Thoughts on “Dallas” at the half-way point …

So, I’ve been watching “Dallas”, and at this point — remember, this is being written a bit ahead of when it gets posted — I’m just starting season 8, so a bit over half-way through. I actually am quite enjoying it. At the start of a season, things may move a bit slowly, but the machinations and plots are still interesting, and it does work like soap operas in that it builds at the end of the season so that you really want to see what’s going to happen next, leading up to the season-ending cliff-hanger. As a soap-opera, it’s also the case that I can watch it while doing other things, or even while I’m winding down before sleeping, because if I fall asleep or don’t pay attention to something the show will, in fact, let me know what I missed at some point if it’s at all important. That being said, there does seem to be some foreshadowing and plot threads dropped that can be picked up again (or not) later, which is a sign of good soap-opera plotting; a lot of the later plot threads don’t really come out of nowhere, but out of things that could be utterly unimportant if they don’t fit, but can be critical hints if they do.

Anyway, some other thoughts on the series:

1) When I recalled this series, I remember being mostly sympathetic to Pam, and she is seen as one of the “better” characters in the show. Watching it this time, however, I’m utterly unsympathetic to her … although she’s getting a little better in late season 7 and season 8. The reason is that she’s turned into a “I’m always right” character, which is what I hate about Leanne on Coronation Street: Pam can do things that be considered right and also get upset about other people who do similar things (but not as bad) and also be considered right. It actually ends up worse for Pam because one of her big foils is Bobby, who is probably the most genuinely good character on the entire show. From the start, Pam had to insist on having her own job, even when the demands of that job meant that she and Bobby didn’t get to spend time together. And Bobby was just so completely reasonable about that, reasonably upset and maybe commenting on her not really needing a job, but being understanding the in first place. Then he had to put up with her not wanting a child, then heading for a nervous breakdown without one, leading him to desperate measures — and an accident — to get one to make her happy. Then Jock dies and put J.R. and Bobby into competition for Ewing Oil, which means that it takes up more of Bobby’s time. And then she’s upset with Bobby for spending that much time there, and also notes that he’s changed to become more like J.R. when, really, he hasn’t (and, in fact, one of the reasons he bowed out of running Ewing Oil the first time was that he understood that it required him to do things that he didn’t want to do). Bobby’s biggest sin is putting the screws to the Cartel in that they either have to pump oil or buy him out, which offends them — and Pam — greatly … except that all of them would have done the same things if not worse to him for far less motivation. Bobby points out at one point that while Pam thinks he’s changing, he’s always been this competitive and ambitious, and it’s true. Even when he bowed out of Ewing Oil at the start of the series, he immediately went into development, and worked to win. Despite his changes, he’s still genuinely good most of the time, as his deal with the Canadians revealed (that’s why they wanted to work with him, and he treated them fairly when he went in with them). So Pam’s objections are far too strong there.

It gets worse when they separate. Pam almost immediately ends up with Mark Grayson, and even while they are supposed to be trying to save the marriage is going places and “dating” someone who is obviously and openly trying to break up the marriage so that he can have her, while Bobby is remaining focused on rebuilding the marriage. That doesn’t make us want to be on Pam’s side. But when Pam is in Paris and her and Mark are supposedly about to sleep together, Pam gets a phone call from Afton saying that Bobby and Katherine, Pam’s sister, might be up to something, so she storms home and angrily confronts both of them for doing … at worst, what she was doing with Mark. And there was nothing going on, not even to the extent of her and Mark, which she never really apologizes for, and when Bobby confronts her about Mark, she doesn’t seem to realize that he ought to be feeling what she was feeling, but instead expresses it as if this is such a hard thing for her to have to deal with, as opposed to him. While, sure, it’d be hard for her to decide between them she shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place. The show should be showing her as being not really pure and Bobby as being hard put upon, but it seems to frame it as the other way around, which makes me dislike Pam.

She gets a bit better when she decides to marry Mark because he doesn’t have long to live, but for the most part she’s irrational and self-absorbed, and yet we’re supposed to think that she’s a great and good character. The fact that she most commonly plays against Bobby who is not that irrational and self-absorbed only makes it worse.

2) At this point, there really is nothing for Lucy to do in the show. When the show was focused on Pam, their relationship and how it evolved over time would be interesting, but when J.R. got more focus, there was little for her to do. She wasn’t in any way smart or powerful enough to be any threat to J.R., and knew nothing about and had no interest in Ewing Oil, and the focus had to switch to that because that was just so important to J.R.. Even when she was managing her father’s voting rights in the company, all she ever did was vote against J.R., which, honestly, is what her father would do anyway. Even the plot where she was raped and then had to learn to allow someone else to be romantic with her would have been done better with Pam or Donna, where how that impacted their husbands could have been explored. There’s really nothing for her to do in the show anymore.

3) Katherine Wentworth’s actress can’t really handle the role she was in, or she’s gotten bad direction. She’s supposed to be manipulative, but how she presents her plans makes you really think that she is up to something, because a lot of the time what she says seems artificial. You have to wonder what she’s up to because she doesn’t seem genuine in her words, unlike how Larry Hagman plays J.R.. I also don’t think that the obsession she ends up with for Bobby is all that believable; he’s certainly a good catch, but that she’d fall that strongly in love with him that quickly, and think that she can win him over? It comes up too quickly, mostly I think because she’s a minor character early in the show and the obsession is already full-blown when she returns. I think the actress is attractive and that the character has potential, but as J.R. said she really is just not as smart as him … or any of the great manipulators on the show, which would include Sue Ellen and probably Pam.

4) Afton Cooper started out as a very manipulative person, but by this point is another one of the genuinely good people in the show, which is a nice progression. It also ends up hurting our view of Cliff, because he really does treat her badly most of the time. I ended up really disliking him — which makes me want J.R. to crush him — and wanted to see her find someone better than him, not being able to understand what she saw in him at that point. What’s good about this is that the show can be seen, instead of as a big clash between J.R. and Cliff, as a clash between J.R. and Bobby, which is a much more interesting relationship to explore, especially considering that they both do seem to actually love each other when they aren’t fighting over something. Cliff, then, is the puppy yapping at J.R.’s heels … which doesn’t make me happy that at the end of season 7 he actually succeeds.

So far I’m enjoying the show, and I only have a few more months to get through all 14 seasons.

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