You all think that I’ve been drinking, don’t you?” she asks them accusingly before turning on JR. “And where were you last night, my love? Isn’t this yesterday’s suit? … Did you spend the night in your car too?!” It’s only recently hit me how much I enjoy these rare scenes where Sue Ellen loses her composure in front of her in-laws who then regard her as if she’s gone completely mad. It happened first in Black Market Baby when she accused Pam of sabotaging her adoption. It also happens in that great scene in Carousel where she loses her temper at Bobby for defending JR after he’s killed Nicholas Pearce. But the best example is in a very exciting episode that I haven’t gotten to yet because it begins with D. Perversely, but also kind of inevitably, the realisation that she was drugged and abducted (and possibly even raped) by BD Calhoun serves to bring Sue Ellen and JR closer together — even though he's the one who endangered her in the first place.

Elsewhere, Cliff tricks confidential information about Ewing Oil out of Pam, passes it onto Jeremy Wendell and then feels so guilty he gets drunk and wakes up in bed next to a very young and kooky future Ann Ewing. From his drunken ramblings the night before, she has come to the conclusion that he is hung up on a woman named Pam. This causes Cliff to do a nervous double-take. Funny how the whiff of incest will follow Ann as she gets involved with Harris Ryland and his creepily possessive mother Judith.

It seems as if Bobby has been super-smart in tracing Calhoun to his hotel, but when he and JR get there in the final scene of the ep and find a videotaped message he’s left for them (“Congratulations, JR. Now you’re an enemy worth killing"), they realise they’ve walked into a trap. Catharsis, meanwhile, ends with Joe coming to the conclusion that Karen, like BD, knew what she was doing all along and that he, Mack, the bad guys and the cops all took the bait she set for them. As I say, I’ve always found this ending a bit far-fetched. This time around, however, I've realised that KNOTS gives itself a get-out clause. When Joe asks her if she planned the whole thing, Karen has a mouthful of food and doesn’t answer. So maybe she really is some kind of only-on-TV master manipulator (i.e, one of "them") or maybe she’s just your every day, out of her depth widow who got lucky (one of "us"). The ambiguity is very KNOTS.

And the winner is … Catharsis

BONUS BEATS

 
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James from London

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A Change of Heart (KNOTS, 17 Apr 86) v Changing of the Guard (DALLAS, 01 Oct 82)

Changing of the Guard is the opening episode of DALLAS’s fifth season and Sue Ellen begins the year the same way she’ll end it: feeling guilty about someone she’s helped put in a coma. Whereas she puts her wedding plans on hold (“If Cliff dies … I don’t think I’ll ever be able to marry JR”), Greg surprises Laura in A Change of Heart, the fourth-to-last episode of KNOTS’ seventh season with a quickie wedding in Vegas. And while Karen faces losing her beloved Lotus Point because of What Lies Beneath (not Peter Hollister’s body this time, but toxic waste dumped by Paul Galveston), JR loses his beloved Ewing Oil as the family vote to remove him as President following Cliff’s suicide attempt.

Changing of the Guard is the first instalment of DALLAS I ever recorded on video, after which I started collecting every ep religiously and re-watching them all nonstop so it’s probably the one hour of anything I’ve seen the most times. But it’s been a few years — maybe five or six — since I last watched it and the scene that leapt out at me this time around is the one between JR and Miss Ellie where they argue over her decision to oust him from Ewing Oil and replace him with Bobby. He accuses her of capitulating to Rebecca Wentworth: “You’re beginning to sound like Rebecca’s running Ewing Oil.” “The Ewings run Ewing Oil and no-one else,” she insists, “but you refuse to understand that there are ethics involved. Even in the oil business, there’s right and wrong.” “Bobby tried to run the company that way once before. Damn near ruined it. He’s an amateur, Mama. He cannot face the realities of the business world.” This conflict between morality — or amateurish idealism as JR would see it — on one hand, and “the realities of the business world” on the other is one of the eternal conflicts running through the Ewingverse. Karen makes a persuasive case for the former in A Change of Heart: “I never had a dream. I had opinions, causes, beliefs … but never one focused vision, never anything as corny as a dream until Lotus Point, until I started dreaming about a place where families could come and get close again away from the 11 O’clock News, till I realised how important a place like that could be.”

In the final scene of their respective episodes, Karen and JR are each unexpectedly offered in a lifeline. Greg tells Karen he’ll foot the bill for the cleanup on one condition: “Get me Empire Valley or you can kiss Lotus Point goodbye.” Meanwhile, new girl on the block Holly Harwood offers JR a job running her company. This time, he’s the one with the conditions: he wants 25% ownership of Harwood Oil and for their association to remain secret. She agrees with a toast: “To JR Ewing, back in power again.”

And the winner is ... Changing of the Guard

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James from London

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Changing of the Guard (DALLAS, 13 Jun 12) v Charade (DALLAS, 09 Nov 90)

While Changing of the Guard (1982) is the episode of original DALLAS I’ve seen the most due to it being the first one I taped on video, Changing of the Guard (2012) is my most watched ep of C21st DALLAS on account of it being the first of the new series.

