Dallas (2012): The Complete Second Season DVD Review: Who Killed J.R.?

Through an extraordinary set of circumstances, the legendary J.R. Ewing actually got a proper send-off from Dallas. In 1980, the question was “Who shot J.R.?” In 2013, the question became “Who killed J.R.?” The first season and a half of the Dallas reboot was ok, but nothing special. Things changed dramatically with the death of Larry Hagman on November 23, 2012 though. The second half of the second season was scrapped and re-written, and became the most compelling storyline since the early ‘80s heyday of the original.

The core conflict in Dallas has always been the Ewing-Barnes feud. The backstory is that patriarch Jock Ewing stole the land that he made his oil fortune on from his former friend “Digger” Barnes. When Dallas debuted in 1978, the feud was being waged by the sons of Jock and Digger, J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) and Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval). It was still going strong when the new Dallas debuted in 2012.

No matter what happens, a feud that is built into the very DNA of a series could never really be resolved. That is, unless something truly remarkable happened, such as the real-life death of the most important character in the Dallas mythos. When Hagman passed, the writers created the most epic battle in the history of the series. The finale of Breaking Bad got all of the ink last year, and deservedly so. It is unfortunate that nobody really heard about what was going on on Dallas though, for it made for some excellent television.

“J.R.’s Masterpiece” is the eighth episode of the season, and it is the one in which J.R. is killed. Of course, this was originally written as a ruse, but when Hagman died, the decision was made to go all the way. In keeping with the times, Ewing Oil has diversified, and has become Ewing Energy. Cliff Barnes’ company is now Barnes Global, and his eternal quest for revenge is now focused on a hostile takeover of Ewing Energy.

In “J.R.’s Masterpiece” and on through the remaining seven episodes, all of the classic elements of Dallas come into play. Besides Hagman, there are two members of the original cast who have reprised their role in the new Dallas. Sue Ellen Ewing (Linda Gray) is J.R.s ex-wife, and Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) is his brother. The next generation are led by J.R.’s son, John Ross Ewing III (Josh Henderson), and Bobby’s adopted son, Christopher Ewing (Jesse Metcalfe). They are the main players in the critical events to follow.

J.R.’s funeral provides an opportunity for a number of former cast members to pay their respects. Two of these are Lucy Ewing (Charlene Tilton) and Valene Ewing (Joan Van Ark). While it may sound mean to say the following, it is a fact. Any middle-aged woman who is considering plastic surgery to “preserve” her looks should consider the bubble-faces of Tilton and Van Ark, versus the natural appearance of Gray. Nobody is fooled, and those two look ridiculous.

Sex has always been a key commodity in Dallas, and fortunately that remains unchanged. Some of the new women in this world are Pamela Rebecca Barnes (Julie Gonzalo), Elena Ramos (Jordana Brewster), and Ann Ewing (Brenda Strong), and they give as good as they get. These ladies engage in all of the backstabbing power-plays that the series is famous for, and it is nice to see that some things never change.

I watched Dallas intermittently during the ‘80s, but was never a major fan. But a couple of years ago, I decided to watch the entire series straight through, courtesy of Netflix. Frankly, I had dismissed the show as so much drivel during its original run, and in watching it all the way through, I saw that I was wrong. It was really good, at least until the infamous “dream season,” when Duffy left the cast during the ninth season.

Warner Home Video have just released Dallas: The Complete Second Season in a four-DVD set. Besides the 15 episodes of the season, there are a fair amount of extras included. As one would imagine, a lot of the bonus material revolves around the loss of Hagman. He was obviously the most important star of the show, but J.R. Ewing was also one of the most legendary characters in television history.

Hagman is the main topic of discussion during Dallas at PaleyFest 2013 (30:04), which features a panel of cast and production executives taking questions from the audience. Then there is Memories of Larry Hagman: A Cast and Crew Tribute (9:41), which is pretty self-explanatory. One Last Conversation with Larry Hagman (7:02) is one-sided interview piece which appears to have been recorded during the early part of the season. In it, and during the episodes he is in, Hagman seems to be in much better shape than he must have been.

The Battle for Ewing Energies: Blood is Thicker than Oil (11:42) is a recap of the storylines of this wild season. There are also two more versions of “J.R.’s Masterpiece” included, an extended cut (51:27), and the same extended cut with commentary from executive producer Cynthia Cidre and director Michael Robbin. Each disc has a “Fashion File” segment, which features discussions of the fashions worn on each episode. Each disc also has deleted scenes from the episodes, for a grand total of 19.

The viewership of Dallas dropped by about half from the first season to the second, which is unfortunate. My guess is that the loss of Hagman was the biggest reason, although there was a change in its time slot as well. Whatever the reason, the second season was vastly superior to any Dallas that has been on the air in a long, long time. Now that it is available on DVD, and nobody is talking about Breaking Bad anymore, it might get the acclaim it deserves.

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Greg Barbrick

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