Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday and the conclusion of my thoughts on Dynasty (1981-1989, ABC), the gaudy primetime soap that I think defines ’80s television drama. When discussing both the first and second seasons, we saw how the series tried to define itself through the fantastical elements invoked by the Carringtons’ lavish lifestyle and the juicy antics of its characters, particularly the sensational Alexis, who burst onto the scene at the start of the second season and ushered in the “Golden Age” of Dynasty. In the third and fourth seasons, we saw the show’s storytelling unravel, as style became more important than substance, while Season Five found the show at the peak of both its opulence and popularity. Then came Season Six, in which the show seemed crushed by its own weight (not to mention the spin-off it was attempting to birth), only to stage a miraculous turnaround in the last third of the season that picked up both the ratings and the quality. Unfortunately, this rejuvenation didn’t carry through to Seasons Seven or Eight, which found the series at its lowest.
Well, we’ve finally made it to the final season, which many viewers believe to represent an upsurge in quality — the kind unseen since the golden days of Year Two. I concur that this season stands as a marked difference from its predecessors, due primarily to the work of former Dallas scribe David Paulsen (and the departure of De Blasio and the Pollocks), but I think there’s a tendency to overstate just how much of a turnaround the season is from those prior — at least with regard to narrative. In other words, the series’ penchant for ridiculous and only-occasionally character-driven stories is never deconstructed. This is still Dynasty, and while that’s an easy comment to make — either in defense of the lower moments or as a knock to the higher ones — my point-of-view is that while the reactions the series seeks to elicit always border on the extreme, each season — and sometimes half-season — has its own unique set of strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, speaking specifically of quality, the fluctuations are only seldom as grand as our reactions would make us believe. In the case of Season Nine, the series is past the point of no return; if the writing has turned you off by now, you’re not going to come back here just because the scripts have notably, but not miraculously, improved. (It’s not the second coming of the Golden Age!) However, for those who have stuck with the series through the dark days of well, heck, Seasons Four through Eight, Season Nine is a welcome change, and does represent the best stuff we’ve seen from the show since pre-Mark Jennings.
Speaking of Mark, Season Three is an excellent counterpoint for Season Nine, for while the former saw the series abandoning its original thesis of Krystle as the flawed fish-out-of-an-equally-flawed-water in favor of a more style-driven, less narratively concentrated (and at times, less comprehensive) modus vivendi, Season Nine restores focus. The show’s narratives can’t be improved — because the show no longer has any connection to its thesis (which is vital for the full appreciation of story) — but this season does improve the storytelling. And in some ways, that’s more satisfying. To wit: the prime strength of the final season is that every single plot is somehow connected to a single point. While the premiere has to handle the mess left by Season Eight’s staff, the opening installment concludes with the family searching for the missing Krystle (Linda Evans); in the process, they discover the body of Roger Grimes (the man with whom Alexis Carrington had an affair), whose death 25+ years before is subject to a season-long mystery, particularly as Alexis (Joan Collins) believes his murderer to have been Blake (John Forsythe). Connected to this story is the return of Sable Colby (Stephanie Beacham), who’s inadvertently responsible for the unearthing of Grimes’ body, and leads to the reveal that there’s an underground mine shaft (which had been operated by Blake’s dad, Jason Colby, and Dex’s dad on Carrington property) with stolen Nazi treasure — the storyline that also becomes a major part of the season, particularly as a corrupt cop seeks to capitalize on the discovery.
While the Nazi treasure angle is eyeroll-worthy, the Roger Grimes arc is more captivating, because it connects right into the show’s mythology, and in spite of some continuity issues, it allows the writers to refocus on the animosity that exists between Blake and Alexis, specifically the reason for her longstanding vendetta against him. This concentration is vital given the departure of Krystle, who misses the first two episodes of the year, and only appears in the next six before being carted away to Switzerland, where she’s stuck in a coma. (Another return to the series’ mythology — her medical condition is a result of falling off that horse.) Even though Krystle hadn’t been used as the series’ nucleus since Season Six, the loss of her character — when Evans’ contract ended and she decided not to renew — means that Dynasty will never be able to fulfill its initial raison d’être. And that’s the only real detriment from the absence of her presence, because frankly, the series was having such trouble finding things for her to do that she had essentially become deadweight. In contrast, Alexis, who only appears in 13 of the 22 produced episodes due to sweeping budget cuts, remains vital to the audience’s enjoyment of the series — particularly with this back-to-basics storyline. And while we associate Collins as much with Dynasty‘s ascent as its descent, she represents a major asset, evidenced here by the episodes in which she doesn’t appear; we miss her when she’s not around, and appreciate her more when she is. You’ll also notice that many of the best episodes are centered around her — she’s more an equal to Blake than ever (when she does appear, that is).
