Tonight’s episode features the longest wait yet for J.R. to finally make an appearance. Half an hour into the show, J.R, still in Las Vegas, is seen in the back seat of a car, talking on the phone to his faithful dog Bum. Bum tells him that he’s been looking into the background of Cliff’s mysterious associate Frank. Bum explains that Cliff picked the fellow up when he was nothing and molded him into the impressive man he is today, but that he’s still trapped in the position of an overqualified gofer. J.R. infers that Frank may feel that he hasn’t gotten his due and thinks he sees an opening there: “A cheated man is a dangerous man. Ask my son.”
This dollop of wisdom from the dark side of the cracker barrel is pretty much all we get from J.R. There’s nothing else about the Vegas storyline, and he isn’t given the chance to weigh in on what’s going on in Dallas—partly, one surmises, because if he knew how bad things have gotten and how ineffectually John Ross is handling the situation, he’d get on the next plane home. It seems likely that, having used Larry Hagman to draw viewers into the show, the producers are now trying to separate him from the central storyline a bit so that the other regulars, especially the younger ones, can show off their stuff and prove that they can carry the show when the spotlight is on them and the old scene-stealer isn’t lurking over their shoulders. On the other hand, it’s possible that, after completing the first few episodes, Larry Hagman died, and the producers are keeping his body in a freezer somewhere and using stray bits of additional footage to maintain the illusion that he’s still part of the cast until they’re sure the nation can handle the news. This strikes me as unlikely, but you never know. After all, the Allies did manage, against all odds, to keep Germany from learning the scheduled date and location of the Normandy landings.
Happily, John Ross has become easier to warm up to now that the show seems to be adjusting its view of the character to accommodate the fact that no one but a proud, slightly deluded papa would consider him dangerous. Nobody is scared of this kid—certainly not his Venezuelan-gangster investor, played by Carlos Bernard, who calls him away from a date with Elena and, by means of a fairly complicated metaphor, manages to threaten his life while simultaneously deriding both his salesmanship and his dancing skills. The poor guy is also being stalked by the false Marta, who calls him from Elena’s cell phone, implying that she’s taken her hostage. John Ross rushes to Marta’s hotel room and rushes about, demanding to know where Elena is, while Marta strikes Joan Crawford poses and makes with the Eva Green crazy eyes. It takes him an embarrassing amount of time to figure out that Marta hasn’t really laid a hand on Elena, she just got ahold of her phone for ten seconds.
Still, John Ross is trying. This makes it easy to root for him over Christopher, and in their big scene together, he manages to get off a few zingers, starting with his opening salvo: “Don’t you have some cows to go birth?” Time can do wonders even with an apparent lost cause: Look at Charlene Tilton, for example. Writing about her performance as Lucy on the show in the old days, James Wolcott memorably called her “as short as a tree stump, and not nearly as animated.” Now, looking like a Muppet that’s just out of rehab, Lucy has a coarse, larger-than-life quality best savored in small doses, which is just how the show serves her up. Trying to charm her over lunch, John Ross oozes, “Lucy, you are and always will be my favorite cousin.” She glares at him and drawls, “Whadaya want?” in a voice that’s been marinated in nicotine and Scotch. After finding out what he wants, she throws her lot in with Bobby, but it’s clear that John Ross has at least learned from her style when he accuses Bobby of having turned her head with talk of “family, tradition, and all that crap.”
“All that crap” nicely sums up the material dealing with Bobby, Christopher, and Ann. Mrs. Bobby has taken to spending her free time hanging around the park wistfully eyeing the children at play, because, it turns out, she is haunted by a mystery child in her past, who has presumably grown into someone we will meet or have already met. And Christopher’s determination to be rid of Rebecca is dynamited by the news that she is pregnant with twins. When he tries to shore up his resolve to be done with it all, the tearful Rebecca plays the “abandoned urchin” card, and he crumples up like a paper flower in the rain. Never before in the history of the battle between good and evil has good been so overmatched by what really just looks like mild naughtiness.
- “All the grown-ups are drinking. I want to be a grown-up, too.” That’s John Ross at lunch. It turns out he’s reciting an anecdote about sneaking his first shot of Bourbon, but at first I thought he was actually placing his drink order.
- Criticizing John Ross’s business skills, Christopher tells him, “You can’t even sell the mud off your boots.” “I’ll let you have that for free,” sneers John Ross. John Ross’ half of that exchange would have been J.R.-worthy if only Christopher had been able to say the word he clearly meant instead of “mud.” The thing is, I’m at least half convinced that Hagman could have delivered his response in a way that made you feel that you’d actually heard the word “shit.”
- Mitch Pileggi’s vile Harris Ryland continues to get inside Bobby’s head, despite it being so lonely in there. Warning Bobby not to mess with the sumbitch, his lawyer, played by the Secret Service guy on 24 who always seemed on the verge of making out with the First Lady, says that Ryland “has his tentacles wrapped around everyone, everywhere” and “with one tug, he can make all this unravel around you.” At first, my wife thought that instead of “tentacles,” he’d said “testicles,” and was very disappointed when I corrected her.
- Last week, I wrote that the great Steven Hyden would be back covering the show this week. Sadly, I lied, and instead it will be my great privilege to monitor it for the rest of the season.