Syncing up to the somewhat untimely death in November of 81-year-old Larry Hagman from complications of leukemia, “Dallas” has reached the inevitable point of now saying goodbye to J.R. The solution to writing the legendary oilman out of the series was all too obvious, and thus comes in the form of a bullet. At the end of last week’s episode, J.R. was on the phone with his son John Ross (Josh Henderson), conspiring to pull off one of his biggest schemes yet. He told John Ross that he loved him, that he admired how his son was “tip to tail” a true Ewing. Then John Ross heard gunfire, then silence.
So here we are, once again: Who shot — and killed — J.R.?
That’s not the point this time. J.R. met his end in a Mexican hotel room, where investigators determined he was the random victim of a robbery. After identifying the body, the older and younger Ewings seem at first almost too beleaguered to pursue their usual route of conspiracy and accusation.
Even Linda Gray’s Sue Ellen halts her grieving long enough to hold up the Dallas white pages and declare that half the people in it would have happily pulled the trigger. (Really, Sue Ellen — a phone book? Where is your iPad?) Having been down this road before in 1980, when she was the most prime of suspects, Sue Ellen is standing in for all of America when she urges John Ross to let it rest. Maybe, she suggests, “dying at the hands of a petty thief could be one of the master ironies of [J.R.’s] life.”
Monday’s episode, titled “J.R.’s Masterpiece,” seeks a balance between becoming an hour-long tribute to a pop icon and staying true to the show’s mission as a fast-moving soap opera. To the delight of anyone who watched the show during its initial (and epic) run, old characters come out of the woodwork for a memorial service at the Dallas Petroleum Club to drink bourbon and branch (J.R.’s favorite drink) and share memories — mostly about how J.R. lied to them, stole from them or otherwise left them broken and scarred.
The writers and producers have done what they can to incorporate Hagman’s death into this season’s narrative, and certainly the whodunit will fill out the rest of the season. But the results are understandably mixed, with the actors (Duffy, in particular) mourning as characters while simultaneously mourning as colleagues bound in an eternal franchise. As actors, they know well enough to work with their real grief, not against it; even with a body in a coffin, no one convinces viewers that J.R. is truly gone, mainly because the story they’ve come up with isn’t grand enough.