In both Charade and Changing of the Guard, JR is a patient in a psychiatric institution. The sanatarium scenes in Charade are simplistic, even childlike. (Given that the BBC broadcast this season on Sunday afternoons, this felt unintentionally appropriate.) The main action has JR and his timid band of followers (the other patients) setting a trap for hospital bully Morrissey (the future Harris Ryland) whereby they secretly film him as he brags about pretending to be insane after he killed a man so he’d be sent to “a cushy little co-ed hospital with broads down the corridor” rather than a proper prison. And he’d have gotten away with too if it hadn’t have been for these meddling middle-aged men in dressing gowns!

Whereas these scenes are a tad dull, the ones in Changing of the Guard where first Bobby and then John Ross visit the clinically depressed JR are totally gripping. Even as JR himself remains totally uncommunicative, the two men unburden themselves in emotional monologues. A mournful Bobby weeps quietly while a desperate John Ross come closes to breaking down completely. It's a long way from the Scooby-Doo style sanatarium antics of 1990; rather, the atmosphere is that of a confessional.

Only after John Ross tells him that Bobby plans to sell Southfork in order to finance Christopher’s alternate energy project does JR slowly return to life, almost like a monster stirring after a long hibernation. “Bobby was always a fool,” he murmurs, eyes still closed, “stubborn as a mule, and particularly harebrained about that foundling, Christopher, not even a Ewing.” On these last words, he finally opens his eyes and looks at his son. “On what grounds are you contesting my mama’s will?” he asks him. “Mental incompetence,” John Ross replies nervously. There’s a long pause while he (and we) waits for JR’s response. Eventually, a faint smile crosses his lips. “The fried chicken ain’t bad here,” he says cheerfully, before asking John Ross to fetch him some jello. As John Ross obediently gets to his feet, JR suddenly grabs him by the wrist. “I forgive you for not visiting,” he tells him — managing to sound magnanimous and threatening both at the same time.

Back in the old series, the gag of putting JR in alien surroundings — a mental hospital or a penal farm or a stuck elevator or even an alternate timeline where he was never born — was that he remained resolutely the same JR we had become so familiar with over the years. The version of JR that is reawakened in 2012 is far less predictable. Indeed, he's more mysterious, and therefore far more potentially dangerous, than he has ever been before.

And the winner is ... Changing of the Guard

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James from London

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Charlie (DALLAS, 30 Nov 84) v Check and Mate (DALLAS, 04 Nov 83)

In Check and Mate, Pam admits to Cliff that she’s having second thoughts about coming to work with him at Barnes Wentworth. He reacts like her only alternative is to sit at home and watch Christopher grow. “You’re too dynamic for that!” he insists. “You need to keep busy, you need to stay involved!” “I did enjoy working at The Store,” she concedes. “I like working,” echoes Mandy Winger a year later in Charlie when, during their first ever conversation, JR expresses surprise that her boyfriend allows her to work as a model. Elsewhere in the same ep, Donna, Lucy and Jamie all talk about how they don’t want to sit around the house all day. For this reason, one of them has bought an oil well, another has become a secret waitress and the third is considering working as JR's receptionist at Ewing Oil even though he hates her.

The overall impression one gets is that work is something a woman does either as a hobby or simply to get out of the house. Ambition, or even making money, doesn’t appear to be a consideration. Donna suggests to Miss Ellie in Charlie that if she and Ray were to start a family, she’d be content to stay at home. (In Pam’s Dream, that’ll turn out to be true; in Not Pam’s Dream, it won’t.)

Donna is far more passionate in Check and Mate when Ray is arrested for Mickey’s murder and resigns himself to spending the rest of his life behind bars. “You’re what I wanted all my life,” she tells him fiercely. “We’ve been through a lot together. Don’t you dare sit there and tell me it was all in vain!” While Ewing men will stop at nothing to succeed in business, Ewing women will stop at nothing to keep their men. (Well, some of the time anyway.) The most feminist note in either episode is sounded by Holly Harwood after Bobby admits he could never feel desirous towards her now that’s she slept with JR. “Men have such fragile egos,” she observes.

The final scene of Check and Mate, which is all about Ewing men succeeding at business, brings the year-long battle for control of Ewing Oil to a conclusion. It has a bit of everything one could hope for from such a scene. Jock’s latest letter from beyond the grave, in which he appeals to Bobby and JR to “put your arms around each other and work that company like brothers”, provides the sentimental have-your-cake-and-eat-it plot twist that enables the series to carry on pretty much the way it always has, with the Ewing boys continuing to work side by side; Bobby’s last-minute Canadian windfall that wins him the company allows Larry Hagman to reprise the “bad loser” comedy shtick that he does so brilliantly; and Patrick Duffy's grim-faced performance supplies the soap quotient, reminding the viewer of the emotional toll that this year-long storyline has taken.