Pulling up the slack as the show’s resident cat is The Colbys‘ most interesting character, Sable, who’s joined later in the season by daughter Monica (Tracy Scoggins). Now divorced from Jason, Sable’s back in town to ruin Alexis’ life for reasons that don’t become clear enough until late in the season (one of the few storytelling nitpicks here), which is easier than ever given the damage done by the late Sean Rowan. In stealing Alexis’ Natumbe oil tankers and secretly buying the hotel, Sable even goes so far as to snare Dex (Michael Nader), with whose child she becomes pregnant. At the same time, Sable shares an interesting dynamic with Blake, one in which we’re never quite sure of her true alliances and what her intentions are with him. (Will she eventually try to be his wife? Wouldn’t that be the ultimate affront to Alexis?) But her inclusion in the season bolsters its appeal stratospherically, especially when Sable is pitted directly against Alexis (and Gordon Thomson’s Adam, who’s back on his mom’s side after a rift with Blake over Krystle’s cousin Virginia — one of the season’s worst and most unrewarding stories). Many of the year’s best moments result from this conflict, and it’s clear that Paulsen knew that some sort of female rivalry was vital to Dynasty‘s appeal — even in Krystle’s absence.
Meanwhile, among the finest and most lauded elements of the final season is the depiction of Fallon (Emma Samms), who opens the year seemingly having reverted to her original personality — you know, back when the character was portrayed by Pamela Sue Martin. Paulsen purposely decided to write the character as if Martin was still playing the role, and the results — in the beginning — are indeed electric. Although Season Eight saw her character moving slightly back to these origins (especially in the finale, when she falls back into the arms of John James’ Jeff), the damage that had been done to the character by the newly cast Samms’ having to play her with amnesia before being transplanted onto The Colbys (with a crew who didn’t really have a grasp on how Fallon had always been presented), isn’t fully corrected until here in Season Nine, when Fallon’s portrayal is suddenly explosive again. If you close your eyes, it sounds like Martin is saying those words. Even if you squint, it looks like Martin is walking around. Unfortunately, this “Original Fallon” role only lasts for the first half of the year, as her relationship with the cop who’s trying to investigate the Grimes case, John Zorelli (Ray Abruzzo), puts Fallon back into Samms’ prior victim mode — a place she remains throughout the nevertheless brilliant reveal of Grimes’ true killer. Zorelli feels exactly like an ideal Fallon conquest (and reminds in some ways of Toscani), fitting beautifully into the season’s narrative and connecting her character to the main stories — even though this “Original Fallon” portrayal is a flash, and doesn’t have the longevity that many hope and presume.
Of the other stories worth mentioning, after the triangle between Fallon, Jeff, and Sammy Jo (Heather Locklear), the latter’s injuries sustained as a result of a crooked invesitagor hired (and then fired) by Sable — see how it’s all connected? — lead her into falling for a priest, played by Kevin Bernhardt. (Shades of Soap…) Sammy Jo gets a fair amount to do here, but the character has been diluted so much since her debut under the laughable pretenses of growth, that sadly, she’s not as defined. The best parts of her arc this season involve the newfound friendship she develops with Fallon, which is good for both characters, and the intentional comedy that Paulsen injects in the scripts, most apparent in her scenes with Jeff. In fact, this sense of humor, along with a self-awareness that this show has never had, is a crucial part of what distinguishes the season from its eight predecessors, and these traits are evident from the premiere to the finale, both of which are highlighted below. And speaking of the finale, Dynasty‘s fate was all but sealed. The ratings were bad, and the final year’s move to Thursday night (opposite some of Sitcom Tuesday‘s favorites) was a burial ground. With the budget trimmed significantly — you’ll notice that the series has traded in its trademark glamour for a more gritty and down-to-earth aesthetic — Dynasty feels like it’s outlived its era.
The Reagan years are over; the ’80s are ending, and audiences no longer want material designed for a decade that’s fast concluding. They were looking to the ’90s, the future, and even though Dynasty could attempt to keep up, the fact is: the ’80s were always a part of the show’s identity. And the series’ unspoken rejection of this larger-than-life style — a style partly corrosive to the show’s ability to tell solid stories — nevertheless represents a rejection of self. Dynasty is the ’80s, a finite phenomenon made for an era now over, and the need for the show to continue — unresolved cliffhangers or not — is resistant to temporary spikes in quality; its time has come. Fortunately, Paulsen and company did help give the series a swan song worth recommending; it’s better than the peak of late Season Six — and again, probably represents a place of quality not seen since the early episodes of Season Three (just before Fallon’s personality began to change). So, for Dynasty fans (or burgeoning fans), this atypical final season is a strong(er) one. I have picked ten episodes that I want to highlight as being my favorite — the ones that best give you a flavor for the ninth season. They are listed here in airing order.
