It's no small task to give one of the greatest characters and stars in TV history the sendoff he deserves, but "Dallas" executive producers Cynthia Cidre and Mike Robin have done just that with the March 11 "Dallas" episode, "J.R.'s Masterpiece."
The episode, written by Cidre and directed by Robin, includes appearances by J.R.'s friends, foes, and former lovers, including Steve Kanaly, Cathy Podewell, Deborah Shelton, Charlene Tilton, Ted Shackelford, and Ken Kercheval; the conflicted reactions of family members like ex-wife Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), little brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy), and son John Ross (Josh Henderson); and a trio of Dallas-specific cameos that prove J.R.'s status as a sort of unofficial mayor of the city. The opening credits and theme song have even been redone in homage to J.R. and Larry Hagman.
"J.R.'s Masterpiece" hits all the right emotional notes, too … and let that be a warning to put a box of tissues on your weekend shopping list. John Ross is angry and crushed, Sue Ellen breaks down in a way that will reverberate throughout the rest of the season, and Bobby makes a speech at the funeral that acknowledges what "Dallas" fans have always known: Bobby was free to be the good guy because his big brother was so good at being the bad guy.
[Related: How Larry Hagman created TV's best villain]
"I think it's one of the things that [Cynthia and I] are both most proud of in our careers," Robin told Yahoo! TV. "This particular episode, being, unfortunately, charged with having to come up with this goodbye to J.R. Ewing, and Larry, was something we took very, very seriously and very much to heart. And everybody who worked on it did. You can feel everybody's real, raw emotions all over it, everybody that was involved with making it."
Cidre told Yahoo! TV that both Gray and Duffy were actively involved in crafting the episode, including Duffy's stamp of approval on how they chose to deal with the real-life and on-screen deaths.
"I talked to Patrick right after [Hagman's death], and I said, you know, we're trying to come up with something appropriate for J.R., and Larry, that does both justice, and is satisfying to the audience," Cidre says. "And he said immediately, 'Just do it quickly,' because, in the [first series], when Jim Davis died, everybody in the audience knew he had died of a brain tumor. But the show kept [his character] going for months … his plane had gone down in the jungle, and they hadn't found him. And [Patrick said], at a certain point, it became ridiculous, just because the audience knew what had happened. So we knew we had to deal with it as quickly as possible and as truthfully as possible."
That resulted in the second "Who shot J.R.?" mystery, an homage to the classic "Dallas" series of the 1980s, and a very clever way to pay tribute to both the character and the late Hagman, who died of leukemia complications in November.
[Related: What were J.R.'s last words to his son?]
Part of the storyline unfolds in "J.R.'s Masterpiece," though Bobby and John Ross receive missives from J.R. from beyond the grave that point them to an even bigger plot that will continue to unfold through the rest of Season 2. Cliff Barnes (Kercheval) and the equally dastardly Harris Ryland (Mitch Pileggi) are likely to be on the receiving end of some posthumous J.R. justice.
Without spoiling too much of an episode that really should unfold for fans without many hints ahead of time, J.R.'s death will ultimately leave no doubt that he was in control, even in death, of everything in his life.
"His murder really sets in motion a lot of incredible storylines that carry us through the end of the season and pay off huge at the end of the season," Jesse Metcalfe, who plays Bobby's son Christopher, said on "Live With Kelly and Michael" Friday morning. "And I think viewers are going to be really pleased."
Watch a clip from "J.R.'s Masterpiece":
"Dallas" airs Mondays at 9 PM on TNT.