DYNASTY versus DALLAS versus KNOTS LANDING versus the rest of them

James from London

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25 Feb 13: DALLAS: Blame Game v. 14 Oct 15: EMPIRE: Poor Yorick v. 23 Mar 18: DYNASTY: Poor Little Rich Girl

Christopher and Pamela on DALLAS and Fallon and Liam on DYNASTY agree to annul their respective marriages. “We just pretend like it never happened?” Pamela asks. “It will be as if you were never married at all,” says Fallon’s lawyer. While Christopher is obliged to hand over 10% of Ewing Energies to his ex (“I guess I’ll be seeing you at the next board meeting, partner,” Pamela tells him), Fallon writes hers a cheque for services rendered. “For what it’s worth, you’re the best first wife I ever had,” Liam quips.

Pamela then reneges on the deal she made with John Ross to give him her Ewing shares in exchange for Christopher’s methane patent. “Don’t mess with me,” he snarls. Fallon also changes her mind, offering Liam “another hundred grand to keep the annulment papers on ice and make a quick appearance at a funeral.” (Specifically, her grandfather’s funeral.) Liam reluctantly agrees. In the church, a member of the congregation greets him by a different name. Liam dismisses this as a simple case of mistaken identity, but Soap Land experience has taught us there’s no such thing, suggesting it’s not only Soap Land brides who marry under a false name.

The gloves are finally off between Sue Ellen and Elena. Drew’s arrest in last week’s ep broke the moral clause in their loan agreement, meaning that Sue Ellen is now free to seize all of Elena’s assets — including her shares of Ewing Enterprises. “This isn’t about business for you, is it, Sue Ellen?” Elena asks. “This is about payback for me hurting your son … He lied to me, to my face.” “You didn’t know what he was up to all along?” sneers Sue Ellen. “You can tell yourself that, but you knew what you were getting into with John Ross, just like I did with his father.” This admission is a notable departure from the picture Sue Ellen has always painted of herself as JR’s naively trusting bride (“I think back to all the hopes and the dreams that I brought into my marriage and how that bastard crushed them”), implying she was a more willing participant in her own downfall than she has previously led us to believe. Blake expresses a similar “you knew what you were getting into” sentiment when Cristal criticises his refusal to mourn his father: “I’m not a regular person, Cristal. Why do you keep trying to make me into one? … The way I run my business, the way I protect my children, the way I grieve for my father … Why don’t you stop? You know who I am. You knew when you married me. It’s why you married me.” Just like Blake and Krystle in the ‘80s, Blake and Cristal are at their most alive, most believable, when their marriage is in conflict. It reinforces the idea that the lavish Carrington fairytale is really a gilded cage. “You wear the clothes, you drive the cars, you drink the champagne,” Blake continues. “If that’s not enough for you then maybe you should just go.”

Back on DALLAS, it doesn’t take Christopher long to figure out that John Ross has engineered his mother’s takeover of Elena’s shares and pretty soon, everyone is at everyone else’s throat, not just Sue Ellen and Elena, but Christopher and John Ross (“You’re a sociopath, just like your father!”), Bobby and Sue Ellen (“Are you really gonna do this … help your son steal a company?”), Bobby and John Ross (“You get out of my house, you pathetic little son of a bitch!”), Elena and Drew (“Your greed or your stupidity or both just cost me my business, everything I worked for!”), even John Ross and Pamela (“You wanna play dirty? Game on!”). Just one person is missing. “I warned JR what would happen if he tried something like this,” mutters Bobby, opening the door to his brother’s bedroom — only to find it empty. “Looks like JR flew the coup just in time,” smirks John Ross. But Bobby still has his trump card to play. “Do I need to remind you about this cloud drive, John Ross?” he asks his nephew. “Sue Ellen, I want you to take a look at this and see what’s gonna send your son and JR to prison for a long, long time.” He then inserts the USB stick into his computer (or something like that) — and watches powerlessly as his precious evidence is wiped.

The last time we saw JR, earlier in the episode, he was being introduced to the wonders of C21st technology by his pretty young assistant. (“I even gave you Angry Birds.” “Honey, I don’t need any more Angry Birds!”) We then cut to Bobby in his study trying to work, but being interrupted by JR messaging him a video clip of a dog playing basketball. Despite his annoyance, Bobby laughs. This is a hugely endearing scenario in and of itself, but now we realise that the dog video was, brilliantly, a Trojan horse sent to erase Bobby’s cloud drive. “You keep a junkyard dog like JR tied up long enough, he’s only gonna get meaner,” John Ross reasons. But Bobby fell for it and so did we. I’m reminded of what JR said in his final scene with John Ross last week: “You still don’t know who you’re dealing with, do you, son?” Right to the end, he was one step ahead of us.

Then, suddenly, Vicente Cano and his band of Scary Venezuelans march through the front door of Southfork, armed with weapons and ultimatums. EMPIRE begins similarly with a small army of no less scary FBI agents storming the offices of Empire and Lyon Dynasty, brandishing guns and search warrants. Roxanne the Sexy Prosecutor leads another bunch of Feds over to Lucious’s house. Lucious is waiting to greet her in his bedroom, stark naked: “Hi there, baby. Look wherever you like.”

As Lucious’s office is ransacked, Becky tries to film the whole thing on her phone but has it confiscated by the cops. “‘Scuse me, you’re violating my rights!” she protests. Fallon has the opposite problem when Jeff provokes her into hitting him in an elevator by suggesting she caused her grandfather’s fatal heart attack. He then leaks the CCTV footage online where it promptly goes viral. “They’re comparing me to 2007 Britney,” she complains. “I can’t even get Solange.”

Back at Southfork, Vicente has one of his men accompany Christopher to Ewing Energies to collect the all-important methane prototype thingy. (This leads to a thrillingly kinetic Bourne Identity-meets-The Matrix-style fight between them.) The rest of the family remain behind as hostages. “Bad begets bad, it always has, it always will,” Bobby tells Sue Ellen. “JR does bad, you do good and repeat, a vicious cycle that our sons seemed destined to continue. It’s the Ewing way,” she concludes. “It doesn’t have to be,” he replies. “You could break the cycle.”

When Christopher returns, he and John Ross fake a fistfight and manage to overpower the gunmen in the process. Vicente heads outside to a waiting helicopter with Elena as his hostage. When Christopher comes after them, Vicente aims his gun at him but is shot dead by Drew before he has a chance to pull the trigger. As the rest of the bad guys are rounded up, Bobby points out that “we got through this as a family. We’re much stronger together than we can ever be apart, Sue Ellen.” She nods in agreement. On EMPIRE, Lucious’s new lawyer Thirsty advises the Lyons to follow the Ewings’ example and present a united front to the FBI: “You gotta set aside your differences, stick together … You got to be vigilant and not give the Feds a damn thing. You just gonna have to stay one big happy family.” This brings us to …

Soap Land Song Wars: Special Sibling Edition. On DYNASTY, Fallon and Steven receive a request from their dead grandfather to perform a duet at his funeral. On EMPIRE, Cookie decrees Hakeem and Jamal should collaborate on a video: “The boys performing together will send a message to the Feds that the Lyons are sticking with their father no matter what.” (I’m not quite sure why the Feds would care one way or another but, hey, this is Soap Land.) While Fallon and Steven’s version of Bette Midler’s ‘The Rose’ is nice, in a jazz-hands sort of way, it’s not as exciting as Hakeem and Jamal’s furious ‘Ain’t About the Money’, nor the no-expense-spared production that goes with it. The video has “a post-apocalyptic Black Panther theme, with the brothers fighting police oppression,” explains the director. But rather than “defeating the riot squad with your brotherly love” like they’re supposed to, Jamal and Hakeem end up throwing punches at each other. “Why y’all look shocked?” Hakeem shouts at the open-mouthed camera crew and backing dancers. “This family ain’t never been a real family. I’m outta here and I ain’t never coming back!” This is the first time we’ve seen these two bros come to blows, but even more shocking than brother turning on brother is the sight of a servant striking his master. Another of Tom Carrington’s posthumous requests is that Blake retrieves his first edition copy of ‘The Canterbury Tales’ from his house in Savannah so he can be buried with it, but Blake refuses: “I don’t have to listen to him anymore, and you know what? I’m glad.” This earns him a slap across the face from Anders. “That is no way to speak about your father!” he tells him. For once, the rest of the Carringtons are speechless.

Death plays a big part on all three of this week’s episodes, whether it’s the preparations for Tom’s funeral on DYNASTY, Vicente’s demise on DALLAS or the exhumation of Vernon Tucker’s body on EMPIRE.

Frank Ashkani had a compelling reason for digging up a corpse on DALLAS a few weeks ago and so does Andre Lyon this week. In fact, he has two. “If I can make this all go away,” he asks Lucious, referring to the murder charge hanging over him, “will you let me back in Empire?” “… Dre, if you can make this mess go away, you can have anything you want,” Lucious promises. Later, Andre explains to Rhonda that “God’s been speaking to me … He wants me to keep seeking Empire … I have to follow His word.” So, armed with torches and shovels, he and Rhonda pay a late-night visit to a secluded forest. Whereas previous Soap Land disinterments have been either grim (Frank Ashkani retching at the smell of Tommy Sutter’s corpse) and/or nightmarish (Frank Agretti digging up his wife’s bones while Genele cackles insanely), this one is blackly comic. For starters, Andre and Rhonda can’t remember precisely where the body is buried. “It’s right in front of the tree with the hole,” insists Andre after hours of fruitless digging. “Babe, we have a big problem,” Rhonda realises, looking around. “All of these trees have the same hole!” They’re about to give up when they are dazzled by the lights of a car and a voice telling them to put their hands up. This turns out to be Lucious, accompanied by his lawyer (“I had Thirsty put a tracking device on your car after our little conversation,” he explains), and they’ve helpfully brought along “your basic corpse detection system," aka a metal detector. After they recover Vernon’s remains, Lucious asks for a few seconds alone to say goodbye to his old friend. “You rot in hell, you snitch,” he whispers.

While no-one weeps for Vernon or Vicente, Blake’s continuing refusal to mourn his father (“What do you want me to do, Cristal — curl up and cry?”) mirrors the struggle between DYNASTY’s innate flippancy and the genuine emotions of its characters. For once, pleasingly, the emotions win out.

Also on EMPIRE, Rolling Stone magazine — the same rock bible that once gave Ciji Dunne a rave review for singing ‘Sometimes When We Touch’ in a restaurant — plans to make Jamal its next cover star. In honour of the occasion, Jamal is photographed by Chase One, aka “the new Warhol”, a pretentious stereotype who says things like “Use it! Show me the pain!” which make Jamal’s boyfriend Michael roll his eyes archly as if he’s already playing Sam on DYNASTY.

Minor trend of the week: Attacks on paintings. Chase One turns his photo of Jamal into an impressionistic painting which everyone loves except for Hakeem who jealously describes it as “the most ugliest painting I’ve seen in my life” before stabbing it with a knife. Then Blake, reluctantly following his father’s instructions, finds the book Tom wanted to be buried with, only to realise it’s not a first edition after all. “That’s just like you — all pomp, no substance. I bet you didn’t even read it!” he yells, hurling it angrily at his father’s portrait. In both cases, there is an unexpectedly positive outcome. Chase loves the stabbed painting: “It represents the violence and anger of a racist, homophobic society. It’s genius!” And when Blake throws the book, a concealed videotape falls out of it. He plays it and hears his father grudgingly admit that he loves him. This recalls the posthumously discovered recording of Jason Gioberti saying the same thing about his son on FALCON CREST — but whereas Angela kept Chase from hearing his father’s words, we can hear Alexis off-camera, actively encouraging Tom to express his true feelings. (I’m 87% sure Tom’s house in Savannah is also the haunted house in KNOTS LANDING’s “Three Sisters” episode. I’d recognise that twisty staircase anywhere.)

Fallon and Steven’s rehearsal of ‘The Rose’ is subsequently interrupted by a drunk and sentimental Blake returning home. He apologises to them both for recent conflicts (“I pushed you guys too far”), tells them he loves them and insists on a group hug. “Did you replace our father with a cyborg?” asks Fallon suspiciously, and she has a point — we’ve never seen Blake as likably vulnerable as he is here and it makes a very nice change.

While the rest of the Ewings have a siege to cope with, Ann spends much of this week’s DALLAS in a cell awaiting her sentencing. Cookie also gets locked up by the cops because of some spurious parole violation. Ann eventually gets off with probation. When Judith Ryland objects, the judge lets her son have it: “You took away her daughter, made her believe she was dead. If you’d done that to me, sir, hell, I might have shot you too … You’re not the victim here, Mr Ryland, not by a long shot.” The legal system is less sympathetic towards Cookie, who finds herself under pressure to snitch on Lucious. “Honey, I will hurt your kids real bad,” Roxanne the Sexy Prosecutor tells her, “even that bipolar son of yours … How is Andre gonna respond when I leak his recent medical report? Ooh child, I sure hope he don’t kill himself.” Cookie panics then dishes just enough dirt on Lucious to bring his deal to purchase all those urban radio stations to a halt.

As one Soap Land legend, JR Ewing, takes off, another, Alexis Carrington, returns — except it’s not really a return because we’ve never seen her before, at least not in the corporeal form of Paige Matheson. The sequence leading up to her entrance recalls the build-up to the Moldavian massacre of ’85. Both take place in a church where there is some exciting cross-cutting between a religious ceremony — a wedding then, a funeral now — and some more profane activity happening nearby — revolutionaries scaling the cathedral walls; two homosexuals passionately making out in a vestibule (Steven having just proposed to Sam from the pulpit). Extra-diegetic classical music plays on the soundtrack (in this case, according to Shazam, Mozart’s ‘Requiem in D-sharp minor’). Back in ’85, we knew a revolution was imminent even before the massacre. We have been given no such forewarnings in 2018 so, instead, there are several portents to indicate that Something Bad, possibly even satanic, is about to occur: a bell tolls, birds fly out of a tower, a crucifix rattles violently on a wall and then, in time-honoured Soap Land fashion, a stilettoed foot descends from a limousine. From Kristin Shepard to Genele Ericson, this is a sure sign that a trouble-making woman is about to make her entrance. (This week’s DALLAS employs the less common male equivalent when a booted foot stepping out of a blacked-out van announces Vicente Cano’s arrival at Southfork.) Sure enough, a monochrome-clad female then enters the church, her face obscured by a hat, veil and dark glasses. “Oh my God, that’s my mother,” murmurs Fallon. So far so April 20th 1981, except in this case Mother is a blonde and instead of continuing down the aisle in enigmatic silence, she breaks the spell by removing her glasses with a giggle and an apology — “Sorry I’m late, traffic was a bitch!” Whereas JR, with his Angry Birds and YouTube clips, played doddery, Alexis plays ditzy.

It’s hard to say who gets the bigger shock at the end of their respective episode: Bobby, when he hears John Ross introduce Sue Ellen as an equal shareholder at Ewing Enterprises (“I never go looking for a fight, but when one finds me I sure as hell finish it and they are in for the fight of their lives!”), Blake, when he sees his ex-wife at his father’s funeral, or Roxanne the Sexy Prosecutor, leaving her house for the day, speaking on the phone as she gets into her car, smelling something odd and then turning round to see Vernon’s decaying corpse sat in her passenger seat.

And this week’s Top 3 are …

1 (1) DALLAS
2 (3) DYNASTY
3 (2) EMPIRE
 
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James from London

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04 Mar 13: DALLAS: The Furious and the Fast v. 21 Oct 15: EMPIRE: Be True v. 30 Mar 18: DYNASTY: Enter Alexis

A few weeks after EMPIRE paid homage to ‘80s Soap Land by naming Cookie’s new record label in honour of DYNASTY, New DYNASTY tips its hat to KNOTS LANDING when Paige — whoops, Alexis — suggests to Blake that Fallon might have been conceived “after that strip croquet game — you sure knew how to swing your mallet.” There’s an even more direct reference to KNOTS on DALLAS: “Uncle Gary, who the hell let you off the cul-de-sac?” John Ross asks by way of greeting when the family black sheep shows up at Ewing Enterprises. As if this were not nostalgia enough, Alexis and Krystle’s lily pond catfight from DYNASTY ’83 receives an almost shot for shot reconstruction on DYNASTY ’18, only this time it’s between Alexis and Fallon and there is some impressive underwater hair-pulling thrown in for good measure. Also, some infamous lines of Soap Land dialogue are repeated verbatim. “It’s good to see your father had your teeth fixed, if not your tongue,” New Alexis tells New Fallon at the start of New DYNASTY. “You’re my son, from tip to tail,” JR tells John Ross at the end of DALLAS.

In fact, this episode of DALLAS opens with John Ross standing in the exact position — in his office, looking out over the city — that he was in during the final shot of Season 1. Then, of course, the office was just an empty space and JR was standing beside him. As compensating for his absence, JR picks this very moment to call. “We finally did it — we won,” John Ross tells him. “I’m about to walk into my first board meeting as Head of Ewing Energies … I’m gonna hold off on telling them I’m giving you the corner office. I want you to be here to see the look on their faces when I do!” JR indicates his approval in some skilfully recycled footage from Season 1.

As John Ross and Sue Ellen, Bobby and Christopher, and Pamela all converge on the Ewing boardroom from different directions, the camera slows down as if to savour the moment, just as it did when Cookie, Andre, Hakeem and Anika made their way down the hallway towards the EMPIRE boardroom at the beginning of the season, certain they were mere seconds away from taking over the company. A supremely confident John Ross kicks off the meeting by addressing his cousin: “I know you and Bobby got your panties in a bunch over me and Mama taking control, but let’s try and keep it civil so we can try and get some business done.” But then, just as Cookie and co had the rug pulled out from under them, so John Ross and Sue Ellen have the smiles wiped off their faces when Christopher produces a document “enforcing my father and Uncle Gary’s mineral rights … There’ll be no more drilling on Southfork.” “… Until we get back controlling interest, you will not pump a drop of oil,” translates Bobby. Pamela points out that this could bankrupt the company. John Ross threatens to sell off Christopher’s methane patent in retaliation. “You can’t,” Christopher replies. “You don’t have majority unless Pamela votes with you. Otherwise, we’re deadlocked.”

Andre experiences a very similar trajectory to John Ross in the opening minutes of EMPIRE — the warm thrill of being welcomed back to the family company by his father followed by a rude awakening when Lucious, having appointed him President of Empire’s raw and raunchy subsidiary label Gutter Life, throws an equally raw and raunchy party to celebrate. This results in the newly devout Andre squirming uncomfortably as lap dancers bump and grind on top of him. “You’re testing me, that’s obvious,” Andre later tells his father. “I’m not testing you,” Lucious replies. “I’m just telling you the only commandments I want followed here are mine. Check your faith at the door, son.”

A speedway race where Christopher’s methane-fuelled car is set to compete against more conventionally powered vehicles becomes pivotal to the action on DALLAS. If Christopher’s car can beat the competition, he stands a better than good chance of winning both the city’s transportation contract and Pamela’s vote against John Ross. “Which is why I‘m gonna make sure that he loses,” John Ross explains to his mother.

There are appearances by two real-life celebrities this week, both of whom play a bigger role in the action than one usually expects from a cameoing guest star. On DALLAS, Ricky Rudd returns to drive Christopher’s car in the race. With so much at stake, John Ross bribes a mechanic with gambling debts to sabotage the engine. “Someone could get hurt,” Sue Ellen warns. Indeed, previous Soap Land examples of engine tinkering have resulted in Lance Cumson standing trial for attempted murder, Danny Sharpe ending up in a coma, Jamie Ewing exploding and, of course, Sid Fairgate dying on the operating table. But here, New DALLAS becomes the first soap to jeopardise the life of a real-life person.

The stakes aren’t quite as high on EMPIRE where Jamal is trying to decide whether or not to take Michael on the road with him. His father says no, but Actual Ne-Yo, with whom he is collaborating on a song, thinks otherwise: “If that dude is your serenity, if he’s the one, then he’s supposed to be there cos the road is hectic.”

Chase One, meanwhile, the pretentious Rolling Stone photographer from last week’s episode, agrees with Lucious. “Relationships are the death of creativity,” he declares before going on a rant against same-sex marriage: “The biggest advancement of gay rights in American history and it gets handed down from some archaic institution that doesn’t even believe in natural human desire … Why are we so keen on being locked down in these heteronormative shackles?” Over on DYNASTY, Steven tells Sam (Michael’s other self) that they should keep Soap Land’s first same-sex engagement quiet for the time being. “I want my family to celebrate our engagement, not forever associate it with my mother … Let’s hold off on telling people until she’s gone.” Back on EMPIRE, Jamal is offended at Chase’s drunken attempt to blow him in a club: “Even if I was attracted to you, which I’m not at all, I would never do that to Michael.” Michael has been rolling his eyes at Chase since he first appeared so it’s almost as much of a shock to us as it is to Jamal when he later walks in on Chase going down on Michael. (We are certainly a long way from Jack Coleman and Luke Fuller expressing their sexuality through the medium of brotherly hugs.) Conversely, the closest Sam comes to cheating on Steven this week is attempting to sneak a peek at Liam while he’s changing his shirt.

Last week’s big church service was Tom Carrington’s funeral on DYNASTY. This week’s is Andre’s baptism on EMPIRE. No-one anticipated Alexis’s arrival then and no-one expects Lucious to show up now, especially not after his response to Andre’s invitation: “You’re asking me to come and watch somebody dunk you in tap water and pretend that that’s gonna make all your sins go away? There is no God … You just need to man the hell up.” Inevitably, he changes his mind at the last minute. Just as DYNASTY had fun heralding Alexis’s arrival at the church with demonic symbolism (bells tolling, crucifixes rattling) so EMPIRE does with Lucious’s. “That devil walk in here, this whole place might catch fire,” says Cookie, commenting on the unlikeliness of Lucious setting foot in a church. Right on cue, the doors open and he appears. “Mention the Devil’s name and he will walk right in,” she mutters. “God help us all,” adds Jamal. “I think I seen some angels running for cover,” chips in Hakeem as Lucious takes a seat in their pew. “Oh, let me make space in case lightning strikes,” adds Cookie with faux politeness. DYNASTY keeps up the Alexis-as-Satan stuff at the start of this week’s episode. “They think she’s the Devil,” says Steven of the rest of his family. “I think anyone who put up with my father for that long deserves the benefit of the doubt.”

New Alexis proves a fascinating departure from what one might have expected of such an iconic character. Sure, Nicollette Sheridan effortlessly fulfils the requirements of the script, delivering a cartoonish Cruella de Vil-style caricature who delivers put-downs so witheringly they can make a crucifix spontaneously fall off a church wall, but she also brings an unexpected layer of vulnerability to the character. As with JR, Bobby, Sue Ellen and Cliff on New DALLAS, there is an inbuilt poignancy in seeing the perpetually twenty-something Paige Matheson suddenly a generation older than we remember her. Then there is her garishly tasteless wardrobe — loudly clashing patterns, an excess of leopard print, a leather dominatrix outfit doubling as casual daywear — which is far closer to Cookie Lyon than it is ‘80s Alexis. But whereas Cookie’s look is an extension of her defiantly unapologetic personality, Sheridan plays against her character’s wardrobe (much as Edie Falco did on THE SOPRANOS). One gets the feeling that Alexis believes herself to look as sexily elegant as she did when she was younger (when Sheridan was Paige) when really she looks like mutton dressed as lamb. This touching air of self-delusion recalls Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire, or even Miss Havisham in Great Expectations — roles that have both been played in recent years by Gillian Anderson, who also shares with Alexis a kind of husky-voiced froideur that gives an impression of someone who has just been crying but is determined not to show it.

“What’s the quote — ‘Beware of ex-husbands bearing gifts’?” quipped Sue Ellen back in ’82. This week, she is taken aback when JR sends her “a handful of letters that I had sent him when we were courting. And a new one that I’m not opening.” She seems touched (“I can’t believe that he actually saved them all!”), but then decides that “he’s trying to manipulate me and I won’t let him do that.” Meanwhile, Cookie receives a somewhat less romantic gift from her ex: a box containing Vernon’s ashes. “You take him — I don’t want him!” she protests. “Oh hell no, I don’t want no snitch,” Lucious replies. “Why don’t you give him to your sister Carol? She used to like him.” “Everybody we know, people that helped build us up, ended up in boxes that you don’t even wanna claim,” sighs Cookie. But love letters and ashes are small potatoes compared to what Alexis receives in her ex-father-in-law’s will: the entire Carrington Estate, all three hundred and forty-one acres of it.

Both Emma Ryland and Fallon Carrington were raised by their fathers to believe that their mothers abandoned them. Following Emma’s recent discovery that Harris, in fact, stole her away from Ann, Alexis informs Fallon that Blake “practically banished me. He bribed a judge to take you out of my custody and then paid me off to stay away … Do you really think I left you behind willingly?” But how much of what Alexis says can be believed? She claims to be living the same kind of jet-set lifestyle that ‘80s Alexis and Anne Matheson did (“travelling Europe, Christmases in Acapulco”), but then Fallon discovers that she’s actually living in a squalid trailer. Again, the gap between the glamorous picture Alexis paints of her life and the actual reality makes her appear more pitiful than evil.

“My finances aren’t ideal,” Alexis concedes when she is cornered. Over on DALLAS, her former boss at Tidal Energy is in a similar predicament. “I’m strapped for cash,” Gary admits to Bobby during their first on-screen conversation for thirty-one years. When we last revisited any of the KNOTS gang, in Back to the Cul-de-sac, it rather felt as if they had been preserved in aspic since the end of the original series. That’s no longer the case, for the vicious circle of soap has continued to turn even when we weren’t watching: “Valene and I had a rough patch a year ago and I fell off the wagon,” Gary continues. “She couldn’t take it. She left me.” He has, however, retained his capacity for plain speaking. He’s as openly suspicious of Sue Ellen’s sudden interest in him (“Not that I don’t appreciate the attention, but you’ve never been this nice to me before”) as he was of Abby’s when they first started working together. That didn’t prevent him from falling under her spell, of course. For her part, it emerges in a deleted scene that Sue Ellen hasn’t lost her duplicitous streak either. “He was always the weakest link in the Ewing family,” she says of Gary to John Ross. “I watched JR manipulate him for years. I don’t see why I can’t do the same.”

Our final glimpse of Paige in Back to the Cul-de-sac was in a photo on Greg’s desk on which he had drawn a moustache and beard. Twenty-one years later, it’s her turn to get busy with the sharpie. When Fallon and Michael look around her trailer, they find a wedding picture of Cristal with added beard, moustache and a pair of horns (or they may be rabbit ears — it’s hard to say). “I may or may not have done the same thing,” Fallon admits.

Meanwhile, things come to a head in the Ryland household when Harris and Judith decide to whisk Emma back to London. “We need to get your life back on course,” Judith declares, meaning they want to keep her away from her mother. When Emma defies them and skips a riding lesson to visit Ann at Southfork, a frustrated Harris kicks over a chair in his daughter’s creepily doll-like bedroom. “Even as a boy, your temper got the best of you. NOW PICK THAT UP,” Judith commands and sulkily, he obeys. Adding to the weirdly upside down, David Lynch-meets-Alice in Wonderland vibe, Judith then gently reminds him that “you mustn’t lose control, Harris. I won’t let you lose our daughter.” Things get weirder still when Judith, acting like a jealous lover, demands to know what attracted Harris to Ann in the first place. “What was so bewitching about her? What was it about her that you couldn’t put out of your mind for all these years?” Finally, he lets his mother have it: “I loved her because she wasn’t you!” he snarls, pushing her against a wall.

Minor trend of the week: characters being immersed in water. There are three instances of this, all in very different circumstances. Whereas the tone of Fallon and Alexis’s pool fight is decidedly campy — the rest of the Carringtons watch from the balcony, champagne flutes in hand — Andre’s baptism is treated with due reverence on EMPIRE. Soap Land has never explored a character’s spirituality as fully as this before. (As mesmerising as Joshua’s sermons on KNOTS were, his faith existed primarily as something to be corrupted.) However, seeing his son placed under the water by the pastor triggers a traumatic childhood flashback for Lucious: his bipolar mother (Actual Kelly Rowland again) trying to drown him in a bathtub. It proves too much for him and he walks out of the church mid-ceremony, thereby tainting Andre’s sacred moment.

This week sees the first-ever round of Soap Land Dog Wars. Having been fired by Cookie last week, erstwhile assistant Porsha attempts to get back in her good books by turning up with Whoopty Woo, one of those little handbag pooches whom she insists will make an excellent guard dog (“She’s the baddest bitch in town!”). Cookie rolls her eyes before taking a liking to the little mutt. Alexis has a tiny dog of her own whom she has named Krystle despite it being a male. “Sometimes the name screams out at you,” she explains to a nonplussed Cristal. “He was a rescue, trashy little thing … a stinky little freeloader.” Alas, Krystle doesn’t survive to the end credits, thanks to Blake. “I’m sorry about your dog,” he tells Alexis coldly when she finds him in her trailer. “He ran right out when I opened the door. I hope the coyotes don’t get him.”

“Don’t mind me I’m just reminiscing. I have more memories here than anywhere else in the world,” Alexis tells Anders when he finds her in her former art studio on the Carrington grounds. This is a very different take on the equivalent encounter between ‘80s Alexis and Joseph. Where that scene was icily gothic, this one is surprisingly warm, even tender. “I always kicked myself after I left here for not fighting for this place … As a girl, nobody taught me to look out for me,” she admits, again sounding not unlike Anne Matheson when she first arrived in KNOTS — wistful, regretful and somewhat passive-aggressive. Curiously, she seems almost resigned to the idea of losing her newfound inheritance to her ex-husband: “You really think Blake’s gonna let any of this go? If he can take two children from a mother, how hard can a house be?” “We both know where my allegiance lies,” Anders reminds her politely when she asks for his assistance in fighting Blake — but that doesn’t stop him from helping her claim the art studio as her own.

Blake has Anders, JR has Bum and Lucious now has Thirsty (Vernon’s shabbier, shiftier replacement). They might have different job titles — private eye, majordomo, attorney — but each serves as a loyal sidekick who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty on his employer’s behalf. “JR may be 7,000 miles away but when he says ‘jump,’ I say, ‘how high?’” Bum tells John Ross before supplying him with the dirt he needs to bribe Christopher’s mechanic. “Just trying to make the boss happy,” Thirsty explains as he requests Andre’s help in stealing music tracks from Cookie’s company. “I’d never do anything to hurt my mother and in the future, you can tell [Lucious] to tell me directly about our family affairs,” Andre replies coldly.

As she predicted, Alexis is cheated out of her inheritance — but not by Blake. Instead, Fallon boasts about paying off an anaesthesiologist to make it look as if Alexis had coerced Tom into signing the relevant codicil to his will while he was heavily sedated. “You’re too poor to prove it,” she gloats at her mother. So, after losing her inheritance and her dog, is New Alexis more sinned against than sinning? It’s hard to be certain at this point, but it’s an intriguing possibility that never really existed with her ‘80s equivalent. Rather than swear revenge the way Joan Collins’s Alexis would have, she adopts the Judith Ryland approach to parenting: “I am going to prove to you how much you are really loved, even if it kills you, Fallon, because I am your damn mother!”

While DYNASTY concludes on this unexpected declaration of parental love and EMPIRE with some out-of-nowhere violence (Hakeem is snatched off the street and forced into a van), DALLAS ends with a combination of both. Having failed to prevent Christopher from winning the race, John Ross sits alone in his office, brooding. When JR calls, he delivers the bad news, then braces himself for a telling off. To his surprise, it doesn’t come. “Don’t you worry, son,” JR assures him. “I’ve got a plan. It’s gonna be my masterpiece because you shouldn’t have to pay for my sins … Just remember, I’m proud of you. You’re my son, from tip to tail.” Touched, John Ross starts to thank him (“It means a whole lot for me to hear you say that”), but JR, hearing footsteps, has already removed the phone from his ear, a grave expression on his face. We cut back to John Ross as two gunshots ring out over the line. “JR?” he yells. “Hello? Dad! Dad!” The camera jumps back on every exclamation until we’re finally left with a wide shot of John Ross alone in the dark. The screen goes to black. He calls “Dad?” once more, softer this time, his voice echoing in the void.

And this week’s Top 3 are …

1 (1) DALLAS
2 (3) EMPIRE
3 (2) DYNASTY
 
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11 Mar 13: DALLAS: J.R.'s Masterpiece v. 04 Nov 15: EMPIRE: A High Hope for a Low Heaven v. 06 Apr 18: DYNASTY: Don't Con a Con Artist

"It can't end here, not in this stinkin' mud hole,” protested JR when he and his brothers gave up the search for Jock in a South American jungle back in 1981. That line resonates throughout this week’s DALLAS as the Ewings struggle to comprehend how JR's own life could end in some cheap Mexican hotel room, apparently the result of a small scale robbery that could have happened to anyone. “What would JR possibly be doing here? He would never stay in a place like this,” protests Sue Ellen. “I don’t believe he was killed here,” insists Bobby. “What the hell was JR doing in Mexico?” asks John Ross.

Of course, the main similarity between the deaths of Jock and JR is that both were necessitated by the loss of the actors playing them. Whereas Jim Davis’s last screen appearance took place nine months before we learned of his character’s apparently fatal helicopter crash, Larry Hagman continued to appear on DALLAS until just a few seconds before JR’s demise. While Jock’s body was never found, leaving the possibility (explored five years later) that he might still be alive, the idea that JR might have faked his death is likewise mooted here, mostly by Bobby: “I’m not even sure he’s dead … There was no ID … Things with JR were almost never as they appeared to be.” However, neither viewers nor characters are left in any doubt when we see the family identify his body. This doesn’t take place in the hushed environment of a mortuary viewing room or even in the clinical surroundings of a hospital. Instead, the Ewings are shown into a dark, cramped room where corpses in blood-stained bodybags line the walls. As one of these bags is opened, Sue Ellen and John Ross immediately start to cry — she falls into Christopher’s arms while he turns to face the wall. Bobby, meanwhile, continues to stare down at his brother’s body, dry-eyed and grim-faced.

“Throughout my life,” he’ll say later in the episode, “it’s pretty much been easy for me to do good because I could always count on JR to do bad.” Here in the morgue, it feels as if he has already begun absorbing JR’s dark side into his own character, if only as a way of keeping him around. Back in ’81, before the Ewing brothers left for South America to looks for Jock, Miss Ellie entrusted Bobby with the task of keeping them united. Here, he’s the first to break rank and point the finger: “All right, John Ross, what do you know about this?” he snarls. "You brought Vicente and his thugs into our lives. What the hell have you brought into our lives this time?” Later in Dallas, he’s brusque when Gary offers his sympathies (“Yeah it’s a sad day. I got a lot to do”) and downright cold when Ray does the same (“I just keep thinking he’s gonna show up again.” “Well, he’s not.”) In other words, he treats them pretty much how JR did after he (Bobby) died. “I had one brother. Now he’s dead,” JR told Ray and Gary back then. And Bobby has never treated any of the women in his life as harshly, even cruelly, as he does Ann throughout this episode.

Before they can take JR’s body home to Dallas, the Ewings find themselves confronted by some decidedly KNOTSian red tape. “A physician authorised by the Secretary of Health must certify the death,” they are informed. “Then a Civil Registry judge will issue the death certificate … It could take several days.” It’s a relief, then, when Carlos Del Sol shows up. The father of the real Marta and an old friend of JR’s, he’s the C21st equivalent of Punk Anderson, the reassuringly familiar presence who welcomed Jock’s sons to the jungle base camp when they came looking for their daddy all those years ago. “You’re all going to go back to Dallas and leave everything in my hands,” he insists. “I give you my word, John Ross. My people will get to the bottom of this and I will personally escort your father home. I won’t leave his side until I deliver him home to you in Dallas.”

Sue Ellen has never been more multi-faceted than she is in this episode. No sooner have the family returned to Southfork than she resumes her plan to get Ewing Energies back from Bobby and Christopher. “I’m gonna keep working on Gary to get that oil turned back on,” she tells her on. “I don’t see why I should stop doing business just because JR’s gone.” John Ross is angered by her pragmatism. “Are you kidding me? My father’s barely cold and you’re already talking about going to seduce his brother? Could you at least pretend to mourn him for five minutes FOR MY SAKE!?” Later, at JR’s memorial service, her former rival Mandy Winger graciously concedes defeat: “You were the lucky one, Sue Ellen, because you made your peace with JR. I always envied how you got over him. To be honest, I don’t think I ever really did.” Even as she accepts this victory, Sue Ellen enviously eyes the glasses of bourbon and branch Mandy and Cally are toasting with. Is this really what success looks like? Realising she’s in trouble, she turns to fellow alcoholic Gary for support (“I have never wanted a drink more than I do right now,” she admits) while simultaneously continuing to manipulate him (”I wanna be honest with you tonight, Gary,” she coos). Later, alone in JR’s bedroom, she finally does what John Ross asked of her: she mourns his father. However, there’s only one way Sue Ellen knows how to truly mourn JR: she pours herself a glass of JR Ewing Bourbon, salutes their wedding photo, and takes just one drink in his honour. But once she’s swallowed it, the invisible cord connecting her to her sobriety is instantly severed and she has no choice but to go on drinking.

EMPIRE, meanwhile, picks up where last week’s episode left off with the Lyon family learning of Hakeem’s abduction. As Soap Land kidnappings go, it's a pretty conventional one (“a simple snatch-and-grab,” as Lucious puts it). His captors turn out to be the gang who have been harassing Cookie since her label set up shop on their block. An exchange is arranged — the thugs only ask for $40,000 — but Hakeem manages to give his abductors the slip on the way to the drop-off point. This is where the story really starts to get interesting. Instead of returning home, a beaten and bloodied Hakeem makes his way to Anika’s apartment. Having been rejected by the entire Lyon family, she is in a pretty dark place herself. (“I have nothing! I have no-one!” we hear her telling her mother on the phone.) She and Hakeem have urgent, traumatised sex almost right there on the doorstep. When he does eventually return to the bosom of his family, Hakeem is angry — less at the kidnappers than at his father. “What happened to you, son, is my worst nightmare,” Lucious tells him. “Tell yourself whatever you need so you can go to sleep but recognise: none of this would have gone down if I wasn’t your son. This is because of you and you,” he replies, pointing at both his parents. He refuses any offers of help or comfort. Throughout the ep, we see him screwing up in rehearsal, freezing on stage, smashing a mirror with his fist. He’s humiliated, emasculated, traumatised. Most Soap Land kidnap victims don’t exhibit such behaviour following their ordeal. Once they’ve been rescued or released, they’re pretty much OK. The exceptions are Lucy Ewing and Maggie Gioberti, both of whom eventually revealed they had been raped by their captor. Has something similar has happened to Hakeem or does his behaviour simply correspond with how anyone in the real world (as opposed to ‘80s Soap Land) might react to a kidnapping? “When the dudes pinned me up,” he finally admits, “I ain’t do nothing. I ain’t fight back. I wasn’t strong.” And that is reason enough for him to react the way he has.