01) Episode 199: “Broken Krystle” (Aired: 11/03/88)
Blake searches for Krystle; Fallon causes trouble for Jeff.
Story by James H. Brown, Barbara Esensten, and David Paulsen | Teleplay by James H. Brown & Barbara Esensten | Directed by Irving J. Moore
Season Nine opens with the best premiere since maybe even the second, as these new writers quickly clear away the Season Eight drivel (namely the Sean Rowan mess), while organically linking those proceedings into what’s coming ahead. The most striking moments here occur in the playful — and refreshingly humorous and self-aware — scenes between Alexis and Dex, and the sudden re-emergence of Fallon as a character of interest. Her rejuvenation is something!
02) Episode 202: “Body Trouble” (Aired: 12/08/88)
Fallon seems to recognize the corpse; Krystle loses control.
Story by Robert Wolfe, Tita Bell, and David Paulsen | Teleplay by Robert Wolfe & Tita Bell | Directed by Dwight Adair
One of only two entries on today’s list in which Alexis does not appear, this is the infamous “Krystle smashes the dinner plates” episode, in which the series remains true to its subtlety-is-for-sissies mantra and decides to show the extent of Krystle’s ill-health in a sequence that’s campily grand, but humorously devastating — classic Dynasty. The true highlight of this entry is the scene between Fallon and Zorelli at Delta Rho. It’s her most Martin moment of the year.
03) Episode 203: “Alexis In Blunderland” (Aired: 12/15/88)
Alexis tries to save her empire; Fallon and Sammy Jo fight.
Story by Ron Renauld and David Paulsen | Teleplay by Ron Renauld | Directed by Nancy Malone
You’ll notice that Paulsen and company’s trademark sense of humor extends to the episode titles, which had before been stodgy and repetitive. I suppose the primary reason this outing makes the list is the muddy catfight between Sammy Jo and Fallon, from which they emerge laughing because, after all, neither wants Jeff. It’s very Paulsen: the people get what they want (a fight), but with self-aware characters and the organic dismissal of a clichéd narrative.
04) Episode 204: “Every Picture Tells A Story” (Aired: 12/22/88)
Alexis learns that Sable has bought her hotel; Fallon shows an incriminating picture.
Story by James H. Brown, Barbara Esensten, and David Paulsen | Teleplay by James H. Brown & Barbara Esensten | Directed by Bruce Bilson
A progressive narrative-moving entry, this installment continues Sable’s plot for revenge against Alexis, as the latter learns that Dex has either wittingly or unwittingly sold her hotel to an emissary of her new rival (which, of course, threatens Alexis and Dex’s newfound romance). Also, Fallon does some investigating about the corpse and we learn officially that he is Roger Grimes, who Alexis concludes has been murdered by Blake. Now the year is off and running.
05) Episode 205: “The Last Hurrah” (Aired: 01/05/89)
Dex accuses Alexis of still loving Blake; Krystle confronts Alexis.
Story by Robert Wolfe, Tita Bell, and David Paulsen | Teleplay by Robert Wolfe & Tita Bell | Directed by Dwight Adair
Evans’ penultimate appearance on the series, this episode gives us the last showdown (until the stilted 1991 reunion, discussed below) between Krystle and Alexis, as the former barges in on the latter with a convincing threat. This marks the end of an era for the series, even more than Evans’ drippingly saccharine final appearance. Also, we get more great scenes with Alexis — one with Sable, and another with Dex, in which he’s beautifully direct about her love for Blake.
06) Episode 210: “All Hands On Dex” (Aired: 02/16/89)
Alexis hires a soldier-of-fortune; Blake accuses Sable of duplicity.
Story by Don Heckman and David Paulsen | Teleplay by Don Heckman | Directed by Dwight Adair
While the beginning and end of Season Nine remain the most notable both in terms of narrative development and also the sheer electricity from the change in writing styles, the middle of the season is, at the very least, consistent. This particular excursion gains distinction for introducing the story between Sammy Jo and Tanner McBride, the priest, and also treating us to more delectable Alexis moments, including one with Adam’s soldier-of-fortune friend.
