Ah, yes…round two of the original Dynasty: the bastard child of night-time super-soap Dallas.
By Paul Mavis
Deliriously crude and manipulative, with gloss and money vomited all over it to keep the stench down, Dynasty’s second season is just what the doctor ordered after that dour first half-season. The brilliant addition of Joan Collins as the over-sexed, vengeful Alexis Carrington rocketed Dynasty into the stratosphere of camp TV, and saved the series’ Nielsen bacon. Will the same thing happen for the newly rebooted Dynasty, which has been struggling to find numbers over on The CW? Apparently, the producers are taking a page from the original Dynasty’s second season, throwing a Hail Mary by casting prime time soap vet Nicollette Sheridan (Desperate Housewives, the delicious Paige Matheson on Dallas spin-off, Knots Landing) as Alexis Carrington 2.0.—a smart move that may pay off. Meanwhile…you can sit back and watch the original bitch in heat, Joan Collins Alexis Carrington, in Dynasty’s vastly improved second set of episodes. It certainly ain’t art…but it’s ten times more entertaining.
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In 1980 and 1981, as ABC enviously watched the meteoric rise in the ratings of CBS’ powerhouse Dallas, naturally they looked to exploit their own night-time sudser; after all, ABC had been a leader in the field, bringing out the iconic smash Peyton Place back in the 1960s. Pushing through a project entitled Oil, developed by TV vets Esther and Richard Shapiro, the network had the newly titled Dynasty ready for the viewers for the fall 1980 schedule, until a SAG strike pushed its release date to a mid-season replacement in January, 1981. Not unlike aspects of Dallas (with the later spin-off of Knots Landing), Dynasty explored the intersection of a super-wealthy family (the Carringtons), who controlled a vast, powerful oil company, and a middle-class family (the Blaisdels) who worked in the lower tiers of the oil industry, and whose family struggles mirrored those found at the Carrington mansion.
Unfortunately for ABC, audiences stayed away. Too obviously an inferior Dallas knock-off, with viewers particularly indifferent to the boring domestic tribulations of the middle-class Blaisdel family, an immediate re-tooling of the expensive series was undertaken by producer Aaron Spelling. Something was needed to make Dynasty stand out. Where Dallas had nasty, mean-spirited financial subplots focusing on the oil industry (and a relative realism to its dramatics), Dynasty was going straight for the women viewers, emphasizing glamour, glitz, romance, and dirty, nasty sex. A mysterious, beautifully dressed stranger was seen walking into the courtroom during the first season’s finale (Blake was on trial for murdering his gay son Steven’s lover), with the network subsequently orchestrating quite a lot of hype over the summer, priming viewers for the mystery revelation at the start of season two. As well, the entire Blaisdel angle of the series was dropped, save for keeping mentally unbalanced Claudia Blaisdel (Pamela Bellwood) in the cast. Dreary middle-class worries be damned; Dynasty was going to wallow whole-hog in the lives of the super-rich and super-powerful.
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Expectant audiences tuning into Dynasty’s second season were rewarded with the introduction of one of TV’s all-time greatest villains, Joan Collins’ Alexis Carrington, Blake’s ex-wife (while adding Heather Locklear’s super-tramp eye candy Sammy Jo to the cast didn’t exactly hurt numbers, either). Dynasty was no longer a semi-serious attempt to do a standard family drama set against big oil, but an amped-up, slap-happy bitch-fest that featured big hair, big shoulder pads and big-time over-acting.
The re-tooling worked spectacularly…as did a judicious day and time change. Escaping its deadly first season 9:00pm Monday night slot, where it had been getting slaughtered by CBS’s M*A*S*H and House Calls, as well as The NBC Monday Night Movie, Dynasty moved over to ratings-weak Wednesday, and at a later hour: 10:00pm (so as not to scare the kiddies who may have stayed up for ABC newcomers Greatest American Hero and The Fall Guy). Limp competition from failing series vet Quincy, M.E. over on NBC, and non-starter Shannon on CBS, no doubt helped Dynasty‘s second-chance chances enormously. Audiences responded overwhelmingly to the changes; Dynasty went from almost being canceled, to finishing out this second season 19th for the year in the Nielsen’s, climbing higher each subsequent year until it hit the coveted number one position in the 1984-1985 season…held the year before by rival Dallas.