Charlie is a far less eventful episode. The biggest thing that happens is Charlie Wade running away from home because she’s confused about her back story, Jenna having admitted that the tale she originally told her about her father — that he walked out on them when Jenna was pregnant — was a lie. Not to worry, Jenna — that story will come true during your next pregnancy.

And the winner is ... Check and Mate

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Close Encounters (DALLAS, 15 Nov 85) v Collateral Damage (DALLAS, 18 Jul 12)

If Pam’s Dream really was an attempt to turn DALLAS into a KNOTS/DYNASTY hybrid, then Close Encounters, in which the show celebrates its two-hundredth episode with a rodeo at Southfork, is probably the highpoint of that experiment. It’s certainly more expensive-looking than any episode of DYNASTY (except maybe the Pilot) and it’s inventively filmed — the camera is constantly moving, putting a fresh and surprising spin on familiar sets and locations. (Southfork looks huge.)

There’s less of a sense of the traditional tight-knit Ewing family and more of a feeling of an extended community, like in the middle years of KNOTS. Besides Clayton and Ellie, and Ray and Donna, all of the characters attend the rodeo with someone other their most familiar partner — Pam is with Mark, Sue Ellen with Dusty, JR with Mandy, Jenna with Jack — which somehow makes them all seem more adult, less umbilically tied to the past. Additionally, the variety of supporting players, from Angelica Nero to Patricia Shepard, and even a cameo from real-life Governor of Texas Mark White (a post that will be fictionalised in New DALLAS to allow Sue Ellen to have a crack at it), all contribute to the sense of a wider canvas. And yet the rodeo setting still makes it feel like classic DALLAS.

In terms of plot, surprisingly little happens — there’s more focus on competitive calf-roping and ladies’ barrel-racing than actual storylines — but there are some interestingly rare encounters, most notably between Pam and Jenna (their first meeting since Bobby died), and Sue Ellen and Mandy (their first meeting ever). Even by her own standards, Sue Ellen is remarkably self-absorbed in Close Encounters, but in a way that feels authentic for someone fresh out of rehab who is accustomed to taking their emotional temperature every five minutes.

Collateral Damage is the first time Sue Ellen gets mean in New DALLAS — she coerces a reluctant Elena to help John Ross out with his oil shortage. Southfork may not look quite as grand as it did in Close Encounters, but it’s even more beautiful, in an autumnal sort of way. Lucy remarks that John Ross is no longer the drunk little boy she found passed out on the floor, just as Christopher is no longer the freckled-faced kid who hero-worshipped Mark Graison at the rodeo. Now the cousins are fully grown and fighting over Elena — at least until Christopher finds out Rebecca’s carrying his twins. While Close Encounters has foreign-accented femme fatale Angelica Nero taking a mysterious interest in Jack, Collateral Damage has foreign-accented femme fatale Marta Del Sol luring John Ross to her hotel room by pretending to have kidnapped Elena. Whereas Close Encounters feels impressively epic, the strength of Collateral Damage is the narrative cord getting pulled tighter and tighter around John Ross’s neck right up to the final moments of the ep when he gets taken away by the police under suspicion of Marta’s murder.

And the winner is … it's very close, but Marta landing splat on top of a car wins out over Donna getting rammed by a bull … Collateral Damage

 
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Colonel Mustard in the Conservatory with the Wrench (KNOTS, 02 Feb 89) v Comings and Goings (DALLAS, 17 Feb 89)

Two episodes from the same month. I’ve said this before, but there’s something hugely satisfying about watching the KNOTS Scooby gang (which in this case compromises the Mackenzies, the Williamses and Gary) slowly piece together what we already know — that Jill Bennett paid Mrs Bailey to forge Ben’s letters and Val's suicide note, and that she drugged David Lamb, her supposed one-night stand in San Francisco, in order to fly back to Seaview Circle and murder Val without anyone realising. I can’t think of another soap plot where the mystery unravels this way round. Interestingly, Mack starts off as the most reluctant member of the gang to believe that Jill could be guilty, but by the end, he’s the one who has to be dissuaded from continuing to question the non-responsive Mrs Bailey. Meanwhile, Jill behaving the way any perfectly sane person might if suspected of such a bizarre crime has the effect of making it seem like everyone else is out of whack. She does, however, find out time to sneak onto Gary’s ranch and do weird, unexplained things like turn down his bed covers and put wild-flowers in a vase and swipe a photo of the twins. There is one disappointingly conventional "psycho bitch" scene where she puts on a wedding dress and imagines she’s marrying Gary. It kind of perpetuates the notion that all any single independent woman, from Susan Philby to Victoria Hill to Jill Bennett, really needs is a knight in shining armour to rescue her from her sad lonely existence. There’s no Greg, Abby or Paige in this ep, but it’s so well plotted you hardly notice.

