With the majority of soaps, the viewer can see what's coming. And there's a comfort in that, like walking into a Target and knowing where the paper towels and toothpaste live. “Dallas” is certainly not exempt from this, but the first season concentrates more on established tropes than predictable story lines. We know the paper towels are there, but have no idea where they're stashed.
Rebecca (not her real name) knows, and begins the season one finale using them to wipe up the blood of a very dead Tommy. The true twist is that she has an entire “Pulp Fiction"-style cleaning crew at her disposal. We knew she was devious, but not that she was such a thorough housekeeper. Nor that she was Cliff Barnes' daughter.
That big reveal comes at the end, after a show stocked with character arcs bent to varying degrees. Ann finds a backbone and something called a teeny-tiny recording device in order to get ex-husband Ryland out of her life (and Sue Ellen's gubernatorial campaign). As a reward, the writers bestow her with a blowzy diss. “The next time you ask me for a hug,” she tells Ryland, “you'll be hugging the business end of my shotgun.” Sassy stuff.
Then there's J.R., who bookends the episode with tears of sadness and joy. With brother Bobby in the hospital, the elder Ewing gives a heartwarming (or terrifying, if you're waiting for the evil J.R. to return) spiel, grabbing his unconscious brother's hand and pleading, “Come on, wake up. You hear me? Wake up and you'll get better and you'll keep fighting. You'll keep fighting me. Now I'm going to tell you something you've never heard me say before. I love you, Bobby, and I don't know who I'd be without you.”
Most nighttime soaps aren't staffed with actors who can say this kind of maple syrup dialogue without getting stuck in it, but Larry Hagman has such exemplary timing and mannerisms that he manages to tuck it into J.R.'s hat quite tidily. So much so that when the bad boy re-emerges -- as we knew he would but, again, toothpaste -- it all just folds into the J.R. mystique.
This comes at the very end of the episode after a jilted John Ross, dumped by fiance-for-a-moment Elena, threatens to shuttle his father back to the old folks' home J.R. resided in when the season began if he doesn't teach him “every dirty trick that you know.“ J.R., eyes moist with pride, raises his bourbon glass and smiles, saying, “Now that's my son, from tip to tail.”
Now that's our J.R.
The season ends with another Johnny Cash song, “God's Gonna Cut You Down,” which plays as the camera pulls out of the former Ewing Oil offices, where the above domestic scene took place, and into the city. While Sue Ellen wows her constituents with her campaign slogan -- I am Texas -- and Bobby and Ann return to normalcy at Southfork, J.R. and son look onto Dallas with dastardly intent.
“You can run on for a long time,” Cash croons. “Run on for a long time, run on for a long time. Sooner or later, God'll cut you down.”
One of the great things about “Dallas” is its embrace of the classic conflation of good and evil. J.R. may be the devil, but he's god too. It's not new, but who knows where it will take us in January, when TNT unveils season two.