Both JR’s memorial service on DALLAS and Steven and Sam’s engagement dinner on DYNASTY are disrupted by an inebriated character making an exhibition of himself. Cliff Barnes gatecrashes the former, behaving more like the volatile loudmouth of the original series than the eerily contained villain of the new one. “I came to pay my disrespects … I wish I had killed your father, but somebody beat me to it … Look who’s dancing on who’s grave now!” (As he is ejected from the room, we catch a glimpse of his former lover Mandy’s dismayed reaction and I notice that she’s wearing a cross. Could it be that, like Andre on EMPIRE, the original Valentine Girl has accepted Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Saviour? For some reason, I quite like the idea.) Cliff’s outburst inspires some further badmouthing about the deceased. “JR was a selfish prick who died the way he deserved, in the armpit of the world!” declares a nameless drunk racist. John Ross is about to shut this guy up before Christopher steps in (“I got this, cousin”) and throws the first punch. A bunch of extras get involved and pretty soon it's a good old-fashioned DALLAS brawl. Meanwhile, DYNASTY takes a turn for the daft as Fallon decides the only way to get Alexis to come clean about her latest dastardly scheme (trying to frame Sam for shoplifting) is to spike her champagne flute with truth serum. Inevitably, the drinks get switched and it’s Sam who ends up losing his inhibitions and dancing on a table while singing ‘I Got Life’ from Hair. Melissa Agretti had a similar going-mad-and-climbing-on-a-table-during-a-formal-occasion incident on FALCON CREST which I hated because it was played for nonexistent laughs. This isn’t nearly so bad — the plot might be stupid, but the actors take it reasonably seriously and it’s actually quite funny, particularly when Sam loses his balance and falls over.

Whereas the punch-up on DALLAS serves to bring the Ewing cousins closer together (“That was awesome!” John Ross tells Christopher after the fight, smiling for the first time this episode), Sam’s wig-out on DYNASTY drives the Carrington kids further apart as Steven blames Fallon for the whole thing. While he accuses her of turning his engagement party “into the battleground for a family war that I’ve been trying to end from the beginning,” Christopher promises John Ross “we’re gonna find out who killed your father and when we do, we’ll avenge his death as brothers. Ewings take care of Ewings — always.” For once, John Ross doesn’t reject his cousin’s attempt to reclassify them as siblings. Instead, he nods in agreement. There’s more brotherly support when Andre and Jamal reach out to Hakeem following his ordeal on EMPIRE. “The three of us, we can’t be broken, not by thugs or kidnappers or anything else that comes at us,” Andre declares emphatically. “You know why? … Because we already beat the odds by surviving as the children of Lucious and Cookie Lyon.”

The term “junkyard dog” was heard in Soap Land for the first time two weeks ago. “You keep a junkyard dog like JR tied up long enough, he’s only gonna get meaner,” John Ross warned his uncle. It crops up thrice more this week. Like John Ross, Cliff uses it to refer to JR while talking to Bobby. “Since you lost your junkyard dog, there’s nothing keeping me from taking your family down!” he crows. Then, following Hakeem’s kidnapping on EMPIRE, Lucious warns Cookie that “there are two types of security in hip-hop. There’s the house dog and then there’s the junkyard dog and if you’re gonna make it in this game, you need both of them.” (I wasn't quite sure what he was talking about either.) Cookie later turns to Laz Delgado, ex-cop-turned-concert promoter, for security advice and he makes the unusual suggestion of putting Hakeem’s kidnappers on the payroll. “House dogs and junkyard dogs,” Cookie murmurs, recalling her earlier conversation with Lucious, before shooting the idea down: “I don’t want those wolves in my house.”

Three new relationships kick off this week. The sexiest is between John Ross and Emma on DALLAS. Having scarcely exchanged a word, but bound together by a combination of grief, lust and prescription medication, they have it off in the back of a car on the Southfork driveway while the rest of the family are inside the house. (There’s a desperation about their coupling similar to Hakeem and Anika’s.) The sweetest is between Fallon and Liam on DYNASTY. After four episodes of marriage, they finally kiss. “I’ve been wanting to do that since the day I met you,” Liam admits. The most shocking is between Cookie and Laz on EMPIRE. Her turning up at his door and asking him to “make me forget about everything” isn’t the shocking bit, nor is it him then taking her in his arms and laying her down on the nearest flat surface. The shocking bit is when Laz’s top comes off and we see he has the same tattoo on his back as Hakeem’s kidnappers!

For the past three weeks, each of the soaps has taken it in turn to stage a significant religious ceremony. Andre’s baptism on last week’s EMPIRE was preceded by Tom Carrington’s funeral on DYNASTY and is now followed by JR’s funeral on DALLAS. This time, rather than the inside of a church, the main event takes place in the family cemetery at Southfork. The cold, wintry environment is perfect. If the funeral is the highlight of a truly exceptional episode, then the highlight of the funeral itself is the eulogy Sue Ellen delivers at the gravesite. “When I was Miss Texas and I met JR,” she informs the various Ewings, Krebbs and Ramoses assembled, “I didn’t know what hit me. I fell in love — madly, passionately, hopelessly in love with the most infuriating, charming scoundrel I think I’ve ever known. It was enough to drive a girl to drink … I’m a bit drunk now.” This admission — which shows yet another side of Sue Ellen; she’s always hidden her drinking in the past — feels almost as devastating as JR’s death.

The closest the other soaps get to the loss of a loved one this week is the sudden illness of Michael Culhane’s father on DYNASTY. As far back as one can remember, the corridors of Soap Land Memorial Hospital have rung with the sound of rich men demanding that the best specialist surgeon in whichever field be flown in immediately to deal with the latest medical catastrophe. The inequities of such demands have invariably passed without comment — until now. “Fair or not, and it’s not, the Carringtons have access to the best medical care: better doctors, better hospitals,” Cristal tells Michael and his mother. “I reached out to the head of the hospital. She was at a conference in New York, but I sent CA’s jet for her and she reviewed your father’s records on the way back. The one per cent is good for some things, at least one per cent of the time.” So it is that they learn that Culhane Senior is suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. With delicious Soap Land irony, it later transpires that the Carrington name is responsible not only for this speedy diagnosis but also for making Michael’s father sick in the first place. “CA faced a scandal in Northeastern Georgia a few years back,” Anders reminds Blake. “If Culhane realises the connection between his father’s disease and what CA covered up, it might not be so easy to handle this time.” It doesn’t take Cristal long to find evidence of this Empire Valley-style cover-up and, in her self-appointed role of resident Carrington truth-teller, she heads straight to Soap Land Memorial to show it to Michael’s family — only to find Blake has gotten there first. “Honey, thank you for being here,” he says with a steely look in his eye. I like this newly gutsy, principled Cristal very much.

Back at JR’s gravesite, Sue Ellen reads from the letter she received from him in last week’s episode. “Old age has a way of humbling men,” it begins. He goes on to admit that he was never worthy of her and ends by asking, “When I get back to Dallas, will you have dinner with me?” “Yes, yes, JR. The answer is yes,” she sobs, crouching down to touch his casket. “You were the love my life,” she concludes. And with that, the never-ending, on-off, love-hate paradox that was JR and Sue Ellen’s relationship is finally resolved. However, another long-running, volatile Soap Land relationship is only just starting to be unpicked.

“The truth is she’s a big part of your life,” Anders tells Blake. He’s referring, of course, to Alexis. “While you work out what that means, I have to protect you and this family from your feud.” “I don’t need protection, not from my ex-wife, and certainly not from a member of my staff,” Blake snaps. “I’ll handle this myself … You’re fired!” Cristal is alarmed by her husband’s behaviour. “It scares me that you can be so unfeeling towards people who have been a vital part of your life and family,” she says. “All those years, I thought Anders was by my side,” Blake explains. “It turns out his loyalty still lies with Alexis.” “So that’s what this is about — her. Are you still in love with her, Blake?” she asks. “How can you ask me that?” he replies angrily. He’s less defensive when he apologises to Anders towards the end of the ep: “The truth is I’ve been a hypocrite, blaming you for being swayed by her when … I am too … She still has a pull.”

“I’m a bit drunk now,” Sue Ellen admits to her family on DALLAS. “I am a screwed-up person, Steven,” Alexis admits to her son on DYNASTY when he asks why she tried to frame his fiancé. “I was afraid Sam would take you away from me … and I don’t wanna lose another son. You’re not the firstborn Carrington, Steven.” She then tells him about his brother Adam and how she has spent all her money trying to find him. We can’t be sure if she’s as upset as she seems or just playing for sympathy, or some combination of the two. The scene ends with Steven promising to help her find Adam. There’s an even more unexpected revelation about a missing person in the penultimate scene of DALLAS. “For the last several months, [JR’s] been trying to find your mother,” Bum tells Christopher. He then hands him a file so he’ll “understand why it’s important for you to find your mama.” The race is on: who will be found first — Adam or Pam?

Minor trend of the week: cooks in the limelight. Now that Alexis is living in her old studio again, she has the Carrington servants waiting on her like she is still the lady of the Carrington Manor. Annoyed, Blake repurposes the dressing down his ‘80s counterpart gave the staff for disrespecting Krystle when they were first married. Back then, he chose to make an example of Leon, his gardener of ten years, by firing him (only for Joseph to rehire him later on in the ep). This time around, it’s Mrs Gunnerson, aka “the head of the kitchen whose several family members eat well at my expense”, who gets the chop (only for Anders to rehire her later on in the ep). This Mrs G is somewhat more severe-looking than the motherly ‘80s version. In the extended version of “JR’s Masterpiece” on the DALLAS DVD, all but one of the Ewing and Ramos family members get a turn at speaking at JR’s funeral. This includes Carmen the cook, mother of Drew and Elena. She tearfully reveals that, like Mrs Gunnerson’s family, her children similarly ate well at JR’s expense: “When my husband died and I thought I was going to lose my house … JR told me, ‘Carmen, you make the best mole in the country and I don’t want you making it for anybody else but the Ewings … Just move your whole damn family in.’” Who knew? (The one person who doesn’t speak at the grave is John Ross. But even though he remains silent throughout the funeral, his angry yet tearful presence is the most compelling of all.)

According to Sue Ellen, “JR always wanted everyone to get drunk at his funeral. He thought it would make everyone honest.” Larry Hagman, meanwhile, was once quoted as saying he wanted his remains “to be spread over a field and have marijuana and wheat planted, and harvest it in a couple of years and then have a big marijuana cake, enough for 200 to 300 people.” From a creative standpoint, Hagman’s passing has proven just as fertile as that field. Having already resulted in a deeply moving tribute to a legendary character, it now sets in motion a fantastically intriguing mystery story (variously known as “JR’s Masterpiece”, “Who Killed JR?” And “What the hell was JR doing in Mexico?”) that the writers have conjured out of nowhere (Hagman having died during the filming of the Vicente-at-Southfork episode that came just two weeks before this one) while making it seem as if it has been in the works for months. All we know so far is that it involves Pam, Cliff, Harris Ryland and a secret JR has posthumously passed on to Bobby via Bum.

The final scene of the episode has Bobby entering JR’s room and knocking back a couple of shots of bourbon, just as Sue Ellen did earlier. Then he sees his brother’s Stetson hanging off a chair. “I knew you’d have at least one more left up your sleeve, JR, and it’s a good one,” he chuckles. The symbolism of the hat resonates back to 1981. Shortly after Jock’s final appearance and just before Jim Davis’s death, Miss Ellie called JR from Paris where she and Jock had gone on their second honeymoon. Jock's Stetson was positioned on a table as a reminder of the character’s presence. When the scene cut back to JR on the other end of the line, his own hat was positioned in the same way. "I love you, brother," says Bobby as he finally starts to cry.

And the Top 3 are …

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

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18 Mar 13: DALLAS: Ewings Unite! v. 11 Nov 15: EMPIRE: True Love Never v. 20 Apr 18: DYNASTY: Use or Be Used

Two weeks after Tom Carrington bequeathed the Carrington Manor to Alexis, a letter written by Miss Ellie shortly before her death, but “not to be opened until after JR’s passing”, leaves half of Southfork to John Ross. JR, meanwhile, leaves his share of the mineral rights to the oil under Southfork to his ex-wife and son. Bobby’s decision to allow drilling on the ranch to recommence means that the Ewings are all on the same side for once. Their main enemy is now Cliff. “We are up against a very dangerous man with a lot of money who will stop at nothing to destroy this family. The only hope we have of surviving is if we stick together,” Bobby declares.

While trying to conduct business, Christopher Ewing and Andre Lyon each find themselves in a sexually compromising position. First Christopher is warned by Alison Jones, the not unattractive city transportation official he’s been dealing with, that Barnes Global has undercut his bid to fuel the city’s fleet with methane. She has, however, arranged for her colleagues to see a demonstration of Christopher’s rig in action later that week. “I’m gonna need more than a week,” he protests. “That’s a big ask,” she purrs, putting her hand on top of his. “What can you offer me in exchange?” When Christopher pulls his hand away, indicating that he isn’t prepared to prostitute himself the way EMPIRE’s Anika and DYNASTY’s Jeff did earlier in the season, she turns chilly. “You have one week,” she snaps.

Over on EMPIRE, it’s Andre’s own father who tries to whore him out. “Freda Gatz has a small legal issue we need to take care of … a gang injunction,” he tells him. “Why don’t you go see your lady friend down in the mayor’s office?” “… That’s not a small issue, Pop,” Andre argues. “And you’re not a small man, son — I’m sure that’s why the deputy mayor likes doing business with you,” replies Lucious. Indeed, having sex on Deputy Mayor Alvarez's desk is nothing Andre hasn’t enjoyed in the past, but that was before he found the Lord.

Bobby’s response upon hearing that Cliff is trying to steal Christopher’s deal is interesting. “Since JR is dead, we have to find our own inner junkyard dog,” he tells John Ross and Christopher. In other words, they each have to tap into their own inner JR. This is a far cry from the Bobby who was so “sick and tired of this family devouring itself over money” when New DALLAS began. The advice Andre receives from his pastor is no less murky. “Would fulfilling your father’s venal task advance your larger task within Empire?” he asks. “Andre, God has chosen you to be His warrior. Sometimes warriors have to do things on the battlefield that would be repugnant in any other context.”

Both Christopher and Andre arrive at a compromise that allows them to keep their virtues intact while still channelling their inner junkyard dog. Well, strictly speaking, it’s John Ross who comes up with the plan whereby he sleeps with Alison instead of his cousin while Bum takes incriminating photographs of them wearing matching bathrobes. Christopher subsequently presents these pictures to Alison. “Once these hit the paper, you will get fired, certainly ruining any hopes of a political career,” he tells her. “This will destroy my husband!” she protests. Likewise, Andre, instead of doing the dirty with Deputy Mayor Alvarez, shows her recordings of their previous “closed-door bartering sessions.” She too has a marriage and a career to lose. “Kill the Barnes Global offer and stay out of my way,” Christopher tells Alison. ”Unless you want the mayor to get a full report on how you conduct your government business, have that gang injunction lifted by tomorrow,” Andre orders the Deputy Mayor.

Committing blackmail puts Andre and Christopher in contrasting moods. While Andre is so relieved he’s able to make love to his wife for the first time this season (“Oh baby, this is what I’ve been praying for!” Rhonda gasps), Christopher is ridden with guilt and proceeds to drown his sorrows in a scene remarkably similar to one in 1983 where Bobby likewise hit the booze after blackmailing a government official who was in cahoots with JR. Whereas Pam was appalled by Bobby’s actions then (“You’re not the man I married!” she yelled), Elena is simply disappointed by Christopher’s now. “You’re the most decent man I know and now you’re blackmailing people,” she tells him sadly.

As JR predicted before he died, Cliff Barnes moves to enlist Harris Ryland in his plan to bring down the Ewings. His reassuringly familiar rant about what was stolen from his family (“The Ewings drove my father to drink and left him penniless and broken … They stole his legacy and mine”) is echoed by Jeff Colby on DYNASTY (“Fallon Carrington didn’t just steal 25% of my company. She stole my family, my pride”). Cliff makes Harris an offer he can’t refuse: “Help me take down the Ewings and I will give you enough money to buy Ryland Transport right out from underneath your mother’s control.”

However, Judith Ryland is already one step ahead of her son. Following the bitter row between them in last week’s ep, she tells him she’s leaving for London: “I don’t know what I’ve done to earn your hatred, Harris, but I’ve decided it’s too painful to try to figure it out … The moment I step off the plane, I’m going to freeze all your bank accounts … I’m also removing you as the head of Ryland Transport.” “You can’t do that!” he shouts. “This is a family business and I am head of the family and since you are dead to me, you are no longer family,” she replies coldly. They struggle and she falls down a flight of stairs. It’s pure FALCON CREST Season 3.

This week’s episode of New DYNASTY is the best so far. It opens with Alexis exercising in the Carrington dining room while the rest of the family are attempting to eat breakfast. (“These floors are more shock-absorbent than the ones in the loft,” she explains.) From ‘Jump’ by the Pointer Sisters playing on a ghetto-blaster to Alexis’s pink and silver workout ensemble (leg-warmers included) to Fallon’s gag about her “retirement home revival of Flashdance”, the whole sequence is an enjoyable pastiche of the ‘80s fitness craze. But whereas no-one in the actual Soap Land ‘80s would have dreamt of saying anything negative about an older woman staying in shape, here it is depicted as both impressive (the admiring close-ups of Alexis’s toned body parts) and somewhat grotesque — Cristal recoiling from Alexis’s post-workout body odour; Steven declaring that he has "definitely lost my appetite.” Alexis herself, or Paige as she was back then, reacted to her own mother’s nude photoshoot with similar distaste in 1991. After listening to the family insults zinging back and forth, Liam tells Fallon that “breakfast in your house is a contact sport.”

The sporting metaphors continue on DALLAS and EMPIRE. “Were you ever a runner, Mr Ewing?” Alison Jones asks John Ross before they end up in bed together. “I get the sense you’re quick out the blocks, wanna go as fast as possible.” “I like to come out hard and power my way to that finish line,” he replies with a straight face. “I was like that when I was young,” she tells him. “Now I’m more of a distance woman …” and so on. On EMPIRE, Lucious climbs into the ring, literally and figuratively, with Jago, the head of a streaming service that he and Mimi want to merge with. “They say sparring partners make the best business partners,” Lucious says. “Imagine what you could do with Empire in your corner. Talking about a true heavyweight.” After he inadvertently knocks Jago out, they are obliged to continue their meeting at Jago’s hospital bedside. As they talk, Mimi surreptitiously increases Jago’s morphine supply until he’s so blissed out he agrees to the merger on Lucious’s terms — a plot point as silly as the truth serum story on last week’s DYNASTY.

While Emma teases Drew Ramos by pretending they’ve arranged a date that he has forgotten about on DALLAS (“You’re so cute when you’re freaked out”), Liam nervously asks Fallon for a date on DYNASTY: “Our fake marriage contract ends soon so before I turn back into a frog, I thought we could have a date.” “This is so last minute, I have nothing to wear,” mock-protests Drew. “I need a dress, I need shoes, I need a hero,” declares Fallon. Cut to one of those trying-on-outfits-in-front-of-the-mirror montages with Sam acting as her fashion adviser. “I look like Hilary Clinton dipped in Elton John,” she complains of a gold-sequinned pantsuit. In contrast to the dark gothic atmosphere of the Ryland house, Emma and Drew’s date is casual and fun. They ride his motorbike through the gates of Southfork (a unique shot which gave me a geeky thrill) and wind up in a park eating burgers and exchanging backstories. At the other end of the formality spectrum, Liam meticulously prepares a six-course dinner for him and Fallon. Of course, no Soap Land date would be complete without some parental interference. While Harris Ryland has henchman Roy Vickers spy on Emma and Drew, Alexis accidentally-on-purpose tells Fallon about Michael Culhane’s dying father — ignoring Michael’s specific request that Fallon not be informed. As a consequence, Fallon is too preoccupied to focus on her date with Liam and instead bails on him to go and visit Michael at Soap Land Memorial Hospital. As frustrating as this is for Liam, Harris Ryland has something much worse in mind for Drew. Cliff has already assigned Harris the task of finding someone to plant a bomb on Christopher's rig to coincide with the demonstration he has planned. Harris tells Roy Vickers to give the job to Drew: “I want him fully compromised.” Drew refuses to comply — until Roy threatens his sister (“Her death would be so tragic”).

There are a couple of great scenes between Sue Ellen and Gary this week. In the first, he tries to broach the subject of her alcohol problem and she simply denies she has one: “I had a moment of weakness when JR died, but I would hardly consider that drinking.” It feels like 1980 all over again. When he persists, she turns mean. “Poor sweet Gary,” she says mockingly, “I was playing you to get Bobby to turn that oil back on … but Bobby’s already done that so I don’t need you anymore.” When he still refuses to be put off, she takes the unprecedented step of calling Val in Knots Landing: “Gary’s here and he really misses you … I think you should come to Dallas and get him.” Then, safely alone, she pulls down the blinds of her office window, pours herself a large drink, winks conspiratorially at a picture of JR and knocks it back.

After Val realises she has been summoned to DALLAS under false pretences, she only sticks around for a scene and a half, but still finds time to barge into Sue Ellen’s office and unleash a barrage of insults that make Fallon’s abuse of Alexis on this week’s DYNASTY (“You’re about as transparent as a hooker’s negligee … I don’t need love advice from a woman who believes that ‘as long as we both shall live’ means until happy hour”) seem almost restrained by comparison: “Once a bitch always a bitch … You are just as sadistic as JR ever was … what a manipulative monster you are!” Had there been a pair of scissors on Sue Ellen’s desk, she probably would have threatened her with them the way she once did Jill Bennett.

Nothing Val accuses her ex-sister-in-law of here is untrue, and yet in her second scene with Gary (also his very last appearance), Sue Ellen manages to flip the whole situation around. He is still convinced she needs his help (“and, unlike my wife, I help people in trouble”) while she is still trying to get rid of him, but this time she tries a gentler approach. “Valene left you because she knew it was the only way to get you sober again and she was right,” she tells him. “She left you because she loves you. I know I need help, but I need to do it myself.” Her next words clearly refer to JR’s passing, but they also serve to assuage Gary’s feelings of resentment towards Val: “One day she may be gone and you don’t want to regret the loss of every moment you could have spent with her.” Gary is moved. “If you ever need anything, I’m just a phone call away,” he tells her. “I know that,” Sue Ellen assures him gratefully. And so, with Gary and Val getting back together, the KNOTS saga has come full circle. Sue Ellen Ewing providing KNOTS LANDING with its final moment of closure — who’d have thunk it? (And it's all so she can carry on drinking.)

Sue Ellen is not the only character to make an unlikely cupid for two estranged lovers this week. “Fallon loves you,” Alexis tells Michael outside the hospital where his father is dying. “Last time I checked, Fallon was married to Liam,” Michael points out. “She doesn’t love him. She loves you,” Alexis insists. Meanwhile, Fallon is talking to Michael’s mother upstairs. “I can see how hurt you were that you weren’t the first to know, but it isn’t about you right now,” Mrs Culhane tells her. It’s a strange thing: as soon as a character on screen articulates what the viewer is thinking at home — in this case, how relentlessly self-centred Fallon is — it takes the sting out of it and Fallon becomes an interesting, sympathetic character again.

As well as laying KNOTS LANDING to rest, this week’s DALLAS also reveals the fate of one of its most infamous villains. “Katherine’s dead,” Bobby says casually. This must rank as the most offhand retroactive demise of a Soap Land character since the news that Dex Dexter “didn’t fare all that well” in the DYNASTY reunion. Bobby also gives us some background on Barnes Global that makes it sounds like an exciting mashup of the three Wentworth businesses from the original DALLAS. He describes it as “a multi-billion dollar company” (like Wentworth Industries) that was “started by Cliff’s mother” (sort of like Barnes Wentworth) and later divided “between the three children - Pamela, Cliff and Katherine” (as was Wentworth Tool & Die). “If Pamela’s still alive, she could be a silent partner in Barnes Global,” he continues. “Maybe that’s why JR was looking for her — to help us take Cliff down.” “If my mother’s still alive, I’ll find her,” Christopher declares. Fighting talk — but Steven Carrington is quicker off the mark when it comes to looking for long lost relatives. In the opening scene of this week’s DYNASTY, he departs for El Paso in search of his brother Adam and by the end of the ep has an address for the sister of one of Adam’s suspected kidnappers.

At Fallon’s suggestion, she and Liam try another date — this time at La Perla, a glitzy fashion show/gala/launch thing. I’d never previously heard of La Perla but from the way the party is shot it's immediately apparent that, just like the Carousel Ball in DYNASTY ’83, this is a real event that the fictional characters have been inserted into. (Alexis, Sam and Jeff are also in attendance.) La Perla’s “creative director”, Julia Haart, gives off the same by now familiar “real-life person playing themselves” vibe as the sports luminaries who showed up to JR’s memorial service last week and the umpteen hip-hop artists who cameo on EMPIRE.

Real-life and fiction overlap so frequently on EMPIRE that I had to google Huey Jarvis, a Quincy Jones-style music impresario whom Lucious visits this week, to find out if he really exists or not. (He doesn’t.) Huey hosts the prestigious Living Room Sessions — a regular gathering in his home where a few select musical artists are invited to perform their latest work. Lucious has never received such an invitation but longs to. “Everybody who’s played one of your sessions in the last five years has walked on stage and accepted their award,” he tells him admiringly. Hoping for Huey’s approval, Lucious plays him the new track he’s been working on, but Huey remains politely unimpressed. “I’m still wanting to hear more,” he says, “feel more of that part of yourself that you keep locked up so tight … You got to dig deeper.”

Both Lucious and Alexis find themselves eclipsed by their children this week. After Jamal is invited to play at one of Huey’s Living Room Sessions, Lucious proudly embraces him, but when he’s left alone we see how gutted he is that it wasn’t him. Meanwhile, Julia Haart raves to Alexis about Fallon at La Perla: “Fallon is such a doll and literally the perfect face for my brand — a sexy, savvy, no-nonsense businesswoman.” “I thought that was me,” says Alexis. “She is you,” Julia assures her hastily.

Meanwhile, Liam does his best to avoid the popping flashbulbs on the red carpet. When someone in Soap Land is this publicity-shy, it means they’re either in the Witness Protection Programme (Nicholas Pearce on DALLAS, the Williams family on KNOTS) or have an even more complicated reason for hiding their true identity (Kim Novak on FALCON CREST). Sure enough, Julia Haart recognises Liam as writer Jack Lowden who "just received a seven-figure advance for a tell-all book about a wealthy dysfunctional family.” Fallon is crushed. “I’m still me, we can still be us,” Liam/Jack pleads, but she's not buying it. Last we see of Jack/Liam, he’s sitting glumly at a bus stop when a chauffeur-driven limousine pulls up. “The jet’s fuelled and waiting as per your instructions,” the driver tells him.

At JR’s funeral last week, Bobby said that it had always been easy to for him do good because he could always rely on his brother to do bad: “Now I have to figure out just what I’m supposed to do in this grand scheme of things.” This dilemma seems to apply to several DALLAS characters this week. Without JR to measure their morality against, no-one seems to know how far is too far anymore — Christopher blackmailing Alison, Sue Ellen manipulating Gary and Val, Drew planting a bomb … “I know I crossed a line here,” Christopher admits. “That’s what breaks my heart — you did it anyway,” Elena replies. Nor is he the only one. Roy Vickers is preparing to remotely detonate the bomb on Christopher’s rig when he sees something amiss on his computer screen. He calls Cliff to warn him: “We got a problem, sir. Your daughter’s on the rig.” Cliff hesitates. Then he asks if they can wait till she’s gone. Roy replies that everyone is about to leave together. “We need witnesses,” Cliff mutters. Another silence. We see his face twitching. “Just do it,” he says finally. “But, sir, she’s pregnant,” Roy protests. Cliff ignores him and hangs up, a haunted look in his eyes. Meanwhile, a tormented Drew waits back at the ranch, knowing what’s about to happen. Just before dialling the sequence of numbers that will set off the bomb, Roy takes the cross that’s on a chain around his neck and kisses it. The fact that all three men are aware of the gravity of what is about to happen and then allow it to happen anyway is what makes the sequence so powerful. As Elena says to Christopher, “That’s what breaks my heart — you did it anyway.”

Bereavement, drug addiction, mental illness, religious faith — all subjects that New DYNASTY has rolled its eyes at, made a few wisecracks about and then dismissed. Blake is hoping that the leukaemia epidemic Carrington Atlantic is responsible for can be forgotten about just as easily. Cristal, however, has other ideas. “Culhane’s father is the sixteenth adult in Clarke County to be diagnosed with cancer,” she tells him. “The science linking our chemical waste to those patients is weak,” he argues. “Because CA made it look weak,” she insists.

It’s striking that the most morally principled character in both DALLAS and DYNASTY is the female Mexican outsider — Elena and Cristal. While Elena chooses to remove herself from the corruption at the heart of her series (“Ewing Enterprises is a pit of snakes,” she tells Christopher. “You may be in so deep that you can’t see it, but … I will not be a part of this”), Cristal does not have that luxury. She’s enmeshed at CA and is part of the cover-up. “When I first started working at Carrington Atlantic in 2013, I killed a story about the Clarke County health crisis,” she admits to a company lawyer. “Even though you knew CA was responsible for making people sick?” the lawyer asks. “I was just trying to do my job,” she replies. At her urging, Blake agrees to accept “full responsibility for the environmental impact we’ve had on Clarke County”, but first the lawyer recommends “CA undertake a private environmental study … to determine exactly what chemicals are making people sick.” Cristal asks how long this will take. “A couple of years minimum,” comes the reply. Blake ‘reluctantly’ agrees. “The longer we wait, the more people die. We need to do the right thing!” Cristal insists. “And we will, just as soon as that study is concluded,” Blake replies smoothly. “You were never gonna go public, were you?” she realises. “You just wanted me to go on the record with you so you could blackmail me into silence.” Things turn even more sinister when she finds some shadowy X-FILES type figures in her office shredding her confidential files.

If Clarke County (the town contaminated by chemical waste from Carrington Atlantic’s power plant) is DYNASTY’s equivalent of Wesphall (the town poisoned by Galveston Industries’ toxic waste on KNOTS), then Cristal is Lila Maxwell, the company employee who tries to expose the truth. Whereas Lila was murdered before she could blow the whistle (or appear on screen), Cristal learns her fate in the darkest and best scene of New DYNASTY to date. Blake enters his study and fixes himself a drink before realising his wife is “waiting in the dark, drinking my scotch” while seated behind his desk. I realise this comparison is wildly overblown, but the way the scene is shot to emphasise the distance, both physical and emotional, between Blake and Cristal reminds me of an equivalent moment in Citizen Kane. “You think you’re so clever, so much smarter than everyone else, but tonight when you had those men destroy every shred of incriminating evidence, you made a big mistake,” she tells him. “Now there’s no record of you and I admitting personal culpability which means there’s nothing stopping me from going public with the epidemic.” “Then it’s a good thing I kept this,” he replies, producing a tape of her admitting to killing the story. “So if you ever do decide to make trouble for CA, you will be the first one they fit for an orange jumpsuit.” “… You’re not the man I married,” she says, quoting Pam Ewing in 1983. “Ever since Alexis invaded this house —“ “Don’t put this on Alexis,” he interrupts. “For all her faults, at least she understands the concept of family loyalty.” This leaves Cristal speechless. “The anger will pass,” he assures her condescendingly. “I’m not angry,” she replies, “I’m scared. Scared of you.” “Well, you should be,” he tells her.

(Just as she was for Krystle in Season 9 of ‘80s DYNASTY, Alexis a comparatively minor thorn in Cristal’s side. “Get the hell out of my house,” she snarls at her as they pass in the Carrington hallway while Cristal is on her way to deal with a more pressing matter.)

Blake Carrington and Cliff Barnes have us on the edge of our seats this week, waiting to see just how far they’ll go: Is Cliff really prepared to sacrifice his pregnant daughter to get revenge on the Ewings? Is Blake really prepared to frame his wife to cover up his crimes? The equivalent question on this week’s EMPIRE is: how far inside himself is Lucious prepared to dig in order to produce an emotionally authentic track? When Huey tells him to “dig deeper”, he’s repeating the same advice Lucious himself gave a singer in the very first scene of EMPIRE (“I need you to sing like you are going to die tomorrow, like this is the last song you will ever sing”), so the fact that he is now in the same position is obviously significant.

Lucious and Mimi celebrate their streaming deal with Jago by getting wasted and picking up a girl, April, in a club. They agree to share her and all wind up at Lucious’s place. This is the first ménage à trois we’ve come across in this thread — although, chronologically, John Ross, Pamela and Emma’s disastrous night together occurred two years before this one. While no-one ends up in a coma on this occasion, things nonetheless get very messy. The sexy fun is interrupted when Mimi gets a phone call, presumably from her girlfriend, that causes her to sob till her make up runs. Then the tattoo of a gun on April’s inner thigh triggers (no pun intended) yet another grim childhood flashback for Lucious, this time of his mother putting a revolver to her head. “Y’all might wanna get started without me. I’m gonna be a while,” he tells the ladies before rushing to his ensuite recording studio and finally giving the song he’s been working on all the emotion and urgency it needs. It’s a very watchable sequence and I get why it’s so important to Lucious; I’m just quite not sure why it’s supposed to matter to us. I mean, writing a song, however good, isn’t exactly blackmailing your wife into keeping quiet about an epidemic or blowing up your pregnant daughter.

It truly feels like both Blake and Cliff have crossed the line this week. In Soap Land, we’re used to characters getting in over their heads and making decisions that have disastrous consequences, but here, both men knew exactly what they were doing before they did it. Thrillingly, it’s hard to see how either of them can be redeemed now.

And this week’s Top 3 are …

1 (1) DALLAS
2 (2) DYNASTY
3 (3) EMPIRE
 
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25 Mar 13: DALLAS: Guilt & Innocence v. 18 Nov 15: EMPIRE: My Bad Parts v. 27 Apr 18: DYNASTY: A Line From the Past

Just as EMPIRE recently did with Hakeem’s kidnapping, DALLAS takes a familiar Soap Land incident — in this case, a miscarriage — and puts a C21st spin on it. Having been badly injured in the explosion on Christopher’s rig, pregnant Pamela is rushed to Soap Land Memorial Hospital where the family wait anxiously for news and mention is made of “the best neonatologist in the state.” So far, so traditional but instead of a simple “she lost the baby” followed by lots of tears, Pamela’s situation is more complicated and spans the entire episode. “The trauma from the explosion caused an abdominal aortic aneurysm,” her doctor explains. She needs surgery before the aneurysm ruptures or she will die. However, her blood pressure needs to stabilise first. When the doctor recommends terminating the pregnancy so she can operate safely, Pamela becomes hysterical. “You’re not killing my babies!” she cries. In the event, the operation goes ahead and is a success. “They all made it,” the family are informed. “The babies went through a lot of stress … but they’re all stable.” Everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief and so are completely unprepared when matters take a sudden turn for the worse in the final minute of the ep. Alerted by a “Code blue!”, Christopher and John Ross race to Pamela’s room to find her screaming and writhing in agony as doctors and nurses scramble to save the lives of her unborn twins. “Heart rate’s dropping on Baby A!” “Heart rate’s dropping on Baby B!” Everything goes slow motion as the chaos unfolds. We watch on monitors as the babies’ heart rates drop inexorably before stopping completely. This serves to make their deaths feel more tangibly tragic than the average Soap Land miscarriage (just as Hakeem’s post-traumatic reaction to his abduction made it seem more real than a regular TV kidnapping). The journey of the twins’ condition in this episode — from imminent danger to apparent safety to abrupt relapse and tragedy — mirrors what happened both to Cody LeFever’s unborn baby on last season’s BLOOD AND OIL (it survived her brutal attack but then died anyway) and Michael Culhane’s father on this week’s DYNASTY. “[Cristal] got my father onto this clinical trial and the doctors are optimistic,” a relieved Michael tells Fallon early on in the ep. “It’s the best news we got since he got sick!” Near the end of ep, Cristal finds him slumped in shock outside his father’s room. “My dad passed away,” he tells her. “He had a weak immune system because of the drugs. He got an infection.”

Alongside the exploding Ewings, Judith Ryland is admitted to Soap Land Memorial with a broken leg following her did-she-fall-or-was-she-pushed tumble down the stairs last week. As a result, almost the entire episode takes place in the hospital, providing ample opportunity for various Rylands and Ewings to run into one another. (This medical spin on the “When Storylines Collide” convention is strongly reminiscent of the opening episode of ‘80s DYNASTY’s third season where Blake Carrington and Cecil Colby were simultaneously admitted to Soap Land Memorial following entirely separate life-threatening incidents.)

The Ryland power games continue as soon as Judith regains consciousness until, just one week after Liam Ridley/Jack Lowden flew out of New DYNASTY, a sedated Judith exits Soap Land via a private ambulance. “Where are you taking me?” she woozily asks one of her attending medics. “To the rehab facility, Mrs Ryland — remember?” one of them replies before exchanging an evil look with her colleague who is busy injecting Judith’s IV with something sinister-looking. If last week’s fall down the stairs had echoes of FALCON CREST Season 3, then this scene hearkens back even further, to Michael Tyrone-era FLAMINGO ROAD.

