Hold onto your cowboy hats! I’m a HUGE Dallas fan. I still love to watch the old episodes on DVD. So to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the show’s premiere, I’m recapping the famous episode from 1980 that had everybody wondering, “Who Shot J.R.?”
The first thing you have to do is watch the opening credits (above). It’ll give you a little teaser of upcoming scenes from this episode, too. I bet you won’t be able to get the theme song out of your head!
Go ahead and watch it real quick. I’ll wait.
This episode opens in J.R.’s office, where he’s having a confab with his dad Jock and brother Bobby about the state of Ewing Oil. The big news is that all of Dallas thinks the Ewings just lost their shirts on a big deal, but J.R. is here to tell you he has saved the day, Bob.
Ewing Oil is still in business, thanks to some of J.R.’s underhanded, dirty-dog, behind-the-scenes scheming. But the way he explains it to Jock and Bobby makes it sound like it’s all on the up-and-up, yeah, that’s the ticket, and that the millions they made were a combination of savvy business decisions and extraordinary good luck.
Jock buys it. But Brother Bobby knows better.
In a nutshell, J.R. had to set up just about every other oil man in the state of Texas to lose their shirts on this deal so he could save his. J.R. had some knowledge they didn’t about some overseas oil fields and suckered them into investing in them.
I don’t understand all the details. But I can tell you this. It’s bad. Real bad. J.R. is making enemies left and right in the Cartel.
Enter the first irate Cartel member: Jordan Lee.
Jock says, “Come on, Jordan, you know this business is a crapshoot. You made a lot of money with us before and you’ll make a lot of money with us again. We always take care of our friends.”
Jordan gets all sarcastic-like, saying, “Well, I’m happy to hear that, Jock. Reeeal happy. I’ll pass that along to Seth Stone’s widow. She’ll be happy, too.” (Seth Stone is another member of the Cartel who lost a fortune in J.R.’s deal.)
“What the hell are you talkin’ about, Jordan?” the Ewing men want to know.
Jordan makes a dramatic exit with the final parting words: “Seth killed himself this mornin’.”
Meanwhile, over at Southfork, Sue Ellen is in bed in the middle of the day, nursing some coffee and a monster of a hangover. See, she went on a wild bender in a rough cowboy bar last night. Bobby had to rescue her from those rowdy boys and bring her back home.
She’s watching the local news. I love that these millionaires have a TV on a little metal cart. Things sure have changed for the rich folk and their TVs in 30 years.
I also love that the local Dallas news station used Granny drapes as a backdrop for their set:
The reporter tells us (and Sue Ellen): “Contrary to earlier reports, Ewing Oil will not suffer a major loss. The company sold most of its oil holdings a short time before the oil industry was nationalized. A sad side to this story, one of the leaseholders, popular Dallas oil man Seth Stone committed suicide today. Apparently, Mr. Stone had recently tied up most of his assets in the nationalized wells. He leaves his widow, Marilee.”
Close up on Sue Ellen’s face. “Oh, my God, J.R.”
Back at the office. Marliee Stone’s been calling repeatedly, but J.R. is refusing to pick up. Nice.
Enter Irate Cartel Member #2, Vaughn Leland, demanding “An explanation, an apology, and restitution!” But Jock isn’t having it. He says, “As for restitution–not a nickel, not a penny.”
Vaughn is sure J.R. lied to them. J.R. kinda has a reputation around Dallas. People don’t exactly trust his word on things anymore (see Seasons 1 and 2 if you wanna know why). And since all the other oil men are now destitute, but he’s suddenly millions of dollars richer, they’re extra suspicious.
Also, J.R. can’t keep that grin off his face, even when he’s saying, “I’m sorry, Vaughn.” He has a hard time sounding sincere.
Vaughn lost 20 million dollars. He’s flat broke. He says Jock has got to help him.
Jock reminds Vaughn that he was no help to the Ewings when they nearly lost Southfork a few episodes back, so he can just forget it. He’s on his own.
After Vaughn is kicked out of the office, Bobby accuses J.R. of dirty dealings.
Jock steps in and says, “J.R., I’m gonna ask you one time, and we’ll never mention it again. Did you know those wells were gonna be nationalized?”
J.R. looks his daddy straight in the eye. “I would never do anything like that to my friends,” he says, looking a little hurt that his daddy would even SUGGEST such a thing.
Well, that solves that, then. He’s totally innocent. Sorry we doubted you for even a moment, J.R.!
