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'Dallas' recap: a new villain in town
As evil as J.R. Ewing is, sometimes you're just left wanting more. He can't, after all, be in every scene. So the clever writers behind “Dallas" -- seriously, a cowboy hat off to them — have given us a gift: another villain.
This can be a risky business, introducing yet another character into an ensemble cast that crosses generations and so frequently nods to the original show, but we have a potential standout in Harris Ryland. Played with the proper balance of sleaze and sadism by Mitch Pileggi ("Sons of Anarchy," "The X Files"), the tidily groomed Ryland could either be a perfect foil or friend to J.R. Anne Ewing's ex-husband, who appeared briefly last week, is the oil tanker owner who wields power in a way that leaves everyone needing a shower, viewers included.
After Sue Ellen tells him she cannot accept a large campaign donation from him, Ryland continues writing a check and replies, “Oh, you will. See, people like me need to make sure people like you get into office.” His elevator eyes scan her, up and down.
He's particularly cruel to Anne and, after upsetting her, we get what could be the holy grail of the soap opera: the male bitch slap. Bobby barges into Harris' office and backhands him across the face. This isn't just Christmas in July for fans, but a decent substitute for the many punches he hasn't thrown at J.R.
Thanks to Harris, J.R. has been able to take a bit of a vacation, and in this episode ("The Enemy of My Enemy”) the elder Ewing surfaces in Las Vegas. As he takes a call from his hardworking P.I. -- seriously, the shaggy-haired guy is simultaneously watching over John Ross' progress with drilling on Southfork, hunting down the disappearing Marta/Victoria and tracking Cliff Barnes' movements toward bringing gambling to Texas — J.R. is surrounded by three women, massaging and manicuring him. Still, J.R. is not distracted from his usual wit, telling the investigator that Barnes will certainly let him join his poker game at the Bellagio: “For a chance to make money from me, Cliff Barnes would push his mama in a puddle of piranhas.” Gleeful Ewing cackles follow, naturally.
As clever as the dialogue is on the show, it's far from the only element that's making “Dallas” a cohesive and standout nighttime soap. Camerawork includes sweeping crane shots of Southfork ranch and intense close-ups of the players. Set details find rich-but-eco-minded Christopher Ewing driving a boutique American electric car (a Tesla) and insecure John Ross obsessing over a model of an oil rig, a phallic conversation piece that he breaks then attempts to glue back together.
Also important is what's missing, particularly such usual reference points as popular music on the soundtrack. This not only sets “Dallas” apart from so many other shows, but it lends it a timeless quality, making the show more of an authentic extension of the original. The Ewings are above popular culture. At least until those “Who shot John Ross” T-shirts start hitting the malls.