Thanks again, @Toni! "The Family Ewing" I have vivid memories of seeing this episode for the first time. Taking advantage of the ongoing squabble between the BBC and ITV over broadcast rights to DALLAS in the UK, which meant that screening of Season 8 had been postponed indefinitely, Woolworth's (RIP) released the first two episodes on videotape. I knew nothing about this until Christmas morning when I opened my presents and found the video looking up at me. I almost had a heart attack with the excitement of it all. (This is before the internet, you understand, when it was still possible to be surprised by stuff.) Needless to say, it was the heck with mince pies and watching Noel Edmonds visit sick kiddies in hospital, "The Family Ewing" went straight in the VCR. As exciting a present as this was in 1985, it's a strange episode. In some ways, it reminds me of "No More Mr Nice Guy", the opening instalment of Season 3. There's same focus on the immediate family (all but half a dozen scenes in "The Family Ewing" are situated on Southfork). And there's a similarly slow, rudderless quality to the episode as the characters, and by extension, the show itself, attempt to navigate unchartered waters: the possibly fatal shooting of one son; the death of another. The musical score of each episode adds a feeling of incongruity: Season 3's because of the generic score the show was obliged to use because of the musician's union strike, Season 8's because it goes a bit Spanish in places for no discernible reason. One big difference between JR's shooting and Bobby's death, however, is that the former leaves the show with two big questions to be resolved: Who did the shooting and will JR survive it? There is no such mystery surrounding Bobby's assailant, or even much interest. "What was Katherine Wentworth doing in Dallas?" Gary asks his mother over the phone. "I don't think it really matters," she shrugs. So, in the absence of a life or death operation or a police investigation, all we are left with is a family in mourning. And how does a fast moving, plot driven series like DALLAS depict a long term, internal process like grief? When Jock died, the show cleverly sidestepped this question. Because there was no body and no funeral, the focus of the story became his widow being unable to grieve, or even accept, his death. Instead of Ellie quietly going through the process of grief, we saw her travelling from denial to acceptance, a far more tangible journey. The finality of Season 7's conclusion provides the series with no such escape route (at least, not yet). So after a perusal of the new season credits, (bye bye Duffy, Reed and Tilton, welcome back BBG, hello Peter Dunne and a drummier theme tune) we open on an establishing shot of Southfork, Jerrold Immel's mournful score on the soundtrack suddenly turning spaniolă as we move inside the house. Ordinarily, a season premiere features several scenes of family members reacting to the shock news of whatever cliff-hanger was left dangling at the end of the previous season. This time, however, everyone (save Sue Ellen) is already up to speed and so we find Miss Ellie, Clayton, Jenna, Ray and Donna all gathered in the hallway looking and dressed just as they were the last time we saw them in Bobby's hospital room. Well, maybe Donna's hair's a little higher - and oh yes, Miss Ellie has resumed her human form, Barbara Bel Geddes slotting so naturally back into the role one hardly notices she's been away. With the episode title suggesting a return to the core of the show, (as would that of Season 9's premiere) it's an appropriate time for BBG to resume her DALLAS duties. Her Ellie immediately takes charge of the family (and the episode) in a way it's impossible to imagine Donna Reed's doing. "Thank-you for coming, Harlan," she says to Dr Danvers before suggesting he minister to Jenna upstairs. She then turns to the Krebbses. "Ray, maybe you should take Donna home," she prompts. Any concern for her own welfare is briskly deflected. "I'm all right, Harlan. Thank-you," she tells the doctor. When Donna offers to help her, she insists that "what I need right now is for you to take care of yourself." Having dismissed the rest of the family, she then turns towards the living room where JR is slumped in a chair, head in hand. "JR, you have to help me," she tells him. "You and I have to be strong." She returns to the idea of "strength" throughout the episode. "I can feel a strength in you that you never had before," she tells Gary in a later scene. "For the next few days, I'm gonna need that strength ... I'm gonna lean on Clayton and on you, because I know you'll be there." (She has evidently given up on JR as a source of strength by this point.) "JR and Sue Ellen, Jenna, little Charlie, they're all in pain and they all need me," she continues. "Don't bury the pain inside," Clayton urges her in another scene. "Just let it out." "I can't," she replies. "My family needs me." At the risk of being too literal, what exactly is it that she believes they need from her? Not to cry? Apparently - for it is only when she is alone that she allows herself to break down. This is very much in keeping with Ellie's past behaviour. Her key emotional scenes in "Bypass", "Mastectomy", "Acceptance", and during her split from Jock in Season 3, all take place out of sight of the rest of the family. Sue Ellen arrives home in a ridiculously good mood, ("It's a wonderful evening, isn't it? ... Oh Clayton, I had the best day!") which allows JR to shoot her down in flames with the bad news: "My brother's dead. Bobby's dead." This is an almost carbon copy of the scene