Comparing Dallas’ relative “realism” (the gold standard of vintage network primetime soapery) to Dynasty‘s more obvious, presentational style is really apples to oranges: they’re entirely different shows by this second season. Most importantly, Dynasty’s cheap, nasty tone is engaging as hell, with the plots never pausing for a moment to ponder subtleties of character motivation. Don’t let the expensive gowns, beautiful cars, and the lavish sets of Dynasty fool you: this is cheap, crude melodrama at its most basic—and most enjoyable.
The dramatic framework of Dynasty is as old as the hills, with tit-for-tat revenge in both business and personal lives creating the most base thrills for the audience (it’s hard to imagine today, considering the X-rated material that’s available on basic cable shows, that Dynasty caused quite a bit of controversy when it came out). Of course, audiences always “rediscover” such devices when they’re repackaged to fit the times (that’s what’s been so amusing about the last few years’ headlines announcing television’s new “golden age”) and Dynasty did this quite adroitly, enhanced by ABC’s slick house style in the production design and lensing.
The series’ main story arc ostensibly revolves around oil baron Blake Carrington’s (every woman with a daddy complex’s dream, John Forsythe) efforts to keep his family united. In reality, most episodes of Dynasty devolve into Blake, knee-deep in financial trouble (which is usually background filler), trying to stay out of the way of the squabbling wildcats in his life, best illustrated by the epic battle between former wife—and obvious spawn of Satan—Alexis (played to utter perfection by delicious Joan Collins) and current wife Krystle (played as well as can be expected, considering the sometimes sappy character, by Linda Evans). As much as the business of oil, land, and cattle matters in Dallas, where complicated oil deals and financial setbacks involving wills and probate courts are routinely strung along multiple season story arcs (with the viewer expected to remember them), business doesn’t matter in the slightest in Dynasty. Only games of sexual one-upmanship and constant, bitter emotional betrayals are deemed necessary here.
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And while later seasons of Dynasty increasingly spun out of control because the series became too self-aware of its own camp aspects (the “Moldavian wedding massacre” would be a prime example), we’re seeing just the beginnings of those leanings here in this second season. Collins’ character, designed as a direct knock-off of Dallas‘s J.R. Ewing, is a monstrous “Joan Crawford on steroids” creation that started Dynasty down its self-reflexive road. And she’s a character that never fails to entertain, precisely because Collins plays her right to the back stalls. Shoulders always held back at a haughty angle, with an imperious upward tilt to her nose (unless she’s coldly peering down at her next victim), Collins is hysterical in her late-career making role. There’s no time in Dynasty‘s plots for subtlety, and Collins compensates by sweeping into her scenes to start immediately chewing the scenery. Delivering dialogue that would mortify Jacqueline Susann (“I’m glad to see your father had your teeth fixed…if not your tongue.”), Collins proves a more than adept comedian (no wonder there were reports that Evans, nominally the main female star of Dynasty’s first season, felt somewhat overshadowed by Collins’ impact).
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And let’s not forget our other prime-time vixen added to this year’s cast: little sex shooter Heather Locklear as white trash angel turned spoiled Carrington, Sammy Jo. Her scantily clad appearances definitely helped skew Dynasty towards the more desirable younger demographics, and it’s not hard to see why, considering the almost spooky fixation the series has on showcasing her rear end, episode after episode (why, you may ask? Because it’s perfection. That’s why).
