"The Verdict" ... in which Jenna's trial trundles on, JR finds a new patsy, Sue Ellen and Pam spend most of the episode in a plane circling above the Southfork sound-stage, and Donna Reed performs her infamous hankie scene. Bobby shows up on Ann McFadden's Los Angelean doorstep and tries to convince her to testify on Jenna's behalf. Ironically, for a series that spends the second half of each year trying to make LA look like Texas, the occasional scenes that are both filmed and set in California lack any real sense of place other than generic "TV Land". (The one exception would be the episodes in Season 9 where the Ewings flee to California to escape the clutches of BD Calhoun, which at least give a sense that the characters have gone somewhere.) Curiously, in spite of Ann being such a vital witness, ("You're my last hope," Bobby informs her) Scotty and Bobby are just too darn nice to serve her with a subpoena compelling her to testify. This is only one example of an oddly laissez-faire attitude that informs both sides of Jenna's trial. The defence have produced no solid evidence to back up their claims that Charlie was kidnapped or that Jenna was subsequently coerced into marrying Naldo and chloroformed on the night he was killed. Yet the prosecution do not challenge these allegations. On the contrary, they seem quite willing to indulge them: "It has been suggested that the defendant was so vitally concerned with locating her daughter that she would never kill Mr Marchetta because he was the only link to her child," reiterates ADA Hoskins while questioning a medical expert on the stand. "If Miss Wade had been chloroformed before passing out, is it possible that she was too groggy to think about her daughter?" Meanwhile, the one person who can corroborate the story of Charlie's kidnapping is Charlie herself - but despite Scotty's plea to Jenna to let her testify, ("It's vital that the jury understand that the one goal in your mind was to get your daughter back ... Though you hated Naldo, you wouldn't wanna see him dead. Without him, you might never see Charlie again.") Jenna refuses. "Charlie's been through enough," she insists. (For this decision we must be grateful: does anybody actually want to see Shalane McCall on the witness stand?) When Scotty tells Jenna, "there's a strong case against you, and I don't have much to counter it with," he ain't kidding. Jenna proves a pretty feeble witness in her own defence: "The only thing I know for sure is that I didn't kill him!" she yelps. Scotty hands her a Baretta 380 on the stand and then makes a big deal of her apparent inability to remove the safety catch. "This is a very complicated weapon," he tells the jury, "and yet the prosecution want us to believe that under the effects of chloroform, this little lady here can grab it away from a man bigger and stronger than she, find the safety, release it and shoot before he could stop her. I don't think so. I don't think anyone in their right mind would think so." Anyone in their right mind prepared to take Jenna's word that she doesn't know how to use a handgun and was chloroformed, that is. The only defence witness to cast credible doubt on her guilt is a Mr Mendoza. Despite staying in the hotel room directly adjacent to Naldo and Jenna's on the night of the murder, he claims not to have heard a gunshot. "Somebody called the police, said they heard a gunshot coming from that room," Scotty reminds the jury. "The bullet was fired through a silencer and the only one who heard it was the one who fired it. That's the same one who chloroformed my client and killed Renaldo Marchetta!" (By the way, the bailiff at Jenna's murder trial is played by Conroy Gedeon, the same black actor who played the bailiff at Alexis Colby's murder trial on DYNASTY four months earlier.) JR gets an enjoyably back-to-basics subplot in this episode when he is informed by a day player of an oil leak at Ewing 17. "The Texas Energy Commission came in and shut the field down," the guy tells him. "I never heard of shuttin' down a whole field cos of a couple of leaky wells!" exclaims JR. He then pays a visit to the new chairman of the TEC, Nathan Billings, played by droopy-mouthed Nicholas Pryor. Pryor gives great hapless: he was also the doctor who misdiagnoses Charlton Heston with a terminal illness at the start of THE COLBYS. Nathan is the latest in a long line of patsies, (John Baxter, Walt Driscoll, Edgar Randolph) blithely unaware of the trap they're about to fall into when first approached by a smiling JR. "You know, Nathan," JR begins, "this country needs more men like you in the government. Men who are willing to put themselves on the line ... Is there any truth to the rumour that you might be running for the State Senate next