Fortunately, both Liam and Judith will return, but in the meantime, we have some fresh faces to replace them, all of whom have ties to the existing characters’ pasts. The most famous of these is Lee Majors who plays Ken Richards on DALLAS. Ken is an old boyfriend of Sue Ellen’s from her Miss Texas days who lost her to JR — a bionic Clint Ogden if you will. As good as it is to see Steve Austin, the highlight of this week’s DALLAS is undoubtedly the return of Afton Cooper, in her new role of Pamela’s clucky mother. She’s more eccentric than we remember, like a cross between Lilimae Clements and Dolly Parton but with a sharper tongue than either. She insists on serenading her bedridden daughter with a verse or two of ‘Mockingbird’, has little good to say about either Cliff (“a mean drunk”) or Christopher (“I know the explosion was your fault … just stay away”) and seems quite taken with John Ross. “You’re even more handsome than your father and, I’m guessing, smarter — nicer too. Still a touch of the devil,” she notes appreciatively. Neither Bobby nor Sue Ellen has much time for her, the latter referring to her as “that social climber”. Over on EMPIRE, Cookie seems to feel the same way about her previously unmentioned sister Candace who pops up unexpectedly. “If seventeen years of prison has taught you anything,” Candace tells her sniffily, “it’s definitely how to dress like a monkey and talk like a pimp.” “You know I never did like your fake ass, Candace — looking down your nose at me like you ain’t from the same hood I’m from, married to your white man,” Cookie replies. Candace (who insists on calling Cookie by her real name of Loretha) brings news of their other sister, Carol, who has abandoned her kids and is “on a bender”. (In other relapse news, Sue Ellen is still secretly drinking, but manages to both flirt and talk business with Ken Richards at the same time. After all these years, DALLAS has finally realised the value of making Sue Ellen a functioning alcoholic.) There’s more long-lost relative action on DYNASTY where Anders reveals to Sam that he was once married and has a daughter, Kirby, living in Australia. Sam is as shocked by this news as viewers of ‘80s DYNASTY were when they realised the original Joseph (“the impotent voyeur”) likewise had a family: “Whoa — you were married?? I had always pictured you like a nun, but instead of Jesus you’d sworn yourself to the Carringtons.” We get to hear Kirby’s Aussie accent for ourselves when a tipsily sentimental Anders phones her for the first time in years before losing his nerve and hanging up.

Afton and Kirby aren’t the only famous names from ‘80s Soap Land to resurface this week. Bobby also receives news of Pam (or “Christopher’s mother,” as he describes her to Ann to help differentiate her from New Pamela). According to a detective's report, she was last seen entering Abu Dhabi in 1989. “I thought you were done with her, Bobby,” says Ann nervously. “So did I, Annie,” he replies. Back on DYNASTY, Soap Land’s other missing person appears on Steven’s motel room doorstep. “Adam?” Steven asks in surprise. And why stop at one long-lost Carrington when you can have two? Throughout this week’s DYNASTY, Alexis has a series of soft-focus flashbacks to 2007 (not quite as evocative as those KNOTS flashbacks to ’68 in which she played her own mother) which build up to her telling Jeff Colby that he’s “one of them — you’re a Carrington, Jeff.” While such an outlandish announcement is always fun to hear in Soap Land, this one might have had more impact if Jeff was a better-developed character, instead of just being rich, black and vengeful.

After Fallon learns that Cristal has taken an interest in Michael’s father's condition, her suspicions are aroused and it doesn’t take long for her to find out about the Clarke County cover-up. Gratifyingly, she takes the situation seriously and even sides with Cristal against her father. However, when the story becomes about her stealing the evidence Blake is holding over Cristal, it loses its gravitas and turns into just another hi-jinks caper about secret combinations and Fallon hiding under a desk. Things get interesting again when someone leaks the cover-up to the press. Blake, Cristal and Fallon all suspect each other, but eventually, Alexis reveals that she was responsible.

To varying degrees, the Carringtons, Lyons and Ewings all come under public scrutiny this week. For the Lyons, the publicity is entirely self-generated. “Sometimes the only way to get someone’s attention is to hit them in the head with a sledgehammer,” Lucious tells Becky before declaring war on his youngest son in a room full of blogging, tweeting clubbers: “I got a message I want to send to Hakeem — it’s uncut, it’s raw!” he announces as he introduces his protege Freda to perform a diss track in which she claims that Hakeem is, among other things, “Daddy’s little girl.” As Lucious intended, the song goes viral and Hakeem is furious. He vows to “show the world who the real Lyon is” by challenging Freda to a rap battle. The winner takes the Lyon surname.

Meanwhile, Jamal has the chance at fronting an ad campaign for Pepsi (yes, Actual Pepsi), provided he can come up with the right song. As Actual Pepsi is actually involved, this opportunity is presented as the Greatest Thing Ever. Problems arise when Cookie and Lucious each come up with a great song idea — how can Jamal choose one parent over the other? Answer: he can’t. Instead, he attempts to amalgamate both ideas into one super-song. Cookie and Lucious are both against the idea and argue loudly (and amusingly) in front of a room of session musicians before, inevitably, Jamal gets his way and the super-song wins him the campaign.

Hakeem and Freda’s rap battle is the centrepiece of the episode. Freda spits the best rhymes, but Hakeem’s showmanship ultimately wins over the crowd, who whip him up into such a frenzy that he takes his mic stand to a neon sign bearing his name and smashes the word “Lyon” to bits. “I’m dropping my last name. From here on out, I go by Hakeem,” he declares. A Soap Land son renouncing his father’s name — the closest thing to a precedent I can think of is ‘80s Jeff Colby almost allowing Blake to adopt him.

Although Hakeem’s outburst is exciting, and Lucious and Cookie’s sparring is always entertaining, I worry that all this family feuding in an open arena comes at a price. If everyone’s free to say whatever they like wherever they like to whomever they like, there’s an inevitable loss of dramatic tension. All these gestures are so BIG, so public, I’m not sure where the characters can go from here but over the same ground. Perhaps this is the paradox at the heart of EMPIRE — the world’s first hip-hop soap opera. Unlike the other big Soap Land businesses, hip-hop is performative. The Lyons are in the fame game. For the family to acquire and maintain their wealth and power, they must both cultivate publicity and display themselves “authentically” though their music, i.e., sing and rap their “truth” to the audience. But if all the Lyon conflicts are playing out in public, they don’t have anything left to hide — and secrets are a crucial Soap Land ingredient.

It feels a little weird to use New DYNASTY as an example of restraint, but the press conference Blake calls to address CA’s current scandal illustrates how much more interesting it can be when characters don’t throw their inhibitions to the wind and say whatever they’re thinking. With Cristal by his side, Blake (without actually admitting liability for the epidemic), announces that “Carrington Atlantic is moving full speed towards clean energy” and that he has chosen his daughter “to spearhead this initiative.” This is news to Fallon, and when he beckons her to join him and Cristal in front of the cameras, she has no choice but to comply. Michael watching the press conference on a hospital TV adds an extra dimension to the scene. “Come on, Fallon,” he mutters, willing her to speak out against her father. She doesn’t. Instead, Blake takes her by surprise again by announcing that she is Carrington Atlantic’s new COO. Cristal, he explains, “will be stepping down from day-to-day operations indefinitely to focus on family.” Cristal is as stunned as her step-daughter, but instead of smashing a neon sign with a mic stand, she is obliged to join Blake and Fallon for a group hug. Only later, in the privacy of her office, does she turn on Fallon, accusing her of scheming “to get the COO job you wanted from the moment I met you … To think that I was naive enough to believe you, to think that you would actually stand up to your father!” “ What did you want me to do,” Fallon asks, “scream bloody murder in the middle of a press conference?” That’s probably what Hakeem would have done.

The C21st Ewings don’t seem to have the same media profile as either the Lyons or the Carringtons. Following the rig explosion, they do, however, come under scrutiny from Tesha, a Texas environmental health-and-safety watchdog thingy. A jobsworth representative visits the family at the hospital to inform them that Christopher’s negligence may have caused the explosion and they could be facing some heavy fines. The family close ranks against this outsider (“We are praying that my son’s babies don’t die and you pressure us? … Get the hell out of here!” snarls Bobby), but as soon he’s gone, John Ross turns on his cousin: “That explosion could have killed Pamela, it could have killed your babies!” Sue Ellen later points out to John Ross that “Ewing Energies is our shared liability.” In other words, if one Ewing goes down, they all go down together.

Last season, Pamela found out she pregnant in the same Soap Land week that Cody miscarried on BLOOD AND OIL. Now, the loss of Pamela’s babies coincides with Anika discovering she is with child on EMPIRE. While the Lyon family wash their dirty linen onstage and in the media, Anika still has both a public and private persona and as such is currently the most interesting character in the series. When we first see her this week, she is alone in her bathroom, clearly distraught (i.e., wearing no makeup) while holding a pregnancy test in one hand and a kitchen knife in the other. Later on, she runs into the show’s other expectant mother, Andre’s wife Rhonda. Rhonda pretends not to notice she has been crying and invites her for a soul-cleanser smoothie. (No, nor me.) During their girly chat, Rhonda raves about being pregnant: “It’s honestly the happiest I’ve ever been.” Anika doesn’t let on about her own condition, but her ears prick up when Rhonda says that “babies are like Kryptonite for Lucious … After being completely iced by him for years, this pregnancy has changed everything.” By the time Anika visits Hakeem at his apartment, she is back to her usual poised and sexy self. She’s about to tell him her news when he drops a bombshell of his own: “Here’s the thing — I think I’m in love … I know it sound crazy, but I ain’t never feel this way in my life.” The object of his adoration is sweet virginal Laura, the newest member of the girl group he’s managing. “I still think you’re dope,” he assures Anika. “We still homies, right?” She’s all smiles and acts like everything’s cool.

While all three shows have a shock ending — the loss of Pamela’s babies on DALLAS, Jeff turning out to be a Carrington on DYNASTY — the most unexpected of all is on EMPIRE. Following his rap battle victory party, Hakeem puts sweet little Laura in a cab and tells her to get home safe. He fails to notice that the cab driver is Anika, wearing a blonde Katherine Wentworth-style wig. “Buckle up,” she tells Laura. That's one I did not see coming.

And this week’s Top 3 are … this was an especially tricky one. This week's DALLAS was great, but not as exciting as usual (situating nearly all of the ep in Soap Land Memorial resulted in a slight drop of momentum) while DYNASTY felt a bit anti-climactic after the thrills of last week’s ep. I really enjoyed EMPIRE as I was watching it, but writing about it has made me like it a little less. Hmmm …

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1 (1) DALLAS (cos Afton)
2 (3) EMPIRE
3 (2) DYNASTY
 
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01 Apr 13: DALLAS: Let Me In v. 25 Nov 15: EMPIRE: Sinned Against v. 04 May 18: DYNASTY: Trashy Little Tramp

Print media has a revival in this week’s Soap Land as a guilt-ridden Drew Ramos pores over the front page of the Dallas Register (“EXPLOSION DESTROYS EWING RIG”) and DYNASTY opens with a montage of various newspapers being delivered: Blake receives the Global News Flash (“CARRINGTON ATLANTIC IN CRISIS”), Fallon the Downtown Viewer (“BLAKE CARRINGTON HIRES DAUGHTER”) and Michael the Atlanta Mirror News (“CA ADDRESSES CLARK COUNTY SCANDAL”).

While Carrington Atlantic is guilty of a cover-up, Ewing Enterprises is the victim of one. Despite Ken Richards telling Sue Ellen last week that TESHA’s initial investigation into the explosion indicated sabotage, the official ruling declares the Ewings guilty of negligence and they are issued a billion-dollar fine. This prompts some first-class swearing from the family — a “This is bullshit!” from John Ross, and one “Shove it up your ass!” each from Bobby and Christopher.

While the Ewings urgently need to prove that Cliff was responsible for the explosion, Fallon looks for evidence that Blake was responsible for the Clarke County epidemic. In both cases, the answer may lie with a mentally vulnerable female character. On DALLAS, that means Pamela, who is grief-stricken since losing her babies. “If anyone can get close to Cliff, it's her. She can look at his schedule see where he's been,” Christopher suggests to John Ross. On DYNASTY, it means sanatarium inmate Claudia Blaisdel, widow of Matthew who, Cristal assures Fallon, “knew where all the bodies were buried … He knew everything.”

Despite John Ross’s misgivings about approaching Pamela (“How do you think we should pitch this — ’Hey, Pamela, we think your dad's the one who blew up the rig and killed your babies. And by the way, can you check some dates for us?’”), he nonetheless goes to see her and finds her in a bad way (i.e., not wearing any makeup, which is never a healthy sign in Soap Land). While his concern for her is genuine — when he tells her he “ain’t going anywhere till I know that you’re OK,” he means it — it doesn’t prevent him copying her father’s computer files when her back is turned. Fallon is more upfront when she visits Claudia: “Hey, Crazy, remember me? … I’m here for intel on my father.” When Claudia assures her she has access to the relevant information, Fallon makes her a proposition: “You provide me with the location of those files and I will spring you from this joint in twenty-four hours.”

Claudia’s situation is oddly similar to that of Amanda Ewing, Jock’s first wife whom the Ewing brothers visited in ’85, also in a mental hospital, hoping to find the evidence that would prove who really owned Ewing Oil. But whereas Bobby had to pretend to be Amanda’s dead husband to get through to her, Claudia’s dead husband turns out not to be dead after all. Look! I can see him talking to Claudia in the final scene! Hi, Matthew!

EMPIRE has its own unstable female character, Anika. Like Claudia, she is pregnant and, like Pamela, she is first shown huddled on the floor of her apartment not wearing any makeup. While there’s no direct follow up to the shock ending of last week’s ep where she disguised herself as Laura’s blonde-haired cab driver, we get to see her trying on various psycho-bitch personas for size. Alone in her bedroom, we see her defacing magazine pictures of Hakeem and Laura together. Later, when she’s back to looking a million dollars, she gatecrashes a party of Hakeem’s and plays the conventional Soap Land bitch, calling Laura “some Nuyorican wannabe from the South Bronx” before informing Hakeem that “your Jenny from the Block jump-off lives in a hovel with seven brothers and sisters. You could do so much better, baby.” Later still, she shows up at Hakeem’s apartment and insists they are meant to be together: “Stop fighting it, Hakeem! It is so clear that you love me.” By now, he has completely lost patience with her. “You will never be a Lyon,” he tells her firmly. “You will never be one of us — EVER!” While part of me is kind of disappointed that they’ve turned someone as multi-faceted as Anika into a full-blown nut-job, a bigger part of me just really wants to see What Happens Next.

Ken Richards on DALLAS and Laz Delgado on EMPIRE are both hanging out with the wrong crowds. While Ken is being blackmailed over a past indiscretion that sounds remarkably similar to what's currently happening on DYNASTY (“that tech company dumping all those toxic chemicals into that river — you turned a blind eye and no-one was the wiser”) into keeping quiet about TESHA’s conspiracy against the Ewings, Laz is a reluctant part of a scam to rip off Lyon Dynasty. After Lucious exposes Laz, Cookie pulls a gun on him. Meanwhile, Sue Ellen fixes Ken with her angriest glare. Both men plead for understanding. “Sue Ellen, you must know that I’m not jerking your family around,” Ken insists. “Cookie, listen to me. When this started, it was just a gig. I had no idea I was gonna fall in love with you … I was trying to fix this,” pleads Laz. When he finishes speaking, Cookie hands the gun she’s been holding to Lucious and then leaves him to do whatever he’s gonna do to Laz. Back on DALLAS, Sue Ellen, lets Ken have it with both barrels (metaphorically speaking): “What you’re doing now — covering up what really happened on our rig — is wrong. It’s morally and ethically wrong, and you know it. Understand me, Ken — when the Ewings unite, nothing can stop us. So you’re either on our side or you’re among the casualties — after we have taken down everyone who has screwed us.”

Following her confrontation with Ken, Sue Ellen sees Emma flirting with an older man at a bar. “I think she was high,” she later tells Ann. Over on EMPIRE, Cookie and Candace see that their sister Carol is most definitely high when they finally track her down to a crack den in Philadelphia. The first thing Carol does when she sees them is puke all over Candace’s fancy shoes — which is exactly what a drunken Jeff Colby did to Sam’s diamanté-encrusted loafers on DYNASTY two weeks ago.

Following Alexis’s “You’re a Carrington, Jeff” bombshell last week, Jeff and Monica turn to their maternal grandmother for confirmation. After some reluctance, she admits that their mother, Millie, was indeed the result of her affair with Tom Carrington. By chance, the original ‘80s Millie, aka Dominique Devereaux, gets a shout out on this week’s EMPIRE when Cookie loses patience with Candace’s airs and graces: “Would you stop acting like Diahann Carroll, heffa? You ain't been living in the suburbs with that white man all your life!”

While Hakeem is shocked to learn that his mother’s lover was part of the gang who kidnapped him a few weeks ago, Blake takes one look at the young man Alexis introduces as their kidnapped son and rejects him as a fraud. “When Adam was taken from us,” he confides to son-in-law-to-be Sam, “the kidnappers cut off one of his fingers. I told the police but I wanted to save Alexis the horror.” Harris Ryland stops short of dismembering Drew Ramos but nonetheless has him knocked unconscious and dumped in the trunk of a car. He then drives Emma to a parking garage where he turns on the headlights of his SUV to reveal Drew, beaten and bloodied on the ground in front of them. “This is what happens when you go looking for trouble, honey,” he tells her.

Despite Blake’s rejection, Adam (or is it Hank?) insists on throwing Steven and Sam a bachelor party. This leads to some tiresome stereotyping as Sam first sulkily assumes the party will be too gay (“I’m not interested in a straight man’s idea of what gay men think is fun — we’ll end up covered in glitter and drag queens”) before complaining that it isn’t gay enough (“I wanted bad and bougie, not sad and douchey,” he says looking around the honky-tonk bar where the party is being held). At this point, I found myself siding with the anonymous homophobic loudmouth (a possible cousin of the anonymous racist drunk at JR’s memorial service) who snarls at Sam, “It ain’t Pride week and your rainbow is showing. You and the gays might wanna take off.” This turns into a crucial plot point as Adam/Hank, coming to Sam’s defence, gets into a brawl with the loudmouth, during which his prosthetic finger goes flying through the air. This is all the proof Blake needs that Hank is Adam after all.

A couple of weeks ago, it felt like everyone in Soap Land was calling each other junkyard dogs. Now the insult du jour is "whistle-blower". “I will go into your offices tomorrow and I will tell everybody that you are a whistle-blower and a liar!” Christopher threatens Ken Richards on DALLAS. “He’s a classic whistle-blower. He’s gotta go,” declares Blake, referring to Michael Culhane who has just taken a job at Carrington Atlantic. While Blake fires Michael, Ken is forced to resign from TESHA by Sam McConaughey, the crooked new Governor of Texas. As a parting gesture, Ken sends Sue Ellen evidence of a link between Shaughnessy and Harris Ryland. “The governor is in his pocket,” Bobby realises. “We’re in a stickier web than we realised,” Sue Ellen adds.

Everyone is on the move. With the fickleness of Angela Channing, Lucious has decided that Andre, the son he disowned at the start of the season, is his golden boy once again and so buys him and Rhonda a six-bedroom mansion in Long Island as a thank-you for giving him a grandchild: “Because of y’all, the Lyon legacy is gonna live on … My grandson is so fortunate and blessed having you as his father. I’m through testing you, Dre.” Meanwhile, John Ross takes advantage of his recent inheritance from Miss Ellie and moves back to Southfork as its half-owner: “The whole family under the same roof again, just like old times,” he remarks. “Not everyone wants to live under this roof their entire life,” counters Cristal, explaining to Alexis why she bought a condo as a wedding present for Steven and Sam, but it’s a lie — she bought it on the advice of a divorce lawyer who is secretly counselling her on how best to get away from Blake.

Like Ewing Enterprises and Carrington Atlantic, Empire is looking suddenly vulnerable. Lucious’s determination to acquire Slipstream (“I want us to be the dominant force in music streaming long before my grandson is potty-trained!”) means he needs to raise some capital. When Andre suggests leveraging some of the company’s other assets, Lucious initially vetoes the idea (“The moment you start selling off pieces of Empire, we’re no longer an empire”). But that’s before Lee Daniels, EMPIRE’s co-creator, makes a cameo appearance as himself directing Jamal’s Pepsi video (which is the equivalent of David Jacobs guesting on DALLAS to direct Sue Ellen’s movie about JR). “You represent the past; this kid [Jamal], he’s the future,” Daniels tells Lucious. This taps into Lucious’s fear of obsolescence and he immediately changes his mind. “Do it,” he instructs Andre, “sell everything, leverage whatever we have to, just get me Swiftstream … Sometimes in order to win the game you gotta be willing to sacrifice.” Meanwhile, the Ewings’ financiers are getting nervous. “If your fine doesn’t go away,” their banker tells them, “your debt-to-asset ratio will turn upside down. That’s a sinking ship we don’t wanna be on board.” Thankfully, the Ewings have the oil from Southfork to fall back on. “We’re sitting on a two billion barrel reserve. As long as we continue to pump oil, we can stay afloat,” states John Ross confidently. But then TESHA buys the land the Ewings have been using to slant drill onto Southfork. On ‘80s DALLAS, the implications of this would have to be spelt out to Sue Ellen, but now she’s the one doing the spelling out: “If we can’t pump oil, we can’t pay the fine or the bank.” “This is what they’ve been building towards, Cliff and Ryland,” Christopher realises. “They wanna see us lose everything!” Meanwhile, Blake chooses to fight Carrington Atlantic’s current crisis through the medium of public relations. That means reinforcing the idea that “CA is a family company with solid family values.” “‘Make Carrington Great Again’ — should we cap off our outfits with a red hat?” retorts Fallon. DYNASTY is big on the contemporary references this week. While Jeff and Monica’s grandmother remarks that “this whole #MeToo thing would have never flown in the ‘70s at Carrington Atlantic,” Fallon even brings herself to say the ’T’ word. “This family has more secrets than a Trump mistress,” she quips.

While the Ewings continue to unite against their common enemies, the Carringtons experience an unusually sweet moment of togetherness as an emotional Blake welcomes Adam to the family. It’s the last thing Fallon, who has secretly been plotting her father’s downfall throughout the ep, was expecting. “My dad has tear ducts after all,” she marvels to co-conspirator Michael. “If I go through with this, my relationship with him will never be the same, and my family is in an oddly great place right now and if I move on our plan, that all ends.” But go through with it she does. Calling a secret meeting of the Carrington Atlantic board, she uses the evidence she obtained from Claudia as proof that “my father is no longer fit to run this company … It’s time to vote Blake Carrington out and name me as your new CEO.” (Wait, I thought she already was CEO. Oh no, she's COO. Turns out there’s a difference between the two. I don’t think there were any COOs in ‘80s Soap Land.)

John Ross’s return to Southfork and Blake’s acceptance of Adam lead to two similarly reflective scenes. While John Ross enters JR’s bedroom to find Bobby looking a black and white photo of JR with John Ross as a little kid (a very convincing photoshop of Larry Hagman and baby Josh Henderson), Alexis enters the Carrington study to find Blake looking at a black and white photo of himself and Alexis with their newborn son Adam. “Last time you moved in here,” Bobby recalls, turning to his nephew, “I said some pretty harsh things to you. I said family meant nothing to you.” “And I said that it does, we’re just on two different sides of it,” John Ross replies solemnly. “You remember the day Adam was born?” Blake asks Alexis. “Every minute of it,” she replies. “We had everything — a beautiful son, a new family. I was in love with both my boys. When we lost Adam, it ruined our marriage, didn’t it?” “Mama gave you half of Southfork. Welcome home, John Ross,” says Bobby. The scene ends with a handshake and an unspoken agreement between the two men to start over. Alexis has something similar in mind for her and Blake. “I know we can’t go back in time, but maybe, maybe we could go forward?” she suggests. “Please stop,” he says gently. “Things are going well with Cristal again … and I want my marriage to work.” “Sweet, ignorant Blake,” she replies (echoing Sue Ellen’s similarly ironic “Poor, sweet Gary” from a few weeks ago). “Your precious wife Cristal is cheating on you. I saw it with my own eyes. She was with a man at a condo in Brookhaven and it’s time to face the fact that you married a whore with decent cheekbones.”

When confronted by Blake, Cristal admits she’s planning to leave him. “You’re not going anywhere,” he informs her. “I stood in front of the press and I told them that you were stepping down to focus on your family. Now how would I look if my wife suddenly filed for a divorce? … If they think I was lying about my wife, they’ll think I was lying about Clarke County … so you are staying in this marriage whether you want to or not.” When she protests, he lists the dirt he has on her: “grand theft, attempted murder and the whole identity fraud thing. Did you think you were the only one planning for this day?” A man blackmailing his wife into staying married to him — this has the same soap noir vibe as some of JR and Sue Ellen’s early scenes.

There are two unexpected Soap Land kisses this week. At the end of EMPIRE, Jamal kisses a girl (fictional pop star Skye Summers played by real-life pop star Alicia Keys) and quite likes it. This is slightly reminiscent of the first episode-ending smooch between ‘80s Steven and Claudia, only not quite as exciting. (Also, Steven and Claudia were doing the dishes rather than duetting on a song about racial empowerment.) The other surprise kiss recalls the moment Tommy Sutter planted a smacker on his sister Rebecca’s mouth in the antepenultimate episode of DALLAS’s first season. How our minds reeled in the brief moment before Tommy’s next line of dialogue explained everything: “Man, are you so deep in this lie that you still think we’re brother and sister?” Now, in the penultimate episode of DYNASTY’s first season, our minds reel again when Adam Carrington kisses his mother passionately — but again, the next line explains everything. “Sorry to spoil your little Oedipus complex,” Alexis tells him, “but pretending to be your mother is no aphrodisiac.” Yep, it seems that Hank is a lover/accomplice enlisted by Alexis (just as Tommy was by Pamela Rebecca) to help infiltrate a rich family and pull off an outrageous scam. Whereas Tommy had to sacrifice two years of his short life to the DALLAS scam, Hank has had to chop off one of his fingers for this one. “This damn thing itches,” he complains. “Quit being such a baby,” Alexis replies.

While Bobby lets Sue Ellen in on JR’s masterplan (“JR knew that Cliff and Harris would join forces and come after us. That’s why he wanted us to … take them down once and for all. Barnes Global financial history, Ryland’s trucking in Mexico, Christopher’s mother’s whereabouts — somehow it’s all connected”), Alexis drops some hints about her own “billion-dollar plan” to Hank/Adam: “Jeff Colby and his sister are the other shiny facets of our multi-pronged plan” — for Jeff and Monica, as Tom Carrington’s grandchildren, are entitled to a slice of Carrington Atlantic. ”Together, you’ll have close to controlling interest,” Alexis explains to Adam/Hank. “Blake’s not gonna hand over the reins to CA so I’m gonna have to take them before he drives that company into the ground.” Not if Fallon gets there first.

And this week’s Top 3 are …

1 (3) DYNASTY
2 (1) DALLAS
3 (2) EMPIRE
 
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08 Apr 13: DALLAS: A Call to Arms v. 02 Dec 15: EMPIRE: Et tu, Brute? v. 11 May 18: DYNASTY: Dead Scratch

Each of this week’s soap includes a game-changing board meeting, a dramatic entrance and a shock announcement — but not necessarily in that order.

The most dramatic of the dramatic entrances occurs on EMPIRE. After Lucious publicly announces that “Empire has acquired Swiftstream, the fastest and largest music streaming service in the universe”, he invites his “business partner-in-crime” Mimi Whiteman to join him onstage. She, in turn, pays tribute to someone who has been alluded to, but never before seen on screen: “I truly believe that I would not be alive today if it were not for this woman. She is my reason to live … my be-all and end-all, my lovely wife, Mrs Camilla Marks Whiteman!” As Camilla makes her way to the stage, Lucious’s smile vanishes as he realises this is the same Camilla who was sleeping with Hakeem in Season 1 before he (Lucious) banished her to England. Yes, Naomi Campbell is back! “Remember me, Lucious?” she asks sweetly before taking her place alongside Mimi.

The first boardroom meeting of the week is at Ewing Energies. The family are dismayed when their banker tells them he’s sold their loan. “You sold it to whom?” demands Christopher. Right on cue, in walks Cliff Barnes. “Love a good fire sale,” he quips. “Ewing Energies is in technical default of the loan so I don’t have any choice but to call in the loan in its entirety — now.”

The second and third board meetings are called by Empire’s Mimi and Carrington Atlantic’s Fallon who each voice their lack of confidence in the current CEO. “He seems to think he can get away with anything — extortion, violence, murder. Empire’s a public company, not his plaything anymore,” says Mimi of Lucious. “Firing an employee for being a so-called whistle-blower, mishandling the Clarke County crisis and then trying to cover it up by buying off the victims … Time’s up, Daddy,” Fallon tells Blake. Both women propose that a vote be taken and they be made the new CEO.

Then come the angry responses. “You son of a bitch!” Christopher Ewing snarls at his uncle. “This ain’t ever gonna fly, Barnes,” adds John Ross. “This is absurd,” protests Blake. “You’re listening to a child who’s been COO for a week!” As for Lucious, he is stunned into silence by a video Mimi secretly recorded of him saying, “To hell with the damn board! … I’ll be damned if I’m gonna ask the board of directors for permission to move my pieces on my chessboard!”

As Cliff tells the Ewings that “unless you can get your hands on $200,000,000 within the next twenty-four hours, I will own you,” Mimi suggests the Empire board “convene for an emergency vote tonight at 9.00 pm.” While the Lyons scramble to lobby board members before their deadline, the Ewings need to get Pamela onside before theirs. That means telling her the truth about Cliff. “She’s barely accepted the fact that her babies are gone,” John Ross protests. “If we tell her her father’s behind the explosion, she might break.” Nevertheless, he delivers the news to her personally, only for her to accuse him of “trying to manipulate me — like you always do, like we always do.” “I swear to you I’m telling the truth,” he insists. “You’ve never told the truth in your life!” she snaps back.

Unlike Lucious and the Ewings, Blake isn’t given the chance to mount a defence. The CA board vote him out there and then, replacing him with Fallon. But before she can savour her victory, it’s time for another dramatic entrance as Jeff and Monica Colby march into the CA boardroom and declare, “We’re Carringtons and we’re here for what’s ours!” As Tom Carrington’s grandchildren, Jeff explains, they intend to “liquidate the company, get our money and bury the Carrington name once and for all. Our lawyers’ll be in touch.”

Like Camilla on EMPIRE and Cliff on DALLAS, Liam Ridley returns to DYNASTY this week for the first time since he was exposed as Jack Lowden, clandestine biographer of the rich and dysfunctional. Actually, he and Cliff have only been gone for three episodes apiece but so much has happened it feels longer. Camilla, meanwhile, hasn’t been seen for the best part of a season. All three have some explaining to do. As Cliff apologises to his daughter for not visiting her in the hospital (“You can yell at me all you want,” he tells her. “I messed up … I’m your father and I love you”), one is reminded of the loveably sheepish, hand-flappy Cliff who would grovel to his sister whenever he screwed up on ‘80s DALLAS, only now it’s just an act to hide the cold calculating Cliff that lies beneath the surface.

Neither Camilla nor Liam are welcomed back with open arms by their former lovers. “You took my father’s money and you bounced,” Hakeem tells Camilla. “You just waltz back in here with your mediocre jokes and what, I’m expected to forgive you?” Fallon asks Liam. “I did not take Lucious’s dirty bribe … he’s a filthy liar,” Camilla protests. “I never wrote about you, Fallon. You would know that if you bothered to read my manuscript … the one I gave your mother,” Liam insists. Hakeem and Fallon then realise they have been deceived by their respective parents: Lucious lied to Hakeem about Camilla and Alexis deliberately withheld Liam’s manuscript from Fallon.

As Tom Carrington’s (albeit fake) grandson, Hank/Adam is also granted a share of Carrington Atlantic alongside Steven, Fallon, Jeff and Monica. Meanwhile, a subplot involving Cookie visiting her former cellmates in prison means that she is unable to make the emergency board meeting at Empire, and so she gives Hakeem her proxy to vote on her behalf. As a result, Hank and Hakeem’s votes are now pivotal to the future of their respective companies. Alexis and Cookie urge them both to side with their fathers (or fake father, in Hank’s case). “Lyon Dynasty is our company,” Cookie tells Hakeem, “but Empire is our legacy and anybody who tries to steal that from us is our enemy.” “We stand to make a helluva lot more money in the long run so I need you to vote against the sale,” explains Alexis to a slightly confused Hank, whose IQ has plummeted amusingly between episodes. However, other voices are also trying to influence Hank and Hakeem's decisions. “Hank, this deal would put billions, with a B, in each of our pockets,” Jeff tells his newly acquired fake cousin. “You’ve never known what it’s like to have money — I mean real money.” “I still believe in you,” Camilla assures her former toyboy. “You have to trust and believe me. I can take you to the next level, Hakeem, if you’re ready to go there.” As she speaks, her hand travels towards his crotch.

While the rest of the Empire board wait anxiously for Hakeem to say yay or nay, he flashes back over both his season-long feud with his father and his affair with Camilla. Returning to the present, he sees Camilla through the boardroom window, silently urging him to vote against Lucious. Cookie arrives just in time to grasp what’s happening. “Hakeem, no!” she shouts. But it’s too late — Hakeem votes against his family. His father and brothers are stunned. Cookie turns to Camilla and spits in her face. The announcement is made — “Lucious Lyon, the board has voted to remove you as chairman and CEO of Empire Enterprises” — but the surprises aren’t over yet. “Now that the vote has been cast, I have another announcement to make,” Mimi declares. “As the new chairman of this board, I am turning over my proxy to my wife … She’ll be in charge of the day-to-day while I’m … undergoing chemo and radiation.” Yes, Naomi Campbell is now in control of Empire!!

Back on DYNASTY, Hank chooses a quick profit over faux-family loyalty and votes to sell Carrington Atlantic. While Jeff doesn’t have a shock announcement to match Mimi’s, he does deliver a surprise apology: “Before today, all I inherited were lies that shaped almost every choice I made. I’m sorry I took that out on you, Fallon.” It’s a bit like the moment in ‘80s DALLAS when Cliff apologised to Miss Ellie for the Barnes/Ewing feud.

While Blake angrily hurls a glass in Hank’s direction (“Were all my children born traitors!?”), Lucious goes one better by shooting up his study with a rifle and calling his children “lousy ungrateful sons of bitches!” “I spent my whole life preserving our family’s empire. You’ve been CEO for less than twenty-four hours and you already lost it all,” Blake tells Fallon bitterly. “All those years selling CDs out the back of a car, selling keys, moving bodies, the enormity of damage I’ve done to my soul — for what??” Lucious asks Cookie while crying angry tears. “You sacrificed seventeen years — for what??

Back on DALLAS, a desperate John Ross makes one last attempt to convince Pamela of the truth about Cliff: “You ask your father one question — why the hell would he want a company with a billion-dollar fine and technology that is not only worthless but unsafe? … He knows Christopher’s technology isn’t to blame for the explosion and there’s only one way that he could know that — because he was behind it.” Sure enough, Cliff starts crowing to Pamela about the fortune they stand to make on Christopher’s technology. To make matters worse, he then reasons that “the babies would have tied you to the Ewings forever. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.” Pamela says nothing but is horrified.

This leads to a swoon-worthy climax at Southfork where John Ross is looking broodily out at the rain and sees a devastated Pamela standing there, soaking wet. “You were right,” she cries. “My father killed my babies.” This recalls one of the very best scenes in FALCON CREST, which also took place between two star-cross'd lovers in a rainstorm when a heavily pregnant Melissa showed up on Cole’s doorstep and collapsed in his arms. Before Pamela has a chance to do the same, John Ross sweeps her off her feet and carries her inside the house. After they’ve made love, she lies in his arms and vows revenge against her father: “I wanna hurt him as much as he’s hurt me.” Meanwhile, Cookie holds Lucious as he threatens to kill their youngest son. “I want him dead,” he sobs.

Just as last week’s DYNASTY ended with the surprise return of the previously dead Matthew Blaisdel, this week’s DALLAS concludes with the tantalising prospect of another resurrection as it emerges that somebody with Pam’s handwriting has an active bank account in Switzerland. “Christopher, your mother’s alive!” gasps Elena.

Minor theme of the week #1: Gay men and the women they sleep with. “She fixed you!” says Lucious joyfully when he correctly guesses that something intimate has occurred between Jamal and Alicia Keys. Alicia Keys, however, understands that Jamal is still gay: “I know you wouldn’t feel about a woman the way you felt about, um, tell me his name again?” “Michael,” he replies wistfully. “No, I wouldn’t.” Michael, of course, is also Sam on DYNASTY whom Steven is about to marry when Melissa Daniels, the senator’s wife he was obliged to sleep with earlier in the season for reasons that now escape me, informs him that she is carrying his child. “I don’t expect you to call all this off,” she assures him. “Let’s talk after.”

The last third of New DYNASTY’s Season 1 finale feels like a mashup of some of Soap Land’s Greatest Hits, with a fresh twist or two thrown in along the way. After Hank votes to sell Carrington Atlantic, he and Alexis get into an argument that plays like a funny version of Tommy Sutter and Pamela’s last fight on New DALLAS. (“I cut off my finger for you!” “Half a finger!”) That scene ended in violence and gunfire and so does this one, but not before Cristal walks in to find Hank planting a kiss on his fake mother’s lips. “I guess incest runs in the family,” she remarks. “Get out, Hank, your mommy and I need to talk.” Cristal then proceeds to list some of Alexis’s many wrongdoings in much the way Sue Ellen did JR’s in the Season 2 finale of ‘80s DALLAS. “You drove Gary away. And now Bobby. You tried to bribe Valene. You cheated your friends. You’ve done everything in your power to get what you wanted,” Sue Ellen said then. “You tried to drive a wedge between Steven and Sam. You did your best to destroy my marriage with Blake. You even pitted your own children against each other … You’ve done nothing but tear this family apart since the day you arrived,” Cristal says now. JR responded by questioning his wife’s sanity (“I honestly think you’ve lost your reason“) and Alexis does the same. “Honestly, I think you need to be medicated,” she tells Cristal. “The truth is, Alexis,” Cristal shoots back, “I’m a much better mother to your children than you ever were!” And then, underscored by Pat Benatar’s ‘We Belong’ (a song covered by Cathy Geary on KNOTS LANDING) and intercut with Steven and Sam’s wedding ceremony, it begins — a recreation of Alexis and Krystle’s original 1982 catfight, with all the slapping, screaming, smashing, yanking, pulling, tearing and “you crazy bitch”ing one could ask for. But in this case, there are no clear victors. Cristal may win the physical fight, but is obliged to concede that her days as a Carrington are at an end: “My marriage to Blake may be over, but at least I’ll have the satisfaction of telling him what a monster you are before I go.” Alexis, however, denies her even this victory by locking her in the loft before she has a chance to tell Blake anything. 