With these two hellions butting heads—and rutting in-between the sheets at every opportunity—it’s not surprising that the more serious aspects of the series seem rather tame by comparison, including Krystle’s gradual disengagement from Blake, Steven (Al Corley) finally coming out of the closet for good (about time they figured that one out), Fallon’s (Pamela Sue Martin) near-abortion, Claudia’s further mental derailment, and mysterious Dr. Toscanni’s (James Farentino) murderous revenge plot against Blake and his family. Certainly, Collins scores the season’s highlights, including a hysterical cat fight with Krystle that became an audience favorite and a much-anticipated staple in later seasons (the stunt doubles are so obviously not Evans and Collins that it must have been intentionally shot that way).
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However, the season’s final episode, where Collins makes love to Lloyd Bochner’s Cecil Colby, has to be one of the greatest moments in camp TV history. As we see dissolve after dissolve of Collins and Bochner in what looks like bizarre G-rated porno shots of them making love, Bochner, no doubt not used to the almost supernatural quality and duration of Alexis’ lovemaking skills, suffers what appears to be a fatal heart attack. As he screams and grasps his chest, Alexis responds by viciously slapping his face, over and over again to the point of hilarity, as she berates him for spoiling her plans to get back at Blake. While he’s dying. Too ridiculous to be sick, it’s one of the funniest scenes in television history and deserves big kudos for being so blatantly audacious and crude. No wonder people couldn’t wait for season three of Dynasty to start in the fall.
Alexis testifies against Blake and proves that he can be a violent man. Claudia awakens in the hospital and discovers Matthew has run off with Lindsay.
Blake is sentenced to two years in prison. Alexis’ true colors show when she moves in to her old studio on Blake’s property and their hatred for each other is evident. Tension rises as Blake tries to talk to Steven. Krystle discovers she’s pregnant.
After Claudia is released from the hospital, she attempts suicide. She’s saved by Blake’s friend Dr. Nick Toscanni, who has a secret vendetta against Blake. Fallon and Jeff decide to have a baby, while Alexis confesses to Steven that Blake isn’t Fallon’s real father.
Alexis confesses to Blake that he’s not Fallon’s father and urges him to reconcile with Steven. Blake also learns that his associates don’t like dealing with an accused murderer, and that Cecil Colby closed a deal without consulting him. Alexis reveals to Cecil that he is Fallon’s father. Meanwhile, Steven is diagnosed with possible brain damage after a drunken fall in the family’s swimming pool.
As Steven recovers at home, he and Blake reconcile. Krystle’s ex-brother-in-law, racecar driver Frank Dean, sends his stepdaughter, Sammy Jo, to stay with her. Alexis hires a private investigator to uncover Krystle’s past, while Cecil puts pressure on Blake to repay the $9 million loan he’s owed.
Viva Las Vegas
In order to repay the loan, Blake travels to Vegas and borrows the money from gangster Logan Rhinewood. Sammy Jo finds comfort in the arms of Steven, but it’s Claudia he asks to marry him. Fallon and Nick find love together. While skeet shooting, Alexis spots Krystle on horseback. With a premeditated shot, the frightened horse throws Krystle to the ground and she’s rushed to the hospital in fear of losing the baby.
Krystle is devastated after learning that she’s not only lost her baby, but she can no longer have children. Jeff quits his uncle Cecil’s business to join Denver-Carrington while Fallon continues her affair with Nick. Although Steven and Sammy Jo spend time away together in his cabin, he still asks Claudia to marry him. She declines, stating that she’s still in love with the husband who abandoned her. More trouble comes to Blake by way of his attorney, Andrew Laird, regarding Middle Eastern oil leases.
The Mid-East Meeting
Blake and Jeff fly to the Middle East to try and meet with Rashid Ahmed to obtain his help with releasing their overseas oil tankers. Meanwhile, Alexis flies to Rome to meet with Ahmed, a former lover, under the guise of helping Blake. Fallon learns she’s pregnant, makes plans for an abortion, and asks Jeff for a divorce. He agrees only if she’ll keep the baby. Fallon confesses her love to Nick. Alexis persuades Blake to come to Rome under false pretenses.