Okay, now we have a scene with Lucy (daughter of Gary Ewing who is off starring in another nighttime soap called Knots Landing). This is Lucy’s new professor-boyfriend. Let’s just say this guy was not hired for his acting skills. He makes Charlene Tilton look like Meryl Streep.
Her storylines bore me, so I usually fast-forward through them. Or I see them as an opportunity to make a run to the fridge for a Diet Coke.
In this scene, Lucy wants to know if there’s someone else in the professor’s life since he never wants to take her anywhere in public. He says, of course not, why would she think that?
Adding, “Sorry, I can’t take you out to dinner tonight, but you can stop by my office for a visit if you want, wink-wink.”
Never fall for that one, ladies! Especially all of you college girls out there who may be tempted to visit a professor in his office at night. It’s never a good idea.
Now we move on to Kristin’s apartment, the one J.R. lets her stay in because she always visits HIS office late at night when he asks her to. (Another wink-wink.)
Kristin is Sue Ellen’s conniving younger sister. She had her eye on J.R. from the minute she arrived in Dallas. She’s Bad News.
I love it how these people are always hanging around their houses in dresses and high heels, with their hair and makeup done. Kristin doesn’t even have a job at the moment, but she likes to look good just in case something (or somebody) comes up.
The doorbell rings, and it’s Alan Beam. He’s an attorney who used to work for J.R. but got burned bad. Now he’s trying to bring J.R. down.
Kristin and Alan discuss how J.R. could’ve possibly known to sell those oil wells in time. Kristin thinks maybe Hank Johnson tipped him off. Kristin’s been sleeping with most of the old, wrinkly Cartel members and recording things they say about J.R. (yuck). She pulls out a giant tape recorder and plays some of it for Alan. According to these oil men, J.R. convinced them all to buy the leases he was selling.
Alan has a plan. He tells Kristin to call Hank Johnson and pretend like she’s still J.R.’s secretary. She picks up the phone and purrs, “Operator, I need to make an overseas call.”
Back at the Ewing ranch. Miss Ellie is in her study (you gotta love the fabulous Barbara Bel Geddes). Bobby has a talk with her about Pam, who has flown to Corpus Christi in search of her long-lost mother, Rebecca.
Bobby thinks she’s just in shock from her daddy Digger’s death. He thinks Pam should stop the search and finish grieving first. Ellie is worried about Pam, too. Not a lot happening in this scene other than that.
Bobby then runs into Sue Ellen in the foyer, who says she’s hung-over and embarrassed about last night. He says, “What else is new?” (Okay, not really, but I bet Bobby was thinking it!)
She says she’s sure that J.R. is going to use her drunken evening as an excuse to send her back to the sanitarium.
Bobby insists he won’t let that happen. Don’t worry, Sue Ellen. He’ll protect you!
(Can we pause here for just a minute to discuss how weird it is that these millionaires who are in their 30s and 40s still live with their parents at Southfork? The place isn’t even all that big if you consider it has to accommodate Ellie and Jock, Lucy and her series of love interests, J.R. and Sue Ellen and their son John Ross, and Bobby and Pam and their son Christopher. But it makes it possible for the characters to constantly run into each other around the ranch and have conversations like this.)
Over at J.R.’s office, he gets a call from Hank telling him that Kristin told him to send all of the oil well records to her at the apartment.
J.R. says, yeah, don’t do that, Hank! It’s a trap. Shred ’em.
Sue Ellen goes to see her psychiatrist, Dr. Elby. We know he’s a psychiatrist because he wears a lot of tweed jackets with the elbow patches in them, and his hair long and shaggy.
Sue Ellen admits she doesn’t remember much about the bar the night before, or the cowboys she was with. Dr. Elby says, It isn’t good that you’re drinking until you pass out. (Thank you, Dr. Obvious.)
She says, “Don’t worry. Bobby says he’ll take care of me and keep J.R. from hurting me any more.”
Yeah, that seems like a good plan, Sue Ellen! Why bother with, I don’t know, MOVING OUT OF SOUTHFORK AND TAKING JOHN ROSS WITH YOU when you could just hang around, expecting Bobby to keep your husband from putting you away again?
She swears to Elby that she is not gonna take another drink. Ever. Really, Dr. Elby, she means it this time.
Dr. Elby looks skeptical.
Meanwhile, J.R. bursts into Kristin’s apartment and confronts her. She blames Alan Beam for “making me call Hank.”
He says, “You think you’re gonna blackmail me? You’re outta your league, Darlin’.”
