Daily Archives: March 12, 2013

Who *killed* JR?

OK, so TNT’s _Dallas_ leaves us with the mystery of “Who killed JR?” hoping that it will be as much a success as “Who shot JR?” was 33 years ago. It may all tie together, in that JR was shot by Christopher’s biological mother, Kristin Shepard, Sue Ellen’s sister. Indeed, while we saw JR’s second wife Cally Harper Ewing and his longtime mistress Mandy Winger, I was really surprised there was not a single direct reference to Kristin.

The 1980 finale was masterfully done. Besides being a ratings triumph and pop culture phenomenon, it set several precedents. Trying to keep the solution a secret, the producers did not tell *anyone* who the real shooter was. They filmed every one of the suspects shooting him: including Jock and Miss Ellie! I remember reading somewhere that Barbara bel Geddes took great delight in the scene. _Dallas_ built up over a season what _Murder She Wrote_ does in a half an hour. JR drove away Gary. He tried to drill on Southfork. When that wasn’t successful, he mortgaged the ranch to pay for oil leases in Southeast Asia because the other members of the Lonestar Cartel wouldn’t chip in on an international deal. He nearly lost the ranch when those wells didn’t come in, forcing a heartbroken Ellie to approve drilling on Southfork till the SE Asian fields came through. When the wells hit it big, the cartel tried to get back in, and JR refused. Meanwhile, Bobby kept trying to either get some respect at Ewing Oil or get permission to start his own company. Jock, after JR’s mortgaging the ranch fiasco, claimed to give Bobby more power, but JR still overrode him. Bobby discovered some old wells that had been closed for decades but could make a profit with modern technology, so he reopened them. Cliff Barnes found out that his father, and his father’s heirs, retained rights to royalties on some of those wells, and claimed his rights. JR shut the wells down.
When JR found out that there was going to be a revolution in Southeast Asia, he went back to the cartel and “let them in” on the deal so he could free up cash for other projects. Vaughan Leland, the banker who did the loan to begin with, mortgaged everything to get in on the deal. Then the revolution happened, and the wells were nationalized. Vaughan Leland lost everything, as did a few members of the Cartel. Seth Stone committed suicide. In parallel stories, JR also triple-crossed his henchman of the season, ambitious young lawyer Alan Beam, and his mistress, Kristin Shepard. When Bobby found out JR knowingly conned the Cartel and Vaughan Leland, Jock backed JR, saying the Cartel members knew “bidness” is risky, and that Leland deserved it. Jock also backed JR on shutting down the wells that the Barneses had rights to. Bobby said he was sick of both of them, and he and Pam left Southfork, breaking Ellie’s heart. Oh, and then there was Sue Ellen, whom JR once described as a “drunk, a tramp and an unfit mother.” She was going to leave him for rich rodeo cowboy Dusty Farlow, but Dusty had gone missing after a plan crash, and
Sue Ellen saw no way out of her abusive marriage except a gun. There were a lot of suspects, and the only ones with alibis were Bobby and Pam, whom the viewers saw driving away while JR was being shot.

This time, since it wasn’t planned, it was more _Law & Order_ than _Murder, She Wrote_: a sudden and unsuspected act of seemingly senseless violence.

JR was actually shot several times: 1) on a hunting trip in the first season; 2) by Kristin in the infamous season 3 finale; 3) by mercenary BD Calhoun in Season 9; 4) by Sue Ellen in the 10th season finale; 5) by Peter Ellington in _War of the Ewings_. Bobby was also shot by Katherine Wentworth in the 1984 cliffhanger, in a similar scene to the 1980 one, because Katherine thought he *was* J.R. Hence, in the promotions for TNT’s new series, they showed a scene where Ann holds a gun on JR, and he says, “Bullets don’t have much of an effect on me.” This time, they did.