at the end of "The Ewing Connection" (just four episodes earlier) in which a jubilant Sue Ellen returns from a shopping spree to be informed by her husband that John Ross has undergone surgery for appendicitis. In both cases, JR harangues her ("You're never around when anybody needs you. John Ross almost died, Bobby did die. All you ever think about is yourself!") to point where she falls off the wagon. And again, there is a parallel with "No More Mr Nice Guy" in that this is another hospital related crisis where Sue Ellen has been conspicuous by her absence. "Your husband might be dyin' and you're out gallivantin' around!" Jock snarled at her in 1980; "You were too busy rolling around in bed with that saddle tramp or maybe it was just gettin' sick and drunk in some motel!" JR accuses her in this episode. "Go back to your cowboy, go back to your bottle. Go anywhere you want. Just get outta my sight!" Sue Ellen whimpers pathetically, then scampers upstairs. Over at Antioch Drive, Cliff and Jamie attempt to comfort a distraught Pam. "It's all my fault, it's all my fault," she keeps saying. "He died because of me ... They'll never forgive me." Each of these sentiments were expressed by Cliff after Rebecca's death in Season 5. "You have to get some sleep," Jamie tells Pam. Bearing in mind that Pam is already asleep, her resistance to this suggestion ("I can't sleep. If I do, I'll just keep seeing Bobby") is interesting. Perhaps in the dream state, sleep and wakefulness are reversed so that falling asleep in the dream would mean waking up in the real world, where she would indeed "keep seeing Bobby". It's hard to put my finger on what exactly, but there's something missing from each of the scenes so far. Only an hour or two have passed since the events of "Swan Song", yet it feels more like days, even longer. There's a lack of raw emotion, of anguish and amazement at what has just happened. Sue Ellen doesn't even ask how Bobby died. This is TV movie grief: it doesn't transcend the soap genre the way key moments in "Swan Song" did, the way KNOTS LANDING habitually did when portraying extreme emotions. Pam's hysteria comes closest to cutting through the gloss, but there's still something muted about it. There's nothing wrong with Victoria Principal's performance exactly, but somehow the immediacy of the pain she conveyed in "Swan Song" isn't there. It's hard not to notice, too, given all that Pam has been through that day, that her makeup is too perfect and her outfit too immaculately white. Even a scene between the show's most routinely believable characters, Donna and Ray, doesn't fully work, burdened as it is with both acknowledging the Krebbses' grief ("I never thought about Bobby dying," says Donna, "I never thought about any of us dying") and resolving their seven episode marital estrangement in just a handful of lines. "Ray, I have been so wrong and so have you. Somehow or other, our problems don't seem so big." "Not compared to what Miss Ellie's going through ..." "Maybe there's a way we can work things out for us ... I love you!" "As long as we have that, we've got a chance." It's all too neat, too pat to ring emotionally true. The best of the scenes to take place on the night of Bobby's death is between Miss Ellie and Clayton. He finds her sitting at a table in their room, writing. Not only is this the first interaction between the couple since BBG's return, it's also the first scene between Clayton and the "real" Miss Ellie as man and wife. Howard Keel doesn't have much to do other than play the supportive husband, but nonetheless he and Bel Geddes feel more like a genuine partnership than he and Reed ever did. They receive a call from KNOTS LANDING. "I just heard about Bobby," Gary tells his mother. Indeed he has. Viewers who had watched the season premiere of KNOTS the night before would have seen Abby (now Gary's wife) break the news to him: "A call came in from Dallas a little while ago. Your family's been trying to reach you ... It's Bobby. There's been a terrible accident." "It can't be true," he says to Miss Ellie in this scene. "It just can't be!" (How perceptive of him!) She asks him to come back to Dallas for the funeral. "He's gone," Gary sighs, "and I never got a chance to tell him how much I cared about him ... I love you, Mama." There's a simplicity to this conversation which makes it the most touching moment of the episode thus far. While Clayton goes in search of cocoa, Miss Ellie looks tearfully at a picture of Bobby. "Oh Bobby, oh God, oh Bobby," she laments, before lowering her head on the desk. It's one of those BBG moments, very much like the scene at the end of "Barbecue Two" where she gives JR the news of Jock's plane crash, that is technically impressive without feeling totally believable. As well as the bereaved adults, "The Family Ewing" also takes time to focus on each of the children Bobby has left behind: nephew John Ross, son Christopher and occasional daughter Charlie, each of whom gets a scene in which to express their sorrow and/or bewilderment. While an admirably democratic conceit on the part of Uncle Lenny, (who despite vacating the producer's chair, still found time to pen this episode) none of these scenes work dramatically. Omri Katz is undeniably as cute as a button, but the late night visit JR pays to his son's room is ploddingly dull. "Is it true about Uncle Bobby?" "Yes. Bobby's dead." "I loved Uncle Bobby." "Yeah, so did I ... I love you, boy." "I love you too, Daddy." JR is never less interesting than when stating the emotionally obvious. I realise now that what makes JR such a brilliantly intriguing character