The successful return of Dallas, and whatever anticipation there may have been for its season 2 premiere, has undoubtedly been tempered by the passing of Larry Hagman. Although Hagman managed to film several episodes, questions arise as to where will the series go, and how will it last following the loss of its most iconic character and the very man who, for many a viewer, was the sole reason for tuning in to TNT's revival of the long-running series.
Early on in 'Battle Lines' – as with a good portion of season 1 – the audience is roped into watching John Ross (Josh Henderson) act with the same kind of oily charm and ruthlessness of his father. This time we see him seducing a bride-to-be at her bachelorette party, offering a new addition to her pre-wedding day bucket list that requires she "French kiss a stranger until his toes curl."
At first, it seems like young John Ross is merely trying to get over the heartache of losing Elena Ramos (Jordana Brewster) to his cousin Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) by filling the void with empty physical encounters and such. But the frivolity of seducing a young woman soon gives way to blackmail, as it turns out John Ross is really working to gain leverage over the woman's father in order to get the trucking deal the old guy has been refusing Ewing Energies. As it turns out, a few compromising photos on John Ross' phone and a threat to take them public are enough to seal the deal.
At the end of season 1, after experiencing a brief reform and desire to do right by his family, a series of misunderstandings and petty squabbles caused John Ross to once again be seduced by the "win at any cost" methodology of his father, and the successful blackmail we're privy to is the first evidence of J.R.'s promise to teach his son everything he knows. Henderson may be light years away from delivering lines like "You’re not the first Pam to fox your way into the henhouse,” with any kind of real conviction (which is why they're still given to Hagman), but at least his character isn't on the fence about being an underhanded snake any longer.
'Battle Lines' and 'Venomous Creatures' spends a lot of time with the secretive behind-the-scenes scamming of J.R. and his son. On one hand, J.R. is still angling for a piece of the newly formed company, while on the other, he acts fiercely protective of the same family he's trying to screw over by coming to the aid of Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) after she loses her gubernatorial bid, and by confronting the duplicitous Rebecca/Pamela (Julie Gonzalo) with the above mentioned reference to her aunt and namesake. There's even a moment where he offers his son what amounts to consolation regarding the young man's broken heart: "She really did a number on you, didn't she? Cut your heart out with a spoon and licked it clean? Good. Whatever lights a fire under you," the elder Ewing says, keeping his boy motivated to get what he wants.
But, despite evidence to the contrary, Dallas isn't the J.R. show, so it balances those pleasurable moments with the melodrama left over from season 1.
For his part, Christopher has been reduced to a series of scenes where he believes himself to have the upper hand, only to realize at the last moment someone's outfoxed him, as Rebecca/Pamela does at the annulment hearing. While anything is better than watching Jesse Metcalfe conduct experiments in his apartment, and then struggle to convincingly extol the virtues of methane, his character now seems so oblivious to the underhanded machinations going on around him that any attempt to appear in control just makes Christopher look that much more out of the loop.
Meanwhile, in the most vexing storyline so far, Ann (Brenda Strong) reveals to Bobby (Patrick Duffy) that she had a daughter who was kidnapped from a state fair, and now it seems her villainous ex-husband, Harris Ryland (Mitch Pileggi) has located the child, but will only give it to her in exchange for the tape she made of him confessing to laundering money. Despite Bobby's inclination to do otherwise, Ann hands over the tape, but when she goes to meet her long lost daughter, Emma (Emma Bell, The Walking Dead), Ann finds only rejection instead. Bobby's investigation reveals that Ryland had kidnapped his own child and Emma's grandmother (played by Judith Light) raised her overseas. If that weren't sufficiently creepy and twisted, one quick glance will be enough to tell you that Harris and his mother, Judith Brown Ryland, are roughly the same age (perhaps there's more to that story than meets the eye, so for now it will remain an oddity of the casting process).
But for all the outlandish plot developments and introductions of new villains, in 'Battle Lines,' and 'Venomous Creatures,' the realization that this revival will very soon be without its greatest character is what truly resonates. Last season, the new cast members were marketed as the series' leads, but it didn't take long to realize that the show still belonged to the elder statesmen. Despite his gaunt face and obvious frailty, Hagman still manages to deliver lines like, "I'm one for one on flushing out Pamelas" and "How does it feel to be a poodle?" with an entertaining dose of toxic glee – a feat none of the young stars have yet managed.
It's an uncertain future for Dallas; many can't imagine the show without Hagman and for good reason. While there's hope that Dallas' soap opera story elements will continue to keep viewers' interest, it will do so without the character everyone loves-to-hate or just plain loves. Sure, the inept smarminess of John Ross and villainy of Harris Ryland and his ice-queen of a mother will certainly keep the plot wheels turning, but so far, there's no evidence any of them are as morally complicated and delightfully antagonistic as J.R.
Dallas airs Monday nights @9pm on TNT. Check out a season preview below: