A HOUSE DIVIDED is the final episode of the third season of the long-running series, Dallas. This episode focused on someone shooting the evil J.R. Ewing after he nearly angers everyone in Dallas and the independent oil industry by his less than ethical means.
J.R. Ewing is a fictional character that William K. Stevens of The New York Times described as "the nastiest man on television, the Iago of Texas oilmen, the smiling snake of a star of Friday night TV's Dallas, a man so venal, so low, so mean, so diabolical that he has become an absolute delight to an estimated quarter of a billion viewers around the globe." His New York Times colleague John J. O'Connor described him as "the eldest son of the oil-rich Ewing family..." who is "...a sadistic bully and a swindler" that "captured the public's imagination". Season 3 left the viewer with numerous people to suspect for the murder.
Sue Ellen Ewing (Linda Gray) is J.R.'s wife. J.R. had threatened to re-institutionalize her for alcoholism. Kristin Shepard (Mary Crosby) is J.R.'s ex-mistress and Sue Ellen's sister. J.R. broke his promise to marry her and gave her 24 hours to leave town. J.R. framed her for prostitution in response to business pressure she put on him. Dusty Farlow (Jared Martin) is Sue Ellen's lover. He was supposedly killed in a plane crash. Vaughn Leland (Dennis Patrick) is J.R.'s business partner. J.R. swindled him out of $20 million (US$57 million in 2016 dollars). Miss Ellie Ewing (Barbara Bel Geddes) is J.R.'s mother. J.R. mortgaged the family ranch, unbeknownst to his parents, and had plans to drill for oil on the property. Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval) is Bobby's brother-in-law and business rival. His father (Digger Barnes) was swindled by J.R.'s father (Jock Ewing), leaving him penniless except for some oil wells that J.R. had shut down. Alan Beam (Randolph Powell) is a political fixer. Beam knew too much about J.R.'s dirty dealings, making him expendable after J.R. tried to extinguish him, giving him motive. Marilee Stone (Fern Fitzgerald) is the widow of a business associate. Her husband committed suicide as a result of business dealings with J.R. Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) is J.R.'s mild-mannered brother. He is the classic sibling rival, who is fed up with J.R.'s handling of family business and slights to Bobby's wife, Pamela Barnes Ewing (Victoria Principal), who happens to be Cliff's sister.
Although generally regarded as somewhat of a rival of J.R. in the fictional world of Dallas, Gary Ewing (Ted Shackelford) was not a suspect due to his activity in the related fictional Knots Landing world. Similarly, Lucy Ewing (Charlene Tilton) had an alibi provided by liaisons with a married college professor.
Day 1: J.R. explains to Jock and Bobby that Ewing Oil is doing fine, leaving Bobby suspicious. J.R. had swindled most of the other oilmen that he knows to salvage Ewing Oil by convincing their cartel to buy worthless oil fields from him just prior to nationalization. Cartel member, Jordan Lee hounds the Ewings about their underhandedness and makes sure they know Seth Stone committed suicide as a result of the dealings. Soon thereafter, Sue Ellen nurses a hangover while watching the local news to see reports that Ewing oil sold off its holdings just before the nationalization.
The report ends with the story of the widowed Marilee Stone, whose husband Seth had bought shares from Ewing Oil. Marilee's calls to J.R. are refused. Cartel member Vaughn Leland, the head of a local Dallas Bank, who lost $20 million (US$57 million in 2016 dollars) in the deal, reaches Ewing Oil offices to express his belief that J.R. duped him, but Jock refuses to offer any restitution (since Leland refused to help Jock when J.R. mortgaged South Fork, Jock was returning the favor in retaliation). All of the cartel members have lost everything they had in the deal and J.R. increased his wealth in the dealings.
The Ewings question whether J.R. took advantage of inside information. J.R. assures his father and brother that such unethical behavior was beneath him. Despite the assurances, BOTH Jock and Bobby knew, deep inside, that he was lying through his teeth.
Meanwhile, Lucy Ewing spends time with her professor/boyfriend who is only interested in her for one reason. Attorney Alan Beam, whom Lucy is supposedly been seeing, visits Kristin Shepard for ideas about how J.R. might have swindled everyone. Shepard suggests Hank Johnson may have information.
Shepard has been tape recording secrets of the cartel members from between the sheets and learned how J.R. got them all to buy his oil wells. Beam asks her to try to get information from Johnson by pretending to still be J.R.'s secretary.
Bobby talks with Miss Ellie about Pam who has flown to Corpus Christi to find her mother, Rebecca. They both think it is because she is grieving from the recent death of her father Digger. (Later on, it was revealed that Digger wasn't her father, but a former Ewing ranch hand named Hutch McKinney had been her father. Digger had killed him, and hoped to frame Jock for it, but failed.) Sue Ellen apologized for her drunken behavior the prior night and laments that it gave J.R. fodder for his plans to re-institutionalize her.