Comings and Goings is most notable for the arrivals of Don Lockwood and Tommy McKay, and John Ross’s first screen kiss. Linda Gray and Ian McShane do a commendable job of making a totally ridiculous scene seem almost plausible — Don agrees to write and direct a movie solely based on one flashback of JR watching as Sue Ellen is dragged off to the sanatarium; for all he knows at this point, he could be agreeing to make a film about one of the men in white coats. Later in the ep, Lucy also flashes back — to JR and Val’s motel room confrontation from Season 2 which is so good it pretty much upstages the rest of the episode. Still, Tommy is excitingly evil as soon as he swaggers on screen while Cally is charmingly wide-eyed as she is introduced to the concepts of credit cards and exercise rooms. And she even saves John Ross from drowning by giving him the kiss of life, which kind of means it’s Cally we have to thank for Josh Henderson and New DALLAS.

And the winner is ... Colonel Mustard in the Conservatory with the Wrench

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James from London

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Constant Companion (KNOTS, 13 Mar 80) v Conundrum (DALLAS, 03 May 91)

Constant Companion might just be the weirdest ever episode of KNOTS, weirder even than The Three Sisters. Pretty much the whole episode revolves around Ginger, who at this point is KNOTS’ least clearly defined character. It seems like someone’s trying to drive her crazy — or it could be that the episode itself has gone a little crazy. With the exception of the kids she teaches, who are just off-the-scale cute, every character Ginger encounters feels like an escapee from either SCOOBY DOO (such as the strangely tall and ornery school janitor) or TWIN PEAKS (such as the singing dwarf who declares that “life is full of surprises”). Or maybe Ginger, who we don't really know, is the weird one.

Eventually, it turns out that the person gaslighting her is her dead boyfriend’s mom Beatrice whom we know better as Rebecca Wentworth on DALLAS. Whereas there was always something a bit distant, a bit chilly about Rebecca as a mother, here she’s the opposite — poignantly clinging to memories of her son's youth even after his death. The similarities between Beatrice and DYNASTY’s Mother Blaisdel, who likewise tormented the woman she blamed for the deaths of her son and grandchild via anonymously sent bouquets and spooky beyond-the-grave phone calls, are so obvious I can’t believe I never made the connection before. By the end of the ep, it does feel like we know Ginger a lot better than we did at the start, and it’s interesting that she chooses not to tell husband Kenny about her teenage abortion.

While Constant Companion is weird in a fascinating way, Conundrum — the final episode of DALLAS's original run, in which JR visits an alternate universe where he was never born — manages to be weird in an incredibly boring way, so boring, in fact, that the last time I sat through it, I promised that I would never make myself watch it again. So I haven’t.

Val gets a sweet and funny little subplot in Constant Companion where she studies for her high school equivalency test. It’s our first glimpse of her neurotic perfectionism and her first step on the path that leads her to write a best-selling novel or three. In Conundrum, an Alternate Val meets an Alternate Gary for the first time. He's a generic TV lawyer and she’s a generic TV divorcee and the whole thing’s as unremarkably generic as Constant Companion is downright peculiar.

And the winner is ... Constant Companion

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Counter Attack (DALLAS, 13 Jan 89) v Country Girl (DALLAS, 24 Feb 89 )

A Season 11 double bill. Counter Attack is The One Where Bobby Drops Out of a Helicopter Onto MacKay’s Ranch and Sets Off Lots of Explosions and Things. While watching Ewingverse episodes out of sequence has mostly been really interesting, I guess it’s inevitable that some are gonna lose their impact and this is a case in point. Without the build-up to Bobby’s heroics, this ep mostly just seems like a bunch of middle-aged men running around in a field. But that’s what you get for watching a soap in the wrong order in the first place.

Still, there are highlights: scenes shot on the real Southfork at night — a rarity until New DALLAS —are always a bit of a thrill and the eventual showdown where Bobby comes face to face with McKay and realises the man who’s been terrorising his family is also his new girlfriend’s father is great. (While it's not quite as outrageous a coincidence as Gary’s phone pal on KNOTS turning out to be his ex-wife’s boyfriend’s ex-wife and his twins' kindergarten teacher, it's pretty close). But the highlight of the episode is Sue Ellen succeeding where no-one has before: in getting under Jeremy Wendell's skin by telling him she pities him.

When Bobby accuses JR of endangering Christopher unnecessarily by bringing him and John Ross back to Southfork during the range war, JR insists that “I love Christopher like he was my own” and he seems to mean it. Indeed, JR is never anything but nice to Joshua Harris’s version of the character, which is sweet and all, but has always felt like a wee bit of a compromise, as though JR had no choice but to "love Christopher" because audiences wouldn’t have tolerated Larry Hagman being mean to a little kid on prime time TV. That’s why it was such a subversive thrill when the first thing JR did upon opening his eyes on New DALLAS was to dismiss Christopher as “that foundling … not even a real Ewing.” It's like he was finally allowed to say what he couldn't for all those years before.