year?" So it is that a flattered Billings accepts JR's invitation for drinks at the Oil Baron's - and who should they run into there but a long standing female acquaintance of JR's? With Serena in San Francisco until Season 10, her slot (so to speak) is filled by one Lila Cummings, an attractive woman of a certain age in a dainty hat. (To give Travilla his due, after a somewhat gaudy beginning, his outfits this season have been glamorous but restrained.) She is accompanied by her pretty daughter, Rhonda, not played, as I used to think, by Erika Eleniak from BAYWATCH. "Rhonda's just out of college and I'm helping her decide what sort of job to look for," Lila explains. "Say, your commission needs help from time to time, doesn't it?" says JR turning to Nathan who nods dumbly and ... OK, we pretty much know this is a set up, but when Rhonda later stops by JR's office to let him know that Nathan has taken the bait, the charade continues for both our benefit and that of Sly who happens to be present. Still in her graduate guise, Rhonda explains to JR that Billings has offered her a job. "He's going to pick me up at my mother's apartment at 8 o'clock." This key piece of information imparted, Rhonda takes her leave. "She's a lovely girl," JR tells Sly. "I used to know her mother very well." I'm not sure if this was a deliberate tease by the writers, (in this case, Mr Paulsen) but on first viewing it briefly crossed my mind that Rhonda might actually be JR's offspring. Just imagine: a call girl whom JR uses to spread around a few "bees" turning out to be his daughter - wouldn't that have been special? In any case, it would have been nice to see more of dumb-but-sly Rhonda. Michelle Johnson certainly deserved a better fate than ending up as Bobby's boring love interest in WAR OF THE EWINGS - or as Grant Show's charity case in the ill-conceived HIV-themed episode of MELROSE PLACE, for that matter. Pam and Sue Ellen's plane finally comes in to land as Bobby concludes his business in California and Jenna is testifying in court. "Poor Jenna," coos Pam. "How's it going? Do you know?" she asks Teresa, who is completely taken aback at being asked to comment on an actual stor-line. "They don't talk about it much," she mumbles, backing away. Ann McFadden is too frightened to return to Dallas with Bobby, but gives him a letter she received from Veronica shortly after her death. "You think it'll help?" she asks him. "I really think it will!" he replies. Think again, Bobster. He returns home in time to catch Pam packing up Christopher's belongings. Consoling her over her disappointment in Hong Kong, he takes her in his arms. Jenna watches from the hallway, open mouthed. How bad can a girl's day get? There is an equivalent "welcome home" scene between JR and Sue Ellen. While she tosses the usual putdowns in his direction, ("I don't care who you sleep with - just as long as it's not me") there's an interesting shift in his reaction to them. "All right, I tried," he snaps. "Tried what?" she shoots back. "I tried to be a good husband. You just won't let me, will you?" "I won't let you back in my bed, that's for sure." "... At least we both know where we stand ... I just wanted to be sure." It's as if JR has finally tired of the "separate bedroom" scenes in which Sue Ellen always gets the last word. This leads to a somewhat icky scene in which JR comes to Mandy's apartment and slobbers all over her. "JR, this is really hard for me," she gasps (a little too much information perhaps). "Oh Mandy," he pants, "I haven't felt like this in years!" He starts pulling down her top and they get all hot and bothered. "Don't you see, we're starvin' for each other?" he mumbles. "Oh, JR!" she exclaims. Now people coming back from the dead in DALLAS I can accept, even the occasional head transplant or year long dream, but a beautiful young thing like Mandy overcome with lust for a stocky middle-aged man in a toupee? That I have trouble with. "I won't go to bed with you," she tells him finally, "not while you and Sue Ellen are together." "All right," he replies, "Well, we may not be together much longer." Ah, now I'm interested ... The day after his return from California, Bobby returns to the witness stand to read from Veronica's letter: "Annie, I'm so frightened ... I think whoever killed Naldo is after me now. I've already had two attempts on my life ... I just can't bear to think [Jenna] will have to go to jail now for a murder she didn't commit." Having been so accommodating of the defence's "kidnap 'n' chloroform" claims, it's refreshing to see the prosecution make short shrift of Veronica's epistle. "What do we have here?" ADA Hoskins asks. "A letter written by a woman who was a kidnapper, an extortionist and a drug addict. For all we