So, I did manage to finish all 14 seasons of “Dallas”, and did, in fact, enjoy it for the most part. Season 14 was by far the weakest season, mostly because there weren’t any interesting foils for J.R., with all of his opponents either being pathetic, annoying, both, or not at all any kind of threat to him. A big part of this was because of how Bobby was pretty much excluded from any kind of interesting rivalry with J.R., and it seems to me that all of the best fights in that show were either when Bobby went after J.R., or when the Ewing family all rallied together against a bigger threat. In Season 14, the clashes between Bobby and J.R. weren’t clashes, but were simply the result of Bobby withdrawing after the death of his latest wife, and that left Bobby completely outside of any battles that J.R. might have had, if any of those battling J.R. were in any way credible as threats. So there wasn’t any really interesting clash.
As for J.R. himself, I’m wondering if he really counts as a villain. Sure, he was manipulative and, well, pretty much self-centered and dishonest, but for the most part, particularly towards the end, he is shown to actually care about his family and is pretty much willing to do anything for them. It’s even reasonable to conclude that most of the slimier actions that he takes in service of Ewing Oil is to build up his father’s legacy and as an attempt to prove himself to Jock, who himself was ruthless when he needed to be. As others have noted, Bobby gained Jock’s loyalty, and J.R. gained Jock’s ruthlessness. There are also plenty of moments when he really looks like he’s trying to change — particularly with Sue Ellen at times and with Cally — and it’s the distrust of other people that ends up ruining that, as they jump to the conclusion that he’s going back to his cheating and dirty ways when he actually hasn’t. The worse case is with Cally as she lies to him and tells him that she slept with someone since she was told that he had slept with someone, when he hadn’t, and it’s only after that that he sleeps with someone to get an advantage in regaining Ewing Oil. So in those cases he can be seen as a victim, both of his reputation and of others … and a prime example of why reputation is so important, as for the most part people don’t like to deal with him unless Bobby’s there to back up the veracity of his claims.
J.R. is a major antagonist in a lot of storylines, but he faces a lot of antagonists and a lot of the storylines end up with him as essentially the protagonist. Ultimately, as I’ve already said, the best storylines are the ones that involve Bobby as protagonist facing off with J.R. as antagonist, or alternatively with the Ewings united against a common threat.
April Stevens is my favourite female character from the entire show … or, at least, she is when they let her be a strong, independent and slightly ruthless character. The actress brings a gusto to those sorts of roles that is very fun to watch. However, they tried to present her as tough yet vulnerable, and so end up often trying to use her as a “damsel” to some other character, like Bobby or Nicholas, and either the writers or the actress simply can’t pull that off, so it falls flat. Which is unfortunate, since the end of her arc is that sort of “damsel” story for Bobby that leads to her death.
Michelle Stevens, on the other hand, is simply pathetic, which is bad since she is supposed to carry a lot of the drama in the last half of season 14. But she’s so desperate for someone to love her that her whole marriage thing with James really falls flat, and she doesn’t do any actually interesting manipulating while pretending that she has. For example, she sells her ownership of Ewing Oil with a 50-50 split to J.R. and Cliff for the price she paid for the whole thing (apiece) … a price that J.R. noted when she bought it that was much, much less than the company was worth. And she only got there in the first place through a completely random and lucky encounter with someone with the money to buy Bobby out and a desire to hurt J.R., who after doing that was willing to reward Michelle for her small attempts at facilitation. Michelle Stevens is not a character that I enjoyed watching.
Cally Harper was a character who really did pull off the “nice” angle quite well. She was manipulative at times, but constantly managed to play out the “nice girl” throughout her entire run. She was fun to watch, but her drama didn’t really work for me, and so it was a little boring. Especially since it was linked with James Beaumont who was both annoying and, for the most part, kinda stupid. As these are the three main characters driving the drama with J.R. in season 14, that left that season, as I said, a bit flat.
Cliff had flashes of actually being a decent person in the last few seasons, but they didn’t last. As the longest running antagonist to the Ewings, for the most part he ought to be remembered as a major jerk, a tiny little man too weak and too stupid to be anything but a minor annoyance. (Note: this doesn’t take the new series into account, because I haven’t seen any of it).
For the price per hour of entertainment, Dallas was certainly worth it. I may even watch it again sometime.