What we know:
1) JR was in Abu Dhabi, both signing oil leases for Ewing Energies *and* trying to track down information on Pam.
2) *WHY* was JR looking for Pam, whom he hated? When he left town, Bobby’s wife Ann was still on trial. Did he want Bobby to have a contingency? Knowing that the Ewings were in for a major fight with Cliff, did he somehow think that Pam would side with them against her brother after 26 years? OR did this have something to do with Christopher’s paternity?
3) JR left Abu Dhabi early but told John Ross he was still there. He secretly went to Mexico, apparently trying to track down “dirt” on Harris Ryland, for his “master plan.” He met a “lady”–someone sophisticated–at a bar, then returned to his hotel, to which he was followed by his killer.
4) He left Sue Ellen a letter asking to go out on a date (producers claim they’d hoped to reunite JR and Sue Ellen for a third marriage; I really never thought they had long term plans for JR since Hagman’s health was so bad, and if anything I’d still like to see Sue Ellen bring out that blackmail movie she made about her & JR when she left in 1989). So he planned to return, at least *before* he left town.
5) By the time he made it to Mexico, he expected to die. He left a package for everyone, delivered by his henchman “Bum”. Bum explains to everyone what JR was up to and how he set some plans in motion. He gives John Ross and Bobby special things JR left them.
6) John Ross gets a box containing a gun and a letter. The letter says to expect Harris Ryland and Cliff Barnes to team up against the Ewings, and that the box contains what he needs to stop them (I’m presuming it’s not the gun, *unless* the gun is some kind of evidence).
7) Bobby gets the letter, has a very disturbed reaction, and suddenly insists on talking to Bum alone. He tells Bum to bribe whomever it is necessary to bribe to ensure the world thinks JR’s death is a random robbery-murder as the police already presume, that the Ewings will take care of the real killer. Then he goes to JR’s room, has a drink of JR’s bourbon and branch, cries, and commends his brother for a masterful plan.

I just read that the “actual” piece of paper merely described the reactions Bobby was supposed to have, but Duffy convinced the producers to tell him what the fictional letter was supposed to say so he could act it right. Apparently, the letter says who the real killer is. However, since the main spoiler we’ve been given about JR’s funeral is that there will be a revelation about someone’s parentage–assuming that wasn’t a complete red herring–I think it all ties together.

Now, it would be a masterful stroke and bring the whole saga to a nice wrap-up if Pam killed JR, but why so suddenly after 26 years of absence, and what does all this have to do with Ryland? Bobby’s reaction showed that he wanted to keep the contents of the letter from the rest of the family–why is that? Perhaps because it relates to Christopher’s paternity? Again, why was JR looking for Pam? The clues are all so vague as to go in a number of interesting directions, but I *hope* the writers handle this well. They say it will all be wrapped up by the end of the season, and the killer will be revealed in episode 15 on April 29. If it goes in one of the directions I suspect, it really should be a masterpiece.

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JR’s Masterpiece?

Often, uncontrollable behind-the-scenes events can be the death of a TV series. The 2007-08 season was devastated by the Writers’ Strike, for example, and some series never recovered. Sometimes, writers can craft necessary changes into compelling storylines that seem like they were always planned. Gillian Anderson’s pregnancy during season 2 of _The X-Files_ led to Scully’s abduction on the show and established a great deal of the show’s “mythology,” as well as the introduction of recurring villain Alex Krycek. On _Dallas_, a last-minute decision by CBS to add several episodes to add a few more episodes to Season 3 led to ratings gold with the infamous “Who Shot JR?” storyline, which was a last-minute change but seemed like the whole season had built up to it, and the ramifications of that story–particulary the birth of Christopher Ewing–are arguably being felt today. Indeed, one of the reasons fans spent 20 years hoping for a revival was to resolve the question of whether Bobby and Pam’s adopted son Christopher is actually JR’s biological son.