know, this letter could have been written when she was in some kind of weird hallucinatory state. A fine piece of evidence!" He concludes this dismissal with an amusingly sarcastic click of the tongue, delivered towards Bobby who cuts an impotent figure in the witness box (belying P Duffy's other role as director of this episode.) There's a curious conversation between Cliff and Leo Wakefield, his company controller, who advises him against investing in an oil deal with Jordan Lee. "The price of oil's dropping ... We don't get nearly as much for it now as we did in the past. I think you should diversify." "... Into what?" retorts Cliff. "Five and dime stores? Ladies' shoes?" Leo's warning echoes the message introduced earlier in the season when Jeremy Wendell attempted to buy out Barnes/Wentworth, and that will recur frequently during the final four years of the series: that the era of the independent oil man is slowly drawing to a close. However, much like DALLAS itself, Cliff refuses to change course. "I'm an oil man," he insists. "I don't know anything about ladies' shoes! ... My mind's set." Cliff is not the only male character resistant to change. "Can't we just have things the way they were?" asks Ray in the best scene of the episode, the first of several poignant encounters that take place between he and Donna on either side of the dream season. Accompanied by a lovely piano score (courtesy of Lance Rubin), he finds her standing pensively on the Southfork patio, looking out into the night (or the LA sound stage equivalent thereof). "People grow and they change," she replies. "Otherwise they just stay the same, Ray, and they die. Oh don't you understand? I can only vacuum the house so many times. Once a bed's made, it's made. The dishes are clean, they're clean." This is an unusual speech for DALLAS (even leaving aside the reference to domestic chores). It suggests that the estrangement between Donna and Ray has arisen from a change within the relationship - specifically, within Donna herself - as opposed to the kind of external factors that prised and then kept Bobby and Pam apart (a dead mother, a conniving brother, a scheming sister, a porn-tached playboy), so that by the time the Krebbses' marriage is impacted by more traditionally soapy complications, (Donna's pregnancy, Ray's friendship with Jenna) the foundations of their relationship have already begun to crumble. Donna and Ray's discussion turns to the fight over Ewing Oil. "Don't you think it's time you started moving in a different direction?" she suggests. "I am doing this for Jock," he insists. "Jock is dead, Ray!" she exclaims in exasperation. "Do something for the living!" In fact, this period of DALLAS is full of characters unable to break away from their pasts: Sue Ellen is unable to break away from Southfork, Bobby and Pam cannot let go of their feelings for one another, and it would be unthinkable for either the Ewing brothers or Cliff to take a different path to the one laid down by their long dead daddies. Back at Jenna's trial, the defence conclude their case. During the judge's summation, Donna Reed totters out of the courtroom and into the hallway (the same marble hallway where Sue Ellen nipped from a hip flask during Jock's trial of Season 2, where JR referred to his mother as "the opposition" during the hearing to overturn Jock's will in Season 5, and where Donna consoled Lucy after she testified against Ray in Season 6). "I just couldn't listen to anymore of that," Reed twitters, fluttering and stuttering pitifully while waving a hankie around in the air. "That poor girl charged with murder ... I don't understand why I couldn't ..." This may not be Reed's worst acting moment of the series--that distinction probably belongs to the scene in which she pulls a bewildering assortment of faces upon hearing Clayton threaten to spank Lucy--but it's certainly a new low for a character once stoic and courageous, now reduced to an incoherent flibbertigibbet. Significantly, this is Ellie's only dialogue of the episode, and one gets the sense of a writer (Mr P, in this case) only realising at the last moment that the character has been given nothing to say and hastily cobbling together a few half-sentences for her to splutter. The episode ends with the verdict of the episode's title. Jenna is declared "not guilty ..." - cue smiles from the Ewings, chattering from the court, gavel-banging from the judge - "... of murder", but "guilty of voluntary manslaughter" - whatever the hell that is. Jenna doesn't seem to know either: "She said I was innocent! What happened, Scotty? What about Charlie? Bobby, I didn't do it!" A distraught Bobby gives her a big old hug, and P Duffy rewards himself and Priscilla with a nicely dramatic freeze frame.