‘Dallas’: J.R.’s Masterpiece Lives Up to Its Title

"Dallas": "J.R.'s Masterpiece" (TNT)

J.R. Ewing was many things: patriarch, schemer, lover, fighter. He was something else that is rarely acknowledged: the prototype for the modern, morally ambiguous television protagonist.

There is a direct line from J.R. Ewing to Tony Soprano, Don Draper and Walter White. During the original “Dallas,” the show was perceived as populist trash. “Hill Street Blues” is credited as the game changing sophisticated serialized television drama.

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Yet in 2013 J.R. Ewing is still relevant, but barely anybody remembers earnest do gooder cop Frank Furillo. J.R. was the original magnificent bastard. It’s astonishing that a network greenlit a show featuring him and the dysfunctional, psychologically complex Ewings during the 1970s.

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Its fitting that J.R. breathed  his last breath on cable, where all his descendents roam. This week’s episode, “J.R.’s Masterpiece” managed to be both a reverent, moving tribute to J.R. and Larry Hagman and a deliciously dark hour of soap opera. It was one giant highlight, but here are the greatest moments, including the final bits of wit and wisdom from J.R.

The Opening Credits: The show created special opening credits, with a slower, sadder version of the iconic theme song, ending on a shot of J.R. That was a classy move.

“If anything goes wrong at the funeral, I know J.R. will haunt me.” – Bobby: The episode opens with the Ewings flying to Mexico to identify J.R.’s body. Allegedly, he was a victim of a random crime, though his body was found in a cheap hotel room. Everyone has their suspicions, because there’s no way J.R. would go out like that. Once they return to Dallas, Gary (Ted Shackleford) and Sue Ellen (Linda Grey) admit they aren’t sure how to feel. Bobby (Patrick Duffy) says if anything goes wrong at the funeral he knows J.R. will haunt him. Hee! John Ross vows to figure out what his dad’s master plan was. Sue Ellen has one of her own: flirt with Gary so he will side with her instead of Bobby in the battle for Ewing Energy. John Ross (Josh Henderson) blasts her for planning to seduce Gary before J.R.’s body is cold asking her to pretend to mourn him for his sake.

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“Half these people are here to make sure he’s dead. The other half are here for the free drinks.” – John Ross to Elena: The Ewings hold a huge wake for J.R. Lots of characters from the original series attend, including Lucy (Charlene Tilton) and J.R.’s ex-wives Mandy (Deborah Shelton) and Cally (Cathy Podewell). They reminsce about all the mean things J.R. said to him. Randomly Mark Cuban and Jerry Jones are there. It makes sense that J.R. knew them, but they can’t act and detract from the scene. However, it would have been amazing to see J.R. on “Shark Tank.” Sue Ellen, Mandy and Cally have an awesome conversation about J.R’s appeal.  Cally says he was hot as hell because he was as bad as they come. Mandy, who is wearing the world’s largest cross necklace,  says she never got over him and envies Sue Ellen for managing to wash that man right out of her hair. “Well I had the benefit of him lying and cheating on me for years,” she points out.

“I came to pay my disrespects and good riddance.” – Cliff Barnes: Cliff (Ken Kercheval) crashes the wake announcing, “I came  to pay my disrespects and good riddance.” When John Ross accuses him of shooting J.R., he assures him, “I wish I had killed your father but somebody beat me to it.” He tells Bobby that without J.R. he has no reason not to take the Ewings down, delivering the parting shot, “Look who’s dancing on who’s grave now.” Sue Ellen tells Gary that J.R always wanted everyone to get drunk at his funeral. He thought it would make everyone honest. A guy in a cowboy hat takes a parting shot says something rude about J.R., and Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) and John Ross join forces to beat him up. Both end up with black eyes. Christopher says they will avenge J.R.’s death as brothers.

“Are you high?” — John Ross to Emma: The most surprising event  of this episode is that Emma (Emma Bell) sheds her good girl image and develops a personality. That personality turns out to be slutty stoner. It’s a hell of a lot more interesting than dressage champion. During the wake, John Ross spies Emma in the wine cellar about to take clonzepan. He wordlessly snatches one for himself.  Afterward, John Ross stands outside pensively drinking straight out of the bottle. Emma takes the bottle and drinks out of it. John Ross asks her,  “Are you high?” Emma says, “And you’re low.” They have sex in the backseat of an SUV. Harris made her a junkie, but he’s also right about her being incapable of making good judgments on her own.

John Ross is not the only self-medicating Ewing. Sue Ellen goes to J.R.’s bedroom and takes out the final letter he wrote her and there’s a bottle of J.R. Ewing labeled bourbon, which is apparently going to be marketed in the real world. She pours herself a drink and takes a sip. Then she keeps drinking and drinking. Let’s be honest. We were all waiting for her to fall off the wagon.

“Want to know how I feel? I’m pissed!” – Bobby to Ann: Ann (Brenda Strong) has a history laden conversation with Bobby going back to J.R. being left out of Miss Ellie’ s will. Ann tells him to trust her with his feelings. He points out that’s ironic given all the secrets Ann kept from him. He tried to be understanding over the past months but he wanted to scream, “Why didn’t you tell me?” after all of the information he learned about her during her trial,  he feels like he doesn’t really know her.

“It was pretty easy for me to do good because I could always count on J.R. to do bad.” – Bobby: J.R. is buried with military honors That makes sense given his age. Plus it’s a nod to “I Dream of Jeannie.”  Everyone delivers a speech about a memorable moment they had with J.R. Sue Ellen admits to everyone that she got so wasted the night before she still a bit drunk. Then she reads J.R.’s letter to her. ‘”Old age has a way of humbling men… I was never worthy of you…  I love you today more than I ever did. It is my greatest hope in life to earn a second chance with you.. So what do you say. When I get back to Dallas will you have dinner with me?”

J.R.’s Messages from the Grave: After the funeral, Bum shows up with a box of messages from J.R , who was in Abu Dhabi because he has been searching for Christopher’s mother, Pam! If Victoria Principal’s claims that she will never do the show are just a cover story to make her return a surprise, that would be amazing. J.R.  was in Mexico on Bobby’s behalf following a lead on Harris. John Ross is ready to kill Harris, but Bum insists it was a mugger. J.R. gifted John Ross with his gun and a note saying Cliff is coming after them. J.R.  thinks Cliff and Harris will join forces. After Bobby silently reads his letter,  Bobby tells Bum to pay people off so everyone will continue to think JR was killed by a mugger. When the time comes, the Ewings will take care of this as a family.  Alone, Bobby toasts his brother saying, “I love you brother” and finally breaking down.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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