Traveling to Rome, Blake phones a despondent Krystle in another attempt to get her to see psychiatrist Nick Toscanni. Consumed with jealously over Krystle, Fallon tells Jeff their marriage was a business arrangement to benefit Blake and she only became pregnant to compete with Krystle. Krystle becomes shattered over suggestive photos that appear in a tabloid of Blake and Alexis together in Rome. Nick comforts Krystle, and passion soon ignites.
Sammy Jo and Steven Marry
Krystle stops Nick before they sleep together, but Nick confesses his love for her. She tells him she won’t cheat on her husband. Blake returns and explains the photos were not what they seem. Steven marries Sammy Jo and decides to be a racecar driver.
The Car Explosion
When Steven and Sammy Jo return home, they tell everyone of their marriage except Blake. Alexis goes out of her way to make Krystle believe that an affair happened in Rome. Nick persuades Krystle to leave Blake. To make matters worse, Ray Bonning, a representative for Rhinewood, interferes in the business. When a bomb is thrown at Blake from a speeding car, he becomes blind.
Convinced that Ray is behind the explosion, Blake settles plans to exact revenge. Krystle decides to hold off on telling Blake about her divorce plans until he’s feeling better. Fallon tells Alexis about her affair with Nick and her feelings for him. Alexis promises to rid Krystle from their lives.
After doing some research, Blake discovers that Nick’s brother, Giani, worked for Denver-Carrington, but was killed in the Mideast problems. Fallon tells Alexis that she doesn’t want her help in her problem with Krystle. An anonymous note is delivered to Blake suggesting Krystle is with Nick. Blake’s sight returns, but no one knows except Joseph, the butler.
The Iago Syndrome
Blake pretends to still be blind and has a talk with Nick about the death of his brother. Krystle ends things with Nick and decides to leave Denver but is convinced to stay by Blake. Sammy Jo takes advantage of being married to a Carrington and behaves like a spoiled rich housewife.
Blake finally tells everyone his sight is back. During a party to celebrate Steven and Sammy Jo, Sammy Jo becomes drunk and embarrasses the entire Carrington family. The truth about Cecil being Fallon’s real father is revealed. Afterward, Alexis and Fallon are in a car accident that leaves Fallon unconscious.
At the hospital, Fallon gives birth to a son, who’s born so weak that his chances are slim for survival. Claudia sleeps with Jeff in order to steal a key to the archive in Blake’s office. Meanwhile, Sammy Jo leaves Steven. When Krystle discovers the truth surrounding her miscarriage, she and Alexis have a catfight in her studio.
Mother and Son
After a surgery, Fallon’s baby recovers, but she and Jeff fight over custody. Jeff discovers that it’s Claudia who has been leaking information to Cecil about Denver-Carrington.
Blake discovers, through a blood test, that he is Fallon’s real father. Steven follows Sammy Jo to Hollywood, where she’s been modeling at a sleazy studio. Claudia tries to shoot Cecil after hearing that Matthew and Lindsay are dead, but in a struggle between them and Krystle, the gun fires.
Claudia is wounded by the gunshot, and the police suspect Krystle in the shooting. Claudia doesn’t remember the incident when she awakens. Blake gets a meeting, via microphone, with the reclusive Logan Rhinwood.
Steven is arrested for assault after beating up a con man who tries to blackmail him. Blake threatens Alexis when he learns of her involvement in Krystle’s miscarriage.
The Two Princes
Little Blake Colby comes home from the hospital along with Susan, the nurse hired to look after him. Alexis accepts Cecil’s proposal of marriage and plans her wedding. Rashid Ahmed returns to conduct more business with Blake.
When Nick discovers that Blake was responsible for his brother’s death, a fight breaks out. Blake falls unconscious down a cliff and Nick leaves him there. Little Blake disappears, and Cecil suffers a heart attack while making love to Alexis.
PAUL MAVIS IS AN INTERNATIONALLY PUBLISHED MOVIE AND TELEVISION HISTORIAN, A MEMBER OF THE ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY, AND THE AUTHOR OF THE ESPIONAGE FILMOGRAPHY. Click to order.Read more of Paul’s TV reviews here. Read Paul’s film reviews at our sister website, Movies & Drinks.