"The Price You Pay" (Episode 103)
The teaser segment (that part that plays before the main titles/opening credits) features J.R. and John Ross in barber's chairs being shaved. J.R. excuses the barbers and, with straight razor held to John Ross's throat, tells him he knows about his son's intent to double-cross him on the Southfork purchase deal. I was like, "WOAH!" and whatnot, as the kids say. Then we're off to the main title sequence and as much as I love Jerrold Immel's iconic theme (even this abridged arrangement), I was thrilled that there wasn't a commercial break before the episode proper.
Except no sooner does the story resume than J.R. has already rescinded his threat and is now apologizing to John Ross for being an absentee father and is pleading to let him make it up by teaching him everything he knows now? There were shades of Palpatine and Anakin, but it was still anticlimactic.
On with the rest of the episode, though, which was dominated by Bobby's post-surgery cancer management and the matter of Christopher and Elena's working relationship becoming more of a priority to him than his marriage to Rebecca...who in turn is struggling between her genuine devotion to her new husband and her two-year long scheme planned with her brother. Into the mix is also the return of Cliff Barnes, hoping to become the new owner of Southfork and wishing to invest in Christopher's alternate energy plan (and possibly sewing seeds of dissent among the Ewings in the process).
I have to say, I was not a fan of this episode. To begin, I find the course of Bobby's cancer treatment disingenuous. There's no way he already had a tumor cut out of his guts. I know enough people who've had to have their guts cut on, even minor procedures, who didn't bounce back the way Bobby apparently did. I'm not saying this should have been drawn out into "A Very Special Episode of Dallas" or anything so melodramatic but this should have been his moving-slow/on-the-mend episode. Take advantage of the week between episodes. I'd have bought it a week from now that he was mostly fine again, but not this week.
As for the Christopher/Elena/Rebecca plot, I found that also wore thin. Elena doesn't seem to have much in the way of motivation right now. It's as though since Christopher told her he didn't send her the email (that she never even confronted him about), she's become some kind of subservient Girl Friday trying to make his project work. In the first two episodes, I really came to like her and I could see myself caring about her. This weakly written Elena, however, did not evoke nearly the same interest or sympathy from me.
Moreover, I've got an issue with Christopher's project itself. I know it's supposed to function merely as a way of establishing the character's journey, etc., but I have a problem when fiction presents solutions to real life problems that real life has yet to solve. This has bugged me in the past with some Bond movies, and it bugs me again here. Out of all the scientists out there right now working away at alternative energy, are we really to just accept that Christopher Ewing has almost by himself worked out the solution in the course of a few all-nighters? Think about this for a minute. Christopher Ewing is like what a Kardashian might be if she had an interest in green energy. He was raised with a silver spoon and I'm sure he's worked hard at what he does, but do we really accept the idea that he's the one person to have this magical breakthrough? I just can't go there.
It was admittedly fun to see the return of Ken Kercheval as Cliff Barnes, though. I'm not a big fan of his attire, though. Cliff was always a step behind J.R., sure, but he wasn't such a dweeb that I envisioned him dressing like an elderly version of Larry from Three's Company. There's comedic potential in a Grumpy Old Oil Men subplot involving him, but I fear that's incongruous with the erstwhile tone of the series. The barbs exchanged between J.R. and Cliff didn't feel right to me. Nor did Cliff's taunt of Christopher that he'll
"never be one of them [the Ewings]." Cliff was never the master of subtlety, but that was entirely too ham-fisted even for him.
The most concerning thing about tonight's episode is that when it was over, I didn't have the same urgent desire for next Wednesday that I had at the end of last week's premiere. Some of that is attributable, I'm sure, to the fact that now we're into the season instead of buzzing about its debut. Mostly, though, I think it's because this episode just felt like it existed to connect some dots and keep things moving onto subsequent developments. I never really felt like this episode existed as its own story, though, and because of that I was never able to really invest myself in it.
I did note that this episode was written not by series developer Cynthia Cidre, but by producer Bruce Rasmussen. I'm certain he didn't just create the entire episode from scratch by himself; most of the broader themes would have been laid out as part of the season plan ahead of time so I can't fault him for something like Christopher's energy epiphany. But the rest of my complaints fall squarely on his perfunctory story. Things happen because the next scene needed them to happen, rather than because the previous scene made them happen. It's only the third episode and I'm trying to keep some perspective, but I do hope the rest of this season bears a stronger resemblance to the first two episodes than to the third.