Bang! Bang! Way to go out on a familiar cliffhanger, third episode of Dallas. Annie (Brenda Strong), Bobby Ewing’s second wife, pulled a gun out of her handbag and plugged her abusive, baby-kidnapping ex, Ryland Harris (Mitch Pileggi), then calmly strode out the front door as he lay bleeding on the parquet.
Setting up a murder trial plot involving a major character is a tried-and-we’re-tired-of-it soap plot tactic. And for Dallas to do it again just seems lazy. This week’s episode, written by Bruce Rasmussen and directed by Jesse Bochco (son of NYPD Blue creator Steven), felt like two steps back from the fast-moving double pump of last week’s two-hour second season opener.
At least Larry Hagman’s J.R. still had some tasty nuggets of dialogue to chew on. The actor remained seated for most of his scenes this week, though his eyebrows were certainly tap dancing.
Best line: “I can make a dead body appear in the middle of a church social without anybody knowing how it got there.” — J.R. to creepy Barnes family muscle, “Smiling Frank” (Fahran Tahrir).
Minutes into the hour until Brenda Strong had to weep on cue: Four minutes into this episode, she was a waterfall. Ditto six minutes later.
Plots nobody cares about: Ho hum on the disappearance of Tommy Sutter (Callard Harris, unseen so far this season), brother of the brassy blonde (Alex McKenna) whom Christopher Ewing (Jesse Metcalf) married last season and is now trying to divorce.
This week she also vamoosed, paid off by Pamela Rebecca Barnes (Julie Gonzalo), the Ewings’ newest enemy. Pamela may have murdered Tommy, or maybe she’s just setting it up to frame Christopher for homicide. (Another murder plot! Bang!)
Glimpse of Judith Light: Only one. Playing Judith Ryland, evil former mother-in-law of tearstained Annie, so far the Emmy and Tony winner is acting uncharacteristically sclerotic.
Future episodes need to give Light the caliber of scenes she was known for devouring in her long-running role as Karen Wolek on daytime’s late, lamented soap One Life to Live. (We’ll just ignore her work on Who’s the Boss? for now.)
New beef on the hoof at Southfork: Actor Kuno Becker as Andres “Drew” Ramos, older, estranged brother of Christopher’s business partner and main squeeze, Elena (Jordana Brewster). Drew wants to drill for oil on his dead pop’s old piece of land, now owned by Bobby Ewing, even though a previous drilling effort hit a dry hole — much like this episode.
Geography lesson: Beneath the oil fields of North Texas (stop giggling) there are apparently “salt domes.” To picture one of those, just look at Mitch Pileggi’s head as the nefarious Ryland Harris.
Weirdest moment: Aforementioned Harris character making Annie Ewing flash her boobs to prove she was not wearing a wire. Too bad he didn’t check her purse for weapons. Again we are reminded of Brenda Strong’s memorable turn as the bra-flashing Sue Ellen Mischke on Seinfeld. Now it’s as if the Dallas writers are using her as an in-joke.
Details, details: For all their wealth, the Ewings and their loved ones seem to be cutting corners in the décor department. Sharp-eyed viewers on Facebook noted “cheap Big Lots cup towels” in the Southfork kitchen, along with tacky wall baskets and a fruitless brass fruit caddy on the kitchen island.
Sexy smooch-fu: Not much this week. Just one leg-wrapping lip lock between John Ross and Pamela Rebecca around the 56-minute mark.
Best episode highlights: The ones in Linda Gray’s hair in the scene where Sue Ellen’s son, John Ross, urged his “Momma” to start her own empire. At 72, Gray is still a major babe.
Coming up next week: Ken Kercheval is back as Cliff Barnes. Also look for a return soon by 1980s bombshell Audrey Landers as Pamela Rebecca’s mother, Afton Cooper.
Watch new episodes of Dallas Mondays at 8 pm on TNT. Catch repeats of full episodes online.