Minor theme of the week #2: Pregnant women who are violently unstable. On EMPIRE, Anika continues to keep her own condition a secret, but is barely able to contain her jealousy as Rhonda describes how excited Lucious is over her pregnancy: “I am telling you, he is just obsessed with this grandchild … He actually refers to him as ‘the heir’!” Back on DYNASTY, Matthew helps Claudia escape from the sanatarium. They then sneak into the Carrington Manor during the wedding preparations but soon get into an argument over Cristal: “Is that why you wanted to come here — so you could see her again?” asks Claudia angrily. “Oh my God! You sprung me from a loony bin so I could have your baby and you could raise it with her!” Over on EMPIRE, a shadowy intruder with an Anika-shaped hairstyle breaks into Andre and Rhonda’s swanky new mansion, creeps up behind Rhonda and pushes her down the swanky new staircase. It’s a genuinely shocking moment — a cross between Judith Ryland’s recent tumble and Cliff Barnes blowing up his grandkids. Back on DYNASTY, Claudia smashes her way into the loft where Alexis has imprisoned Cristal. She has a gun which she aims at Cristal. Matthew then appears and steps in front of it, but Claudia pulls the trigger anyway — at which point Matthew dissolves into thin air and we realise two things simultaneously: that he was a ghost/vision/hallucination all along, and that Cristal is standing there with a dirty great bullet hole in her stomach. At the same time, the rest of the Carringtons are having their wedding pictures taken in the room above while a mysterious someone sets the building on fire. As they try to escape, they realise they’re locked inside (it’s like a combination of both of ‘80s DYNASTY’s fiery season finales, but on a grander scale). Meanwhile, Cristal lies trapped in the loft, bleeding or suffocating or burning to death — or maybe all three.

And this week’s Top 3 are … very, very close ...

1 (3) EMPIRE
2 (2) DALLAS
3 (1) DYNASTY
 
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08 Apr 13: DALLAS: Love and Family v. 30 Mar 16: EMPIRE: Death Will Have His Day v. 12 Oct 18: DYNASTY: Twenty-Three Skidoo

I didn't realise at the time, but the previous episode of EMPIRE was the mid-season finale — no wonder it was so exciting. This is another action-packed week with the Season 2 premiere of DYNASTY, the mid-season premiere of EMPIRE and the third to last episode of Season 2 of DALLAS.

When we left Ewing Enterprises and Empire, both companies were about to be taken over, by Cliff Barnes and Naomi Campbell respectively. At the end of this week’s DALLAS, Bobby calmly hands Cliff “the keys to the kingdom” and walks away. In total contrast, Lucious refuses to budge from his office ( “I ain’t going nowhere!" he says, slamming a gun down on his desk), until Naomi Campbell gets the cops involved.

Whereas the '80s soaps all waited until their final seasons to kill off their blonde heroines, New DYNASTY has shot dead Cristal— not a blonde but definitely the most heroic character on the series — after just one. Rather than exploring any sorrow and/or guilt Blake might feel over the death of the wife whom he treated so badly, the show takes a light-hearted approach to his grief, treating it almost as a comedy mid-life crisis. There are rumours of "Mr Carrington's mental breakdown and drug-fuelled Parisian bender" and when he returns home after a month spent travelling, he is sporting a big, fake-looking beard.

“Fathers and daughters — kind of a push/pull dynamic, isn’t it?" says Cliff Barnes to Harris Ryland on DALLAS. "I mean, you’re trying to get yours back in the fold and I’m trying to atone for my sins.” Blake also muses on the parent/child relationship: “I guess it goes with the territory of being a father — kids don’t appreciate their parents until they become one themselves.” But as far as Pamela Barnes and Fallon Carrington are concerned, it's their fathers who don't appreciate them. “I didn’t do all this — Christopher, Ewing Energies, the babies — for an heirloom," Pamela tells Cliff when he presents her with a pair of "exquisite" earrings that belonged to her Aunt Katherine. "If there’s one thing losing my babies taught me is that life is far too precious to continue trying to earn your love and respect. If I don’t have it by now then I guess I’m never gonna have it, am I?" “You have no idea what I have been through the last month," Fallon tells Blake during a party to celebrate Carrington Atlantic’s hundredth anniversary. "While you were off God-knows-where in some sort of childish fugue state, I had to be the adult around here, holding this family together." Whereas Pamela wants into her father's company ("I wanna be a partner in Barnes Global … … Give me my due … my Aunt Katherine’s shares”), Fallon, unexpectedly. wants out of hers. Yes, that's right — Fallon, whom we've been repeatedly told has been obsessed with business since she was a child, has undergone an abrupt 180 degree transformation between seasons. "For the first time in my life, I am actually happy and in love," she tells her father, "and I want out of CA. It has always been your company, not mine, and if you care about me at all, you would do this one thing [stay on at CA to ease the transition after it has been sold] for me.”)

While Cliff gives Pamela what she wants, not realising she's out to destroy him for killing her babies, Blake is affronted by Fallon's ingratitude: “I have spent my life doing things for you, not that you would notice!” “You’ve never done anything that hasn’t helped Blake Carrington!” “… I am still your father!” “Then act like one!” This culminates in Blake delivering a petulant, self-pitying speech to his party guests where he reveals that, unlike Bobby Ewing or Lucious Lyon, he no longer has any interest in the family company. "I’m getting the hell out," he announces. "The next chapter in my life is gonna be about me — Blake Time … I intend to spend every dime I have before they put me in the ground because you can’t take it with you and God knows, my spoiled children don’t need any more. So happy anniversary, everyone. Bite me!” Even though I'm not overly invested in New DYNASTY, I still found listening to this speech genuinely deflating. If the patriarch of the show no longer gives a damn about its premise, and his supposedly driven daughter doesn't either, then why am I even watching it anymore? Well, there's always Alexis, I suppose.

When we first see Alexis this season, she is sitting up in a hospital bed wearing the same kind of turban the original Alexis wore following her end-of -season fiery cliff-hanger back in '83 (only the C21st turban is bigger, just as the C21st fire was). She exaggerates the seriousness of her condition in much the same way JR did after he was shot by Sue Ellen in '88, but whereas JR was hoping to gain his family's sympathy, Alexis simply needs somewhere to stay, having lost her home in the fire. However, her nurse is no more impressed by her malingering than JR's doctor was by his. “You made a full recovery from your smoke inhalation two weeks ago," she informs her. "I think you’ve milked the Carrington tab long enough.”

Each of this week's episodes features a character confessing to a serious crime. The tone of these neatly illustrates the differences between the three series. The most moving is on DALLAS where Drew admits to his sister what we already know — that he blew the Ewing rig. Elena is appalled, even as he tries to explain why he did it. "They said they would kill you, Ellie … There was no way out. THERE WAS NO WAY OUT!” “… You have to turn yourself in," she insists. "You are the only credible link linking Ryland to the sabotage … Just don’t be stupid and run from this.” But alas, he does run, leaving behind a written confession. He's determined to rectify the situation by bringing the real baddies to justice, but there's an underlying feeling that his fate has already been sealed. “He can’t run from this,” Christopher tells Elena. "Sometimes people are lost souls. Your brother just happens to be one of them." This scenario is a great example of the way New DALLAS manages to sync the emotions of its characters, the mechanisms of its plotting and the drama of its situation so perfectly. On this show, character and plot are indivisible.

While the residents of Southfork are glued to the Dallas News ("The manhunt continues for Drew Ramos, a thirty-one year old Hispanic man and prime suspect in the Ewing Energies explosion …”), Alexis watches Channel 52 from her hospital bed (“The nationwide manhunt continues for Hank Sullivan, person of interest in Cristal Carrington’s homicide. Investigators on the case question whether the suspect acted alone ...”). Everyone is wondering where Drew is when Elena receives a secret call from him. Likewise, Alexis receives a private call from Hank, who proceeds to make the second Soap Land confession of the week. Whereas viewers were already in on Drew's guilty secret, Hank's confession resolves the cliffhanging whodunnit from the end of last season -- Who started the fire in the coach house? “You idiot," Alexis hisses at him. "What in the hell happened that night?” “I didn’t kill her," Hank insists, referring to Cristal, before adding almost as an afterthought, "I just torched the place." His explanation for starting the fire is a lot lamer than Drew's for planting the bomb. "You said to take care of it, Alexis.” "No!" Alexis replies. "| said watch her [Cristal] and make sure she keeps quiet." While Elena urges Drew to hand himself over to the authorities, Alexis instructs Hank to do the opposite: "You’re gonna have to stay in hiding until this blows over. They cannot find out we were working together.” Whereas Drew is determined to track down Harris's right hand man and force a confession out of him instead of turning himself in, Hank threatens to "tell the police everything, how we met, what our plan was. I could even take a DNA test to prove I’m not your son.“ "I’m gonna need money,” Drew tells Elena. “I want my money,” Hank tells Alexis. While Elena reluctantly agrees to help her brother, leading to much subterfuge on her part (switching phones, lying to Christopher, arranging phoney alibis), Alexis points out to Hank that she is not in a position to pay him anything since "you burnt down my home with everything in it!" “You get my money or I’m going to the cops. You have 38 hours,” he tells her.“You mean 48.” “I mean two days, starting now.” I’m not crazy about a lot of New DYNASTY’s attempts at comedy (for example, I really hate the scene where Alexis's wheelchair reverses into the table on which a glass decanter containing Cristal's ashes have been placed, with inevitable results), but the Alexis/Hank dynamic is really funny.

While Drew's confession is emotional and Hank's is comedic, Lucious’s in the final scene of this week’s EMPIRE is incredibly dramatic. Just as we knew Drew's dark secret beforehand so we also know Lucious's. In fact, we've known it since the series' very first episode. “You have any idea where you’re standing?" he asks Hakeem while holding a gun in his hand. They are standing in a dark and secluded spot under a bridge, trains rumbling overhead. There's a river and Hakeem is positioned with his back to it. "That’s the spot where my very best friend lost his life," Lucious continues. "He actually introduced me to your mama. He damn near raised y’all when I was on the road. He risked his life for me on more than one occasion and I risked mine for him — except one night when I shot him in the face … It was your Uncle Bunky. You see, that’s how much the Empire means to me and if you think you’re gonna become the CEO of my company, I will stop at nothing to take it back. Since you’re my baby boy, I got something for you.” He hands Hakeem his gun. “Now’s the time for you to decide how far you’re willing to go to have the Empire. You wanna be King? Kill your father and sit on his throne. It’s life or death so if you don’t shoot me right here, I promise you the next time I see you, I will do my best to take your life.” Hakeem points the gun at his father. “I know it’s hard, but do it. It’s OK,” Lucious urges him gently. He even turns his back to make it easier for him. He feels Hakeem press the gun against the back of his neck. “That’s my boy … Now pull the damn trigger.” Of course, Hakeem can't go through with it and lowers the gun. “I ain’t gotta do what you want,” he tells his father.

Both DALLAS and EMPIRE end with one character walking away from another, the one left behind calling out to the other's retreating back. “Good God, I can only imagine the look on JR’s face round about now!” crows Cliff after Bobby has ceded control of Ewing Enterprises and is headed towards the elevator. The camera has Bobby in the foreground with Cliff standing behind him so Cliff doesn't see Bobby smiling cryptically as he murmurs, “Me too” under his breath. Back on EMPIRE, the camera stays with Lucious as he shouts at his retreating son: “Watch your back, baby boy! I keep my promises!” A father trying to goad his own son into shooting him? It sounds preposterous and maybe it is, and who knows how Lucious's vow to kill his son could possibly pay off, but the scene is played with such conviction, and shot so atmospherically, that it's impossible not to be swept along by it. This is quintessential EMPIRE.

In amongst all the mayhem at the end of last season's DYNASTY, Anders' daughter Kirby arrived unannounced from Australia. A rebellious twenty-something estranged from one parent while being raised by the other on a different continent, she's the DYNASTY equivalent of DALLAS's Emma Ryland. Fearing she'll be suspected of starting the coach house fire (apparently, she has a history of that sort of thing), Anders keeps her out of sight of the Carringtons by booking her into a hotel. Meanwhile, Harris Ryland plays mind games with Emma, manipulating her into her thinking what's happened to Drew is her fault. “All this pain and suffering could have been avoided if you’d just done what I asked you to do," he tells her, "but you turned your back on me, started slumming it down at Southfork, hanging with a convicted criminal … the end result being … chaos … This happened because of you.” To get her back under his control, he supplies her with more of the pills she is addicted to. Drugs appear to be something else she and Kirby has in common, as Anders discovers when he stops by his daughter's hotel room to find a gang full of stoned young things in various states of undress. Kirby accuses him of choosing the Carringtons over her: "You’re not protecting me from them, you’re protecting them from me ... My own father doesn’t trust me!” “You’ve never given me reason to," he snaps back. "The reason I sent you away is because I thought you would be better off in Australia with your mother ... I still think that’s the case.” Emma is likewise angry with her mother for the years they spent apart. “You did downers, tranqs, anti-depressants … when you were … the same age as me," she reminds her. "You were so screwed up, you took me to the state fair in my stroller and then walked away. You threw me back to my father, to my grandmother, to all of their controlling, suffocating psychodrama. You escaped. You did four years. I did twenty, Ann.”

Minor theme of the week: maternal tough love. High on the pills supplied by her father, Emma overturns her car on her way back to Southfork. The sheriff explains to Ann and Bobby that he has no choice but to arrest her, but they can then post bail and take her home. “No," Ann replies. "Let her spend the night in jail." When Emma protests, she explains sternly, "We’re not bailing you out until you recognise you have a problem and agree to rehab.” Meanwhile, Cookie lets rip at Hakeem for casting the deciding vote against Lucious at the Empire board meeting. “Boy, you gave our business away to that half-lesbian bitch. You just threw away our legacy!” she yells, before telling him to take back his vote. When he refuses, she whacks him with a broom. (“Take it back! Take it back! I will kill your ass!”) When the broom breaks, she carries on hitting him with her purse instead. It sounds funny, and it is, but at the same time, she is crying real tears. This is another example of EMPIRE's great strength as a soap. Even when the action teeters on the brink of New DYNASTY-style absurdity, the axtors' emotional conviction makes you believe that all this stuff, however nuts, really matters. And when they're given something really meaty to sink their teeth into, like Rhonda's miscarriage story, the series scale KNOTSian heights of emotional rawness.

Having been pushed down the stairs as part of the mid-season cliff-hanger, Rhonda lies on the floor, unable to move or call for help. Her face is full of cuts and her night-dress is soaked with blood. As Soap Land’s miscarriages go, we’re a long way from Pam Ewing perspiring prettily in soft focus after falling out of the hayloft in 'Barbecue'. Eventually, she manages to raises the alarm which leads to EMPIRE’s first trip to Soap Land Memorial Hospital. As is tradition, the family feuding continues in the hospital corridors. When a concerned Hakeem shows up, Cookie tells him to go: “Don’t nobody wanna see your ass right now. Get out of here!” But the way the whole family is shaken and upset is genuinely moving. Andre's fall to the floor when he hears the bad news is reminiscent of Lilimae collapsing when she heard that Val's babies were stillborn.It all feels very raw and real.

“Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise,” Cliff Barnes suggested to Pamela last week, referring to the babies he destroyed. “Maybe everything happens for a reason,” Anika suggests to Rhonda when she visits her in the hospital, referring to the baby she has destroyed. (Rhonda has no memory of being pushed and assumes she fell down the stairs by accident.) “Maybe this baby is exactly what I need … to pull me out of this dark place,” suggests Sam on DYNASTY after learning about Steven’s baby-to-be. Anika delivers a devilishly soapy double-entendre when Rhonda confides that she's worried about being able to get pregnant again. “There’ll be another heir,” Anika assures her. “You really think so?” she asks hopefully. “I do. I really do,” Anika replies confidently.

While Bobby alludes cryptically to JR's master-plan to bring down Cliff ("If JR were here with us right now, he’d just smile and say, 'Let Barnes have his day. Let that bastard ... think he’s won. Let him be the architect of his own disaster'"), Cookie is already hatching a plan to get rid of Naomi Campbell: “I’m a-take Camilla out from the inside. I just gotta get back into Empire.” She does this by persuading Hakeem, in his new position of CEO, to buy Lyon Dynasty and make it a subsidiary of Empire. Camilla's against the idea (“It’s the biggest mistake you could make,” she warns him), but he overrules her — he wants his family all together again at Empire (minus his father, of course). In retrospect, giving Cookie and Hakeem their own label separate from Empire feels like a slight dramatic misstep because it split the show's focus between the two companies so maybe the reason behind this whole take-over plot is to bring the Lyon family back under the same corporate roof. As far as it’s possible, you want your feuding family members all in the same building. (I also wonder if Anika, rather than Camilla, was the originally choice to be Mimi's secret wife who then takes over Empire. As Lucious's spurned mistress and former right-hand woman, she has both a stronger motive for revenge and greater expertise in the music business than Camilla, and had already proved herself willing, albeit reluctantly, to bed down with Mimi. Somewhere along the line, however, the programme makers must have decided it would be more fun to turn her into a pregnant lunatic and get Naomi Campbell back on the show.)

There are two marriage proposals this week. While one is dripping in ambiguity, the other is surprising in its lack of cyncism. The first arises after Bobby learns that Cliff has given Pamela one third of Barnes Global. He then tells John Ross that the Ewings need Pamela’s shares to fight Cliff, “but I’m also not sure if I should ask you to do something about that. Do you love Pamela?” he asks him. John Ross dodges the question: “This isn’t about love, is it, Uncle Bobby? This is about our family, our survival.” This leads to a fantastic scene between John Ross and Pamela that is as much a game of cat and mouse as it is a not-in-so-many-words marriage proposal. “They say opposites attract, right?" he asks. "Well, that ain’t the case with us. You and I play the same game — we scheme, we seduce, we betray and we’ve done all the above to each other a few times over … Who’s to say it ain’t gonna happen again? Hell, who’s to say it ain’t happening right now? … Who am I really talking to here? I saw how well you flipped the switch on your father earlier. Who’s to say you ain’t gonna flip it on me again, especially now you know about JR’s plan to take your father down?” “My father killed my babies," Pamela reminds him angrily. "How could you possibly think I could ever side with him again?” “It ain’t your father that I’m worried about you burning," he replies. "It’s me. What’s to stop you siding with yourself now you’ve got a major claim in a multi-billion dollar business?” “… I give you my word,” she insists. “Well, actions speak louder than words, darlin’.” “What do you want me to do?” We don't get to hear John Ross's reply, but the next time we see them, they're at an altar, exchanging marriage vows. “Are you doing this because you love me or because you hate your father?” he asks. Now it's Pamela's turn to dodge the question. “I do,” she replies enigmatically.

By comparison, the second proposal is somewhat vanilla. Fallon has spent the between-season hiatus deciding that she loves Michael rather than Liam. Now, during a late night walk along a riverside illuminated by pretty lights, a setting reminiscent of the scene in '80s DYNASTY where Cecil suggested to Fallon marry his nephew Jeff, Michael gets down on one knee and asks her if she will “finally do me the honour of being my wife?" She immediately accepts. But inevitably, there is a complication. For reasons too convoluted to explain, Fallon is obliged to continue with her fake marriage to Liam until the sale of Carrington Atlantic to his (enjoyably creepy) Uncle Max is finalised.

In response to recent events, Cookie and Lucious have gone from enemies to allies once again — they even spend the night in the same bed, albeit fully clothed — in a way that feels so natural, it isn’t even commented upon. Also in response to recent events, Blake and Alexis find themselves in the same bedroom in the penultimate scene of this week's DYNASTY, but in less mutually supportive circumstances. Under pressure from Hank to come up with his money, Alexis is trying to break into Blake's personal safe when he walks in and catches her. He calls her a thirsty whore and asks how she dare come into his wife's room. "Her room?" replies Alexis indignantly. "I'm the one who picked this wallpaper, that bed ..." A row ensues, anger turns to passion and you can guess the rest. Blake and Alexis ending up in bed together feels kind of inevitable, but now that Blake doesn’t care about anything anymore, I'm unsure how seriously we should take anything he does.

From Kit Wainwaring’s engagement to Lucy Ewing to ‘80s Steven Carrington marrying Sammy Jo and Claudia, we’ve grown accustomed to Soap Land's gay men going to bed with women — after all, if they don’t, they’re not gonna get many storylines. However, no-one’s addressed this soap trope from a political perspective — until this week's EMPIRE. Jamieson Hinthrop is an influential marketing executive (sort of a publicist, only with more power) whom Jamal has recruited to manage his "brand". Jamieson is keen to champion Jamal as an out gay pop star and so isn't impressed to hear about his recent fling with Alicia Keys: “If the press gets it, you’re gonna give fuel to every politician that says being gay is a choice. They’re gonna look at Jamal Lyon and say, ‘Hey, the gay icon can choose to sleep with women whenever he wants.” “… Whose business is that?” Jamal asks. “There are ten countries in the world where being gay will get you executed," Jamieson replies before listing them all, from Afghanistan to Yemen. “But good luck with the music,” he adds sarcastically.

While Alexis greets the news that her gay son is an expectant father with scepticism (“I’ll tell you what’s unbelievable — the fact that a premenopausal woman got knocked up by a gay man she slept with once”), Cookie is worried about that Jamal "messing around with girls" could jeopardise his chance of winning a prestigious ASA award. She's unimpressed by his assertions that “sexuality is fluid” and it "ain’t nobody’s business who I get down with.”' "Pick a damn team!" she snaps. "You one of them wishy-washy confused bisexuals now? ... Sounds like you all just wanna be freaky deaky!” This makes him laugh, which makes her laugh, and they have a nice moment, but then Cookie cuts to the chase: "Listen to me. You cannot piss people like Jamieson off if you wanna win an ASA award, OK? Awards are like politics, baby.” She then slaps his face, playfully but hard, and tells him to “get your gay back and get that ASA award. You need to become legendary!” Jamal's response is to write a song about having the freedom to love who you choose, which he performs on stage while dancing with both boys and girls. Jamieson in the audience, but from his inscrutable expression it's hard to say whether the song has resolved this particular storyline or complicated it even further.

There are a couple of tantalising throwbacks towards '80s DALLAS and DYNASTY towards the end of their C21st equivalents this week. First comes the thrillingly intriguing moment where Christopher is emailed an up-to-date photo of a woman at a bank in Zurich who may or not be the original Pam Ewing. “Is that her, Bobby?” asks Ann, anxiously. "It’s been twenty-four years since I’ve seen Pam and then it was after that car accident. She was so badly burned, covered with bandages. I can’t tell." Bobby replies, peering at the picture. (To be honest, the blurry image of a face obscured by a hat and dark glasses could belong to anybody.) Over on DYNASTY, a woman turns up at the Carrington Manor claiming to be the real Cristal Flores. Turns out there are several real Cristal Floreses, each claiming to have had their identities stolen by the now dead Mrs Blake Carrington and each demanding financial compensation. “Pay them what they want. Get them outta here,” says an indifferent Blake. The surrounding press coverage is followed avidly by yet another Cristal at her office desk. “You’re so obsessed with that family,” her colleague observes (which suggests the Carringtons have a public profile equivalent to the Kardashians — or, indeed, the Lyons). “I feel like I know them,” New New Cristal replies dreamily. “Maybe you should pretend to be the real Cristal Flores," the colleague jokes. "You already have half the name, Maybe you’ll meet Blake Carrington, fall in love and live happily ever after!” New New Cristal smiles enigmatically and the scene goes into slow motion as the camera pans down to the name tag on her shirt: Cristal Jennings! This reveal is deemed sufficiently significant that not only is it the final shot of the episode, but instead of the screen then going straight to black followed by the end credits as normal, the familiar "fountain effect" that traditionally heralds the opening credits appears instead, followed by the title of the show. Only then do we get the end credits. The implication seems to be that while this episode might be ending, the real story of New DYNASTY is only just beginning -- even though the name Jennings won't mean anything to New DYNASTY viewers, unless they're also devotees of the original series. Although New DYNASTY's first season was peppered with references to the original series, they were only noticeable if you were already aware of them. This is the first time the '80s version of the show has intruded into the actual storytelling of the new series. It feels incongruous and slightly surreal, a bit like Charlton Heston discovering the Statue of Liberty on the beach at the end of Planet of the Apes or Tom Baker appearing as the Curator in the 50th Anniversary episode of DOCTOR WHO.

And this week’s Top 3 are …

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

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08 Apr 13: DALLAS: Guilt by Association v. 06 Apr 16: EMPIRE: A Rose by Any Other Name v. 19 Oct 18: DYNASTY: Ship of Vipers

During last week’s DYNASTY, the episode after his wedding to Steven, Sam learnt that his new husband is also an expectant father. At the beginning of this week’s DALLAS, the episode after his wedding to Pamela, John Ross finds compelling evidence that his new wife’s father murdered his own. The newlyweds are returning from their Vegas elopement — aboard Cliff Barnes' private jet, no less — when a sneaky peak at the flight tracker reveals that the jet was in Nuevo, Laredo on the night of JR’s death. “It was Cliff all along!” John Ross realises. Understandably, this causes a little tension between the newlyweds. “I married you, I love you, and now I worry that every time you look at me, you’re connecting me to what my father did,” Pamela says. “You are not responsible for anything he did,” John Ross assures his bride.

While Cliff celebrates his acquisition of Ewing Energies (“the ultimate payback for what Jock did to Digger all those years ago!”) by moving into Bobby's office and throwing his old furniture out on the street, Hakeem marks his ascension to CEO of Empire ("the dawn of a new empire here at Empire!") by replacing the picture of his father's face on the company logo with one of his own. Brilliantly, this also becomes the series’ new logo in the opening credits.

Behind the scenes, however, Hakeem, in a dizzying about-turn, starts plotting with his family to get rid of Camilla and Mimi. The plan is to trick Camilla into saying something on tape that proves “the way [they] stole our company is illegal." While Rhonda uses her new job working for Camilla's fashion range to eavesdrop on her phone conversations with Mimi, Cookie concentrates on keeping Empire running smoothly despite Camilla’s interferences. Similarly on DALLAS, the Ewings tackle the problem of getting rid of Cliff from a variety of angles. While Christopher travels to Zurich to obtain his mother’s shares of Barnes Global, all the while insisting to Elena that he has no personal interest in finding Pam ("The woman ceased to be my mother the day she abandoned me,” he maintains), Sue Ellen uses a combination of threats, blackmail and betrayal to neutralise the governor’s attempts to prevent them pumping oil out of Southfork, Emma pretends to turn against her mother to regain her father's trust then searches his house for incriminating evidence to use against him and Cliff, and an on-the-lam Drew makes good on his promise to bring Harris's henchman to justice. “Roy Vickers has been arrested for possession of narcotics,” he tells Bobby over the phone. "You should be able to leverage the charges against him to get what you need on Ryland.” John Ross, having already done his part by marrying Pamela for her shares of Barnes Global, is impatient for the family to move against Cliff, but in a powerful scene, Bobby insists that they still need to adhere to JR’s masterplan, even though he can’t yet tell John Ross what that plan is: "You have to trust me on this, John Ross. I have given you the benefit of the doubt after everything you’ve done. It’s your turn now ... We need to make sure that when we finally do have control of Barnes Global, there’s enough proof in place to implicate Cliff in the murder of JR." To that end, he asks his nephew to persuade Pamela to plant evidence in Cliff’s safety deposit box that "will help us tie him to the murder.” “You want me to frame my father?” Pamela asks. “For something that he did," John Ross replies. "You and I, we both deserve justice.”

Back on EMPIRE, Hakeem ends up going down the good old-fashioned sex tape route. He secretly records him and Camilla "doing the nasty", along with Camilla saying that she hopes Mimi will hurry up and die of cancer so that they can inherit her fortune, and then sends it to Mimi in New York. Pretty soon, word reaches Empire that Mimi has started selling her stock in the company — stock which Andre immediately starts buying. "Boy, you did it. We're free!" a delighted Cookie tells Hakeem.

Having sided with the Ewings against her father, Emma also agrees to go to rehab. Her rebellious counterpart on DYNASTY, Kirby, likewise turns over a new leaf this week. Having already shacked up with Jeff Colby, she spies an opportunity to ingratiate herself with his sister as she prepares to open her new nightspot, Club Colby. Monica hits a snag when a rival club nearby books real-life hip hop group Migos (how very EMPIRE of them) to appear on the same night as her opening. "This is not coincidence, it's sabotage!" she declares angrily. Kirby comes up with a wacky sitcom-style solution — sneaking into the rival club, she lets loose some live rats in the kitchen (you can almost hear the canned sitcom laughter) before anonymously tipping off the health inspector who promptly shuts the place down (cue more canned laughter).

Indeed, this week's DYNASTY is less of a continuing drama than it is a succession of unfunny comedy capers. The main focus of the episode is Blake’s determination to spend all his money before he dies so there'll be nothing left for his children to inherit. Even if one wanted to buy into this premise, there's nothing at stake dramatically. As Blake himself points out, if he succeeds in his goal, Fallon and Steven will still be unimaginably rich thanks to the sale of Carrington Atlantic, so who cares? He starts to replace the vintage cars he lost in the fire, but there's a particularly rare one he needs to complete his collection and Jeff Colby’s after it too. To decide which of them gets it, they race each other with toy cars. Unless the race is intended as an advert for the toy race track, which admittedly is pretty cool, I'm at a loss to see how this storyline is meant to be entertaining or interesting. Are we meant to genuinely care which billionaire gets to take home the prize? God knows, ‘80s DYNASTY was oft accused of obsessing over its rich characters to the exclusion of all else, but it never had a storyline where the outcome hinged on how many classic cars someone might end up owning. In the event, Jeff wins the car and Blake has to wear a 'Jeff Colby owns me' T-shirt. (Cue hysterical canned laughter, whoops and applause.)

While there's nothing at stake on DYNASTY, there's everything's at stake on DALLAS as the mystery that's been hovering over Soap Land for the past twenty-six years — the fate of Pam Ewing — is finally resolved (sort of). Christopher traces Pam to a big house in Zurich. The scene where he keeps watch on the house from his car, hoping to spot the mother he'd given up for dead, mirrors the scene from DALLAS, 1980 where Pam likewise sat outside a mansion in Houston, hoping to see the mother she’d similarly believed was dead. Instead of Pam, Christopher meets Dr Gordon, who introduces himself as her surgeon and husband. He then recounts the scene from DALLAS '88 where Cliff met Pam after her accident. Because Margaret Michaels played Pam in that one scene but never appeared again in the role (instead, she played her own lookalike two years later), the scene always kind of felt like an experiment that had failed, one that DALLAS itself would just as soon pretend never happened. However, the gravitas with which Dr Gordon describes the conversation that took place between Cliff and Pam then (“He asked her to come back to Dallas, to be with him and Bobby and you. She said no. She said that that part of her life had ended”), as well as Christopher’s devastation upon hearing about it, not only legitimises the earlier scene, it imbues it with an emotional significance that it didn’t have at the time. In other words, a scene from 1988 has retroactively become more powerful in 2013 than it was in 1988. The past and present also collide intriguingly towards the end of DYNASTY (the only scene in this week's ep that could be remotely described as intriguing) when New New Cristal comes face to face with Blake and introduces herself as "a friend of your late wife." To prove it, she shows him a locket containing a photo of the two New Cristals together. "I think she wanted me to come here and help you — and I think you can help me too," she adds mysteriously.

In this week's "Parents Who Interfere After Their Gay Son Sleeps With a Woman" section, Jamal is furious to learn that it was his father who told Jamieson (the influential publicist fella) about his fling with Alicia Keys. I assumed Lucious had done so because he was proud of his son finally behaving in a heteronormative way, but his true motive was far soapier — he did it to wreck Jamal's chance of winning an ASA award for Best Song — a category in which Lucious himself has also been nominated. "He's never won an ASA before. He wants it more than anything, even if it means sabotaging my chances," Jamal realises angrily. "He's foul on a whole other level and I'm getting him back this time!" Meanwhile, Alexis goes full sitcom in her attempts to prove that Melissa's pregnancy is a scam. “When she looks at Steven, she sees dimples and dollar signs. I have doubts she's pregnant with anything other than carbs,” she tells Sam. Together, they break into Melissa’s house to look for evidence of her charade. While Sam helps himself to the cold meats he finds in her refrigerator, the kind pregnant women specifically aren't supposed to eat, Alexis finds a fake pregnancy bump in the bedroom (cue more canned laughter). Jamal and Alexis each elect to confront Lucious and Melissa publicly. While Jamal performs a powerfully angry song in which he savages his father's reputation and reveals to the world that "Lucious Lyon ain't even his real name", Alexis barges into Melissa's pregnancy meditation class (cue more canned laughter), rips open her dress in order expose her fake pregnancy bump (even more canned laughter and whooping), but instead finds her real very pregnant stomach (laughter, whooping, applause, closing theme tune).

To entrap Roy Vickers, Drew tricked him into pursuing him in his truck while he (Drew) was on his motorbike. It was only after the police stopped Roy for speeding and found the drugs in his possession that Drew removed his helmet to reveal ... someone else entirely. Drew himself watched the whole thing unfold from a safe distance. Fallon pulls a similar switcheroo when Liam's creepy Uncle Max tells her he'll only go ahead with the deal to buy Carrington Atlantic if she goes to bed with him. So she hires a look-slightly-alike prostitute to take her place.

"Son, you’re still gonna have to turn yourself in," Bobby tells Drew when he calls to tip him off about Roy's arrest. Conversely, Alexis tells Hank to "lay low. You be quiet about our deal, or the two of us are gonna end up in jail." Whereas Drew's final words to Bobby are very poignant (“Thank you for everything you have done for my family. Please tell Christopher I’m sorry”), Alexis and Hank’s exchange is the one genuinely funny scene on this week's DYNASTY. She shows him a painting, explaining that it's an original Rembrandt which she’s giving it to him as collateral against the money she owes him. Hank is confused: he has no idea what either a Rembrandt or collateral is. He looks blankly at the painting before asking, "Do you have any bigger ones?"

All three shows end in death. On DALLAS, as a slow-motion Christopher chases after a woman in a wide-brimmed hat, spins her around, sees that she is not played by Victoria Principal and cries out, "Where’s my mother?!”, John Ross and Pamela are standing in a bank vault looking through the contents of Cliff's safety deposit box. “Oh my God," Pamela exclaims, holding a document. "It’s Pam Ewing’s death certificate. Christopher’s mother is dead.” Fallon, meanwhile, receives a call from the hooker substitute who tells her Max Van Kirk has just expired from a Cecil Colby-style heart attack. But far weirder than either of these bombshells is what happens at the end of EMPIRE. At first, I wasn't sure if I'd skipped ahead by accident and was watching the final scene of next week's ep — or maybe even next year's ep.

The scene starts with Naomi Campbell in a swanky New York apartment wiping her fingerprints off the taps of a sunken bath. There's a body under the water — we can't see the face, but we’re led to believe it belongs to Mimi. (I guess it was too much to expect the Oscar-winning Marisa Tomei to return just to play a wet corpse.) Lucious appears from nowhere, having filmed whatever's just happened on his phone. "You know, nobody's gonna believe she killed herself," he tells Camilla. "They might have, if I hadn't watched you pour that stuff in her drink … Was that cyanide or arsenic?" Pulling out a gun, he threatens to show the police the recording of “Mimi's last few precious moments” unless Camilla commits suicide right there and then. It's not quite Cliff saying, "I love you; kill yourself" to Frank, or even Jill Bennett forcing Val to take an overdose at gunpoint, but it’s still pretty twisted. He proceeds to paint a grim picture of what Camilla can look forward to in prison: "You gotta be constantly aware that somebody's gonna try to rape you or murder you, or just the general unsanitary conditions of the place … It'll be a whole lot easier and a whole lot less mess if you just take a swig of whatever that was that you made Mimi drink." Camilla begs Lucious to shoot her instead, just as Lucious asked Hakeem to shoot him at the end of last week’s EMPIRE. "After all the pain you caused my family, I don't owe you any favours,” he replies. “You gonna have to off yourself. Go ahead.” Eventually, she drinks the poison. "Rot in hell,” she says by way of a farewell.

And this week’s Top 3 are …

1 (1) DALLAS
2 (2) EMPIRE
3 (3) DYNASTY
 
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James from London

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15 Apr 13: DALLAS: Legacies v. 13 Apr 16: EMPIRE: The Tameness of a Wolf v. 25 Oct 18: DYNASTY: The Butler Did It

Each of last week’s episodes ended with either a death or the news of a death — or, in the case of EMPIRE, both. “Out of death blooms new life,” claims New New Cristal on this week's DYNASTY. Out of Soap Land deaths, all one really hopes for are lots of juicy repercussions. Alas, the after-effects of Mimi and Camilla’s murder/suicide are somewhat minimal, barely lasting beyond this week’s opening scene where Hakeem, surrounded by giant photos of Naomi Campbell, makes a nice speech about how “she shouldn’t be remembered the way she died because she was way more than that”, which the rest of the Lyons listen to with varying degrees of cynicism. The best moment comes when Lucious, taking advantage of the fact that no-one knows of his role in Camilla’s suicide, congratulates Hakeem on orchestrating the whole thing: “If you hadn’t sent that sex-tape, we’d all still be under that backstabbing bitch’s thumb today. Thank God you killed her.” Over on DYNASTY, Max Van Kirk’s demise at the end of last week’s ep leads to a typically convoluted plot in which Michael Culhane finds himself blackmailed into working for Ada Stone, an impressively sinister criminal who collects two-thousand-year-old sarcophaguses, while Fallon is obliged to make nice to Liam’s formidable mother. I’m not sure if C21st Soap Land in general, and New DYNASTY in particular, really needs another flamboyant middle-aged woman who says bitchily outrageous things all the time, but we’ve got one anyway. (Speaking of flamboyant middle-aged women saying bitchily outrageous things, it’s a toss-up between EMPIRE’s Cookie and DYNASTY’s Alexis for the crudest pudenda-based insult of the week. While Cookie describes Camilla and Mimi as “a carpet-munching Romeo and Juliet”, Alexis calls Melissa Daniels “a low-level vaginal climber.”)

Like Judith Ryland on DALLAS, Liam’s mother Laura occupies the traditionally male role of a domineering parent openly contemptuous of her son. She goes so far as to refer to Liam as “my son, the eunuch.” While one could imagine Judith saying the same thing about Harris, she would do so in private rather than to someone she’s just met, the way Laura does to Fallon. Rather than push Mommy down the stairs the way Harris did, Liam silently endures her abuse. (“For some crazy reason, I still want her approval,” he admits, sounding like every Soap Land son ever, only with a switch of gender pronouns.) It does bring out Fallon’s protective side, which results in even more bitchy name-calling (“Listen up, you Joan Crawford psycho shrew,” she snarls at Laura), while also bringing her and Liam closer together. Despite all the silliness surrounding them, one can’t help rooting for Liam and Fallon as a couple. Interestingly, Laura’s camp husband George inherits Krystle’s “tennis is a bloodsport around here — people have been executed for missing a backhand” line from ‘80s DYNASTY. Speaking of which, the name of Kirby’s psychiatrist is none other than Dr Nick Toscanni.

Meanwhile on DALLAS, last week’s discovery of Pam Ewing’s death certificate is followed by Dr Gordon explaining to Christopher both the circumstances of her demise (pancreatic cancer) and the cover-up that followed it in a very moving and satisfying scene. By the time Pam exited the original DALLAS in ’87, Victoria Principal was long gone and all that was left was a mute figure wrapped entirely in bandages — less a recognisable character, more a clunky plot device. Twenty-six years later, the mummified creature who was wheeled off the show is finally humanised. “Your mother ran away from Dallas because she felt she was hideous, Christopher,” says Dr Gordon. “She didn’t want to scare her little boy. She came to me for help and I did what I could as a surgeon …” “She fought to get better so she could return home to you,” adds Corinna, aka the mystery woman in the hat, aka Pam’s nurse. “Her biggest regret was that she never made it back to Dallas.” They go on to reveal that after Pam died in ’89, Cliff “asked us to keep your mother’s death a secret so he could control her shares in his company. In exchange, he supported us all these years.” Theoretically, we should hate the Gordons for their role in this heinous deception, but they deliver their story with such sorrow and compassion that it doesn’t occur to us to do so.

While Christopher learns that Pam had her identity stolen after her death, New New Cristal tells Blake that she gave her identity to Dead Cristal when they first met (because she thought she was dying — she doesn’t go into much detail about that bit). Blake then attempts to reverse the situation by turning New New Cristal into Dead Cristal — dressing her up in her clothes, serving her her favourite foods, etc. New New Cristal is no more comfortable with this arrangement than Cathy Geary, Jeanne O’Brien and Lauren Daniels were when Gary, Bobby and Richard Channing tried to turn them into Ciji, Pam and Maggie respectively.

Just as DALLAS resists the temptation to turn the Gordons into one-dimensional villains, Roy Vickers, the henchman who physically detonated the bomb that killed Pamela’s babies, is also shown to be something more than just an evil baddy. Ironically, it is Pamela herself who taps into his human side when they meet in the visiting room of the Soap Land Penitentiary. “Do you have children, Mr Vickers?” she asks. He doesn’t reply. “Did you know that one of my babies was a boy and the other was a girl?” she persists. Upon hearing this, he gets up to leave, but she pleads with him to stay: “I need to know the truth. Did my father know that people were on that rig? … I need to know if he knew I was there … Just tell me it was unintentional and I’ll go.” Finally, Roy speaks. “Have other children. Forget your father. There was nothing unintentional about it.”

Roy’s subsequent murder — stabbed by a fellow inmate just seconds after hanging up the prison phone — recalls that of Frank Gathers in the opening episode of this season’s EMPIRE. Both deaths were executions ordered by powerful men — Cliff Barnes and Lucious Lyon. While Roy’s parting words on the phone (“You just take care of yourself and that little grandbaby of mine”) answer Pamela’s question about him having kids, we’re already familiar with Frank’s daughter Freda, whom Lucious has taken under his wing as his new rap protege. Needless to say, she is unaware of the role Lucious played in her father’s death (“They still ain’t caught who did it”), but judging by Cookie’s scared reaction at the end of this week’s ep when she realises the man Lucious killed to protect her and Freda’s father are the same person, it’s gonna be a major deal when she does.

“I did not kill JR! I did not kill JR!” shouts Cliff over and over in a stunning scene as he is dragged away by the Mexican police, the Ewings looking on in grim satisfaction. We don’t realise it at the time, but he is telling the truth. It was JR who killed JR — for he, like Pam, was dying of cancer. (Well, technically it was Bum who pulled the trigger at his request. This echoes similar requests made on EMPIRE in recent weeks: first Lucious ordering Hakeem to shoot him, then Camilla begging Lucious to do the same thing to her.)

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Bum tells John Ross tearfully in the Southfork graveyard. “Please believe that JR’s last act was an act of love for his family and for you.” The whole graveyard scene is brilliant. Save for a brief moment alone after JR’s funeral, we haven’t really seen Bobby grieve for his brother. Now, in front of John Ross, Bum and Christopher, he fights back tears as he reads aloud from the letter JR wrote to him just before he died. (“I can never make up for all the terrible hurtful things I did to you, Bobby, and I have no excuses either one of us would believe, but I hope in the quiet place in your heart where the truth lives that my jealousy, as powerful as it was, was nothing compared to my love for you. Goodbye, baby brother.”) Although Bobby never denied JR’s death the way Miss Ellie did Jock’s, this is his equivalent of her breakdown scene in the kitchen when she finally acknowledged the reality of his passing, only this scene feels even more real and moving. Aside from its emotional power, the reading of JR’s letter also moves the story forward — we finally discover that JR’s masterplan was to frame Cliff for his own death. Once again on DALLAS, the emotions of the characters and the mechanics of the plot are perfectly in sync.

As neatly as the graveyard scene appears to resolve the “Who killed JR?” mystery, one story thread is left dangling. Only the Ewing men (and Bum) know that Cliff is now behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. The Ewing women have been kept in the dark. Not even Cliff’s daughter is aware that she has helped frame him for a murder of which he is innocent.

Traditionally, such secrets, and the ever-present possibility of their discovery, have been an essential part of soap but I’m not sure if that necessarily applies in C21st Soap Land. For instance, when Lucious finally tells Cookie the whole story of the childhood trauma he’s been flashing back to throughout the season — how his mentally ill mother, after realising she’d tried to drown him in a bathtub, shot herself dead in front of him — her first instinct is not to keep his secret, but to encourage him to broadcast it to the world by re-enacting it in his new music video: “You gotta tell the truth. You gotta tell your whole story … You need to show what happened to your mother … and what she did to you.”

Scarcely a week goes by without some kind of party or grand event on EMPIRE and DYNASTY and this one is no exception. Cookie, celebrating her “first birthday in seventeen years that I get to breathe free air”, asks her family (including Lucious) to set aside their differences long enough to “give me a nice happy birthday dinner, no drama.” Sam, meanwhile, attempts to make up for questioning Steven’s commitment to fatherhood by throwing him and Melissa a “baby-tacular” baby shower, which Anders describes as “over-over-the-top, even by Carrington standards.” (There are baby giraffes, baby grand pianos and baby everything else.) Inevitably, neither party quite goes according to plan. While Cookie’s boys refuse to be in the same room as their father (“All I wanted was a happy birthday dinner with my family — can’t do that because you managed to piss off all my sons!” she complains), Anders suggests to Sam that extravagance might not be the best way to show his support: “Steven was never into excess. He just wanted people to be there for him.” Both of these situations lead to unexpectedly touching scenes. Cookie’s surprise when her sons show up after all (“Apparently, they love you more than they hate me,” Lucious concludes) is genuinely sweet. So is Steven’s when Sam gives him his main present at the shower: the plain wooden rocking horse he (Steven) grew up with. “It’s humble and solid,” Sam explains solemnly. “It gave you support and comfort when you needed it.”

So JR’s masterplan has been successfully executed: Cliff and Harris are behind bars and the Ewings have not only regained Ewing Energies but acquired control of Barnes Global. As Pamela moves onto Southfork as John Ross’s wife with Christopher’s blessing, the Barnes/Ewing feud is essentially over. This sense of familial harmony is matched by both the Lyons sitting down together for Cookie’s birthday and an unexpectedly touching conversation Steven has with Blake about impending fatherhood. “After we lost Adam, I was scared to have another child,” Blake remembers. “I didn’t know if I could ever love again. It wasn’t until the day that you were born that I realised how wrong I was. These things just come … Trust me.” In all three cases, this feeling of peace is shattered in the final moments of their respective episodes.

Elena Ramos receives a message from Cliff asking her to visit him in his jail cell in Mexico. There, he converts the Barnes/Ewing feud into a Ewing/Ramos one with a reminder that JR wasn’t always a benign presence looking down on his family from atop a fluffy white cloud (“Thank-you, Daddy, for watching over us — I love you,” murmurs John Ross at his graveside). Cliff informs Elena that JR tricked her father out of the land that rightfully belongs to the Ramos family: “JR got the parcel which belonged to your dad which was rich in oil and your dad got his, which was worthless. That destroyed your father’s life and JR went off and made millions.” (Suddenly, the sweet but unlikely story Carmen told at JR’s funeral about him inviting her family to live at Southfork after her husband’s death takes on a different complexion.) “JR did the same thing to my father as he did to yours,” Cliff tells Elena. “I can’t fight him from in here but you can. You can be my proxy for the third of Barnes Global that I still own. Make the Ewings pay for the sins against your family.” The prospect of Elena crossing over to the dark side to become Cliff’s new instrument of hate is irresistible.

Back at Ewing Energies, there’s a pleasing sense of end-of-season closure as Sue Ellen joins John Ross to gaze out of the same office window that he and JR did at the end of Season 1. “Now you be nice to that bride of yours. Treat her right,” she tells him. “What do you take me for, Mama — a scoundrel?” he smirks. As the sexy sound of ‘Come Unto Me’ by the Mavericks kicks in on the soundtrack, mother and son go their separate ways — Sue Ellen retires to her office with a bottle of JR Ewing bourbon while John Ross arrives at a hotel suite for a night of romance … with Emma Ryland!

On both EMPIRE and DYNASTY, it is a video played at a party that turns everything on its head. At her birthday gathering, Cookie insists the family watch a rough cut of Lucious’s new video. Seeing the actress playing Lucious’s mother put a gun to her head, Andre flashes back to the moment last season where he did the same thing. This leads to a confrontation so blistering it kind of bypasses soap opera altogether to become purely a rich family drama. Andre turns off the TV before the video has finished playing. “Was my grandmother bipolar?” he demands of Lucious who tries to avoid answering before finally conceding that, “back then, we didn’t have a name for it, but I guess you could say she was bipolar.” “You knew!” replies Andre incredulously and from the rest of the family’s reactions, it’s evident they are as shocked as he is. “This whole time, you knew. You made me feel like I was some freak you didn’t even recognise — my whole life!” “I don’t know how knowing my mother put a gun to her head … would have helped you,” Lucious argues. “It damn sure would have helped me,” snaps Andre. “No, it would have weakened you,” Lucious insists. “I wanted to make you strong, son.” “You’re a damn liar …” “OK, you wanna know the truth? The truth is you got mental issues. The truth is I sent you to all them damn schools thinking maybe that was gonna help you in some way. The truth is I let you marry Rhonda … thinking that maybe that would give you some sense of identity, but the real truth is my mother was a nut job. I was embarrassed by her the same way I’m embarrassed by you. Now does that help you with that truth?” Andre tells him to go to hell and storms out. Rhonda starts to follow, but he tells her to leave him alone. Then, just when we’re starting to think maybe EMPIRE isn’t a soap after all, we see Rhonda walking down the street away from the house. A car pulls up beside her and she gets in, smiling gratefully. “Thank you so much for driving all this way,” she says to the driver. It’s Anika! “I just can’t take it anymore,” Rhonda tells her. “I really just need a day or two to look out for myself.” Anika listens sympathetically then invites her to stay at her place “for as long as you need.” Rhonda eagerly agrees. “It’ll be nice to around someone sane for a change!” she jokes. It’s fascinating how one storyline can incorporate two opposing depictions of mental illness: one is powerfully moving and based on a real disorder; the other is exploitative yet thrilling and based on long-established “psycho bitch” stereotypes that serve to demonise both women and psychological issues.

Like Lucious, DYNASTY’s Kirby has unearthed a long-repressed childhood memory via some stylish flashbacks. When she was twelve years old, she overheard her father and Alexis argue about a night of passion they’d once had. Finding Kirby listening and worried she would blab to Blake, Alexis made it appear as if she were mentally unstable so that her father would ship her back to Australia. History repeats itself during the baby shower as Alexis and Anders argue again and Kirby is listening in once more, this time via a recording device secreted inside a cuddly toy. “You destroyed my daughter’s life and for what — to protect your reputation!” accuses her father before revealing a fresh titbit: “I once asked you about this and you said no — am I the father?” “Yes,” Alexis replies. This is almost really good — a tale of secrets and lies that could have unfolded over several episodes — but frustratingly, New DYNASTY once again chooses comedic spectacle over dramatic tension and so Kirby mischievously plays the video to the assembled party guests. When an embarrassed Alexis stops it halfway through, Kirby stands on a table and shouts that Alexis and Anders not only had an affair, but “a child … Fallon!” The twist, when it comes, is a good one. Anders admits that Kirby is telling truth about the affair, but for one small detail: “Fallon isn’t my child … Steven is.” Despite a sadly poignant look between Steven and Blake who have only just had their nice bonding scene, all the surrounding silliness kind of lets the air of the revelation and what could have been devastating and game-changing feels a bit inconsequential. “OK, wait, so my child wouldn’t be a Carrington heir?” Melissa pipes up, before adding casually, “You’re not the father, Steven. My gyno is.”

Bum may have shot JR, Roy Vickers may have detonated the bomb that killed Pamela’s babies, Dr Gordon and Corinna may have participated in a terrible lie for twenty-four years, but all are depicted in an interestingly human way. The same cannot be said for Melissa. When she first appeared on DYNASTY last season, she was an intriguing, Sue Ellen-ish trophy wife who provided Dead Cristal with a cynical yet pragmatic perspective on what to expect as the spouse of a rich and corrupt businessman. Now, however, she’s just another generic scheming bitch. A similar criticism could be levelled against Camilla on EMPIRE. When Lucious banished her to England last season, she was an aloof but still sympathetic character (who refused to take his money); when she returned a few episodes ago, she was a fully-fledged vengeful murdering loony (who had married Mimi for her money) — but it was all so outrageously exciting that it felt like a fair trade.

If the double whammy of returning home after finding out his mother has been secretly dead for twenty-four years to discover his ex-wife’s married his cousin is tough on Christopher Ewing, it pales into insignificance next to what his poor-little-rich-boy counterpart Steven Carrington goes through in the last few minutes of DYNASTY — within a matter of seconds, he is told that his father is not his father and his child is not his child. To the great credit of the actor playing Steven, his one-word response — a tearily incredulous “What?” — feels utterly believable in the utterly unbelievable circumstances.

And the winner is …

1 (1) DALLAS
2 (2) EMPIRE
3 (3) DYNASTY
 
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24 Feb 14: DALLAS: The Return v. 20 Apr 16: EMPIRE: Time Shall Unfold v. 02 Nov 18: DYNASTY: Snowflakes in Hell

New DALLAS’s third season opens with Bobby in the Southfork graveyard talking to his mama’s headstone (Eleanor Southworth Ewing Farlow 1915 - 2001). Similarly on EMPIRE, Lucious “introduces” Andre to his mother via her headstone (Leah Mary Walker 15 March 1947 - 11 January 1979). “So, I’m the caretaker now, huh, Mama?” Bobby says, looking around at the various family graves. “I’m the only one left. Well, I’ll try not to disappoint you.” “Hi, Grandma,” says Andre. “I’m your oldest grandson. I wish I could’ve met you. Medical science has made things more hopeful for people like us.” Lucious tells his son he’s proud of him. “Whenever you say that, you have an agenda,” Andre replies. “There’s a lot of things I’m trying to accomplish right now that I could use your help with,” Lucious admits. “What do you say, man — we good?” Andre doesn’t respond.

To fill us in on the events that led to Alexis and Anders’ one-night stand and Steven’s subsequent conception, New DYNASTY employs the old KNOTSian trick of cross-cutting between three different conversations (Blake and Sam, Anders and Steven, Alexis and Fallon). As it did in the original series, Adam’s abduction proves a useful device to explain the characters’ past actions. “I was the one watching Baby Adam when he was taken and in the sombre weeks that followed, I was drowning in the guilt of having failed my duties,” Anders confesses. “I was also drowning in scotch.” “It was a dark time,” adds Alexis. So far, so evocative. Alas, the characters’ actions in the present are less dramatically interesting. Instead of shooting Anders in the face or at least sacking him for his betrayal, Blake just gets all sulky and petulant. “Bo took a dump and I stepped in it. Make sure you clean all the little grooves,” he huffs, pressing his soiled shoe against Anders’ shirt. By the end of the ep, he and Anders are friends again and all is forgiven. “Names aren’t what make a family, people do,” Blake concludes. Steven, meanwhile, deals with his paternal bombshell by moving to Paraguay to build houses for the needy. Commendable perhaps, but it’s a bit like Ray Krebbs responding to the discovery that he’s Jock’s son by immediately leaving Texas to become a missionary.

Much to Steven’s bemusement, the rest of the Carringtons follow him to Paraguay where they attempt to show their solidarity by slumming it on a campsite. Much culture-clash comedy ensues. (Unsurprisingly, Alexis is not as amenable to sleeping in a tent as she was when she was Paige Matheson on an archaeological dig in Santa Tecla, even if her outfit — black vest, white pants — is the same as she wore then.) Shockingly, this means there is no Party of the Week on DYNASTY. Conversely on DALLAS, where there hasn’t been a party since the Ewing barbecue in Season 1 (unless you count JR’s memorial service almost a year ago), Sue Ellen has decided to celebrate John Ross and Pamela’s elopement by throwing them a big wedding at the ranch. This leads to a very old-fashioned scene on the Southfork patio where the Ewing ladies — Sue Ellen, Pamela and Ann — ooh and aah over engagement rings and bridal magazines. “I didn’t think I’d find happiness again,” says Pamela shyly, as if the clock has been reset and she is once again Rebecca Sutter, the wholesome bride-to-be we met when New DALLAS first began. Sue Ellen’s reply, “Happiness found you and that’s the best kind of happiness,” sounds like one of Miss Ellie’s pearls of wisdom from the 1980s.

If Pamela is Southfork’s new good girl, Emma Ryland is its naughty one. Wearing the same sly smile that Lucy used to when skipping school to make out with Ray in the barn, she makes a point of befriending Pamela — even offering to help with the wedding — while continuing to sleep with her husband right under her nose. “I can see why John Ross loves you so much. It’s good to know you’re both right across the hall.” Indeed they are — I cannot think of another instance where a Soap Land husband or wife conducted an affair with someone just two bedrooms away from their own. (While Emma plays the sexy minx, her trouble-making DYNASTY equivalent, Kirby, is more of a prankster — running up debts on Steven’s credit card and pinning the blame on Alexis, then calling her up to gloat about it.)

While it’s customary for snippets of dialogue from ‘80s DYNASTY to pop up in the reboot, the same thing rarely happens on DALLAS. This week, however, Pam and Bobby’s dialogue from when she woke up and found him in the shower is repeated by Sue Ellen and John Ross as she sees him coming out of Emma’s bedroom. “What’s the matter? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” John Ross asks his mama. “For a moment I thought I had,” she replies. While I’m hearing Bobby and Pam, Sue Ellen’s visualising JR, making the whole thing doubly spooky. When John Ross comes up with an excuse for being in Emma’s room, Sue Ellen acts like she believes it and changes the subject — which is pretty much how she used to react to JR’s infidelities when the original series began.

“It’s about time we started living like the rich folk that we are!” declares John Ross, having decided, as the new half-owner of Southfork, to remodel the house. If this were New DYNASTY (or maybe even EMPIRE), this would be the set-up for a comedy plot involving gaudy colour schemes and furniture dipped in gold, but while John Ross has fun teasing Bobby with the idea of “a three-storey atrium,” most of his ideas — a billiards room, an indoor pool — don’t seem that outrageous. They certainly don’t warrant Bobby’s accusation that he is trying to “turn Southfork into a monument to you and your father’s self-indulgence.” In a lovely deleted scene, Sue Ellen points out to Bobby what the audience has known for more than thirty years, but no-one has ever acknowledged on screen before: “This house was too small even when I lived here.” However, Bobby is as resistant to change as an old-time DALLAS fan. “This house and its history is what grounds us as a family,” he tells John Ross. “It’s our roots. It’s about time you learnt to respect the past, boy.” “The past is what holds us back, Uncle Bobby,” John Ross replies, sounding as dismissive of his heritage as Fallon Carrington does of hers as the sale of her family’s hundred-year-old company is finally completed. “Good-bye CA, hello new dynasty,” she quips breezily.

In the same deleted scene, Sue Ellen gently suggests to Bobby that “your gut response to John Ross is always to react to him as if he were JR, but he’s not.” “Miss Ellie was a smart woman,” Ann adds. “There’s a reason she gave John Ross half of Southfork.” “Yeah … guilt,” Bobby responds drily, but Sue Ellen disagrees. “Maybe it was balance,” she says. “Maybe she wanted you to be the father figure to John Ross because she knew it would never happen with JR. We’re getting older, Bobby. Maybe Miss Ellie understood that a young man’s point of view might help keep an older man’s point of view fresh.” She also has a word in John Ross’s ear: “As I counselled Bobby to be reasonable with you, I’m also counselling you to be reasonable with Bobby … Don’t underestimate your uncle. He’s a steel hand in a velvet glove.” Over on EMPIRE, Cookie also finds herself playing peacemaker to two men of different generations, but in a much more public context — the first annual meeting of the Empire shareholders since Hakeem took over as CEO. (This being EMPIRE, even a shareholders meeting takes place in a concert environment, complete with musical numbers.) During the meeting, Lucious does such a convincing job of discrediting Hakeem’s management skills that the crowd start chanting for his (Lucious’s) return. Cookie takes to the stage to cool things down. “What we have is two great men fighting over Empire,” she says. “They both love this company so much that they would kill for it!” At this point, she turns to Hakeem and Lucious. “So why don’t you come up here and show these shareholders that you will not fight with one another, but instead you will fight together to make this company great like … we all deserve? Empire was built on family!” Father and son reluctantly shake hands and the crowd love it. Over on DYNASTY, Fallon likewise views herself as the family arbitrator, having strong-armed the rest of the Carringtons into coming to Paraguay. “I’m the one trying to keep the peace among these jackals,” she complains self-righteously. Steven can’t believe his ears. “You’re the peacekeeper?” he asks indignantly. “You’re here for YOU, Fallon!” Eventually, she realises she’s being selfish for not letting her brother do his own thing, and that she has to let him go. They even sing a song together, Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well’ (which Carly Simon covered on her Torch album, the one that has the original Steven Carrington on the sleeve) and I must admit it’s quite sweet.

Back on EMPIRE, Rhonda is now staying at Anika’s place. Andre visits her there and admits he’s stopped going to church. “Why do I find that weirdly comforting?” she wonders. “I miss us,” he says. “We were a team, us against the world …” “We haven’t been that for a long time,” she replies. He asks her when she was happiest. “When we were excited about the future … and wanted to rule the world and take over Empire,” she says. They are interrupted by the sound of Anika throwing up in the bathroom. There’s only one reason someone throws up in Soap Land and Anika admits that, yes, she is pregnant and Hakeem’s the father.

EMPIRE’s Anika and DALLAS’s Elena are two very different characters but have a surprising amount in common. Both started as a quasi-member of their respective show’s main family, both have had relationships with two members of that family (John Ross and Christopher; Lucious and Hakeem), both have now been effectively ex-communicated from that family. “I know that a lot of terrible things happened to this family because of my brother and I am so sorry,” Elena tells the Ewings on DALLAS. “I’m sorry for the part that I played in that and for all the lies and the hurt that followed.” “I know that things haven’t been pleasant among us all and I fully recognise the role that I played in that,” Anika tells the Lyons on EMPIRE. “I am taking full responsibility for my actions. I’m sorry. I’m trying to make amends.”

Both apologies sound impressively sincere but aren’t the whole story. Earlier in the same ep, Elena visited Cliff in jail where she railed angrily against the Ewings (“They kicked me out of a company I helped start. They took away my oil leases. They accused me of helping my brother when they would have done the same to help their own!”) before agreeing to help bring them down. Meanwhile, Anika’s expression of regret omits the fact that she deliberately caused Rhonda’s miscarriage. She does, however, come clean about her own pregnancy. While Cookie is almost as sceptical as Alexis was about Melissa Daniels’ pregnancy on DYNASTY (“Are you that thirsty, you trick ass ho?”), Lucious asks Anika what she is after. “I want something very valuable, something almost priceless,” she replies. “I want my child to have a family.” Elena wants something too — a job at Ewing Energies, or Ewing Global as it has been renamed since the family acquired two-thirds of Cliff’s empire.

While Elena and Anika’s apology scenes are great, the scenes that follow — between Elena and Christopher, and Anika and Lucious — are even better. When Christopher tells Elena he wants to reconcile with her, she is caught off guard. “You said you never wanted to see me again. You threw me out of that hotel room,” she reminds him. He says he’s sorry and reaches out to touch her face. She backs away. Even though she still has feelings for him, she has started down a dark and soapy path of revenge and can’t turn back. “I think we’re both still broken,” she tells him gently. I think we need to take some time to fix what’s broken in us before we can know if this is right.” Christopher accepts this but asks her not to move away from Southfork: “You’ve lived here since you were nine years old. We’ve always been friends … Stay on the ranch. It’s your home too.” Lucious is similarly solicitous towards Anika when she finds him waiting in her apartment. “I want you to take your prenatal, get good rest, bring the baby to term,” he tells her — before dropping the other shoe. “Then when you have it, give it to Hakeem and I’m-a give you ten million dollars.” When she turns this offer down, he gets angry. “If you wanted a family, why did you betray me? … You slept with my baby boy, my son!” he yells. It’s been over a year since Lucious first saw Anika and Hakeem together, but this is the first time he has confronted her about it. “You cheated on me first. You slept with Cookie,” she reminds him. “You broke my heart. You made me behave like some kind of lunatic.” “… Take my offer. Please don’t make me get ugly,” he warns her. These last two lines are very interesting: Anika acknowledging her lunacy isn’t typical psycho bitch behaviour. Could this mean she has come to her senses? Meanwhile, Lucious’s threat (“Please don’t make me get ugly”) is a reminder that this is a man who shot his best friend in the face. But then the dynamic between them shifts again. “My baby, he is making me believe in myself again, Lucious,” Anika continues, “and if that is something you cannot understand then I will have to do what I need to do too — just like you.” He asks what she means. “When the FBI was coming for you, I never dimed on you,” she says. “What could you possibly know about me that would be of any interest to the FBI?” he scoffs. “Five years of being with you, Lucious, living under your roof, working for you — I know more than you think,” she replies, suddenly sounding more like Julie Grey than Katherine Wentworth. He advises her to be careful. “You know, a lot of women, they don’t survive childbirth.” Hmm, so which of them is the more dangerous — the baby killer or the murderer?

Bobby calls a board meeting to announce that he’s made a deal to sell Ewing Global’s consumer division (which originally belonged to Barnes Global) to finance some aquatic thing that, according to John Ross, is going to make the company “bigger than Exxon and BP combined!” Backs are slapped and champagne is called for, but then they are interrupted by one of those brilliant surprise-boardroom-entrances, which also doubles as the debut appearance of a character we know is important because we’ve already seen him in the opening credits. (Oh yes — DALLAS’s classic three-way split-screen title sequence is back!!) “My name is Nicolas Treviño and I’m here on behalf of Cliff Barnes,” the newcomer announces smoothly, oozing charisma. Reminding the Ewings that “Cliff still owns one-third of this company”, Nicolas invokes something called a supermajority clause which means that “no sector of Barnes Global will ever be sold. Cliff Barnes would rather destroy this company than see the Ewings profit from it.” “That’s insane!” gasps Bobby. (It’s also pretty much what JR said in 1980, "I'm gonna bring Bobby down if I have to destroy Ewing Oil to do it!”) Elena is present for Nicolas’s announcement and seems as shocked by it as everyone else is — but then we discover Nicolas is really Elena and Drew’s childhood friend Joaquin, a homeless child her family raised as one of their own in Mexico, who is now an unspeakably rich businessman. (Joaquin follows in the path of Ray Krebbs and Frank Ashkani, two other poor kids who were taken in off the streets and semi-adopted by Jock and Cliff.)

Just as Anika threatens to expose Lucious’s past crimes on EMPIRE, Nicolas warns the Ewings that Cliff is determined to prove that they framed him for JR’s murder. “If Cliff can prove anything against us, it’ll land us behind bars!” panics Christopher. “And if Pamela or Sue Ellen find out —“ “Christopher, there are no loose ends,” Bobby replies firmly. “Carlos Del Sol and Bum and I made sure.”

While Sue Ellen’s line about “this house [being] too small even when I lived here” finally acknowledges the unspoken paradox at the heart of DALLAS — that the incredibly rich Ewings choose to live on top of each other for no logical reason — EMPIRE and DYNASTY each have a different kind of self-aware moment. In response to the idea that Anika’s unborn baby will automatically replace Rhonda’s as the heir to the Empire fortune, Jamal remarks that “this family uses the term ‘heir’ like we’re in a Shakespearean play.” Sam, meanwhile, lowers the cultural bar to describe Alexis’s fling with Anders as “Downton Abbey After Dark.”

The question Lucious asked Andre at his mother’s graveside, “What do you say, man — we good?” remains unanswered until the shareholders meeting where it emerges that Empire’s new streaming service app has been sabotaged, thereby severely damaging Hakeem’s credibility. Rhonda turns to Andre and whispers, “Did you do what I think you did?” He smiles and replies, “That’s how we get back to us!” This is when we realise Andre and Rhonda have, for the sake of their marriage, calmly decided to turn bad again. An even bigger shock comes in the very last scene of the ep where it is revealed that Lucious’s dead mama ain’t so dead after all ...

And the Top 3 are …

1 (2) EMPIRE
2 (1) DALLAS
3 (3) DYNASTY
 
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03 Mar 14: DALLAS: Trust Me v. 27 Apr 16: EMPIRE: More Than Kin v. 09 Nov 18: DYNASTY: Queen of Cups

Female jealousy is a theme common to each of this week’s eps. On DALLAS, Pamela sees John Ross flirting with his pretty new secretary Candace and suspects him of sleeping with her. On DYNASTY, Fallon answers Culhane’s phone to a sexy-voiced woman who declines to leave her name and thinks the same thing. Pamela and Fallon are both wrong — unlike Sue Ellen who rightly suspects her son of having an affair with Emma Ryland and assigns Bum the task of confirming her suspicions.

Sue Ellen’s jealousy-by-proxy is intriguing. Might obsessing over her son’s infidelities be a way of keeping the memory of her own dysfunctional relationship with JR alive? “I spent forty years being cheated on. I’m pretty good at picking up the signals,” she tells Bum. “It took JR most of his life to realise the pain that he had caused me and if he were alive, he would have told John Ross that the path he’s on leads to nothing but heartache and misery.” Maybe she’s right — or maybe she’s romanticising JR even in death. It’s just as possible he would have encouraged John Ross to do whatever it takes to keep one step ahead of Harris Ryland, up to and including bedding his daughter. Her conversation with Bum concluded, Sue Ellen discreetly takes a flask from her purse and drinks from it. It’s a poignant, lonely moment.

While Pamela confronts John Ross about Candace (“You were all over her this morning”), Fallon asks Culhane about his mystery caller (“Is there something you need to tell me?”). Although both men are innocent of what they’re being accused of, each is still guilty of deception. “Hand to God, nothing’s going on with my secretary,” John Ross insists, neglecting to mention that something is going on with his step-cousin. And while Culhane isn’t cheating with the woman on the phone, he nonetheless pretends she’s his solicitor rather than evil boss lady Ada Stone from whom he is trying to extricate himself without Fallon's knowledge.

Over on EMPIRE, Cookie is not happy about the growing attraction between Lucious and sexy reporter Harper Scott and addresses it with her customary forthrightness. “Ooh, it smell fishy in here!” she declares when she finds them together in his office. Harper gives as good as she gets. “This woman has a tracker device on your sack or something,” she mutters to Lucious. She may have a point. In a later scene, Lucious and Harper are alone in his club, indulging in a little afternoon S&M (slapping, choking, all that fun stuff), when Cookie interrupts them yet again, this time by phone. Harper describes her as “the manipulative bitch that has Lucious Lyon wrapped around her little finger.” “You’d do really good not to say anything bad about her ever again,” snaps Lucious in reply, bringing their relationship to an abrupt end.

Back on DALLAS, Bum is caught in the middle: he already knows Sue Ellen’s hunch about John Ross and Emma is correct but doesn’t want to hurt her by telling her so. Nor does he inform John Ross about his mother’s concerns, for fear of jeopardising their relationship. (As he points out to Sue Ellen, “Things have been pretty good between you and John Ross since JR’s passing. Him finding out you put a tail on him — that’d end that real quick.”) Instead, he gives John Ross a warning: ”Your father was a great man. He did great things, but the way he ran around on your mother was a sin and he figured that out too late. Grow into your father’s greatness, not his weakness.”

Like Bum, Carmen the cook finds her loyalties divided. Thus far in the series, she hasn’t been given much to sink her teeth into — even when Drew disappeared, she mostly just sat in a corner and cried — but here she gives great angry as Elena asks her to keep quiet about the fact that “the wayward boy we took in by the name of Joaquin” and Cliff’s representative Nicolas Treviño are the same person. “If Cliff Barnes is involved, this is about destroying the Ewings and I will not be part of that!” she insists passionately. Despite her better judgement, however, she agrees to keep quiet and instead delivers a moral warning to Nicolas similar to the one Bum gave to John Ross: “Since we took you in from the street as a boy, I have seen the darkness and light fight for your soul … If, even for a moment, I sense that you are leading either of my children into the darkness, not even St Christopher will be able to save you.” Interestingly, there’s a religious element to both Bum and Carmen’s warnings — he describes JR’s infidelities as “a sin” while she invokes the name of a saint.

Two fun characters, Judith Ryland and Hank, aka Fake Adam, return to DALLAS and DYNASTY this week. “Let’s not shoot Mommy on her first day home,” suggests Judith when Harris, alarmed by an ominous thumping approaching his study, pulls out a gun, before realising that it is the sound of his mother’s new walking stick. Judith’s one-liners keep on coming. “I made my bones dealing with psychopaths and criminals while you were still playing with your Easy-Bake oven,” she snarls at her son. “Mama like!” she declares after snorting a couple of lines of the cocaine Harris has been smuggling for the Mendez Ochoa cartel. “Your grandfather had a saying,” she continues. “‘Money and morality are like two cars on a one-lane road. When they meet, morality’s gonna end up in the ditch’.” One can just hear JR attributing the same quotation to Jock. Ordinarily, I don’t go a bundle on fan-fiction, but a version of events where Judith and Jock once knew each other (and maybe even knew each other) is one I could get behind.

Hank’s most recent appearance was in a funny scene a few weeks ago where Alexis tried to give him a Rembrandt painting she’d stolen from Blake as collateral for the money she owes him, but he had no idea what she was talking about. This week, that one joke is stretched into a full subplot with, alas, diminishing returns. First, Fake Adam tries to sell the Rembrandt (which is also fake) to an art gallery, thereby alerting Blake (who still thinks he shot Dead Cristal) to his whereabouts. So then Alexis, fearing her prior involvement with Hank will be exposed, pretends it was she who tried to sell the painting instead. The explanation she offers Blake (“I was desperate. I have nothing … I’ve never been good at looking after myself, you know that … Really, it’s your fault that I had to go to such lengths!”) sounds remarkably like the kind of self-justifying excuse Alexis’s former mother, Anne Matheson, used to come up with whenever she was caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

Even as preparations for John Ross and Pamela’s wedding continue, the Ewings still find time to throw a traditional Southfork barbecue. “In the old days, these things would end up with a fistfight in the pool,” recalls Sue Ellen. Meanwhile, Fallon and Liam on DYNASTY and Lucious and Cookie on EMPIRE both decide that the best way to keep their respective shareholders onside is to throw a big party. I’m not sure I entirely follow the logic, but as the Van Kirks’ acquisition of Carrington Atlantic was predicated on Fallon and Liam’s marriage, they are now obliged to have “an amicable celebration of our separation," aka a divorce party, to demonstrate that everything is still cool between them. “It’s called conscious uncoupling and it’s all the rage,” Fallon sort of explains. Meanwhile, now that Empire’s board have removed Hakeem as CEO, there’s a good chance an outsider might be brought in to replace him unless the family present a united front. “We need to get that board to officially reinstall Lucious or I don’t know who the hell is gonna run my company,” frets Cookie. (Given that Lucious made such a big deal of taking a black-owned company public in the first place, it’s kind of ironic that it’s a largely white board of directors that he now has to appease.) “I’ll put something together really big,” Cookie decides. “Seeing all of us up there, we’ll remind that board what they get when the Lyons run the Empire.” Andre has an idea to make the event even more impressive: ”Tie in a fundraiser with the National Alliance for Bipolar Disorder and make me the spokesperson … It would really show the board family values.” While Cookie and Lucious are impressed that he is willing to go public about his condition to help his father regain his power, the fact that Andre is Officially Bad again means he has an ulterior motive. “If this gets [Lucious] reinstated as CEO, you know what that means?” he asks Rhonda. “With Jamal and Hakeem out of the running, that leaves you solidly in place for his number two,” she replies. “Mm, just a heartbeat away from the throne, baby!” he smiles. In other words, he’s willing to exploit his own mental health issues for his own ends, which puts a nice little twist on things.

Female jealousy resurfaces at both the Ewing barbecue and Fallon’s divorce party. Angry when she sees John Ross flirting again, this time with an attractive blonde extra, Pamela asks Nicolas to dance and it soon gets very sexy between them, much to John Ross's displeasure. Nicolas also manages to get under Christopher’s skin by asking Elena to show him some Dallas nightlife. “I know it’s not my place to tell you not to go out with him, but don’t go out with him,” Christopher tells her.

Elsewhere at the barbecue, Bum pretends to Sue Ellen that he has found no evidence of an affair between John Ross and Emma. “Is it possible that maybe you’re projecting the wrongs that JR did you onto your son?” he asks her. Culhane makes a similar suggestion to Fallon regarding her suspicions about him: “Maybe you’re projecting because this is your divorce party?” Unconvinced, Fallon gets drunk and kisses Liam passionately. New DYNASTY being New DYNASTY, this kiss doesn’t take place privately in the shadows, or even on a dance floor like Pamela and Nicolas’s bit of bump ’n’ grind, but on a stage in front of a room of people. Meanwhile, at the bipolar benefit on EMPIRE, the man who is meant to be on stage, Andre, goes missing after Harper the reporter, to get back at Lucious for dumping her, shows him pictures of “a group home outside Philadelphia … That woman’s name is Leah Walker. I believe she’s your grandmother.” To distract from Andre’s conspicuous absence, Cookie rashly announces to the assembled guests that, “For the first time ever, the Lyon family will be performing at this year’s ASA Awards … The first family of music — Hakeem, Jamal and Lucious Lyon — all on the same stage at the same damn time!” How she’s gonna accomplish this is anybody’s guess.

Michael, aka Sam on DYNASTY, pops up on EMPIRE again to cater Andre’s fundraiser. He and Jamal pay a nostalgic visit to the coffeehouse where they first met and where Jamal did one of his early gigs. Tired of the show-biz politics and family infighting that constantly surround him, Jamal takes the opportunity to reconnect to his roots by getting up on stage and delivering a scorching impromptu performance with the house band as Michael, aka Sam, watches admiringly. Meanwhile, Sam, aka Michael, has a musical moment of his own (sort of). Pining for his husband who is busy finding himself in Paraguay or something, he tunelessly hits a few random notes on Steven’s piano. “I don’t really play. Steven does,” he explains to New New Cristal. “You miss him,” she observes shrewdly. “More than I thought I would,” he admits.