in the early years of the show isn't just his audacious ruthlessness, but also the way he keeps the other characters, and just as importantly the viewers at home, at an emotional arm's length. It's not that he doesn't suffer, but he keeps his vulnerabilities under wraps, asking for neither our understanding or our sympathy. In the absence of a six year old boy to blub to, or a portrait or coffin to which deliver long maudlin speeches, he remains a fascinating enigma. The viewer is left to wonder: "What makes this man tick? What is he capable of? How far will he go?" The glimpses we get of his deeper feelings (the slap he delivers to Jeb Ames when he suggests getting rid of Bobby in Season 1, for instance: "Don't you dare threaten my brother, or any other Ewing!") are all the more compelling for their rarity. Meanwhile, any poignancy in the scene where Pam breaks the news of Bobby's death to their son is completely overshadowed by the fact that overnight Christopher has aged three years, acquired the ability to speak in full sentences, and looks nothing like his former waterlogged self. Joshua Harris's attempt to recreate Eric Farlow's classic eggs and toast speech ("I'm hungry! ... Eggs and toast!") does nothing to ease the transition. I understand the need for recasts, but to introduce a new face at such a crucial moment? Did they think we'd be so blinded by tears we wouldn't even notice? Charlie's scene is also pretty forgettable. "It's not fair! Why is Bobby dead?!" she sing songs while grooming Darius, the horse Bobby bought her in Season 6. Meanwhile, Jenna regrets what she has regretted so many times before: "All those years I could have been married to Bobby." Each of these scenes ends on the same "it's just you 'n' me, kid" note. "You're all I got," JR tells John Ross. "It's just going to be the two of us," says Pam to Christopher. "We have each other," Jenna tells Charlie. When "The Family Ewing" and the following instalment "Rock Bottom" were eventually shown by the BBC, they were re-edited into one feature length episode. The Jenna/Charlie conversation was cut out to make room for exciting footage of Dusty holding a cup of coffee and Sue Ellen walking through a door. It's no great loss. In fact, the JR/John Ross and Pam/Christopher scenes could just as easily have been left on the cutting room floor without diminishing the instalment as a whole. Things improve dramatically with a beautifully shot, written and acted scene which finds Ellie in some never before seen part of Southfork marked by a small lake and a tree house. A horse grazing in the background suggests that she rode out there herself. Ellie on horseback? There's a novel idea, but one that makes total sense given her upbringing. She is joined by Clayton. "I stopped by Ray's," he tells her. "He figured you might be out here." "I think Ray knows me very well," she smiles before explaining the significance of the tree house. "Bobby used to play here ... Jock built it for him ... Whenever he wanted time off from his chores, he used to be here ... Of all the places in Southfork where he used to play, this was his favourite. Gary used to come out here. The two of them would spend hours and hours doing I don't know what." A clue is provided in a subsequent episode of KNOTS LANDING which finds Gary preoccupied by memories of an old drill bit he and Bobby found when they were kids. It's been a long time since we've heard Ellie talk about the way her sons were raised, but the family dynamic was so well established in Season 1 ("Bobby was given everything that JR had to fight for and Gary didn’t care about") that the retroactive addition of a tree house built for Bobby by Jock slots in perfectly. Ellie's assertion to Clayton, "Bobby was always Jock's favourite; if ever there was a fair-haired son, Bobby was it for Jock," might be the first time Jock's preference has been stated so blatantly, but only confirms what he told Digger in "Barbecue": "I spoiled Bobby rotten. He turned out the best of lot." And in spite of what she told Gary in "No More Nice Guy", ("We love all three of you just the same") we know that Gary was Ellie's favourite child, ("Mama, she always, always liked Gary the best," recalled Bobby in "Bypass") which inevitably left JR. "I think you might have liked him more if you'd known him then," she tells Clayton. "JR always knew that Jock loved Bobby the best and it hurt him. He could never come to grips with the fact that he wasn't Jock's favourite ... I think he would have traded everything if he'd been the one that Jock built this tree house for." The one part of the scene that jars is the sign Clayton sees painted on the door of the tree house in fancy lettering: "Ewing Oil, Bobby Ewing President". The idea of a young Bobby running his very own pretend Ewing Oil is too cutesy, too knowing, i.e. too DYNASTY. Besides, it doesn't jibe with what we know about Bobby's lack of interest in the company prior to his marriage to Pam. "And now Jock is gone, and so is Bobby," concludes Ellie movingly as her trip down memory lane comes to an end. "I want Bobby to be buried here where he can see his lake and his tree house." At her request, Clayton leaves her to weep alone once more. While this is a poignant end to a lovely scene--the first of the episode that gives the characters room to breathe in the same way that "Swan Song" did--it's hard to feel that Miss Ellie's reminiscences, fondly and smilingly expressed, are those of a mother whose son was murdered less than twenty-four hours earlier. I understand that grief takes many forms, but where's the rage, the shock, the sheer disbelief?