Woman swapping among the Ewing’s happened long before the current John Ross-Elena-Christopher-Pamela Rebecca and back again quadrangle. While it was established early in the series through Holly Harwood and Katherine Wentworth that Bobby had a policy against sleeping with any woman who’d been with JR, Bobby later married April Stevens, the ex-wife of his cousin Jack and an ex-lover of JR. Bobby may have fathered Charlie Wade, the daughter of his first true love Jenna (played by Morgan Fairchild, Francine Tucker, and finally Priscilla Presley), a question revisited each time Jenna came back to town, but each time she was settled as the child of Naldo Marchetta (Daniel Pilon), the Italian count Jenna married and divorced. Jenna ended up marrying Ray Krebbs, Bobby’s half-brother, but only after a brief fling with Bobby produced a child, Lucas, whom Ray adopted. Prior to the series, Pam had been Ray’s girlfriend, and Jenna had been Bobby’s. Bobby married Pam, and Ray married Jenna. No mention of Jenna has been made in the TNT series.

Jenna 1

Jenna 2

Jenna 3

Rewatching parts of Season 2 recently, I started to wonder, based upon some clues in the show, if maybe Lucy was JR’s daughter–I think I’d had this thought before. This would explain why JR treats her *like* a daughter. It would explain why he drove Gary off, why Valene hates him so much, and why when she ran off with Lucy, JR hired “good ol’ boys” to retrieve the baby and threaten Valene’s life if she ever came back to Dallas. I searched to see if anyone else had the same theory, and it turned out this was actually in the “Series Bible” and the novels that were published in the series’ heyday based upon it: JR either seduced or raped Valene early in her relationship with Gary.

Meanwhile, around the time John Ross Ewing III was conceived, Sue Ellen had an affair with Cliff Barnes, but she also had an implied fling with Ray Krebbs. After the baby was born, a blood test confirmed he was not Cliff’s child, but there was never any question of whether he was actually Ray’s.

Another interesting fan speculation concerns the fact that, back in the 1930s, the triangle of Willard “Digger” Barnes, Eleanor “Miss Ellie” Southworth and John Ross “Jock” Ewing ended in the “horse whip” marriage of Jock and Ellie–while Ellie was pregnant with “Junior.” Some have speculated that, in the greatest of all ironies, J.R. might actually be the biological son of the foolish old drunk he always despised. This would, among other things, explain why Jock always felt emotionally distant from “Junior.”

I bring all this up because, way back in December, when spoilers began leaking about the funeral of JR Ewing, which aired this evening on TNT, one was that the funeral episode would bring a revelation about some character’s “true parentage.” Some suggested something out of left field, like new villain Harris Ryland being actually a Ewing (or, given some of the clues in tonight’s episode, is he a Barnes?). Some have suggested it might pertain to one of the above longstanding questions (Christopher finds out he’s JR’s; John Ross finds out he’s NOT JR’s; Lucy finds out she’s JR’s. . . . ). However, the only overt statement of paternity is that the writers have reminded us, a third time, that John Ross is JR’s “from tip to tail.” Well, they assured us very strongly all through the first season that “Rebecca Sutter” was NOT Pamela Rebecca Cooper (Barnes), in spite of the fact that she looked so much like Pam and so many clues indicated that she was.

I honestly don’t think John Ross will be “taken away from” JR, but I do think they plan to do something with Christopher. A few weeks ago, Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher) gave an interview saying how JR’s death would tie into the question of “what happened to Pam”–and tonight’s episode made it clear that this is the case. OTOH, Victoria Principal gave an interview recently where she insisted, again, she has no intention of returning to the show. This time, she said that since Bobby & Pam were supposed to be “Romeo & Juliet”, they had to have a tragic ending, and as far as she’s concerned, Pam died, and _Dallas_ ended, when the car blew up at the end of the 1987 season. She says she’s not responsible for what the producers did afterwards. The producers–fearing a repeat of what happened when they “killed off” Bobby in 1985, and Patrick Duffy decided to return–had Pam survive the crash, only severely burned, and JR helped her to leave town, putting her personal fortune in trust to Christopher and leaving divorce papers behind for Bobby. Lorimar launched a national contest for a VP lookalike and cast Margaret Michaels for the post-plastic surgery Pam, whom Bobby and Cliff (then close friends in spite of the current series’ backtracking of the Barnes-Ewing feud) tracked down at the clinic she was living in. Pam told Bobby she never wanted to see him again, and her doctor came in and said, “Why didn’t you tell him you’re dying?” A year later, Michaels returned for a story arc as “Jeannie,” a Pam lookalike who moves to Dallas and catches Bobby’s attention.

