Season 3 Episode 10

Mastectomy (2)

Aired Friday 12:00 AM Nov 16, 1979 on CBS

Episode Fan Reviews (1)

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  • Good intentions, but it feels like a public service announcement.

    Watching old television shows you're reminded of the way television used to tackle problems of all kinds (medical, social, political, ...) differently. Not only do taboos of the old days seem quite quaint now, the daring shows come across as rather tame.

    This is a famous (though not great) episode of Dallas in which Miss Ellie struggles with the threat of breast cancer. It brings drama to the prime time soap, but you sense that the producers/writers also tried to be socially relevant. Their intentions must be applauded, the way they handled it is a bit heavy-handed. In the fight against cancer check-ups and self-examination are very important, and so we get to see Miss Ellie argue with her doctor when she fears that she may have found a malignant lump. When it turns out she was right to be fearful, the doctor has to congratulate her on her alertness, and doing so he tells the viewers what they should do.

    We then get the reactions of the rest of the family, because a dangerous illness affects the loved ones of the patient as well. Cue a series of clunky scenes in which the women talk about the disease. The show goes overboard when Lucy refuses to see her grandmother because she can't face the idea that she might be genetically burdened with a similar threat. I'm sure daughters, sisters and granddaughters think of these things when someone in the family is struck by breast cancer, but I doubt their first reaction would be to run away. (Perhaps this type of cancer was more of a death sentence in the late seventies.)

    For the patient herself the loss of a breast and the worry about her husband's reaction add more stress to the situation. Barbara Bel Geddes shines in these scenes, but the writers again decided to make the threat a bit more accute. All of a sudden we hear about a first wife of Jock's whom he left when she got (mentally) ill. Clearly this was just invented to make Miss Ellie worry more about Jock's reaction to her illness. It's as if the writers didn't trust the audience to fully grasp the authentic problems, and so they made them slightly bigger. I think nowadays this story would have been handled in a more refined way, but the way it's done here may have saved lives then.