“You can’t scare me,” Kristin says.
J.R. finds this amusing. “It takes brains to know when to be scared, Honey,” he says. “And since brains are in short supply around here, I’m gonna help you. Now. Is the time. To be scared.”
Ooh. Even I’m scared!
He hands her a stack of greenbacks and tells her to head to Rio, which is lovely this time of year, adding, that she should pack one of those tiny string bikinis of hers.
But Kristin shoves the money back at him. No way can he buy her off! (Since when?) She slams the door behind him.
It’s nighttime at the ranch now, and Sue Ellen and J.R. are in their bedroom, having a friendly chat.
(Would you look at how these multimillionaires live, in this cramped little bedroom down the hall from J.R.’s parents? I wonder if they have their own bathroom or if they have to share a Jack-and-Jill with Pam and Bobby?)
So Sue Ellen says, “You are not gonna send me back to that sanitarium, J.R.”
He wants to know who’s gonna stop him?
She says, “Bobby will.”
He finds this hilarious, as if she’d said, “I have a puppy that will nip at your ankles!” J.R. isn’t exactly shakin’ in his cowboy boots over a threat from Bobby.
Sue Ellen: “Tell me, J.R. Which slut are you gonna stay with tonight?”
J.R.: “What difference does it make? Whoever it is has got to be more interesting than the slut I’m lookin’ at right now.”
Whoa. No one delivers a zinger like Larry Hagman.
He leaves and Sue Ellen goes into a rage, throwing a vase at the door.
She then starts throwing clothes on the floor, which is pretty silly, really. Who throws underwear around the room when they’re angry?
But–what’s this? She finds a gun under J.R.’s PJs! What on earth? What’s that doing there?
She stops. And stares. And gives a meaningful look that lets us know she’s very tempted to pick it up and use it.
(I have to say it’s refreshing to see lines on all the actors’ faces! No Botox in 1980, Kids.)
Next day. The Ewing Office Headquarters.
Cliff Barnes shows up with a contract he found that proves that one of the Ewings’ most profitable oil wells belongs in part to him. This piece of paper was signed by Jock decades ago, giving it to Cliff and Pam’s dad Digger back when Digger and Jock were still partners. (Did you catch all that?)
Cliff Barnes and the Barnes family are the Ewings’ arch enemies. The premise of the show itself was sort of a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. In the series premiere, Bobby Ewing and Pamela Barnes have eloped and are scared to tell their families.
Anyway, so Cliff is always scheming to get the Ewings back for taking his Daddy Digger’s oil wells decades ago. While Jock got rich, Digger got drunk.
Bobby is annoyed that he has to share the proceeds of the Ewing 23 oil well with Cliff Barnes, but J.R. is remarkably good-natured about the whole thing.
He pours Cliff a drink. “I admire a man who gets what he wants,” he says. Uh-oh. You know he’s up to something! J.R. doesn’t like to lose.
He picks up the phone and asks a foreman how Ewing 23 is doing. It’s doing 5,000 barrels a month, the foreman tells him, which means Cliff should make half a million dollars a year from it.
Cliff smiles and comments that J.R. sure is taking this well! Finally, Cliff is about to get some justice for the Barnes family. And he’s gonna be RICH!
Well, hold on a minute. You know how Charlie Brown always falls for the bit with Lucy and the football? In this scenario, Cliff is Charlie Brown, and J.R. has the ball.
“Harry,” J.R. says into the phone with a smile, “Shut down that field. That’s right. Shut down every single well.”
Ooh. Need another enemy, J.R.? Cuz I think you just got one. He’d rather lose half a million dollars a year from that well that let Cliff have a dime.
Back at the ranch–Pam and Bobby are in their shoebox of a bedroom, which has been wallpapered within an inch of its life.
Bobby shares his concerns about her obsession with finding her mother. Bobby is always worrying about Pam for one reason or another.
“Bobby,” Pam says, “I have to do this. I’m going to quit my job at the store devote myself to the search full-time.”
Okay, maybe Pam is the one who needs to be put in the sanitarium. She’s quitting her fabulous job as a fashion buyer to search for her mother now? Bobby looks alarmed. Pam is always thisclose to going off the deep end, and she’s clearly been sticking her toe in the water.
“If you wanna quit to raise a family, that’s one thing, but Dr. Danvers says you need a period of mourning for your dad. Take this slow,” Bobby says, grabbing her by the shoulders and pleading with her with his eyes.
“Please understand, Bobby. This is something I’ve got to do,” she says.