On a side note, the much-touted guest stars were as disappointing, by and large, as they’ve been previously. Gary had a couple lines. Ray and Lucy had a couple lines. Mandy and Cally (who was supposed to drop a major bombshell) had one scene. Cliff had a dramatic scene leading to a brawl that he wasn’t involved in, but at least seemed more like the classic obnoxious, crude Cliff Barnes we know than the Jeremy Wendell-type figure he’s been thus far in this new series.

“Hey! I hated him so much I didn’t even *come* to the funeral. Besides, don’t you remember that my mother was richer than him to begin with, and that’s why she couldn’t marry him back in the sixties?”

Once again, there was not even a mention of JR’s son James, grandson Jimmy, or of JR’s unnamed son by Cally. I read that Sasha Mitchell, who played James Beaumont on _Dallas_ and later Patrick Duffy’s character’s nephew on _Step by Step_, was offered a spot in the funeral show but declined (apparently he and Duffy do not get along regarding the circumstances of his departure from the latter show). We got more story out of the cameos from real life Dallas cameos Mark Cuban, and Jerry Jones than from the established characters!

“Bobby, would you like to join the panel on _Shark Tank_?”

Nonetheless, I felt the scenes involving Ray and Gary provided two subtle, if unintentional, allusions to two previous funerals that did not occur in the TNT series’ continuity. Bobby isn’t as ready to dance on JR’s grave as Gary and Ray are, so he spurns both of them. Bobby’s funeral during the 1985-86 “dream season” provided the opportunity for one of JR’s most famous zingers. Ray and Gary try to approach JR in brother sympathy, and JR snaps, “I had one brother, and he’s dead. No one can take his place, least of all either of you.” Of course, that all turned out to be a dream, but I took it as an allusion and parallel statement of JR and Bobby’s special bond in spite of their rivalry. Interestingly, that would be Ted Shackelford’s second-to-last appearance in the original series (the other being in the “world with no JR” in the series finale). The producers of _Knots Landing_ were not happy with the “It was all a dream” solution, since it screwed up their storylines, so _Knots Landing_ continued to exist in the same reality as Pam’s dream, and stopped doing crossovers.

He’s dead, Jim–or is he?

Prior to Bobby’s funeral, Gary’s last appearance was for the reading of Jock’s will in 1982, so Gary’s return last week was technically Ted Shackelford’s first “in continuity” appearance as Gary Ewing in 30 years.

The call no sibling wants to get: from now on, you only exist in your sister-in-law’s dream.

The other interesting allusion was to 1996’s _JR Returns_. We know the producers of the new series are ignoring the 1996 and 1998 reunion movies, but in _JR Returns_, J.R. fakes his death to activate a “small” trust fund Jock set up for John Ross–it was just a start up investment in a fledgling computer company in 1981 but is now worth billions. The characters come to Dallas to attend JR’s funeral, and he makes a grand Tom Sawyer-like entrance. So, tonight, Ray alluded to imagining this whole thing to be one of JR’s schemes, and expecting him to pop up.

It was a very emotional episode, and Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray and Josh Henderson delivered some powerful acting (though it’s clear they weren’t entirely acting: the three were truly best friends in real life, and Henderson and the younger cast members had all developed a strong mentor relationship with Hagman).