The TNT show’s team has handled Hagman’s unexpected death in November quite well to this point. Last week’s episode used recycled footage to set up the death of J.R., but thanks to digital technology, those scenes took on a different look and feel and were scarcely noticeable. Now with Monday’s (March 11) episode, the show has said goodbye to one of television’s greatest characters by building another mystery around his death. Not only is it an appropriate sendoff for J.R., but it’s also possibly reinvigorating for the show.
Season 2 has occasionally felt overly interested in the minutiae of John Ross’ and Christopher’s competing visions for Ewing Energies. Anne’s storyline has provided most of the soapy spark we expect from “Dallas,” but the core familial battle has been at a stalemate.
No one would have wanted Hagman — whom everyone involved with the show, past and present, has said was a warm, generous and loving man, basically the opposite of his most famous character — to leave “Dallas” this way. But in playing the hand that was forced on them, the show’s actors, writers and crew seem to have stepped things up.
The story the Ewings are telling about J.R.’s death is he traveled from Abu Dhabi, where he was closing oil leases, to Mexico for a quail hunt and was murdered in a random robbery. No one is willing to accept it at first, but as the reality of his death sinks in, the rest of the Ewings, John Ross excepted, start to come to terms with the idea. Sue Ellen, though, takes her first drink in years in the aftermath, even announcing “I’m a little drunk now” as she eulogizes the man she loved despite all their problems.
Bobby, for his part, now has to figure out who he is other than the yin to J.R.’s yang, his eulogy echoing his brother’s words when Bobby was in the hospital last season. He might now “bounce around a little bit,” as Patrick Duffy put it at Sunday’s Paley Festival panel honoring the show, now that he doesn’t always have to be trying to clean up J.R.’s messes.
The final scenes, though, set up an appropriately big and intriguing set of questions for the rest of the season. In a series of letters, J.R. tells John Ross to watch out as Cliff Barnes — last seen crowing over his rival’s death at a memorial — and Harris Ryland look to take the Ewings down; provides information for Christopher to possibly find his mother; and gives Bobby some information so sensitive that Bobby instructs J.R.’s private eye Bum to throw out a coverup as to how J.R. really died.
The producers were naturally tight-lipped at Paleyfest about what was in the letter, but Duffy says he knows. “The writers and producers had to tell me what was in there,” he tells Zap2it. “I had a scene where I have to read this letter and know what’s going on. They actually told me the resolution of the entire season, and it made my jaw drop. That’s all I can say.”
Hagman would probably approve of that.
What did you think of “Dallas” this week and how the show handled the death of J.R. Ewing? Who’s your prime suspect?