Thoughts on Season 10 of “Dallas”

I’m still watching “Dallas”, and actually enjoying it. At the time of writing this, I’m probably half-way through Season 11, but I want to talk about what is almost certainly one of the most controversial seasons of the show: Season 10, which introduced and ran with the “Season 9 was all a dream” idea.

The issue was this: at the end of Season 8, Patrick Duffy, who plays Bobby Ewing, decided that he wanted to leave the show. They gave him a big, clear send-off, and then moved on with Season 9 without him. Then a couple of things came up that caused problems. First, Bobby was a really big part of what made the show interesting, and so there were issues with Season 9 because of that. Second, Patrick Duffy wanted to come back to the show, and given my first comment it was definitely in the best interests of the show for him to return. But they didn’t leave much room to bring him back, even for a soap opera. So they decided to make it all a dream and essentially invalidate the entire season, which not only will raise the issues for the show that I’ll talk about in a minute, but also caused havoc for their closely related spin-off “Knot’s Landing”, causing a split between them into two separate timelines.

Now, once they decided to invalidate Season 9, they still had to resolve the lingering plots and cliff-hangers from Season 8. But if they just played them out again as we’d already seen, then that would really seem like they were cheating the audience with this “dream” explanation. So they had to come up with something different, and yet something that worked as well or ideally better than the originals. This was going to be very difficult as the audience will still be able to remember the original storylines and how they were resolved, and so would be able to compare them pretty closely. It’s worse with the DVDs (where Season 9 was watched essentially last week) than it would be live when that was over a year ago, but it’s still close enough to remember.

To make it worse, in Season 10, at least early, it looks like “Dallas” discovers the most aggressive type of feminism. It starts from the mild example of Sue Ellen, as her reworked “recovering from alcoholism” plot involves her buying a company with pretty much the main purpose of getting Mandy Winger out of J.R.’s life with whatever underhanded techniques she could possibly use. In this, despite being a novice in any industry, her advisers are set-up as smarmy, condescending men that she knows far better than, as she pointedly comments on with a speech that’s as close to calling them out for “mansplaining” as you can be without actually using the word. In some sense, her using her personal experience with women and lingerie over their, well, psychological crap is a decent storyline, but the issue is that either these people were incompetent and they needed her to build the company up again — at which point she could, you know, just point that out to them by saying “It’s not like your ideas were winning you business, so maybe you don’t know as much as you think” — or else they weren’t and she should listen to them more.

But the biggest issue with this move is that it hurt the character. While I’m not insisting on “women as victims” roles — for example, Pam was never that and that was about the only redeeming quality the character had most of the time — the key to her character, up until this point, was that she was, essentially, a mostly good character getting constantly jerked around by J.R.. She had her problems and biases, too, but for the most part we sympathized with her because she really didn’t deserve how J.R. treated her … which can be compared to Katherine Wentworth, who did deserve and clearly was trying to play the manipulator role, but failed at it because, well, she wasn’t as good at it as J.R. was. But then, who was?

By making Sue Ellen a manipulator, they opened her up to retaliation from J.R., retaliation that she wasn’t going to be able to respond to. But we wouldn’t feel sorry for her, but instead ask her what she thought would happen going up against J.R. in that way. The only thing that saves her is J.R. give her grudging respect when he finds out, and the two of them rekindling their marriage realizing that they are good for each other, which carries on into Season 11 for a bit, until the rules of drama break them up again. So, they need the man to save the strong feminist character; not exactly a win for feminism, methinks.

They also seem to have derailed, at least in part, a few characters to make them more sexist. The worst is Cliff Barnes, whom I’ve constantly thought a jerk throughout the entire series (and Season 10 seems to openly concede that). But he’s always been a general, selfish jerk, in the sense that he’s completely and totally self-interested. I didn’t see anything in particular to suggest that he’s really sexist, but in Season 10 he immediately turns that way. First, when Donna takes over the movement that he started to lobby the government to raise oil prices, he tries to get his power back by immediately suggesting that Donna can’t do the job because she’s a woman, a move so out of character that I thought that he had to be trying to play to the crowd (which didn’t work). But then he also justifies ignoring Jamie’s advice on the grounds that she’s a woman and so doesn’t know anything, which comes straight out of left field. Worse, while he ignored her advice in Season 9 as well, that was clearly more of a “So, someone who worked on rigs in Alaska is going to tell me, deep in the oil business, how to deal with oil? Please.”, in the same manner as J.R. reacted to her. And in that season, when he discovered that she was right he immediately brought her on into a bigger role. Here, he just rejects her because she’s a woman and nothing gets settled. Fortunately, he reverts to just being a general jerk by the end of the season.

Ray also gets this treatment. Previously, the issues between him and Donna were clearly more about his inferiority complex and his feeling that he didn’t fit in in her world. In short, he thought that she would be happier with someone who wasn’t just a cowboy, which weighed on him no matter how much she insisted that she didn’t want more than a cowboy. In this season, in a number of cases they imply that it was more than Donna didn’t play the role of a traditional wife than that, including having someone mention to Donna that Texas men wanted their wives in the more traditional roles, with the implication that, again, that was Ray’s main issue (he himself hints at that in a conversation with her). Fortunately, again, by the end of the season and when the divorce finally happens it’s back to Ray simply not feeling like he belongs in her world, and he takes up with Jenna Wade which is a much more reasonable relationship.

The one big success in this season, in my opinion, is April Stevens. She is a very annoying character, but she’s just a lot of fun to watch. She’s incredibly smug, brassy and brazen, which is annoying because, well, she hasn’t done anything to deserve it yet, and both the characters and the audience ought to feel that way about her. But what she does there is fun to watch, and it’s always so entertaining to watch her pull out the smugness and unleash it on the others. Out of the female characters, she was probably my favourite in this season, which carries on a bit into Season 11.

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