In an act of whimsical indulgence, Sam then flies a psychic named Adriana over from Paris. Except for the Great Karlotti, Emma’s bigamist husband on FALCON CREST, previous Soap Land psychics have either been consulted as a last resort (such as when a character is seeking assurance that a missing-presumed-dead loved one is still alive) or portrayed as a one-scene harbinger of doom (the original Adriana whom Alexis consulted in Rome; Odessa the fortune teller whom Fallon encountered on honeymoon in Jamaica). New Adriana, however, is featured much more prominently and even drives the action forward as she predicts imminent plot twists for each of the Carringtons. (Cue much predictable eye-rolling and sarcasm from Fallon.) In Sam’s case, she actively instigates a new storyline as he interprets her cryptic references to “growth or new life” as a sign that he and Steven should have a child, and he immediately starts interviewing for a potential surrogate.

This inevitably leads to a “Terrible Interviewees Montage”, a TV trope that felt tired when KNOTS deployed it nearly thirty years earlier during Frank Williams’ speed-dating phase. In quick succession, the potential surrogates are shown to be too stupid, too greedy, too spaced-out or too slutty for the job. According to tvtropes.org, the “Terrible Interviewees Montage” often ends with “the interviewer calling it a day, only to find the perfect person for the role outside of an interview situation a scene or two later.” Such is the case here as Sam finds himself telling his strapped-for-cash half-sister-in-law Kirby about the situation and suddenly realising she’s the ideal woman for the job.

It seems pointless to keep complaining about New DYNASTY not being a traditional soap when it clearly doesn’t want to be, but then once again it redeems itself during the closing minutes of the ep. After much whimsical waffle about how New New Cristal losing her job is a sign that she and Blake are destined to be together (“It was fate,” he tells her, “because this is where you belong”), it is revealed that it wasn’t destiny, but Blake himself who was responsible — he deliberately bought the clinic where she worked so he could shut it down. Then we discover Hank is shacked up with Claudia Blaisdel and her newborn baby, Matthew. The highlight of the episode is Hank removing his false finger and putting it in Matthew’s mouth like a pacifier. And while Adriana’s end-of-episode prediction may not be quite effective as it was in 1981, it’s nonetheless intriguing. Apparently, “a powerful man … who may or may not be Blake” is going to ask Alexis to marry him. She will accept and they will wed, but then “he will expire — like death.”

EMPIRE doesn’t feel like much a soap either this week. There’s a lack of momentum and the characters seem to be going round in circles. (A few weeks after nearly killing each other, Lucious and Hakeem are reconciled once again while Jamal has resumed the role of family rebel.) That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of individually great moments. The scene where Hakeem’s brothers find him nursing a champagne hangover following a three-day strip-club bender is reminiscent of one of those effortlessly natural domestic scenes between the Mackenzies on KNOTS (although I don’t think Karen ever told Mack, "You smell like stripper ass”). Hakeem’s been drowning his sorrows because, not only has he been removed as CEO of Empire, but his fiancee’s dumped him because “I got this kid coming.” Andre, who recently lost his own kid, isn’t impressed by this tale of woe. “Yeah, you got it pretty rough, Hakeem,” he tells him sarcastically. “I guess I just had it easy … No, no, let’s just baby the baby boy, okay? You know, I mean, I lost my kid, right? But let’s just pamper Hakeem — again.” “Bro, that’s not what I’m trying to say,” Hakeem replies earnestly. “It’s just that right now, I just suck at every point of life.” “He really does —seriously,” agrees Jamal. And then they all crack up laughing.

After he sobers up, Hakeem tells Anika that he wants to do right by her and their baby, but she has other things on her mind. “Your father threatened my life the day the baby is born,” she tells him, adding that she is considering moving away for her own safety. “If Anika leaves, you won’t see me or the baby again,” Hakeem warns his parents. Cookie decides to take charge of the situation (“Let me handle Boo-Boo Kitty”) and as she knocks on the door of Anika’s apartment, we gird ourselves for a juicy confrontation. Instead, we’re as surprised as she is when the door opens and Anika is carried out on a stretcher by two ambulance men. It’s an arresting moment, but it turns out she is simply suffering from a panic attack. Elsewhere, Jamal’s stripped-down musical numbers are truly fantastic. So there’s plenty of good stuff going on, it’s just kind of hard to sense where all it’s headed and how — or even if — these individual moments are gonna pay off dramatically. But, hey, you know, at least it’s not predictable.

The episode ends with two of Empire’s board members approaching Lucious and Cookie at the fundraiser. “The board had been looking at an outside candidate for CEO,” one of them says, “but we’re now unanimous in our thinking that it should be —” He looks at Cookie, but before he can continue, Lucious interrupts. “Well, before you go any further,” he says with faux-modesty, “I just wanna say that without the help of Cookie Lyon, my number one, this would not have been possible.” “That’s just what we were getting to,” chips in the second board member. Aha, we think, we know where this is headed, but then she continues: “Considering the fact that the two of you co-founded Empire and now continue to work together so well, the board would like you to come on as co-CEOs … Control of Empire would be split down the middle between the two of you.” This sounds very similar to the way Jock’s will split control of Ewing Oil between JR and Bobby. Lucious and Cookie are both taken by surprise. For a second, it looks like Lucious is going to object, but then he declares it “a fantastic idea … I wouldn’t have it any other way!” Then, as he and Cookie embrace, we see his eyes go cold. “I got your back,” he says quietly, managing to make it sound reassuring and threatening at the same time, just as JR’s toast to Bobby after the reading of their daddy’s will (“To your good health and very long life”) did.

The closing moments of DALLAS also take us in an unexpected direction as it emerges that Harris Ryland, while still evil, maybe isn’t quite as evil as we previously thought. “He’s not working for a drug lord, he’s working for us,” a CIA agent informs Bobby and Ann. But if the drug lords find this out, Harris tells Ann, “they’ll kill both you and Emma.” Jeff Colby receives a similar warning when he tangles with Ada Stone on DYNASTY. “If I wanted to threaten you, I’d mention your sister getting hit by a delivery truck or your father going back to jail for drugs he didn’t know were in his possession,” she tells him ominously.

And the Top 3 are …

1 (2) DALLAS
2 (1) EMPIRE
3 (3) DYNASTY
 
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10 Mar 14: DALLAS: Playing Chicken v. 04 May 16: EMPIRE: The Lyon Who Cried Wolf v. 16 Nov 18: DYNASTY: That Witch

Soap Land’s two current love triangles are between Pamela, John Ross and Emma on New DALLAS and Culhane, Fallon and Liam on New DYNASTY. Emma and Liam are both pretty shameless in their respective pursuits of John Ross and Fallon. While Emma opens her robe to give John Ross a flash of her skimpy bikini right under his wife’s nose (Pamela may not notice but Sue Ellen certainly does), Liam issues Fallon with a challenge. “Try and go the whole weekend without thinking about me or that kiss,” he tells her, referring to their divorce party snog. “When you can’t stop replaying it, then you’ll know you should be with me and not Culhane.”

“See? I knew you couldn’t stop thinking about me!” he says when Fallon later encounters him in her subconscious during a godawful 'Wizard of Oz'-themed fantasy sequence. “I wasn’t thinking about you,” she insists. “You forced your way into this crazy dream.” Emma likewise forces her way into John Ross’s head, by the most devious of means. During a girly shopping trip, she encourages Pamela to buy herself some sexy underwear as a treat for her new hubby. A few hours later, Emma surprises John Ross in his office by unzipping her dress to reveal an emerald corset of her own. “What do you think — is green my colour?” she asks. He nods appreciatively and starts to peel it off her. “Keep it on,” she insists. “I want you to remember me wearing it.” The following night, he returns home to be greeted by Pamela wearing the exact same thing. As they kiss, he can’t help but flash back to Emma, like something from a weird erotic nightmare. He mumbles some excuse and heads for the door, leaving Pamela behind, semi-naked and humiliated, just as Sue Ellen was when her attempts to seduce JR with a sexy negligee in the original mini-series similarly backfired. The scenario also echoes what Sue Ellen told Mandy when she was the Valentine Girl: “JR likes trashy lingerie, but not on the women he cares about.”

Fallon’s 'Wizard of Oz' parody-dream-thing occurs after a milk jug flies through the air, cartoon-style, hitting her on the head and knocking her unconscious. There is a similarly minor, though less stupid, mishap on EMPIRE where Rhonda is accidentally pushed by a workman, triggering a flashback to the night of her miscarriage. “I was at the top of my stairs and felt hands on my back,” she recalls. Up until now, she had assumed her fall to have been accidental. “Are you saying that you think somebody pushed you?” asks Anika, full of concern. In a later scene, a glimpse of Anika’s distinctive red-soled shoes has a similar effect on Rhonda as the sight of Pamela’s emerald corset had on John Ross: she again flashes back to her fall, this time seeing someone wearing the very same shoes walking away as she lies helpless at the bottom of the stairs.

If one were so inclined, one could draw connections between both Emma’s emerald corset and Anika’s red shoes, and Fallon’s 'Wizard of Oz' dream (Emerald City; Dorothy’s ruby slippers), but why bother? DYNASTY’s 'Oz' parody is as uninspired and unoriginal as DALLAS’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ homage during the final episode of its original run, but whereas it took DALLAS thirteen seasons to reach its creative nadir, DYNASTY has got there in little over a year. And while 'Conundrum' was merely lame and boring, 'Fallon Goes to Oz' is horribly smug and self-satisfied. This is perfectly illustrated by Fallon (who to all intents and purposes is New Dynasty) coming face to face with another version of herself (who knows or cares why) and kissing herself passionately.

“My uncle is the past and I’m looking into the future,” insists John Ross as he and Bobby feud over his decision to frack for oil on Southfork. “I’m tired of singing songs from the past, this is new stuff,” says Jamal, arguing with his father over whose material they should perform at the ASA Awards.

Now that Cookie and Lucious are jointly running the Empire and Jamal in direct competition with his father for an ASA, there is plenty of familial infighting over who gets to sing what during the award ceremony. But despite the ASAs being “the biggest stage in the world” and Cookie urging the Lyon men to “put your big girl drawers on ‘cos we gonna come together and do this as a family,” it’s hard for us to care how many minutes of stage time the Lyons will be granted or whose song will be featured most prominently. I mean, the Oil Baron’s Ball was always fun on ‘80s DALLAS, but we were never expected to worry about who got to present the Oil Man of the Year Award, or even who won it. But then, just as the drama’s starting to feel too predictable and insignificant, into the rehearsal room walks Andre, accompanied by a surprise guest. “It’s OK, Grandma,” he says quietly before introducing her as “Leah Walker, Lucious’s mother.” While the rest of the family are simply bewildered, Lucious is in shock. “What — you got nothing to say?” Andre asks him. “You wanna tell them how you sent her away to a home for twenty-one years and never looked back?” As Lucious’s mama reaches out to touch her son’s face, he backs away, terrified. “You have no idea what you’ve done,” he says to Andre.

In due course, Lucious fills Cookie in on the missing pieces of the puzzle. “I didn’t lie about anything,” he tells her. “My mother did try and drown me. She did put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger … Just turns out there was no bullets in the gun … My mother died the day that they locked her up.” The next bit of back story is particularly interesting as it incorporates some real-life political history from Soap Land’s heyday, the 1980s. “Remember how, under Reagan, the government took all the mentally ill patients and dumped them out on the street?” Lucious asks. “Well, one day in front of 30th Street Station, I damn near tripped over her. You and me were on welfare with two and a half kids. We couldn’t have taken care of her if we wanted to … I needed her to stay dead … None of y’all understand how dangerous she really is.” There are echoes of previous Soap Land characters in Leah: Amanda Ewing (another mentally ill woman locked away and forgotten about), Rebecca Wentworth (another mother unwilling or incapable of raising her children) and even, in a lovely scene where Lucious finds his mother singing at the piano and gently harmonises along with her, Lilimae Clements (another songbird who never got the chance to truly realise her potential).

Trend of the week: soap tropes given a fresh spin. First, two women wearing identical outfits — it’s happened a few times in Soap Land over the years (Alexis and Krystle, April and Michelle, Anne Matheson and Paula Vertosick), but Emma’s naughty little scheme takes it to a different level. Then there’s furious anger erupting into unbridled passion — how many times have we seen that happen? But never between two men and never ever between two black men. “Dude, this the ASAs … If you wanna be on it, I wouldn’t be throwing some hissy fit,” the show’s super-cool musical director Major-D snarls at Jamal. The next thing you know, mouths are being kissed and bodies slammed against walls. While EMPIRE gives us a genuinely raunchy scene between two men, New DYNASTY gives us Sam camping it up as the Cowardly Lion in Fallon’s dream. “I’m loving the outfit you chose for me and I’m thrilled to help you with this triangle,” he gushes to Fallon (dressed as Dorothy), Culhane (the Tin Man) and Liam (the … oh, just kill me now).

EMPIRE cuts back and forth between Jamal and Major-D getting it on and Hakeem and Tiana recording a sultry little duet together. There’s some similarly sexy cross-cutting at the end of DALLAS. While Nicolas Treviño is making gorgeously photographed love to Elena in his apartment (“I never wanted a woman more than I want you”), Christopher is in Mexico meeting Nicolas's wife and kids. A married man having an affair is probably the soapiest trope of them all, but DALLAS somehow manages to make the revelation feel urgent enough to end the episode on.

Inspired by the piece of music his mother plays on the piano, Lucious comes up with an arrangement for the ASA Awards that the rest of the family agree on. Hakeem, urged by his father to rap from the heart (“You gotta be a hundred per cent honest [about] the way we really are with each other”), improvises a rhyme that sums up the whole Lyon family dynamic: “Blood is supposed to be thicker than water/Nowadays we can’t even stomach the thought of it/It’s like we can’t even get along/Who right and who in the wrong?/Too busy pointing fingers like it’s politics … Too much dysfunction … Ain’t nobody here to mediate it/And you would think we wasn’t even related/Why are we even throwing blows in the first place?/We fight at cookouts, picnics and birthdays … It’s time for Plan B/If Bloods and Crips can reconcile/Why can’t we?” Jamal chips in with some “ooh oohs” and “yeah yeahs”, the family wipe away tears and slap each other on the back, and suddenly everything’s all happiness and rainbows. It’s well done … but lets all the tension out of the drama. (Talking of unexpected displays of affection, Anders telling Sam, “I love you, mate,” on DYNASTY made my toes curl slightly — but that might be because I still associate Anders with his emotionally repressed ‘80s predecessor.)

When the Ewings got similarly loved-up towards the end of the Dream Season, it was the characters on the outskirts of the show — Angelica Nero, Mark Graison — to whom one looked to continue the drama and intrigue, and so it proves on EMPIRE. As well as Rhonda finally figuring out the truth about Anika, there’s also Harper Scott, the reporter who let the cat out of the bag about Lucious’s mother in the first place. We see her being driven by Thirsty, supposedly to Lucious’s house for an interview, before he abruptly pulls over in a side street. “What are you gonna do — kill me and leave me by the side of the road?” she asks him casually. “I resent that,” he replies. “I’m a gentleman. I wouldn’t touch a hair on your head.” Annoyed, she gets out of the car. Out of nowhere, two men grab her and carry her away screaming while Thirsty drives off. Such is the unpredictable nature of EMPIRE that this incident could be the start of a whole new storyline or might never be referred to again.

EMPIRE concludes with a truly strange scene where Lucious is woken by his mother in the early hours of the morning and finds she has been baking cakes throughout the night. Brandishing a knife, she insists that he sit down and eat. She switches back and forth between maternal and cruel ( “Do you love me?” she asks him tearfully. He nods. “Liar!” she replies before cutting him another slice of cake. “I’m sorry,” she says, “sorry I was too weak to kill you when I had the chance”), yet ultimately is old and powerless. She cannot be the EMPIRE equivalent of either Judith Ryland or Miss Ellie — she’s simply too ill — and so it feels kind of truthful that the scene doesn’t really go anywhere.

Needless to say, EMPIRE’s sensitive depiction of mental illness is not matched by DYNASTY's. This week’s episode opens with Anders referring to Claudia Blaisdel as “a lunatic woman with a gun” and ends with Alexis finding a baby on her doorstep with a note attached saying, “Please look after me … My mom is Claudia and she is crazy.”

And the Top 3 are …

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

James from London

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17 Mar 14: DALLAS: Lifting the Veil v. 11 May 16: EMPIRE: Rise by Sin v. 30 Nov 18: DYNASTY: A Temporary Infestation

While all of this week’s DALLAS occurs on the day of John Ross and Pamela’s wedding, EMPIRE begins on the day before the ASAs, aka “the 54th annual American Sound Awards,” and ends on the night of the ceremony itself.

Last week, I was finding hard to get too excited about the ASAs, but from this episode’s opening sequence, which shows Lucious drilling his musicians obsessively through the night (“Tomorrow’s the ASAs and this song has to be the highlight of the show. I want the whole world talking about it … There’s no room for error”), the stakes feel very high. Paradoxically, this is partly because it’s not the awards themselves that are dramatically important, but what lies beneath them. As Cookie points out to Lucious, “This ain’t about the ASAs. This is about you avoiding your mother … You’re working yourself so hard so you can avoid. You have to deal with this.” Over on DYNASTY, where Fallon has thrown herself into her latest whim, starting a record label, there is a watered-down version of the same scenario. “Fallon, what is this really about?” Monica asks. Whereas Lucious is reluctant to discuss what’s really going on with him (“Stay in your lane, Cookie,” he warns), Fallon cannot wait to rattle off her latest romantic dilemma: “I just need to keep my head in something other than my head. I love Culhane so much so that I told Liam that I couldn’t talk to him anymore. I just wish that meant I didn’t think about him either.”

When it comes to its use of language and depictions of sex, C21st Soap Land is, of course, far more explicit than it was in the ‘80s. In a genre driven by the sensational, the danger with everyone doing and saying increasingly outrageous things is that it will turn into shock for shock's sake: the audience become inured and it all becomes so much white noise. That’s the risk DALLAS takes this week when it goes further in its depiction of sexuality than it ever has before.

While John Ross is after a permit from the Texas Railroad Commission that will allow him to overrule Bobby and frack for oil on Southfork, Harris Ryland is after the files Emma stole from him at the end of last season on John Ross’s behalf (he’s particularly eager to retrieve the flash drive containing evidence of his involvement with the CIA). The two men strike a deal which necessitates John Ross visiting C21st Soap Land’s very first whorehouse (an establishment we later learn is run by Harris’s mother Judith), and it’s a lot more David Lynch than Lute Mae Sanders. Previously, the only gay characters to ever appear in the Ewing-verse were Kit Mainwaring and his erstwhile boyfriend Sam in 1979. Both were gentle, unassuming and essentially sexless. Now, sauntering across the screen, arms draped around each other, come a tall black man clad in short shorts and a see-through leopard print blouse and a shorter, whiter man in a business suit. But this is as nothing compared to what comes next. Joining Harris in a private room, John Ross watches on CCTV as Stanley Babcock, the all-important Texas Railroad Commissioner, plays sex games with a woman dressed as a dog. The two men share a macho laugh at Babcock's expense. “What kind of sick, twisted, messed-up dude is this?!” asks John Ross. “I think his dog got hit by a car when he was a kid so he comes here to get his Rosebud rocks off,” Harris sneers in reply. (Gee, imagine that — a man being driven by urges that stem from an unhappy childhood.) “And now that you know, I’m sure he’ll do whatever you need to make sure you can drill your ranch.”

One might argue that dressing a hooker in a dog suit is a gratuitous step too far — the kind of stunt New DYNASTY might pull in search of nonexistent laughs. Viewed from a different perspective, as grist for what Dallas Decoder’s critique of this episode describes as John Ross’s “ever-growing hubris," it’s something else. John Ross has already started emulating his late father in several ways: wearing his watch and buckle, addressing the women in his life as darlin’, cheating on his wife in the name of business. Given that this is C21st Soap Land, however, he is obliged to go further. Sure, JR screwed around, but not even he was so audacious as to service his wife and mistress under the same roof the way his son is. Sure, JR caught countless patsies in compromising sexual positions and blackmailed them over it, but these days, merely finding a politician in bed with a hooker is so 1980s, so instead, John Ross must catch Babcock with a hooker dressed as a dog. And if John Ross is determined to be a more extreme version of his daddy, his enemies must, in turn, come up with more extreme ways of cutting him back down to size.

To this end, Harris gives John Ross a little pre-wedding present: he turns a couple of hookers, Sapphire and Chastity, loose on him. (John Ross suddenly finding himself in the middle of a threesome: foreshadow alert.) He manages to fend them off and escape to his wedding, but not before a couple of compromising-looking photographs have been taken.

In 1983, it was enough for Holly Harwood to leave a lipstick stain on JR’s collar to sow suspicions of an affair in Sue Ellen’s mind. In 2014, Harris has devised a way of upping that ante, as he explains to his mommy madam. “Remember Monica Lewinsky and how she kept her dress from her special time with the President and how on that dress there was evidence implicating him in foul play? Well, the girl wearing that dress in that photograph is only sixteen.” “That’s a very exciting plan, Harris,” Judith purrs, “but … it’s still lacking a key substance and for the life of me I can’t imagine how you intend on getting it.” Enter Harris’s secret weapon: John Ross’s secretary. “Candace here has been working double duty,” Harris explains, “and that dress is gonna fit her just fine.” While JR managed to sleep with every one of his secretaries in the original series sooner or later (Julie, Louella, Kristin and Sly), Harris has helpfully accelerated that process for John Ross by supplying him a secretary who’s already a prostitute. Add to this a mistress who gets inside his head by wearing the same lingerie as his wife and it’s as though the world of New DALLAS has conspired to present John Ross with a distorted hall of mirrors, David Lynch-meets-Alice in Wonderland version of his father’s sex life and is saying to him, “You really wanna be your daddy? OK — but be careful what you wished for.” Bum sums it all up perfectly when he issues him the following warning: “You’re flying mighty close to the sun in all this, John Ross.”

Harris’ political reminiscence, “Remember Monica Lewinsky and how she kept her dress from her special time with the President?” echoes Lucious’s from last week: “Remember how, under Reagan, the government took all the mentally ill patients and dumped them out on the street?”

Whereas Alexis and New New Cristal are involved in a relentless game of oneupmanship on this week’s DYNASTY that involves dead plants and ghosts and sprinkler systems and the Baby Jesus and so much double and triple-crossing that I probably couldn’t have kept track of it if I’d been interested enough to try, bitchiness between female characters is pretty rare on New DALLAS (just as it was in the original series). This makes Afton and Sue Ellen’s exchange on the day of their children’s wedding all the more enjoyable. John Ross has been delayed at the whorehouse and Afton is not pleased. “After all the despicable things JR did to you through the years,” she remarks to Sue Ellen, “I would think you’d have taught your son better than this.” “Just so you know, Afton,” Sue Ellen replies, “the most despicable thing JR ever did was you.” “How dare you? How DARE you?” Afton exclaims. There’s also a deleted scene where Sue Ellen tells Emma, somewhat clunkily, how much she reminds her of her sister Kristin: “She loved fooling around with married men — lying, scheming, drugs too. Didn’t care about anybody else other than herself. She ended up face down in the pool. Tramps don’t last too long around this house.”

The best scenes in this week’s DALLAS and EMPIRE both involve a son arguing with a disapproving parent about his sex life. The one on DALLAS is classic soap opera: it slots into the same “home truths delivered on the morning of a wedding” category as Blake confronting Steven about his sexuality before tying the knot with Krystle in the opening episode of ‘80s DYNASTY, and then confronting Adam over his relationship with Claudia prior to the royal wedding in Moldavia five years later. Like Blake, Sue Ellen is concerned about her son’s choice of sexual partner. “I know you’re sleeping with Emma,” she says as he straightens his tie in his bedroom mirror. “All this time I was hoping that you wouldn’t make the same mistakes that your father did. Apparently, the blood of JR runs too pure in your veins.” Flushed with his victory at the whorehouse, John Ross smoothly deflects the accusation. “I don’t know what you think is going on, but I guarantee you do not understand what I am doing — or why,” he tells his mother. “I understand the pain you are causing Pamela,” she argues. “She doesn’t know anything about this and she doesn’t need to. This is just business,” he insists. “Just like your daddy, finding a way to explain infidelity,” Sue Ellen replies, her voice cracking, her eyes filling up. “I will not stand by and watch you destroy Pamela like JR destroyed me!” John Ross takes a step closer to her. “Is that alcohol I smell on your breath?” he asks her coolly. “Perhaps your drinking is making you forget your loyalties, Mama.” “If you don’t stop doing what you’re doing, I’m gonna tell Pamela myself,” she replies. John Ross responds with one last zinger before exiting the scene: “You have looked the other way your whole life, Mama. One more time’s not going to hurt.” It’s the old JR/Sue Ellen dynamic — she accuses him of having an affair, he justifies it in the name of business, she makes a threat, he taunts her about her drinking and then annihilates her with a final one-liner — repurposed for mother and son, and with that extra New DALLAS ingredient: a deeper emotional resonance. Sue Ellen has lived through all this before and is now powerless to do anything but watch history repeat itself while knowing that she is at least partially responsible for the way John Ross has turned out. Dallas Decoder’s critique makes the great observation that this ep "serves as a kind of companion piece to the funeral episode. The first one shows Sue Ellen grieving the loss of JR; in the second, she mourns his ‘return’ through the sinful nature of their son.”


While this mother/son scene is familiar in all the best ways, the equivalent father/son confrontation on EMPIRE continually subverts our expectations. It takes place in the control booth of one of Empire’s recording studios and actually begins as an intimate chat between Jamal and his new lover, Major-D. Still in the closet, Major is assuring Jamal that, even though he’ll be arriving at the ASAs with a supermodel called Chanel on his arm, it’s all for show. “Don’t let that mean anything to you,” he says, pulling Jamal close to him so their foreheads are touching, “it’s just one night.” At the sound of a door opening, his demeanour instantly changes and he pushes Jamal away. “Get off me man!” he yells as Lucious appears. “Bro, don’t you ever come at me like that again!” he continues before storming out. There’s a tense pause as father and son look at each other warily, and we assume that an argument is about to erupt over whether or not Lucious believes Jamal to be a predator. But then Lucious laughs. “I see D-Major’s still on the DL,” he says. “You knew?” Jamal asks in surprise. “A real dog can always tell a fake bitch,” he replies. “I’ve been in this business so long, you don’t think I know a little about everybody in this industry? Even though D-Major’s a talented producer, his secret life is not so secretive and everybody knows how he likes to turn rich boys into his little bitch.” This rankles Jamal. “How do you know I didn’t make him my little bitch?” he asks. “He came onto me, I didn’t come onto him.” “Exactly — I bet you he’s on top,” replies Lucious. “You’re disgusting, Dad,” Jamal mutters. “No, what’s disgusting is what you’re doing in my studio,” counters Lucious, suddenly angry. “Anybody could have walked in here and saw you. I taught you better than that. You don’t crap where you eat … You think I enjoy watching my son become some closet phoney’s little bitch?” His voice is trembling and he sounds like he’s on the verge of tears. “Look man,” he continues, “I’ve tried to be sensitive to your way of life … I’ve tried to tolerate something that is intolerable to my nature. I’ve tried to understand and be respectful of your choices but you don’t respect me — you just keep throwing this unnatural way of life into my face. I’ve tried to talk to you as a man, but all you do is turn into some little girl, mad about something I did to you twenty years ago.” “Twenty years ago?” Jamal replies mockingly. “You’re crying like a little bitch about your mother throwing you in some water forty years ago. What does that say about you? Can’t even look the woman in the eyes without crying. I’m not crying. Always telling me, ‘Jamal, don’t be a sissy bitch, put it in the music.’ Well, don’t be a sissy bitch, put it in the mu —“ Lucious suddenly grabs him by the throat with one hand and raises his other like he’s about to punch him. He’s properly crying as he says, “You ain’t nothing to me but a disappointment and the day you die from AIDS, I’m gonna celebrate.” Again, one is reminded of Blake and Steven’s pre-wedding scene back in DYNASTY ’81, specifically Blake’s comparably homophobic line about endowing “the Steven Carrington Institute for the Treatment and Study of Faggotry.” But whereas Blake’s delivery of that line was laced with withering, icy contempt, Lucious’s is full of emotion and passion. His words come at a cost and that’s why, even though the AIDS reference is dated, they still have an impact.

Compared with the nuptials at Southfork and the ASAs on EMPIRE, DYNASTY’s party of the week — a music showcase for Fallon's new label — is pretty inconsequential, but all three gatherings attract unwanted guests: Nicolas Trevino (“Elena, you don’t even know this guy,” objects Christopher. “Did you know he’s married?”), Lucious’s mother Leah (“They say the whole family’s performing but nobody’s invited me,” she complains to Andre, “I don’t like being left out”) and Evil Ada Stone (who freaks out Culhane by showing up in a black wig) respectively.

Andre takes pity on his grandmother and agrees to sneak her into the ASAs, but insists that she can’t tell anyone who she is because Lucious has already been lauded for the “authentic” video which depicts his mother killing herself: “It would destroy his credibility if anybody found out.” Leah promises to keep her mouth shut, but we’re pretty sure how this is gonna go — she’s gonna arrive at the ASAs, lose her mind in all the excitement and say the wrong thing to the wrong person. Instead, just as Andre and Leah are leaving for the show, Thirsty arrives with a couple of heavies who lock them in Lucious’s panic room to make sure she can’t say anything.

When Nicolas assures Elena that he and his wife are in the process of divorcing, one assumes he’s lying — until the penultimate scene of the episode when he returns to his penthouse apartment to find Lucia waiting for him and we realise she is the C21st equivalent of THE COLBYS’ Adrienne Cassidy, i.e., a woman who is determined to hold onto her husband despite knowing he has been in love with another woman his entire adult life. “A divorce would only colour us poorly in the church and we have too much invested in our life together to not give this another try,” she reasons. “At the very least, Nicolas, we owe it to our children … The Ewings seem determined to know who you really are. If you don’t do as I say, I’ll tell them what you owe and who you owe it to … It would also put an end to what you have going with Elena.”

Lucious’s mother is not the only loose cannon relative in this week’s EMPIRE. While Harris Ryland is eager to conceal his five-year involvement with the CIA, it takes Cookie about five seconds after her sister Carol starts dating Tariq Cousins, an ex-cop from their hometown of Philly, to figure that “he’s a Fed now … Why [else] would he wanna get mixed up with Carol? Everybody know Carol’s a crackhead and she’s got three illegitimate kids.”

Just as John Ross confronts his mother about her drinking (“Is that alcohol I smell on your breath?”), Cookie does the same thing to her sister: “You had a drink last night with Tariq, didn’t you? … Man, I told you if you fall off again your ass was out and I meant that!” Carol responds by accusing Cookie of snatching away the life that rightfully belongs to her. In the same way that Caress Morelle once told Blake that “my sister stole you from me,” so Carol claims that Lucious should have been hers: “He met me first then here you come — 'here come Cookie!'” Cookie ain’t buying it: “Well then, bounce, Carol, bounce your ass out of my company … and you know what, forget about the ASAs because I’m not taking no washed up crackhead to no ASAs!”

Earlier in the season, Cookie paid homage to Dominique Devereaux when she asked her other sister, Candace, to “stop acting like Diahann Carroll,” and now it’s time for another shout out to ‘80s DYNASTY. Throughout this week’s ep, Cookie has been teasing Lucious about his failed attempts to lose weight in time for the ASAs and which generic supermodel he plans to take as his date. Meanwhile, her own plan to bring Carol as her plus one has just gone up in smoke. Finally, when Lucious and Cookie are both dressed up to the nines and ready to go to the party, he looks at her admiringly, tells her that “a woman that beautiful shouldn’t walk the red carpet alone,” and extends his arm to her by way of invitation. Momentarily surprised, she does not respond. “You want my arm to fall off?” he asks. Recognising this as a line Billy Dee Williams, aka Brady Lloyd, delivered to Diana Ross, aka Billie Holliday, in Lady Sings the Blues, she laughs and says, “Shut up, Billy Dee!” Given that the character of Brady Lloyd was at least partially inspired by Williams’ impresario role in Lady Sings the Blues, this only strengthens the psychic link between that film, Brady and Dominique, and Lucious and Cookie. (That said, I heard on a podcast recently that Sylvia Robinson, the mob-connected singer/producer/label owner/mastermind behind ‘Rappers Delight’ by the Sugarhill Gang was the original inspiration for Cookie.) But Cookie is also eager to clarify what she is not. Unlike Karen Fairgate, who introduced her family on the first episode of KNOTS as “the neighbourhood Brady Bunch”, Cookie insists on the ASAs red carpet that “we’re not the Brady Bunch, we’re not the Partridges, hell, we ain’t even the Jacksons. We are the Lyons!”

Meanwhile, Fallon’s decision to start a record company with Monica could be read as payback for Cookie naming her label Lyon Dynasty at the beginning of the season. “Welcome to Broken Glass Recording Artists, bringing the next generation of women into the spotlight,” Fallon declares smugly as if she’s just casually invented feminism. Alas, there’s less female solidarity in the music biz on EMPIRE, as Cookie, having realised that “the Feds are still coming for us”, is forced to tell Jamal the real reason he needs to sever all ties with sweet little Freda Gatz, with whom he has been collaborating on his new album. “You ever wonder how I got out on good behaviour?” she asks him. “Honestly, I assumed you informed on somebody,” he replies. “Frank Gathers,” she admits. “You snitched on Freda’s dad? … And he ends up in lock-up with our father. Ma, did Lucious have something to do with his murder?” “… He would have killed all of us without batting an eye. And Freda? Well, that apple didn’t fall far from the tree so I need you to let her go, Jamal. It’s dangerous for all of us.”

Cookie on Freda: “Well, that apple didn’t fall far from the tree.”
Afton on John Ross: “I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, huh, Sue Ellen?"

Storylines collide at the ASAs as Jamal tries to let Freda down gently on one end of the red carpet (“I’ll set you up with a new label … Trust me. Get away from Empire”) and Carol shows up at the other, high as a kite and yelling her head off. Mindful of the cameras, Cookie pulls her sister into an embrace while telling her to “walk away before I drag your drunk ass by your nappy weave!” A confused Freda and a stoned Carol then come face to face. Carol asks for Freda’s help in getting into the party. When Freda politely refuses, Carol gets mean: “You think you’re better than me, huh? You know what, you wouldn’t even be here if Lucious didn’t feel guilty about what he did to your daddy!” As Carol is dragged away by security, Freda goes into a flashback montage, which enables her to figure out precisely what Lucious did to her daddy. Then everything goes into silent slow-motion as Freda runs down the red carpet towards Lucious, snatching a gun from a security guard’s holster as she goes. Suddenly, the ASAs becomes the lobby of Belmar Hotel at the end of KNOTS Season 5: Jamal turns to see Freda raise the gun and aim it at Lucious. “No, no, no, stop, Freda, no!” he shouts, stepping in-between them. He takes the bullet and sinks to the ground. Then everything speeds up again and chaos descends. It feels like the end of the season, but it isn’t. It isn’t even the end of the episode.

Just as John Ross was late for his wedding, Andre is conspicuous by his absence at the ASAs. It’s hard to say which of them has the more bizarre excuse for not being where they should be: John Ross, watching the Texas Railroad Commissioner playing sex games with a woman dressed as a dog, or Andre, pounding on the door of a panic room as he and his delusional grandmother watch his brother get shot on live TV.

Andre and Leah are eventually freed and join the rest of the glamorously dressed Lyon family in the waiting room of Soap Land Memorial Hospital where Jamal is, of course, in critical condition and undergoing emergency surgery. It’s very much Soap Land business as usual, but with an extra layer of EMPIRE-style verisimilitude — the designer gowns are stained with blood, the emotions are raw, the characters are genuinely traumatised. (“Get your hands off me!” screams Cookie at Lucious. “This is your fault, you son of a — hey, put them damn cameras down!”) In a brilliant moment of irony, the family realise the ASAs are on the hospital TV and they gather round to see the Award for Song of the Year, the category for which both Lucious and Jamal were nominated, go to … someone we’ve never previously heard of. “They split the votes,” Hakeem realises before turning to his father: “All that fighting between you and Jamal for what? Nothing!”

With all that’s going on at the hospital, everyone momentarily forgets about Lucious’s mother who wanders outside and is immediately besieged by reporters. “Are you part of the family, ma’am?” “Yes, I am part of the family.” “What is your relationship to Lucious Lyon?” End of episode.

And the Top 3 are …

1 (2) EMPIRE
2 (1) DALLAS
3 (3) DYNASTY
 
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17 Mar 14: DALLAS: D.T.R. v. 18 May 16: EMPIRE: Past is Prologue v. 07 Dec 18: DYNASTY: A Real Instinct for the Jugular

This week’s DALLAS and EMPIRE each begin by jumping forward in time as John Ross and Pamela, last seen exchanging wedding vows at Southfork, return from their honeymoon (“Hot, rainy, a ton of iguanas … You’d have hated it,” John Ross assures Emma) and Jamal, last seen bleeding from a gunshot wound on the ASAs red carpet, returns home from the hospital in a wheelchair.

Just as Steven and Sam’s wedding coincided with New DYNASTY’s first season finale, so Hakeem and Laura’s coincides with EMPIRE’s second. Preparations are also afoot for Fallon and Culhane’s big day, which affords Fallon the opportunity of turning into Bridezilla with predictably “hilarious” results: first, she enlists the services of a wedding planner whose sole function is to make suggestions which Fallon then rejects with a succession of catty one-liners; then there’s a wedding dress montage where Fallon tries on a variety of gowns, which Alexis then rejects with a succession of catty one-liners. (Sitting through New DYNASTY has now become a genuinely depressing experience.) Whereas Fallon is adamant that she does not want her family involved with her wedding plans (at least until the very end of the episode, when she decides that’s exactly what she does want, thereby rendering the entire episode even more pointless than it already was), Hakeem and Laura’s nuptials are arranged to be very much a family affair. “Dre even got ordained so he can do the ceremony,” Hakeen tells Jamal before asking him to sing at the wedding. But Jamal has other ideas. “I ain’t singing no more, all right?” he tearfully informs his family. “I’m just tired. Ain’t y’all tired? The same damn cycle all the time, just death and incarceration.” It’s Soap Land fatigue, C21st style. “We could change that cycle — I ain’t singing again until we do,” he vows. It’s a powerful resolution, which Jamal manages to keep until halfway through the episode when the creative muse descends upon him once more.