In Comings and Goings (the episode immediately preceding Country Girl), Cally teases JR, saying that he could stand to lose a few pounds (despite him being nowhere near as pudgy as he is during Community Spirit, his first KNOTS guest appearance, where Karen Fairgate actually compliments him on keeping himself in shape). The same theme continues into Country Girl, only this time it’s April lecturing Cliff about exercise. Elsewhere in the ep, Cally reluctantly attends her first DOA charity meeting. When Sue Ellen went to a DOA meeting the previous year, the members were all dressed in frumpy, matronly outfits, the better to contrast with Sue Ellen’s new sophisticated businesswoman image. Here, however, they all look quite glamorous in order to emphasise Cally’s lack of sophistication.

Sue Ellen has another flashback for Don Lockwood’s benefit, this time to the famous scene in 1980 where Kristin was unmasked as JR’s shooter. As JR then reached for the phone to call the police, Kristin stopped him in his tracks by announcing she was pregnant. Later in this episode, JR is pleased to find Cally packing to return home to Haleyville … before she stops him in his tracks by telling him she’s pregnant. In hindsight, we know she’s pretending to carry JR’s child to get him to marry her, just as she’ll pretend she’s not carrying his child to get out of the marriage two years later. There’s also a sweet scene between Cally and John Ross where his pride won't allow him to admit that his initial resentment towards her has worn off and he actually quite likes her. She compares him to a deer stuck in the headlights, which recalls the deer he reluctantly shot in the episode where they first met.

And the winner is ... Country Girl

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James from London

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Courageous Convictions (KNOTS, 13 Mar 80) v Crash of ‘83 (DALLAS, 04 Feb 83)

JR mentions “the little man” a lot in Crash of 83. Mostly he talks about supplying him with cut-rate gasoline (and himself with a quick profit, the better to beat Bobby for control of Ewing Oil). Men don’t come much littler than Richard Avery who was so in awe of JR when they met in Community Spirit. At the end of Courageous Convictions, Richard describes how much he hates being ordinary. He doesn't want to be the little man; essentially, he wants to be JR himself — so much so that he invested in an oil deal which has now turned bad and plunged him and Laura into a financial crisis.

That Courageous Convictions is arguably the most forgettable episode from KNOTS’ first season has always struck me as odd, given that it focuses on Richard and Laura’s marriage and boasts typically strong performances from both actors. I wonder if at least part of the reason is down to the way it’s filmed. In almost every shot of the ep, there is a good inch or two of dead space at the top of the frame (so that when you’ve got, say, two characters talking, you’ve got also good chunk of boring ceiling above their heads). It’s remarkable how much that causes the dramatic tension to leak out of a scene. (This might be due to the DVD transfer, which can sometimes result in more of the image being shown than originally intended —for instance on the DALLAS DVDs, the lighting rig above the fake Southfork backdrop is occasionally visible the way it never was on TV — but it‘s not usually as blatant, or consistent, as it is with this ep.)

While the main subplot on KNOTS sees the Fairgates reacting nervously to Diana’s first steady boyfriend (whereas Karen does a lightly comic variation on the overprotective mother from hell she’ll turn into later in the series, Sid turns a characteristic blind eye), there’s an age reversal of the same scenario on DALLAS as JR and Sue Ellen both start twitching uncomfortably at the first signs of a budding romance between Miss Ellie and Clayton. (I'm not sure Ellie and Clayton will ever seem more natural and likeable a couple as they do during this initial courtship.)

As both KNOTS plots develop, Laura and Diana each discovers her man has behaved unethically for money. While Richard tries to pressure Laura’s father into mortgaging his house on their behalf, Diana’s boyfriend steals $100 from Sid. Meanwhile, the best scene on DALLAS features Pam’s angry reaction when Bobby confesses to blackmailing a member of the Texas Energy Commission JR has in his pocket.

On KNOTS, Richard explains to Laura that his reckless actions are born out of a fear of being ordinary. On DALLAS, Pam won't allow Bobby to explain his actions; she already knows. “There's only one reason! You would do anything to beat JR and get the company — anything!” she shouts angrily. It’s very satisfying to watch Pam let rip at her husband like this, and one finds oneself urging Laura to do the same thing rather than continually turn the other cheek. However, early KNOTS isn’t in the business of giving the audience what they want when they want it (that’s its great strength). It’s playing a long game instead, especially when it comes to the Averys.

Rather than Pam, the DALLAS female in Crash of ‘83 closest to Laura is poor put-upon Afton. She too has a man who treats her like crap but for whom she nonetheless prostituted herself earlier in the season, just as Laura did. Cliff remains blissfully ignorant of this fact — at least until the scene where he comes home to find Gil Thurman with his hands all over Afton, eager for “another ride on the rollercoaster.” Cliff loses his temper with Afton and storms out. Likewise, when Laura offers Richard an ultimatum — she'll let her father loan them the money they need on the proviso that Richard allow her to get a job and take over the family finances — he too loses his temper and storms out. Whereas Richard subsequently returns home with his tail between his legs, Cliff does not.

