Ken Tucker
August 08, 2012 AT 12:00 PM EDT

The new version of Dallas commenced its first-season finale with Larry Hagman’s J.R Ewing giving his version of a life-sustaining pep talk a comatose Bobby (Patrick Duffy), “Keep fightin’ me … I love you, Bobby,” a rare moment of sincere sentiment on the part of one of television’s greatest villains. And I’d add two things about that sentence: It’s kind of amazing that the reconstituted Dallas has managed to do justice to Hagman’s great potrait of villainy, and when I invoke sincerity in the context of J.R., it’s always undercut by J.R.’s option to turn earnestness into an even deeper form of deviousness.

The finale did a good job of further tightening the bonds between the old guard and the new. As was to be expected, fans have been divided about the worth and uses to which John Ross (Josh Henderson) Christopher (Jesse Metcalf), and the women in their lives (Julie Gonzalo’s Rebecca and Jordana Brewster’s Elena) have been put. I thought this final hour did a lot to link the new kids on the ranch (KNOTR) to the legacy of the original Dallas.

SPOILER ALERT: DON’T READ UNTIL YOU’VE SEEN THE DALLAS SEASON FINALE Certainly it was a smart move, a nice nod to long-time Dallas devotees, to have John Ross decide to use the old Ewing Oil office space as the location for the aborning “Ewing Energies” corporation, tantalizing us with the notion of John Ross and Christopher becoming business partners in part to heal their personal rifts. Shades of the old arguments followed by make-up business deals that J.R. and Bobby used to conduct. And the increased subterfuge and scurrilousness of Rebecca — did any viewer doubt that last week’s gun-shot cliffhanger would not end in Tommy, not Rebecca, receiving the bullet? — furthered the importance of this character going forward, and in the process gave Gonzalo a chance to prove she can perform at a higher level of complexity than she’s been able to do so far this season.

I was also happy to see increased activity for Brenda Strong as Ann. This was one of the series’ biggest risks, bringing in an actress known from another nighttime soap (Desperate Housewives) to replace an essential character who didn’t make the cut for the reboot (or whatever you want to call the abscence of Victoria Principal and her Pam Ewing from this series). Yet well before Housewives, Strong had long been a solid performer who’d spent her career alternating between episodic television (from Seinfeld to SportsNight) to what seemed to me to be scores of TV commercials. In short, Strong has earned the urgent agency she’s been granted on Dallas, and I thoroughly enjoyed the scene this night of her tricking Mitch Peleggi’s Rylan into incriminating himself on tape (attached to a bra that Rylan thought was about to be doffed for other reasons — Dallas is one of the few shows that depicts middle-aged people enjoying vigorous sex lives not played for ageist laughs), and Ann’s sisterhood-is-powerful allying with Linda Gray’s Sue Ellen, enabling the latter to continue her run for political office.

I’m not going to step on the nimble toes of recapper Mandi Bierly by going too heavily into this night’s plot details. I’ll just say that the revelation that Rebecca is Cliff Barnes’ daughter was a clever move, one that, as noted earlier, brings the KNOTR into the center of the J.R./Bobby feud that will continue. (I’ll mention here that a friend more steeped in Dallas lore than I said he’d figured Rebecca was Cliff’s daughter right from the new show’s pilot, and thought it was odd that Cliff Barnes’ mother was named Rebecca, yet the “new” Rebecca apparently isn’t named Rebecca. I wasn’t clear on this, since post-reveal, she was simply referred to as “Miss Barnes.” Discuss amongst yourselves.)

The final scene, with J.R. entering the Ewing-hallowed office space to join John Ross, and son asking father to “teach me every dirty trick to take the company away from Christopher and Elena,” topped by J.R.’s cheerful, “Now that’s my son, from tip to tail” — this was a fine reminder of what a snake in a Stetson J.R. is, and a deeper reminder of why we can enjoy these characters so much.

What did you think of the Dallas season finale?

Twitter: @kentucker

For more: ‘Dallas’ season finale recap: Revelations and Revenge

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