Last week’s episode ended with John Ross being arrested for the murder of the phony Marta Del Sol, who had actually been tossed out a window by the goons of the Venezuelan gangster Vicente Cano. Tonight’s episode begins with Elena visiting her man in the jug and asking him the first question any woman would ask after the broken body one of her man’s business associates has been found sprawled across the roof of a car: “What were you doing in that woman’s hotel room?” John Ross explains that Marta had, with one simple phone call, tricked him into thinking that she had kidnapped Elena and had her at her mercy, and he went to the hotel room because he thought he had to rescue her. This actually is what happened, and it looked pretty stupid at the time, but it turns out that John Ross is right to level with Elena about it. Damned if she isn’t convinced, as well as touched and a little impressed with his gallantry. A few seconds later, John Ross is hustled off to have his picture taken, and as he poses for the camera, he looks more grown-up than he has at any other point in the series. Maybe John Waters is right, and we all do look better under arrest.
Any soap opera has to decide where its parameters lie, how outrageous it’s prepared to get and what kind of outrageousness it means to traffic in. The introduction of a particularly gaudy kind of violent murder as a plot element seemed to take this Dallas to a new level, and the show spends most of this episode trying to find a way to back out of that level as fast as it can without completely sacrificing its dignity. For about an hour of broadcast time, the murder of Marta and the arrest of John Ross provide an excuse for the characters to define what they believe in and how far they’re prepared to go to protect it. John Ross, who tells Vicente Cano to go screw himself and subsequently endures a jailhouse beat-down that puts him in the hospital, proves himself surprisingly devoted, after all, to the family Ewing.
For the sake of her son, Sue Ellen first attempts to bribe, then blackmails the medical examiner into declaring Marta’s death a suicide. Before she acts, though, she tearfully asks Bobby’s wife Ann what kind of person she would be if she were to “cross a line” she’d always meant to uphold. Ann sweetly tells her that it would maker her “a mother,” thus allowing Ann to define herself as someone who needs to request more information about what she might be signing off on before contributing her two cents. And Cynthia Cidre, the show’s developer, stands defined as someone who doesn’t want her show to turn into Desperate Housewives. By the end of the hour, John Ross is free and the truth about the murder has been—neatly, improbably—swept under the rug. It’s a little like seeing someone erase a blackboard that he’d covered with a solution to math problem that had begun to seem more trouble than it’s worth.
The biggest disappointment comes after Bobby, who has helped instigate the assault on John Ross by informing Cano that he’ll never give permission to drill for oil on Southfork, visits his mother’s grave and tells her that he knows what he has to do, and that he’ll do it, because she has instilled in him the understanding that it’s worth doing whatever it takes to protect the family. Patrick Duffy actually suggests a little grit in this monologue, as if he’s planning to embark on some elaborate, perhaps violent payback of his own. So it’s a letdown when it turns out that “doing whatever it takes” means that he’s going to tell Cano that he gets the picture and so he won’t fight him anymore, drill away. It’s left to Christopher to preserve the sanctity of the land by offering Cano a counter-proposal: he won’t drill and he’ll stop having Ewings beaten to a pulp, and in return, Christopher will use his alternative-energy technology to make him more money that John Ross’ old-fashioned wet gold ever could.
This is the weakest episode of the new Dallas, a holding pattern that one hopes will at least clear the decks for the last couple of episodes of the season. (And it does, thank God, bring J. R. back to Dallas. Alerted to John Ross’ condition, he slips unannounced back into town and visits him his son in the hospital in the dead of night, watching over him as he sleeps and disappearing again before he wakes. This sequence seems designed to remind fans of the older series of one of its legendary moments: the episode from the second season when J. R., who had assumed that the infant John Ross was the result of Sue Ellen’s affair with Cliff Barnes, learned the results of a DNA test proving that he himself was the father, and snuck into the boy’s room late at night to hug him for the first time. It’s a very smart use of viewer’s feelings about the original show to deepen the texture of this one.) Tonight, Christopher finds the time to reconcile with Rebecca, who promises him that there are no more dark secrets in her past for him to stumble over. This is the cue for her brother to reappear and revel that he isn’t really her brother after all, and that the two of them are, in fact, not just not brother and sister but, like, way not brother and sister. As game-changer revelations go, this seems to be much more this show’s speed than fresh corpses on car rooftops.
- The smooth thug Vicente is running around loose in Texas because Hugo Chavez nationalized the oil fields of his native land, and it turns out that Veronica, the psycho con artist posing as Marta Del Sol, was also an exile from Chavez’s Venezuela. I sure don’t think Dallas is trying to stick up for Hugo Chavez, but if all you knew about the dictator was the impression you get from the way people talk about him in this episode, you could come away thinking that he sure has done a remarkable job of emptying the country of its criminal undesirables.