Jock and Miss Ellie's middle son, Gary, a recovering alcoholic, returns to Southfork after a long absence. Meanwhile, Lucy discovers her mother, Valene (Gary's ex-wife), working at a diner outside of town.
Bobby's childhood sweetheart Jenna Wade is in trouble after being exposed as the mistress of important businessman Maynard Anderson. Bobby helps her to get a new place to live for her and her young daughter Charlie, who's biological father has never been revealed by Jenna. Pam becomes very agitated when Bobby spends all of his free time and more with Jenna. Meanwhile, Cliff Barnes prepares to run for senate.
Infuriated by Bobby getting stonewalled by his brother, JR, Jock confronts JR about it and suffers a heart attack during the process. While Bobby fills in at the ranch, JR takes it upon himself to make a deal under the table that involves Section 40 of Southfork and doing something he knows will only upset his father.
After over seven years of hoping to become a mother, Sue Ellen decides to attempt adoption behind JR's back. After finding a young woman named Rita who's willing to give up her baby, Sue Ellen unexpectedly bonds with her. Bobby is not too thrilled at the prospect of his wife, Pamela, turning down the idea of a baby while contemplating the idea of returning to the workforce.
Pam's secret comes out when her ex-husband returns to Dallas after having been locked in a Vietnamese prison camp and several years in a hospital. Only her ex-husband, Ed, claims that their marriage was never annulled, and no one can find any documents to prove otherwise, which not only hurts Bobby emotionally, but financially, as his new construction company has trouble getting off the ground with a church looking to build a new school.
Young Lucy's upcoming birthday party has everyone excited for various reasons, except Lucy, who can't even invite her mother to the party. It's only after she decides to run away and takes off when she finally gets her family's attention... and the attention of a young drifter, who has more intentions than just those toward Lucy.
When Cliff announces that he's running for State Senate, it puts the Ewing clan on high alert and gets a candidate of their own. Things get ugly when Pam inadvertently tells Jock and Jr about Cliff's past relationship, both in the political ring and between Pam and Cliff, itself.
A routine flight back to Dallas turns hairy for JR and Bobby when they run into a storm. But when the storm forces the plane down, things get even more hairy around Southfork when Miss Ellie decides to keep the news from Jock, fearing his heart won't be able to stand the stress, which gets even more difficult when the press forces themselves onto the ranch, looking for a comment from the family.
Jock insists on minding the office while JR goes to Washington, D.C. for more reasons than just business while Sue Ellen finds business of her own in the arms of JR's arch rival, Cliff Barnes. Things get complicated, though, when Sue Ellen finds out about her own predicament. Pam is torn between her job promotion, which means she'll have a buying trip to Paris, or standing by Bobby while he throws a business party.
Ray has fallen for Garnet McGee, the hottest new country singer in town, but she is ambitious and her career comes first, so she turns her affections to rich J.R. who gladly offers to finance her music. Ray becomes dangerously jealous.
Bobby's college pal, Guzzler, shows up in Dallas and lights up Bobby's eyes like he did when they were in college. But when they team up in a construction deal, it's Pam who feels like she's on the outside.
Miss Ellie's long-lost brother, Garrison, returns to Southfork, putting Miss Ellie in Heaven but Jock and JR through Hell, as they believe that the elder Southworth has designs on regaining title to the ranch... and that it was a lovely young woman accompanying him that put the idea in Garrison's head.
While having lunch with her friends, Sue Ellen spots JR with another woman (again). Infuriated, she packs her bags and leaves Southfork, ready to leave the Ewing name behind and spend her life with another man. But when JR gets wind of who the other man is, he has no problem giving his own father what HE wants... his own grandchild back on Southfork. Meanwhile, Ray comes across the name of a roughneck who was supposedly working on an oil crew on Section 40.
When Julie Grey returns to Dallas, she gets back in Jock's good graces instead of JR's. When Jock's sons get wind of what's going on, it sets up a wall between Jock, JR and Bobby. But when JR blabs about where Jock's whereabouts to Miss Ellie, it is SHE who takes matters into her own hands when it comes to the affairs of her marriage.
One by one, people are finding out about Julie Grey's return to Dallas. But no one is more interested than Jeb Ames or Willie Joe Garr, who know that they may both be implicated in JR's dirty dealings, all noted in "the red file", which Julie knows all about. Ray's snooping around for a man named Charlie Waters results in a beating he won't soon forget.
Shock sets in across the Dallas area of Julie Grey's death...all except for JR, whose intent on framing Cliff Barnes for her murder knows no bounds. Matters aren't helped any either when Pam moves out of Southfork, which only puts a wider smile on his face. On the other hand, Bobby, intent on saving his marriage, does his best to get Cliff out of the jam he's in.
With Pam still living outside of Southfork, Sue Ellen's sister, Kristin, sets her sights on Bobby, and JR is very happy to see that and is more than willing to help her. Cliff's new found power results in an attack of the Ewings, particularly over a parcel of land that is costing Ewing Oil a lot of money when a land owner is not willing to allow them to drill for oil until he gets more for the royalties that may be involved.
JR finds out that a friend of Pam's used to be a friend of his, as well, and has no problem taking advantage of that former friendship in an attempt to put some muscle on the man who put Cliff Barnes in power as head of the OLM. Bobby and Ray cross paths with the son of another independent oil man while attempting to corner some cattle rustlers. Sue Ellen's drinking begins to get the better of her, which only infuriates JR.
Lucy and Kit announce their engagement. J.R. plots to parlay the proposed marriage into a strategic union that will serve the common interests of Ewing Oil and Mainwaring Oil, but a shocking secret threatens to scuttle his best laid plans.
Unable to rid Cliff Barnes of his power on their own, the Ewings turn to Sam Culver in an attempt to prove the state government that Cliff is abusing his authority in matters concerning Ewing Oil. Sam, a former senator and governor, has a lot of friends that would listen to him... if the Ewings can only get him to speak on their behalf. Unfortunately, JR's involvement in Sam's marriage to a woman much younger than he only further complicates matters, rather than simplifying them.
JR has enough with his family and their concern over the danger Sue Ellen goes through with her drinking. Having her institutionalized only infuriates her to the point where she escapes, only to get in an accident which puts the life of her baby as well as her own at greater risk.
Sue Ellen desperately wants to get out of the sanitarium. She refuses to speak to J.R., but confesses to Bobby that Cliff Barnes is most likely the father of her baby. Both Miss Ellie and Jock confront J.R. with the way he's been neglecting his wife. Sue Ellen manages to get her hands on some alcohol even in the sanatorium and escapes in a car, only to get into an accident.