While DYNASTY’s Sam is all goo-goo-eyed about the baby that was left on Alexis’s doorstep a few weeks ago, DALLAS’s Christopher immediately bonds with Michael, the five(ish)-year-old son of his new girlfriend Heather and her ex-husband Bo (the Southfork ranch hand who sold drugs to Emma last season before being poached by John Ross to run his fracking crew). This storyline reminds me of ‘The Lost Child’, the 1979 episode where Bobby (grieving the loss of his own baby just like Christopher is) strikes up a friendship with Luke, the son of another ranch hand called Bo.

Grannies got it going on this week. While Leah drops some tantalisingly cryptic hints about the Lyon family history in front of her grandsons on EMPIRE (“Dwight, you and them kids are paying for the crimes of your daddy”), much to Lucious’s displeasure (“This is my house — I’m the only one that talks to my children about my past — is that clear?”), Judith has some blistering advice for granddaughter Emma on DALLAS: “Never let a man screw you for nothing. My girls … allow a man to believe he’s in control, but my girls are always in control and because they are, they are richly rewarded. On the other hand, a whore who gives without receiving is not only a whore, but a fool. You think John Ross cares about you, loves you? You think he’ll leave his wife for you? Why would he buy the cow when he gets the milk for free?” “John Ross does care about me,” Emma insists. “John Ross degrades you!” replies Judith. “If you think that’s love, then you are a worthless creature.”

When Sue Ellen approaches her old adversary Governor McConaughey, he explains that he can’t stop and chat because he has a speaking engagement with the Daughters of the Texas Revolution, “three hundred daughters with three hundred guns in their purses — that’s a group of ladies you don’t keep waiting.” The DTR would appear to be the C21st equivalent of the DOA, aka the Daughters of the Alamo, the charity organisation Miss Ellie, Sue Ellen, Donna, Cally and Mavis Anderson all belonged to at various points in ‘80s DALLAS, only far larger in number and (even) more right-wing in temperament. It sounds like Fallon could be describing the Atlantan equivalent when she recalls the “cabal of blonde, big-haired headcases [Alexis] used to slither with.” Before the Governor leaves, Sue Ellen gifts him a decanter of JR Ewing bourbon which he has placed in his office, not realising it is equipped with a listening device. “A bug in a bourbon cork — I think JR would see the humour in that,” Bobby tells Sue Ellen as they listen in on an incriminating conversation between McConaughey and the railroad commissioner with the dog fetish from last week’s ep.

A decanter is also used as a plot point on this week’s DYNASTY. Sam is carrying one when he pays a late-night visit to the bedroom of Manny the live-in nanny whom he has hired to look after the abandoned baby. He and Manny have been flirting — so does this mean Sam is about to follow John Ross’s lead and cheat on his brand new spouse in the family home? And that DYNASTY is about to give us a frank, passionate sex scene between two men the way EMPIRE did with Jamal and Major D a couple of weeks ago? The answers are no and no: Sam is ultimately too childlike for either option. Instead, he and Manny get as far as almost kissing before he accidentally knocks the decanter to the floor, thereby breaking the moment. “I can’t do this,” he realises.

While Manny mentions having a brother who died when he was a child, Culhane learns that Evil Ada Stone had a young daughter who was murdered. Presumably, these dead kids are an attempt to make Manny and Ada seem more "complex" than merely a doe-eyed sex doll and one-dimensional villain respectively. If so, it doesn’t work.

Using the dirt she now has on him (evidence of “conspiracy and illegal campaign contributions”), Sue Ellen coerces McConaughey “to ask Stanley Babcock, the Texas Railroad Commissioner, to resign … Stanley gave my son a permit [to frack Southfork] and I want you to replace Stanley with someone who will revoke it.” When John Ross finds out from the TV news that Babcock’s replacement is none other than his very own Uncle Bobby, he goes brilliantly nuts, first declaring war on his mama (“I thought we were allies, but now I know I got another enemy I gotta look out for — I ain’t gonna forget this!”) and then shouting at Bobby. “You disrupt my drilling operation, which means we won’t have the capital to buy the Artic leases, which means we lose the race to the Arctic, which means we lose!” Bobby’s defence is unexpectedly stirring: “Southfork is my trust from Aaron Southworth, a man who understood the value of preserving this family’s heritage, of protecting it, that was passed down to me by Mama and, I’ll be honest, sometimes I’m not sure if that’s a blessing or a curse, but … you listen well, boy, I am the steward of Southfork and I will not forsake it!”

The words Bobby uses to describe himself in this speech are revealing. It would have been very easy for New DALLAS to make him merely a watered-down version of his father: the crusty but benign patriarch who rules his family with a firm but fair hand, yada, yada. But Bobby does not regard himself as a patriarch, or even as “the head of this family” as Jock used to. Instead, he refers to himself as “the steward of Southfork” — a far more humble title, and one that was thrust upon him. “Sometimes I’m not sure if that’s a blessing or a curse”: the ambivalence expressed in that line ensures means the New DALLAS version of Bobby is more three-dimensional than “the good brother” or “the romantic hero” he mostly was in the original series.

While Bobby evokes the memory of his grandfather, the rarely mentioned Aaron Southworth, on DALLAS, Leah brings up the subject of Lucious’s father, about whom we previously knew nothing other than that he died violently, on EMPIRE. “My daddy was a cop,” Lucious now adds. Meanwhile on DYNASTY, Alexis makes an even rarer reference to her mother, recalling that she was “the most militant bitch about my bridal gown.”

Towards the end of last week’s action-packed EMPIRE, we caught a glimpse of Anika in a police interview room, about to be questioned by Tariq Cousins, the undercover FBI agent who has been dating Cookie’s sister. This week, Anika assures the Lyons that she didn’t tell the Feds anything. “They’re gonna try to subpoena her,” Thirsty predicts. “We can’t let that happen.” Ordinarily, the issuing of subpoenas in Soap Land, often accompanied by a sneaky “you have just been served," is a minor soap trope which serves as an indication that some dramatic courtroom scenes are on the way. Here, however, the subpoena itself — or more specifically, how Anika can avoid being served with one — is the drama. “We’re gonna get twenty-four-hour security around you,” Lucious promises her. But so terrified is Anika at the prospect of testifying that she winds up perched on a balcony threatening to jump: “They’re gonna make me testify, they’re gonna put me in the witness protection programme, I can’t do that!” Of all people, it falls to Cookie to talk her round: “Anika, look, I know we had bad blood between us but you are carrying a life, my grandson, so you’ll never be alone … You’re a Lyon now, okay? Isn’t that what you always wanted — to be one of us?”

As if this were not enough drama for the pregnant Anika to contend with, Rhonda chooses this week to finally accuse her, in front of the family, of causing her miscarriage. “I know you pushed me, bitch!” she yells with her hands around Anika’s throat, “I saw your shoes, the bottoms of those red Louboutins you love so much!” Much to her — and our — astonishment, Rhonda realises that no-one believes her. “You really think pearl-clutching debutante Anika pushed you down the steps?” asks Cookie incredulously. So Rhonda now finds herself in the Val Ewing position of everyone thinking she’s crazy, including her bipolar husband. Furious, she leaves town, ostensibly to visit a girlfriend in Los Angeles.

What’s a wedding without a few unwelcome guests? Just as Christopher was unhappy to see Nicolas at John Ross and Pamela’s nuptials last week, so Sam is shocked, when looking through his and Steven’s wedding album, to spot a picture of escaped mental patient Claudia Blaisdel in attendance. “Maybe it wasn’t Hank who killed my aunt, maybe it was crazy Claudia!” he exclaims. The equivalent person at Hakeem and Laura’s wedding is Shyne Johnson, “one of the most notorious thugs in hip-hop.” After Anika describes her questioning by the Feds, Lucious concludes that it's his connection to Shyne that they are most interested in. I’m a little unclear on the details, but it seems as if Shyne could tie him to the murder of a drug dealer back in the day. Shyne’s unpredictable, a loose cannon, and so to keep him sweet, Lucious and Cookie invite him to Hakeem’s wedding — even though it’s meant to be a high-class affair and Shyne is anything but high-class. “He shot up that club in Vegas, he did time for beating up that white rapper,” protests Arturo, the father of the bride. “He’s just someone I wouldn’t feel too comfortable having at my daughter’s wedding.” Hakeem politely explains to his in-laws-to-be that Shyne is “my parents’ people. I respect where they come from.” He then turns to Cookie and Lucious and tells them solemnly, “Mom, Dad, one of the main reasons I’m marrying Laura is to break away from that history.” Finally, he addresses his fiancee, the sweet but anonymous Laura. “You and me gonna break the cycle, baby,” he promises her.

In the event, Shyne shows up to the wedding with a posse of hookers, acting all loud and vulgar. Then, just before the ceremony, someone dressed as a waitress hands Anika a piece of paper: “Anika Calhoun, you’ve been served. See you in court.” The waitress flees, knocking over a tray of drinks in the process, and Lucious’s security give chase. In the confusion, Shyne gets involved, smashing a champagne bottle over the security guard’s head, and then, just all hell is breaking loose, the bride and her father make their entrance. “I can’t … This isn’t gonna be my life. I’m sorry, I can’t do this,” Laura sobs before dashing out. Before we have time to process this, Lucious comes up with a brainwave: “If Anika and I get married … the Feds can’t force her to testify.” Thirsty agrees that it’s a good idea. “Man, are we sick or something?” Hakeem protests. “We supposed to end the cycle!” “Cycle ends when it’s ready to end, till then we do what we have to do,” replies Andre (or, as Sue Ellen puts it even more succinctly, “The family that blackmails together stays together”). This is a plot twist too far for Cookie, however. “I did not save this bitch’s life so she could ruin mine! … Y’all know I love you, right?” she says to her sons, “but … I can’t do this.” She leaves, and Lucious and Anika are married in place of Hakeem and Laura. As they walk back down the aisle together, Lucious whispers the five words every girl longs to hear on her wedding day: “I know you pushed her.” Then FBI agent Tariq shows up. “Why you keep chasing me, man, when you keep coming up empty? Why waste the tax-payers money like that?” taunts Lucious. “Believe me, we’re just getting started,” Tariq assures him. “What’s your half-brother doing here?” Leah asks Lucious, looking at Tariq. Lucious is confused, so Tariq explains: “Our father was a good cop, Dwight, but a bad man. I guess we each got half of him.”

The final scene of this season’s EMPIRE finds new bride Anika taking a breather on the balcony when a hooded figure comes up behind her. It’s Rhonda. What ensues is less a girly catfight and more a struggle to the death. “You wanted that devil child to be the only heir to the throne, didn’t you?!” shouts Rhonda. “You’re damn right I did, you bitch!” yells Anika. As they fight, they move perilously close to the edge. Just then, Andre appears. The camera stays on him as we hear a bloodcurdling scream. “NO!!!” he shouts. Blackout, end titles, see you next season. If a cliffhanger can be predictable and exciting at the same time, then this one is.

(Oh and there’s more bridal-themed violence on DYNASTY, where Fallon, Alexis and New New Cristal are all wearing wedding dresses for no real reason, and Fallon and New New Cristal both start trying to tear out Alexis’s hairpiece, again for no real reason.)

And the Top 3 are …

1 (2) DALLAS
2 (1) EMPIRE
3 (3) DYNASTY
 
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31 Mar 14: DALLAS: Like Father, Like Son v. 21 Sep 16: EMPIRE: Light in Darkness v. 21 Dec 18: DYNASTY: Crazy Lady

EMPIRE’s Season 2 opener picks up the story a couple of minutes before the end of the previous season, this time focusing on events happening outside the hotel where Hakeem and Laura’s Lucious and Anika’s wedding has just taken place. Still upset at being jilted, Hakeem runs out of the building, ignoring Jamal and Lucious’s entreaties to come back inside. Instead, he jumps into the back of his wedding car, complete with a sign saying ‘Just Married’ on the trunk, and speeds off into the night. Lucious eyes the extras on the street suspiciously. “Look at all these damn people out here,” he says. “Any one of them could be Feds.” Then he tells Jamal to take his grandmother home and look after her. Suddenly, a body falls out of the sky, landing with a thud on top of a car, Marta Del Sol-style. It’s Rhonda. Not Anika. Rhonda. Well, I wasn’t expecting that. Spookily, New DYNASTY chooses this week to re-enact the scene from the original series where Claudia Blaisdel drops a baby off a roof (of a cheap motel, as opposed to the swanky hotel on EMPIRE). Whereas we’ve just been on ground level with the Lyons, we’re now up on the roof with the Carringtons, just as we were in ’83. The aerial view of the baby smashing onto the car below is still a surreally gruesome sight, even when you know it’s a doll.

Seconds before Rhonda fell (unless she was pushed — we can’t be sure), Anika finally admitted to killing her baby. Likewise, just before the DYNASTY doll flies through the air, Claudia finally confesses to killing New Cristal at the end of Season 1 (“and I would do it again if it would bring Matthew back”). In both scenes, the drama doesn't end with the fall. As in the original DYNASTY, the Carringtons’ relief upon discovering that the child Claudia dropped wasn’t real is swiftly followed by another realisation — that the actual baby is still missing (“If Claudia doesn’t have the baby then —” “Who the hell does?”). Meanwhile on the EMPIRE balcony, Andre is still screaming the same “NOOO!!” he was at the end of last season. After seeing his dead wife down below, he turns back to Anika and starts choking the life out of her — “What did you do? What did you do? You killed my wife!” — only for her waters to break. In one smooth movement, he goes from strangling her to scooping her up in his arms and carrying her inside.

And so for the second time in three episodes, the EMPIRE gang all wind up in Soap Land Memorial looking anxious but glamorous in their wedding outfits (everyone, that is, but Hakeem, the father of Anika’s baby, who has passed out drunk in another woman’s apartment, kind of like ‘80s Jeff Colby did when his first child was being born). As the doctors prepare for Anika to give birth six weeks prematurely, the cops show up to talk to her. “Those aren’t Feds,” Lucious realises before barging into the delivery room. “Sir, unless you’re the father, I’m gonna have to ask you —” a nurse begins. “That’s my wife,” he replies and no further explanation is required. While the medical staff are at one end of the bed delivering the kid, Lucious is at the other, saying appropriate words of encouragement to Anika (“You can do it … push, baby, that’s it …”), before whispering in her ear, “Speaking of push, you see the cops out the window right now? Nobody pushed Rhonda. She jumped, you tried to stop her, she overpowered you, tried to take you with her, grabbed you by the throat — which is what’s gonna happen if you don’t go with the story.” There’s a parallel moment following the rooftop incident on DYNASTY. The real baby has been found and Claudia is being handcuffed and led away by the cops. “You said you’d help me!” she protests to Blake. “Look, I am helping you,” he replies reasonably, before whispering in her ear in the same menacing way that Lucious does in Anika’s, “I’m helping you understand the pain you caused me and my family by taking away what you love. I know it’s cruel — he’s only a baby. Will it make things equal? I don’t know, but it’s a hell of a start.”

Back on EMPIRE, one final push and Anika’s child is born. Lucious looks every bit the proud step-father/grandfather — until the doctor says “it’s a girl.” This is not what Anika had led him to believe. “You wanna cut the cord, Dad?” the doc asks him. “No,” he replies coldly before snarling at Anika: “You lied to me!” His disappointment, however, does not prevent him from having himself registered as the father on the birth certificate or from taking the baby away from Hakeem when he tries to hold her later in the episode. Over on DYNASTY, Blake may have taken Claudia’s baby away from her to raise as a Carrington, but then St Sam insists that he be given to Matthew’s parents to raise. So I guess Mother Blaisdel won out in the end.

Tariq, Lucious’s recently acquired half-brother and the federal agent determined to bring him down, tells Cookie that he knows Lucious married Anika “just to keep her from testifying. If I can prove that marriage is fake, I could subpoena her.” Consequently, Lucious and Anika are obliged to reenact Fallon and Liam’s storyline in which they pretended their sham marriage was genuine, only this time playing it for soapy drama rather than farce. When Anika moves back into Lucious’s house with the baby, she receives a warm welcome from her new mother-in-law. “You about as trustworthy as a snake in a hamster cage,” Leah hisses at her while wielding a kitchen knife. “I got my eye on you — and don’t touch any of this food. I know you’re trying to poison me.”

Meanwhile, a grieving Andre (“I’m done with God and his plans!”) receives a ghostly visit from Rhonda who berates him for not preventing her death. “Without me, you’re just one more Philly thug with mental problems,” she sneers at him. It’s too soon to say whether this visitation is the same kind of Soap Land daydream that allowed Bobby to keep “seeing” April after her death in DALLAS or a symptom of a deeper malaise, similar to that which caused Claudia to believe Matthew had returned from the dead on DYNASTY. Speaking of whom, when Claudia threatens to expose Alexis's involvement with Hank (i.e., the fact that she paid him to pretend to be her son), Alexis cleverly plays on Claudia’s mental history by convincing her that she has imagined the whole thing: “Who’s Hank, dear — another doll of yours? … Is he here with you now?”

Thanks to the missing baby storyline, there’s a seam of seriousness running through this week's DYNASTY — not even this show can play a kidnapped baby plot entirely for laughs — which makes it a bit more watchable than it has been recently. Fallon and Blake’s dispute over whether to call in the FBI or handle the kidnapping privately is the same argument abductees’ families have been having in Soap Land since Bobby Ewing was snatched in 1979. Their opposing views are informed by their own previous kidnapping experiences, which means the conflict feels rooted in character rather than existing solely as a vehicle for Fallon’s latest collection of tiresome wisecracks.

“I grew up in a family where if you don’t stab someone in the back before dinner, you don’t get dessert,” Fallon tells Culhane in this ep, echoing what Bobby told Christopher a couple of seasons ago: “I grew up in a family where stabbing everybody in the back was encouraged.”

On this week’s DALLAS, it’s John Ross who feels that his family have stabbed him in the back. “You can justify your actions to kingdom come, Mama,” he tells Sue Ellen, referring to her and Bobby’s plot to prevent him fracking on Southfork, “but we both know the real reason you did this … I may be drunk on power but you — you’re just drunk. This wasn’t the tough love of a mother. These are irrational decisions of an alcoholic.” “Malign me all you want,” he tells his Uncle Bobby, “but if you get off your high horse, maybe you’d see that I was the only one offering you a real solution to get around Treviño. It wasn’t personal. But you and my mother, you stabbed me in the back so don’t talk to me about the importance of sticking together. That stunt you just pulled? That doesn’t make you a Ewing. Makes you a damn hypocrite.”

In their ongoing efforts to bring down the Ewings, Nicolas and Elena adopt a two-pronged attack. They decide that the best way to alienate Pamela from the rest of the family is to provide her with proof that John Ross is cheating on her. To that end, Elena enlists the aid of Jasper, an extremely sexy female private eye, who sets up surveillance devices in both John Ross’s office and his apartment. Meanwhile, hoping to take advantage of the rift that has developed between John Ross and his mother and uncle, Nicolas invites him out for a drink — and guess who they run into!

Back in 1989, Dennis Grimes, son of Roger Grimes, arrived on DYNASTY two decades after his father’s untimely demise. On this week’s DALLAS, we are introduced to Hunter McKay, son of Roger’s other self, Tommy McKay, twenty-five years after his father’s sudden death. But whereas Dennis was a long-haired extortionist just like his father, Hunter doesn’t appear to have much in common with his daddy. Tommy was a motorbikin’ rebel; Hunter is a computer geek. When he encounters John Ross (“my oldest friend”) in a bar, he is celebrating the success of taking his gaming company public. “One day I realised the video game I really wanted to play didn’t exist,” he explains, “so I just decided to create it myself … Who knew being a video game junkie would pay off?” A junkie trying to capitalise on his addiction? Maybe he and his dad do having something in common after all. It’s just that Tommy’s business plan — smuggling cocaine in clay pots from South America — didn’t really work. That scam of Tommy’s is also echoed on DYNASTY where Culhane discovers Ada Stone has tricked him into smuggling heroin inside supposedly valuable antiques (except that this then turns out to be part of one of those tricksy plot-within-a-plots I didn’t really follow).

Inspired by Hunter’s story (“The best part about going public — I was able to buy up the controlling interest in the company!”), John Ross decides to do the same thing with Ewing Global. Knowing Bobby and Christopher will never agree, he sets about getting the other shareholders on his side. After convincing Pamela and Nicolas, he turns his attentions to his mother. “I want a vote to take Ewing Global public. It’ll get us the capital we need for the Arctic leases and it will dilute Cliff’s shares,” he explains — but all Sue Ellen wants to know is whether or not his affair with Emma is over. “Yes, yes it is,” he insists. “I wanna make this point very clear: I love my wife. The last thing I’d ever wanna do is hurt her.” She believes him, a bit like how she used to believe JR whenever he promised he’d turned over a new leaf — only John Ross sounds like he truly means it. “You have my support,” she tells him. Over on EMPIRE, Lucious also has a new business plan, which he pitches to real-life rapper Birdman (a rare example of a “playing himself” Soap Land cameo that genuinely works). “I’m relaunching Swiftstream under a brand new banner called Empire XStream and I wanna make an offer for exclusive rights to your music,” he tells him. Birdman proves a harder sell than Sue Ellen, however. “Empire’s fallen to the bottom of the ocean, man,” he sneers. Lucious retaliates with a potent cocktail of mixed metaphors: “I know you think y’all smelling blood in the water, but I think you better check your own damn panties cos I don’t lose. I always ride the wave because I am the King!”

John Ross’s secretary Candace, under pressure from Harris Ryland to seduce him, slips into his office while he’s working late to ask if there’s anything he needs. To spell out what she means, she starts taking off her dress. Staying true to the promise he made his mama, he shows her the door (“I’m a married man … It ain’t ever gonna happen”) — but who should emerge from the elevator just in time to see Candace leaving John Ross’s office with her dress half off but Sue Ellen? “That son of yours is something else,” says Candace coolly as she walks past her. Sue Ellen is devastated, as devastated as she used to be when she’d find JR in bed with another woman after he’d sworn he’d changed — except this time, of course, John Ross is innocent.

The following day, the Ewing shareholders gather to vote on taking the company public. As Christopher and Bobby argue with John Ross (“This company is our family’s legacy … You take it public, you’re putting it in play for anyone to buy for controlling interest!” “The only reason he’s doing this is to get the company for himself!”), an agonised Sue Ellen stands with her back to the rest of them — she and Bobby inadvertently paying homage to Abba in the process.

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John Ross is confident of victory, especially after Pamela and Nicolas vote in his favour. Finally, Sue Ellen turns around to face her son. “I vote no,” she says.

This leads to one of the most powerful scenes in the entire history of Soap Land as John Ross storms into his mother’s house and finds her in the kitchen, drinking. She doesn’t even bother to hide it. She’s really drunk and they’re both really angry. He accuses her of stabbing him in the back for a second time; she accuses him of lying to her face. “I didn’t lie to you!” he insists. “I told you the truth — it is over with Emma.” “How clever you are with your words — just like JR,” she replies bitterly. “I saw her coming out of your office. I saw her, John Ross!” He looks baffled for a second, then the penny drops: “Candace?” “Once a cheater always a cheater. I should have learned that lesson the first time around.” “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Mama. Yeah, Candace was in my office and the crazy bitch was all over me — and I turned her down!” “BULLSHIT!” screams Miss Texas 1967. “I know what I saw!” “You don’t know, because you’re drunk! I am telling you the truth!” he insists. “Even drunk, I know the sound of a lie, and you are an expert at it, just like your father.” “I AM NOT MY FATHER!” he explodes. Suddenly, the scene isn’t about marital infidelity or corporate betrayal anymore, it’s about a son trying desperately to communicate with his alcoholic mother. ‘80s DALLAS always glossed over this aspect of John Ross and Sue Ellen’s relationship — understandably, as it wasn’t really equipped to convey the damage wrought by a drunken parent on a little boy — but now it’s made three-dimensionally real. “Are you so hell-bent on punishing JR for his sins that you’re willing to destroy the relationship with your only son?” he asks her, his voice choking with tears. “I’m your son. You remember that? Or are you too damn addled to remember who I am? Why are you doing this to yourself again, huh?” “Don’t you get it?” she sobs. “You did this to me — you and your father.” “No, Mama, you did this to yourself. You’re so busy seeing the ghost of JR in me that you cannot stop to take a hard look in the damn mirror. You want me to take responsibility for my actions? Then you take responsibility for yours.”

He leaves the house, slamming the door behind him. Outside, he hesitates, considering his next move. Then he makes a call: “Hey, I need a favour.” We don’t know it yet, but having just vehemently denied that he is the same as his father, he is about to prove the exact opposite is true. The call was to Emma. He needs something from her father’s files. They meet at his apartment. “Gimme that file on the judge,” he tells her. “It’s always about you,” she replies, casually removing her dress, “your schedule, your needs — but I have needs, too.” Following her lead, he starts to undress as well. After all, he has no choice — she holds all the cards. “Oh, don’t bother,” she says. “Tonight, it’s about my needs.” She reclines on the sofa in her underwear, legs splayed, and beckons him with her finger. He hesitates. “I said come here — now,” she tells him. Reluctantly, he obeys. When Culhane went down on Fallon in the opening scene of New DYNASTY’s first episode, there was something liberating, even celebratory about it. When Emma pretty much blackmails John Ross into doing the same thing, it’s about power. “Now go home and kiss your wife!” she tells him when the task is completed. “John Ross degrades you,” Emma’s grandmother told her last week. Well, now the tables have been turned. Two episodes ago, John Ross watched with smug amusement as Stanley Babcock and his dog-suited companion did their thing on CCTV. Now, thanks to the surveillance installed by her private eye, Elena is the one watching John Ross and Emma doing their thing on her computer, a look of appalled fascination on her face.

There’s more bedroom surveillance on EMPIRE. The final scene of this week’s ep shows Lucious cradling his brand new daughter/granddaughter/step-daughter/whatever she is in the nursery. “They are coming for us from all sides, Bella,” he whispers gently, “but we’re gonna show all these haters just what time it is.” We cut to a row of stuffed animals on a shelf, a big brown teddy bear in the middle. Then we see and hear Lucious and the baby through the bear’s eyes. Then we cut to Tariq seeing what the bear is seeing on his computer screen. New DYNASTY has already done the camera-inside-the-cuddly-toy thing (which is how everyone found out Steven was Anders’ son), but again that was played for cheap laughs, whereas this episode concludes with an ominous close-up of the bear’s face as Lucious says to the baby, “Wait until we show them how dark Hell can get.”

Back on DALLAS, the sexual degradation continues as John Ross hands the file he obtained from Emma to an old friend of his daddy’s, Judge Robbins. “A gift from that whorehouse you like to frequent,” he explains. The pictures contained within are not as salacious as the CCTV footage of Stanley Babcock or, indeed, the S&M snaps of the judge who presided over Lucious’s bail hearing last season, but are nonetheless sufficiently compromising for the judge to sign a court order to have Sue Ellen taken into custody "for a mandatory psychiatric evaluation.” “You certainly are just like your father,” he tells John Ross. “You hear that enough, eventually, you start to believe it,” John Ross replies darkly. Kirby applies the same rationale to her behaviour on DYNASTY. “My dad keeps treating me like an immature bratty child,” she complains. “I’m tired of trying to prove him wrong … I should just embrace it. Screw it, right? If he doesn’t think I’m an adult, why act like one?”

By the time the medics arrive to take her away, Sue Ellen is a befuddled, pathetic mess. The fact that they are so gentle with her as they help her into the ambulance somehow makes the situation even more poignant, and you start thinking that maybe John Ross is doing the right thing for the wrong reason. Then, just as the doors slam shut, he appears, lit in hellish red by the ambulance lights. He doesn’t chuckle as Sue Ellen is taken away like JR did when he had her committed thirty-five years earlier. (“You boys take care of her now!” he said cheerfully back then). And she doesn't swear revenge on John Ross the same way she did on his father as she was being dragged off (“Somehow I’ll get back at you!”). Claudia does, though, as she is led away by the police on DYNASTY. “You’re gonna pay for this, you hear me? I’ll be back!” she yells at Blake.

In a great deleted scene on DALLAS, Pamela instructs Candace to stop flirting with her husband at the office and tells her that her revealing outfit is inappropriate and "an insult to every woman who works here.” God knows what she’d have made of the skimpy dresses Paige Matheson used to wear to work at the Sumner Group back in the day.

And this week's Top 3 are ...

1 (1) DALLAS
2 (2) EMPIRE
3 (3) DYNASTY
 
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07 Apr 14: DALLAS: Like a Bad Penny v. 28 Sep 16: EMPIRE: Sin That Amends v. 18 Jan 19: DYNASTY: A Champagne Mood

After a high-octane few episodes which have included a shock wedding, a premature birth, a long-lost brother, the shooting of one major character and the tragic death of another, this week’s EMPIRE understandably takes its foot off the gas a little. DALLAS isn’t quite as emotionally devastating as last week's was either.

Less than a full episode after John Ross had her committed to a psychiatric unit, Sue Ellen is released into Bobby’s care — which means bringing her back to live at Southfork. The words ‘frying pan’ and ‘fire’ spring to mind. Nor is she the only Soap Land character to be receiving medical care in a home environment. Jeff Colby, who ended last week’s DYNASTY in a car crash after being shot, wakes up in a hospital bed surrounded by all the usual Soap Land Memorial paraphernalia — IVs, heart monitors, doctors with clipboards, anxious relatives — but when the screens around his bed are pulled back, we see that he is actually in a guest room at the Carrington Manor. Blake explains to Monica that it’s to conceal his involvement with Ada Stone from the authorities. “Believe me, there was no other choice,” he tells her. “You, Blake, should never start a sentence with ‘Believe me,'” she replies.

Strange as these domestic arrangements might be, however, the award for Most Toxic Household of the Week belongs to Lucious Lyon. “Who in the hell are all these people in my house?” he demands to know when he arrives home to find Anika quizzing a group of potential nannies (not, thankfully, as part ‘Terrible Interviews’ comedy montage). After ordering them all to leave, he asks, “Who gave you the permission to hire a nanny?” “I need permission?” Anika replies indignantly. “In my house you do,” he tells her, before adding in a whisper, “I don’t need people I don’t know looking in my life, okay?” Then we hear the sound of a baby crying in another room. “Oh my God, Lucious,” Anika pleads, “I need help — I cannot do this by myself!” At this point, Lucious’s mother Leah, who has been silently observing all of this, offers to see to the child. “No! You keep your crazy hands off of my baby!” Anika yells. “You got one job in this house and that’s a mother,” Lucious snarls at his wife. "Get in there and do your damn job!” So we’ve got a paranoid despot, a spoilt princess and a bi-polar granny, each of whom has a history of homicidal violence, all living under the same roof with a newborn. Sounds nuts, but it’s played completely straight, which makes it fascinating.

While Tariq kept tabs on the goings-on in Lucious’s house via a camera secreted in the nursery on last week's EMPIRE, Elena watched surveillance footage of John Ross and Emma having sex on DALLAS. This week, Elena shows Nicolas the sex video, but then tells him she’s changed her mind about sending it to Pamela. “It was one thing when we thought he was cheating with Candace,” she explains, “but if I had to watch video of someone I love betraying me with someone I thought was my friend, I couldn’t get over that. I’m not gonna do that to her.” Nicolas nods in agreement … but later texts the tape to Pamela anyway. The penultimate scene of the ep finds Pamela in bed with John Ross, too preoccupied to notice the buzzing of her phone — an indication that Nicolas’s message is incoming — just inches away from her. Before anything so incriminating can happen on EMPIRE, Anika discovers the bug hidden in the teddy bear and Lucious destroys it.

For the most part, the tone of this week’s EMPIRE is comparatively light. Lucious’s primary concern is trying to woo Cookie back. Rather than the traditional romantic gestures of a Soap Land leading man — buying out a florist’s worth of flowers; hiring an entire restaurant for an intimate dinner — he showers her with an array of rather more idiosyncratic gifts including a statue of a lion, an espresso machine and a gold-plated gun with matching bullets. He also deploys one of the most potent weapons a Soap Land character has at their disposal: flashbacks!

Back in the ‘80s, the majority of Soap Land flashbacks could be divided into two categories: the romantic flashback, whereby a character, often at a hospital bedside, would go into a reverie, causing the screen to go all wibbly-wobbly as he or she summoned up a sentimental montage of days gone by, and the revelation flashback, most commonly deployed during the resolution of a whodunit, where a character follows up an “It was you!” style accusation by flashing back to previously unseen events that led up to the crime in question. Of the flashbacks that did not fit into either category, arguably the most memorable were those that told the ongoing story of Mack and Anne’s youthful romance during KNOTS Season 8. EMPIRE now adopts the same approach to show us how Cookie and Lucious first got together back in the day. Just like rich Anne and poor Mack, it’s a case of opposites attract as good Catholic schoolgirl Loretha (as Cookie was known back then) sees young punk Lucious beatboxing on a street corner with his crew and shocks her friends by going over to dance with him. It’s quite touching to see these two hard-bitten characters back when they were young and relatively innocent. As much as present-day Cookie insists that Lucious “can’t keep hitting me over the head with this when-we-first-saw-each-other sentimental crap," it feels like it can only be a matter of time before she succumbs to his charms once again.

In the same way that the story of Young Mack and Young Anne was expanded to include additional flashbacks from the perspective of Young Greg Sumner, here we also see Tariq flashing back to the same street corner when he was a little kid trying to join in with the beatboxers, only for his mother to drag him away. “How many times have I got to tell you — stay away from that boy!” she scolds, referring to Lucious. “But, Ma,” protests Young Tariq, “you said he’s my brother.” “Tariq, you listen to me,” she replies gravely, “you do not ever, ever say that out loud again, not to anybody, least of all to him … Him and his crazy ass mama are the worst things to ever happen to us!”

The romantic style flashback of ‘80s Soap Land seems to have died out in C21st, replaced by what might be termed as PTSD-style flashbacks, where an event in the present will trigger a traumatic memory for a character — conveyed in a series of short, sharp cuts — causing him or her to lose control. An example of this occurs on DALLAS where the reappearance of Drew Ramos in a parking garage transports Christopher back to the loss of his babies. As he beats the crap of Drew, he flashes back to the explosion on the rig, then the flatlining of the twins' heart monitors in the hospital. While the beating takes place in slow motion, the flashbacks occur in rapid succession, making it seem as if what Christopher is remembering is more real to him than what is happening in the present. “Finish it," pleads Drew finally, as Christopher's fist hovers over his bloodied face. This is enough to snap Christopher out of the past. “If I have to live with this pain, so do you,” he tells Drew, before leaving him in a heap on the ground. Back on EMPIRE, Jamal has a similarly visceral reminder of a recent traumatic event. Lucious is giving a speech at a charity event when he spontaneously invites him to get up and perform. The yelling of the crowd and the flashing of the cameras is enough to transport him back to his shooting on the red carpet. He runs for the exit then collapses, hyperventilating, outside.

Meanwhile, Drew's guilt turns to rage after he finds the documents showing how JR swindled his father out of his land. “I watched Papi die ... for nothing,” he realises. “He wasted his life on a dream that was already taken from him and I wasted mine hating myself for not being able to save him. Everything that’s happened is because of JR’s betrayal. Their greed took everything from our family.” Elsewhere in the ep, Nicolas is not pleased to learn that Drew is back in town. “Besides Carmen, he’s the only one who knew we grew up together … He could ruin all our plans,” he tells Elena anxiously.

There’s one more, very C21st use of the flashback convention in this week’s DALLAS. In the final scene, Nicolas has a clandestine meeting with — surprise, surprise — Hunter McKay. “Sorry I’m late,” he says. “I had to deal with some family issues.” We then quickly flash back to John Ross’s introduction to Hunter in last week’s ep (“Hunter McKay — his granddaddy and my daddy fought their fair share of battles back in the day”). This doesn’t represent a character’s memory; it’s simply there to remind the audience of who Hunter is, like a “previously on Dallas” style recap in the middle of a scene. Maybe it shouldn’t work, but such is the increasingly non-linear nature of television drama that one doesn’t even question it.

“When you offered me a chance to take down the Ewings, you didn’t say anything about midnight meetings with Mexican gangsters … with guns,” Hunter complains nervously. This is how we realise that not only are Nicholas and Hunter in cahoots, but they’re both working for the Mendez-Ochoa cartel — the same bad boys that Harris Ryland is secretly plotting against with the CIA. “When the company goes public, we’ll buy enough shares to give you controlling interest,” Nicolas is assuring boss man Luis, referring to Ewing Global. “By the time the Ewings and Cliff Barnes realise what happened, you’ll be in control of the company, free to launder billions of drug profits for years to come.” Luis warns Nicolas that his plan better work or there will be fatal consequences for his children. At the same time as widening the narrative to include the cartel and Hunter in the “Ewings go public” storyline, DALLAS also tightens it as Nicolas asks Luis for a favour: “I need your help finding Drew Ramos.”

As well as flashbacks, a couple of characters experience otherworldly moments this week. Andre continues to receive visitations from dead wife Rhonda on EMPIRE, only now he just hears her disembodied voice rather than seeing her, which I guess is some sort of progress. Jeff Colby, meanwhile, has a kind of near-death experience in his hospital bed. Thankfully, rather than another horrible Wizard of Oz-style dream sequence, it takes the form of a short and stylish vision in which he sees the silhouette of a glamorous black woman in a turban singing into a microphone, evoking both Billie Holliday in Lady Sings the Blues and Dominique Devereaux in ‘80s DYNASTY. I don’t think it has yet been established that Jeff and Monica’s mother is the C21st version of Dominique, but viewers who remember the original series are clearly being invited to make that connection here.

Twisty-turny schemes-within-a-scheme where things turn out to be other than as they originally appear, and then turn out to be different again, are part of what makes the Soap Land world go round. However, New DYNASTY has given this kind of story-telling a bad name with its various twists and turns becoming tediously convoluted with scant regard for character or even logic. This week's DALLAS and EMPIRE, however, each give us a reminder of how such an ever-shifting narrative, where different layers of a story are gradually peeled away, revealing different truths, can be both fascinating and fun.