Bobby says he will try to keep J.R. from taking that action. J.R. tells Johnson to ignore Shepard's request for records and to shred them, giving him a bonus for his hard work. Sue Ellen sees a psychiatrist, Dr. Elby. She gets a reminder about drinking until one is unconscious and promises to stop.
J.R. confronts Kristin about her mischief. He tries to bribe her to leave, but she does not accept the offer. J.R. spends some time with Sue Ellen. She alerts him that Bobby is going to speak up for her. He is not worried. She then inquires about whether he is going to be unfaithful. When he leaves for another woman she gets upset, with this classic exchange between the two warring spouses:
- SUE ELLEN: Tell me, J.R., which slut are you going to be seeing tonight?
- J.R.: Well, whoever she is, she will be a hell of a lot more interesting than the slut I am looking at now!
After J.R storms out to go to his latest paramour, the angry Sue Ellen finds a gun lying around, which gives her pause.
Day 2: Cliff arrives at Ewing Oil with paperwork proving his (and his sister Pam's) claim to a share of Ewing 23 oil well, one of Ewing Oil's most profitable wells. J.R. confirms it is producing 5,000 barrels/month which would give Cliff $500,000/year (US$1.436 million/year in 2016 dollars). J.R. spitefully shuts down that oil well rather than let Cliff earn a dime from it. Bobby expresses his concern to his wife about her obsession that has caused her to quit her fashion buyer job to search for her mother.
Lucy spends quality time with her professor. After she leaves he calls his wife. Harry McSween, a corrupt detective on the Dallas Police force who is often used by J.R. to exact revenge on his enemies, brings Beam to J.R.'s office to clarify that J.R. wants him to leave town. J.R. gleefully demonstrates how he could easily use his vast influence to trump up rape charges on anyone.
J.R. tells Bobby and Jock that he shut down the wells to shut out new claimant Barnes. Bobby is upset with J.R.'s vindictiveness, but Jock agrees with the methods J.R. used. Pam and Bobby, disgusted by J.R.'s evil ways and vindictive nature towards people, decide to leave Southfork for good.
Day 3: Bobby and Pam depart in the morning after Bobby informs Miss Ellie and Jock. The parents are saddened and displeased. Bobby rages about Jock's agreeing with J.R.'s spitefully shutting down that oil well, just because Cliff Barnes had a claim on it, but Jock doesn't relent, although he does feels bad about Bobby leaving Southfork because of Ewing 23. Sue Ellen and J.R. enter at the end of the debate with the parents in time to remind J.R. that he has driven them away.
This pleases the selfish J.R. to no end, for he had finally achieved his desire, to drive his brothers off of Southfork for good! He then nastily tells Sue Ellen that he is going to put her away for having the gall to speak ill of him.
J.R.'s ally, McSween, serves Shepard with a warrant for her arrest on trumped up charges of prostitution in front of Beam who was visiting her. He offers them a deal. If they leave town within 24 hours, he won't chase them. She threatens to kill J.R. Beam quips, "Get in line, there is a long line ahead of you."
J.R. calls Dr. Rogers to take Sue Ellen away that night. J.R. dismissively hangs up on Leland who is continuing to threaten him. Sue Ellen continues to ponder the gun and tucks it in her purse before heading out somewhere. Cliff visits Digger Barnes' grave. He apologizes to his dad that he let J.R. beat him like Jock had beaten the father.
The beyond evil J.R. is at the office that night when Rogers arrives at Southfork to cart Sue Ellen away.
Perversely proud of the damage and misery he had caused to everyone in his life; his parents (he angered them by mortgaging Southfork), his brothers (having driven both of them out of Dallas), his sister-in-law (whom he never liked), his wife (whom he has cheated on so often and so mercilessly, with no thought of anyone but himself), his erstwhile business associates (whose lives and fortunes he destroyed so dismissively and so gleefully); he steps into the outer office to pour himself a congratulatory drink and to gloat about the damage he had done.
At this point, he feels that he is utterly invincible to any adversity and that nobody could stand in the way of his aims to get what he wants, no matter who got hurt, be they family, friends, or business associates, in the end!
He then hears someone outside his door and as he investigates, he is shot twice in the gut and collapses. Soon after, he was taken to Dallas Memorial Hospital. The family is called together, even Bobby and Pamela, being met by a Texas Rangers helicopter to be flown back to Dallas.
It wouldn't be until the beginning of the fourth season that the shooter was revealed to be Sue Ellen's spiteful sister, and one of J.R.'s spurned lovers, Kristin Shepard. She had shot him in revenge for his having McSween try to drive her and Alan Beam out of Dallas and attempts to trump up baseless charges against them both. She had intended to have Sue Ellen framed for the shooting. She is then ordered to be banished out of town, with the astonishing reveal that she was pregnant with J.R.'s baby. The baby is later revealed to be Christopher, who would be adopted by Bobby and Pam.