Meanwhile, Constant Companion’s Beatrice Handleman swaps her kaftans and voodoo dolls of Ginger for shoulder pads and a Filofax as she transforms herself into Rebecca Wentworth and wages war on JR. “The stakes are very high here, Pam!” she declares before flying off to Houston to sabotage his refinery deal.


Each episode ends with a surprise for Laura and Pam respectively — Richard wears his new night shirt to bed and word reaches Southfork that the Wentworth jet has crashed with Pam’s mama onboard.

And the winner is ... Crash of ‘83

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James from London

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Cricket (KNOTS, 04 Mar 82) v Crime Story (DALLAS, 04 Mar 88)

Two very different episodes, exactly six years apart. Cricket is a sweet, if slight, tale of a step-kid (Cricket) of an ex of Val's (Rusty) who gets dumped on her doorstep. No-one but Val likes her — a plot contrivance that obliges Gary and Lilimae to play the bad guys, which is kind of interesting. Val and Cricket eventually forge a tight bond, but then Rusty gets his act together, takes Cricket back from Val and they leave together in a happy/sad ending.

The most intriguing part of the scenario is Val having an old boyfriend, but as Rusty's off screen for the most of the ep, we don't get to find out if he was the one who "rung her chimes", as a drunken Gary put it in Bottom of the Bottle, during their long separation. There again, maybe it works better if we don't learn too much about Val's wilderness years; that way, she retains the "frozen in time" quality that makes it seem like the Val who ran away from Southfork in the early '60s is the same girl/woman who Lucy found slinging hash at the Hot Biscuit in the late '70s, and it's only now, as her second marriage to Gary starts to unravel, that she is finally forced to evolve.

If there is a link between these two eps then maybe it's the sudden influx of big-hearted New Yorkers. Cricket also sees the introduction of Karen's brother Joe — and what a hugely warm, likeable presence he is. He may have barely been mentioned before (if at all), but as soon as he walks through the Fairgates' door you totally believe in him as a member of the family. There are more effusive displays of familial affection between Noo Yawkers as Nicholas Pearce risks a visit to his Witness Protected parents on DALLAS and they all start cooking and crying and talking Italian. (Hey, there are worse stereotypes.) It can sometimes be hard to get past Nick's cheesy '80s hair and cheesy '80s knitwear and cheesy '80s dialogue (likewise Sue Ellen's next suitor, Don Lockwood), but underneath all that, he's a decent, sympathetic character and the few scenes he gets with his family are really quite endearing (especially in hindsight when you know that he's not long for this world).

While this episode of KNOTS is centred almost entirely around the cul-de-sac, with Cricket fleecing the neighbours and Karen and Joe getting reacquainted in the kitchen, this episode of DALLAS spreads its canvas wide. In fact, this era of the show might have the largest supporting cast of its entire run. And what a wonderfully diverse selection of weirdoes they are, including Clayton's painting-come-to-life, the beautiful bonsai-tweaking Laurel Ellis; her snobby psycho English ex (future FALCON CREST nut job Charley St James); her slovenly blackmailing painter pal David (who this week gets knocked on his artistic arse by Clayton when he tries to extort $50,000 from him); Kimberly Cryder's powerful but wheelchair-bound daddy who appears to have been wheeled in from the set of PEYTON PLACE, and would-be teen rebel Charlie who's just the worst liar ever. Meanwhile, Sue Ellen is on fine smouldering form, mocking her husband and assuring Kimberly that she intends "to stay married to JR till the end of time, just so you can't have him", only to let herself down slightly by blubbing when Nick says he won't be able to give her his full undivided attention for a little while because his entire life does not revolve around her.

And the winner is ... Crime Story

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James from London

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Critical Condition (KNOTS, 19 Nov 81) v The Crucible (DALLAS, 16 Feb 90)

I don’t think I’ve noticed before, but the whole of Critical Condition takes place within the space of one day -- a pretty surreal day, but surreal in way that real life often is. To start off with, Sid's doctor tells him his condition‘s improving, the paralysis is wearing off, everyone's relieved and Karen goes home to tell the kids. Then, just as they all start to relax, the paralysis returns, along with a gnawing fear which everyone tries to keep at bay because they don't want to lose the good feeling they just had when it seemed like everything was gonna be OK. Karen tries to keep the kids away from the hospital and is annoyed when they turn up anyway and insist on seeing Sid -- but it's a good job they do because it could be their last chance. Then time seems to suddenly speed up as he needs to be prepped for emergency surgery and there's no time to say all the things you want to say, if you even knew what they were. Karen manages a "I love you, William Sidney!" as he's wheeled towards the operating theatre. Once he's in surgery, time slows down again and the creeping fear returns. But then Val shows up with home-made flapjacks and Karen takes a break from being scared to reminisce about when Diana was born ... and then suddenly Sid's gone. For the rest of the episode, hardly anyone speaks. They’re too numb, too worn out.

There's more death in The Crucible, but whereas the events of Critical Condition are depicted as realistically as the Ewing-verse ever gets, this is at the other end of the scale. Curly Morrison, a never-before-mentioned pal of Clayton's, dies seconds after being named heir to the fortune of Atticus Ward, another never-before-mentioned pal of Clayton's, at the reading of his will. It's kind of like a pastiche of a '70s TV movie rip-off of an Agatha Christie novel. Elsewhere, Bobby is dating Jeanne, Pam's look-slightly-alike, in a storyline that is soapy and farfetched, but also sweet and sad. Bobby realises he "never got the chance to say good-bye" to Pam so he says good-bye to Jeanne instead. It's his "I love you, William Sidney" moment.

If there's one only-on-TV contrivance (and that’s too harsh a word really) in Critical Condition, it's the tape-recording Sid makes for Karen just before his surgery which she plays when she gets home from the hospital at the end of the ep (it's the audio equivalent of Laura's 'Noises Everywhere' video). On it, he manages to say what everyone would probably like to say just before their death if only they had the foresight and a really good scriptwriter. Bobby has to make to do with a whispered "Good-bye, Pam" delivered to the night sky -- one of those moments made far more poignant post-New DALLAS when we know that Pam really has died by this point.

While this isn't peak-era, edge-of-the-seat DALLAS, it's very enjoyable, cosy Sunday afternoon DALLAS instead (even though it wouldn't be moved to that slot in the UK until the following season). There's plenty of fun feudin': April, Michelle, Lucy and Cally hurling insults and drinks in each other's faces, JR and James almost coming to blows by the Southfork fridge, and JR making an enemy out of a terrifically vampy Lesley Anne Down.

And the winner is ... Critical Condition

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Michelle Stevens

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Critical Condition (KNOTS, 19 Nov 81) v The Crucible (DALLAS, 16 Feb 90)

I don’t think I’ve noticed before, but the whole of Critical Condition takes place within the space of one day -- a pretty surreal day, but surreal in way that real life often is. To start off with, Sid's doctor tells him his condition‘s improving, the paralysis is wearing off, everyone's relieved and Karen goes home to tell the kids. Then, just as they all start to relax, the paralysis returns, along with a gnawing fear which everyone tries to keep at bay because they don't want to lose the good feeling they just had when it seemed like everything was gonna be OK. Karen tries to keep the kids away from the hospital and is annoyed when they turn up anyway and insist on seeing Sid -- but it's a good job they do because it could be their last chance. Then time seems to suddenly speed up as he needs to be prepped for emergency surgery and there's no time to say all the things you want to say, if you even knew what they were. Karen manages a "I love you, William Sidney!" as he's wheeled towards the operating theatre. Once he's in surgery, time slows down again and the creeping fear returns. But then Val shows up with home-made flapjacks and Karen takes a break from being scared to reminisce about when Diana was born ... and then suddenly Sid's gone. For the rest of the episode, hardly anyone speaks. They’re too numb, too worn out.

There's more death in The Crucible, but whereas the events of Critical Condition are depicted as realistically as the Ewing-verse ever gets, this is at the other end of the scale. Curly Morrison, a never-before-mentioned pal of Clayton's, dies seconds after being named heir to the fortune of Atticus Ward, another never-before-mentioned pal of Clayton's, at the reading of his will. It's kind of like a pastiche of a '70s TV movie rip-off of an Agatha Christie novel. Elsewhere, Bobby is dating Jeanne, Pam's look-slightly-alike, in a storyline that is soapy and farfetched, but also sweet and sad. Bobby realises he "never got the chance to say good-bye" to Pam so he says good-bye to Jeanne instead. It's his "I love you, William Sidney" moment.

If there's one only-on-TV contrivance (and that’s too harsh a word really) in Critical Condition, it's the tape-recording Sid makes for Karen just before his surgery which she plays when she gets home from the hospital at the end of the ep (it's the audio equivalent of Laura's 'Noises Everywhere' video). On it, he manages to say what everyone would probably like to say just before their death if only they had the foresight and a really good scriptwriter. Bobby has to make to do with a whispered "Good-bye, Pam" delivered to the night sky -- one of those moments made far more poignant post-New DALLAS when we know that Pam really has died by this point.

While this isn't peak-era, edge-of-the-seat DALLAS, it's very enjoyable, cosy Sunday afternoon DALLAS instead (even though it wouldn't be moved to that slot in the UK until the following season). There's plenty of fun feudin': April, Michelle, Lucy and Cally hurling insults and drinks in each other's faces, JR and James almost coming to blows by the Southfork fridge, and JR making an enemy out of a terrifically vampy Lesley Anne Down.

