You can't have Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) without his brother J.R. (Larry Hagman)-- J.R. said as much in the first season of the TNT version of Dallas, when he went to visit his sick brother in the hospital. Who would each man be without the other to serve as a challenger, as inspiration, as a barometer of actions? Unfortunately Dallas has to explore that question because of the passing of Hagman. Though series executive producers ultimately decided to do another "Who Shot J.R.?" story in which J.R. was actually fatally killed off and properly mourned, it does not mean his presence won't still be felt long after he's gone-- namely in the behaviors and actions of those who knew and loved him best.
The sixth episode of the second season of this Dallas, as the executive producers revealed at PaleyFest in Los Angeles, which showed J.R. only in isolated snippets as he was on a mysterious oil trip in the Middle East (and culminated with hearing the fateful gun shot) was put together by finding generic footage of J.R. that had previously been left on the cutting room floor of episodes. The final scene, in which he called John Ross (Josh Henderson) and we saw his face fall as someone entered the room with a gun, was taken from a phone call scene in the fourth episode of the season, and Hagman's facial reactions were actually how he responded to learning that his son was shacking up with Pamela Barnes (Julie Gonzalo).
Some may have been saddened that the final time we saw J.R., it was not with a smirk but a look of dread, but don't worry: J.R. is going out strong after all. Like with Bobby and J.R. always fighting for Jock's approval in the original series, the younger Ewings may just see themselves locked in a similar battle with J.R. looking down over them. Of course, though, the one with the biggest weight on his shoulders is Bobby.
Bobby receives a letter from J.R. with information about his death and a clear plan on how to move forward, but he says it is between his brother and himself and does not share it with either son. Fittingly, Ewing is the only member of the cast to know the contents of that letter, though executive producer Cynthia Cidre promised the audience would find out by the end of the season.
"I couldn't play it unless I knew. That's the only reason I knew. It wasn't [that] I'm a special character-- a special actor...Bobby had to do something in a scene that was actually determined-- my character's reaction was determined-- by what he read. So I finally had to ask [Cynthia], 'It says Bobby's surprised; he's shocked; and he's okay. I need a little more. I'm not a method actor; I need a little more!' So she took me aside, and she told me the whole resolution of the season, which is contained in this letter that I read," Duffy told us on the press line.
"Definitely the end of this season and a lot of next season is going to be predicated on all of us dealing with the absence of [J.R.], in terms of their characters. It's an ongoing process because Bobby's character is defined by J.R., and J.R. is defined by Bobby."
J.R.'s death will stir up old demons, especially when it comes to Sue Ellen (Linda Gray). All season long, there were hints at a potential rekindling for Sue Ellen and J.R., and he sends her a letter, too, that proves that was where he (and the show) wanted to go. Cidre said they had talked about remarrying those characters. So naturally, Sue Ellen will spiral over his loss, even reaching for the bottle in a way she hasn't in decades.
"It's a very hard, challenging time for Sue Ellen-- for everybody. No one really knows what to do. We were both shocked by this on-camera and off-camera, but we're getting through it as best as we can. The writers have done a great job of relating that struggle on-screen. Otherwise, we'd be like 'We don't feel like working; he's not here!'" Gray said.
Even while grieving, Cidre promised that an off-the-wagon Sue Ellen would be "classy," not "Aqua Velva and homelessness." But even if it's a very real response-- to turn to a crutch or old comfort after losing the love of one's life (because Gray was emphatic that J.R. was the love of Sue Ellen's life, and vice versa, and they were both recently realizing it)-- it still could be a slippery slope. Gray said Sue Ellen is so wrapped up in emotion that she doesn't know much about what is going on with her business the way that maybe she needs to. Luckily, Sue Ellen isn't hiding it but instead leaning on her family members to understand and support her.
In addition to bringing various long lost members of the Ewing clan back to Southfork for an immensely moving memorial, J.R.'s death also starts new paths for his son, Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe), and his brother. Each one is tasked with an important job-- and given important items and information-- but John Ross has a heavier burden than most because he constantly feels the pressure to live up to his father, and his father takes a moment to remind him again, even in death, that he is his son, "tip to tail." While it's a sweet moment to express that J.R. was proud of it, it also comes with a big Stetson to fill.
"Initially Christopher is there for him, to keep a watchful eye over him, to make sure he doesn't do anything he might regret, but in the end, that union and that support is short-lived," Metcalfe said of John Ross.
"[Christopher] thinks he can let his guard down a bit because we're all mourning, but he's not naive to who his cousin is and what his ultimate intentions are, and he also sees the impact that losing his father has on him; it's not turning him into a better person!"
Even Elena (Jordana Brewster) will attempt to comfort John Ross in her own way: "I think Elena had a lot of respect for J.R. She even says at one point, 'He was an amazing man.' He built this whole empire; he was a fearless businessman; he was like no one else,' Brewster said.
The fact that J.R. only entrusted his brother-- not his son-- with a key piece of information in his death is not something that will sit lightly. John Ross has theories about who killed his father and wants to enact vengeance accordingly, but he is still young, impetuous, and a bit hot-headed. He doesn't see the bigger picture that J.R. knew Bobby could. As his funeral episode would suggest, J.R. was a few steps ahead of everyone else yet again. This time, though, his master plan calls for the Ewings coming together as one unstoppable familial force. What better way to prove who your true friends-- and true enemies-- are than to see who cries at your grave, who hurls drunken insults, and who uses the moment as one of weakness to try to get the upper hand on a decades-old feud? At the end of the day, blood really is thicker than everything else. J.R. may not be the most likely person to instill that message, but it's a legacy of which we know he would be proud.
Dallas airs on TNT on Monday nights at 9 p.m. "J.R.'s Masterpiece" airs on March 11 2013.
Want more Dallas news and interviews? Follow LA TV Insider Examiner on Twitter!