(Look at that white suit she’s wearing. This is 1980, but it still looks good. The jumbo shoulderpads and crazy-big hair hadn’t started creeping into the show yet. In the 4th season, they perm the heck out of Pam’s hair and everything starts to go wickety-wack.)
Okay, quick scene with Lucy visiting her professor paramour. Surprise! He can’t go out again tonight. She’s disappointed and pouts.
The minute she leaves, he calls home and talks to his wife. DRAMATIC MUSIC. He’s married, you guys! No way! I never saw this coming in a million years!
Back at J.R.’s office, a police sergeant named Harry who helps J.R. with his nefarious schemes brings Alan Beam in for a visit. They warn him not to make trouble for the Ewings.
J.R. tells him to get out of town. Or else.
Alan puts up a fight. He ain’t goin’ nowhere.
So J.R. tells Harry to round up a woman Alan Beam might’ve raped.
“Blonde, redhead, or brunette?” the Sergeant asks with an evil cackle.
Alan’s parting words: “You messed with the wrong man, J.R.!”
Yeah, yeah, that’s what they all say.
At the ranch that night, the Ewing boys tell Daddy about Cliff’s visit to the office. J.R. says, “Nothing to get excited about, Daddy. I took care of it. I closed those wells. He won’t make a penny.”
Bobby is PISSED. “Daddy gave me the authority to open those wells and NOBODY closes them but me.”
“Would you have closed ’em?” J.R. asks.
“No,” Bobby says.
“I rest my case.”
“J.R. did the right thing,” Jock says. “No way could Cliff Barnes ever be a partner of mine. I woulda done the same thing, Bobby. The same thing.”
“That’s just what I was afraid you’d say, Daddy,” Bobby says, looking defeated and leaving the room.
J.R. can hardly stop grinning. He says, “Bobby’s getting weak, Daddy. He hardly sounds like a Ewing any more.”
Clearly, this is an oldest child who never adjusted to the idea of having a younger brother.
Bobby walks back to his bedroom. He tells Pam the sitch. He says, “This proves Daddy is no better than J.R. We’re leaving Southfork first thing in the morning.”
“You can’t just run away,” Pam says, like she’s talking to a 15-year old, and not a grown man who should’ve moved his a** out years ago.
I’m thinking, “Yes! Bobby, yes! Move out! Get a life of your own away from your crazy, dysfunctional family! Save yourself!”
“I gotta get out while I still remember the difference between right and wrong. I’ve taken all the wheeling and dealing and backstabbing I’m going to. We leave in the morning.”
Next morning. They carry two suitcases downstairs that supposedly contain all their worldly belongings and hand them off to Juan. The only time you see a non-white person in “Dallas” is if they’re in a uniform, carrying luggage or serving meals.
Bobby tells Pam to “wait in the car” because saying goodbye is something he has to do on his own. Never mind that she might’ve wanted to say goodbye to everybody, too. “Sure, Bobby,” she simpers and follows Juan outside.
Bobby walks into the dining room, where his Mama and Daddy are eating breakfast. (Why they are still called Mama and Daddy by their grown sons is another puzzle. Is this a Texas thing I just don’t get?)
Bobby announces that he and Pam are leaving Southfork. He can’t live in the same house as J.R.
Jock: “Bobby, that’s a hell of a decision for you to make without talking to me and your mama about it first.”
Bobby: “There’s nothing to talk about unless you wanna talk about decency or morality, but they don’t seem to be words we use around here.” Harsh.
Miss Ellie loses it. (Barbara Bel Geddes is a first-class crier.)
“Bobby! Please don’t go! You and J.R. can work it out! Oh, Jock! Jock, please don’t let him go! Please!”
She’s sobbing now. She wants all her boys around her at Southfork all the time. She can’t stand to have them all split up into separate houses, living their own independent lives!
Jock reminds Bobby that he’s STILL a EWING, dammit. We have GOT to stick toGETHer.
Bobby: “Not at the expense of everybody else.” Bobby’s such a good guy. He’s so earnest sometimes, it hurts.
Ellie: “Where are you going?”
Bobby: “I’m not sure.” Dramatic pause. “As far away from here as possible.”
Wow, Bobby. Way to rub it in.
He hugs his mama goodbye and says, “I’m sorry, Mama.”
Oh, boy. Mama ain’t happy. And when Mama ain’t happy, nobody in the Ewing household is happy, I can tell you that.
Enter J.R. and Sue Ellen. “Mama? What’s wrong? Is this wallpaper pattern scarin’ you again?”
Sue Ellen fills him in, since she had been listening outside the door (when it comes to eavesdropping, Sue Ellen’s a pro).
“You drove Gary away. And now Bobby. You cheated your friends. You’ve done everything in your power to get what you wanted. Well, congratulations. You did it. You are now the Ewings’ only son.”
J.R. fights the urge to look pleased. This is what he has wanted all along.
After Mama and Daddy leave the room, J.R. turns to Sue Ellen and says, “You’ve had your last say in this house, Sue Ellen. You think you can get away with talking about me in front of Mama and Daddy like that?”
“You’re a drunk and an unfit mother. I’m gonna call Dr. Rogers. Sooner we have you put away in that sanitarium, the better off you’re gonna be.”
(Note: he delivers this entire speech while waving a piece of bacon around in his hand.)
Back in the city, the crooked sergeant Harry busts into Kristin’s apartment with a warrant for her arrest. The charge? Prostitution. He looks at Alan Beam, who is there with her, and says, “Was she any good?” Hardy-har-har.
He tells them he’ll hold the warrant for 24 hours and give them time to get out of town before he hauls them both in.
Kristin turns to the camera and says out of the corner of her mouth, “I’ll kill J.R. I swear I’ll kill him.”
Alan: “Take a number.”
Are you keeping track of how many characters have threatened J.R. bodily harm so far? Actually, it might be easier to count the people who haven’t.
In the next scene, J.R. makes good on his promise to have Sue Ellen committed. He calls Dr. Rogers on the phone and says it’s imperative that the men in white coats carry her off tonight.
Dr. Rogers doesn’t question why Sue Ellen needs to be locked up. Okeydoke, we’ll come get her. Whatever’s convenient for you, J.R.!
(That rug they made Hagman wear was awful. With a budget like this show had, you’d think they could’ve given him some hair that didn’t look spray-painted and glued on. It’s no wonder he liked to wear that cowboy hat!)
J.R. hangs up and Vaughn Leland, another double-crossed oil man, calls. “J.R., I’m gonna ask you for the last time. Return that money to me.”
J.R. says, um, no way. I’m keepin’ it. Too bad for you!
“I’m warning you,” Vaughn says. “I’m gonna see to it that this is the last crooked deal you ever pull.”
J.R. doesn’t seem worried. But maybe he should be…
Back at Southfork, we see Sue Ellen ponder the gun for a moment before sticking it in her purse and rushing off to who-knows-where. Maybe to introduce J.R. to his maker?
We cut to Cliff standing over a small headstone and flowers where his daddy Digger is supposedly buried.
Why his is the only headstone there, and it appears to be in the middle of a public park, I have no idea.
Cliff says, “I’m sorry, Daddy, he beat me. J.R. beat me the same way Jock did you. There’s not a whole lot more I can do except STOP J.R. FOR GOOD.”
He jumps in his car and speeds off. I’m starting to picture a traffic jam of people all fighting over who can plug a bullet into J.R. first.
Nighttime at J.R.’s office. He’s working late so as to avoid the unpleasantness at home when Dr. Rogers and his thugs arrive to cart Sue Ellen away to the sanitarium. That’s why his shot glass says, “World’s Best Husband.”
The phone rings, but when he answers it, the caller hangs up. Weird, right?
I’m getting a bad feeling.
He goes into the outer office to pour another drink. It’s awful dark, and he’s the only one in the building.
Or IS he?
Why doesn’t he have some lights on in that place, anyway? Kinda spooky.
We hear a door creak open. Footsteps.
“Who’s there?” he asks. J.R. goes to investigate.
Mistake! Just as he leaves his office–BAM! BAM! Two gunshots, right in the gut. J.R. clutches his stomach and slides to the floor.
J.R. IS DOWN.
The “Dallas” theme music kicks in and the credits roll. We’re all left to gasp and wonder until the next season of “Dallas” returns–Whodunnit? And will J.R. survive?
Here’s the final scene if you want to see it yourself (turn the sound down if you’re at work or have sleeping children–the gunshots are LOUD):
Larry Hagman cleverly spent the summer renegotiating his contract, so his survival was truly up in the air for a long time. CBS execs finally caved and gave him what he wanted–$100,000 an episode. I’d say he was worth every penny.
The writers didn’t choose the killer for months after this aired. All of the cast members, including Mama and Daddy, took turns filming scenes in which they shot J.R.
Do you remember who pulled the trigger? And how she escaped jail time altogether?