07) Episode 214: “Grimes And Punishment” (Aired: 03/23/89)
Alexis and Adam have Sable’s tankers destroyed; a witness claims to know who killed Grimes.
Story by Robert Wolfe, Tita Bell, and David Paulsen | Teleplay by Robert Wolfe & Tita Bell | Directed by Nancy Malone
Yet another really solid entry from the middle of the season, this episode once again boasts great material for Alexis, in particular. She and Adam achieve a victory over Sable in the destruction of the latter’s duplicitously purchased oil tankers; scenes between Alexis and Sable are, as mentioned above, always a delight. Also, there’s more meat for Collins — in which she gives one of her least affected performances — as Alexis learns of Dex’s infidelity with Sable.
08) Episode 218: “Here Comes The Son” (Aired: 04/27/89)
Jeff and Monica are framed in an incest scandal; Sable learns she’s pregnant.
Story by James H. Brown, Barbara Esensten, and David Paulsen | Teleplay by James H. Brown & Barbara Esensten | Directed by Jerry Jameson
With the season drawing to a close, this installment builds to greater things that lie ahead — like setting the scene for Fallon’s upcoming remembrance of Roger Grimes’ passing — while also keeping its fair share of big developments coming, chief of which is Sable’s confession to Monica: mommy is pregnant again… with Dex’s baby. The storytelling possibilities from here seem endless — and tangentially, it’s such a shame Miles was included in the Reunion over Sable.
09) Episode 219: “Blasts From The Past” (Aired: 05/04/89)
Alexis reveals a life-altering secret; Fallon remembers who killed Grimes.
Story by Robert Wolfe, Tita Bell, and David Paulsen | Teleplay by Robert Wolfe & Tita Bell | Directed by David Paulsen
Were I to pick an MVE for the season, it would clearly be this installment, which maintains its Season Nine joie de vivre while giving us shades of classic Dynasty — namely in a sequence of physical brawls that break out in the lobby of the Carlton. The first is between Adam and Jeff, as the latter learns that the former was responsible for the “incest” frame-up; the second is between Alexis and Sable, as the former reveals to Monica that Jason is not her real father! So delicious! Also, this is the installment in which Fallon recalls that she’s the one who killed Roger Grimes; it’s a powerful scene, and both Samms and Collins shine. The season’s truest peak.
10) Episode 220: “Catch 22” (Aired: 05/11/89)
A corrupt cop puts several Carringtons in jeopardy; Alexis argues with Dex and Sable.
Written by Samuel J. Pelovitz (David Paulsen) | Directed by David Paulsen
Ah, the final episode of Dynasty, which opens more questions than it closes. All that’s really wrapped is the rivalry between Blake and Alexis (which is poignantly appropriate, without being sappy), along with Sable’s quest for revenge, which she puts on hold for Blake’s sake. The rest is fairly normal fare that, in the last two acts, builds to a succession of cliffhangers in which the season’s three most important characters could die: Fallon, who could be trapped underground with Krystina; Alexis, who falls off a balcony with Dex after he brawls with Adam (gotta love these fights); and Blake, who is shot by Handler, Zorelli’s corrupt Nazi-treasure-hunting boss.
Other notable episodes that merit mention here include: “A Touch Of Sable,” in which Sable returns to our fictional universe, “She’s Back,” which sees Krystle’s return and features some great stuff between Dex and Sable, “The Wedding,” Krystle’s final episode, which has a beautifully photographed and conceived wedding sequence but a crushing sentimentality that makes the episode particularly unentertaining (and doesn’t actually provide any tangible closure for the character), “Tankers, Cadavers To Chance,” which climaxes in a divine Sable/Alexis scene, and “Tale Of The Tape,” which I like best for the scene in which Jeff voices his resolve to fight against Sable if she tries to go for Blake.
*For those interested in my thoughts on the two-part miniseries reunion that aired in 1991, I’ll tell you that it’s, of course, not very good, for it chooses to resolve the 1989 residue as quickly as possible and then resets the relationships back to 1984 (when the show was still immensely popular), essentially as a means of catering to the memory of the show as opposed to the show itself. However, I’m also not as offended by it as most fans seem to be. I don’t think it’s an insult to the series’ storytelling; on the contrary, with the Pollocks, the Shapiros, and De Blasio at the helm, it feels exactly like Dynasty did. Did you expect it to be better than the series? No, if anything, it’s going to be — like all TV reunions — cheap, schlocky, and unnecessary. And that’s precisely what this self-indulgent showcase is: typical. It’s typical for Dynasty, and for reunions.
Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in on Tuesday for more Murphy Brown!