Conundrum, The Original End to the Ewing Saga in Dallas (1991)…
Reviewing the finale to the original TV series in a feature length double bill episode. J.R. Ewing is on the verge of suicide and invited to see what happened to his family if he hadn’t never been born, by a mysterious white tuxedo wearing stranger.
DALLAS – Final Episode Promo (Spring 1991), Keith Norman, http://www.youtube.com
All good things come to an end, a well-known phrase. But 10/10 not for the person experiencing the good thing. For me 1991 was a sad year for my telly viewing, as for the last 12 or so years – more than half of my life until then, I’d avidly sat watching the original TV Series of Dallas (1978-91). I’d cried at the weddings, been shocked at the cliff hangers and been baffled – but pleased – by the reason for Bobby’s return. And was desolate to know that my favourite series was ending, and believing that this was the last I would see of the Ewings and the Barnes clans, I settled down to watch the final hours for a much hyped up double bill finale. Little did I know then what I know now that the show would inspire two reunion movies and a sparkling new series in 2012. But then I was heartbroken as the famous credits rolled for the then last time.
So the final double bill episode, which has a complete departure from the plot, but with enough spoken references to the past episodes, for the hardened fans it’s more of a stand alone double bill. The opening credits had me hooked from the beginning with a few red herring cast members – notably Sheree J Wilson (April) and Charlene Tilton (Lucy) – that I’d remembered being killed off earlier in the series or having left for the Ewing equivalent of Melbourne for Neighbours (1985-) characters. However the credits continued, with much to my joy the reappearance of Linda Gray’s Sue Ellen and disbelief at Mary Crosby whose character Kristin – Sue Ellen’s sister – had met an untimely death in the Southfork swimming pool years earlier. There is also a few uncredited but surprising characters – played by the original cast – returning to the show in a wee cameos.
After a montage with many of the characters telling J.R. (Larry Hagman) they want nothing to do with him, the opening scenes centre round the eldest Ewing brother feeling sorry for himself. Bobby owns Southfork and his arch enemy Cliff Barnes owns Ewing Oil. J.R. drunkenly wanders through Southfork Ranch with a bottle of Bourbon in one hand and a gun in the other contemplating suicide feeling alone and unloved. Dispirited he sits down alone by the pool, where minutes later he is joined by a mysterious man in a white tuxedo who confuses J.R. appearing on the Southfork balcony. This man Adam – played by Joel Grey – gives J.R. the chance of a lifetime to see how life would have been if J.R. Ewing hadn’t existed. So he takes J.R. on a journey of self discovery and what would have been, surprisingly knowing about audience familiar tales from J.R.’s past and stating this is due to his boss keeping tabs on him…
Here we are reintroduced to a number of familiar faces, but with completely new storylines. J.R.’s reaction to these possible happenings tells you more about his true feelings for family and his adversaries. Even Ewing Oil is no longer, with middle brother Gary, now the eldest bankrupting the company leading to J.R.’s father Jock dying from an illness brought on by stress and the subsequent death of a broken heart by his mother, Ellie not long after this. Gary (Ted Shackleford) meanwhile is a successful lawyer, both in the boardroom and bedroom.. and fate intervenes as Valene (Joan Van Ark) makes an appearance. All of this to J.R.’S annoyance, but that’s not the only thing that vexes him.
Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) is successful – pleasing J.R. – but has a lovely loving husband, which notably upsets J.R. and he is shaken even more – as we are – as he makes his entrance. With a nice wee cameo of someone Sue Ellen loved and lost. These scenes show what we’ve always known that Sue Ellen is and always will be the love of J.R.’s life. Other appearances include Calley as a battered wife, and a new Ewing brother, Jason who is just as despicable as J.R. but a less charismatic, charming character.
Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval) – J.R.’s arch enemy for all 357 episodes – has made it big as without his obsession to bring the Ewings down he has the model wife and children and has gone into politics in a big way. Leading to a prominent political position in the White House, which probably makes J.R. inwardly happy he lived and this didn’t happen, especially as things take a surprising upward turn to Cliff’s obvious happiness. But what of brother Bobby? J.R. is visibly upset learning little brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy) is a hustler with no money and ex-wife – sadly with a missed opportunity for a Priscilla Presley return as his childhood sweetheart Jenna – and three kids having never met Pamela, with a gambling problem and a new annoying squeaky voiced wife. His gambling problem is out of hand with him owing substantial debts to an old Ewing nemesis…
This episode was my favourite, as along with J.R. your feelings about the characters were tugged in every way. It was almost as much of a journey exploring your thoughts about the characters as it was about those of J.R.’s. Like J.R. Cliff’s new storyline was displeasing to me, but then I’ve always been Camp Ewing in their stand offs. Seeing Sue Ellen so happy was lovely, but I felt for J.R. when a husband was revealed despite the fact it was one of her true loves as they always were my favourite couple in the show. It was great to see this actor again, but kinda missed Ian McShane in his role. But that’s probably due to seeing McShane in the likes of the John Wick movies and Cuban Fury (2014). Events around Bobby troubled me as I’d also hoped for a happier outcome for my second favourite Ewing brother, with his tale being swapped with Rays. However it was good to show the elder Ewing brothers feelings and concern for his youngest sibling. But having never been a fan of Ray, the other Ewing brother to another mother, his happy ending did bother me.
It was sad that some other characters alternate versions were not explored as I had hoped for another Dallas wedding – in the drive of course – with Bobby and Jenna. And personally would loved to have a few in jokes in the return of other members such as Pam running a cosmetic company (Victoria Principal sadly turned down a chance to return) or Katherine Wentworth (Morgan Brittany) making it big in Hollywood as in a plethora of Vivien Leigh remakes and sequels. As Morgan Brittany who played this actress in two movies, almost returned in Leigh’s most iconic role as Scarlett O’Hara to Tom Selleck’s Rhett Butler in the 1990s (thanks for sharing this fact personally, Morgan). And as the final credits came along with my tears – and probably my mother’s relief – J.R. left with a bang. And after the final shock of the series and the Executive Producer credits emblazoned the screen, I feel this episode is best described as It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) but with a Twilight Zone natty wee twist…
Weeper Rating: 😦😦 😦 😦 😦😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂🙂 /10
Bonus Trailer: Yes
Dallas Open (5-3-1991) JAldridge86, http://www.youtube.com
Favourite TV Episode Blogathon, No 9
This review on Conundrum, the last episode of Dallas (1978-91) was added to the Favourite TV Episode Blogathon run by Shroud of Thoughts. Other reviews with this cast are found under this cast under Dallas tag here as so many to mention!