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    THE SPIN-OFF

DYNASTY versus DALLAS versus KNOTS LANDING versus the rest of them

Willie Oleson

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How is it possible that after so many years there are still so many versus-similarities? Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose!

And there are soapshifters too!
As chance would have it, Jamal’s boyfriend Michael on EMPIRE is also Steven’s pickup Sam on DYNASTY
 

James from London

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13 Jun 12: DALLAS: Hedging Your Bets v. 14 Jan 15: EMPIRE: The Outspoken King v. 04 Oct 15: BLOOD AND OIL: The Ripple Effect v. 18 Oct 17: DYNASTY: Spit It Out

Two major characters were shown committing serious crimes towards the end of last week’s episodes. EMPIRE’s Lucious Lyon shot his lifelong friend Bunky in the face while BLOOD AND OIL’s Wick Briggs made off with a tanker full of oil belonging to his own father (inadvertently causing a fire in the process). Meanwhile, a third incident — Matthew Blaisdel’s death on DYNASTY — may or may not have been deliberate, and in this week’s ep the finger of suspicion is variously pointed at Blake, Fallon, Steven and Jeff Colby.

As the news of their crimes spread, Lucious and Wick both do a first-class job of feigning innocence. When Bunky’s disfigured corpse is fished out of a river, Lucious’s tears appear as genuine as the rest of his family’s. “I’m gonna find the person that did this to my friend and when I do, I’m gonna —” he begins. Likewise, Wick looks genuinely appalled when he sees the burns sustained by his father in the fire he caused. “I say we string the bastards up,” he says of the perpetrators.

There’s no rest for Soap Land’s newlyweds. Because of Bobby’s decision to sell Southfork and the police enquiry into Matthew’s death, the honeymoons of Christopher and Rebecca on DALLAS and Blake and Cristal on DYNASTY, to Tahiti and French Polynesia respectively, are postponed indefinitely.

Father/son relationships in C21st Soap Land are proving as complicated as they were back in the '80s. On DALLAS, Christopher takes Bobby’s decision to sell the ranch personally. “You don’t trust me to take over,” he tells him. Bobby denies this to his face, but not very convincingly. “He left here … like I’d personally kicked him in the gut,” he later admits to Ann. Meanwhile, even as John Ross and JR collude to steal Southfork from under Bobby’s nose, cracks in their alliance begin to show. “Dad, I’ve made it this far without your advice. Don’t start now,” John Ross warns his daddy. “Son, never pass up a good chance to shut up,” snaps JR in reply. Over on EMPIRE, Lucious gets his eldest and youngest sons to do his bidding by promising each of them total control of the family company, while threatening to disown his middle son if he publicly announces that he’s gay. “I’m sorry, Dad, the world does not revolve around you,” Jamal tells him. “Your world does,” Lucious points out. “I pay for everything — your clothes, that $12,000-a-month loft you live in, the credit card bills … Come out and you’re on your own.” The injuries sustained by Hap Briggs in the rig fire on BLOOD AND OIL bring his estranged son Wick to his side. “I’m really sorry for all the messed up stuff between you and I,” Wick tells him. “In spite of it all, you’ll always be my boy,” he replies. When his wife suggests that Wick might have been his anonymous attacker, Hap refuses to consider the idea. “No son of mine would put a gun in my face”, he insists. But later on, he starts to develop suspicions of his own.

Matters become further entangled towards the end of this week’s B&O when we discover that Wick’s new girlfriend Jules is an ex-flame of Hap’s. Moreover, it’s a flame may not have entirely burnt itself out: when Hap visits Jules to tell her to stay away from his son, they have as much trouble keeping their hands off each other as another secret ex-couple, John Ross and Marta Del Sol, do on DALLAS. John Ross, however, manfully resists his desires because of his involvement with Elena — an involvement that becomes strained when Elena accuses him of sending the phoney email that split her and Christopher up a couple of years earlier. In spite of his vehement denials, she tells him she wants to keep their relationship on a strictly professional basis, which suddenly leaves him free to have wild and crazy hotel room sex with Marta after all.

While Marta and John Ross are busy slamming each other against walls and tying each other up (not to mention the mickey she slips him or the secret camera she uses to record their assignation), there’s a slightly more perfunctory sex scene in EMPIRE where Andre’s wife Rhonda, her hair in curlers, ties a bib around her neck before going down on him. This is the second depiction of oral sex in C21st Soap Land after Michael the chauffeur gave Fallon a good seeing to in the back of a limo during the DYNASTY premiere. This week, Fallon returns the favour — during Matthew Blaisdel’s funeral. Rhonda’s act of fellatio is an attempt to persuade Andre to keep an important appointment: “For most people, cancelling a doctor’s appointment is just lazy, but for someone who’s bipolar it’s life-threatening … You need to recalibrate your meds again.” Andre’s manic behaviour later in the episode suggests her efforts were in vain. Hearing her ordinarily contained husband referring to himself in the third person (“Andre got it going on, baby!”) prompts her to adopt another approach. “I swear to God I will have you committed if you do not take those damn pills,” she snarls, grabbing him by the nuts.

As well as learning of Andre’s condition on EMPIRE, we also find out the source of Claudia Blaisdel’s mental health problems on DYNASTY. Whereas in the original series, the implication was that Claudia’s condition stemmed from her sensitive, even poetic nature — Steven comparing her to Emily Dickinson amongst others — here the explanation is far less romantic as New Steven explains to the police that New Claudia’s “impaired memory, paranoia, delusions” are due to a car accident she suffered the previous year (with the suggestion that the accusations she has made about Blake killing her husband should be discounted as the ravings of a madwoman).

On EMPIRE, Cookie, trailed by her galumphing new assistant Porsha, walks in on Jamal having sex with Michael. “Come on, boy, get up, we got work to do,” she urges, sitting on the edge of the bed without batting an eye. “Shut up, Dora,” she adds when Michael objects to her presence. Michael is also seen in a state of undress in his DYNASTY guise of Sam where he climbs out of the Carrington pool and invites Steven to join him in the hot tub. Steven declines, suggesting that they “press pause" on their relationship. ("We’re practically family.”) In a reversal of the KNOTS LANDING flashback to 1968, where Young Anne tricked Young Mack into believing she was swimming naked before emerging from the pool in a strapless swimsuit, we don’t realise until Steven’s line at the end of their conversation (“If you wanna borrow a swimsuit next time, you can ask me”) that Sam has been standing in front of him fully naked the whole time.

Back on B&O, when Wick and his accomplice Garry try to offload their tanker full of stolen oil onto a potential buyer, they are told that it is too hot a property for anyone to touch: “There’s oil that makes you a profit and there’s oil that puts you in a corner cell at Leavenworth.” On DYNASTY, Blake Carrington is likewise concerned with concealing evidence. “We need to erase any traces of Matthew beyond his employment at Carrington Atlantic,” he explains to his family — specifically referring to Matthew’s affair with Cristal. To this end, Fallon enlists the aid of Jeff Colby’s tech wizardry to destroy any evidence of the photo she emailed her father of Matthew and Cristal together. There is a reverse situation on DALLAS where John Ross hires a detective to trace the identity of the person who sent Elena the fake email from Christopher's account. (Rather stylishly, John Ross’s secret meeting with the private eye takes place on a funfair ride.)

DYNASTY refuses to let Cristal, and by extension the audience, grieve for Matthew’s death. Every time she tries, she is undermined by brutal wisecracks from Fallon (“I know it’s a little gauche in the wake of a man’s death, but I feel like one little decapitation shouldn’t blow the whole deal”), cold-hearted pragmatism from Blake (“If I don’t put my emotions aside, this family will bleed millions”), flashbulbs from the press and stylistic flourishes from the show itself — slow-motion sequences, flashbacks, jump cuts — that leave no time for her (or us) to process a genuine emotion. Each time Cristal comes close to any kind of catharsis, she is denied it. Moments after learning of her lover’s death, she is obliged, in her role as Carrington Atlantic’s Head of PR, to make a statement to the press about Matthew. This proves too much and she collapses — a collapse which is immediately turned into online gossip for Fallon to gloat over. Later, she returns to her old apartment to look through keepsakes of her time with Matthew — only to find Anders standing over her. “Anything that needs to be removed, I can take them off your hands,” he tells her coldly. During Matthew’s funeral, she steals away from the ceremony to weep in solitude — but Fallon won’t allow her even this moment of privacy. “You do know you’re not the star of this Lifetime movie right? The role belongs to his actual wife,” she tells her before removing Cristal’s dark glasses from her face and tossing them into an open grave. Cristal retaliates by pushing Fallon into the grave after them and then walking away with a slight smirk on her face. It’s a cool, funny moment, and you get the sense Cristal is starting to get the hang of what it means to be a Carrington in New DYNASTY — it’s not about having feelings, it’s about going for the cool, funny moment. Even Steven, the show’s Mr Nice Guy and Cristal’s one ally in her new home, can’t resist a snappy one-liner when the news of Matthew’s death first breaks. “Cristal was screwing the dead guy,” Fallon informs him. “I assume Claudia doesn’t know? Surely she would have led with that,” he quips in front of his new step-mom.

The idea of a corrupt, obsessively self-interested family who won’t rest until they’ve made over their vulnerable new addition in their own image sounds deliciously dark, and New DYNASTY is kind of fascinating to watch, but it lacks the vital component to make us connect emotionally with the characters. This is because the show continues to mirror Fallon’s attitude — most specifically, her humour. This is isn’t the same kind of bad sitcom humour that infected some of the ‘80s soaps, particularly FALCON CREST. That humour was broad, smug and lazy. Fallon’s (and therefore DYNASTY’s) humour is smart, brittle and almost neurotic in its determination to keep everyone (the audience included) at an emotional distance.

Soap Land's weddings may be over, but a couple of the guests have got left behind. In both cases, it’s a relative of the bride. While Rebecca Ewing’s brother Tommy gets a job at Southfork, Cristal Carrington’s nephew Sam moves into the Carrington manor and proceeds to eat everything in sight.

Only one episode into their respective marriages, it becomes apparent that neither Rebecca nor Cristal are who they claim to be. A cryptic conversation between Rebecca and Tommy makes them sound like a modern-day version of Jill Bennett and Peter Hollister. “I just wonder sometimes what the point of all of this is,” says Rebecca to her brother. “You know what the point is,” he replies. “We spent the last two years of our lives working on this job. There’s a ton of money on the line here … Keep your eye on the ball, sis, and don’t get too comfortable being Mrs Ewing.” Meanwhile, Anders wonders how Cristal will sign the guestbook at Matthew’s wake. “So many choices,” he muses. “Miss Flores? Mrs Carrington? Or did he know you best as Miss Celia Machado?” And just like Cristal isn’t really Cristal, JR discovers in the closing moments of this week’s DALLAS that Marta Del Sol isn’t really Marta Del Sol. Realising John Ross has double-crossed him, he grimly acknowledges that “he’s a chip off the old block.”

Marta, Cristal and Rebecca aren’t the only ones who appear to be hiding something. The final scene of EMPIRE reveals that the mighty Cookie Lyon isn’t quite who she seems to be either. “We had a deal. I did my part,” she tells an Agent Carter of the FBI. “I know we had a deal,” the agent concedes, “but you know what, Cookie? … We need you to testify in front of a grand jury.” Cookie looks worried: “If I testify I’m dead. You gonna get me killed.” Likewise on BLOOD AND OIL, Billy LeFever is warned that there is more to his brand new benefactor and business partner Hap Briggs than he realises: “You’re in bed with the Devil now.”

On last week’s DALLAS, Ann Ewing found a bottle of tablets prescribed to her husband Bobby, looked them up on the internet and concluded that he must be dying. On this week’s EMPIRE, Lucious’s assistant Becky finds a bottle of tablets prescribed to her boss, looks them up on the internet and concludes that he must be dying. When Ann confronts Bobby with what she has learnt, he modifies the grim diagnosis he was originally given. “There is a seventy percent remission rate … I’m gonna fight this with everything I’ve got,” he assures her. When Becky does the same to Lucious, he doesn’t pull any punches. “There’s no cure. I’m dying,” he tells her flatly.

The seemingly insignificant character who knows too much and threatens to become a liability is a familiar soap figure, and he crops up a few times this week. On DALLAS, Bobby’s attorney Mitch Lobell is the man who helped John Ross commence drilling on Southfork behind his uncle’s back. In return, he was paid $500,000. Now he wants more. “Son, if you don’t figure out how to get me $2,000,000 by the Cattleman’s Ball, not only am I gonna tell Bobby you set him up, I’m gonna tell JR you’re planning on screwing him over,” he threatens. On BLOOD AND OIL, Garry was Wick’s accomplice in the robbery that led to the fire at the end of last week’s ep. Upon learning that Hap has offered a reward for information about those responsible, Garry panics and frames a third party, shooting him dead for good measure. On DYNASTY, Matthew Blaisdel’s best buddy Willy gets drunk at Matthew’s wake and starts shooting his mouth off about Blake’s whitewashing of the truth: “You really are a great salesman, Carrington. You told Claudia what she wanted to hear and she fell for it!”

In contrast to Blake’s policy of “Carringtons unite” at the expense of everyone else (“The lengths he’ll go to and the lies he’ll tell to protect his own family — it’s like the rest of the world doesn’t matter,” observes Cristal), Lucious and Cookie actively try to pit two of their sons against each other on EMPIRE. “Your daddy’s got Hakeem performing at Leviticus on Saturday. I’m gonna get you up on that stage too,” Cookie tells Jamal. “He don’t want me there,” Jamal points out. “I don’t care what he wants,” she replies. “You are gonna show everybody you are just as talented as your brother … We gotta figure out a way to steal focus from Hakeem.”

Over on the other two soaps, quasi-sibling rivalries are brewing. On DALLAS, Christopher appeals to his cousin to bury the hatchet (“You and I, we’ve been on opposite tracks since we were born and for what? We’re family”), only for John Ross to throw it back in his face. “We ain’t family, bro,” he replies. “I’m a Ewing, deep in my DNA. Everything I am, everything I’d die for has the name Ewing on it.” On BLOOD AND OIL, there’s a brief but telling exchange between Wick and Billy, after the former realises the latter is his father’s new partner. “Well, I guess my dad will work with anyone these days, huh?” Wick says. “Yeah, anyone except for you,” counters Billy.

Save for the saintly black couple Billy and Cody befriended, the cast lineup of BLOOD & OIL’s pilot episode was a largely caucasian one. This week, however, we are introduced to the black sheriff, Tip Harrison, who heads the investigation into the rig fire and oil theft. (B&O is clearly keen on monosyllabic non-name names — Tip, Hap, Wick.) We also meet Hap's’ Hispanic daughter Lacey. Like Fallon at the start of last week’s DYNASTY, Lacey makes her entrance by private jet. Just as Fallon was, she is met by her father’s hunky driver, AJ. Unlike Michael Culhane, AJ stops short of immediately going down on her in the back of a limo, but by the end of the episode, they’re kissing passionately in the hallway as Lacey’s stepmother watches disapprovingly from the shadows. Like Michael, AJ lives in a back house on his employer’s property which could prove handy for sexy assignations. One extra twist is revealed in the final moments of the episode: AJ is spying on Hap! But for who?

Like Sheriff Tip on B&O, Sheriff Derrick on DALLAS is black. Both appear to be honest cops whereas Stansfield, the black police chief investigating Matthew’s death on DYNASTY, is in so deep with the Carringtons he’s referred to as "Blake’s pocket cop". Meanwhile, Monique Colby once again has some pointed observations to make about race as she queries her brother Jeff’s interest in her best friend: “Wherever this obsession with Fallon comes from, it’s a little cliche — recent billionaire chasing after a white chick?” But the really complicated racial stuff is still on EMPIRE. “Pay that Pakistani,” Cookie tells Lucious as she steps out of a cab without a backward glance.

After watching the opening episodes of EMPIRE and New DYNASTY, I came up with a nifty little theory about the two series based on their attitudes to their respective American President: Lucious Lyon being on first name terms with Barack Obama reflected EMPIRE’s confidence and swagger; DYNASTY making a blatant comparison between the Carringtons and the Trumps while simultaneously describing the President as evil without being able to mention him by name indicated a certain confusion about its own identity. So far, so neat and tidy. But then comes the scene in this week’s EMPIRE where a drunken Hakeem is caught on video urinating in the middle of a restaurant while declaring, “All you white people that voted for the first black president to make you feel good about not being racist — the joke’s on y’all cos Barack Obama ain’t nothing but a sellout!” Like Cristal’s collapse on New DYNASTY, Hakeem’s outburst swiftly goes viral. (“What’s viral?” asks Cookie — as well she might after seventeen years behind bars.) Lucious is then shown grovelling to the White House over the phone (“Mr President, I am so, so sorry … We all love you … Come on Barack, you know you don’t have to use that kind of language with me!”) before the line goes dead. Ironically, the scandal works in his son's favour: “Everyone wants to see Hakeem perform since that video went up. This bad boy thing has launched him,” reports Anika. So, rather than suggesting a similar kind of existential crisis to DYNASTY’s, EMPIRE’s irreverence towards Obama, as well as other black icons (“Who’s Diana Ross?” asks rising hip-hop star Kidd Fo-Fo) only reinforces its confidence about what it is and what it wants to say. While EMPIRE has all the trappings of a trashy soap, a character as flawed as Luscious Lyon can still refer to a real-life seventeen-year-old killed by the police eight months before this episode aired (“The Empire artists are telling the next generation that even though they live in a world where Trayvon Martin can get shot down like a dog …”) without it feeling crass or exploitative.

Back on DALLAS, Elena asks Sue Ellen to use her influence with the bank regarding a loan she needs to finance an oil exploration venture. Instead, Sue Ellen offers to finance the deal herself. “I’d be thrilled to work with such a smart and independent young woman,” she gushes before inviting Elena to be her date to the Cattleman’s Ball — which constitutes some kind of Soap Land first. This conversation might be the closest DALLAS has ever come to passing the Bedchel Test, i.e., a scene between two women where they discuss something other than a man. However, their conversation does include some endearingly clunky exposition about Elena’s father (“I was so impressed with the way you handled your daddy’s tragic passing on that rig”) as well as Sue Ellen suggesting a different alternate universe scenario for herself to the one she played out in “Conundrum”. “If I hadn’t met JR, I’d like to think that I could have been like you,” she tells her new best friend.

Most of the other female encounters in Soap Land are less mutually supportive. Every time Cookie encounters Lucious’ younger girlfriend Anika (aka “Little Halle Berry”) on EMPIRE, there’s an antagonism between them that really crackles. When Cookie shows up at Lucious’s house uninvited, Anika makes a point of “accidentally” walking in on them in her undies. Later, when Anika sniggers behind her back in a crowded elevator, Cookie loses control and has to be restrained from attacking her. Over on BLOOD AND OIL, there’s clearly no love lost between Carla Briggs and her stepdaughter Lacey. She has yet to push her into a grave the way Cristal does Fallon, but one senses she wouldn’t be entirely averse to the idea.

It’s party time on all four soaps. On DALLAS, the Ewings attend the Cattleman’s Ball. Unlike the Oil Baron’s Balls of the ‘80s, the dress code is more Stetsons and jeans than bowties and shoulder pads, but it still has all the trappings of a movie premiere — red carpets, paparazzi, TV cameras. Just as glam is the opening of Lucious’ new club, Leviticus, on EMPIRE. While the Cattleman’s Ball doubles as JR’s coming out party (it’s evidently the first time he’s been seen outside of his nursing home for quite some time, possibly years) Cookie’s new assistant Porsha suggests a different kind of coming out for the Leviticus party: “Jamal should come out as a big queen the same day Hakeem is playing and that’d steal his whole thunder for sure!” Cookie goes for the idea, but in the event, Hakeem and Jamal turn the tables on their competing parents by performing at the club together, presenting the kind of united front of which Blake Carrington would be proud. The big party on DYNASTY is Matthew’s wake, hosted by Blake at the manor. “He turned this whole thing into a PR event to control the narrative,” says Cristal. In fact, the only gathering of the week that doesn’t feel like a publicity stunt is a family dinner at the Briggs’ house — the definition of family extended to include all the major players.

The ghosts of Bobby and Blake’s first wives continue to hover over the proceedings. “It’s no secret I didn’t approve of the first Mrs Bobby Ewing,” recalls JR, before giving the third Mrs Bobby Ewing his seal of approval (“You’re his soulmate, Ann. I’m happy to have you as my sister-in-law”). Meanwhile, Fallon's entrance at Matthew’s wake in a revealing red dress prompts one guest to remark that “Fallon really is her mother’s daughter, isn’t she?”

Two of the oldest soap conventions — the mute servant and one character storming unannounced into another’s office — are verbally acknowledged on EMPIRE. After Cookie shows up at Lucious’s swanky house (the house she helped pay for by spending seventeen years in prison), she demands to be fed. Chowing down on some chicken, she whispers to a maid who appears to be a silent extra, “You ain’t got no bacon?” The maid does not respond. “Oh, you don’t talk?” Cookie asks her. “I do talk,” the maid replies haughtily before continuing to ignore her. In a later scene, Lucious tells Cookie to “stop barging in my office”. She responds by taking off a shoe and hurling at his retreating back. It misses, prompting the memorable line, “Porsha, get my damn shoe!” There’s an equivalent moment on DYNASTY when Fallon’s relentless bitchiness finally prompts Blake to hurl a glass in her direction. “Aw, Daddy, you missed,” she responds without batting an eyelid.

Alongside JR, Bobby and Sue Ellen on DALLAS, the most recognisable face in this new breed of soaps is another icon of ‘80s television, Sonny Crockett from MIAMI VICE, who plays Hap Briggs on BLOOD AND OIL. MIAMI VICE’s position as a time-slot rival to DALLAS led to possibly the most enjoyable meta-reference in all of ‘80s Soap Land — the Mandy Winger screen test in which she played the long-suffering girlfriend of a Crockett lookalike (played by Roger Grimes/Tommy Mackay). This week, Hap gives a sly nod to the same era when he surveys the damage caused by the rig fire and concludes, “I survived the ‘80s. I can survive this.”

Authenticity — specifically, how much of it one should sacrifice to get ahead — is a theme on three of this week’s soaps. While Hakeem accuses Obama of selling out on EMPIRE, Cookie makes a parallel observation about Lucious. “Sounds like you grew a vagina,” she tells him after listening to him being coached by media consultants prior to a TV interview. “I liked you better when you was a thug.” “Cookie, I got to go on white TV and try and talk in a way that don’t frighten these folks to death,” he explains. Being white already, Sue Ellen Ewing can afford to take a bolder stance. In fact, she makes it a condition of her running for governor. “No-one has more skeletons in her closet than I do,” she tells a group of potential backers in a scene deleted from this episode of DALLAS. “I want the people of Texas to know everything there is to know about me — that I was a drunk, an adulterer, almost homeless.”

Conversely on DYNASTY, Cristal only proves herself a Carrington when she betrays her own integrity (and her dead lover) in public. ”Matthew was in love with me,” she tells Willy in earshot of a reporter at the wake, “but as I’m sure he was too proud to tell you, it was completely one-sided.” “How can you say that about him at his own funeral?” Willy asks her. “The truth’s not hard to say. You just spit it out and kick sand over it,” she replies coolly. This last line is an echo of what Matthew told her during a flashback earlier in this same ep: “Lying is easy. You just spit it out and kick sand over it.” And that line was, of course. an echo of what the first Matthew told the first Krystle in the very first episode of Original DYNASTY when he was trying to pretend he was no longer in love with her: “The truth isn’t hard to say. You just spit it out and kick sand over it.” So by the time Cristal says it, the line has become a betrayal of a homage of a line that was a lie in the first place. “You are one of them,” Willy realises.

And the Top 4 are …

1 (1) DALLAS
2 (3) BLOOD AND OIL
3 (2) EMPIRE
4 (4) DYNASTY
 
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James from London

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20 Jun 12: DALLAS: The Price You Pay v. 21 Jan 15: EMPIRE: The Devil Quotes Scripture v. 11 Oct 15: BLOOD AND OIL: Hustle and Flow v. 25 Oct 17: DYNASTY: Guilt Is for Insecure People

Three episodes in, we find each of the soaps digging further into their backstories, the better to illuminate and explain their characters’ actions in the present. And once again, the overriding theme is father/son relationships.

A good example of both is the terrific opening scene of DALLAS. JR is treating himself and John Ross to an old-fashioned shave in some kind of exclusive gentleman’s club. While a towel covers John Ross’s face, JR recounts a childhood anecdote about his own father that paints a much darker picture of Jock as a parent than we’ve ever heard before: “When I was eight years old, I asked my daddy for a horse and he said when I came up with the money, he’d sell me one. So all that summer, I worked in the oilfields, digging trenches and such, twelve hours a day, and true to his word, Daddy sold me a horse. I learned quick enough that horse was blind. Now I loved my daddy and I respected my daddy, but most importantly, I feared my daddy.” By the time JR has finished his story, he has taken the blade from John Ross’s barber and is holding it to his son’s throat. John Ross opens his eyes. “I went down to Mexico and talked to Mr Del Sol about the Southfork deal,” JR continues. “I know Marta is not Marta. Were you going to cut your daddy out of two billion barrels worth of oil? Hmm?”

Meanwhile, EMPIRE’s Lucious Lyon imparts his own cheerful childhood tale to a tearful little boy at Bunky’s funeral. “My daddy died when I was little, just like you,” he tells him, “but you know, men don’t cry.” He hands the kid a hundred dollar bill. “You wanna be a rapper when you grow up? Here, I believe in you so here’s an advance on your first album. When you’re ready, come see me.”

Lucious expands on his “men don’t cry” message during a blistering confrontation with his own son Jamal. “I tried to tell you since you were a baby that it’s not about black eyes or bloody noses in this world, it’s life and death and if you don’t toughen up, these streets will eat your ass alive!” “Since I was a baby, you beat me,” Jamal replies. “You told me that was to toughen me up. That was a lie. You beat me because you hate me and you always will because I’m always gonna be who I am.” “I don’t hate you,” Lucious counters. “I don’t know you. I didn’t bring any women into this world and to see my son become somebody’s bitch?! I don’t understand you!” Soap Land’s only previous example of a homophobic father was Blake on Old DYNASTY. Whereas his disparaging remarks about his son’s “lifestyle” were delivered with a kind of icy distaste, Lucious’s in this scene are impassioned, confused and strangely moving.

After unnerving John Ross with the razor blade, JR abruptly changes tack. “I was never much of a father during your formative years,” he admits, “and I’d like to make up for that. I’d like to teach you all the things my daddy taught me about big oil. Can you find in your heart to give me that chance? I won’t let you down this time.” Hap Briggs makes a similar overture to his son Wick on BLOOD AND OIL. “You must have asked me a thousand times, ‘Daddy, how d’you get that oil out of the ground?’” he remembers. “I was so damn busy back then, I never answered you … Well, now it really is time for me to teach you. I want you as my partner.” “Pop, I want that … more than anything in the world,” Wick replies. John Ross accepts JR’s offer too and they embrace. Over his father’s shoulder, he permits himself a shy smile — clearly, this is the relationship with his daddy he’s always craved.

This is all very nice, but can either father really be trusted? Just as we’re not sure if JR really has forgiven John Ross for trying to double-cross him, we’re also uncertain whether or not Hap has figured out Wick is the one who attacked him at gunpoint and is now setting him up for a fall. For now, Hap continues to pull on his son’s heartstrings as he explains why he named a particular oilfield Koala #1. “You were born premature,” he recalls. “Koala was the incubator they had you in and I bought this parcel of land the day you came home. It was always meant to be your first well.” Over on New DYNASTY, Blake also recalls the birth of one of his children. “I was on the golf course,” he tells Fallon, “when Anders called to tell me that your mother’s waters broke … Your being born was one of the greatest days of my life.” As he speaks, he gestures to a framed photo of himself as a young man, looking remarkably like Jake Hansen from MELROSE PLACE, cradling his newborn daughter.

JR, meanwhile, finds a snapshot of Miss Ellie and Bobby when she was a young mother and he was a little boy, i.e., long before Barbara Bel Geddes and Patrick Duffy had been cast in their roles. This gives us a glimpse of a period of Ewing history we’ve never seen before. “She doted on that boy something fierce,” JR remembers “I spent a lot of my life hating how much she loved him — wasted years.”

Now he knows Carlos Del Sol is not really involved in the Southfork deal, JR tells John Ross he wishes to meet “the real money men”. This leads to the introduction of Venezuelan businessman Vicente Cano in a great scene where it becomes clear that JR has lost none of his ability to negotiate a deal. “I wanna make sure we’re on the same page on this deal,” he tells Vicente. “After you buy Southfork from my brother, you’ll convey that property to me and my son for 14% of all profits received from the oil recovered from our wells.” At this, John Ross and Fake Marta exchange nervous looks. “The deal was 15%,” Vicente points out. “That was when I thought I was dealing with Carlos Del Sol — he’s a trusted old friend,” explains JR calmly. “If that oil should stop flowing to us for any reason … that would be unacceptable,” warns Vicente ominously. “The best way to understand a man is to talk to his friends and his enemies — my friends are in the statehouse. My enemies are gonna be harder to find,” parries JR. Vicente laughs and agrees to the 14%.

Over on EMPIRE, Lucious demonstrates a more direct method of negotiation after he is approached by Mel, the manager of one of the singers on his label. “I’m-a hold you to all those promises you ain’t kept when you signed her or you gonna need some more protection,” Mel snarls. Lucious casually invites him to continue their discussion in his trailer. On his way inside, Lucious picks up a metal bar. We remain outside with Lucious’ security guards and overhear various thumps and groans coming from within. After a moment, Lucious emerges. “Mel had a little accident,” he informs one of the guards. “You might wanna clean that up.”

But it is BLOOD AND OIL’s Hap Briggs who proves the week’s most devious businessman. The more the show’s ambitious young hero Billy LeFever hears about Hap and Wick’s new Koala venture, the more he wants a piece of the action. When Hap informs him that “the minimum buy-in on that piece is $500,000,” Billy offers to trade him his entire stake in the McCutching field (the deal he originally made with Hap). Hap accepts the offer — but then Koala turns out to be a bust. The whole deal was a trap by Hap to sucker Billy into handing over his fortune. “You used me, Pop!” Wick realises. “Damn right I used you,” admits Hap. “I needed to get McCutching back. That’s the prize — a trillion dollars worth of oil … That’s the one we do together.”

Along with all the double-dealing, there’s plenty of espionage this week. On DALLAS, Tommy Sutter slips his sister Rebecca a little gizmo to plug into Christopher’s laptop so they can keep tabs on his gas hydrate research. However, Rebecca is suffering from the Spy Who Loved Me syndrome, i.e., she’s fallen in love with her own husband, and is reluctant to betray him any more than she already has. Meanwhile, her past crimes are catching up with her as John Ross’s detective informs him that it was she who sent the fake email that split up Christopher and Elena two years earlier.

Meanwhile on EMPIRE, another private eye, hired by Anika, provides Lucious with photos of Cookie’s clandestine meeting at the end of last week’s episode. “I would bet my bottom dollar that those two are Feds,” the detective declares. Lucious duly confronts his ex-wife (“Did you snitch on me so you could get out of jail early?!”) which is bad news for Cookie’s FBI contact, Agent Carter: “Lucious can’t know we’re FBI. We’ve spent five years building this case … We won’t have it compromised by your nosy ex-husband.”

Back on BLOOD AND OIL, Hap’s driver AJ has been spying on his boss for a no-nonsense bespectacled middle-aged woman who, like Cookie’s Agent Carter, looks a bit like Edna in The Incredibles. Is AJ’s Edna an FBI agent too? We don’t know yet, but she is not impressed by the snaps he took of his boss at the end of last week’s episode. “Those photos prove nothing,” she snaps at him during their secret meeting. “There’s a lot of people that you’re letting down. Get those soil samples and get what we need!”

Blake’s chauffeur Michael is also being pumped for “front-seat intel” about his boss, this time by Fallon, who wants something she can use against her father now that he has taken out a cease-and-desist order to prevent her from trading under the Carrington name. Jealous about her close working relationship with Jeff Colby, Michael refuses. He does, however, divulge to Steven that Blake has had Matthew Blaisdel’s phone lifted from police evidence. This is of particular relevance to Steven as he was arrested for Matthew’s murder at the end of last week’s ep. When he asks his father why he has the phone (“The only reason that makes any sense is because there’s something on it that incriminates you!”), Blake gets defensive: “How dare you question me? … I am protecting you and this is the thanks I get!” “There it is,” snaps back Steven. “There’s that Carrington temper again. You think your name means that you can give everything with one fist and then smash it with the other? That’s why I don’t answer your calls, that’s why I left. And as soon as I’m exonerated, I’m gone for good!”

Following some minor surgery, Bobby’s terminal condition ain’t so terminal anymore. However, he’s not entirely out of the woods — his doctor warns that the medication he’s on to prevent a relapse could have serious side effects. “Hair loss isn’t one of them, right?” Bobby joshes — but Ann is concerned, which suggests maybe we should be too. In fact, prescription medication is everywhere this week. Fake Marta is shown nervously popping a couple of pills on DALLAS while on EMPIRE, Cookie catches Lucious struggling to take the lid off his medication, which he pretends is merely for hypertension. And on BLOOD AND OIL, Lacey makes an intriguing jibe at her stepmother: “Careful Carla, I don’t think wine mixes well with anti-depressants.”

Bobby’s remission leads to a change of heart about selling Southfork — bad news for JR and John Ross who have just made their deal with the scary Venezuelans. So they cook up a scheme that entails JR moving back to the ranch and getting his hands on Miss Ellie’s diary. He then passes this on to John Ross, who threatens to use its contents, including the fact that his grandmother “spent some time in a mental institution” after Jock’s death (presumably the Takapa resort had a psychiatric wing), to contest her will unless Bobby go ahead with the sale of the ranch. “There is nothing in Mama’s journal that will help overturn her will,” argues Bobby. “Maybe it won’t,” John Ross concedes, “but it’ll get me my day in court and if you push me, I will use that day to tell all of Dallas every private thought and secret shame Miss Ellie ever had … If I don’t hear from you in twenty-four hours, I’m filing!”

JR feigns outrage at John Ross’s ultimatum and they stage a showdown in front of Bobby and Ann (although the shock on John Ross’s face when JR lands him a right hook looks real enough). There’s more play-acting on EMPIRE when Agent Carter pretends to be Cookie’s probation officer in order to put Lucious off the scent of whatever it is they’re really up to.

A few more tantalising tidbits are revealed about Blake’s and Bobby’s first wives this week. “Secrets are what killed things between me and Alexis,” Blake tells Cristal. “Pam just disappeared one day,” Elena tells Rebecca. We also learn that Blake had the Carrington name trademarked after Alexis “tried to use it to start a line of lip-plumping kits," that she encouraged Steven to learn the piano as a child, was given to reading “crazy feminist books” and once presented Blake with some cufflinks “for Guy Fawkes”. As Guy Fawkes Night is a specifically British celebration (albeit one more associated with bonfires than gift-giving), this seems to suggest that the writers intended Alexis to be English at this point.

Back on DALLAS, Elena goes into further detail about Christopher’s upbringing. “Both of his real parents died before he ever got to meet them … It was just him and Bobby. When Christopher found out he was adopted, he started to feel he had to earn being a Ewing — Ewings don’t fail.” This serves to explain Christopher’s strong reaction when he walks in on Bobby signing Southfork away, John Ross’s blackmail having had the desired effect. Bobby insists that he’s doing “what needed to be done, what’s best for everybody.” “That’s bullshit!” Christopher argues. “You’re selling because you don’t think I can beat John Ross … Stop protecting me like I’m still a little boy. I’m a grown man!” This prompts Bobby to tell him about his cancer. Devastated by the news and angry that his father kept it from him for so long (“I didn’t wanna burden you,” Bobby explains. “Telling me you have cancer isn’t being a burden, it’s letting me be a part of your life. Stop shutting me out!” Christopher yells), he breaks down in Elena’s arms. Their inevitable kiss is caught on camera phone by Tommy who sends the resultant snaps to Rebecca, in the hopes that they will turn her against Christopher once and for all. However, in the same way that the compromising photo of Cristal with Matthew Fallon sent Blake ultimately brought him and Cristal closer together, the same thing happens with Christopher and Rebecca. (Three weeks in, and it’s hard to imagine how Soap Land ever got along without camera phones. But, as Michael Culhane points out to Fallon this week, “There was definitely no texting in the ‘80s.”)

“I’m a grown man!” Christopher tells his father on DALLAS. “I’m a man!” Jamal tells his father on EMPIRE. “My obedience is no longer for sale.” “Nice speech, kid,” Lucious replies cynically, “especially hearing it in the apartment that I pay for.” Jamal responds by moving out.

From Zsa Zsa Gabor to Henry Kissinger, from Mary Lou Retton to the Mayor of Texas, ‘80s Soap Land was no stranger to the occasional, almost invariably awkward, appearance by a real-life celebrity “as themselves”. This week, EMPIRE ups the ante by having the Empress of Soul, Gladys Knight, perform at Bunky’s funeral as … Gladys Knight. The show has her do what she does best, i.e., sing up a storm, with an impassioned “Hallelujah for you, Bunky!” her only non-musical line.

To use Cristal’s terminology from last week, Lucious “controls the narrative” at Bunky’s funeral just as Blake did at Matthew’s wake — even going so far as to deliver a eulogy for the man he murdered. But then an eyewitness to the shooting steps forward. Fortunately for Lucious, he’s a paranoid schizophrenic with a drink problem. But despite his Irish accent and silly hat, something about him moves the investigating officer (in a way that nothing about the disturbed Claudia moves anyone on DYNASTY) into paying his quasi-religious ramblings about Daniel and the lion’s den some heed. “Is this the lion?” he asks him, showing him a picture of Lucious. Of course, Lucious Lyon!

When Lucious learns of a witness, he asks his son Andre to find out more details from “your contact down at City Hall.” Andre elicits this information while bending said contact, Deputy Mayor Alvarez, over her desk and taking her from behind. When he gets home, his wife Rhonda is curious to hear about the meeting. “It must have taken a lot of persuading for you to get her to dig up police privileged information,” she remarks. “I would love to know how you did that.” “You know the deputy mayor, babe,” he replies smoothly. “She likes it like this.” He then proceeds to do to his wife what he has just done to the deputy mayor. “Call me her name,” moans Rhonda, like nobody in Soap Land has since Lucy Ewing in that hayloft thirty-seven years earlier. He obliges, even though “Deputy Mayor Alvarez” is more of a mouthful for him than “Pam” was for Ray Krebbs.

There’s further role play on EMPIRE as it emerges that Andre’s little brother Hakeem is two-timing his new girlfriend with an older woman. “Tell me, who am I to you?” she asks as they make love on a pool table. “You’re my mama,” he replies. “Tell me again,” she insists. Adding to the craziness, Mama is played by none another than Streatham’s finest, Naomi Campbell. (Combine this with Gladys Knight and a two-scene appearance by Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr, and Old DYNASTY at its most guest starriest pales by comparison.)

The kinkiness continues on BLOOD AND OIL where Jules Jackman achieves a Soap Land first by sleeping with a father and a son in the same episode. (I know we got pretty used to mothers and daughters bedding the same man back in ‘80s Soap Land, but when you switch the genders around, it somehow feels even more grubbily salacious.)

And there’s even more sexy role play over on DYNASTY as Fallon straddles Michael while dressed as ‘Like a Virgin’-era Madonna. “You like it when I pretend to be someone else, don’t you?” she observes.

The ‘80s just happens to be the theme for DYNASTY’s charity ball this week. Curiously, whereas Cristal’s and Fallon’s gowns pay homage to the sparkle and taffeta of the original series, the ball’s other period references belong more to the New Pop era of early ‘80s Britain — Sam’s pork pie hat recalls the ska revival heralded by 2-Tone and Madness, while the soundtrack is provided by UK acts like Billy Idol, the Human League and New Order. (In addition, Steven is shown playing Soft Cell’s version of ‘Tainted Love’ on the piano.) Anders, conversely, is dressed as a TV icon from later in the decade — no, not Jim Robinson from NEIGHBOURS, but Sonny Crockett from MIAMI VICE, aka Hap Briggs in BLOOD AND OIL. And while we’re on the subject, might Hap’s son’s habit of turning up the collar and pushing up the sleeves of his jacket also be a homage to Don Johnson’s former self?

Speaking of the ‘80s, there are some notable references to DALLAS’s onscreen history this week. As well as the Pam stuff, JR assures Ann that “bullets don’t seem to have much of an effect on me, darlin’," after she mistakes him for an intruder and pulls a gun on him. And while New DYNASTY has already made a habit of repurposing dialogue from the original series, JR quotes the 1980/81 season of DALLAS directly when he says to John Ross, “I’m going to tell you the truest thing my daddy ever told me — ‘nobody gives you power, real power is something you take.'”

There’s no sign of Sue Ellen Ewing or Monique Colby this week. As if to compensate, a few long lost relatives emerge out of the woodwork. Most exciting is Cliff Barnes — noticeably older, smaller and richer than the Cliff we last saw in “JR Returns”. The familiar goofiness and bluster have been replaced by an aura of power and mystery. Whereas he would once have been provoked by JR’s introductory greeting (“Time has not been kind to that face, but I do recall the smell of brimstone and crazy”), it now washes over him. Seems he’s been away from Dallas for some years, and no-one knows why he’s back or what he wants. Bobby looks pleased to see him, but JR and Christopher are each unnerved by his return. “You think it’s coincidental that he shows up in Dallas just when Southfork is for sale? If that land is in play, he’ll destroy everything in his path to get it!” JR warns. When Cliff offers to invest in his gas hydrate project, Christopher is openly hostile: “This isn’t about supporting me, is it, Uncle Cliff? It’s about screwing my family.” Cliff replies with an ominous warning about the Ewings: “You are never gonna be one of them, Christopher, and don’t let them destroy you like they did Pam.” Just like JR, this once familiar character has become dark and unknowable, and it’s absolutely fascinating.

We are also introduced to Cookie’s and Cristal’s sisters, Carol and Iris respectively. Carol attends Bunky’s funeral while Iris appears in a Venezuelan flashback of Cristal’s. As we know from Caress Morelle on Old DYNASTY and Vicente Cano on New DALLAS, Venezuela is a dangerous place. We see Cristal in a squalid room twelve years earlier, frantically bundling wads of cash into a bag, then arranging with Iris for them to both flee the country. Then, for some unknown reason, she is forced to leave her sister behind. In the present day, Sam (Iris’s son) tells Cristal that his mother is in trouble and needs money fast. Cristal wants to help, but worries that a large cash transaction will alert Blake to the fact that “my entire past is one big lie.” She’s not alone there. “He’s in love with a lie,” says Tommy reminds Rebecca on DALLAS, referring to her husband Christopher.

In the first episode of BLOOD AND OIL, Hap Briggs battled with a masked intruder, not realising it was his own son. In the first episode of New DALLAS, Ann Ewing chased a trespasser away from Southfork, not realising he had been hired by her husband’s nephew. On this week’s DYNASTY, Blake is attacked by a burglar in his own bedroom, not realising that the break-in was arranged by his wife’s nephew. “My husband got hurt!” Cristal tells Sam when she finds out. “He got in the way — and a little cut is nothing compared to what could have happened to my mom,” Sam replies. “My friends will sell the stuff. She’ll have the cash in the morning.” During the attack, Steven comes to Blake’s rescue, leading to a cessation of hostilities and a nice heart-to-heart between father and son.

Blake admits to Steven that he procured Matthew’s phone from the police out of “morbid curiosity about Cristal’s affair … I returned it to evidence … If there was anything on there that would have helped exonerate you, I would not have hesitated to admit what I’d done … There is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect you.” His next words are in stark contrast to what Lucious told his gay son in their big scene (“If you don’t toughen up, these streets will eat your ass alive!”): “The thing I admire most about you is how much you care about other people, how you love.”

Blake’s conflict with Steven in this ep is more interesting than his feud with Fallon, but she nonetheless has some great one-liners. On whether Blake is capable of killing Matthew: “I know Dad’s a Cristal addict, but do you really think he’d go that far?” On Steven’s credibility: “You don’t know anything — you wear a belt with jeans.” On the 1980s: “Ah, the ‘80s — when greed was good. I wasn’t born yet, but I do miss it.”

EMPIRE and BLOOD AND OIL each end with a worm turning, as nice guys Jamal Lyon and Billy LeFever vow to get back at Lucious and Hap respectively. “I’m going after his empire,” Jamal tells boyfriend Michael. “I did not see this coming today, but you know what? When the time comes, neither will Hap Briggs,” Billy tells wife Cody.

Just as Billy has seen through Hap (sooner than I was expecting — but then the series only has ten episodes so I guess they’re wise to get a move on), so Bobby sees through JR’s ‘reformed character’ act. In other words, he knows it was JR who was behind John Ross’s blackmail over Miss Ellie. His weary acceptance of the fact is unexpectedly moving. “Honey,” he tells Ann, “the fact that JR did it and he thinks he can make me believe he didn’t do it — that’s just who is he is and who he will always be.” And yet he loves him anyway.

“I grew up in a family where stabbing everybody in the back was encouraged,” Bobby tells Christopher on New DALLAS. “Thanks for being so honest — kind of rare around this house,” Steven tells Sam on New DYNASTY. And as if to prove Steven’s point, we discover at the very end of this week’s ep that when Blake seemingly confessed all to his son during their reconciliation scene, he still wasn’t telling the whole truth. He didn’t return Matthew’s phone to the police — and now the burglar has it! “If what’s on that phone gets out, it will ruin the Carrington name!” he tells Anders.

And the Top 4 are …

1 (1) DALLAS
2 (3) EMPIRE
3 (2) BLOOD AND OIL
4 (4) DYNASTY
 
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27 Jun 12: DALLAS: The Last Hurrah v. 28 Jan 15: EMPIRE: False Imposition v. 18 Oct 15: BLOOD AND OIL: The Birthday Party v. 01 Nov 17: DYNASTY: Private as a Circus

It’s a significant week for Soap Land’s recently marrieds. On DALLAS, after dreaming of Elena while lying next to Rebecca, Christopher Ewing realises he has to make a definitive choice between them. Likewise on DYNASTY, Cristal Carrington feels that the time has come to take control. “All I’ve done is jump from one crisis to the next — Matthew, a murder investigation, now my nephew’s felony,” she tells Sam, referring to the robbery he engineered in last week’s episode. “It’s no way to start a marriage … I’m going on my honeymoon.” Accordingly, she whisks Blake off to a remote cabin for the weekend. While his struggle to cope without a phone or Wifi signal for just a couple of days demonstrates how consumed by business he is, it also shows how similar he is to the rest of us. In fact, the Carringtons as a whole seem a lot more identifiably human in this ep than they have previously.

The cops investigating Bunky’s murder on EMPIRE and Hap Briggs’ robbery on BLOOD AND OIL each have a new lead — Bunky’s car is found, with Lucious’ fingerprints inside, while Wick’s pal Garry inadvertently lets slip that he had an accomplice during the robbery. And so Lucious and Wick are asked to account for their whereabouts at the time of their respective crimes. Whereas Lucious’s son Andre comes to his aid without being asked (“We were together at his house watching the Mayweather fight,” he volunteers), Wick’s puny alibi — that he was passed out drunk — alerts Hap’s suspicions. “I hate to say it, but you might have been right about him,” he tells wife Carla. Over on DYNASTY, Steven is still under suspicion for murder. “Without an airtight alibi to prove I didn’t kill Matthew, the FBI are saying we need to provide them with a credible alternative suspect,” he tells Fallon.

There are several “issues” that JR brushes up against on this week’s DALLAS — race, learning difficulties, addiction and mental health. Despite knowing Elena Ramos since she was a child, he makes a point of referring to her as “that Mexican girl.” Then, during their first exchange of the series, he attempts to get her onside by poking fun at John Ross: “He always had a crush on you, even when he was a little boy. You’re the only one that could get him to study — I doubt if he’d have ever finished a whole book if it wasn’t for you.” “He was dyslexic, not stupid,” she replies pointedly. “Yeah,” he mutters before abruptly changing the subject — a dismissive response that tells you everything you need to know about JR’s attitude both towards dyslexia itself and his son’s struggle with it.

Back in ‘80s Soap Land, those afflicted with a mental illness were either romanticised (Claudia on DYNASTY) or, more commonly, demonised (Katherine Wentworth, Jessica Montford, anyone else who could be categorised as “an evil psycho”). Nowadays, Soap Land feels the need to present such conditions in more prosaic terms: New Claudia’s problems stem from brain injuries sustained in a car crash while Andre on EMPIRE and now Fake Marta on this week’s DALLAS are described as bipolar. While Soap Land itself may have become more sensitive, JR has not. “Our girl is as crazy as an outhouse rat,” he concludes after hearing of Fake Marta’s condition and that she has a history of stalking ex-boyfriends.

He also learns, from trusty private eye Bum (aka “the only one who never lets me down”), that the son of Mitch Lobell, Bobby’s lawyer who is blackmailing him and John Ross, has “a pretty healthy drug problem, even has two felony possessions on his record … If we get evidence implicating him in one more felony, we can threaten Lobell to put his son away for a long time.”

JR views both Fake Marta’s condition and Rick Lobell’s addiction the same way he once did Edgar Randolph’s child molestation secret — clinically and without moral judgement, merely as a weakness to be exploited with no regard for the human cost. When Michael Culhane describes Fallon on this week’s DYNASTY as “a human bulldozer … You just don’t see people,” he could just as easily be describing JR.

Fallon and Lucious Lyon each stumble upon another hot topic — environmentalism and religion respectively — while they are trying to close a business deal. On DYNASTY, Fallon tells Jeff of her intention to swipe the city of Atlanta’s utility contract from Carrington Atlantic. “It would show people that clean energy could scale up in a big way,” she says. “And screw over your dad,” he adds. Fallon’s plan runs into difficulty when the official she has to persuade turns out to be a high school nemesis, Kori, who is not impressed by her pitch: “Atlanta is not a means to an end. This is my home, my city … and not some pawn in the Carrington family feud,” she tells her. Meanwhile on EMPIRE, Lucious is eager to sign rap genius Titan to his label, but also runs into problems. Not only has Titan been arrested following a shooting incident in a nightclub, but he is managed by Billy Beretti, with whom Lucious has historical beef.

Just as Jeff acts a buffer, using his charm and diplomacy to persuade Kori to give Fallon a second hearing, Cookie intercedes on Lucious’s behalf by paying a visit to Titan’s mother. The two women connect, but it turns out that Titus’s family are devout members of the Nation of Islam — the same Nation of Islam that Lucious blames for his father’s death. “Nothin’ but racist views,” he says of them. “And? So is America,” counters Cookie. Soap Land has never really “done” religion before (KNOTS' psychotic televangelist and FALCON CREST’s Father Bob’s occasional words of wisdom notwithstanding) so it’ll be interesting to see where this goes. Thanks to Cookie, Lucious moves closer to signing Titan and he starts to regard his ex-wife with newfound respect. Fallon, however, blows the deal with Kori when she gets distracted by an opportunity to screw over Cristal.

It all starts when the guy Sam enlisted to burgle the Carrington manor last week tells him that included in his bag of swag is Matthew Blaisdel’s phone (the same phone Blake swore to Steven he had returned to the police) which contains a video of Cristal and Matthew having sex. “That’s Kardashian level filmmaking right there. We’re gonna have a bidding war for it!” he crows. He threatens to release the tape to the press unless the Carringtons fork over $20,000. With Cristal and Blake out of town and unreachable, Sam relays this ultimatum to Steven (while neglecting to mention that he himself instigated the burglary in the first place). Steven turns to Blake’s pocket cop, Stansfield, and they hatch a plan whereby Steven will trade the money for the phone before the police swoop in and arrest the guy. “Silver Spoon’s first sting — your dad would be proud,” Stansfield quips. Steven reminds him that it was he who stole Matthew’s phone in the first place, from police evidence: “You tampered with a murder investigation when you should have been actually figuring out who did it.”

There’s more murky blackmail on DALLAS where John Ross, having been entrusted by JR with the job of setting up Rick Lobell, outsources the task to his new cousin-in-law, Rebecca. He threatens to tell Christopher about the phoney email she sent Elena unless she entraps Rick. “I need you to get pictures of him doing drugs,” he tells her. Reluctantly, Rebecca tracks Rick to a 12-Step meeting (Soap Land’s first since Gary Ewing sought help after his near relapse in KNOTS Season 13) with the intention of persuading him to get high with her. However, when she sees that he has gotten his life together, she realises she hasn’t the heart to wreck his hard-won sobriety and backs out of the plan.

Ultimately, the efforts of both Steven and Rebecca to do the right thing are wasted. When Rebecca refuses to set Rick up, Fake Marta simply takes her place — taking him to bed, getting him stoned and then presenting JR with the photographic evidence he then uses to threaten Lobell Sr with. Meanwhile, no sooner does Steven (somewhat foolishly) show Fallon the tape of Matthew and Cristal he has retrieved from the blackmailer than she copies it to her own phone and then leaks it online — and because she’s so busy furnishing the media with bitchy soundbites about her stepmother, she messes up the deal Jeff arranged with Kori.

“What kind of a friend robs your aunt’s house and then tries to blackmail her with a sex tape?” Steven asks Sam, a tad self-righteously. “Have you ever broken a law?” Sam retorts. “I’ve never extorted anyone,” Steven tells him. “Because you haven’t had to,” he points out. “You don’t know what it is like to worry about making rent or what you’re going to do if your car breaks down.” The kind of life Sam describes is precisely what his other Soap Land self, Michael in EMPIRE, is having to endure now that boyfriend Jamal has insisted they move out the loft apartment paid for by Jamal’s father. Thus they find themselves living in “a rat hole” in a noisy, sleazy neighbourhood on the wrong side of town. But damn if Jamal doesn’t proceed to turn the soundtrack of his new environment (fighting neighbours, breaking glass, blaring sirens) into the beginnings of what could be a hit song! Is this genuine creative inspiration or poverty tourism? Or both? On the subject of (in)authentic artistic expression, Cookie advises Jamal’s pampered young brother Hakeem “to stop rapping like you from the streets cos you not about that life.”

The sex tape blackmailer on DYNASTY asked for $20,000, the exact amount Christopher writes Elena a cheque for as payment for “helping me with the gas displacement fix.” “… I didn’t do this for the money,” she tells him. “I did this because you’re my friend, because you asked for my help.” Jamal reacts the same way when Lucious gives him a cheque for accompanying his brother onstage at the opening of Leviticus. “I didn’t expect to get paid for helping out Hakeem,” he protests. “He needed me so I helped him. No charge, no strings.” “… You get paid like everybody else,” Lucious insists, but Jamal won’t hear of it. Meanwhile, it becomes apparent Christopher is less concerned about paying Elena her due than severing all ties with her. “I want to make sure there’s never any legal dispute about who owns what,” he tells her coldly. “You’re ambitious, Elena, out to prove yourself and prove to everyone else that you’re more than just the help’s daughter … It’s pretty clear how quickly you’ll compromise your integrity for money.” Stunned, Elena stands there and says nothing. It’s only when Christopher walks away from her that we see how upset he is and realise that this is his (soapy) way of choosing his wife over the (other) woman he loves.

The families of Soap Land’s two chauffeurs are both threatened this week. On BLOOD AND OIL, it turns out that the people strong-arming AJ into spying on his boss are Hap Briggs’ Saudi Arabian competitors. They have told AJ they will kill his son if he doesn’t cooperate. On DYNASTY, Michael is on the receiving end of a stern talking-to from Anders. “I don’t have to remind you that this incident doesn’t reflect well on those of us who are employed here,” he says, referring to the recent robbery at the manor. “We all have a stake in putting this to bed — especially those of us with families that depend on our salaries.” Michael assures him that he will keep his ear to the ground. “And your mouth off Fallon,” Anders snaps — his way of indicating that he knows about their affair and does not approve.

Back on DALLAS, JR orders Bum to keep tabs on John Ross and Elena. Bum returns with some intimate looking (but in fact innocent) pictures of them together which JR then presents to Fake Marta. “I’m sorry,” he tells her. “My boy was just using you.” JR is aware of how dangerous Fake Marta can be to men who cross her (she went after one of her exes with a skinning knife), but all that matters to him is getting her onside: “What do you say you and me make a new deal for Southfork and that oil?”

While Fake Marta is looking at compromising photos, Claudia Blaisdel is staring at her late husband’s sex tape. Over on EMPIRE, rising star Tiana finds out about boyfriend Hakeem’s infidelity the old-fashioned way when she walks in on him taking a bath with Naomi Campbell. Bucking the caught-with-his-trousers-down trend, Hap Briggs continues to sleep with his son’s girlfriend Jules without arousing suspicions. His wife is so oblivious she even throws Jules a surprise birthday party. (The diamond necklace Hap gives Jules for her birthday rivals the pearl necklace JR presents to Sue Ellen, which belonged to Miss Ellie no less. While Sue Ellen looks touched, a conflicted Jules accepts her gift but makes a point of leaving it behind at the party.)

AJ is caught redhanded when Hap’s daughter Lacey realises he’s been using her to gain access to her father’s computer. “The CEO of Exxon’s kid took me to the prom in high school, got me really stoned, tried to get me to spill on my dad’s next big play — I have been schooled in corporate espionage my whole life,” she assures him. (This is the third time Exxon has been referenced in C21st Soap Land — New DALLAS’s Christopher and New DYNASTY’s Fallon each name-checked it in their opening episodes.) “If I don’t give these people what they want, they’re gonna kill my son,” AJ tells Hap desperately. “You’re gonna give ‘em what they want,” Hap replies. “I’ve always wanted an inside man on my payroll — one the Saudis trust.”

While Cliff continues to get under JR’s skin — this week, by taking Sue Ellen to lunch — New DALLAS has yet to explain to the uninitiated the root of the enmity between them. On EMPIRE and BLOOD AND OIL, however, the origins of two similarly long-standing feuds are revealed. “You were the one that broke the trust between us,” Lucious tells his former manager, Billy Beretti, who now represents rapper du jour Titan. “That’s why I left you …” “Without me, you’d still be selling CDs out of the trunk of your car,” replies Billy, before taking credit for the success of Lucious’s breakout record. “Did you write one lyric on that album?” Lucious asks him. “Or play a single note? Was it you that performed it all around this planet and made it famous? No, but you saw fit to put your name on my words without even consulting me … I don’t care how many artists you steal from … you will never be an artist!” Yes, it’s Digger and Jock all over again, only fighting over music rights instead of mineral rights. Among EMPIRE’s achievements, of which there are many, it has succeeded where the likes of PAPER DOLLS and MODELS INC failed, by making the intangible — in this case, music rather than fashion — as dramatically tangible as crude oil.

Over on B&O, the tale told to Billy LeFever by Clifton Lundegren, the old-timer who warned him against doing business with Hap in the first place, could almost be Jock and Digger’s backstory transposed from the ’30s to the ‘80s. “January 1983,” he begins, “a young fella, not much older than you, knocking on that front door, freezing his ass off. He came in, said, ‘I’ve got the equipment, you know the land.’ That’s how we became partners, me and Hap Briggs. First well came in, my share come to practically nothing. He referred me to his lawyers. His lawyers referred me the small print on the contract.” “Seems like the only one to get rich in a deal with Hap Briggs is Hap Briggs,” Billy observes.

While we’re on the subject of Jock Ewing, there’s a fascinating deleted scene from this week’s DALLAS where Bobby describes his father in a way he simply couldn’t have done during the original series — certainly not after Jock’s death and subsequent sanctification. “Your granddaddy Jock was the most intimidating man I think I ever met,” he tells Christopher. “We locked horns on just about everything … It just seemed like he was always second-guessing me, never really cared about what I thought.” Christopher’s response is equally interesting: “You were lucky to have someone like Jock as a father. Everybody said that he was an ass-kicking, hard-drinking son of a bitch. But my father? My father’s the great Bobby Ewing. You try living in that shadow.”

If Christopher feels as if his life has been defined by his father’s presence, Fallon feels hers has been defined by her mother’s absence. After four episodes of treating everyone like crap, she is finally confronted about her behaviour. “You took your eye off the prize to take a swing at Cristal. You really can’t help yourself, can you?” Jeff asks her after she botches their deal. “I was there for you, Fallon. I put myself on the line for a deal you had to have, but you made me look like an idiot because you’re only out for yourself.” Michael has also run out of patience with her. “Someone should defend the world from Fallon Carrington … You just don’t see other people,” he tells her. “Kori just hates me because I was a bitch in high school and I was a bitch because when your mom leaves in the middle of sophomore year, it kind of messes with your head. I mean, if I didn’t defend myself, who would have?” she reasons. “That is heartbreaking,” Michael replies coolly, “but it was almost ten years ago. Maybe you should stop blaming your mom and figure out why you’re so screwed up now.” We can see from Fallon’s reaction that his words have hit home and suddenly she seems real, human, a character one can empathise with. Just like those occasional scenes where Greg Sumner or Abby Ewing would let down their guard in private, allowing only the audience to see how vulnerable they were, there follows a scene where a solitary Fallon looks through a collection of postcards she wrote but presumably never sent to her mother before tossing them onto an open fire.

Speaking of vulnerable moments … last week’s DALLAS opened with that thrillingly menacing shaving scene between JR and John Ross. This week’s EMPIRE contains a shaving scene that’s just as significant but in a different way. Lucious is in his bathroom holding a razor to his face when his hand starts to shake uncontrollably. When girlfriend Anika notices, he finally tells her that he’s dying. Up until now, Anika’s been mostly been depicted in relation to business matters, with the occasional bitchy gesture towards Cookie thrown in for good measure. We don’t yet know what makes her tick or how she truly feels about Lucious. So her response here is significant. She doesn’t say anything. Instead, as her eyes fill with tears, she takes the razor from Lucious and gently starts to shave him herself.

Brief as it is, JR and Elena’s exchange about John Ross’s dyslexia hints at years of impatience and disappointment from a father towards his son. The same sentiment is reflected elsewhere. “I wanted to teach my son all the things a father teaches his son, but Wick, he didn’t care … I spent my whole life expecting that boy to be something that he just wasn’t born to be,” Hap reflects on B&O. And in the final scene of this week’s DYNASTY, Blake tells Cristal how such expectations can result in tragedy: “Before Steven ran off to dig wells in Haiti, he was with the company. He didn’t want the job and I pushed him up the ladder too fast. Out in the field one day, he missed a faulty pressure valve and he signed off on the inspection … Later when they put it online, the pressure shook the rig. A man fell off and snapped his neck.” He goes on to explain the real reason he had Matthew’s phone taken from police evidence: “Matthew was the field engineer onsite. I asked him to write it off as a structural defect … Matthew claimed to have a record of it on his phone. I knew that if Steven ever found out he had something to do with a man’s death, he would never have stopped blaming himself. I was trying to protect him.”

Having made this confession, Blake is keen to start over with a clean slate. “I don’t want us to have secrets,” he tells his bride. “I want to trust you and I want you to trust me … No more lies.” “No more lies,” Cristal agrees, lying. And at the end of DALLAS, having ended his friendship with Elena, Christopher also wants to make a fresh start with his bride. “I love you,” he tells her. “Nothing’s ever gonna get in the way of that.” But unlike Cristal, Rebecca can’t keep the truth to herself any longer. “There’s something I need to tell you,” she replies, “about the email Elena got two years ago …”

And this week's Top 4 are ...

1 (1) DALLAS
2 (4) DYNASTY
3 (3) BLOOD AND OIL
4 (2) EMPIRE
 
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James from London

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04 Jul 12: DALLAS: Truth and Consequences v. 04 Feb 15: EMPIRE: Dangerous Bonds v. 25 Oct 15: BLOOD AND OIL: Rocks and Hard Places v. 08 Nov 17: DYNASTY: Company Slut

There are two car accidents in this week’s Soap Land. In the first, BLOOD AND OIL’s Garry is on his way out of town when he crashes his getaway car in a drunken stupor. He approaches Wick once more and asks for another $20,000 (the exact amount DYNASTY’s blackmailer demanded for the return of the Cristal/Matthew sex-tape last week) to lay low and keep his mouth shut.

But like Rebecca on DALLAS, Wick has had enough of being blackmailed and decides to tell the truth — up to a point. He admits to the sheriff that he lied about the night of the robbery, but pins the blame solely on his accomplice. “Garry said that if I didn’t cover for him, he was gonna tell my father I was the one that gave him the rig codes — which I did not.” (Even though he did.) Meanwhile, in the opening scene of DALLAS, Rebecca confesses to Christopher that their initial meeting in China was prearranged — but insists she had nothing to do with breaking up him and Elena. “All I knew is that you were going to be on the train, that you had just broken up with someone, but … I swear I didn’t know what Tommy had done,” she tells him. “He sent the email to Elena and made it look like it had come from your computer.”

After they have been exposed respectively as email fakers and sex-tape leakers, Tommy and Rebecca on DALLAS and Fallon on DYNASTY are each given their marching orders. Bobby instructs a ranch hand to “get this punk off my ranch,” pointing at Tommy. “Make sure I never see you again!” Christopher tells Rebecca. “I want you out of this house!” Blake informs Fallon. Strangely, Sam is permitted to remain at the Carrington manor, even though everyone knows he was responsible for the robbery there two episodes ago. He is nonetheless shunned by Steven. “Cristal and Blake already forgave me,” he protests. “That’s their mistake,” Steven replies. “I’m not making the same one.”

Actually, it seems that no C21st soap is complete without a robbery and/or break-in that turns out to be an inside job. This week it’s the turn of EMPIRE where Andre ingeniously orchestrates the hold-up of one of his brothers, Jamal, while pinning it on his other brother, Hakeem. Rather than get his own hands dirty, he manipulates Hakeem’s dumb but fun entourage into robbing Jamal at the rundown, ghetto ass studio where he is recording (so rundown, it’s actually called Ghetto Ass Studios). Inevitably, the hold-up turns uglier than intended and a minor character is shot. This leads to a juicy sibling showdown where Jamal accuses Hakeem of deliberately sabotaging his recording session. Hakeem protests his innocence, but Jamal is too angry to listen. “You ain’t nothing but Lucious’s little puppet and that’s all you’re ever gonna be,” he tells him before punching him in the stomach for good measure. As soon as Hakeem has got his breath back, he calls Andre and instructs him to rush-release his new video before Jamal’s new single has a chance to drop. Thus, the two brothers go from being friendly competitors to bitter rivals — just as Andre intended.

We’re only five episodes in, but this week’s DALLAS has all the momentum and urgency of a really good season finale. No sooner have Rebecca and Tommy been thrown off the ranch than Bobby receives legal notification that JR is the new owner of Southfork and intends to start drilling for oil on the property immediately. “They warned me. My whole marriage, they told me about you,” Ann tells JR, “but in my wildest imagination I never thought you could stoop to this.” “Well, Annie, you’re just gonna have to work on your imagination,” he replies evenly.

JR’s new deal for Southfork has cut John Ross completely out of the picture — Bad Dad! Or is he? “The deed to Southfork is still yours for the having,” he assures his son. “You and I were supposed to be partners now. That was the deal,” John Ross insists. “The deal was to teach you the oil business — and I am,” he replies. To JR, double-crossing John Ross over their family home is the equivalent of Jock selling him a blind horse when he was eight years old — how else is a son supposed to learn but the hard way? Billy LeFever might not be Hap Briggs’s son on BLOOD AND OIL, but Hap justifies suckering him out of a fortune the same way. “One day you’ll thank me for giving you your first lesson in the oil business,” he tells him.

“Smile for the camera,” JR orders an angry John Ross when they are caught on-screen during a football game at Texas Stadium. Hakeem applies the same dictum during a red carpet interview on EMPIRE, masking his frustration at being continually referred to as “Lucious Lyon’s son.” And on DYNASTY, Fallon and Cristal are obliged to make nice while being honoured at Atlanta Digest’s Upcoming Women in Business luncheon, even as they exchange under-their-breath putdowns. (Eventually, Cristal snaps and sprays Fallon with a bottle of Cristal, but no-one seems to notice.)

Jerry Jones, real-life owner of the Dallas Cowboys, who was briefly seen in War of the Ewings, makes an equally brief appearance welcoming JR to the stadium. Wide receiver Dez Bryant is also shown making a peace sign in JR’s direction. Over on EMPIRE, Lucious presents “your favourite, Mr Anthony Hamilton” as a surprise treat for Anika. I’d never previously heard of Mr Anthony Hamilton, but from Anika’s awed reaction (“Oh my God! Are you kidding me?!”) and his own “aw shucks” persona, you can immediately tell this is another Real Life Cameo. Mr Anthony Hamilton plays the piano and croons in the background as Lucious asks Anika to marry him, presenting her with “an 18-carat diamond ring — same ring that Richard Burton gave to Elizabeth Taylor” to boot. So far so romantic, but during a later conversation with Anika’s father, who just happens to be a prestigious doctor, it emerges that Lucious has an ulterior motive in proposing. After informing the doctor of his terminal condition, Lucious explains that “Empire is going public, but in order for that to happen … I need a doctor to certify that I’m in good health.” “You’re asking me to commit fraud,” the doctor realises. “You’re just a thug!” “Dr Calhoun,” Lucious persists, “if the IPO goes through and I die, Anika will become a billionaire in her own right.” Doc C is persuaded but insists that no-one, including his daughter, can ever find out about their arrangement.

Having turned everyone’s lives upside down, JR abruptly departs Dallas midway through this week’s ep, leaving John Ross to manage things in his absence. “I’m throwing you in at the deep end, just like my daddy did to me,” he tells him before ascending into the clouds in a helicopter. John Ross’s cover story is that he had no prior knowledge of his father’s arrangement with Fake Marta to steal the ranch from Bobby, and is now just trying to make the best of the situation. This claim becomes a relationship deal-breaker for him and Elena. “Promise me that you had nothing to do with stealing Southfork, that it was all JR. Promise me you’re the man I think you are,” she tells him. “I swear none of it was me,” he insists. And with that, they’re back in each other’s arms again.

It’s the first day at work for John Ross (overseeing the drilling on Southfork), Cristal (as COO of Carrington Atlantic), Steven (presiding over the Carrington Foundation) and BLOOD AND OIL’s Lacey, who has been persuaded by father Hap to join the family business. “God knows we could use the help,” he makes a point of telling her in front of her brother Wick — the better to make Wick feel like crap. While his daddy’s power of attorney gives John Ross the upper hand over Bobby (“At my father’s request, I am moving into Southfork to keep an eye on things in his absence … I’m hoping you and I can stay out of each other’s way — last thing I’d want is to have to kick you off this ranch like you did to me”), Cristal finds her work cut out for her when it comes to winning her new subordinates’ respect. One of them, Kylie, helpfully explains why: “You know the conversations happening about women in the workplace — we can’t even get mentors because guys like Mike Pence are too afraid to have dinner with us. So when you sleep with the boss and when your wedding ring comes with a promotion, it kind of feels like you proved them right.” Or, as Claudia Blaisdel puts it even more succinctly when she confronts Cristal in the lobby of Carrington Atlantic, “Get back to work, you company tramp — or is it company slut?!”

While Elena praises John Ross’s ability to keep his men on side (“Never met a crew that didn’t like you. A tycoon who gets his hands dirty — who can resist that?”), hapless Wick Briggs does not possess the same touch. Indeed, he manages to alienate the crew he’s in charge to the point where they walk off the job. To add insult to injury, Lacey manages to rectify the situation with the minimum of fuss. She even tries to cover for Wick in front of their father, but Hap sees through the charade.

Meanwhile, Steven’s first day on the job is complicated by a visit from an old flame, Ted Dinard. He’s ostensibly there for business reasons, but really to impress upon Steven how much he’s changed. “I get it, you don’t trust me … I screwed up in the past,” he acknowledges. “My dad told me … that he offered you a quick payoff to go away and you took it,” Steven reminds him. “What kind of person does that?” “What kind of person offers an addict that kind of money?” Ted shoots back. Seems New Ted has been a lot wilder than Square Ted ever was back in ’81. Ted and Steven aren’t the only pair of exes to take an awkward trip down memory lane this week. To transport the oil from Southfork, JR has enlisted the services of Ryland Tankers. “I’m the only one in Dallas with enough trucks to move that kind of oil,” brags Harris Ryland, who just happens to be the ex-husband of Bobby’s wife Ann. “As I remember, I make your skin crawl. Of course, you always were prone to hyperbole,” he recalls when she visits him. Nevertheless, when she asks him to cancel his tanker contract with JR, he agrees: “I like your husband. I always thought his brother was a prick.” Meanwhile, in spite of Ted’s claim that he has got his act together, he hurts Steven all over again by going to bed with Sam.

Oil tankers also factor as a plot point on BLOOD AND OIL when Billy pitches his latest get-rich-quick scheme to buddy Clifton: “Picks and shovels, baby — that’s how people got rich during the gold rush … You know what our picks and shovels are? Tanker trucks. We don’t drill the oil, we move it. I got us a crazy cheap deal on four of ‘em!” Alas, Clifton then rains on his parade by keeling over with a heart attack.

Soap Land has gone sex-tape crazy of late. A week after the video of Matthew having it off with Cristal went viral on DYNASTY, two more compromising recordings emerge. The first, of John Ross and Fake Marta, is left as a parting gift for the former by the latter before she skips town — only for it to be intercepted by an angry Christopher. He tells John Ross he is especially interested in the pillow talk “where you call Marta by her real name, Veronica. It proves you knew who she was before the deal was made, that you were conspiring against my father … Fraud and conspiracy, that’s still a crime in the state of Texas. I want proof from you that JR was in on the fraud, enough proof to undo the deal, or you’re going to jail!” Meanwhile on EMPIRE, Andre’s wife Rhonda films Hakeem’s pop singer girlfriend Tiana canoodling with her own girlfriend, India. (A lesbian couple in Soap Land and an interracial one at that! Whatever next — a black female Doctor Who?) Rhonda then does what Fallon did with the Matthew/Cristal video — leaks it to the media.

“Million Dollar Tramp!” yelled the Los Angeles Ledger, next to a picture of Cristal in throes of passion with Matthew on last week’s DYNASTY. “Shocking New Photos of Tiana and India!” gasps Perez Hilton’s website on this week’s EMPIRE. “You my girl. You ain’t supposed to be kissing no damn India chick and you know that,” Hakeem tells Tiana sulkily. “You got a sidepiece too,” she points out, lest he forget she caught him taking a bubble bath with Naomi Campbell last week.

(Whereas Matthew & Cristal’s and Tiana & India’s indiscretions were caught on camera phone before being uploaded onto the net, John Ross and Fake Marta’s coupling has been preserved on Ye Olde DVD. This is the first real reminder that five years separate Episode 5 of New DALLAS from Episode 5 of New DYNASTY — the equivalent of watching an ep from the original DALLAS mini-series alongside an episode from La Mirage-era DYNASTY.)

Just as Wick agrees to wear a wire in the hopes of extracting a murder confession from Garry on BLOOD AND OIL, Cookie reluctantly cooperates with the authorities on EMPIRE — testifying in a confidential hearing that she witnessed drug dealer Frank Gathers (presently incarcerated) shoot a man dead seventeen years earlier. Only after she’s given evidence does she learn that the dead man was an FBI agent. “Do you know what kind of animal kills a federal agent?!” she asks her handler in alarm. “Dead bitch walking — that’s me … Men like Frank Gathers reach right from prison and drop people dead every day!” After finding a single rose on her doorstep, she assumes the worst: “That’s Frank’s trademark — he marked all his product with a rose … Somebody’s trying to kill me!” As far as Cookie is concerned, an anonymous rose at her door is the equivalent of ‘80s Claudia receiving violets from Lancelot or Karen Mackenzie finding a box full of snakes courtesy of My Love Always. But rather than collapse in a dead faint or scream the house down, Cookie simply hires a hitman to take care of “Frank’s boy on the outside” and carries on with her day, which entails producing Jamal’s new song over the phone (“Baby, scrap that intro — talking before the record starts is dated”) and dealing with Tiana’s sapphic sex scandal (“Look, girl, I don’t judge, but you’s a freak. That’s a good thing. We can sell that.”) All is well until the end of the ep when Lucious casually mentions that it was he who left her the rose to mark their anniversary. Realising she had no reason to arrange the hit on Gathers’ man, she tries to call it off, but it’s too late — she may have just inadvertently instigated a gang war!

When Jamal calls Hakeem “nothing but Lucious’s little puppet," it hits a nerve. Hakeem’s already decided that for his career to progress, he “can’t be Lucious Lyon’s son no more.” Likewise, John Ross talks about how he has “spent my whole life trying not to be [JR’s] son.” Conversely on BLOOD AND OIL, Clifton advises Billy from his hospital bed that “to beat Hap Briggs, you got to be Hap Briggs.”

There are no sex-tapes currently doing the rounds on B&O, but Cody, Billy’s nice but forgettable wife, has figured out that Hap and her gal pal Jules are sleeping together and confides her discovery to Billy. With Clinton’s words ringing in his ears (“To beat Hap Briggs, you got to be Hap Briggs”), he uses this tidbit to try and blackmail Hap. “I want my 5% of McCutching back … or we add Carla to this conversation,” he tells him. Hap calls his bluff, inviting him to say what he has to say in front of his wife — but when push comes to shove, Billy’s too nice a guy to carry out his threat. Following through on the mentor/student theme, Hap then describes Billy as “a student flunking his final exam.” Christopher Ewing exhibits a similar failure of nerve on DALLAS. He shows up at Elena’s door with the DVD proving that John Ross was in on the Southfork swindle burning a hole in his pocket, but when he hears her say how much John Ross means to her (“More than anyone, he has always had my back”), he cannot bring himself to show it to her.

Carla’s suspicions have been aroused, however. “Billy may have been too weak to tell me, but I’m not an idiot and we both know old habits die hard so who is she?” she asks Hap. He manages to deflect the question, but it seems he isn’t the only serial philanderer in C21st Soap Land. When Anika queries her mother’s lack of enthusiasm regarding her engagement to Lucious, she is reminded of “all the times you came crying home to me — all his other women.”

When Cody hears that Billy used what she told him in confidence to threaten Hap, she is furious. “I am trying to make a life here, I am trying to put down roots and you are alienating anybody who tries to get close!” she yells during the first onscreen fight between B&O’s golden couple. She then abandons the argument to put in an extra shift at the pharmacy because “one of us has to work.” This leads to a classic ‘When Storylines Collide’ climax as Garry, still on the lam and injured following his car crash, pulls a gun in the very pharmacy where Cody is working late, demanding money and pain medication. He gets nasty and she pulls off his mask, causing him to panic and knock her to the floor, where he starts kicking her in the stomach. Just as DYNASTY ends with Blake hovering anxiously over Claudia Blaisdel’s prone body after knocking her down outside her house (the second of the week’s two car accidents), B&O ends with Billy crouched over his similarly unconscious, and also pregnant, wife.

Although the Lyon and Carrington clans have now been the subjects of two online scandals apiece, the Ewings of DALLAS don’t seem to attract media attention in the same way. The popping flashbulbs at the Cattleman’s Ball and JR making it onto the big screen at the Cowboys game this week are as celebrity as New DALLAS has gotten. Christopher and Rebecca’s breakup plays out against the semi-public backdrop of the Ewing barbecue, but there’s nobody surreptitiously filming it on their phone. Thus it doesn’t go viral and from a dramatic standpoint, it doesn’t need to. The open-mouthed reactions of Christopher’s family and a few shocked extras are enough to convey the gravity of the situation. “How could you do that to him, use us all like this?” demands an appalled Ann of Tommy, with whom she had previously bonded. “I just did,” he mumbles — and it’s the one time he shows even a flicker of remorse. (Notably, Ann is the one member of the family to whom Rebecca later looks for absolution.) And even though there’s no love lost between Christopher and either John Ross or Elena at this point, neither of them derives any amusement from the situation the way Fallon did from the news of Matthew’s death at Blake and Cristal’s wedding.

While the characters on EMPIRE and DYNASTY are depicted as belonging to a wider, more contemporary world (see this week’s references to Perez Hilton and Mike Pence), the world of the Ewings feels more enclosed and intense, just as it did on the original DALLAS. There’s a similar vibe in this week’s B&O where it’s suggested that the “boom town” environment that the characters inhabit is starting to affect their behaviour — or more specifically, their morality. “Out here, the rules are different,” insists Billy when Cody confronts him about his blackmail attempt. “This place, all the temptations, it’s easy to lose your way,” admits minor character Ada, who began the series as a model wife and is now on the brink of an affair. It’s precisely this kind of moral murkiness that Bobby has been trying to pull his family out of on New DALLAS. When Christopher argues that to combat JR’s appropriation of Southfork, “we need to start fighting fire with fire,” Bobby insists that “we are not breaking the law to fix this … The whole point of selling Southfork in the first place was to stop this family’s descent!”

And this week’s Top 4 are …

1 (1) DALLAS
2 (3) BLOOD AND OIL
3 (4) EMPIRE
4 (2) DYNASTY
 
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James from London

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11 Jul 12: DALLAS: The Enemy of My Enemy v. 11 Feb 15: EMPIRE: Out, Damned Spot v. 01 Nov 15: BLOOD AND OIL: Convergence v. 15 Nov 17: DYNASTY: I Exist Only for Me

Medical matters make strange bedfellows this week. When DALLAS’s Rebecca suffers a nosebleed and dizzy spell at Southfork, her former love rival Elena offers to drive her to Soap Land Memorial Hospital. When DYNASTY’s Claudia is discharged from hospital, following a collision with Blake’s car last week, her former love rival Cristal insists on bringing her back to the manor to recuperate. This situation, of course, recalls the original Claudia moving into the Carrington mansion after her suicide attempt in 1982. But the medical scenario that most evokes the spirit of ‘80s Soap Land is on BLOOD AND OIL. After her brutal attack at the end of last week’s episode, pregnant Cody is rushed to Soap Land Memorial where frantic husband Billy is joined in the waiting room by almost the entire cast — including his nemesis Hap Briggs. “She’s gonna get the finest medical care there is,” Hap promises him. “Carla and I chartered a plane out of Aspen. We got the finest thoracic surgeon there is in the country to roll his ass out of bed … Listen, I may be a son of a bitch in business, but when it comes to family, it’s everything to me. I know you feel the same.”

Soap Land being what it is, the odds on Cody’s baby surviving are not good — yet survive it does. She and Cody breathe a sigh of relief. Alas, later in the episode, events take a turn for the worse and, cruelly, she miscarries after all. But as one pregnancy ends, two more materialise. During an argument with Tommy about Christopher in the final scene of DALLAS, the cause of Rebecca’s symptoms is revealed: “You’re right, I am in love with him — and I’m pregnant!” Back on DYNASTY, Claudia declines to take morphine in the hospital because she too is with child. “Even though we lived our separate lives,” she informs Cristal regarding Matthew, “we never stopped sleeping together.” No-one’s up the duff on EMPIRE, but a major character is shocked to acquire an offspring in the final scene when Olivia, a former acquaintance of Jamal, shows up with a cute little toddler named Lola. “She wanted to meet her daddy!” she tells him. However, as end-of-episode long-lost-relative reveals go, the most intriguing is on B&O where Billy’s buddy Clifton places a call to an unseen woman in New York, “with a plan for crushing your ex-husband — Hap Briggs.”

Three major storylines, all introduced in the first episodes of their respective series, are seemingly resolved this week. On DALLAS, Rebecca finds a legal loophole that prevents JR from drilling on the family ranch. It seems that Grandpa Southworth set up a trust “separating the mineral rights from the land rights of Southfork.” This is pretty much the same last-minute get-out clause JR himself used in War of the Ewings to prevent Carter Mackay from drilling on Ray’s property (“When my daddy gave Ray that land, he deeded the mineral rights to our children’s trust fund”). On EMPIRE, after Lucious confesses to his attorney Vernon that he shot in Bunky in cold blood (“Everything that we built, he was gonna tear it down …” “So you play God?!” “No, he played God from the moment he showed up here and tried to shake me down — he chose his fate!”), Vernon magics the problem away by paying someone who’s already “facing a murder beef they can’t beat” to take the rap. And on BLOOD AND OIL, after Cody identifies Garry as her attacker, Wick finally alights on a way to get him out of his hair once and for all — he’s gonna kill him. Whereas Lucious’ murder of Bunky came out of the blue, Wick’s decision involves a degree of soul-searching. “My whole life, I’ve made every bad choice possible … What if I could do one thing, just one thing … that would put all this bad stuff behind me?” he asks his sister enigmatically. We don’t get to find out if Wick really is capable of murder, however, because Billy, eager to avenge his wife and the child they lost, follows him to where he is holding Garry at gunpoint and insists on pulling the trigger himself. As Wick tries to dissuade him (“Billy, one bad choice and it never ends!”), Garry makes his escape. Wick and Billy give chase, causing Garry to stumble, fall and impale himself on a conveniently sharp branch. Chip Roberts would be proud. Billy’s first instinct is to call for help, but Wick persuades him to leave Garry to die. Problem solved.

However, as any seasoned Soap Land watcher knows, a storyline is never truly over. Rebecca may have provided Bobby and Christopher with the ammunition they need to prevent JR and John Ross from drilling on Southfork, but the sinister Venezuelans still expect to receive the oil they negotiated for. Indeed, Vicente has already started breathing down John Ross’s neck, both figuratively and literally, in a scene that’s as close to homoerotic as DALLAS has ever got. “Promises have been made, Mr Ewing. I intend to make sure that they’re kept,” he tells him darkly. Meanwhile on EMPIRE, Vernon may have cleaned up Lucious’s mess, but he assures his AA sponsor that “things are gonna be a lot different” from now on. (Oh yeah — Vernon’s a recovering alcoholic. In Soap Land terms, that means he’s a ticking time bomb.) On B&O, Wick makes a pact with new ally Billy: “We never turn on each other. We stay tight, we stay loyal.” “We take this to the grave,” Billy agrees. All well and good — but then Wick’s girlfriend Jules (who’s also sleeping with his daddy) finds the mask he wore when he and Garry robbed Hap back when this whole mess started.

On last week’s EMPIRE, the gift of a single rose led Cookie to order a hit on someone. This week, three more Soap Land women receive flowers and, even though no-one ends up dead as a result, none of them reacts exactly positively. “Freesias, my favourite!” exclaims Ann on DALLAS, assuming the bouquet she has just received was sent by Bobby. Then she reads the accompanying card and realises they’re from her ex, Harris Ryland. However, it’s the additional gift of a locket that prompts her to collapse to the ground in tears. When Bobby finds her, he doesn’t know what the problem is any more than we do, but it doesn’t stop him from bursting into Harris’s office and backhanding him across the face. “You stay away from Ann!” he snarls. The second bouquet is delivered to Lacey Briggs on BLOOD AND OIL. Like Ann, she seems pleased until she realises who they’re from — in this case, AJ the chauffeur — whereupon she dumps them in the trash. “Flowers and a card — really? God, you apologise worse than you spy,” she tells him over the phone. Finally on DYNASTY, Cristal hand-delivers a vase of red roses to new houseguest Claudia (just as Krystle did back in the day). These get my vote for Flowers of the Week, but Claudia still ends up hurling them at a wall while shouting, “You have everything! I have nothing!” just as the previous Claudia did back in ’82.

“The Costume-Test Montage” — in which a character, feeling the need to dress to impress, tries on and rejects a selection of outfits in front of a mirror before alighting on the ideal one — is a well-worn screen trope. I can recall seeing it on everything from DOCTOR WHO to FRIENDS to Educating Rita, but only once during ‘80s Soap Land — in a cloyingly cutesy sequence on KNOTS LANDING involving Frank Williams and his date Charlotte. In C21st Soap Land, however, there have been no less than four such montages in the past two weeks. Last week’s DYNASTY opened with Cristal trying out a variety of looks in preparation for her first day as COO of Carrington Atlantic. Her final choice had her looking and feeling immaculate — until she reached the office and found herself undermined by her staff and humiliated by Claudia. This week’s EMPIRE starts with Cookie likewise dressing up in a selection of outfits (accompanying music: ‘The Jump Off’ by Lil Kim & Mr Cheeks). Unlike Cristal’s, her chosen look is not revealed straight away. Instead, she arrives at a restaurant in a buttoned-up sable coat where she is greeted by Lucious. It is apparent that, following that rose he sent her last week, she is expecting an intimate dinner for two. However, like last week’s dressed-to-the-nines Cristal, she receives a rude awakening when it turns out to be a big family gathering to celebrate Lucious and Anika’s engagement. While the rest of the guests offer the happy couple their congratulations, Cookie asks for clarification. “So lemme get this straight,” she calls to Lucious across the table, “last Wednesday you come to my house and give me a rose after you propose to that bitch?” “… The rose was a friendly reminder of where we used to be,” he replies tactfully. “Friendly? You think I came here dressed like this for a friendly get together?!” she barks, opening her coat to reveal nothing but some eye-poppingly skimpy lingerie. As her sons stare openmouthed, she turns to leave, delivering one last line as she goes, “Oh and Anika — this is an ass.” Indeed it is.

On BLOOD AND OIL, it’s Carla Briggs who goes through the Costume-Test Montage (accompanying music: ‘Give it to Me’ by Maggie Eckford) before deciding on a striking all-leather ensemble. “You could still walk any runway in the world and turn every head,” Hap tells her admiringly. She explains that she’s dressed for an important meeting — but once again, all is not as it appears. The meeting turns out not to be business but personal — she’s off to confront Hap’s mistress Jules. (“Does he love you?” “Who?” “My husband.”) Unlike Cristal or Cookie, Carla retains her ice-cool composure throughout. She promises Jules that if she doesn’t end the affair, she (Carla) will tell Wick all about it, “and it will destroy him.”

It’s back to DYNASTY for the week’s final costume montage, which is really just about dressing up for the sake of it. “They hit you with their rich-people car. Take what you deserve — it’s payback,” Sam urges Claudia as they raid Cristal’s closet (and credit card) and try on a bunch of blingy outfits (accompanying music: ‘Drinkee’ by Sofi Tukker). It’s fun, in a surreal Hall of Mirrors way, to imagine Heather Locklear and Pamela Bellwood playing this scene in Linda Evans’ walk-in wardrobe.

Actually, it’s kind of difficult to picture the likes of Pam Ewing or Alexis Colby doing a “Costume-Test Montage” back in the day. The women in '80s Soap Land mostly just glided into a scene, their image fully formed. That was part of their glamour, their status. So what’s changed? Maybe reality TV and social media have blurred the boundary between “them” and “us”, creating an illusion of accessibility around the rich and famous. Watching Cristal, Carla, Cookie and Claudia watching themselves playing dress up in the mirror, it’s almost as if they have become their own viewers, living out the fantasy of being let loose in a rich woman’s closet.

EMPIRE also presents us with the inverse of a dressing-up scene as Cookie, in her capacity as record producer, persuades a washed-up diva (played gutsily by Courtney Love) to remove her all her finery — fur coat, jewellery, hair extensions, “fake-ass eyelashes”, even her lipstick — to deliver a raw, heartfelt version of ‘Take Me to the River’ in the recording studio. The contrast between Cookie’s behaviour here and the dinner table scene where she disrobes illustrates the different sides of her personality — she balances the “authentic” with the flamboyant.

It’s been a turbulent week for rich girls sleeping with their daddy’s drivers. While Lacey tries to keep AJ at arm’s length, Hap insists they work together to outfox the Saudi Arabians. After much bickering, Lacey weakens and they kiss. But then the shutters go up again and she goes back to being mean to him. Meanwhile, Fallon reacts to Michael turning up to her company’s launch party as Kori’s plus one by getting drunk, following him into the john and groping him before he has a chance to zip up (“No need to put that away just yet”). After he rejects her advances (“Stop, you’re being ridiculous … You may not have any respect for yourself, but I’ve got respect for me and for Kori”), she emerges from the bathroom, catches Kori’s eye and makes a point of wiping her mouth, as if to say, “I just blew your boyfriend.” Michael manages to convince Kori that Fallon’s blow job was, in fact, a faux-job and they exit the party in disgust. Even by C21st Soap Land standards, this is pretty explicit stuff and Fallon’s behaviour is, depending on your point of view, either some of the most pitiful or some of the most unapologetically outrageous the genre has yet seen. So why do I neither cringe for her (as I have done previously for Gary Ewing or Maggie Gioberti when their drinking led them to make fools of themselves) nor relish her boldness (as I do Cookie’s when she flashes her ass at Anika)? I guess it’s because there aren’t any consequences for Fallon. After Michael leaves the party, she consoles herself by insulting a couple of tech gurus, but instead of taking offence, they are charmed by her forthrightness and want to make a deal with her. Their acceptance cancels out Michael’s rejection and nothing changes.

There is no shortage of advice-givers this week. Dismayed to learn that Christopher used Fake Marta’s sex tape to threaten John Ross, Bobby counsels his son against such behaviour. “A lifetime of dealing with JR has put me on both sides of blackmail,” he tells him. “It never pays off in the end. It’s not just that it’s wrong, it’s bad business.” Meanwhile on B&O, Emma, Clifton’s granddaughter (and recent graduate of the same School of Sexy Geologists as Elena Ramos), overhears Hap offering Billy a job and cautions him against accepting. “The Devil doesn’t come at with you with a pitchfork. He helps you when you’re down and then he sucks you in with empty promises until he destroys you,” she warns him. On EMPIRE, Jamal’s star is on the rise and so Cookie gives his boyfriend Michael some relationship advice. “You need to start preparing yourself,” she tells him. “Fame changes people … Try not to be all up in his business, you know? Make sure you got your own thing going on.” Michael’s reply — “I’m at the culinary institute, studying to be a chef” — is a little ironic when one considers the large appetite of his other self on DYNASTY (“I don’t know if you can hear me over the sound of your digestive tract,” Anders tell Sam this week). “I hope that cooking school is gonna keep you busy because Jamal is gonna have less and less time for you,” predicts Cookie.

Back at the Carrington manor, Blake joins Cristal in the bath before realising she isn’t Cristal, she’s Claudia in a face mask. Then Bo the dog overdoses on Claudia’s medication, which turns out not to be her medication after all. Small wonder Sam describes keeping an eye on Claudia as “crazy-sitting”. “You’re crazy,” echoes John Ross when Fake Marta shows up at his door and suggests they go away together. “You screwed me with my father, undid our business deal, drugged me and then took videos of us having sex … I wouldn’t wanna go across the street with you.” Later on, there’s a break-in at Elena’s and John Ross finds a photo of them together with a knife through it. Is this Elena’s handiwork? Or Vicente’s? Either way, he’s taking no chances and, in time-honoured Soap Land tradition, “beefs up security” by paying a couple of ranch hands, Ace and Buck, to keep an eye on Elena. “Keep your guns handy,” he tells them. Ace and Buck are just a couple of extras — unlike Malcolm DeVeaux, Lucious’s new security chief on EMPIRE. In the same way that the doctor Hap flies in to look after Cody on BLOOD AND OIL is “the finest thoracic surgeon there is in the country," Malcolm is introduced as “the best in the business” who was “awarded the Silver Star of Excellence for courage while under fire while stationed in Iraq.” The way Cookie responds to Malcolm’s charms as he escorts her through security suggests an older woman/younger bodyguard romance of Alexis and Mark Jennings proportions might be imminent.

And this week’s Top 4 are …

1 (2) BLOOD AND OIL
2 (1) DALLAS
3 (3) EMPIRE
4 (4) DYNASTY
 
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James from London

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18 Jul 12: DALLAS: Collateral Damage v. 18 Feb 15: EMPIRE: Our Dancing Days v. 08 Nov 15: BLOOD AND OIL: Fight or Flight v. 29 Nov 17: DYNASTY: A Taste of Your Own Medicine

On this week’s DYNASTY, Steven takes a keen interest in his father’s so-called charitable activities. “I’ve seen the books. I know that donation isn’t all going where you’re saying it does,” he tells Blake. Later on, he confides to Fallon that he’s “pretty sure Dad’s been using foundation money to pay off Stansfield.” On BLOOD & OIL, Wick learns that his father Hap is also under suspicion. “A classified geological report was stolen from the North Dakota Oil and Gas Office,” two FBI agents tell him. “We believe your father was the recipient of that document.” They try to enlist his cooperation in building a case against Hap, but Wick tells them to stick it up their collective ass.

As always, the importance of family is a recurrent theme. The focus on EMPIRE is a “make or break” investor showcase. “Nothing can go wrong,” Lucious declares. He is advised that the best way to appeal to his biggest potential investor is “through family. He’s a real family guy.” “Well, Empire is family,” Lucious replies. “That’s what we’re selling. Family is the whole showcase.” On BLOOD AND OIL, Hap plays the “family first” card too as he rallies his clan to keep the Feds from finding out any inconvenient truths about the company during their investigation. Meanwhile, it’s Thanksgiving on DYNASTY. “Today’s about family and winning this football game,” says Blake referring to the annual “family versus staff pigskin toss”. (It’s nice to see the Carringtons kicking back and hanging out for once instead of continually moving from one glossy crisis to the next. I also like how Blake’s staff have no choice about how they spend their Thanksgiving holiday. “I’m only here because I have to be. For some reason, your father thinks we actually enjoy this,” Michael grumbles to Fallon.) Over on DALLAS, John Ross also attempts to play the family card. “Lucy, you were and always will be my favourite cousin,” he declares before asking Lucy to use her influence with Gary to get the Southfork mineral rights away from Bobby in return for “a significant stake” in Ewing Oil.

(The cousins also find time to reminisce about the time Lucy found John Ross passed out drunk for the first time. “All the grownups were drinking — I wanted to be grown up too,” he reasons. New DALLAS has already made reference not just to Sue Ellen and JR’s history of boozing, but other family members' as well. “I can hardly remember half of the parties I was at here at Southfork,” Lucy admitted a few weeks ago. “That’s because you spent most of them sneaking liquor from the bar,” replied Ray. Meanwhile, Christopher recently described Jock as “an ass-kicking, hard-drinking son of a bitch.” Maybe, looking back at the Ewings’ alcohol consumption in the ‘80s from a 2012 perspective, they all qualify as drunks.)

Ultimately, Lucy disappoints John Ross by siding with Bobby. “Is she in your pocket now?” John Ross asks his uncle. “How’d you play her — tradition, family, Miss Ellie and all that crap?”

“These charges are bullshit!” growls Bobby after he is arrested for the slap he gave Harris Ryland last week. (Swearing on DALLAS — I just love it.) His lawyer then explains that Harris will drop the charges if he apologises. “Ryland is a smug son of a bitch and I refuse to go to him and kiss his ring!” Bobby snarls, before accepting that he has no choice. A similar scenario occurs on DYNASTY when Blake tells Fallon she will only be welcome back at the manor if she apologises to Cristal for leaking her sex tape. “You can’t just waltz back in here and expect everything to be forgotten,” he says when she turns up uninvited for the family football game. Cue two somewhat half-hearted expressions of regret. “I apologise,” Bobby tells Ryland through gritted teeth, before adding a clarification: “My apology doesn’t mean I take back what I did. You mess with my wife in any way and I will beat you into next Sunday.” “I’m sorry for ever having seen your sex tape — and for leaking it,” Fallon tells her stepmom grudgingly. Before Cristal can graciously accept this apology, they are interrupted by a succession of football players eager to greet Fallon with a kiss and/or cuddle. Most of these players give off a “real-life person playing himself” vibe, which probably explains why they don’t all play tonsil hockey with Fallon as freely as those in the equivalent scene back on Old DYNASTY (during Blake and Krystle’s wedding reception) did. Nevertheless, Cristal gets the idea. “The whole team,” she observes drily. “And yet not one sex tape,” replies Fallon sweetly. At this, Blake snaps and sends his daughter packing. “If you can’t respect this family, everyone in this family, then you can spend Thanksgiving with another one,” he tells her.

Some interesting titbits emerge about various characters this week. For instance, Olivia, the woman who turned up at the end of last week’s EMPIRE claiming to have Jamal’s daughter turns out to be his ex-wife. (“Why would you make him marry some stupid-ass backup singer? … He was eighteen, a baby!” yells Cookie at Lucious.) We also learn that DYNASTY’s Michael was a promising football player until a back injury brought his career to a premature end, Claudia Blaisdel was an engineer, Anders’ middle name is Winifred and the C21st version of Cecil Colby is better known as Prisoner 2F529. (Oh, and he’s Jeff’s father rather than his uncle.) Over on DALLAS, Bobby learns that JR’s private eye Bum has a criminal record and JR discovers that Frank Ashkani was “plucked off of the streets of Islamabad” circa 1982 by Cliff who “took a real shine to the kid.” Most intriguingly of all, it appears that Ann Ewing harbours a major secret involving a baby. “There’s a lot about Annie you don’t know,” Harris Ryland tells Bobby gloatingly.

Just as Jamal is doubtful that he can be Olivia’s baby daddy (“The kid can’t be mine — I slept with that girl once!”) so Christopher Ewing greets Rebecca’s claim that she is carrying his child with hostility and suspicion: “You’ve been lying to me for the past two years. How am I supposed to trust a single word that comes out of your mouth?” Adding to Jamal's and Christopher’s frustrations, the children they refuse to claim nonetheless serve as obstacles in their romantic lives. “Elena, I still wanna be with you,” Christopher insists. “You and your child, I can’t get between that,” Elena replies. For Michael on EMPIRE, who is already feeling sidelined by Jamal’s career (“I love you but you’re in love with your music”), the arrival of a long lost daughter is the final straw. “It’s better to end this now before I have to walk out you and a kid,” he tells Jamal tearfully. Back on DALLAS, medical tests prove that not only is Rebecca telling Christopher the truth, but they are expecting twins. One look at the ultrasound and Christopher melts. Back on DYNASTY, Blake is also getting broody. “I think we should have a kid,” he tells Cristal. “This is our chance to put everything behind us and start something new.”

As Michael moves out of Jamal’s place on EMPIRE, his DYNASTY self Sam is becoming more and more ensconced at the Carrington manor. This week, a disapproving Anders finding him in the kitchen cooking “a Venezuelan dish my mom makes for the holidays — pan de Jamon” in preparation for Thanksgiving and later on, Blake even ropes him in as Fallon’s replacement on the family football team.

Trend of the week: the Rise of the Ex-Wives. JR is surprisingly laid back when Bum tells him about John Ross’s problems at Southfork. “A hundred-year-old trust is not gonna hold up in court,” he assures him. “If my boy doesn’t find a way to dissolve it, his mama will.” This casual reference to Sue Ellen tells us more about JR’s faith in her abilities than all those romantic “You’ve changed, Sue Ellen, and so have I” speeches we got used to hearing on the old series. Lucious similarly puts his faith in his ex-wife when, midway through the investors’ showcase, he is struck down by a symptom of his ALS that leaves him unable to deliver his all-important speech. “I need someone who can go and excite these people,” he croaks, ignoring his fiancee and eldest son and looking straight at Cookie. “I need you to go out there and remind them that Empire is a family business built for our sons.” Both Sue Ellen and Cookie rise to the occasion. When Elena is reluctant to help John Ross keep his head above water by supplying enough crude to the scary Venezuelans “to tide them over until John Ross can get his operation [at Southfork] fully going”, Sue Ellen turns the screws ever so slightly. “As the sole investor in your growing enterprise, I hope you will always make the wise choice,” she tells her with a cold smile. Next thing we know, Elena is offering John Ross all the oil he needs. Cookie, meanwhile, goes off-script to deliver a characteristically ballsy yet sufficiently soapy speech that has the rich old white guys reaching for their cheque books: “I’m not gonna be standing up here telling you all what a fine man my ex is … Lucious and I had three sons before he dumped me … He’s also a crazy son of a bitch that had a dream … Empire is more than one man’s dream. It’s a dream come true that’s ready to be passed down to the next generation and the next. And you all can be a part of it.” BLOOD AND OIL, meanwhile, introduces yet one more former wife. This one has bags of money and a score to settle with her ex: “Well, Hap Briggs, look at you — every bit as handsome as the day you walked out on me … I’m coming after you.” To that end, she explains, she has teamed up with Billy LeFever. “Annie Briggs — well, at least it won’t be dull,” Hap chuckles.

The climax of both EMPIRE and DYNASTY is a family gathering where a dramatic secret is revealed. We viewers have been in on one of these secrets since Day One, but the other comes as a complete surprise. Following the showcase, Lucious finally sits his sons and ex-wife down and tells them that he’s dying. Meanwhile, the Carringtons assemble for Thanksgiving dinner whereupon Claudia pulls a gun on them. During the subsequent showdown, Fallon deduces that it was Claudia who killed Matthew way back in Episode 1. Whereas Fallon is pretty much unfazed by “the crazy lady with a gun,” Lucious's sons fall apart when they hear of their father’s illness, first turning on and then embracing each other. The reaction of Andre, both the most ruthless and the most damaged of the three, is particularly moving. He angrily storms off and his wife later finds him sitting in the shower, fully clothed and hyperventilating. (It goes without saying that we don’t get to see this kind of naked vulnerability on New DYNASTY, not even when the characters are being held at gunpoint.)

Lucious’s bombshell brings him and Cookie closer and, with Anika out of town on business, they wind up in his bed. However, Anika returns home unexpectedly and sees them together — but makes sure they don’t see her. Likewise on B&O, Carla discovers that, despite Hap’s assurances to the contrary, he is still sleeping with Jules. So she makes good on her threat to ensure Wick finds them together. Like Anika, he does not confront them directly. Instead, he heads back to the FBI agents investigating his father. “OK, I’m in,” he tells them. “What do you need me to do?” There’s a similar moment near the end of DYNASTY where Steven calls Jeff Colby to ask for his help: “I’m going after the police chief, Stansfield.” “Blake’s pocket cop? … I’m down to hear more,” Jeff assures him.

It’s bye-bye to Soap Land’s two psycho bitches. DYNASTY husband killer Claudia is escorted to a sanatarium over Steven’s objections (“What are you doing?” he asks his father. “Her fate isn’t up to us. You can’t make a plea deal in the living room!”). But as one whodunnit is resolved, another begins as Fake Marta falls, jumps or is pushed from the window of a hotel room that has John Ross’s fingerprints all over it. We know he’s not responsible, but there’s still a satisfying inevitability in the final scene as the police arrive at the ranch to take him away — Bobby, Ann and Elena looking on gravely. Meanwhile, two nondescript characters on BLOOD AND OIL — Ada and Kess — are hastily written out when somebody notices they’re still on the show. They decide to go back to where they came from (Nigeria) after Kess is caught peddling drugs from their food truck to pay his gambling debts.

There are more food-truck-as-a-cover-for-something-nefarious shenanigans at the end of DYNASTY as a Venezuelan bad guy (not to be confused with the Venezuelan bad guys seen approaching Fake Marta’s hotel room shortly before her death) stops by a truck selling arepas to ask about Celia Machado (aka Cristal)’s whereabouts. Vera, the proprietor, pulls a gun on him and tells him to “get back to whatever hole you live in.” Then she calls Cristal to warn her, but Cristal and Blake are busy making babies in soft focus.

And this week’s Top 4 are …

1 (2) DALLAS
2 (3) EMPIRE
3 (1) BLOOD AND OIL
4 (4) DYNASTY
 

James from London

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25 Jul 12: DALLAS: No Good Deed v. 25 Feb 15: EMPIRE: The Lyon's Roar v. 29 Nov 15: BLOOD AND OIL: Rats, Bugs and Moles v. 06 Dec 17: DYNASTY: The Best Things in Life

With the end of their first seasons in sight, there’s an exciting sense of events building towards a climax on DALLAS, EMPIRE and BLOOD AND OIL. DYNASTY, which isn’t even halfway through its first season yet, may not share the same sense of urgency (this week’s episode finds time for an archly ironic subplot in which Blake and Fallon compete to give their business clients the most outrageously extravagant Christmas gifts), but some of its scenes carry a surprising amount of bite. It’s a really strong week all round. Semi-forgotten story threads — such as Andre and Rhonda’s open marriage and Lucious’s “Come out and you’re on your own” ultimatum to Jamal on EMPIRE, plus Anders’ knowledge of Cristal’s true identity and the fatal accident Steven unwittingly caused while working for Carrington Atlantic on DYNASTY — resurface with satisfyingly dramatic results.

One way or another, prisons loom large this week. Following Fake Marta’s death, John Ross is behind bars on DALLAS (“I have hired the best criminal defence attorney in the country,” his mother assures him) and the scene where he is savagely beaten by some Scary Venezuelan inmates is Soap Land at its most violent and gritty. At the other end of the scale, the final scene of BLOOD AND OIL sees Hap Briggs’ wife Carla, clad in a slinky party dress, led away in handcuffs having been arrested “for bribery of a public official, trading in influence and violation of the RICO Act.” EMPIRE, meanwhile, begins and ends with Cookie flashing back to her past life as a prisoner. In the opening scene, we see her at the start of her seventeen-year sentence saying goodbye to her three kids, all of whom are too young to understand what’s happening. At the end of the ep, we see her alone in her cell, singing quietly to comfort herself. It’s an effective way of grounding the character; however outlandish Cookie’s behaviour may get in the present, it’s always tethered to what's happened in her past. There’s a similar juxtaposition on DYNASTY between Cristal’s glamorous present and her grim past when she flashes back to a time when she was barefoot, pregnant and living with her sister Iris, whom she can hear being beaten by her boyfriend (another Scary Venezuelan) in the next room.

John Ross is hospitalised following his beating and Sue Ellen is left with a moral conundrum. “For the past twenty years,” she tells Ann, “I’ve tried to walk this side of right, but the only way I can see for me to help John Ross is if I cross a line, a big one, and if I do that, what does that make me?” “A mother,” Ann replies. John Ross is not the only murder suspect lying unconscious in a hospital bed — BLOOD AND OIL’s Garry is too. He regained consciousness last week, just long enough to mumble Billy LeFever’s name. Before he can wake up again and say anything else, Billy pays a visit to his bedside where it looks like he’s about to switch off Garry’s life support thingy — but then he’s interrupted by the ever-suspicious Sheriff Tip.

Down the corridor in the DALLAS wing of Soap Land Memorial Hospital, John Ross also receives an unscheduled visitor. This one, however, is shrouded in mystery. First, we see a pair of cowboy boots, followed by a door swinging open, then a glimpse of a darkened figure, before the silhouette of a Stetson against a hospital curtain pretty much gives the game away — yep, instead of the C21st equivalent of Katherine Wentworth or Pamela Lynch or even Mary Frances Sumner’s boyfriend wielding a fatal syringe, it’s JR. He looks down at his sleeping son, a concerned expression on his face, before reaching out and touching his hair.

While Sue Ellen contemplates crossing over to the dark side and B&O good guy Billy comes dangerously close to committing murder, it transpires that Soap Land’s bad guys have their limits — or at least, some of them do. When a bruised and battered John Ross regains consciousness, he refuses to point the finger at Vicente for killing Fake Marta for fear of endangering the rest of the Ewings. “These people are dangerous, Christopher,” he tells his cousin. “I’ve already put our family through enough … If I wasn’t so damn desperate to drill that oil, to measure up to JR —” Hap Briggs likewise exhibits some unexpected family loyalty when Carla suggests pinning the blame for the stolen report on one of his children. “I already have one ex-wife,” he reminds her. “If you ever even think about throwing my kids under the bus again, you’ll be the second.” But Carla will not be stopped. “When it comes to protecting Briggs Oil, I can and will do whatever it takes,” she vows. And that is what leads to her arrest at the end of the ep.

Whereas John Ross refuses to drag his daddy down with him (“This is my mess to clean up, not JR’s”), DYNASTY’s Steven, EMPIRE’s Andre and B&O’s Wick all continue to plot behind their respective father’s backs. Meanwhile, Sue Ellen finally crosses that line she was so worried about to help her son. It’s fair to say none of these schemes goes according to plan.

On EMPIRE, Andre puts himself forward to become the interim CEO of the company, which means he would automatically assume control should Lucious becomes incapacitated. “And if I’m the temporary CEO, it shouldn’t be too hard to go from temporary to permanent,” he reasons. B&O’s Wick, meanwhile, still eager to pay his father back for sleeping with his girlfriend, agrees to wear a wireless transmitter for the FBI. “Get your father talking about how he illegally acquired the USGS report and we’ll have enough evidence to put him away for twenty-five years,” they assure him.

DALLAS, BLOOD AND OIL and DYNASTY all feature a black law enforcer who is only too willing to assist his respective show’s richest (and whitest) characters. While it might be unfair to describe DALLAS’s Sheriff Derrick as the Ewings’ pocket cop — there has been no indication thus far that he is in any way crooked — he nonetheless makes special visits to Southfork to keep Bobby abreast of John Ross’s case and agrees without question to Christopher’s request to run a background check on Rebecca. Like Derrick, BLOOD AND OIL’s Sheriff Tip seemed pretty much incorruptible back when the series began, but since then his buddy-buddy friendship with Hap Briggs has made him appear increasingly suspect. This week, he goes so far as to slip Hap the following titbit: “One of my deputies overheard the federal agent on the phone and it was crystal clear — the informant is in Hap Briggs’ executive ranks … I’m telling you this because we’re friends.” Hap subsequently has all his employees, including kin, searched for some kind of surveillance device, Wick only manages to escape detection by the skin of his teeth. The prize for Soap Land’s most corrupt cop, meanwhile, goes to Police Chief Stansfield on DYNASTY.

When Steven was arrested for Matthew Blaisdel’s murder at the beginning of the season, he didn’t undergo anywhere near the kind of ordeal John Ross has since Fake Marta’s death. (In fact, he was out on bail so fast we never even saw him behind bars.) He makes up for that this week when his investigation into Stansfield results in him being apprehended by some heavies who place a hood over his head and bundle him into the back of a truck. The real shocker comes when the hood is removed and Steven comes face to face with his abductor — his own father. “How else am I supposed to get you to understand who serious this is?” Blake asks him. “Next time it is going to be Stansfield … I know what he’s capable of and I know he can get away with it … If you care about this family, you will leave this alone.” This gives Steven something else in common with John Ross — both have awakened an enemy that now endangers their entire family. But whereas John Ross has been scared into silence, Steven is more determined than ever to nail Stansfield. “I’ve never seen my father the way he was last night,” he later confides to Jeff. “He was scared. That tells me he’s lost control of Stansfield.”

To become Empire’s interim CEO, Andre needs to win a board member over to his side and decides that Janet Blakely, an attractive former model, is his best shot. “Guess what she likes even more than Mr Blakely?” he asks wife Rhonda. “Girls — blondes in particular. If only I knew someone who could entice her to vote for me. Know any hot blondes who like to use sex for power?” Rhonda, who is, of course, a hot blonde, takes the hint and is happy to help. Even when she and Andre are en route to dinner with the Blakelys and he tells her there has been “a slight change in strategy” and it is now Mr Blakely who wants to sleep with her, she remains unfazed. That’s before they get to the Blakely apartment and she realises sees he’s a fat old man in a wheelchair.

There’s more pimping on BLOOD AND OIL. Now that Sheriff Tip’s tip-off has rendered Wick’s transmitter useless, the Feds come up with an alternative device — an exact replica of Hap’s phone, only with a listening device inside of it. They task Wick with the job of swapping the duplicate phone for the real one, but how can he get close enough without alerting his father’s suspicions? Enter Jules, who has just discovered Hap’s had another woman on the go all along. “I can see now what a bastard he is,” she tells Wick, insisting that it’s now him (Wick) she loves and Hap she hates. “What if I told you there was a way to get back at him?” Wick asks her. And so it is that Jules, eager to prove her allegiance to Wick, agrees to have sex with Hap one last time, in order to switch the phones. After she’s done the dirty deed, however, Wick rejects her anyway. “I love you,” she insists. “Last week you loved Hap,” he reminds her, “and today you made it possible to put him in federal prison. That’s a hell of a way to love someone, isn’t it, Jules? I think I’ll get out while I can.” Jules subsequently gets drunk before taking an overdose of pills.

Back on EMPIRE, Rhonda likewise hits the bottle when faced with the prospect of sleeping with a disabled old man. When Mr Blakely casually mentions over dinner that Stephen Hawking can still get an erection (“There are some men that can’t be held back, even by a wheelchair”), she promptly throws up over the table, thereby bringing the evening to an abrupt end. On the drive home, she tells Andre she’s had enough of their extra-marital games. “Maybe you could just be a man and not turn your wife into a geriatric whore,” she suggests, “because I am so over it.”

In the event, all of Andre’s scheming comes to nought when Lucious vetos him as interim CEO and accuses him of “campaigning behind my back.” Over on DALLAS, Sue Ellen’s scheme also backfires. First of all, she pays a visit to the coroner presiding over Fake Marta’s autopsy and, using a combination of bribery (“I’m going to be the next Governor of Texas — you could be the next Chief Medical Examiner”) and blackmail (“You have been writing more prescriptions than Michael Jackson’s doctor — which is odd since all of your patients are dead”), strong-arms him into ruling Fake Marta’s death a suicide. But then, having sacrificed her integrity, broken the law and jeopardised her political future, she realises she needn’t have bothered as the charges against John Ross have been dropped anyway. To muddy the waters still further, she learns from the medical examiner that Fake Marta didn't commit suicide: “The victim had defensive wounds. Since your son is innocent, that means I just let the real killer walk.” “… No-one has to know about this,” she insists, that moral line she crossed now a long way in the distance.

Fake Marta’s isn’t the only death to have been falsely ruled a suicide in recent weeks. A few episodes ago, Matthew Blaisdel’s friend Willy was found dead from a seemingly self-inflicted gunshot wound alongside a suicide note confessing to Matthew’s murder. But now that Claudia has admitted to killing Matthew, Steven tells Jeff that he’s pretty certain Stansfield bumped off Willy himself “and made it look like a suicide ... to keep suspicion off me and my dad … Stansfield went rogue.”

So, while Wick bugs his father’s phone on B&O, Steven bugs the fountain pen on his father’s study desk before summoning Stansfield in for a meeting. He raises the subject of Willy’s “suicide," but Stansfield is too wily to incriminate himself. “I don’t know anything about that,” he says, “but it does remind me of another coverup … to do with an oil rig worker who died in the field. Nothing too unusual except the faulty rig had just been inspected, signed off on by some inexperienced, unqualified kid... The guy fell and snapped his neck and died instantly. Now luckily for Carrington Atlantic, the idiotic inspector was the boss’s son … His daddy paid his best field engineer Blaisdel to bury the truth — all so you could keep living in your sanctimonious bubble.” So, instead of Steven incriminating Stansfield on tape, Stansfield has just done the same thing to Steven. And so another fine plan bites the dust.

As Steven reels from the discovery that he is responsible for one death, B&O’s Cody LeFever is shocked to learn of her husband’s participation in another. Moreover, she hears about it from the dead man himself. Having received word that Garry has regained consciousness, she rushes to Soap Land Memorial to ask him why he spoke her husband’s name in last week’s ep. “They chased me off a cliff,” he replies, referring to Billy and Wick. “I was bleeding. I begged for help, for mercy … He just walked away and left me for dead.” These turn out to be Garry’s last words before he finally dies of his injuries. Cody reacts the way many previous Soap Land wives have upon realising that the Mr Perfect they married has feet of clay: she packs a suitcase, tells her husband she doesn’t know who he is anymore and walks out the door while muttering something about needing time to think. Back on DYNASTY, Steven deals with his bombshell altogether more decadently — by snorting lines of cocaine as he arranges to hook up with his junkie ex, Ted Dinard, in New York.

It’s at a party to celebrate the thirty-fifth anniversary of Briggs Oil that Wick’s plan to bring down his father goes wrong. Persuaded by his daughter to cut loose on the dance floor, Hap removes the jacket containing his all-important phone and it ends up in the study. And so the phone records Carla, rather than Hap, discussing the illegal deal they made with a crooked politician, which is why she’s the one who ends up in handcuffs.

It’s also party time on EMPIRE and DYNASTY. (There again, when is it not party time on EMPIRE and DYNASTY? Scarcely an episode of either goes by without some kind of glitzy gathering.) This week, it’s the White Ball on EMPIRE and the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony on DYNASTY. As ever, Soap Land gatherings are an opportunity for female characters to dress glamorously while exchanging catty remarks. At the Ball, Cookie has her first encounter with Hakeem’s older girlfriend (Naomi Campbell) whom she immediately identifies as “a cougar bitch who’s clearly taking advantage of his mommy issues … You need to stay your tired ass away from my son.” (As if Naomi Campbell’s ass has ever been even remotely fatigued.) On B&O, Carla also plays the age card when Hap’s first wife Annie shows up to celebrate the company she claims to have started: “I never forget an anniversary.” “I’m happy to see that your advanced age hasn’t caused memory loss,” replies Carla sweetly. Both bitchy exchanges end with an oral sex gag (no pun intended). “Don’t mess with me, Cookie — I’m not one of your jailbird mates, OK?” warns Naomi. “I wish you were,” Cookie purrs in reply. “You probably would have made a good bitch for me — you look like you got a long tongue.” This makes Annie’s putdown to Carla — “I got into the oil business on my own two feet, not on my knees” — sound positively demure by comparison. Meanwhile, at the Christmas tree ceremony, Fallon performs DYNASTY’s stunt of the week by locking a naked Michael and Kori on the roof of the city library.

Elsewhere at the White Ball, Lucious delivers an uplifting speech to Jamal about their family legacy (“You gotta remember why God put us on this planet, Mal — regardless of how we fight or how we feel about each other or try to hurt each other — the music, man. The music, that’s forever … Tell your truth in the music”) which has the unintended effect of inspiring Jamal to use music to publicly come out there and then. He takes to the stage and alters the gender pronouns of one of his father’s best-loved numbers to get his message across. ”It’s the kind of song that makes a man love a man,” he sings. Sure enough, the performance makes headlines. “He came out,” Cookie shrugs. “The world is still spinning, Lucious. No-one cares that he’s gay.” “But I do. I care so much,” Lucious insists, his voice trembling. “This is not a family, it’s a disgrace!” Bobby Ewing expresses a similar sentiment on a visit to his mama’s grave. “Our family is as fractured and dysfunctional as always,” he sighs. (Bizarre but touching: we now have scenes of both Bobby and Miss Ellie delivering soliloquies at each other’s gravesides.)

Despite the influx of non-caucasian faces in C21st Soap Land, there hasn’t been any sense of the shows “tackling” race as an “issue”. Happily, we’re kind of beyond that now. But neither does Soap Land ignore the subject the way it mostly did in the ‘80s. Rather, conventionally soapy storylines — father/son issues, corrupt cops — are informed by the characters’ racial identities, thus adding another layer to them. On EMPIRE, for instance, Jamal starts dating Ryan, a filmmaker, who is also black (as well as Australian). They discuss the difficulties of coming out to their fathers. “The joys of being the son of a black man,” says Ryan ironically.

On DYNASTY, Jeff Colby’s contempt for Stansfield being Blake’s pocket cop is all the more significant because they are both black. “Clearly you’ve forgotten the value of your freedom or you wouldn’t have taken a gig as an errand boy for some corrupt and unremarkable white man,” says Jeff. “We can’t all be overnight billionaires,” Stansfield sneers. “Before I was rich,” Jeff replies, “I was just a kid who looked up to you. I’d see you on the news, taking down bad guys, taking care of people. My daddy couldn’t get it together, but you showed me it was possible to in a world where we have to work twice as hard to get half as far.”

Things get really complex in a blistering showdown between Lucious and Andre on EMPIRE. “I voted against you because I can’t trust you,” Lucious informs his son. “The moment you brought that white woman into my house, I knew then I couldn’t trust you. I knew then that you didn’t want to be a part of my family.” “… You know why my family hates me?” Andre snaps back. “Because I’m not talented — not the way you want, right? Because I studied in school and got good grades and went to college. You hate me because I want to be accepted.” “And they will NEVER accept you!” Lucious shouts. “They will accept your money, Dre, but they will never accept your black ass and I don’t give a damn how many white women you marry, they will NEVER accept you!” In part, Andre is following in the classic Soap Land tradition of Adam Carrington, Richard Channing, JR Ewing and now John Ross — no matter how hard he works or how frantically he schemes, he can never fully win his father’s approval. But the racial aspect adds a fascinating extra dimension: Andre needs to succeed in the “white” business world because there is no real place for him in his own (black) family as he has no musical ability. An unexpected link later arises between Lucious’s relationship with Andre (“The moment you brought that white woman into my house, I knew then I couldn’t trust you”) and the one between Blake Carrington and his as-yet-unseen daddy Tom. “My own father didn’t come to our wedding because he didn’t approve of her pedigree,” admits Blake to Anders during a discussion about Cristal.

Like Steven on DYNASTY (doing coke) and Jules on BLOOD AND OIL (overdosing on pills), Andre on B&O also winds up pounding on the self destruct button. In a really powerful scene, we find him sitting alone in the same recording booth where he’d watched the rest of his family singing together earlier in the episode. He puts a gun to his head and pulls the trigger. When the chamber proves to be empty, he howls in despair.

Amidst all the deceit and the self-destruction, there are a couple of genuinely touching reconciliations this week. “Why’d you do it — after everything I’ve done?” asks John Ross after learning that Christopher exchanged his precious methane whatnot with Vicente for evidence that would prove him (John Ross) innocent of murder. “I realised … we’re not so different after all,” Christopher replies. “We’re both just trying to make our fathers proud.” They shake hands. It’s a simple enough exchange yet oddly moving in a way equivalent reconciliation scenes between JR and Bobby on the old series never were (and probably weren’t intended to be). It’s hard to pinpoint the difference exactly — except to say that it’s as if everyone on New DALLAS has had a layer of skin removed; they’re all that bit more sensitive, that bit more vulnerable. Everything matters. Meanwhile, at the start of this week’s EMPIRE, Hakeem and Andre agree to put their differences aside in light of their father’s illness (“Look, we just gotta do whatever it is to make Dad happy”), only to soon start squabbling again. However, towards the end of the episode, there is a surprisingly sweet scene where the normally spoilt and self-involved Hakeem visits Jamal after the latter has come out. “I came, brother to brother, to tell you how proud I am of you … It’s the bravest thing I’ve seen in my life,” he tells him, and Jamal rewards him with a big old hug.

There’s yet more reconciliation in the air towards the end of DALLAS as Christopher’s attitude towards Rebecca starts to soften. “I’m so tired of being angry … I wanna let it go, Rebecca,” he admits, “but I’m not sure I can. I need to know there’s nothing else you’re not telling me. I need to be sure there are no more secrets.” “There aren’t,” she insists — thereby setting us up for a great final scene where she receives a visit from her gold-digging brother Tommy whom she thought she’d gotten rid of. He’s still after Christopher’s methane extraction thingy: “The technology’s worth billions!” When Rebecca tries to argue with him, he kisses her full on the mouth, causing our minds to reel for the few seconds it takes for him to come up for air and deliver his next line: “Man, are you so deep in this lie that you still think we’re brother and sister?” (It’s a suspended moment similar to the one on Old DALLAS when Clayton admitted to Ray and Donna that Jessica was Dusty’s mother a full five seconds before adding that he wasn’t his father.) While we’re still wrapping our heads around the idea that Tommy and Rebecca aren’t siblings after all, he gives her an ultimatum: “If you don’t steal me that technology, I’m gonna tell Christopher everything!”

Rebecca isn’t the only character caught between a rock and a hard place. Lucious is torn between the two women in his life, his ex-wife and his fiancee. “You want Cookie’s nookie? Ditch the bitch,” says the former. “Marry me tomorrow,” instructs the latter. Lucious being Lucious, he agrees to both demands. Meanwhile, the Scary Venezuelans on DYNASTY track Cristal down and demand $30,000. She turns to Anders for help, which leads in turn to another reconciliation. “It is my duty to protect this family, including those that I can no longer pretend aren’t part of the family,” he declares, before helping her pay off the bad guys. However, their truce comes to an abrupt end when he discovers that she has been taking an IUD behind Blake’s back (which calls to mind Original Monica’s quip about Sable: “Mother is so straight she once thought the IUD was a federal agency”). This time, Anders refuses to keep the truth from Blake. “I will protect the secrets of your past but I won’t lie if it affects his future,” he tells Cristal.

Flattery of the week: In the opening scene of EMPIRE, Cookie tells Lucious he is “still the only man I’ve ever been with.” “I’ve been with a whole lot of women, Cookie,” he replies, “but I was always looking for you in them.” Jeff similarly compliments Fallon on DYNASTY when she asks about the woman he spent Thanksgiving with: “I was with someone and she was hot — but she wasn’t you.” (The reality is she wasn’t anybody — she’s a lie he made up to conceal the fact that he was actually visiting his father in prison.)

And this week’s Top 4 are …

1 (1) DALLAS
2 (2) EMPIRE
3 (3) BLOOD AND OIL
4 (4) DYNASTY
 
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01 Aug 12: DALLAS: Family Business v. 04 Mar 15: EMPIRE: Unto the Breach v. 06 Dec 15: BLOOD AND OIL: The Art of the Deal v. 13 Dec 17: DYNASTY: Rotten Things

DALLAS and BLOOD AND OIL began the season with the same conundrum: what do you do when you discover a huge untapped oil reserve under a piece of land that cannot be drilled (Southfork on DALLAS, the Black Elk Indian reservation on B&O)? Nine episodes later, both shows come up with the same answer: you slant-drill it from an adjacent property. “We can drill from the Henderson rig, down and under the ranch,” Elena explains, showing Bobby a map of what she is proposing. “This is a way to get the oil without having to go against what you promised Miss Ellie,” adds John Ross. A similar map is produced on BLOOD AND OIL. “We siphon out their oil with our straw from our land,” Hap Briggs explains. “The land remains pristine and we all get rich,” adds Carla.

Bobby’s meeting with Elena and John Ross is interrupted when he suffers an aneurysm which may or may not be related to the treatment he’s been receiving for his cancer. The episode takes an unexpected interest in the impact this has on John Ross who didn’t know anything about his uncle’s illness before now. “Why didn’t anyone tell me? Why didn’t you tell me?” he asks Elena. “Bobby asked me not to,” she admits. “He thought … you and JR would use it against him to get Southfork.” John Ross’s first response is to pin Bum against a wall and order him to find JR: “Tell him his brother’s dying.”

Slant-drilling might sound like the best solution for both the Ewings and the Briggs, but in each case, there is a complication. Christopher is angry when he learns that his cousin is still intent on getting his hands on Southfork oil, but agrees not to oppose the operation on one condition: that John Ross persuades JR to sign the deed to the ranch back to Bobby. “It’s about giving my father some peace of mind,“ he explains. “You keep saying you wanna fix the damage you’ve done. I know you love your father, but your whole life, my father was there for you when JR wasn’t. The John Ross that I used to know loved my father and if any of that person is still inside of you, you’ll do whatever it takes to get Southfork back for him.” This brief speech conjures up several conflicting elements of the DALLAS saga: the richly complicated relationship which exists between the cousins in the present, the more innocent Omri Katz and Joshua Harris versions who grew up together in the original series, and a slightly reconfigured (and more poignant) backstory in which JR was an absentee father to John Ross. It’s a heady mix.

Meanwhile, the complicating factor on BLOOD AND OIL is that Hap is not the only one who owns a parcel of land adjacent to the Indian reservation — his ex-wife Annie and Billy LeFever do too, which means they are also in a position to slant-drill for the oil. So the race is on to get the rights from the Indians. “All we have to do is persuade the chief …” begins Carla in one scene; “… that we are the only partners that can drill that oil,” continues Annie in another.

Having learned of Bobby’s illness, JR returns home, but refuses to consider the idea of “signing Southfork over to anybody … This land is finally mine like it should have been all along!” he barks at John Ross.

“I’ve spent my entire life missing him, wanting to be with him, wanting to be him … I always thought if I was more like him that he’d be proud of me, that would be enough. But it isn’t. I love my father but he’s so lost in his own anger and bitterness there’s no room for anybody else.” John Ross’s movingly delivered account of growing up with and without JR is mirrored by both Andre’s despair as he talks to his brothers about their dad on EMPIRE (“He’ll never see me, man, not like he sees you. No matter what I do, he’ll never see me — God!”) and Sam’s description of his upbringing on DYNASTY (“I grew up feeling completely worthless, thinking why should anybody care about me if my dad didn’t?”).

There was a very touching moment in the opening episode of New DALLAS where Bobby, visiting JR in the nursing home, gently kissed him on the forehead and told him he loved him. This wasn’t exactly news — we’ve known since early on in DALLAS’s original run that, despite all their differences, Bobby cares about his brother deep down. However, I’m not sure I’d truly felt it until that scene. And I've never felt it more strongly than in this episode when Bobby, weary and in pain, says to his brother, matter-of-factly, without sentiment, “JR, I love you. No matter what.” It’s as moving as anything in DALLAS history, including Swan Song.

John Ross’s describing JR as “lost in his own anger and bitterness” and Sue Ellen reminding him that “the depression that put you into that nursing home happened because all you really cared about was you being on top, and when it all fell apart, you realised you had nothing” recall the suicidal JR at the end of the original series, but in richer, more interesting terms than he appeared at the time. “Well, I’m back, honey, and I’m gonna be bigger than ever!” JR insists, turning on the old bravado. “And you still have nothing,” replies Sue Ellen sadly. Somehow it’s all so poignant, so moving. The actors — Hagman, Henderson, Gray and especially Duffy — are as good, if not better, in this episode than they ever have been. They imbue their characters with more than what’s in the script: a sense of history, an awareness of their own mortality, a humanity. As wonderfully soapy as Bobby, JR, John Ross and Sue Ellen have always been, for the first time they truly feel like real people.

This shift is neatly symbolised by the framed photo that catches JR’s attention as he sits behind the desk in the Southfork study for the first time. It’s a picture of himself and Bobby in younger days — or to be more accurate, it’s a snap of Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy on what appears to be a real-life fishing trip. They look happy and relaxed together in a way we’ve never really seen on screen before: Duffy displays his catch with one hand and gives a thumbs up with the other while Hagman has an arm around his shoulder. They look less like stylised soap characters and more like regular human beings. There’s an equivalent moment in Burden of Proof, the Season 4 episode of KNOTS LANDING where Richard Avery leaves the cul-de-sac for good. At one point, the camera lingers on a framed picture of him holding a baby. It’s meant to be his screen son Jason, but it can’t be — the child is younger than Jason was when KNOTS started. Presumably, it’s the actor with his own son. This KNOTSian blurring of the real and the fictional is very potent. In the same way, when Bobby says to JR, “Nobody lives forever”, one is reminded of Larry Hagman’s real-life health issues as much as Bobby’s fictional ones.

The opening scene of EMPIRE is great and recalls some familiar scenarios from Soap Land’s past. Lucious and Anika meet with their wedding planner to discuss their outrageously lavish big day (“More doves, more champagne, more everything!”), even though we know that Anika is secretly planning some kind of revenge on Lucious for cheating on her with Cookie. (Shades of Abby Ewing going ahead with her wedding to Charles Scott even after learning of his scheme to defraud her.) Then in barges Cookie, accompanied by faithful lieutenant Porsha, who informs Lucious that Anika has joined forces with his arch-nemesis: “She working with Beretti … Yeah, while you up here planning weddings, this bitch planning how to steal everything you got!” She and Porsha then march upstairs and proceed to toss Anika’s clothes over the balcony. Cookie’s “Get these damn ugly ass debutante clothes outta here!” is her version of Alexis Colby’s “Take this junk and your blonde tramp and get out of my home!” Following on from all this fun soapy stuff is a really good, emotional argument between Anika and Lucious. “This is not even me!” Anika yells tearfully as if insisting she is not by nature a two-dimensional Soap Land schemer. “I am not a treacherous person, Lucious, but you — you — you have twisted my love and made it some awful thing!”

Another cheated on mistress strikes back on BLOOD AND OIL as Jules makes a super quick recovery from her overdose to fill Hap in on his son’s duplicity (“Wick knows about us … which is why he asked me to bug you for the Feds”) before cutting her ties with both Briggs men: “The two of you can take your manipulative arses and … go to hell.” This puts Anika and Wick in similar positions. Both have secretly plotted revenge against the man who betrayed them (her fiancee, his father) and both are found out this week. For their part, Lucious and Hap each behave as if they were the injured party. “Are you playing me?” a wounded sounding Lucious asks Anika. “What kind of son did I raise that betrays his father?” an indignant Hap asks Wick. “You are accusing me of betrayal, after all those women, all those lies and now her?!” replies Anika, pointing towards Cookie. “You were sleeping with my girlfriend!” shouts Wick at Hap. “I wanted to make you pay for all the times you made me feel like crap. I wanted to see you rot in jail.”

Wick’s warning to his father (“You are an old man, Hap … At some point you’re gonna look back on your life and the only thing you’re gonna see is oil, the only thing you love and maybe the only thing that loves you back”) mirrors Sue Ellen’s words to JR: “All you really cared about was you being on top and when it all fell apart, you realised you had nothing … You still have nothing.”

While this week’s DALLAS, EMPIRE and BLOOD AND OIL mostly consist of in-fighting amongst their existing characters, DYNASTY adds no less than four long-lost relatives to the mix: Cristal’s sister Iris (a grumpy gold digger), Blake’s father Tom (a fun bigot), Jeff and Monica’s father Cecil (a prison inmate) and Sam’s father Alejandro (who, despite being stabbed to death by Cristal in a flashback, shows up alive and well and calling himself Diego Calastana at the end of the ep: “Blake Carrington, what a pleasure it is to meet you — I’ve been looking forward to this for quite some time.”)

In the opening episodes of New DALLAS and New DYNASTY, Christopher Ewing and Blake Carrington married Rebecca Sutter and Cristal Jennings respectively, neither realising that his new bride was lying about her identity. Since then, both women have come clean — up to a point. There’s still more to tell and Rebecca’s phony brother Tommy and Cristal’s scheming sister Iris are threatening to spill the rest of the beans to their respective husbands. “The plans to Christopher’s rig or I put a bullet in your little fairytale,” snarls Tommy. “If I tell your husband what really happened, who do you think will be on a flight out of Atlanta?” threatens Iris.

There are three physical altercations between Soap Land siblings this week: brother versus brother versus brother on EMPIRE, sister versus sister on DYNASTY and brother versus sister on DALLAS. And there is a musical component to all three.

We’ve never seen the three Lyon brothers alone together until this week. Following Anika’s defection, the family and the company are in crisis mode (“We at war!”) with everyone focused on either signing new clients or keeping existing ones from jumping ship. Alas, eldest son Andre has chosen this very week to stop taking his bipolar medication and is acting more irrationally than ever. When Hakeem questions his manic behaviour, he starts teasing him. Then Jamal teases Andre in return, only for Andre takes it the wrong way and before you know it, all three brothers are slamming each other up against walls. Oh, and did I mention this entire fight scene takes place in an elevator? All of a sudden, they get stuck between floors. Whereas the equivalent scenario involving Bobby and JR on old DALLAS was just a random occurrence, this time the elevator breakdown is part of the bigger storyline. (“The elevator’s not a malfunction,” reports the security chief. “We’re being hacked from the eighteenth floor — elevators, phones, internet.”) During the DALLAS stuck-in-an-elevator episode, JR flashed back to a conversation with Bobby from the beginning of the series where he pointed out that as the eldest son, he’d borne the brunt of their father’s disciplinarian approach to parenthood (“While you were out there sowing your wild oats … I was here, busting my butt under our father. And let me tell you, he’s not an easy man to work for”). Here, Andre makes the same point to Jamal and Hakeem, but in a far less cool and collected way than JR did. “You got no idea!” he screams in their faces. “You weren’t even there when it was really hard … You were just babies … I made Empire — 8:00 to 10:00! 8:00 to 10:00! 8:00 to 10:00 every day! I’d go home and work!” Jamel tries to calm him down by reminding him of the song he (Andre) used to sing to his brothers when they were small and scared — ‘Lean on Me’ by Bill Withers. Tentatively, the brothers all start singing and end up in a three-way embrace. That probably sounds disgustingly cheesy, but it’s beautifully done.

By way of contrast, Fallon and Steven deliver a rendition of ‘Good King Wenceslas’ at the Carrington Christmas party so lacklustre that it prompts Sam to burst into an impromptu salsa routine in an attempt to liven things up. (And very good it is too — if he’d busted these kinds of moves on EMPIRE, he and Jamal might still be together.) Cristal joins in, which triggers Iris’s jealousy: “Now that you’re part of this family and have all this money, you think you can just push me out and take my son?” A sisterly catfight ensues, during which the enormous Carrington Christmas tree is overturned, just as the one in Merry Christmas, Charley (FALCON CREST Season 9) was during Ian St James and Frank Agretti’s fight to the death twenty-three years earlier.

Speaking of fights to the death, the final and most violent Battle of the Siblings takes place in the closing minutes of DALLAS between fake brother and sister Tommy and Rebecca Sutter. Rebecca’s refusal to steal Christopher’s top-secret plans for him means that Tommy has lost a deal worth a fortune. So when he shows up at her apartment, he is angry enough to strike her across the face as soon as she opens the door. “I was fine living off the little cons I was pulling,” he rants. “Then you show up, wiggle your ass, tell me I’m going to make millions off this Texas oil kid … I did everything you asked me to.” He grabs her by the neck and pushes her onto the bed, one hand over her throat and the other pulling at her jeans. It’s not clear if he’s gonna rape her or kill her or both. (This makes Rebecca, following Cody on B&O, the second pregnant woman to be violently attacked so far this season.) She whacks him with an alarm clock, rushes to her purse and pulls out a gun. He grabs for it and they struggle — just as Krystle and Claudia, Sean Rowan and Dex, and JR and Nick Pearce have before them. Inevitably, the gun goes off and then just as inevitably, the camera cuts away before we can see which of them was hit. In place of a shocked or screaming bystander, we cut to a shot of the two identical chimps Rebecca and Christopher bought earlier in the ep, and which are now splattered with blood. (This cuddly toy/gunshot juxtaposition recalls another moment from Merry Christmas, Charley when Emma unzipped a stuffed rabbit and pulled out the weapon she then shot her husband with.) Rather than Sammy Joe’s salsa or Bill Withers’ 'Lovely Day’, the musical element in this scene is Johnny Cash singing ‘The Man Comes Around’ on the soundtrack. Using preexisting pop music in an extra-diegetic way was never part of the original DALLAS aesthetic, of course, but suddenly Cash and DALLAS feel like a perfect fit — lean and brooding, western and mythic. (And let us not forget that a Ewing mother-in-law, Lilimae Clements, once claimed to have sung on stage with Cash’s mother-in-law, Maybelle Carter.)

“Can you imagine what Ewing Oil would have been today if our fathers had been allies instead of enemies?” John Ross asks his cousin towards the end of this week’s DALLAS. “It didn’t have to be this way. Jock — he set them against each other.” “And we carried on the family tradition,” replies Christopher. He then suggests they break the cycle and go into business together: “Ewing Energies has a nice ring to it. Don’t you think?” The way they sell the idea to Bobby (“We thought it was time for a little peace in this family”) makes it sounds like a can’t lose proposition. Even JR finally comes around and signs the deed to Southfork back to his brother. There’s further family bonding on EMPIRE as the Lyons come out ahead of Beretti and Anika, and celebrate with another singalong. But the harmony of both families is shattered by a medical crisis. Bobby suffers a second attack at Southfork while Andre has a complete meltdown in the Empire boardroom. “You are my son and I love you,” Lucious tells him. “You love me too?!” Andre sneers. “He loves me too! You choosing me to take over Empire since you love me?” “You know I haven’t decided which one of my sons —“ Lucious begins. “Piece of business advice from that Wharton education you paid so handsomely for,” Andre whispers, pressing his forehead against his father’s. “You pick the one who knows you’re a murderer.” It’s a brilliantly chilling moment and recalls John Ross’s earlier observation about what his grandfather did to JR and Bobby: “It didn’t have to be this way. Jock — he set them against each other.” Bobby and Andre are each taken away by ambulance.

The separation of BLOOD AND OIL’s super couple, Billy and Cody, continues to follow the blueprint laid down by similar estrangements in ‘80s Soap Land — the introduction of potential love interests leading to further complications and misunderstandings. While visiting Jules in the hospital, Cody is mistaken for a nurse by a handsome doctor who reprimands her for not being at her post. It’s the cutesiest of meet-cutes. When they later run into each other in a bar, Billy sees them together and jumps to the wrong conclusion. Annoyed, Cody deliberately flirts with Dr Meet Cute to make Billy jealous. So Billy gets drunk and kisses Emma the sexy geologist, and Cody ends up seeing them together. So far so enjoyably hackneyed — but there's a twist! At the end of the ep, the two companies competing to slant-drill under the Indian reservation (Hap, Carla, Lacey and AJ on one team, Annie, Billy, Emma and Wick on the other) sit down with the leader, Chief Elaine Whitecloud, and make their respective sales pitches. “The only deal I’ll make is in the interest of my people,” the chief declares. “I’ve asked my son to join us. He’s my best adviser and especially good at cutting through the bull.” And in walks Dr Meet Cute!

And this week's Top 4 are ...
1 (1) DALLAS
2 (2) EMPIRE
3 (3) BLOOD AND OIL
4 (4) DYNASTY
 

Willie Oleson

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the Season 4 episode of KNOTS LANDING where Richard Avery leaves the cul-de-sac for good. At one point, the camera lingers on a framed picture of him holding a baby. It’s meant to be his screen son Jason, but it can’t be - the child is younger than Jason was when KNOTS started
Why is that not possible? Jason must have been a baby once?
Anika yells tearfully (……)“I am not a treacherous person, Lucious, but you — you — you have twisted my love and made it some awful thing!”
What a pompous way of wording it, especially during an argument. It sounds so very Greenleaf.
(“We at war!”)
Hahaha.

Tentatively, the brothers all start singing and end up in a three-way embrace. That probably sounds disgustingly cheesy, but it’s beautifully done.
I was very invested in the scene and that's why it worked for me.
John Ross will also have his elevator scene, but you're not there yet. It's one of my many favourite scenes from new Dallas.

(This cuddly toy/gunshot juxtaposition recalls another moment from Merry Christmas, Charley when Emma unzipped a stuffed rabbit and pulled out the weapon she then shot her husband with.)
(And let us not forget that a Ewing mother-in-law, Lilimae Clements, once claimed to have sung on stage with Cash’s mother-in-law, Maybelle Carter.)
Good memory!

that it prompts Sam to burst into an impromptu salsa routine in an attempt to liven things up


And this week's Top 4 are ...
I had a feeling EMPIRE would win this week.
 

James from London

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Why is that not possible? Jason must have been a baby once?

True. What I should have said was that Richard (or John Pleshette) looks younger in the photo too, and so it kind of looks like a personal picture belonging to the actor.

I was very invested in the scene and that's why it worked for me.

Oh good!

John Ross will also have his elevator scene, but you're not there yet. It's one of my many favourite scenes from new Dallas.

I don't remember that ... cool! Could 'Best Soap Land Elevator Scenes' be a thing?


Haha! Yes, of course! Why didn't I make that connection?!

I had a feeling EMPIRE would win this week.

It was a great ep, but DALLAS was just too good. Plus, there was a musical number that distracted from the drama a bit, kind of the way those photoshoot montages used to on PAPER DOLLS, only not as bad as that.
 

James from London

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08 Aug 12: DALLAS: Revelations v. 11 Mar 15: EMPIRE: Sins of the Father v. 13 Dec 15: BLOOD AND OIL: Departures v. 17 Jan 18: DYNASTY: A Well-Dressed Tarantula

An eventful week that includes a season finale, a series finale, three proposals of marriage and four fatal shootings.

The lives of Rebecca Ewing and Cristal Carrington continue to run along parallel lines as they have all season. Both start the week haunted by flashbacks of the violent men they have killed in self-defence: Tommy Sutter, who hits the deck at the start of this week’s DALLAS after being shot at the end of last week’s (making him Gunshot Fatality #1), and Alejandro Rayas, whose stabbing at Cristal’s hands was revealed on last week’s DYNASTY.

While Rebecca is faced with the disposal of Tommy’s body, Cristal comes face to face with Alejandro himself — back from the dead and sitting in her office at Carrington Atlantic. He has a new identity and threatens to kill her unless she persuades Blake to do business with the shadowy Venezuelan company he represents (not to be confused with the shadowy Venezuelan company Vicente Cano represents on DALLAS — although both companies are so shadowy, they might as well be the same one).

Before the end of their respective episodes, both women will have similar accusations levelled at them. Rebecca is branded “a lying piece of garbage” while Cristal is called “a congenital liar” and “a lying, cheating stabber of men.”

Watching Rebecca frantically cover up any evidence of Tommy’s death, one is reminded of Abby Ewing doing the same thing following Peter Hollister’s demise on KNOTS LANDING. Rebecca has mysterious helpers who transport the body by laundry cart, just as Abby did herself, leaving her behind to scrub her apartment clean. As New DALLAS is on a C21st subscription network rather than a 1980s commercial one like KNOTS, the crime scene is far more sanguinary. As Lady Macbeth might have said, “Who would have thought the young man to have had so much blood in him?”

Rebecca then joins Christopher at Soap Land Memorial Hospital where he and the rest of the Ewings are awaiting news of Bobby following his collapse. Christopher’s feelings towards Rebecca have softened so much he has put his wedding and engagement rings back on and asks her to the same. However, she gave her rings to Tommy a few weeks ago in a failed attempt to buy him off. So, in much the same way that Abby was obliged to dig up Peter’s corpse from its burial place to salvage his car keys, Rebecca is forced to unzip the body bag in which Tommy has been stashed and rummage through his pockets to find the receipt for the pawnshop where he hocked the rings. But when she visits the pawnshop, the broker tells her the rings have already been sold. She begs him to retrieve them from the buyer. “I’ll re-buy them from you for double what they paid,” she pleads, sliding a wad of notes across the counter.

“I can’t believe some of the stuff people pawn — engagement rings, vintage porn,” remarks Steven Carrington, the second character to drop by the Soap Land Pawn Shop this week. While EMPIRE’s Lucious has placed Andre in a psychiatric clinic following his meltdown, DYNASTY’s Blake has booked Steven into a rehab facility following his cocaine relapse, but Steven refuses to go. “What’s wrong with me can’t be cured by a 12-Step programme,” he insists. In response, Blake freezes his bank accounts. “I need to get my hands on some cash,” Steven tells Sam — hence the visit to the pawnshop. Worried lest he blows the money on blow, Sam insists on tagging along. “For a lot of people, pawn shops are a part of life,” he explains to Steven. “Growing up, it’s how my mom put food on the table some days … A pawn shop is also a doorway to opportunity, like when I pawned my neighbour’s bike for Coachella tickets.” Steven pawns his “premium brand timepiece” for $20,000. Not bad — if not as impressive as the $30,000 Hakeem Lyon claims his diamond-encrusted watch is worth on this week’s EMPIRE.

To Sam’s relief, Steven doesn’t want the money for “coke or meth or moon rocks,” but as recompense for the widow of Dominic Ortega, the Carrington Atlantic employee whose death he inadvertently caused. DYNASTY isn’t especially interested in Ortega — we only glimpse his wife from a distance — but given how glibly Matthew Blaisdel’s demise was treated by the Carringtons, it’s refreshing to see that his death at least matters to Steven. While Steven chooses to tackle his psychological problems through direct action rather than rehab, Andre’s gorgeous music therapist makes an unconventional suggestion regarding his treatment on EMPIRE. She gets down on her knees in front of him and starts … praying. Hmm, sexy praying — it could catch on.

The first of the week’s three marriage proposals comes from John Ross on DALLAS when he invites Elena to view the empty office space he has chosen as the new headquarters of Ewing Enterprises. But it’s not just any empty office space. “Jock’s office, Bobby’s office and right here, JR’s,” he says walking around. “I remember sitting behind Daddy’s desk looking at this view, just wanting to sit where he sat one day …” “This was Ewing Oil,” Elena realises. “Christopher’s always saying that the Ewing name means nothing to me. Well, maybe this will finally prove to him that it does,” he tells her. So it’s not just his daddy’s approval that John Ross seeks, but his cousin’s as well. Then comes the romantic bit as he produces a black diamond engagement ring and gets down on one knee. “When I saw this ring, it reminded me how light reflects off oil,” he says. “The first time I saw that I thought nothing could be more beautiful. Then I saw you. I love you, Elena Ramos. My life and everything that I want it to be is better with you … Marry me.” Elena accepts immediately — how could she not?

Over on EMPIRE, Lucious likewise chooses an office environment in which to pop the question. “I’m asking you to be my one again,” he tells ex-wife Cookie, as he gestures to the Empire empire in which they are standing. “We built all this, we fought for this, we defended this.” His proposal may not be quite as romantic as John Ross’s, but he’s confident Cookie will accept it anyway. Indeed, as she admits, “When I first got out of prison, I had a stupid fantasy about us getting back together.” Since then, however, she has moved on and is now enjoying a clandestine affair with Lucious’s head of security, Malcolm. She declines the proposal, telling Lucious, “You don’t care about nothing but yourself … You just don’t wanna die alone.” When Cookie first strode into EMPIRE — an ex-wife deprived of raising her children, still hung up on her former husband and hungry for a piece of the pie, and with a cracking backstory to boot — she was the black C21st century equivalent of '80s Alexis Carrington. So the sight of Black Alexis turning down her ex’s marriage proposal and walking away with a smile on her face feels like a major victory, one that White Alexis never even came close to achieving.

There is further ex-husband and wife office action on DALLAS when Ann visits Harris Ryland to concede defeat: “You’ve won, Harris. I let you back in … You sent me that necklace, brought up the past, made me a wreck, antagonised my husband … and now Sue Ellen — I know you’re blackmailing her just to get to me.” She even offers to sleep with him if he’ll stop using what he has on Sue Ellen to force her to launder money for him. “Unfortunately, I need that money cleaned so I can’t,” Harris replies, “but … since you’re here and in the mood, how about it?” Tearfully, she starts to unzip her top — to reveal a microphone attached to her bra. “Extortion, blackmail and a confession to money laundering, all recorded,” she explains. “You make a move against me, Sue Ellen or any member of my family — you’re going to jail.” Having succeeded where Wick Briggs and Steven Carrington failed, Ann is officially Soap Land’s Spy of the Season. To commemorate her victory, she punches Harris in the mouth and promises to shoot him the next time he makes a pass at her.

In fact, things in the Ewing garden are looking rosy all around. “We’re all moving forward,” Christopher says to John Ross, “me, Rebecca and the babies; you and Elena.” “Your daddy’s on the mend, we got offices, we got energy,” John Ross adds. But then the past returns to bite them all in the ass.

First, the lie John Ross told Elena when they got back together — that he had nothing to do with stealing Southfork from Bobby, that it was all JR’s doing — comes back to haunt him. “The videos that Veronica Martinez took prove that you brought her and the Venezuelans in on the deal before JR was involved. You are the one who asked her to impersonate Marta Del Sol,” Bobby’s lawyer informs him. “JR’s the one who stole Southfork, not me!” John Ross protests. He appeals to Christopher for understanding — again, it’s striking how much he wants, maybe needs, his cousin to believe in him: “You know I’m trying to do the right thing here, put all this behind us, help bring this family back together.” But Christopher ain’t buying it. “You can’t lie your way out of this,” he tells John Ross coldly. However, the reaction that really hurts is Elena’s. “You lied about everything!” she exclaims. John Ross begs her for another chance: “Look what I’m doing. I’m helping Christopher … I got JR to give Southfork back. I’m trying to do the right thing because that is the man I am today — with you … Do not give up on me!”

“Everything you touch, you destroy,” Cookie tells Lucious on EMPIRE. “This place — it takes everything that’s good and turns it bad,” echoes Billy on BLOOD AND OIL, referring to Rock Springs, the town he and his wife arrived in ten episodes ago. “Sometimes I just think I was happier in Florida … I’d give anything to go back to that version of me, of us.” It’s like he’s cancelling the show right in front of us. Cody’s already packing to go home and wants Billy to go with her, but he isn’t sure if he can give up his chance of striking it rich. His dilemma is compounded when Dr Meet Cute tells him the mineral rights to the oil underneath the Black Elk reservation are his — on the proviso that he stays in town to oversee the project: “I need you here on the ground, front and centre — you’re the one that I trust.”

Can Billy walk away from his dream? Hap Briggs doesn’t think so. “That’s my son, from tip to tail,” says JR, looking at John Ross at the end of DALLAS and Hap makes a similar observation about Billy. “We’re not so different, you and me,” he tells him. “You came into town like I once did, too damn brash and too stupid to even consider failure as an option. What we had was a dream. Do you know what happens when you abandon your dreams? They don’t dry up and blow away. They lodge in your gut and gnaw away at you until there’s nothing left except the memory of what you once wanted to be.” Dreams, literal and metaphorical, have been a recurrent theme throughout Soap Land’s history, but they’ve never described quite in such menacing terms.

And so the relationships between B&O’s Billy and Cody and DALLAS’s Elena and John Ross hang in the balance. “Tomorrow’s Christmas Eve,” Cody tells Billy. “I’ll be at the Tack Room at midnight, bags packed, car loaded. If you’re not there, I’m leaving without you. It’s now or never because I’m not looking back.” “Meet me tomorrow at the Ewing Energies space,” John Ross begs Elena. “It’ll be a new beginning for us. Please.”

Over on EMPIRE, Jamal’s cute little daughter Lola has been staying at Lucious’s house ever since her mother Olivia abandoned her. There are echoes of Blake and Steven fighting over Danny on Old DYNASTY in this week’s ep when Lucious objects to Jamal’s decision to have Lola live with him instead: “Lola don’t need to be raised in that kind of lifestyle, son.”

Lola tells Jamal about a recurring nightmare of hers: “The scary bird is going to get us … He tries to hurt Mommy.” Later in the episode, he learns that the scary bird is Olivia’s boyfriend Reg. Christopher is similarly disturbed when he sees bruises on Rebecca’s body and correctly guesses that they were inflicted by Tommy. Not realising Tommy is dead, Christopher goes to his motel room to confront him. There, with exquisitely soapy timing, he intercepts a phone call intended for Tommy — from his sister, the real Rebecca Sutter!

There are further tales of abusive relationships on DYNASTY where Cristal is dismayed to learn that her sister Iris has been secretly conspiring with her violent ex, Alejandro, to extort money from Cristal and the rest of the Carringtons. “You betrayed me for someone who almost killed you?!” she asks in dismay. “He made mistakes, so did I,” Iris shrugs, “but I never asked you to hurt him, to tear my family apart.” “I saved you!” Cristal protests. “No, you saved yourself,” replies Iris, “and ever since then, when I wanted to come here and have a taste of the life you had, you found some reason to keep me in Caracas, begging you for every dollar. Well, I’m done asking.”

Back on DALLAS, Christopher confronts Fake Rebecca. “Who the hell are you?!” he demands to know. Just as John Ross did when faced with his murky past, she tries desperately to convince Christopher that she has changed: “I don’t wanna lie anymore. I’ve done everything I could to get out from under things.” When he refuses to believe her, she goes on the attack. “I’m not the only one who lied in this marriage,” she points out. “You’re still in love with Elena.” This clearly hits a nerve because the next thing Christopher does is deliver the third marriage proposal of the week, to Elena. Not since a previous Hispanic heroine from the wrong side of the tracks — Pilar Ortega in FALCON CREST — has a Soap Land gal been proposed to twice in the same episode. What’s more, Christopher’s proposal is almost as swoonaliciously romantic as the one Elena received from John Ross twenty-three screen minutes earlier: “When you were nine and your father died and I saw you crying, that was the day I knew I wanted to do anything I could to make you smile again. When we were fifteen and we raced horses across this ranch and you won and I kissed you for the first time, that was the moment I knew I loved you. When we were twenty-two and we kept each other up all night studying … and then we came home after and made love, that was the day I knew I wanted to marry you … We’ve wasted too much of our lives not being together and I don’t wanna waste another minute without you.” He then produces an engagement ring. “I know you gave this back to me, but it’s yours. It’s always been yours.” Elena may not immediately accept this proposal the way she did John Ross’s, but the final time we see her and Christopher this season, they are ripping each others’ clothes off in a hotel room so I’d say it’s looking pretty hopeful.

It's apparent from the trip down memory lane Christopher takes Elena on during his proposal that they are the same age — thirty-one. It’s also Fallon’s twenty-fifth birthday, which means she was born two years after the original DYNASTY reunion mini-series. While Christopher recalls that Elena was nine when “your father died and I saw you crying," Steven claims that Fallon was seven when she “found out what private equity investments were.” “I’ve wanted control of my trust ever since,” she replies. “While other girls were crushing on Chad Michael Murray, I was fantasising about rebalancing my portfolio.” I’m not sure how literally we’re meant to take this claim, but it nonetheless highlights a crucial difference between Fallon and her male counterparts on the other soaps. While John Ross and Christopher on DALLAS, the Lyon boys on EMPIRE and B&O’s Wick and Billy are all driven by a conflicting need to simultaneously learn from their fathers (or father figure, in Billy’s case), gain his approval and break free of his control, Fallon appears not to suffer from any such internal dilemma. She does not doubt her own business skills, has no real need for her father’s approval and, give or take a few million dollars, is pretty much his equal. Also, she’s meant to be hungry and ambitious, yet she has the persona of a spoiled, indolent princess. All of which makes her a hard character to pin down, identify with or root for. On the plus side, she looks nice and has some great one-liners.
 
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(continued)

DALLAS and DYNASTY each include a shock parent/child reunion. On DALLAS, the shock belongs to the viewer (well, to me anyway — I’m not sure how I didn’t twig who Rebecca’s father was beforehand, but the penny didn’t fully drop until the moment her eyes light up when Christopher shows up with a bag of Chinese takeout: “Like when we were dating. I got you spring rolls, wonton soup and your moo-shu.”) On DYNASTY, the shock belongs to Sam when the Spanish-speaking man who approaches him in the park (and whom Sam initially appears to think is trying to pick him up — a possibility he seems quite happy to explore) turns out to be his previously dead dad.

“You’re just like your Aunt Pamela when it comes to the Ewings,” Cliff Barnes tells his daughter Rebecca as he emerges from his private plane. “I never could trust her and I can’t trust you.” “For years, I’ve imagined this moment,” Alejandro tells his son Sam in their native tongue, “what I’d do, what I’d say, but there are no words.” “I gave up two years of my life for you so you can finally settle things and be at peace,” Rebecca reminds her father. “For the longest time, I thought you’d abandoned us,” Sam tells his. Both scenes conclude with the father making plans for the future. “I’m giving you a second chance to make me proud,” says Cliff. “I want you to get me a piece of Ewing Energies so we can put that family down for good.” “Now that I’ve found you, I have a plan so we can be a family again,” says Alejandro,” but I need time and your trust.” “I won’t lose focus again,” promises Rebecca while a teary Sam nods in agreement.

While Rebecca Barnes prepares to avenge the Ewings for wrongs done to her father, Jeff Colby plots to pay the Carringtons back for putting his father in prison. “I have Fallon Carrington in my pocket,” he assures Cecil over the phone. “Everything she owns, her assets, her stake in Carrington Atlantic, could all be mine — when I marry her.”

This being the last episode of BLOOD AND OIL, things are moving fast, and somewhere along the line, exes Hap and Annie Briggs go from being adversaries to business associates. “There are huge advantages to pooling our resources,” Annie assures her startled partner Billy.

The centrepiece of both EMPIRE and BLOOD AND OIL is a contract signing deemed so significant that it warrants a family party to mark the occasion. While the Lyons gather at Lucious’s house to sign the IPO transfer thingy, the partners in the Black Elk deal convene at Hap’s to sign their contract. In each instance, one character is conspicuous by their absence. Even though Andre is considered instrumental to the EMPIRE deal (“We wouldn’t even know what IPO was if it wasn’t for you,” Jamal tells his brother. “It’s all cos of you, Dre”), he is too hurt by his father’s refusal to visit him at the clinic to attend: “Dad doesn’t wanna see me like this? Well, this is who I am.” Instead, he gives wife Rhonda proxy to act on his behalf. This leads to some juicy friction between father and daughter-in-law. “I’m not signing over Andre’s stock to some little country club queen just because his feelings are hurt!” Lucious huffs. “I’ve been with your son for ten years and you don’t know a damn thing about me,” Rhonda snaps back. “I came from nothing and I worked my ass off … Nothing has ever been handed to me and I have never expected anything to be either.” In a parallel world once removed, one could almost imagine such an exchange occurring between Jock and Sue Ellen on DALLAS — he didn’t know a damn thing about her either.

Over at the Briggs’ party, it’s Billy who’s the no-show — the contract signing clashes with the deadline Cody gave him to leave town and save their marriage. “If he doesn’t show up to sign, our alliance is over before it begins,” worries Annie. “If I know my boy Billy, he’ll be here,” Hap replies confidently. And so it proves. Billy signs on the dotted line, hoping Cody will understand. “It’s not just my dream, it’s our dream,” he reasons.

The two gatherings turn out to be hugely eventful: each includes a gatecrasher with a gun, a fatal shooting, a climactic revelation and a character bribed into leaving and/or being exiled from Soap Land forever.

First of all, the gatecrashers: At the EMPIRE party, Jamal’s baby mama Olivia arrives unannounced with boyfriend Reg in tow. Olivia is oddly subdued while Jamal notices a tattoo of a crow on Reg’s arm and connects it to the scary bird Lola described in her dreams. “Does he hurt her?” he asks Olivia. “Help me,” she whispers, a scared look on her face. As Jamal turns to confront him, Reg pulls out a gun and grabs Cookie. At the BLOOD AND OIL party, a Saudi Arabian baddy, glimpsed earlier in the episode, lurks outside the house. When Lacey Briggs comes out to retrieve a sweater, he pulls out a gun and grabs her.

Thinking Reg is after money, Hakeem offers him his diamond-encrusted watch. (That’s how we know it’s worth $10,000 more than the Soap Land pawnbroker paid Steven Carrington for his.) However, it’s not money Reg wants, but revenge. Turns out he's crazily possessive over Olivia and wants to kill Jamal for getting her pregnant, even though it happened years before she and Reg got together. Evil Saudi Man’s motives are less convoluted. “Don’t move, just listen, I want the USGS report,” he hisses at Lacey.

While Billy attempts to rescue Lacey only to be knocked unconscious, Lucious tries to save Cookie by making a terrible admission — that it was him and not his son who impregnated Olivia during her brief marriage to Jamal: “I put the baby in her, not him … Shoot me!” Both gunmen are then abruptly shot dead by a professional: the Saudi thug on B&O by Sheriff Tip; Reg on EMPIRE by Lucious’s security chief (and Cookie’s secret lover), Malcolm. (Gunshot fatalities #2 & 3.)

It looks like Lucious is not the only Soap Land father to have impregnated his son’s woman. Jules is pregnant on BLOOD AND OIL and, unsure which Briggs man is the daddy, goes to Dr Meet Cute for a DNA test. Soap Land being what it is, it doesn’t take long for Carla to learn the results. “Does my husband know he’s gonna father another child?” she asks Jules. He doesn’t.

This brings us to the two characters, both female, who are “bought off” during the EMPIRE and BLOOD AND OIL parties, in much the same way Val Ewing and Alexis Carrington allegedly were during in the 1960s and 70s. First, it’s the turn of Naomi Campbell on EMPIRE. Lucious, unhappy at how much influence she is exacting over Hakeem’s career (Cookie amusingly refers to her as Yoko), tells her to name her price, just as JR did Pam in the opening episode of DALLAS. “I need to know how much it will cost to make you … go as far away from my son as humanly possible,” he tells her. “There’s no amount of money, Lucious, that’s going to make me go away from Hakeem,” she replies confidently. “You are in debt up to your neck,” he points out, before instructing Malcolm to “put her on the first flight to London. One way.” Angrily, Naomi Campbell tears up the cheque he has just written her: “I don’t want your money and as soon as I hear that you’re dead, I will take the first flight back …” “He’ll forget you in a month,” Lucious assures her. ”And in six months you’ll be rotting in a wheelchair like a vegetable with a colostomy bag trailing behind you. You are a disgusting, despicable human being and I wish you a miserable death when you go to hell!” Naomi snarls as she is dragged off the show. Imagine Joan van Ark delivering that speech to Larry Hagman. Lucious then lies to Hakeem about his girlfriend the same way JR did to Lucy about her mama. “Did she take your money?” Hakeem asks. “What do you think?” Lucious replies before bragging to his family, “I saved him from a con artist!”

Back on B&O, Carla makes Jules a similar offer to get out of town: “I will pay you fifty per cent over market value for the Tack Room and provide a generous allowance for you and your child for the rest of your lives. In exchange, you move away, you never speak to Hap again and you never tell him about your baby.” Jules starts to respond with the usual Soap Land spiel about how she’s not for sale, but then Carla points out that “you betrayed Hap and he hates you for it — and when he finds out about the baby, he’ll sue you for custody and he’ll win. Chances are you will never see your child again.” Over on DALLAS, Christopher vows to make this threat a reality for Rebecca: “I’m gonna send you to prison and then I’m gonna see to it that those babies you’re carrying never know what a lying piece of garbage you really are.”

Jules agrees to the deal, but unlike Naomi Campbell, gets to have her cake and eat it. Not only does she take Carla’s money, but due to one of those crazy medical mix-ups that occasionally happen in Soap Land, it turns out Hap isn’t the father of her baby after all — Wick is, and he agrees to leave town with her. Over on DYNASTY, Steven’s leaving too. “I don’t know where yet, but you can always come and visit,” he tells Fallon. Rather than taking money to leave, he is the one bestowing gifts — a birthday present for Fallon of a cigarette lighter he found in the pawnshop. “It reminded me of the one Mom used to have,” he explains.

Remember those chances of a fresh start that were proffered early on in this week’s DALLAS and BLOOD AND OIL? “Meet me tomorrow at the Ewing Energies space. It’ll be a new beginning for us,” John Ross urged Elena. “I’ll be at the Tack Room at midnight … If you’re not there, I’m leaving without you,” Cody told Billy. We wait to see if these appointments will be kept. It feels like there’s a lot at stake — as if the souls of John Ross and Billy are up for grabs. If Elena shows up to meet John Ross, it means she still believes in him and he can be saved. If Billy shows up to meet Cody, it means he has chosen love over money and he will be too. Alas for John Ross, Elena does not appear. Instead, she sends her mother Carmen to hand back the engagement ring. Over the top of this scene, we hear Sue Ellen delivering a speech to her political supporters. A shot of John Ross’s face as he realises he’s lost Elena is matched by his mother’s voice saying, “I have lived a life of mistakes and regret and truthfully, there were times I thought I was beyond saving.”

Things work out better for Billy. Hap tells him how shocked Chief Whitecloud was to discover that her son, Dr Meet Cute, “was using the oil deal to try and break up your marriage” and has agreed “to give us the deal, no strings attached … You’ll be a part of it, no matter where you are.” This means Billy gets to live happily after with the love of his life and be unimaginably rich.

Still brooding in his empty office space, John Ross receives a visit from his daddy. Rebecca Barnes and Jeff Colby might be obediently following their fathers’ orders, but John Ross is calling the shots with his. “You want in on Ewing Energies?” he asks JR. “You stop teaching me about the oil business and you start teaching me every dirty trick that you know. And when I take this company from Christopher and Elena, I’ll cut you in … If you screw me, I’ll make sure you don’t see a dime of that oil sitting underneath Southfork and I will put you back in that home for good [just like his big brother James once did]. Got it?” JR smiles approvingly as his son crosses back over to the dark side.

Before riding off into the sunset with Jules, Wick Briggs is summoned by his father to a private room for the confrontation we’ve been waiting for all season. Hap now knows Wick was the masked intruder who held him at gunpoint in B&O's pilot episode — so what’s he gonna do about it? Well, first of all, he pulls a gun on him. (“How does that feel, Wick — to be looking down the barrel of a gun and somebody that you love is pointing it at your face?”), which is quite exciting, but then he something really unexpected. He starts to cry and then apologises for being a bad dad. “Forgive me, Wick,” he weeps, “so that I can forgive you and we can move forward.” Wick gets a bit weepy too and they embrace. All the while, you’re waiting for Hap to suddenly pull out a knife and stab his son in the back — or for his eyes to narrow so you know he’s at least thinking vengeful thoughts. But it doesn’t happen. They just ... hug.

After Lola is reunited with her mother on EMPIRE, another endangered toddler is reunited with his father on B&O when Khalid, AJ’s kidnapped son, is found hiding in a closet following a police raid on a house occupied by the Bad Saudis. (Gunshot fatality #4: the woman AJ had been liaising with earlier in the season takes a bullet to the forehead.) Whereas the Lyons bid a fond farewell to Lola before Olivia takes her back home, AJ tells Lacey that he and Khalid are staying put in Rock Springs: “We’re already home.” Khalid’s mother, AJ’s soon-to-be ex-wife, apparently has no objection to this (“She knows Khalid’s best life is here, and so is mine”), which is just as well considering BLOOD AND OIL has just thirteen minutes left to run at this point and there isn’t time to embark on a whole new custody battle storyline.

In fact, everyone on B&O gets a nice, neat happy ending, which feels like a bit of a cheat. For FALCON CREST and the original DYNASTY reunion to reach similarly upbeat conclusions, both soaps required their chief antagonists, Angela Channing and Alexis Colby, to abruptly acquire an air of benevolence towards those they’d spent an entire series waging war against. Likewise, Hap and Carla Briggs, easily the most coldly ruthless couple in C21st Soap Land, are suddenly suffused with warmth and benevolence towards their fellow man. In the final scene of the series, in which they stand arm in arm, gazing serenely out over their property (“Look at all this. As far as the eye can see, it’s ours.” “ …This place isn’t for everybody, but it’s definitely for you and me”), they look and sound just like Bobby and Ann in their final scene of DALLAS’s first season as they gaze contentedly out over Southfork. (“Feels like home again.” “Yeah.”)

This season finale of DALLAS was apparently filmed before a second season had been confirmed. Had this week’s ep turned out to be its last-ever instalment, it would, ironically, have served as a more satisfying conclusion to the series than B&O's finale, which was clearly constructed with cancellation in mind. Although aspects of the DALLAS saga remain unresolved, it still manages to come full circle with the next chapter of the Barnes/Ewing feud about to commence and JR agreeing to make John Ross over in his own image. The very last shot, where the camera pulls back and back from John Ross and JR standing at the window of the old/new Ewing offices until they are indistinguishable from the rest of nighttime Dallas skyline, mirrors the opening shot of the very first episode of DALLAS where Bobby’s car is just one among many driving along the Dallas highway. Whereas this episode of DALLAS leaves some loose ends to dangle tantalisingly in our imaginations, every plot thread on BLOOD AND OIL has been so neatly tied up that one need never think about it again.

And the Top 4 are …

1 (1) DALLAS
2 (2) EMPIRE
3 (3) BLOOD AND OIL
4 (4) DYNASTY
 
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28 Jan 13: DALLAS: Battle Lines v. 18 Mar 15: EMPIRE: Die But Once v. 24 Jan 18: DYNASTY: I Answer to No Man

“Twenty-two years ago, I had a daughter,” Ann Ewing informs Bobby on DALLAS. “Before Steven and Fallon were born, Alexis and I had a son,” Blake Carrington tells Cristal on DYNASTY. “When Emma was eighteen months old,” Ann continues, “I was at the State Fair. I turned away for a moment and when I turned back, she was gone. Someone had taken her.” “When he was six months old,” Blake explains, “someone broke into the house and took him.” “Everyone searched, but Emma was never found.” “We did what the police told us [but] … I never saw Adam again.” Whereas Ann’s bombshell acts as a prelude to an even bigger one — that her ex-husband Harris claims to have found Emma and is willing, for a price, to tell Ann her whereabouts — Blake’s revelation, which comes towards the end of this week’s DYNASTY, serves to explain his behaviour during the preceding screen hour, an unusually focused episode of DYNASTY that concentrates entirely on Fallon’s abduction by Iris and Alejandro.

“You don’t negotiate with a terrorist!” Bobby exclaims after Ann admits she has already given Harris what he wants (the tape she made of him admitting to extortion). His sentiment shared by Blake who refuses to meet Alejandro’s demand of $15,000,000 for Fallon’s return. “Giving in to their demands this early would only leave us more vulnerable down the road,” he tells his family. “Fallon is my daughter. We’re doing it my way.” Unusually for New DYNASTY, it feels like there’s something genuinely at stake here and, for the first time, Blake comes across like a real Soap Land patriarch.

“I didn’t want you to come. I was hoping I’d never see you again,” Ann’s daughter Emma tells her when they finally come face to face. A mother rejected by the daughter she had given up for dead — it’s the soapiest of scenarios, yet played with total conviction. As a result, Ann spends most of the episode careening between joy and anguish.

An unspecified amount of time has elapsed between the end of last season’s DALLAS and the beginning of this one, but in the interim, the empty office space we left John Ross and JR standing in has been transformed into the swanky new headquarters of Ewing Enterprises. Accordingly, after spending most of the first season in jeans and work shirts, the Ewing men are now slickly decked out in business suits while the women are doing the C21st equivalent of power dressing. Conversely, EMPIRE’s resident workaholic, Andre, is no longer comfortable in the corporate world: “I feel like nothing fits anymore. You know, this suit and tie, these shoes — nothing fits.” He tries to explain the change to his father: “There was always something missing, Dad, a void I filled with darkness, but now I’m getting to know my God and he is filling that void with a higher purpose.” “God? … What do you know about God?” scoffs Lucious. “There’s no higher purpose than being a maker of music. That’s the voice of God.”

Andre isn’t the only character to have undergone a transformation. As she explains to Bobby and Christopher in the Batman-esque surroundings of Barnes Global, Fake Rebecca is now New Pamela: “I’m Afton’s daughter … Cliff Barnes is my father.” “I don’t have to play weak anymore,” she later tells John Ross. To illustrate the difference, she’s wearing darker eye makeup than when she was Christopher’s sweet wife. There are echoes of her Aunt Katherine in this metamorphosis from Goody Two Shoes to Ruthless Go-Getter, but whereas Katherine spent three seasons indicating to the audience that her niceness was a sham, New Pamela spent the first year of New DALLAS lying the way people do in real life, i.e., with a straight face, which means the audience was as much in the dark about her true nature as the characters on screen. Come to think of it, we still are. How much of her quest for revenge has to do with her daddy’s vendetta against the Ewings and how much is because of her own broken heart has yet to be determined. It’s the kind of ambiguity that didn’t exist in Katherine’s day, but which New DALLAS specialises in.

Cliff’s instructions to his daughter are to “make sure Christopher Ewing does not get an annulment and that you get a piece of Ewing Energies in the divorce.” Between seasons, however, Christopher has tracked down the real Rebecca Sutter. As the chief witness to Fake Rebecca/New Pamela’s identity theft, she now replaces Southfork as the DALLAS asset everyone wants a piece of. She begins the episode as the ace up Christopher’s sleeve and ends it as John Ross’s bargaining chip. “What would you possibly have to offer that would make me wanna get in bed with you?” New Pamela asks him when he proposes that they join forces. With perfect Soap Land timing, the doors of her penthouse elevator slide open. “You remember the real Rebecca Sutter,” says John Ross by way of introduction. “She’s Christopher’s secret weapon. But if you’re in, she’ll be ours.”

There are two Soap Land celebrity cameos this week, racing driver veteran Ricky Rudd on DALLAS and rap icon Snoop Dogg on EMPIRE. Rudd is marginally worse than Snoop at playing himself. Happily, both are given the opportunity to show what they do best. For Ricky, that means driving around a track really fast in Christopher’s new methane-powered car; for Snoop, it means performing his groovy Funkadelic-sampling single ‘Peaches N Cream’. As DYNASTY is pretty much an immediate-cast-only affair this week, there is no room for cameos, but a reference to the real-life kidnapping of John Paul Getty Jr adds some verisimilitude to the Carringtons' debate on how best to deal with Alejandro’s ransom demands. “Getty strung out his son’s kidnappers for months,” says Anders. “Kid lost an ear. He was never the same,” Steven points out. “They didn’t kill him,” counters Blake. Having referenced a genuine tragedy (Getty Jr, who never recovered from his ordeal, subsequently developed a drug problem that led to a stroke, permanent paralysis and premature death), DYNASTY then satirises it. While on the phone to Blake, Alejandro pulls out a knife, and Blake can hear his daughter’s screams over the line — but instead of her ear, Alejandro has cut off some of her hair. “How am I supposed to live like this? Bangs?! … You should have shot me!” she sobs.

There’s another notable cultural allusion on DALLAS. Appealing for leniency on behalf of her brother Tommy (whom she believes is merely missing rather than dead), Rebecca Sutter tells Christopher that she’s “seen enough LAW AND ORDER to know it’s you he wronged and it’s you who can press charges.” This means that not only is LAW AND ORDER, in all its forms, a fictional series within the Ewingverse, but so is THE WIRE, THE X-FILES, HOMICIDE LIFE ON THE STREET and every other show that HOMICIDE’s Detective John Munch made a cross-over appearance in. (Also, thanks to that copy of the National Enquirer Sammy Jo bought in 1983, all of these shows are now fictions within a fiction within a fiction.)

JR drops by the new Ewing offices “to deliver some muffins to the pretty little secretaries,” he tells Bobby. “Who could’ve guessed so many would turn out to be men? I mean, where’s the fun in that?” While the office staff at Ewing Enterprises are somewhat anonymous thus far, Lucious and Cookie’s assistants, Becky and Porsha, remain consistently good value on EMPIRE. They’re like funnier, more characterful versions of Sly and Phyllis, the old Ewing Oil secretaries on DALLAS. “You use your inside voice when you talk to Becky,” scolds Becky when Lucious yells at her. Porsha, meanwhile, frantically backtracks after realising she’s said too much to Lucious regarding Cookie’s assignation with Malcolm: “I don’t know where she at. I don’t know nothing. I ain’t know nothing since Y2K!” In other underling news, there’s an unexpectedly sweet scene towards the end of DYNASTY where the normally cold Anders consoles Sam on the loss of both his parents — the kidnapping ordeal having ended with Iris (Sam’s mother) shooting dead Alejandro (his father) before going on the run. “You’ll always have family here,” Anders assures him, even going so far as to offer an awkward embrace.

“We’re not so different, you and me,” Hap Briggs told Billy LeFever in the final episode of BLOOD AND OIL. “We’re not so different, you and I,” John Ross tells New Pamela in the final scene of this week’s DALLAS. “Is this the part where you say we’re not so different after all?” Michael asks Jeff on DYNASTY just after they’ve exchanged punches over Fallon. Jeff refuses to follow this trend, however. “You and I are nothing alike,” he replies. “You fight like a guy that has something to prove. I’ve already proven it.”

On the most recent episodes of DALLAS and EMPIRE, John Ross and Lucious proposed to Elena and Cookie and were rejected. This week, their hearts have hardened. “Love is for pussies,” John Ross declares during the pre-credit sequence that opens DALLAS’s new season. At the end of the episode, he makes New Pamela a proposition. “We want the exact same thing — to destroy Christopher and Elena and make them hurt like they hurt us … Let’s help each other. And when we’re done, we take Ewing Energies.” Lucious becomes equally vengeful after learning about Cookie’s fling with Malcolm. He revokes her security clearance at the Empire offices and has her barred from the building. “You think you own me? You are sick!” she yells at him. “Are you gonna leave on your own or do I have to escort you?” he replies coolly. It feels a bit like JR throwing Sue Ellen off Southfork. As her lover, Malcolm has been playing Dex to Cookie’s Alexis, tolerating her preoccupation with her ex-husband and their family even as he’s seducing her in front of an open fire. However, when he asks her to move away to Washington with him, she declines to play Billy to his Cody. “Malcolm, you are a beautiful man but I can’t. I can’t leave all of this. I worked too hard,” she tells him sadly.

With EMPIRE’s first season finale coming next week, you can feel the show is hurtling towards some kind of explosive climax. As well as Lucious and Cookie’s blow up, Hakeem is furious at his father for sending Naomi Campbell away and vents his anger by dissing him during an onstage rap. Lucious responds by knocking him to the floor with one punch. Next thing we know, Hakeem has announced his intention to leave the family record label — which in EMPIRE terms, is as serious as Bobby and Pam moving out of the family home at the end of the original DALLAS’s second season. Worse follows when Lucious discovers Hakeem literally in bed with the enemy — his own former fiancee Anika. Both of them lock eyes with Lucious then just keep doing what they’re doing.

Trend of the week: women in business. While New Pamela is after a slice of Ewing Energies (“I would like 30% of your ownership,” she informs Christopher), Elena already owns 10% but is hungry for more: “I wanna earn a bigger stake in this company. I wanna be a partner.” Meanwhile, Cookie is shocked to discover that, contrary to what she was told, she was never on Empire’s board of directors and what’s more, her firstborn son was in on the deception. “Andre knew the day he made that deal with you that a convicted felon can never serve on the board of a publicly-traded company,” Lucious tells her. At the end of DYNASTY, a newly free but fringeless Fallon (“They might have stolen my hair but they’ll never steal my hustle”) informs Jeff that she wishes to end their partnership, both professionally and personally. “I know I was only tied up for a day,” she explains, “but it made me realise I have been tied to someone my entire life. I need to see this through on my own.” It’d be nice to be able to root for her here but, as with most of Fallon’s decisions, it feels kind of arbitrary.

Running out of family members he hasn’t alienated, Lucious turns to gay black sheep Jamal to help him out of a writer’s block and they conjure up a song together in front of our eyes. The creative process is notoriously hard to dramatise, especially in a Soap Land setting, which is one of the reasons the fashion-based soaps didn’t really work — a designer getting an idea is far harder to manifest on screen than, say, an oil well erupting. However, EMPIRE pulls it off here by utilising the richness and history of the characters’ relationship. Hoping to inspire Lucious, Jamal takes him back to the small house they used to live in — the house where Lucious dumped Jamal in a trash can as a little kid when he found him wearing his mother’s shoes. And it doesn’t hurt that the actors are so musically adept. (Turns out Lucious plays a mean Spanish guitar.) With Hakeem turning away from his father and Andre turning to God, Jamal is now first in line to assume control of Empire — but first, he has to prove he has what it takes. “Do you want Empire or don’t you? Cos if you want it, you gotta be willing to take it!” Lucious tells him, sounding not unlike Jock Ewing during his “Real power is something you take” speech. Nice boy Jamal heeds his father’s words and ends up holding the family nemesis Beretti over the ledge of a building and threatening to let him drop unless he signs over “the rights to Lucious Lyon’s masters in perpetuity, do you understand me?!”

When New DALLAS and EMPIRE began, Bobby Ewing and Lucious Lyon were told they were dying. Eleven episodes later, Bobby’s medical tribulations appear to be behind him, and now it turns out that Lucious, like Jason Colby before him, has been misdiagnosed. Instead of dying of ALS, he’s suffering from a serious, but far less terminal illness called myasthenia gravis or MG. This should feel like a massive cop-out, but as with Jason and Bobby, the dramatic pay off is worth it. (Ironically, the one character who genuinely is dying — JR — is playing it so close to his chest that no-one, including the viewer, knows anything about it.)

The news of his reprieve seems to imbue in Lucious a sense of omnipotence. “Let’s see who’s more powerful — your God or your daddy!” he tells Andre. Realising that Andre’s religious awakening has as much to do with his gorgeous music therapist Michelle (played by Jennifer Hudson) as it does the Lord, Lucious offers her the chance to make a gospel record at Empire. Thrilled, she accepts. As far as Andre is concerned, this means she is now contaminated. “My father is the Devil and you just spread your legs for him,” he says.

Like ‘80s Blake Carrington when his sight returned, Lucious elects to keep the news of his “recovery” a secret. However, the medication he’s on for his newly diagnosed condition causes him to hallucinate — he sees Bunky sitting at the bottom of his bed — and to ramble. Oh, how he rambles. “You can’t be here, man, I killed your ass just like Shine’s boys,” he tells Bunky’s ghost. “I’m not dying … I’m about to come back like a phoenix from the ashes. I’m-a rise up from the dead like Jesus. I’m your messiah!” And who should be present to hear this revelation but Cookie? ”Bunky was my cousin, you son of a bitch,” she murmurs before placing a pillow over Lucious’s face. “It’s over.”

And this week’s Top 3 are …

1 (2) EMPIRE
2 (1) DALLAS
3 (4) DYNASTY
 

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28 Jan 13: DALLAS: Venomous Creatures v. 18 Mar 15: EMPIRE: Who I Am v. 31 Jan 18: DYNASTY: Promises You Can't Keep

It comes as no surprise to learn Lucious survived Cookie’s attempt to suffocate him with that pillow at the end of last week's EMPIRE. It seems he woke up just in time and she backed off. The following day, he summons his three sons to tell them he’s no longer dying and wishes to make amends for past wrongs. “I woke up this morning so conscious of the harm I’ve done to each and every one of y’all,” he says. To compensate for banishing Naomi Campbell to England, he gives Hakeem a jet. As consolation for “trying to break your faith”, he gives Andre $100,000,000 to start something called the Lyon Foundation. But these gifts pale into insignificance next to what he gives his remaining son: “The empire is yours, Jamal.” Jamal may have started off parading in his mama’s high heels when he was a little kid, but he ends EMPIRE’s first season walking in his father’s shoes. Oh, and Lucious has one extra surprise for Cookie: security footage of her attempt on his life which he plays for Jamal to turn him against her.

Now that Jamal is running Empire, his previous position as Soap Land’s rich kid living in a crummy apartment, determined to make it on his own, is taken by Steven on DYNASTY. He even has the same roommate as Jamal did, only back then he was Jamal’s boyfriend Michael and now he’s Steven’s ex Sam (or maybe they’re back together again, I’m not quite sure). However, Sam is far less stoical about his new surroundings, pithily described by Fallon as “a Craigslist decorated co-op”, than he was when he was Michael.

This week’s DALLAS and DYNASTY each include a storyline about a corrupt politician which contains all the ingredients one would expect in Soap Land: a sexual scandal, bribery and blackmail. Her dreams of being elected governor now dashed, there is still a criminal case hanging over Sue Ellen’s head. “The state attorney wants to indict me on charges of bribery,” she tells JR. He offers to take care of the situation: “I’ll make sure that twit never presses charges.” For all her talk of walking the straight and narrow, she agrees — as she later admits to Ann, it was either that or pick up a drink (“For the first time in his damned life, JR was the lesser of two evils.”) JR approaches the state attorney who refuses to consider dropping the case. “I don’t have any skeletons in my closet for you to pull out and parade,” he informs JR confidently. “I’m an honest state attorney.” Later on, JR interrupts his golf game to bring up the subject of “a certain charity tournament in Austin last year, some widows and orphans fund … Wasn’t there some big scandal — a hospitality tent on the thirteenth tee? Now, I hear the girls there were very, very hospitable. Jake here took pictures.” The smug expression is wiped from the state attorney’s face and the charges against Sue Ellen are dropped. As JR’s schemes go, this one is pretty basic, but knowing that Larry Hagman’s time is running out, it’s great to see him in action one last time. The fact that he’s acting on Sue Ellen’s behalf makes it all the more touching — legally and morally corrupt, but still touching.

Things are even more ethically complicated for Cristal on DYNASTY. When Blake asks her to play hostess at a fundraising party for Senator Daniels, she happily agrees — until she hears from an old reporter pal, Rick Morales, that Daniels has a past as a crooked judge and that one of the people he took bribes from was Blake. Rick plans to expose Daniels in the press, which means that he and Blake could both end up in prison. When Cristal confronts him, Blake admits that the story is true. She is appalled — until he tells her that he only bribed the judge once, and did so for the sake of his kids. “When Alexis left, she wanted full custody of my children,” he explains. “I had enough dirt on her to keep that from happening, but I also knew that if I revealed it in court, it would devastate Fallon and Steven … I knew she would take my children and leave the country … so I turned to Daniels and he … ruled the case in my favour.” Touched, Cristal asks Rick not to run the story. When he refuses, she threatens to go over his head to his boss: “He’s a friend of the family and I could have him end your career …” “It’s not just your husband who’s one of them. It’s you too,” Rick tells her. Cristal stands by her man — until she meets Daniels’ wife, Melissa, who tells her about the senator’s “new anti-immigration stance - build the wall, SB 1070 kind of stuff.” Cristal realises she and Blake are “supporting someone who would have had me deported at the border.” (As if to counterbalance this allusion to Trump’s real-life anti-Mexican crusade, Patti LaBelle, aka Lady Marmalade herself, cameos on EMPIRE and gives a shout out to the Black Lives Matter movement.) “Sometimes you have to compromise your values for the greater good,” Blake argues when Cristal asks him about Daniels’ policy. “What’s greater than your values?” she shoots back, but he doesn’t give her a satisfactory reply.

On the subject of values, Jamal’s promotion on EMPIRE receives a mixed reaction from those around him. Not only are his brothers resentful, but some of Empire’s clients ain’t too thrilled either. “Last time I checked, hip hop was born from the struggle of real men … Ain’t no place in this game for them bitches!” yells rapper Black Rambo at a press conference — an acknowledgement of the homophobia that is part of hip hop’s real-life history. A discussion on how Empire should publicly respond to this outburst leads to a juicy conflict between Jamal and Andre. When Lucious suggests issuing a statement that “Bigotry has no place at Empire”, Andre warns that such a stance would “weaken the stock price and cost shareholders millions.” “Thank you, Andre, thank you for the support,” retorts Jamal coldly. “It’s not about you, it’s about Empire,” Andre snaps back, “or is Empire now the cult of Jamal?” The lid on this very interesting can of worms is closed a little too easily (at least for now) when Jamal takes on Black Rambo in a rap battle and emerges victorious, the crowd who were digging Rambo’s anti-gay rhymes having been miraculously swayed by Jamal’s vocal acrobatics.

Back on DYNASTY, the bad news keeps on coming for Cristal. When Melissa Daniels casually mentions “the trips to Bora-Bora, courtesy of Blake Carrington” she and her husband continue to receive, Cristal realises that Blake lied when he said his pay-out to Daniels was a one-time thing. “Their little quid quo bro has been going on for years,” Melissa assures her.

Melissa inflicts upon Cristal the same kind of jaundiced advice about the perils of marriage to a wealthy man that Sue Ellen used to on Pam: “Being married to someone as powerful as Blake can wipe out your identity … but what’s integrity when you can have this bracelet? It cost more than the home I grew up in.” Her bitter experience also serves to place Blake and Cristal’s marriage in a wider context, which is a good thing.

In the end, Cristal Solves All. She learns about the senator’s extramarital affairs from his wife, but rather than confront him directly the way JR does the state attorney, she offers the details to Rick Morales in place of the exposé he had planned. The ensuing headlines wreck Daniels’ career, but without harming Blake. “I protected you from the scandal, but I also had to protect my integrity and that meant ending Daniels’ campaign one way or another,” Cristal explains to her husband who is impressed by her ingenuity. This is a nice little self-contained story with some well-drawn guest characters. (As well as Melissa, Rick the reporter is very likeable. I particularly enjoyed the picture he paints of Cristal’s days as a lowly PR associate: “Your dungeon’s cubicle used to reek of Ming’s Chinese takeouts from all those late nights.”) One could easily imagine it working as a stand-alone episode in either ‘80s DALLAS or FALCON CREST’s first seasons.

As the political aspirations of Sue Ellen and Senator Daniels each come to a messy end, those of another Soap Land character are only just beginning. Steven tells Fallon and Sam that he’s “done fighting a system that’s just gonna protect the one per cent… I’m ready to change it … I’m running for office.”

Bobby Ewing’s quest to solve the mystery of Ann’s vanishing-then-suddenly-reappearing daughter Emma leads him to the Ryland mansion which evokes a similar vibe to FALCON CREST at its darkest and most gothic. There, he encounters Harris’s mother Judith, who’s like the Evil Queen from Snow White with a Texas twang, and Emma herself, a brainwashed hybrid of FC’s Emma and Lance, who has been hidden away for years by her father and grandmother to deprive Ann of raising her. “It was you,” Bobby realises, looking at Judith. “You and Harris took Emma from her stroller at the fair … You kidnapped her.” “… I wasn’t kidnapped,” Emma insists. “My father rescued me that day at the fair. He saved me from my mother.”

Two key witnesses prove unreliable this week. The first is on DALLAS. Christopher has pinned all his hopes of getting an annulment on Rebecca Sutter’s promise to testify against Pamela, but having been bought off by John Ross, she changes her statement on the stand. The judge consequently rules against the annulment meaning the marriage must be terminated in the divorce courts, thereby enabling Pamela to make a claim for part of Ewing Energies in the settlement. Rebecca then turns into a liability for Pamela and John Ross when she refuses to leave town as arranged (much as Garry did for Wick Briggs on BLOOD AND OIL). “I wanna find my brother,” she insists.

While Fallon Carrington continues to make a weekly song and dance about being a young woman in business, Elena Ramos quietly pulls off a coup for Ewing Enterprises on this week’s DALLAS and advances the plot at the same time. “I closed a deal today that gets us four fixed oil platforms in the Gulf … Each one is sitting on a goldmine of methane!” she tells Christopher. He and Bobby are so delighted, they agree to give her a portion of their shares of Ewing Enterprises. To their surprise, John Ross is all for the idea: “You have earned it, Elena, and not just a bigger share of the company — an equal share. How about it, fellas? We each give five per cent, making it equal!” Thrilled, Elena hugs him — but John Ross has an ulterior motive. As he later explains to JR, Elena is in debt to Sue Ellen and “until she gets that loan repaid, all her assets are vulnerable”, including her shares in Ewing Enterprises. “Son, you got the devil in you,” JR chuckles appreciatively. Among other things, this development paves the way for Sue Ellen to become a more central part of the action. “Once you and your mama take over the company, I get my piece like we agreed on,” JR reminds his son.

Compared to Elena, Fallon travels a much more convoluted road to conclude a deal which I’m not sure amounts to much more than episode filler. In a corporate variation on the meet-cute, she is in the lobby of Morell Corp when she catches a man checking out her ass and calls him a pasty-faced, porn-addicted perv. He insists he wasn’t checking out her ass; he simply noticed she had some bacon stuck to the back of her skirt. Inevitably, it turns out that the future of the company depends on keeping the man Fallon just insulted, Tim Myers, onside. (“If Tim doesn’t agree to renew the lease, he could shut us down,” Jeff explains.) Fallon frantically tries to make nice, but Myers remains impervious to her charms. Eventually, he tells her he will renew the all-important lease if she beats him at poker. “And if I lose, what do you get?” she asks. “I get you,” he replies. (Turns out he really was checking out her ass and he really is a pasty-faced perv.) Fallon wins, of course, which allows her to yet again crow how about brilliant she is at everything. “Out of curiosity, what did you have?” Tim asks following their poker game. “More balls than you, Tim,” she gloats. “That’s why I’ll always win.” (While New Pamela reminds Frank Ashkani that she was “top of my class in business school”, Fallon finds time to brag that she was “pre-law, first semester at Wharton”. Other Soap Land Wharton alumni include DALLAS’s James Beaumont and KNOTS LANDING’s Charles Scott.)

There are some notable literary references this week. As evocative quotations go, John Ross reciting the final words of The Great Gatsby to New Pamela (“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”) is up there with Steven quoting Much Madness is Divinest Sense to Claudia on ‘80s DYNASTY. “The way you were looking off out there reminded me of the way that Gatsby looked off at the light at the end of Daisy’s pier,” he tells her, echoing part of the proposal speech he delivered to Elena at the end of last season: “When I saw this ring, it reminded me how light reflects off oil.” I love the callback to his dyslexia: “I’m not that good of a reader, but I have read The Great Gatsby about a dozen times — it’s nice and short.”

Over on EMPIRE, Anika commends Hakeem, somewhat condescendingly, on his choice of reading material. “A Curious Mind — this is an inspirational book, Hakeem. I’m happy you’re reading this!” she remarks. (A quick google reveals this to be a meta moment — A Curious Mind was written by one of EMPIRE’s producers.) “You know who else you should read?” she continues. “Machiavelli.” “You talking about the Italian guy, he be writing books about power?” he asks. “I already read that.” (So has Paige Matheson. She quoted him to Greg Sumner in 1991: “Among other evils which being unarmed brings you, it also causes you to be despised.”) “So you also know that he had a disdain for what he called ‘effeminate princes’?” Anika replies. “I’m not talking about Jamal being gay, I’m talking about a battle we can win. You are gonna be a much better king now that you have to fight for it.” “Fight for what?” he asks. “Have you ever heard of a hostile takeover? We’re gonna need Andre,” she tells him.

It so happens that Hakeem has already had much the same discussion with his mother, which leads to Hakeem, Anika, Cookie and Andre meeting to discuss how best to take Empire for themselves. There’s just a little something Cookie and Anika need to get out of the way first — the cat-fight they’ve been building up to all season. It’s more chaotically violent than Alexis and Krystle’s initial contretemps back in ’82, but similarly funny and exciting. It starts with Cookie hurling a cocktail in Anika’s “bitch ass face” before knocking her to the floor with one blow. Anika then grabs Cookie by the hair and punches her in the stomach. “Who Boo Boo Kitty now, bitch?!” she asks. By way of reply, Cookie rips the pearls off of Anika’s necklace and throws her onto a pool table, then clambers on top of her and proceeds to strangle her. At this point, Andre pulls Cookie away. She appears to calm down but then makes one more lunge at her opponent. Hakeem appeals for reason: “We all here outta hate for the same man, right?” “Mom, if we’re gonna make a play for Empire, we need her,” Andre adds, going on to explain that Anika can introduce them to Tony Trichter, “a famous corporate raider” who is “the best at hostile takeovers” “… OK, I will work with Boo Boo Kitty this time,” concedes Cookie grudgingly.

Trichter tells them the most effective way to assume control of a company is to “nail the CEO with a good scandal” — such as the murder of his ex-wife’s cousin, perhaps? This puts Cookie in the same position Blake was apparently in when he “had enough dirt” to use against Alexis in their divorce, but didn’t want to hurt their children. Besides, as flashbacks remind us, Cookie wouldn’t rat on Lucious seventeen years ago and she promises Jamal she won’t rat on him now. As far as she is concerned, Bunky’s death is “between him and the Lord, baby.”

Trichter agrees to invest $150,000,000 of his own money into the takeover of Empire on the condition that the company then release his talentless grandson’s hip hop album. “Four hundred — he ain’t no Tupac,” counters Cookie. They settle on $250,000,000. Meanwhile, John Ross and New Pamela do some negotiating of their own while circling each other in her apartment. “Fifty per cent of my shares of Ewing Energies after the divorce in exchange for Christopher’s methane patent,” she proposes. “If I’m giving you the whole enchilada, I expect the same — a hundred per cent of your shares,” he counters. She barters him down to seventy per cent then interrupts their sexy haggling with an even sexier kiss, which John Ross breaks away from. “Hell, I’d’ve take taken fifty,” he smiles. “Pleasure doing business with you.” With that, he exits the penthouse, leaving Pamela high and dry. As he travels down in the elevator, it looks like he’s already grasped what it took his mother years to learn about his father — that the chase is everything. Sure enough, he’s only descended a couple of floors when the elevator starts to go back up again. The door slides open to reveal New Pamela waiting for him. He marches towards her, grabs her, they start pulling at each other’s clothes and then disappear from view.

As well as secret plots to take over Ewing Enterprises and Empire, there is also one afoot to seize control Carrington Atlantic. Jeff explains to Monica the real reason he’s so determined to marry Fallon: “It’s the only way I’ll have influence over her CA shares — my first step in taking the company away from Blake.” At first, Monica is against the idea (“This is insane!”) but changes her mind by the end of the episode. “You wanna make them pay for what they’ve done?” she asks Jeff. “Well, so do I … We’re just getting started.”

The resentful family black sheep has long been a familiar fixture in Soap Land — Andre Lyon and John Ross Ewing are simply picking up where Adam Carrington and Richard Channing left off — but now we also have another variation on the character: the quasi-family member who is continually taken for granted until they decide they’re not gonna take it anymore. DALLAS has Frank Ashkani, the protege whom Cliff Barnes treated “as his own, gave him an American education, college degree, fancy suits — everything but the heir-to-my-fortune part.” EMPIRE has Vernon Turner, Lucious’s consigliere who thinks of himself as a second father to the Lyon sons and encourages them to call him Uncle, but whose guilt over covering up Bunky’s murder has led him to relapse on cocaine.

Whereas Jamal has waited a whole season to be crowned King of Empire, New Pamela simply sweeps into a board meeting at Barnes Global and interrupts Frank to announce the company’s change of focus away from casinos and back to alternative energy. Adding insult to injury, she then assumes Frank's place at the head of the table. “You disrespected me in front of the board. Don’t do that again,” he snaps once they are alone. “You have to stop thinking of me as your father’s driver.” She is unrepentant and he gets his revenge by sending Christopher Tommy’s cellphone which contains some incriminating voicemail messages from Pamela and Rebecca Sutter.

Meanwhile, Andre takes his business defeat out on Vernon. “Empire should be mine and you know it … You stabbed me in the back!” he shouts. “You still my family,” Vernon insists. “I raised you.” “… You’re not my family. You’re just my dad’s thug and now you’re Jamal’s thug. That’s all you’re ever gonna be!” sneers Andre. This hits a nerve with Vernon and an ugly brawl ensues.

Andre’s wife Rhonda only has two speaking scenes in this finale episode, but somehow manages to cram half a season’s worth of story lines into them. When we first see her, she is walking out on Andre (“You conceded Empire to Jamal without even putting up a fight!”). In the second, she returns to discover Vernon knocking seven bells out of her husband. So she picks up a candlestick, a large brass candlestick, and whacks Vernon with it, whereupon she becomes the third woman in as many weeks, following DALLAS’s Pamela and DYNASTY’s Iris, to kill a man in self-defence (“He doesn’t have a pulse!”). Andre wants to call the police, but she pleads with him not to: “There’s gonna be an investigation and a trial and who knows what can happen? I can’t take that … BABE, I’M PREGNANT!” This gives her and New Pamela even more in common: both are pregnant, both have unintentionally killed someone and both have covered it up as if it were a murder. Whereas much was made of the disposal of Tommy Sutter’s body in the season finale of DALLAS, EMPIRE skips over that bit and the next thing we see is Andre and Rhonda standing at Lucious’s side for the symbolic bell-ringing that signifies Empire is now a publicly-traded company.

Several characters face the possibility of imprisonment this week — Sue Ellen for bribing a medical examiner, Blake for bribing a judge, Rebecca Sutter for perjury and conspiracy to commit fraud — but it’s the man who has managed to evade his terrible crime for an entire season who finally ends up under arrest — Lucious Lyon.

“You did this to me … You’re a ghetto rat!” shouts Lucious at Cookie, as he is placed in handcuffs after the bell-ringing ceremony. But it wasn’t Cookie who reported him to the authorities. “Vernon Turner’s disappeared … He’s my star witness,” mutters the FBI agent who just arrested Lucious. It’s at this point that we realise it was Vernon, not Cookie, who snitched on Lucious — and now he’s dead. Nevertheless, the timing of the arrest could not be better for Cookie and co’s planned takeover. Lucious is still being led away by the cops when Becky tells him “the news of your arrest has already hit and now the stock is plummeting … Everyone’s talking about a hostile takeover.” The scene goes into slow motion as he passes Andre and Hakeem and sees the smug expressions on their faces.

A patriarch locked up as his sons look on smiling, his wife and mistress teaming up to rob him of his power: this feels like a mashup of James Beaumont tearing up JR’s sanatarium release papers and Sue Ellen joining forces with Kimberly Cryder to prevent JR getting West Star, only with more gravitas. The season ends with Lucious vowing from behind bars to get back at those who betrayed him: “You may think you’ve gotten away with it, but don’t fool yourselves … Lucious Lyon will return.” His final words, delivered direct to camera, strike the same vengeful note as Monica Colby’s “We’re just getting started” at the end of DYNASTY: ”Game time, bitches.”

And this week’s Top 3 are …

1 (2) DALLAS
2 (1) EMPIRE
3 (3) DYNASTY
 
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04 Feb 13: DALLAS: Sins of the Father v. 23 Sep 15: EMPIRE: The Devils Are Here v. 07 Feb 18: DYNASTY: Nothing But Trouble

“Rich folks don’t go to jail,” says JR on this week’s DALLAS. Tell that to Lucious Lyon. As the new season of EMPIRE begins, he has been held without bail in the Soap Land Correctional Facility for the past three months.

This leads to a fantastically cynical “awareness-raising” concert produced by Cookie and Co. “Did you know there are 1.68 million black men being held in mass incarceration in America’s prison system today, right now, just like my brother Lucious Lyon has been for three months, held without bail?” Swizz Beats asks the audience. A horrible real-life statistic — but the concert is less concerned with the other 1,679,999 black men than it is with pressurising the authorities to grant Lucious a new bail hearing. The irony is not lost on his youngest son. “We out there frontin’,” Hakeem grumbles to his mother backstage. “You know and I know he killed Bunky … Mom, you got us here doing a Free Lucious concert when we should be performing for the brothers and sisters that are innocent.” But peel away another layer of the onion and we discover the real real reason for the concert. “This is about us taking the Empire,” Cookie explains, “about impressing that investor lady Mimi Whiteman … We got to get her $250 million so we can get our Empire.”

As Soap Land’s first unequivocally lesbian character, Mimi Whiteman is a regressive stereotype — mannish and predatory. On the plus side, she’s a total blast and is played with verve and swagger by Marisa Tomei.

Amongst the real-life VIPs attending the concert is hugely respected civil rights activist the Reverend Al Sharpton. Cookie and her assistant Porsha approach him in awe. “Mass incarceration is such an important issue,” he tells them gravely. They nod in agreement, but as soon as Cookie realises he’s unwilling to speak out on Lucious’s behalf, she cuts him off mid-sentence and walks away, leaving him standing there with his mouth open. It’s Soap Land’s best celebrity cameo since Henry Kissinger wandered past the camera at the Carousel Ball in 1983.

To curry favour with Mimi Whiteman, Cookie invites her to “a little party we put together”, full of scantily clad girls making out with each other and sexy black waitresses wearing bowties and not much else. Mimi eyes up Cookie and every other female that crosses her path, before settling on Anika, whom she insists on calling Anita. “Anita, dance with her,” Cookie orders, suggesting that she also “take your little sweater off so she can see your sexy body.” Fallon and Monica are likewise waited on by black girls in bow-ties and not much else during a night out at a private club on DYNASTY, only this time the dancers are boys. Both gatherings yield a positive result: Mimi agrees to invest in Empire and Fallon surprises Monica by presenting her with the club as a gift. (At this point, Fallon is unaware that Monica and Jeff are currently planning her family’s downfall.)

The slow-motion sequence where Andre, Cookie and Anika stride purposefully towards the Empire boardroom to announce their takeover, Hakeem gliding alongside them on motorised roller blades, is fantastic. “Lemme explain how this is gonna work,” Cookie begins, addressing Jamal and the assembled board members. “In partnership with a woman named Mimi Whiteman, we have taken controlling interest in Empire. But that doesn’t mean we’re gonna take it from you, Jamal.” “Our first order of business is removing Lucious Lyon as CEO,” adds Andre. “Sorry, brother, it’s just business,” Hakeem says to Jamal smugly. Jamal nods in agreement. “It’s just business — right, Mimi?” Cut to the chair at the head of the table which spins round to reveal … Mimi! “We had a deal!” Andre protests. “I met with Lucious this morning and made a better deal,” Mimi replies. (This is followed by a little side exchange between Cookie and Anika. “I thought I told you to sleep with her!” “I did!” “You can’t even dyke right!”) “You made all the right moves,” Mimi assures them. “You convinced me to invest in Empire. You just forgot one little detail. Lucious Lyon is Empire. Empire is Lucious Lyon. Without him, the company’s nothing.” As if to emphasise this point, Lucious appears on a giant video screen, chuckling in his prison cell: “Game over, bitches.”

Over on DYNASTY, Michael Culhane has Sam use his new position as Fallon’s assistant to keep tabs on Jeff: “Something’s not adding up and I have a feeling Jeff Colby can’t be taken at his word.” This leads, in a roundabout way, to Fallon discovering Jeff and Monica are plotting against her — but why? “I’m gonna find out and when I do, Jeff Colby is going down,” she vows. To that end, she accepts Jeff’s marriage proposal.

As two out three of Soap Land’s takeover plots falter, the remaining one continues apace. Prompted by his father, John Ross visits Sue Ellen, aka “the prettiest mother in Texas”, ostensibly to donate to her foundation but really to drip poison in her ear. “You do a lot for others, Mama, but isn’t it time you do something for yourself?” he suggests. “You wrote Elena that cheque to buy the Henderson oil lease. You should be getting paid on that oil … She played me like a fool, Mama. Don’t let her do the same to you.” This has the desired effect of Sue Ellen marching into Ewing Enterprises like, to quote Elena, “a bitch on wheels” and giving her (Elena) a one-month deadline to strike oil.

As fun as the Sue Ellen/John Ross dynamic is, the mother/son relationship between Cookie and Jamal is even juicier. “I didn’t betray you,” Cookie insists. “You were always gonna be a part of the company.” “Was I gonna run it? No, because you wanted to,” Jamal replies. “It was my sacrifice that started this company!” she reminds him, which has become very much the EMPIRE equivalent of Alexis’s “When Blake Carrington exiled me from this house …” speeches on ‘80s DYNASTY. “I’m so sick and tired of hearing the same old thing,” sighs Jamal. “Yeah, Ma, you sacrificed, but that don’t give you the right to tear us down.”

“It’s not just your husband who’s one of them, it’s you too,” Rick Morales told Cristal on last week’s DYNASTY. “You can’t see it now because you’re becoming one of them,” Elena’s brother Drew Ramos tells her on this week’s DALLAS. In other words, power, or even the proximity to power, corrupts. Nowhere is this more compellingly illustrated than by Jamal on EMPIRE. “You’re turning into your daddy,” Cookie tells him. “I’m watching it happen.” And so are we. Lord knows, Jamal is not the first Soap Land innocent to be seduced by the dark side, but his transformation is the one that most closely resembles Michael Corleone’s in The Godfather. Jamal is so calm, so gentle when he speaks to his younger brother that it takes one’s brain a second to register the actual words he’s saying: “I’m gonna bury your album, Hakeem. It’s never gonna see the light of day.”

“Anybody seen that lying snake Vernon?” Lucious asks. The only person who has seen him is Andre — in his nightmares. Rhonda urges him to keep calm. “If we were suspects, we would have been hauled in already,” she reasons. Meanwhile, the truth about Tommy’s death starts to catch up with Pamela on DALLAS. First, Christopher forces Becky Sutter to report his disappearance to the police (“Whether you wanna face this or not, Pamela Barnes did something to your brother”). Then Becky tries to shake Pamela down for a million dollars. “Pay her off,” Pamela tells Frank Ashkani, “but make her believe that if she comes sniffing around for money again she’s not gonna like the answer she gets.” Meanwhile, blood splatters found in Pamela’s old condo confirm that Tommy was shot there. Christopher texts Becky to tell her that her brother is dead and she’s in danger. She decides to make a run for it, but when she opens the door of her hotel room Frank is standing there …

Becky is never seen again. One wonders if Pamela knew that would be the case when she sent Frank to deal with her. I’m reminded of Miss Ellie in the DALLAS prequel novel by Lee Raintree who knew what she was doing when she told Bond Whitson to take care of Roberta Lessing, Jock’s duplicitous mistress. Whatever Bond then did cost Roberta her sanity. Bond was to Jock what Frank has been to Cliff: a reject he took under his wing who then became his driver and no-questions-asked right-hand man. As an albino, Bond was defined by his physical otherness. As Soap Land’s first Islamic character, Frank is also set apart from the rest of the DALLAS gang.

Indeed, of all the current players on DALLAS, Frank is the most mysterious. He has no on-screen confidante so we’re not privy to what’s going on inside his head — yet JR, of all people, seems to understand what makes him tick. Returning to his apartment after “dealing” with Becky, Frank is startled to find JR waiting for him in the dark. “It’s a sad day when an old man can sneak up on a super-ninja,” JR remarks. He’s heard about the “high-velocity blood splatter at Pamela Barnes’s old condo … It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to know that you clean up whatever mess Cliff Barnes asks you to.” Frank makes a dig about JR being a retired old man with too much time on his hands. “I’m retired,” JR concedes, “but not by choice. Getting pushed out of my place at the table stung like hell, but you know how that feels, don’t you, Frank? After all the jams you’ve gotten Cliff out of, to be treated like a lapdog by that spoiled princess. You’re not a Barnes, Frank. No matter how much Cliff appreciates what you’ve done when push comes to shove he’s gonna protect his daughter. Now we both know that rich folks don’t go to jail. However, the people that clean up after them do … Tell me where the body and the gun are. I’ll make sure they pop up. You can get your place back at the Barnes Global table and I make sure that Barnes girl doesn’t get a piece of Ewing Energies.” “… Why should I trust you?” Frank asks him. “Because we both wanna destroy Pamela and it’s a rare and beautiful thing when enemies share the same enemy,” he replies. The JR we see here is the same shrewd operator we were introduced to at the very beginning of the series who had an instinctive sense of other people’s weak spots. As he told Cliff in 1979, “You wanna know how I do so well? It’s because I know how to play the other man’s game.”

Two old adversaries, Ann Ewing and her former mother-in-law Judith, meet on screen for the first time. “You were nothing more than an egg donor for Harris,” declares Judith. “You were never worthy to be his wife.” “There is only one woman good enough for that job, isn’t there?” Ann replies. “Too bad it’s a crime to marry your son.” That last remark tells us pretty much all we need to know about Judith’s relationship with Harris, just as Andrew Laird’s similar line to ‘80s Fallon — “Most little girls realise by the age of six that they can't grow up and marry their daddies” — told us all we needed to know about that relationship. Like Fallon, Judith’s first impulse is to lash out, but in the same way that Andrew grabbed Fallon’s wrist before she could strike him, Bobby blocks Judith’s path before she can inflict any physical damage on Ann.

This week, there are two instances of an estranged parent and child meeting in an institutional environment. On DYNASTY, Cecil Colby and daughter Monica sit across from each other in a prison visiting room and have their first conversation for eight and a half years. On DALLAS, Ann and daughter Emma sit opposite one another in a police station interview room and have their first conversation, well, ever. Ann is full of apologies and explanations (“When I lost you, I died inside … I spent years looking for you, praying you were still alive. I never stopped loving you”) but Emma is unyielding in her lack of forgiveness (“I think you’ve confused love with guilt … This is a waste of time … If you care about me at all, you’ll leave me alone.”) Things go better for the Colbys. In their situation, the child is the contrite one. “I am so sorry,” Monica tells Cecil. “I spent all this time thinking you had turned your back on us … I had no idea what they [the Carringtons] did to you and I didn’t give you the benefit of the doubt, but I know now.” Cecil, who is due for parole, assures her they’ll be together soon.

DALLAS and DYNASTY also feature pleasingly familiar scenes of Soap Land's rich folk bribing the little people to do their dirty work. John Ross approaches Bubba, the drilling foreman on Elena’s rig, in a bar. “I would consider it a favour if you did not strike oil for quite some time,” he tells him. “What’s in it for me?” Bubba asks. “My undying friendship for every month till I say different,” he replies, placing a roll of banknotes in Bubba’s shirt pocket. We understand John Ross’s motives — delaying Elena’s oil strike will mean Sue Ellen calling in her loan which will mean he can get his hands on Elena’s share of Ewing Enterprises. Things are more mysterious on DYNASTY. Anders meets with an unknown man in a remote location, all tumbleweed and wire fencing, where they converse through their respective car windows. “We need this to happen today and of course we need this whole arrangement to remain thoroughly discreet,” Anders says, before handing over an envelope thick with cash.

All is revealed later in the episode, during one of two “prison violence with a twist” scenes in this week’s eps. The man Anders paid turns out to be a prison guard at the Soap Land Correctional Facility. He approaches Cecil Colby in an empty corridor in much the same way the Scary Venezuelans did John Ross before they beat him within an inch of his life on last season’s DALLAS. Here, the guard produces a knife — but then stabs himself in the thigh while shouting that Cecil has attacked him. There goes Cecil’s parole — or does it?

Fresh character type of the week: sexy middle-aged black women in positions of authority within the justice system who wield their power over incarcerated black men. Roxanne Ford, EMPIRE’s new federal prosecutor who has the most amazing cleavage, makes an off-the-record visit to Lucious in prison. He asks if he can call her Roxanne. “What you should call me is your worst nightmare because that’s exactly what I’m gonna be,” she replies before making him an offer: “Plead guilty and then we can start talking about some of the other killers in your business. You help us take them down, I promise you won’t die in here.” Lucious is unimpressed, to say the least: “You’re planning on running for attorney general, but as a Republican, and you think that being the black bitch in cheap shoes who took down hip-hop, that’s your way to victory. Let me share something with you, Miss Clarence Thomas, I don’t care how many of us you lock behind bars, you ain’t never gonna be nothing more than a black bitch in cheap shoes to me.” “A black bitch in cheap shoes who’ll jam them right up your yellow ass,” she counters, “and they’re Tom Ford, by the way.” The meeting between Jeff Colby and Nell Winters, DYNASTY’s Board of Parole Commissioner, is more restrained, but still frustrating for Jeff. “There’s nothing I can do for you, Mr Colby,” she says when he asks her to intercede with the parole board on his father’s behalf. “What does our fine government pay you anyway?” he persists. “I’m sure I could triple it. You’d never have to work again.” She makes it clear that she cannot be bought off but then gives him a look to suggest she might be susceptible to another kind of offer. Later on, we see Jeff outside a hotel room where Nell is waiting in bed for him. He has a moment of hesitation before entering, which implies she might not be exactly his type.

When the parole board ruling goes against Cecil, it looks like Jeff has prostituted himself for nothing, just as Anika did with Mimi Whiteman, but then the commissioner overturns the ruling and Cecil is released. At least that’s one less incarcerated black man in America’s prison system.

While Lucious identifies Roxanne the prosecutor as a Republican, Steven Carrington outs himself as a Democrat when he announces his intention to run for city council on DYNASTY, and maybe Cristal does too. “Personally, I think we could use more good people in politics,” she says when Blake opposes the idea. “We could certainly use more Democrats.” Blake reminds Steven that “you don’t exactly have a great track record. A month ago, you were snorting half of Manhattan up your nose.” “Daddy, don’t be so old-fashioned,” Fallon pipes up. “A couple more felonies and he could be President.” Speaking of Presidents, back at the open-air concert on EMPIRE, Porsha informs Cookie that Bill Clinton is in the audience. “Yeah, he needs to be, if he wants to get his wife elected,” she replies. There’s more ripped-from-the-headlines stuff as Cristal tells Blake they “should have a conversation about our UK operation depending on Brexit.”

DYNASTY’s Steven and EMPIRE’s Jamal are each reunited with their former boyfriends, Ted and Michael, this week, but strictly for professional reasons — even if personal feelings still linger. When we last saw Michael, he was a cooking student. Now, like his other self Sam on DYNASTY, he has a new job, organising an LGTB event at which Jamal has agreed to appear. However, Jamal is more interested in talking about Michael himself. “I miss you so much,” he tells him. “What about Ryan?” Michael asks, referring to Jamal’s current beau. “Ryan is a ho,” he replies simply. Meanwhile, Steven warns Ted that press attention surrounding his election campaign might spill over onto Ted himself. Here, it’s Ted who has other things on his mind. “It means a lot to know that you’re thinking of me,” he sighs dreamily.

By way of thanks for agreeing to attend the LGTB party, someone who answers to the name of Miss Lawrence appears in Jamal’s office to perform an overtly camp version of ‘(You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real’ while lying on top of a piano. Jamal smiles politely, but is quietly repelled by the display and subsequently withdraws from the event. His interestingly complicated reaction makes up for the simplistic rap battle at the end of last season where he appeared to cure an entire crowd of homophobia by hitting a few high notes. “You just hate him cos he’s too real for you,” suggests Michael, referring to Miss Lawrence. I googled Miss L and it turns s/he is very real. S/he is a former regular on THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF ATLANTA. There’s another real-life reference at the end of the scene that I also didn’t understand before I looked it up: Becky is thrilled when Miss Lawrence mentions that Donnie McClurkin will be at the LGTB party. “Donnie McClurkin? I love him!” she gushes. Googling “Donnie McClurkin Empire” reveals a mini-internet controversy within religious circles: http://lookupradio.com/2015/10/4-lessons-from-the-donnie-mcclurkin-empire-fiasco/

“I deserve to be King!” Hakeem shouts in frustration on EMPIRE. “That land is mine and I’ll get it back one way or another!” Drew Ramos vows angrily on DALLAS. Such passion is notably absent from Fallon as she delivers another of her child prodigy quips: “I’ve always wanted to own my own company … While other kids were drawing rainbows and unicorns, I was workshopping my letterhead.”

Drew is one of two faces from the past to show up this week, even though we’ve never previously heard of him. The other is Frank Gathers, the drug kingpin Cookie testified against during a confidential hearing last season. Now he has been transferred to the same prison as Lucious. When we first see Frank, he is walking down a prison corridor, stony-faced. Inmates move deferentially out of his path as he passes while ominous music plays on the soundtrack. For added kudos, he is played by Chris Rock. Drew’s screen entrance is much more lowkey. He simply wanders into the Southfork living room unannounced (“You think rich people would lock their damn doors!”), surprising Elena and their mother Carmen in the process. It’s a bit like when Joshua Rush just suddenly materialised out of nowhere on his sister and mother’s doorstep.

In contrast to the other prisoners, Lucious greets Frank with a smile: “What you trying to do, scare somebody?” “Lucious Lyon — seems like yesterday you were moving biscuits for me at fifty a pop,” Frank recalls. “Yeah, that was twenty years ago, fool!” he replies with a laugh and a hug. There is similar banter on DALLAS. “I told you if you didn’t get out of this town, you’d end up with one of these dopes,” Drew tells Elena, pointing at John Ross and Christopher. “I got a fast car. Not too late to run!” “… You’re here under a minute and you’re already stirring up trouble? That’s gotta be a new record,” quips Christopher, while John Ross jokingly recalls Drew as a bad influence: “If you’d have stuck around, I’d be doing hard time in Huntsville.”

In both instances, the jocularity and back-slapping belie an unspoken tension, which inevitably rises to the surface. While it doesn’t take Frank long to discover it was Cookie who snitched on him, it takes even less time for us to learn that Drew has all the emotional baggage one could ask of a Soap Land black sheep. Like Tommy Mackay, Dan Fixx and Mickey Trotter, he has a criminal record (“When you chose the army over jail, life went on back here,” Elena tells him). Like Dan, he feels guilty about a past event (he blames himself for his father’s death). And like so many others before him, he has a dream that borders on obsession. “I came back to Dallas to drill our father’s land,” he tells Elena. “It’s a dry hole,” she argues. “No! You’re wrong!” he insists. This obsession is laced with resentment — when Elena tells him that their mother sold their father’s land to Bobby (“We had bills to pay, debts you owed on”), he becomes convinced Bobby swindled her out of it: “He bought it because he knows there’s oil under there.” This gives him an immediate goal (“That land is mine and I’ll get it back one way or another”) which is met with a prophecy of doom (“Him getting back that land ends one of two ways — chaos or tragedy,” predicts Elena). It’s great stuff.

Things turn nasty on EMPIRE when Frank sends Cookie a gift from prison — a box containing the severed head of her cousin. This sparks off one of those high stakes situations we’ve gotten used to in C21st Soap Land where the feuding family puts its differences aside to band together against a common enemy. But the only family member who can deal with Frank is the one who’s locked up with him. And so, while the rest of the Lyons hide out in Lucious’s house, Cookie visits her ex to ask for his help. “They messing with us, Lucious … I need you to fix it,” she tells him. On last week’s DALLAS, JR fixed things for his ex-wife when he got the bribery charges against her quashed. This week, he’s back to manipulating her for his own ends and using their son to do it. Lucious’s relationship with Cookie is just as complicated. “It’s crazy how I can love your ass and hate you at the same moment,” he tells her.

He agrees to help, which brings us to the week’s second “prison violence with a twist” scene, as Lucious has a sit-down meeting with Frank and his crew. Frank assures him that his beef is with Cookie alone: “Me and you are cool — unless you tell me something different.” Lucious tells him something different: “I love Cookie and if you’ve got war with her, you’ve got war with me.” “Kill him,” Frank tells his men. “Make it fast and quiet.” He gets up to leave, but one of his own crew blocks his path. Seems they’re no longer his crew, but Lucious’s. “See, Frankie, you always wanted to run the streets, but me, I wanted to rule the world,” Lucious explains before going on to list all the strings he’s been able to pull for his new friends on the outside. “Kill him,” Lucious tells them. “Make it loud and make it long.” Then he starts to walk away, smiling to himself as he hears Frank’s screams echo in the distance. This is where the casting of Chris Rock really pays off. Because Frank is played by someone so famous and cool, the last thing one expects is for him to die suddenly, especially in such a squalid and gruesome way.

When news of the bloody deed reaches the outside world, the Lyons let out a collective sigh of relief. “Yeah well, your father’s a son of a bitch, but he’s still your father and I’m still your mother, don’t you ever forget that!” Cookie tells her sons. She smiles lovingly at Jamal and he smiles back almost bashfully. It’s a moment of peace. Then, still looking at her, still smiling, he tells her to get out. He turns to Hakeem, Andre and Rhonda. “Get out of my father’s house. You betrayed him, all of you.” Cookie ushers the rest of them out and then turns back to Jamal. “Look, I can fix this, baby,” she pleads. “Get out,” he says again. She slaps him hard across the face. “Who you think you’re talking to?!” He says nothing, just looks at her. She slaps him again, even harder. “You done now, lady?” he asks, moving towards her, edging her out of the house. He closes the door behind her, allows his face to crumple for a second and then hardens again.

The other two soaps also feature an unexpected death (or at least, an unexpected apparent death) in their final minutes. “Write me [a play] about a nice normal woman who just shoots her husband,” requested Margo Channing in All About Eve. There were comparatively few such women in ‘80s Soap Land: Sophia Stavros, Sue Ellen Ewing and Emma St James all shot their (ex)husbands, while Sydney St James stabbed hers to death in self-defence. Soap Land women are a lot more violent in the C21st. In just the past few weeks, we’ve seen Iris kill Alejandro, Pamela kill Tommy, Rhonda kill Vernon, and Cristal and Cookie almost kill Alejandro and Lucious. And now this week’s DALLAS ends with Ann Ewing, who is as close to a nice normal woman as Soap Land gets these days, deliberately shooting her ex-husband Harris in the chest at point-blank range.

Even whackier, DYNASTY has a stoned Ted Dinard drop by Steven’s apartment, yank Sam’s earring out of his earlobe and hurl himself out of window shouting, “My life may be over, but I am not going down alone — I’m taking you and Steven down with me!”

And this week’s Top 3 are …

1 (2) EMPIRE
2 (1) DALLAS
3 (3) DYNASTY
 
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11 Feb 13: DALLAS: False Confessions v. 30 Sep 15: EMPIRE: Without a Country v. 09 Mar 18: DYNASTY: The Gospel According to Blake Carrington

At the start of both this week’s DYNASTY and DALLAS, we see a woman going about her business — an unnamed florist making a delivery, Judith Ryland returning home and throwing off her shoes — before being stopped in her tracks by the sight of a man’s prone body — Ted Dinard on the ground after jumping out of an apartment window, Harris Ryland on the living room floor after being shot. “Oh my God!” gasps the florist. “NO! NO!” howls Judith.

We then cut to Sam peering round the corner of the apartment block and Ann arriving back at Southfork. They are quickly joined by Steven and Bobby who want to know what has happened. “He ripped my earring out and took it with him when he jumped. I think he was trying to frame me for his murder,” postulates Sam (a very Jill Bennett theory). “I couldn’t let Harris get away with it. I shot him, Bobby,” Ann tells her husband. While Steven’s first reaction is to call 911, the Dallas sheriff is already knocking on the Ewings’ front door. Ann is all for coming clean: “I shot him. Let them take me.” However, Sam’s and Bobby’s instincts are much soapier — why tell the simple truth when you can cover it up with a complicated story that will almost inevitably come back to bite you in the arse? Admittedly, each has a compelling reason for lying. “I can’t talk to the police,” Sam explains. “I’m not here legally, Steven. My papers are not valid anymore.” Meanwhile, Bobby is thinking about Emma. “She can’t think that you tried to kill her father. She’d never forgive you and you’d lose her again,” he tells Ann.

From this point on, Steven and Bobby each take control of their respective situation. “Ted was by the window and I turned my back. I don’t know if he lost his balance or jumped,” Steven tells the DYNASTY cops. “I’m the one you wanna talk to. I shot Harris Ryland,” Bobby tells the DALLAS ones. Matters are complicated yet further when it transpires that both men are still alive (“He’s not dead?!” exclaims Ann in dismay; “This man still has a pulse!” declares a DYNASTY paramedic) and stand a good chance of regaining consciousness by the end of their episode.

Both plots are kinda nuts but are tonally very different. DALLAS takes its situation completely seriously, with watery eyes and anxious frowns on the faces of all concerned. Even JR is worried. “No baby brother of mine is gonna spend his twilight years in jail!” he insists. John Ross, however, is more pragmatic when he hears of Bobby’s arrest. “You think that’ll help us get him out of Ewing Energies?” he asks his father. JR’s stern reaction — “You still got a lot to learn, boy. When the family’s in trouble, we don’t take advantage” — mirrors perfectly what he told a five-year-old John Ross when Bobby was shot and blinded by Katherine Wentworth in ’84: “It wouldn’t be right to take advantage of Bobby while he’s in the hospital … With family, you play fair.”

Meanwhile, DYNASTY goes down the flippant, farcical route. The strongest emotion Steven can muster towards his suicidal former lover is irritation that Ted hasn’t “simply stuck to his plan and died.” To conceal Sam’s involvement, Steven plans to wipe his blood off the incriminating earring and pass it off as his own. This involves him piercing his own ear with a syringe and pretending to the press that he and Ted are still an item while Blake plays the homophobia card so that Steven can gain access to Ted’s hospital room (in a similar if less sophisticated way that Cookie played the racism card to try and get her hands on Empire last week). “What is this, 1952?” he barks at a confused nurse. “My son can’t comfort a dying man, the love of his life because of his sexual orientation? This is inexcusable, not to mention disrespectful to all the gays, the whole LTBZ community!”

As Ted and Harris lie unconscious, their respective parents, Gerry Dinard and Judith Ryland, keep a vigil at their bedsides. Both are angry as well as upset. “You … drove him away from me, away from the church,” says Gerry to Steven. “Why you brought Ann into our lives I will never understand … She took you from me,” seethes Judith to her unconscious son. Each vows to bring the person they believe (wrongly) to be responsible for their son’s condition to justice. “God already knows your sins and as for me, I will do everything I can to expose them,” Gerry promises Steven. “I will make sure Bobby goes to jail,” Judith vows.

While Judith’s maternal intensity is a fascinating thing to behold, Gerry Dinard is the only person in the DYNASTY storyline who exhibits any genuine feeling. As such, he is an object of ridicule. His grief, his faith, even his name — Gerard Dinard — all exist for Steven, and by extension the programme, to roll their eyes at and make fun of. When Steven pretends to be choked up and asks Gerry to pray with him, Gerry falls into his embrace and we’re all supposed to be amused at how stupidly gullible this church-going nobody is. I guess when people accuse the “Hollywood elite” of looking down their noses at Middle Americans (Gerry’s from Indiana), this is the kind of thing they’re talking about.

It’s another busy week at the Soap Land Correctional Facility. As Cecil Colby is released on bail after eight and a half years, Bobby Ewing climbs into his old orange jumpsuit and has his feet shackled together for added verisimilitude. Being white, however, he is granted bail almost immediately, to the tune of one million dollars. Being black, Lucious Lyon can’t get the medication he needs for his ongoing condition, much less bail. Interestingly, those Lucious comes into immediate conflict with are also black — the ambitious prosecutor who wants him to turn state's evidence and a prison warden called McKnight who is as megalomaniacal as the one who presided over JR’s stay in the Haleyville Penal Camp twenty-eight years earlier. “This is your only world and I am your only God!” bellowed JR’s captor then. “You forget whose house this is — mine! That’s my table, my newspaper, that’s my basketball goal, my everything!” barks Lucious’s jailer now. Lucious even gets thrown in “the hole”, a place as dark and uncomfortable as “the box” JR was locked in in Haleyville. One soap along, Fallon Carrington sympathises about the miseries of prison life: “I can only imagine what years of tiny televisions, toilet wine and baloney sandwiches can do to the human spirit.”

After hearing that Harris Ryland has regained consciousness, Ann is certain that he will identify her as his would-be assassin and so decides to come clean. No sooner has she confessed all than we hear him tell the police it was Bobby who shot him — and I thought Abby and Olivia covering for each other over Peter Hollister’s murder was complicated. Back on DYNASTY, Ted wakes up murmuring Sam’s name. When Steven learns that Ted may be brain damaged, and thereby unable to place Sam at the scene of his suicide attempt, he permits himself a smile of smug satisfaction. (By this point, I’m starting to hate Steven.)

Family betrayals, particularly of fathers by their sons, loom large this week. Frank Ashkani gets the ball rolling by digging up Tommy Sutter’s corpse. From the way he violently wretches, one assumes Tommy’s body hasn’t been miraculously preserved the way Roger Grimes’s was. Once he has sufficiently recovered, Frank calls JR to remind him of their arrangement: “You said if I told you the location of Tommy Sutter’s body, you’d get rid of Pamela Barnes and it won’t come back to me. Well, you have a deal.”

When JR tells him of his plan “to take Pamela out of the picture,” John Ross calls his mama: “I need you to put me in touch with Cliff Barnes.” This leads to a fascinating scene where Sue Ellen warns her son of the dangers of getting between JR and Cliff: “Being caught in the middle of that war nearly destroyed me,” she tells him. “I paid for it for years.” Later, during a conversation with Ann, Sue Ellen refers to the past again, recalling John Ross as “a child who hated my guts … I have a scar from when he threw a toy truck at my head.” “I paid for it for years … a child who hated my guts” — these descriptions don’t quite match up with what we saw on screen back in the ‘80s. Instead, they sound like what should have happened, and what would have happened if the Ewings had been real people whose actions have truly lasting consequences rather than characters in a fast-moving soap opera.

“Being JR’s son is no easy task,” Sue Ellen tells John Ross during their scene together. “Even when you hated him the most, you were obsessed with being just like him … Sometimes I think you forget that half of you is me. You’re your own man, John Ross.” She reaches out to touch his face. This gesture, and the sentiment that goes with it, is mirrored by Cookie during a conversation with Jamal: “I know you. See, Lucious is trying to make you like him but you ain’t him.” Where Sue Ellen tenderly strokes her son’s cheek, Cookie playfully squeezes hers by the chin.

After Frank betrays Cliff to JR, it’s John Ross’s turn to betray JR to Cliff: “Your guy Frank, he’s got a deal with JR … Figured if there’s anyone that could stop them, it would be you.” Cliff regards John Ross with coldness and suspicion. “Are you telling me that you’re willing to betray your own father?” he asks him warily. “His performance as a father hasn’t exactly gained my undying loyalty,” John Ross replies. Cliff isn’t convinced: “I took this meeting out of respect for your mother. You’ve wasted enough of my time today.”

The really big betrayals on EMPIRE took last week during Cookie and co’s botched attempt to take over the family business. The stakes aren’t quite as high this week. After Jamal boots his mother and brothers out of the company, they decide to start their own record label and spend most of the ep trying to think of what to call it. Eventually, Cookie has a brain wave: “Dynasty. Hmm, that’s a dope name.”

Back at the Soap Land Penitentiary, Lucious tells Jamal that “Hakeem belongs at Empire … Make that happen.” So Jamal tries to tempt back his baby bro by promising to “release your album, give it a huge push, the whole thing.” Hakeem is tempted, but then, with one click of his laptop, leaks the album online, even though it legally belongs to Empire. “I don’t care if they sue us, I don’t care if I lose money from it, all I care about is that my music is out to the world and that it gonna be legendary,” he declares. Such recklessness is too much for uptight Andre who immediately quits the new label. Cookie pleads with him to change his mind. “I’m sorry, Mom,” he replies. “It’s not you, it’s not even Hakeem. This isn’t me … It’s not what I’ve been working for all these years … I need you to let me go.” In theory, this shouldn’t be that big of a deal — back in the ‘80s, it seemed like either Steven or Adam were quitting Colby Co every other week — but somehow the actors make it feel as sad and momentous as when Bobby and Pam moved off Southfork in 1980.

When Jamal learns of Hakeem’s online betrayal, he does his quietly-spoken-but-enraged thing: “So that’s how we gonna roll, Hakeem? You’ll never see a penny. We’ll sue the drawers off your black ass.” “Jamal, you think you on top now. Our little Dynasty’s gonna crush your Empire,” Hakeem assures him, bringing new meaning to the idea of EMPIRE v DYNASTY.

The best scenes on both DALLAS and EMPIRE this week involve a prison visit between a contrite son and an unyielding father. John Ross’s tip-off enables Cliff to circumvent Pamela’s arrest for Tommy’s murder when his body is discovered and it’s Frank who ends up in an orange jump-suit instead. “You did this to me,” Frank realises when Cliff comes to visit him. “You kept the gun after the shooting, you planted my fingerprints on it and you dropped it by the burial site. You set me up.” Cliff doesn’t bother to deny it. “I know about your plan with JR. I wanna know why,” he tells him. “Ever since you left Pamela in charge, she treated me like a dog,” Frank complains. “If you were unhappy with Pamela you should have come to me. We could have worked it out. That’s what families do. You were just a young boy in the streets of Islamabad when I found you and I treated you as my own … How could you betray me like this? You broke my heart,” says Cliff, but despite his words, there is no emotion in his voice. As in the scene with John Ross, he is distant and cold. By contrast, Frank’s heart is breaking. “Father, I love you,” he says movingly in Urdu. Cliff dismisses this with a simple shake of his head. “Your family will be taken care of,” he tells him matter-of-factly. “They will be fed and provided for, but you brought this on yourself. You should do the honourable thing and you should do it for me.” He embraces Frank, telling him, “I love you, son,” but there is a strangely remote expression on his face. Ken Kercheval has shown us many, many sides to Cliff over the years, but we’ve never seen him as chillingly detached as he is here. In the vacuum created by his lack of emotion, echoes of Cliff’s past and future flood in. I’m reminded of possibly my least favourite scene in all of Soap Land where Cliff jokes with Jordan Lee about Texans being forced to wear turbans instead of Stetsons and eat goat rather than turkey at Thanksgiving because of the “damn foreigners” that are taking over the oil industry. Yet these words came from the same man who took pity on a child on the streets of Islamabad and raised him as his own. This contradiction is distilled to its essence when Cliff essentially tells Frank, “I love you, kill yourself.” One also recalls Cliff’s own suicide attempt and then thinks forward to the prison cell and orange jump-suit he too will end his days in.

Across the Soap Land Penitentiary visitors room, Andre is begging Lucious’s forgiveness. “I never should have been a part of that hostile takeover. I messed up big time, Pop, and I know it.” “Hurt me to my core to watch you take sides against me, son,” Lucious replies. “Empire’s in my blood. When I bleed, I bleed Empire,” Andre insists, sounding not unlike John Ross on last season’s DALLAS: “I’m a Ewing, deep in my DNA. Everything I am, everything I’d die for has the name Ewing on it.” “I’m praying that you’ll forgive me, Pop,” he concludes. “Then you pray to God that He forgives you because I don’t,” Lucious replies, sounding as cold and implacable as Cliff did towards Frank. He starts to walk away, but Andre’s words bring him to a halt: “For years, you rejected Jamal because of who he is and now he’s running the company. Hakeem, he slept with your fiancee. Apparently, you want him back at Empire. Here I stand, contrite, remorseful, humble. And yet you look at me like I’m some kind of mutant. Why do you hate me?!” Instead of replying, Lucious flashes back to a woman singing ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ to a little boy. I assumed this to be Young Cookie and Young Andre until she called the child Dwight and I remembered that Young Cookie is usually played by Cookie With A Wig On rather than Kelly Actual Rowland as is the case here. Halfway through the song, Kelly Actual Rowland stops singing and just stares into space. “I don’t hate you,” Lucious tells Andre in the present before turning his back on him again.

There is an equivalent father/son scene on DYNASTY — only now that Cecil is out on bail and under house arrest, his surroundings are a lot grander than Frank and Lucious’s. “This beats the hell out of my last prison,” he says, looking around Jeff’s palatial dwelling. “This is paradise … It’s a proud day when your son outstrips your wildest dreams.” That pride soon fades, however, as Cecil finds Jeff’s engagement to his enemy’s daughter hard to stomach. “You don’t know who you’re dealing with,” he warns him. “I faced Blake and lost.” “I’ve been facing him for years and winning,” Jeff replies smugly. “I know when you left, I was just some confused naive kid, but this is my house. You play your part in it and everything will be just fine.” John Ross attempts to assert his authority over his father in a similar way: “You must be getting senile in your old age, Daddy, because I’m the one calling the shots here, remember?”

This week’s DALLAS and EMPIRE both end with an outrageous courtroom scene. At his arraignment, not only does Frank confess to Pamela’s crime of killing Tommy, but he also admits to murdering Becky Sutter for good measure. “I have disgraced my family. I only hope they will see the honour in my confession and one day be able to forgive me,” he says, turning to Pamela who looks back at him with a mixture of gratitude and remorse. Also in the courtroom is Christopher who, upon seeing his last chance to get Pamela convicted go up in smoke, starts shouting in protest. As the judge is admonishing him, the scene goes into slow motion. Unobserved, Frank hastily swallows something, falls to the floor, goes into convulsions and dies. Forget soap, this is pure opera. Over on EMPIRE, Lucious finally gets a bail hearing (Soap Land’s second in two weeks, following Cecil Colby’s on DYNASTY). His new lawyer, played by Bubbles from THE WIRE, arrives proffering “new evidence” which he hands straight to the judge. It’s an envelope of photos that show the judge wearing S&M gear including one of those little red balls strapped in his mouth. As a result, Lucious gets his parole — for the same price as Bobby Ewing: a million dollars. (I guess that qualifies as racial equality in Soap Land.) Admittedly, the kinky judge photos are kind of silly, but whereas DYNASTY wouldn’t have been able to resist over-egging the pudding with a smart ass quip, EMPIRE plays it straight. And it’s curious, given that this the same week that EMPIRE pays homage to DYNASTY by naming its new record label in its honour, that John Forsythe’s most well-known on-screen role pre-Blake was as a kinky judge in the 1979 film … And Justice For All whose career is destroyed when S&M photos of him are produced in court.

While this week’s DALLAS is all about false confessions - Bobby taking the rap for shooting Harris, Frank for killing Tommy - DYNASTY is all about fake romances. While Steven pretends to be in love with Ted, Fallon explains she has accepted Jeff’s proposal “to make him believe that I was into him, not on to him. The closer I stay, the better chance I have of figuring out what the hell’s going on.” Michael likewise continues to see Monica to keep tabs on her (“I thought maybe keeping her around for a while could be helpful”).

In a scene deleted from this week’s episode, DALLAS makes a rare reference to real-life events when Drew Ramos jokes that he “used to tell the troops in Afghanistan, ‘You want real action, spend a tour at Southfork.’” The military talk continues on both EMPIRE (“Stayed in Iraq too long … We didn’t have no business over there in the first place. The infrastructure wasn’t there,” opines Lucious’s new prison pal Wade) and DYNASTY (“I’ve been through war. Much tougher men have tried to lie to me,” Ted’s father warns Steven).

Michael/Sam is officially back with Jamal on EMPIRE and with Steven on DYNASTY. Whereas Jamal shows Michael off on a TV talk show (“He’s a little shy, but trust me, ladies, he is adorable,” gushes the host), Steven has no choice but to put Sam back in the closet (“After everything I said about Ted, I can’t suddenly turn 180 and be with you now. I’m in the spotlight now and the more you’re seen with me, the bigger the chance someone will uncover your undocumented status”). I suppose I should feel sorry for them, but if they don’t care about Gerard Dinard’s pain, why should I care about theirs?

The first two-thirds of this week’s DYNASTY is mostly inconsequential silliness, but twelve minutes before the end of the ep, during a polite dinner party to welcome his daughter-in-law-to-be to the family, Cecil Colby suddenly smashes his dessert bowl on the floor and shouts, “I can’t watch this anymore! You all make me sick!” This has the effect of cutting through the crap and shifting the tone of the episode dramatically. He angrily informs Fallon of the truth behind his prison term: “I wasn’t a drug addict … Your father framed me … right after he screwed my wife. And when I threatened to kill him for taking her away, he took everything else away from me ... He planted blow in my car and had his dirty cop friend arrest me, had his dirty judge lock me away … I will not stand by and watch my only son marry that bastard’s dirty daughter!” For once, Fallon is completely taken aback. (Alas, the moment is somewhat diminished by a mournful ballad playing obtrusively on the soundtrack — instead of allowing us to have a personal response to Fallon’s shock, the song instructs us on what our response should be.) This is followed by a succession of juicily dramatic confrontations, between Fallon and Blake (“This whole time you made me think that Mom was the whore that destroyed your marriage when you were the monster who pushed her away”), Cristal and Blake (“I shouldn’t be surprised. I mean, you whored your son out to the press, why not do the same to your wife?”) and Cecil and Jeff (“I was wrong to get you twisted up in this war, my war. Now the only way to end it is for me to end it myself … I’m taking over. Daddy’s home.”)

Credit where it’s due: New DYNASTY is very good at delivering end-of-episode sequences that are exciting enough to make you want to overlook whatever shortcomings preceded them and tune in again next week.

And this week’s Top 3 are …

1 (2) DALLAS
2 (1) EMPIRE
3 (3) DYNASTY
 

Willie Oleson

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bringing new meaning to the idea of EMPIRE v DYNASTY
Let's hope no-one's going to start an EMPIRE business in DYNASTY as it would make for a very confusing read.
Lucious flashes back to a woman singing ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ to a little boy. I assumed this to be Young Cookie and Young Andre until she called the child Dwight and I remembered that Young Cookie is usually played by Cookie With A Wig On rather than Kelly Actual Rowland as is the case here
But what does it mean, what could it be?
John Ross attempts to assert his authority over his father in a similar way: “You must be getting senile in your old age, Daddy, because I’m the one calling the shots here, remember?”
How cocky!
And it’s curious, given that this the same week that EMPIRE pays homage to DYNASTY by naming its new record label in its honour, that John Forsythe’s most well-known on-screen role pre-Blake was as a kinky judge in the 1979 film … And Justice For All whose career is destroyed when S&M photos of him are produced in court.
That's not curious that's a miracle.
 

James from London

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18 Feb 13: DALLAS: Trial and Error v. 07 Oct 15: EMPIRE: Fires of Heaven v. 16 Mar 18: DYNASTY: Our Turn Now

Several characters pass through the revolving doors of Soap Land’s justice system this week. Like Cecil Colby, Lucious Lyon is now out on bail, but with certain provisions — while Cecil is under house arrest, Lucious is prohibited from setting foot inside the Empire building. However, Cecil is granted special permission to attend Jeff’s wedding to Fallon at the Carrington Manor. Although Bobby Ewing is no longer under arrest for shooting Harris Ryland, his wife Ann is. Drew Ramos is picked up the police and has to be bailed out of jail by his sister, and Vicente Cano is being considered for extradition back to Venezuela. “The man’s a murderer, for Christ’s sake!” protests Christopher when he and his father run into him at Soap Land Court House. “Christopher, you’re so judgemental — very unattractive,” teases Vicente before winking at Bobby and reminding him they still have “unfinished business”.

Bogus weddings, specifically those where the bride is lying to the groom, are a specifically C21st soap trope. New DALLAS and DYNASTY each began with a woman (Pamela and Cristal respectively) marrying a man while using a fake name. On last season’s EMPIRE, Anika was planning a lavish wedding as part of a revenge plot against Lucious but got rumbled before the big day. Now it’s Fallon’s turn to walk down the aisle under false pretences. It's all part of Blake's fiendish plan, which he helpfully spells out for us: “Jeff Colby bugged our house. He’s been gathering dirt on us for months now. In light of Cecil’s house arrest, this wedding is the only way that we can get all of the Colbys out of their home so my security team can break in.” “Once they’ve succeeded in eradicating his arsenal, we’ll be informed,” Anders chips in. “And then Fallon will call off the ceremony before vows are exchanged,” Blake concludes. As is often the case on DYNASTY, the farcical elements of this convoluted plot threaten to overwhelm the drama, but there are a few intriguing moments where we glimpse the human beings behind the charade. For example, Michael’s anger feels real when Fallon proposes to him the night before her wedding (for reasons too torturous to explain, she needs to be married for real before she pretend-marries Jeff). “After four years of hiding every part of our relationship the last thing I want is to marry you in secret as part of a plot!” he shouts at her. Likewise, Fallon’s frustration at Blake for ruining her childhood dream also rings true: “This is the day that every little girl dreams of and you’ve turned it into a nightmare!” Blake’s response — “Fallon, you need to separate your feelings from the fiction” — echoes Cliff Barnes’s words to his daughter at the start of this week’s DALLAS. “Three people dead, one of whom I considered as my son, and all because you allowed your heart to dictate your actions.”

While Pamela insists that she has learnt her lesson (“There won’t be any more mistakes, any more emotions getting in the way,” she promises her father), Fallon is also intent on fulfilling her mission: “I’ll do whatever it takes to stand by this family.” But it’s Cristal who most impresses during the fake wedding scenario simply because she is completely opposed to it. What’s more, she is determined to help Fallon despite herself (“I still can’t believe you’re making her do this,” she protests to Blake. “He’s not making me do anything,” Fallon insists) and goes so far as to enlist the aid of her racist father-in-law Tom. “La Señorita called me on the telefono,” he explains to Blake and Fallon when he shows up at the wedding uninvited. (Tom is one of two characters to use the ’s’ word pejoratively this week: JR refers to Elena Ramos as “our ambitious little señorita” on DALLAS.) “You are my responsibility like it or not and we are bound together for life,” Cristal tells Fallon. She may not succeed in stopping the ceremony, but she does win Fallon’s grudging respect, to the extent that she ends up walking her down the aisle. As Fallon and Cristal have done the bitchy thing to death by now, this makes a refreshing change.

Soap Land’s other bitter female rivalry, between Cookie and Anika on EMPIRE, also takes an intriguing turn this week. Lucious, unaware that Cookie has already booted her out of her new record company, asks Anika to be his spy at Lyon Dynasty. Anika plays along, but then runs back to Cookie who is surprised to see her: “Let me guess — those five job offers never happened? Are your knees sore? Did you run out of lubricant?” In the same way that Cristal allows Fallon’s insults to wash over her (“Mrs Flake Carrington” is this week’s gem), Anika puts up her hands to Cookie in mock surrender. “I get it, I get it — you are the baddest bitch ever. You are badder than all the animals whose prints populate your wardrobe, OK?” She then warns her that Lucious “wants your music, Cookie. He wants everything.” “… Why are you telling me this?” asks Cookie suspiciously. Up to this point, it’s been a little unclear whose side Anika is truly on, but when she delivers her next line, I believe her: “I understand how ugly this sounds, but it is very important for me to hurt Lucious.”

To honour the “there won’t be any more emotions” promise she made her father, Pamela breaks off her affair with John Ross. When she tells him it’s “nothing personal — just protecting our business arrangement,” he looks like he might cry. She then uses her pregnancy to get Christopher back on side. When she puts his hand on her stomach so he can feel their babies move, he actually does cry. “I don’t want our kids to be raised with their parents poisoning their minds against each other,” he says. “I’ll agree to mediation.” Cliff congratulates his daughter for “thinking with your head instead of with your heart … This divorce is gonna be good for business. I always knew you could do it!”

Over on EMPIRE, Andre makes another plea to be let back into his father’s company, but Lucious turns him down flat: “You’re a brilliant MBA, but I could hire fifty other mugs that can do exactly what you do … You would have to bring me something so unique, something so incredible, something nobody else could bring me.” So Cookie, taking a leaf out of Cliff Barnes’ Guide to Parenting, advises Andre think with his head instead of his heart and use the fact that he is going to be a father to get back in Lucious’s good graces. “He wants his own legacy and nothing says legacy like a grandchild,” she says with incontrovertible Soap Land logic. But unlike Pamela, Andre is reluctant to “use my unborn child as leverage with him or anybody else.” “Sometimes you gotta pull at those heartstrings to get paid,” argues Cookie. “Ain’t nothing wrong with that.” So Andre tells his father the happy news. “An heir? A grandson?” Lucious asks excitedly. He pulls Andre to him, close enough so their foreheads are touching. “I always wanted a grandson,” he whispers. “Congratulations. But I swear to you, you are breaking my heart, the fact that you are using this right now to get what you want from me.” It’s a chilling moment, reminiscent of Cliff and Frank’s “I love you, kill yourself” scene on last week’s DALLAS.

The last ever conversation between JR and his oldest enemy occurs this week when Cliff calls “to let you know how nice it was to finally see your son after all these years … He gave me a heads up about you and Frank. Thought you’d like to know who sold you out.” JR’s so angry, it looks like his eyebrows are about to take flight. “You go to hell, Barnes!” he snarls. “I would, but it looks like you’ve cornered that market,” chuckles Cliff, kind of prophetically. Like JR, Lucious also receives news of a son’s betrayal over the phone, when (real-life) DJ Sway calls him during a live radio interview with Hakeem: “So I’m sitting with your son and we’re talking about how he’s following in the same footsteps as Azealia Banks and Lil Wayne by leaking his album.” Lucious is no less furious than JR was but manages to control his reaction slightly better. “You know, I always said that boy got a lot of growing up to do. I guess I was right, huh?” he replies coolly.

During the same interview, Hakeem brags about his new proteges, a girl group (“they’re Latina, they’re sexy, they’re cute”) with the brilliant name of Mirage à Trois. (Could this be another DYNASTY homage?) He then rashly accepts an invitation to put them on the air in three days. Cookie worries they won’t be ready and she’ll end up looking bad (“You done put my name on the line!” she scolds her son) so she puts the girls through their paces with military precision. This leads to tantrums, meltdowns and a “Fame costs …” style lecture from Cookie (“Everybody wants to be Beyoncé, but they don’t wanna put in the work!”) before she finally knocks them into shape. Then, on the day of the broadcast, Lucious sweeps into the radio station and informs Cookie and Hakeem that not only has he signed Mirage à Trois’ lead singer (and Hakeem’s latest squeeze) Valentina to an exclusive record deal with Empire, but he has also acquired every black radio station in sight, including the one they’re standing in: “Empire now has a controlling interest in every urban outlet and in every major market in the country … Without radio, your little label dries up and dies.” This move is reminiscent of JR buying up all the oil the Farlows needed to supply their refineries back in the ’81-82 season of DALLAS. But whereas JR’s scheme was a high-risk gamble that jeopardised Ewing Oil, Lucious pulls off his deal without appearing to break a sweat. It’s almost too easy.

For the first time in its history, DALLAS does a “one month later” time jump midway through this week’s episode, which I found kind of exciting. It means we don’t have to wait weeks see Ann on trial for attempted murder and it also denotes how long JR has been angry with John Ross for betraying him to Cliff. We see them glowering at each other across the reception area of the Soap Land courthouse as the family arrive for Ann’s trial. This is quickly followed by JR’s final scenes with both his ex-wife and son. In an unintentional, unsentimental way, each scene is an ideal summation of his relationship with both of them. First, an angry Sue Ellen marches up to him. “What the hell is the matter with you, JR?” she barks. “I’m sure you’ll fill me in,” he replies wearily. “Is forgiveness beyond you?” she asks. “John Ross had his reasons for going to Cliff … Fathers are supposed to take the high road when it comes to their sons. Forgive John Ross!” Watching them bicker, they genuinely seem like an old married couple, even if they are divorced. She then stalks off and he is left pondering her words. The scene is even more meaningful in hindsight, of course, when it becomes clear that JR knows he doesn’t have much time left.

The setting for JR and John Ross’s last face-to-face conversation, a men’s room at the courthouse, feels both incongruous and somehow perfect. John Ross emerges from a stall to find JR waiting for him, Bum looking on silently. He scowls at his daddy and heads for the basin to wash his hands. “Your mama thinks I should forgive you for consorting with the enemy and since staying on Sue Ellen’s good side is a prudent thing to do at the moment, I’m inclined to oblige,” says JR. “I don’t need your forgiveness,” John Ross snaps, addressing his daddy’s reflection in the mirror rather than looking at him directly. “You don’t need my wrath either — we dinosaurs are known to bite,” JR replies calmly. John Ross is distracted by a text message that makes him smile despite himself — Drew Ramos has been arrested for receiving stolen goods. JR is pleased too. “That puts our ambitious little señorita in moral violation of her contract with your mother, doesn’t it? Wonderful,” he says. John Ross is surprised: “You knew about that, the morals clause?” “You still don’t know who you’re dealing with, do you, son? I can hardly blame you for that, but I forgive you,” JR replies. And that’s their whole relationship in a nutshell — estrangement, resentment, oneupmanship, remorse, forgiveness and a spot of shared deviousness at someone else’s expense — all executed with the lightest of touches.

Ann’s trial serves several narrative purposes. On one level, it’s a dramatic way to establish some juicy details of the characters’ history, just as Alexis Carrington’s turn on the witness stand in ‘80s DYNASTY did. For example, we learn that Harris Ryland’s father committed suicide before he was born, that his mother subsequently controlled his life and that Ann is from a poor background and was made to feel a freak as a girl because of her height (an unusual detail in Soap Land where specific references to a female character’s appearance, other than hair colour, are rare. The only exceptions I can recall are Val referring to herself as “flat as a board," Greg mentioning Abby’s propensity for eyeshadow and the occasional short joke at Lucy’s expense). Also, the Ann/Harris/Judith backstory deploys the kind of melodramatic ingredients that made up any number of black-and-white Bette Davis/Joan Crawford movies — a tyrannical husband, a vicious mother-in-law, class snobbery, drug addiction, child abduction, mother/daughter estrangement, a shooting, a trial — to illustrate the very contemporary issue of emotional abuse within a marriage. And Dallas Decoder provides yet another, very interesting take on the trial in its critique of this ep: “Ann isn’t really being tried for shooting Harris; she’s on trial for being an imperfect wife and mother. The show isn’t asking us to forgive Ann as much as it’s asking us to accept her humanity.” https://dallasdecoder.com/2013/04/11/critique-dallas-episode-22-a-call-to-arms/

In a sweetly earnest scene of the kind we rarely see in C21st Soap Land, Christopher appeals to his newly acquired stepsister shortly before she is called to the witness stand: “Emma, I know how much you love your father and I know how difficult and painful this all must be for you, but your mother, she could go to jail for twenty years because your father pushed her to do something she shouldn’t have done … If you wanna help make things right for you and your mother, tell the truth, not somebody else’s version of it.” Over on EMPIRE, Jamal also reaches out to a troubled young woman, one from the opposite end of the social spectrum as the cosseted Emma — a streetwise MC called Freda, who just happens to be the daughter of the drug kingpin whose execution Lucious ordered in prison. “She means everything to me musically,” Lucious declares before instructing Jamal to sign her to the company. She is duly summoned to Empire and a contract placed in front of her. “For an unknown artist, this is really big. It’s gonna change your life,” Jamal’s right-hand woman Becky informs her. But just as Christopher’s words to Emma went for nought (“I love my father and I wake up every morning grateful that he rescued me from my mother,” she says on the witness stand), so Becky and Jamal fail to persuade Freda to sign on the dotted line. “You don’t know nothing about my life,” she snaps. “This is bull, man. Lucious Lyon ain’t coming to sign my ass out of no ghetto!” And with that, she and her crew storm out of the Empire boardroom. “You see her evil little ass that just walked up out of here? My dad says musically she’s his everything. The hell’s that supposed to leave me?” Jamal asks angrily. His jealousy at having to share his father’s attention echoes Pamela’s words to John Ross on DALLAS: “My father, he loved Frank and maybe deep down I hated Frank for that.”

Back at the Carrington Manor, the wedding between Jeff and Fallon takes place. Jeff, of course, has his own ulterior motives for going through with it, but — long story short — the Carringtons outwit the Colbys this time around. Cecil is so incensed he goes after Blake with a gun — but confuses him with Blake’s father Tom. (I guess all white billionaires look alike.) The shock of having a gun pointed at him causes Tom to have a heart attack. Jeff walks in, sees what’s happened, tells Cecil how much trouble he’s in (“It doesn’t matter if you pulled the trigger or not, if he dies, you could still be charged with murder!”) and, before you can say Tommy Sutter, Vernon Turner, Alejandro Raya, Ted Dinard or Harris Ryland, insists they cover up his involvement in what’s happened ("We need to get outta here right now! Go!"). Tom regains consciousness long enough to gasp a somewhat confusing confession to Fallon: “Cecil was wrong — Blake never cheated on your mother, he was protecting me!”

In midst of all this hoo-ha, we’re introduced to Liam Ridley, Sam’s plus-one at the wedding who turns out to be a stranger Fallon paid to marry her after Michael turned her down. Laidback, good-humoured and apparently sane, Liam’s like a character from an entirely different, far less archly ironic show.

And this week’s Top 3 are …

1 (1) DALLAS
2 (2) EMPIRE
3 (3) DYNASTY
 
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