And the winner is ... Critical Condition

I liked The Crucible. Seeing Lucy meet Michelle Stevens with April at the club was fun. Michelle was certainly the bad girl trolling Cally in this episode. :p

 
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James from London

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Cry Me a River of Oil (DALLAS, 29 Sep 89) v Cuba Libre (DALLAS, 25 Mar 83)

Cry Me a River of Oil has a real new era, post-Sue Ellen vibe to it — most strongly symbolised by the flashily revamped opening credits and new girl Michelle's pixie haircut. JR and Cally are now living in wedded bliss at Southfork — at least until Cally overhears JR taunting April in the living room about their all but forgotten fling (“The Bobby I used to know would never be caught dead touching a woman I’d slept with [but] he doesn’t seem to mind you being my leftovers.”) There's a similar situation seven years earlier in Cuba Libre where Miss Ellie and Clayton's romance-in-all-but-name is going along swimmingly until Miss Ellie walks into the Southfork living room, sees Sue Ellen giving Clayton a peck on the cheek and senses there's more history between them than meets the eye. Elsewhere in the same episode, Sue Ellen tries to hold onto her own wedded bliss by convincing herself that Holly Harwood was lying when she claimed to be sleeping with JR. "You're a very sick little girl!" she snarls at Holly — putting all the blame on the woman, just as Cally does when she accuses April of still being interested in JR.

In both episodes, we see JR doing what he does best — wheeling and dealing at Ewing Oil while getting dangerously out of his depth. In Cry Me a River, he's frantically searching for enough oil to fulfil a contract he made with a large and powerful refinery owner behind Bobby’s back; in Cuba Libre, he's trying to retrieve the $40,000,000 he lost while selling oil illegally to an embargo country. At the end of Cry Me, he winds up buying a substandard tanker to ship the crude he needs from Venezuela (what could possibly go wrong?); at the end of Cuba, he gets thrown in a Havanan jail cell.

Cuba Libre takes place towards the end of JR and Bobby's bitterly destructive fight for control of Ewing Oil yet what struck me most during this episode is the warmth of the characters towards one another: Mark's gentle wooing of Pam in the South of France (her cackle when he presents her with an invisible bathing suit is lovely), Punk's discreet questioning of Clayton regarding his intentions towards Miss Ellie, Donna inviting a wide-eyed Lil Trotter to Southfork, and Bobby doing his best to help Sue Ellen during her latest hour of need despite them being on opposite sides of the war. Perhaps most striking of all is Ray's insistence to Mickey that "you, me, your ma — we're just as good as anybody." In the context of the status-obsessed '80s, and maybe even today as well, it sounds almost like a political statement.

And the winner is ... Cuba Libre

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Curiosity Killed the Cat (DALLAS, 20 Dec 85) v Cutting the Ties That Bind (KNOTS, 06 Jan 83)

Jenna grieving Bobby for longer than the allotted time (thirteen episodes is fine; any longer and you're a loony) sets off a satisfyingly soapy chain of events in Curiosity Killed the Cat. Jack, frustrated by her behaviour, takes off for parts unknown, which makes Angelica Nero extremely twitchy. JR attempts to placate Angelica by spending the night at her hotel. Cliff tips off Mandy to this assignation. Mandy is already angry at JR for reuniting with Sue Ellen for the sake of John Ross and so flushes an expensive bracelet down the toilet and tells Cliff she wants to get even. Meanwhile, Grace takes the afternoon off work to murder a detective.

Elsewhere, alas, there are several indications of the weird tedium that will clog up the latter part of the dream season: an uncut emerald arriving through the post for Bobby, job offers for Ewing wives from medical centres and deaf schools, Ray and Donna laughing merrily after a burst water pipe ruins their home, and Clayton being too boringly proud to talk to Miss Ellie about his boring financial problems.

Cutting the Ties That Bind is even more of a soapy tangle and there are no boring bits. I guess you could say Ciji is in an equivalent position to Mandy — we see each of them waiting sadly alone in her apartment as her two-timing man stands her up in the name of business (Chip is busy schmoozing Jeff Munson over dinner at the Fairgates'.) But whereas JR genuinely cares for Mandy, Ciji is merely a commodity to Chip. When she tells him she's pregnant, all he can see is her earning potential going up in smoke, and when she refuses to have an abortion, he gets violent with her for the first time. "Nothing’s gonna interfere with what I have planned for you,” he snarls, grabbing her by the hair. But that's not Ciji's only problem — she also finds herself caught in the crossfire between both Gary and Kenny (the Ewings make a deal with Munson for Ciji's album that leaves Kenny out in the cold), and Richard and Laura. (An interesting role reversal has now taken place with the Averys: he’s become the attentive, affectionate one while she's the one keeping him at arm's length — only instead of sneaking next door to be with Abby, she nips upstairs for girly chats with Ciji.)

Elsewhere in Cutting the Ties ..., Val allows Jeff Munson to whisk her away to New York where she finally signs her divorce papers. It's kind of fascinating to see Val in this ep so soon after watching her in Cricket where she seemed forever destined to stand by her man while taking in the occasional Lucy surrogate. It's fascinating for Val too. “Is this really me on the terrace of a penthouse, thirty storeys high above New York City?” she marvels. "Things like this don’t happen to me. It happens in movies, but not in real life.” It's oddly poignant that the same episode which marks the beginning of the end for Ciji should hold such promise for Val. “To a new life,” she toasts, "starring Valene Ewing and a cast of thousands.”

And the winner is ... Cutting the Ties That Bind

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