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).

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