As part of his plan to seize control of Ewing Global once its IPO goes through, John Ross flies with Pamela to Vegas to renew a business acquaintance with an old friend of JR’s — Sheik Sharif Ali, no less: “We cut him in on the Arctic leases if he agrees to give us the necessary capital to purchase the controlling interest in the IPO.” The sheikh mostly communicates through his son, Prince Nasir. I don’t think we’ve encountered such regally titled characters in Soap Land since DYNASTY’s Moldavian era — although the protocol and etiquette required to deal with the sheikh is more reminiscent of the Sumner Group’s encounter with Murakame, the bogus Japanese company on KNOTS LANDING. John Ross immediately finds himself in the sheikh’s bad books for not approaching him with the Arctic deal when JR originally promised he would. “Your actions are callous and selfish and not only have you disrespected my father, but you have brought dishonour to your father’s name as well,” Prince Nasir informs him. To turn things around, John Ross embarks on a scheme-within-a-scheme which also serves as a metaphor for his complex feelings about his father.

Using Pamela’s priceless earrings (previous owners include Catherine the Great and Katherine the Wentworth) to buy into a high-stakes poker game with the sheikh, John Ross also puts the watch he inherited from JR on the table. “If my father was king, this watch would be his crown, a symbol of everything he was,” he explains. He then deliberately loses the game and the watch. Humbled, he apologises to the sheikh for “disgracing myself, my father and you by not following through on his promise. And I can only hope one day to be worthy of the legacy he left me.” Later, Pamela asks him why he threw the game. “I kept seeing that damn watch as an albatross around my neck,” he replies. “Without it, maybe I’ll be free to be my own man instead of the man everybody else wants me to be.” But that’s not the only reason: “Sometimes the only way to win is to show the other person you’re not afraid to lose,” he smiles knowingly.

After their return to Southfork, John Ross receives a surprise visit from Prince Nasir who hands him back JR’s watch. “My father has had a change of heart,” he explains. “When you gambled the watch, my father saw JR in you. You were humble enough to know you were wrong and brave enough to risk something you cared deeply about to prove it.” John Ross is moved. And there’s the conundrum at the heart of his character: he desperately wants to escape JR’s shadow but is just as desperate to be worthy of him. It’s an ambivalence JR himself never experienced — you can’t imagine him gambling so recklessly with a sacred possession of Jock’s — his medallion, say, or his portrait.

EMPIRE introduces the wonderfully named Angelo Dubois this week. He’s a slick black politician who heads the not so wonderfully named W.O.K.E. (aka We Organise for Knowledge and Empowerment), a social work programme for young kids. He and Jamal get into a heated debate on a radio show after he refers to Jamal as a victim of gun violence. “If anyone’s a victim, it’s actually Freda Gatz,” Jamal argues. “Why don’t we all try to grow up where she grew up?” “See, it’s that line of thinking that does a tremendous disservice to black folk,” replies Angelo. “How are we meant to deal with these circumstances if we marginalise ourselves?” He then extends an on-air invitation to Jamal to attend one of W.O.K.E.’s anti-violence summits. Cornered, Jamal has no choice but to agree. Having witnessed this discussion, Cookie is unimpressed with Angelo: ”That bougie bitch — he wouldn’t know the streets if it shot him in the ass.” Nor does she think it wise for Jamal to continue their association. “We got a FBI agent up our ass,” she reminds him, “we don’t need a politician too.” Nonetheless, Jamal’s interest in Angelo’s organisation grows and Lucious, under the misapprehension that Cookie is equally enthusiastic, offers to host the summit himself and finance it and “stream the whole thing live on Empire XStream.”

On the surface, this isn’t the soapiest of storylines, but dig a little deeper and it becomes apparent that everyone involved has an ulterior motive for doing what they’re doing. While Lucious’s generosity is really a (misjudged) attempt to impress Cookie, Lucious himself suggests that Jamal’s newly acquired social conscience is a smokescreen for him to hide behind: “This whole ‘I wanna end the cycle’ thing is some BS to cover the fact that that boy can’t sing no more.” Cookie, meanwhile, accuses Angelo of “exploiting my son’s situation for your political tricknology” in front of Lucious and Jamal: ”I know you … with your little summits and town hall meetings … Those kids carry a pain that people like you can’t even begin to imagine. See, you ain’t never had to overcome nothing, have you?!” “Well, damn, only person I ever seen her go off on like that is you!” Jamal tells Lucious as they watch her storm off. The implication here is that Cookie’s dislike of Angelo masks a strong sexual attraction towards him.

Racial politics also raise their head on DYNASTY, albeit in a more superficial way. In return for helping to save his life, Blake asks Jeff for a favour: “I need a diverse investment partner to get this soccer team. All it’ll cost you is ten million for 20% ownership and a call to the Urban Outreach Programme pushing our bid.” When Jeff refuses, he resorts to blackmail, threatening to expose his involvement with Ada Stone unless he co-operates. Jeff comes up with a condition of his own: “You want your soccer team? I want Culhane to suffer.” This sounds juicy enough, but as both Blake’s desire for a football team and Jeff’s thirst for revenge against Culhane have come pretty much out of nowhere, they don’t mean very much.

Like EMPIRE’s summit, DYNASTY’s Party of the Week is charity-based, a fundraiser in aid of the Steven Carrington Foundation. While things go badly for Jamal at the summit — his PSTD panic attack thingy when Lucious invites him to sing — they don’t go much better for Sam, who is obliged to act as host in Steven’s absence and is then rewarded for his efforts by receiving divorce papers in the mail with no explanation.

Following a nice brotherly bonding session between Jamal, Andre and Hakeem where they all pledge to support each other during their current upheavals (PTSD, widowhood and fatherhood respectively), a newly optimistic Andre returns to the house he used to live in with Rhonda to collect some belongings. As he loads his car, he is approached by a couple of cops who want to know what a black man is doing in such a nice neighbourhood: “Lot of break-ins in this neighbourhood. You know anything about that? … Got any ID on you, yo?” “My wallet’s in my car — yo,” mimics Andre, and that’s enough to get him arrested, slammed on the ground and handcuffed, with a gun pointed at him. It feels both ugly and plausible — a reminder that no matter how rich your family or how escapist your soap opera, a black man living in America is still a black man living in America.

And this week's Top 3 are ...

1 (1) DALLAS
2 (2) EMPIRE
3 (3) DYNASTY
 
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14 Apr 14: DALLAS: Where There's Smoke v. 05 Oct 16: EMPIRE: What Remains is Bestial v. 25 Jan 19: DYNASTY: The Sight of You

During the series finale of FALCON CREST, Richard Channing rented three Cary Grant movies. In a 1990 episode of DALLAS, April described Cary Grant as “the greatest-looking man that ever lived.” Greg Sumner once said on KNOTS LANDING that Charles Scott “makes Pee Wee Herman look like Cary Grant.” And now, in the mid-season finale of New DALLAS's third season, Soap Land’s most referenced cultural figure finally appears onscreen. Alone at Southfork and intent on drinking herself into oblivion, Sue Ellen ignores the movie playing on TV, Hitchcock’s 'North by Northwest' starring Grant and Eva Marie Saint (the same film Danny Waleska once cited as an inspiration while attempting to drive Gary Ewing off a cliff).

From Cary to Carey. EMPIRE has been chockfull of pop culture references since it began: phone calls to Barack Obama, framed snapshots of Lucious with the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Tina Turner, cameo appearances by everyone from Al Sharpton to Snoop Dogg. Portraits of black music legends like Jimi Hendrix, Sammy Davis Jr and Mariah Carey adorn Empire’s office walls. This week, one of those legends — Mariah herself — steps off the wall and into the recording studio to sing a duet with Jamal. Confusingly, she does not appear as her pop diva self, but as another pop diva named Kitty. Kitty is super-talented, super-glamorous and super-nice in much the same way as the pop diva played by Alicia Keys was last season. Given that Carey’s own persona is so much more dazzling than Kitty’s, she seems kind of wasted in such a generic role.

While Carys Grant and Mariah are cultural references made Soap Land flesh and blood, Jerry Jones, real-life owner of the Dallas Cowboys football team, travels in the opposite direction. Having already cameoed as himself in ‘War of the Ewings’ and a couple of episodes of New DALLAS (he even attended JR’s memorial service), he receives a passing namecheck on this week's DYNASTY where Blake is in the process of putting together his own football team. “Jerry Jones paid $150,000,000 for the Cowboys — they’re worth $5 billion now,” he says. “Are you comparing yourself to Jerry Jones?” Culhane asks him.

The strange but irresistible paradox at the heart of DALLAS has always been that it’s about a multi-generational family of billionaires living all together in a house that’s too small for them. Just as he did at the start of this season, John Ross challenges this incongruity when, as a surprise for Pamela, he invites a pair of architects to the ranch to discuss expanding their living quarters. Bobby’s objection is pure soap opera: “Exactly what part of ‘I will not let you destroy Southfork’ did you not understand?!” he snarls at his nephew, who responds with real-world common sense: “I just wanna build a proper master suite for my new bride cos, in case you hadn’t noticed, we’re sleeping in JR’s bedroom.”

Pamela, meanwhile, awakens from her night’s slumber to find a note from her lovin’ husband, inviting her to follow the trail of rose petals that lead from their bedroom to the outside of the house where “your morning surprise” awaits. She complies and is just feet away from John Ross — close enough to hear him talking about their idyllic new love nest with the architects — when disaster strikes, as it inevitably must in Soap Land whenever a character flies too close to the sun. Casually glancing down at her phone, she sees the “Now go home and kiss your wife” video of Emma and John Ross Nicolas sent her at the end of last week’s episode. Cue the opening credits.

After John Ross has left for the day none the wiser, Sue Ellen notices a puddle of water coming from under Pamela’s bathroom door. While the suicidal implication of this turns out to be a red herring — Pamela is found sitting in a daze next to an overflowing bathtub — it nonetheless foreshadows what will happen later in the episode. After talking to Sue Ellen and Ann, Pamela realises they’ve known about John Ross and Emma’s affair all along and is furious that they’ve kept it a secret. She’s not the only one. “We’re supposed to be partners, Annie!” Bobby yells at his wife. “What is it that’s so hardwired in you that you keep the most important events in your life secret from your husband? … I want Emma out of my house!”

Since it began at the end of last season, John Ross and Emma’s affair has impacted almost all the show’s major characters — Harris and Judith, Elena and Nicolas, Sue Ellen, and now, as we speed towards the mid-season finale, even Bobby and Ann’s marriage. Shaken by Bobby's anger, Ann turns to her ex-husband for support and, in true soap opera fashion, they end up kissing as if they were Maggie and Richard in the final moments of FALCON CREST Season 4 — only instead of a bomb going off, they are spied on by an incandescent Judith, which is possibly even more dangerous.

Judith also finds time for a sizzling whorehouse confrontation with John Ross. “We have a problem, Harris,” she informs her son after John Ross has gone. “One of the Dalmatians get loose?” Harris quips. I’m not sure if this is a reference to hookers in dog costumes or Cruella de Ville, but Cruella is an apt reference point for Judith’s striking appearance this week. In keeping with the ep's overall vibe of upside-down, nightmarish sexuality, her deathly white face is decorated with a gash of blood-red lipstick and framed by sexily tousled blonde hair. She looks glamorously grotesque. Or maybe grotesquely glamorous. One of the two.

Despite Sue Ellen and Ann’s assurances that their affair is over, Pamela tracks John Ross and Emma to a hotel and walks in to find them kissing on the bed. A familiar enough Soap Land scenario, but instead of being devastated and tearful as, say, Sue Ellen was when she found JR and Holly Harwood together, she remains eerily calm. Instead, it’s Emma and John Ross who are shocked to see her. After John Ross springs to his feet, Pamela’s hand reaches into her pocket. “Don’t do anything you’re gonna regret,” he says nervously. Then she looks at Emma, clocks her emerald corset — the same one they both wore earlier in the season — and smiles. “Love what you’re wearing,” she tells her. Then she turns back at John Ross and removes her coat to reveal an identical corset. “May I join you?” she asks them both. John Ross looks confused — as well he might.

This is the inverse of the scenario JR was confronted by in 1983 when, after he raped Holly in his office, she lured him to her bedroom with the promise of more sex. When he touched her, she pulled a gun on him. In both scenes, the viewer’s expectations, and those of the male character involved, are toyed with and then overturned. When JR found Holly reclining provocatively on a bed in her negligee, champagne chilling in an ice bucket, he anticipated a seduction — instead, he got a gun in his face. When Pamela reaches into her coat, John Ross fears she’s going to produce a gun — instead, she offers him something very different. In each instance, the woman plays the man at his own game, using his appetites and instincts to blindside him.

While John Ross remains rooted to the spot, Pamela kneels on the bed and beckons Emma to join her. They start kissing and Emma gets into it. John Ross doesn’t know what to do — it’s like a dream and a nightmare coming true both at the same time: the woman he cherishes lowering herself to the level of a sex object, a fantasy. His wife and mistress both turn to look at him and it's like a challenge — how can he back out now? He hesitates and then, finally, takes off his shirt and joins them on the bed as the music starts: ‘Break on Through (To the Other Side) by the Doors. Musical montages are pretty much a weekly occurrence in C21st Soap Land, but I think you’d have to travel back as far as Danny Waleska running Pat Williams down to the strains of ’You Are So Beautiful’ by Joe Cocker to find one as effective as this. After Jim Morrison starts to sing and John Ross kisses Pamela and Emma in turn, we cut to another bedroom scene where Nicolas is about to break on through the other side of Elena’s contraceptive device, having pricked some holes in it in an earlier scene. “We chased our pleasures here, dug our treasures there,” croons Jim as Bo McCabe (whom we’ve already been warned is “coming for everyone at Southfork”) lights up a joint as he drives towards the ranch house where Sue Ellen is staggering from room to room in search of more booze (“She get high! She get high!” screams Jim). Bo pulls up, Sue Ellen passes out and a curtain goes up in flames. Meanwhile, Emma and Pamela smother John Ross’s torso in kisses, the three of them unconsciously mimicking the snapshot Harris took of John Ross with two underage two hookers on the morning of his wedding — only instead of fending them off, John Ross is lost in bacchanalian pleasure. Then Pamela gasps, but not in pleasure. She’s having some sort of seizure. John Ross and Emma look on in panic. Again, there’s a parallel between the situation we’re seeing and the song we’re hearing — or more specifically, the man singing it — Jim Morrison, the impossibly beautiful symbol of everything sensual and Dionysian about the ‘60s till the turn of the decade when he suddenly ended up fat, bloated and dead of an overdose in a Parisian bathtub. “Oh yeah!” he cries orgasmically, tauntingly, mockingly, on the soundtrack as Southfork blazes out of control.

According to Oscar Wilde, “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” In C21st Soap Land, that goes double for oral sex: Fallon showing us who’s boss by having Culhane go down on her in the very first scene of New DYNASTY, Emma doing the same by ordering John Ross to “go home and kiss your wife” on New DALLAS, and this week, two scenes between the recent EMPIRE newlyweds. First, Anika knocks on the door of Lucious’s study asking if they can talk. He invites her in and she finds him sitting behind his desk, absorbed by computer screens monitoring the rate of subscriptions to his streaming service. “The board has determined that if I don’t get to 10,000,000 subscribers by Thursday, they’re gonna pull the plug which means I lose $50,000,000,” he informs her, but she has concerns of her own. “I’m like a prisoner in this house with nothing to look forward to,” she complains, before hinting that she’d like her old A&R job back at Empire. He turns her down flat: “You know that is never gonna happen, so you need to just —“ He breaks off abruptly and winces, as if in pain. “Oh my God, you need me to call a doctor?” she asks anxiously. Then a girl emerges from under the desk, mumbling something about a lost earring, and Anika realises what’s being going on the whole time they’ve been talking. “Pia, you remember your old boss Anika?” asks Lucious, then laughs. It’s his “go home and kiss your wife” moment.

“What are you doing in my office?” he asks later in the ep when he walks in and finds Anika sitting behind his desk. She is the one now fixated by the computer display which shows that XStream is only a couple of dozen away from its target number of ten million subscribers. “Almost — a little higher,” she urges. As it reaches 10,000,000, she lets out an orgasmic-sized, “Yes, yes, yes!” “… You sound more excited than me,” Lucious observes. “I am, Lucious. Oh, I am,” she assures him — and then up pops the head of a previously seen delivery boy. “He was just looking for my earring,” she explains. Lucious casually pulls out a gun. The boy flees and it’s Anika’s turn to laugh. “I only wanted to remind you that when you push me, I push back harder,” she says — which is kind of what Pamela was doing when she overdosed in bed with John Ross and Emma: reminding them that actions have consequences. “Then I’ll remind you that you are my wife in my house,” Lucious replies, “and the only men that are gonna be touching you in here is gonna be the coroner when he carries your dead ass body away after my crazy ass mama kills you.” “No … that’s not how this is gonna go, Lucious,” Anika replies. From here on in, they continue to argue over which of them has the upper hand. “See, I married you to save YOUR ass … I am not the one who needs this marriage,” she insists. “You married me because you always wanted to be Mrs Lucious Lyon,” he tells her. “Not anymore,” she replies. “I am here in this Haunted House of Horrors because I knew that if I did cooperate with Tariq, my baby would grow up without a mother.” “… And now you’re cornered.” “And so are you.” “… I’m gonna do what I want when I want or we both go down in flames. I like to call it mutually assured destruction.” Going down in flames … mutually assured destruction … These words chime with the twin cliffhangers at the end of DALLAS.

For DALLAS’s Drew Ramos and EMPIRE’s Freda Gatz, atonement for their crimes (blowing up the Ewing babies and shooting Jamal respectively) remain tantalisingly, frustratingly and poignantly just out of reach. Hoping to come to terms with what happened to him, Jamal finally visits Freda at the Soap Land Penitentiary, but just as Drew’s return to Dallas triggered traumatic flashbacks for Christopher last week so the same thing happens here. When Freda puts out her (chained) hands to him in a gesture of welcome, Jamal flashes back to her raising the gun to shoot him and backs away nervously. Unlike Christopher, however, he wants to make peace. “I hate seeing you like this,” he says. But when she tells him she’s surprised he’s stopped making music — “The Jamal Lyon I know is a beast in the studio” — his anger resurfaces: “The Jamal Lyon that you know went missing when you shot him.” “Jamal, I didn’t mean to hurt you.” “Yeah, but you did … I’m ruined and that’s your fault — you’re the one that did it!” He calls for the guards and they drag her away.

Back on DALLAS, Nicolas finds the missing Drew hiding in the back of his car. “All the bad decisions I’ve made are a result of what JR did to my father,” Drew tells him. By this point, we know for sure that Nicolas cannot be trusted, yet the advice he gives in this scene is in Drew’s best interests — but, tragically, Drew is too far gone to hear him. “Listen to me,” Nicolas pleads. “Elena and I have put in place an intricate plan that will take everything from the Ewings. Be patient. Go back to Mexico … and let us set you and your family free.” “The Ewings killed my father, our father,” Drew insists, “as surely as if they’d put a gun in his hand and pulled the trigger … Come with me to avenge our father. Avenge the man who raised you, Joaquin.” “No,” Nicolas replies. “You’re being irrational, Drew, like you’ve always been irrational since Enrique died.” If Nicolas won’t help him, then Drew “will do it alone.” He bolts out of the car and runs; Nicolas tries to follow him but is momentarily trapped by his seat belt (a great little moment) and loses him. Reluctantly, he calls Luis, the Mendez-Ochoa boss man and spells out the situation: “Drew Ramos is out for blood against the Ewings. If he reaches them and tells them anything, our plan will be ruined … It is the Ewing deal that puts the cartel much closer to overthrowing the Mexican government … Put every man you have in Dallas out finding Drew Ramos now!”

Following Andre’s assault and arrest by the police at the end of last week’s EMPIRE, his storyline continually flips between the real world and soap, and between the (black) hood and the (white) justice system. He leaves the police station after being released on bail to find a crowd of reporters and fans waiting for him. “Don’t go all Black Lives Matter on me here, okay?” urges his (white) lawyer, but the goading of reporters (“Your mother and father have a chequered history with law enforcement — are you just following in their criminal footsteps?”) prompts him to respond politically: “What’s happening to me is what’s happening all across America, right now.” “And what’s that?” shouts a voice in the crowd. He looks over and sees Rhonda’s ghost. “None of this would have happened if I was still here,” she tells him. Later, he tells his parents that he blames himself for how he handled the situation that led to his arrest. “Nothing you could have done different — you were born black,” Lucious replies, assuring him that he will set Thirsty on the cops who assaulted him. “With the FBI watching our every move, the last thing we need is Thirsty taking care of anything … I just wanna do this the right way,” Andre insists. Cookie is incredulous: “You do realise you’re a black man, Andre? And this was a dirty cop that did that to your face? … We’re gonna fight fire with fire!” “Enough!” Andre shouts. “I’m a Wharton graduate, Mama. I’m a CFO of a publicly-traded corporation. I’m not gonna fight fire with fire!” In the event, despite his brothers showing up in court to lend moral support and his lawyer’s assurances that the whole thing will be dismissed, he is charged with criminal trespassing, aggravated assault and assault against a police officer, and a trial date is set.

This leads to a brilliantly fascinating sequence where Lucious pulls up outside the courthouse in a large black van with the most incredibly luxurious interior — it’s like a private jet — to takes his sons on a trip through “our old neighbourhood. This is where we grew up.” The view from their tinted windows is so bleak, Hakeem can’t believe it. “We ain’t never lived here,” he insists. “I did everything I could to shield y’all from this,” Lucious tells them. “After your mama went away, I got us up and outta here as fast as humanly possible. But I coddled y’all, let y’all breathe rarified air and live behind giant gates and drive in limos. Biggest mistake of my life cos it made y’all soft.” (This speech runs parallel to one Bobby delivers on this week’s DALLAS: “Southfork is my home. I was born in this house and I will protect it and every person in it with my life!”) “The whole time I thought the problem was that you were bipolar and you were gay and you were just spoiled,” Lucious continues, addressing each of his sons in turn, “but now I realise y’all don’t know you’re black.” An angry Andre demands to be let out of the van. “When you step outside this high wall of privilege that I’ve built around you,” Lucious warns him, “your name might as well be Trayvon or Philando or Freddie.” [Three real-life black men killed by the police in recent years to whom Lucious refers almost as casually as Blake Carrington does Jerry Jones.] “And the fault lies in me because I didn’t prepare you … You better get woke and quick, because you are one moment away from becoming a hashtag, and I don’t care how many white wives or white lawyers you get.” At this, Andre explodes: “OPEN THIS DOOR! OPEN IT! You DARE talk about my wife after what happened? I don’t know what it’s like to be a black man in America?! I know what it’s like to be a Lyon and I’d rather be in jail — hell, I’d rather be dead — than end up like you!”

While systemic racism is the underlying cause of what is happening to Andre, the cause underlying the underlying cause is far soapier: familial revenge. “You’re behind this — some twisted way of getting back at my father,” Andre realises when his Uncle Tariq approaches him in the final scene of the ep. “You think you can get me to inform on my father in exchange for dropping some charges? … That ain’t gonna happen.” “You are your father’s son after all,” Tariq observes. (So, after insisting he’d rather be dead than end up like his daddy, Andre is told by his uncle that he is his father’s son — it’s John Ross and JR all over again.) “We shall see,” Tariq continues. “It doesn’t take much to put the screws on a black man once he’s part of the system and you ain’t no ordinary black man. You’re a Lyon — prize game.”

A seam of ‘60s pop music runs through this week’s Soap Land. As well as the Doors on DALLAS and a portrait of Jimi Hendrix on Cookie’s wall, there’s a karaoke scene on DYNASTY where all the female characters — minus Alexis, but including Sam (who, as a gay man, apparently qualifies as an honorary woman) — get up and “spontaneously” perform ‘These Boots are Made for Walking’ for our apparent pleasure. As hatefully indulgent musical numbers go, it’s up there with Val and Karen’s ‘I’m Henry VIII I Am’ in 'Back to the Cul-de-sac', only there isn’t quite the same sense of betrayal in this case as one doesn’t expect any better from this group of narcissistic cunts.

The best moment of DYNASTY come near the end of the ep when Liam delivers a line from the original series — “There was a time when I thought I couldn't live without you; now I can't stand the sight of you” — to New Fallon with even more contempt than ‘80s Jeff did to Pamela Sue Martin back in the day.

And the Top 3 are ...

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

James from London

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Time immemorial
18 Aug 14: DALLAS: Denial, Anger, Acceptance v. 12 Oct 16: EMPIRE: Cupid Kills v. 01 Feb 19: DYNASTY: Filthy Games

There’s a brilliant collision of storylines at Soap Land Memorial Hospital at the start of DALLAS’s midseason premiere, just as there was the start of ‘80s DYNASTY’s third season when Cecil’s heart attack coincided with Blake’s tumble down a mountainside. Bobby and Christopher, waiting anxiously for news of Sue Ellen’s condition following the fire at Southfork, are shocked to see an unconscious Pamela wheeled in on a gurney, closely followed by John Ross. “They said she overdosed. What happened?” Christopher asks him. John Ross looks at his smoke-stained cousin and uncle in confusion. “Wait, what are you two doing here?” he asks. Instead of answering, Bobby pushes him against a wall. “You are responsible for this … Because of your cheating, she could die!” he shouts. Then a doctor appears: “I’m looking for Sue Ellen Ewing’s family …” “What’s going on? What happened to my mother?” John Ross demands to know. ”While you were out destroying your marriage, there was a fire at Southfork. She was inside,” Christopher snarls.

Now that everyone’s on the same page, it’s time to address the two whodunnits posed by this mid-season premiere: “Who set Southfork on fire?” and “Who sent Pamela that video?” Even though we already know the answer to the second, there’s something very satisfying about Bobby immediately jumping to the wrong conclusion. “It wasn’t enough that you betrayed Pamela, you have to send her some sick video to prove it!?” he yells at Emma as she too appears on the scene.

Although John Ross believes Emma’s protestations of innocence — “Why would I send a video of us making love to Pamela?” — it’s not enough to save their relationship. “We never made love,” he tells her coldly. “We screwed … The first rule of cheating is when the wife finds out, it’s done. From now on, you and I are strangers.” If it wasn’t Emma who sent the video, then it must have been “that son of a bitch Ryland,” he decides. In a deleted scene, Emma takes this allegation and runs with it, angrily accusing her father of sending the video to break up her and John Ross. Harris denies the accusation, but thrillingly refers to John Ross as “that little shit.” “How do you know it was Ryland?” Elena asks John Ross. “Who the hell else would do something like that?” he replies. Elena knows exactly who the hell else would do something like that. “You sent that video, you son of a bitch!” she yells at Nicolas over the phone.

Emma may not have sent the video but as far as Ann is concerned, her affair with John Ross is still to blame for Pamela’s overdose. Her defence is almost exactly the same as JR’s when his mother blamed him for Pamela’s father’s overdose thirty-two years earlier. “Cliff is in the hospital because of Cliff. I didn't shove those pills down his throat,” JR said then. “I didn’t force John Ross to sleep with me and I didn’t force those pills down Pamela’s throat,” Emma says now. Disgusted, Ann sends her back to live with the Rylands where, heartbroken after being dumped by John Ross, she receives some twisted counsel from Grandma: “The ability to feel pain is a gift. Feel that hurt. Nurture that hurt. Feed that hurt till it’s powerful enough to take vengeance on those that have wronged you.” Here, Judith is singing from the same hymn sheet as KNOTS LANDING’s Diana following her husband Chip’s untimely death thirty years earlier. “I don’t want it to stop hurting, ever,” she told her Aunt Abby back in 1983, “because if it stops hurting I might forget and forgive and I don’t wanna forget and I hope I never forgive … As long as I’m in pain I won’t forgive anybody who did anything to let this happen … I cherish the pain.”

Drew, meanwhile, is being held by the Mendez-Ochoa cartel, as per Nicolas’s request. Even though he continues to talk passionately about taking revenge on the Ewings (“I will destroy them and they will know whose hands created that destruction”), he is pretty much a dead man walking at this point. Nicolas again tries to explain that he and Elena already have a scheme in place to take over Ewing Global (“If you go after them again, you’ll destroy our plan before it is complete”), but Drew isn’t impressed: “Taking their money means nothing. They’ll just make more.” Eventually, Nicolas admits that he personally needs the plan to go through so that he can pay back the cartel the hundreds of millions of dollars he lost them. “Does my sister know this?” asks Drew quietly. “Of course not. If she found out you were using her, using her pain over our father’s death, just to pay a debt to drug dealers, she would despise you.” This is one more reason why Nicolas needs Drew to die: Elena must never find out his real motives for helping her. Finally, Drew says what they’ve both been thinking: “Let’s not lie to each other, mi Hermano. We both know I was dead the moment you brought me here.” His calm acceptance of his fate is chilling.

The brutal execution that follows is closer in tone to 24 than ‘80s Soap Land yet there is a weird streak of tenderness running alongside the cruelty. “Give your father my love,” says Nicolas after tearing the St Christopher medal from Drew’s neck. It’s hard to tell if he’s being ironic or sincere. “With what I’ve done, I’m going to Hell,” Drew replies matter-of-factly. “I’ll save you a seat.” Nicolas makes the sign of the cross and kisses St Christopher (for the benefit of Drew’s soul or his own?), before giving the nod for one of the cartel henchman to shoot Drew in the head. After the trigger is pulled, tears well in Nicolas’s eyes.

Following Jamal’s freak-out when he saw Freda at the Soap Land Penitentiary in last week’s EMPIRE, he tries to visit her again, but this time brings along Philip, the leader of his PTSD self-help group, to help with his breathing when he gets anxious. Meanwhile, John Ross is prohibited by hospital staff from visiting Pamela for most of this week’s DALLAS because she’s on suicide watch. When he eventually does get to see her, she laughs at the suggestion that she was suicidal. “If I’d wanted to kill myself, I would not have driven over to your hotel room to do it,” she tells him. “I did what I did so that every time you think about screwing that piece of trash, all you’ll be able to see is me on the floor with my eyes rolled back in my head. Sexy, huh?” About as sexy as Jamal seeing Freda’s sweet little face all battered and swollen from a beating. “Who did that to you?” he asks. “Let’s just say you’ve got some really, really big fans in here,” she replies through split lips. Like Drew, she seems resigned to her punishment. “It’s all good,” she insists. “I belong here for what I did to you.” “You can’t stay here,” Jamal argues. “I’m gonna fix this.”

On the advice of Angelo Dubois, his mom’s potential new love interest who, usefully, is also a lawyer, Jamal recruits a doctor to testify at an emergency bail hearing that Freda has “a history of psychological problems” and that her shooting of him occurred during “an episode of intense temporary paranoia” caused by “alcohol in combination with prescription drugs.” For good measure, Jamal adds that Empire is also responsible for Freda’s situation because it gave her money and success, but not the tools to deal with them. The judge is persuaded and she is granted bail.

Then comes an outrageous twist that would feel phoney on New DYNASTY, but which EMPIRE just about gets away with because it’s still, ultimately, rooted in the characters’ relationships. “She would have been killed,” Jamal says when his father congratulates him on getting Freda out of prison. “I know,” Lucious replies with a chuckle. “That’s why I had her ass beat in there. I mean, Freda was down for it. She knew that was the only way she was ever gonna get out …” “So you’re saying that Freda played me the whole time?” asks Jamal, stunned. “What I was most proud of,” continues Lucious smugly, “was the fact that you paid off that doctor to make reports for that judge because now, no matter what she ever says in a court of law, it’ll never be credible, so that nonsense about me having something to do with whatever happened with her father — but the beauty of it is, I didn’t have to tell you to do it … It was like it was second nature to you, like a Lyon. How’d it feel to know you’re just like your daddy?” Last week, it was Andre who was dismayed to be told he was just like his father, now it’s Jamal. Needless to say, we’re once again in John Ross/JR territory.

This week’s DALLAS is that most unthinkable of things — an episode in which JR’s name is not mentioned or even referred to. However, in a scene where Bobby is lecturing his penitent nephew as they stand in the ruins of Southfork, he could just as easily be talking to his big brother during one of JR’s periodic bouts of remorse back in the ‘80s. “I know sleeping with Emma was wrong, but I did it anyway,” John Ross admits. “I just kept telling myself it was business, that it really didn’t mean anything.” “That’s what you do, John Ross,” Bobby replies. “You justify and then you ignore all the destruction you leave in your wake … You say you wanna be a better person, that you didn’t mean to betray the people you love and you feel so bad for doing it. Well, words are cheap. You are what you do. You want to be a better man? Be one.”

Following their respective conversations with Lucious and Bobby, Jamal and John Ross each seek reassurance about themselves from a third party. “Do you think I’m a good person?” Jamal asks Philip, the PTSD guy whom he’s known for all of three scenes. “Am I even capable of loving someone or am I just some kind of a sociopath that’s so broken inside that I can’t ever be fixed?” John Ross asks Elena who, as he says, knows “me better than anybody.” Each receives a noncommittal but optimistic response. “I’m not in a position to judge,” Philip tells Jamal, “but I know that you’ve got work left to do if you wanna get over your PTSD.” “I think we all do things we regret,” says Elena, clearly reflecting on her own recent actions as much as John Ross’s, “but every day is another chance to do the right thing. You just have to find the strength to do it.”

Although JR isn’t mentioned in the finished episode, he does receive a shout out in a deleted scene when Judith, who alas is on her way to Europe to sort out a problem with her Parisian brothel (“Apparently the French prostitutes are being rude to the customers”), warns Harris and Emma to be on their guard against the Ewings. “JR Ewing may be dead, but his plan to destroy us is alive and well,” she reminds them. Before leaving, she finds time in her busy schedule to split up Bobby and Ann by maliciously revealing what she witnessed from her window during the previous episode: “Ann’s make out session with Harris looked like a real toe-curler from where I stood.” Back in the ‘80s, the separation of a Soap Land super-couple (Chase and Maggie, Blake and Krystle, Pam and Bobby, Karen and Mack) was invariably instigated by the wife, who would poignantly inform her man that she’d taken a suite at the Soap Land Hotel because “I need some time to think.” Here, however, it’s all Bobby’s idea. “When I used to look at you,” he tells Ann, “all I could think of was how lucky I was to have you in my life and now I wonder what secrets you’re keeping from me … I don’t wanna live like that.” He explains his intention to stay at Southfork during the rebuilding of the house. “Are you kicking me out?” Ann asks in surprise. After thirty-one years, Bobby finally gets to deliver the same line that Pam did when she walked out on him: “I need some time to figure things out.” The chilliness between Bobby and Ann is matched by the temperature of the burnt-out room they’re standing in: it’s so cold, you can see their breath.

Whereas it was the discovery that she wasn’t (solely) responsible for the car crash that paralysed Mickey Trotter that gave Sue Ellen the resolve to stop drinking in 1983, it’s the mistaken belief that she is responsible for the fire at Southfork that gives her the strength to quit (following a near relapse with a bottle of aftershave) in 2014. “I am an alcoholic and I will be until I die,” she emotionally admits to Bobby, Ann and Christopher. (Just don’t tell she’s to blame for the broken back Bo McCabe sustained while trying to rescue her or we’ll be back to square one.) Over on EMPIRE, it looks like Jamal’s addiction is just getting started. “You don’t wanna be mixing those,” advises Philip, when he sees him about to wash down his medication with alcohol. Jamal pretends to heed this advice but then waits till he’s alone before knocking them back.

Such is the unpredictability of EMPIRE that the two juiciest stories in last week’s episode — Andre’s assault charge and Lucious and Anika’s marital feud — are scarcely mentioned this week. Rather, the focus is on Cookie’s first date with Angelo, who has invited her to hear a singer friend of his perform. This scenario incorporates several well-known TV tropes — some familiar to Soap Land, others less so — but each given a unique Cookie twist. First, there’s the ‘Costume Test Montage’ with a one-line quip to go with every outfit Cookie tries on (“I look like Mrs O’Dell who went to all the funerals in my church”; “Angelo better get ready for all that jelly!”; “I look like Snaffleupagus”). However, unlike similar sequences on New DYNASTY, the tone isn’t overtly comedic. What emerges most strongly is how nervous the character is, not how hilarious the writers or actress think they are.

In the event, Cookie shows up to the date in a short sexy red dress — only to find Angelo dressed formally in a tuxedo, having neglected to mention that the singer they’re seeing is a soprano performing in an opera, and it’s a charity fundraiser which means all the other women are wearing their poshest gowns. This brings us to our next trope, which tvtropes.org refers to as ‘Underdressed for the Occasion’: “Arriving underdressed to a party or other social event often signals that the underdressed character is in some way an outsider. Frequently, the underdressed character is of lower-class status than the rest of the guests. A poverty-stricken character may be underdressed due to an inability to afford formal wear.” This description applies to Cookie only up to a point: yes, she is regarded as a lower-class outsider by the other guests (who, interestingly, are also black), but she is hardly poverty-stricken. (We’re not talking Jamie Ewing sitting down to her first formal dinner at Southfork in jeans and a work shirt.) This dichotomy is illustrated when one of Angelo’s snooty female friends asks Cookie, “Where do you stay on the vineyard?” Cookie doesn’t know what she means. “Martha’s Vineyard,” Angelo explains, before addressing the other women. “Actually, Cookie spends most of her summers running her family’s multi-billion dollar corporation.” “Actually, I have summered in Connecticut,” Cookie adds sweetly, “at the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution for Women.”

The next trope, the ‘Bathroom Stall of Overheard Insults’, isn’t one we’re accustomed to seeing in Soap Land where, as a rule, bathroom stalls don’t exist. “I just don’t know what he’s doing with that hood rat,” Cookie overhears one of the women saying to the other as they primp themselves in the mirror. “Wonder how long it’ll be before he tosses that charity case back to … that prison she escaped from?” smirks the other one. As Cookie emerges from the stall, the scene segues into a much more familiar soap trope: the ‘Powder Room Showdown’. “I got a charity for you,” she says as she slowly approaches the two women. “Make A Wish — you know that one? Once I get finished whupping both of y’all’s asses, you’re gonna wish you never met a hood rat like me.” She flicks a bit of water at them before walking away, causing them to flinch nervously. “Just wiping my hands, bitches,” she says over her shoulder.

Angelo explains to Cookie that the opera they’re watching, La Boheme, is “the story of a woman caught in between two men," which neatly reflects not only Cookie’s current situation with Angelo and Lucious, but also an equivalent scenario in her teenage years when she was caught between Lucious and “this guy my daddy wanted me to marry," whom Angelo now reminds her of. This leads to another teen flashback, this time set to ‘Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)’ by the Temptations, one of the Motown songs that also soundtracked Mack and Anne’s flashbacks back in KNOTS Season 8. I guess nothing evokes wistful memories of innocent young love quite like it.

Last week’s DALLAS ended with a two girls/one boy sex scene where one of the girls almost died. This week’s EMPIRE ends with a two girls/one boy sex scene where one of the girls is dead already. It’s a long story, but Shyne, the volatile gangster who ruined Hakeem’s wedding at the end of last season, has a niece, Nessa, whom Lucious has been trying to sign to Empire ever since he heard her sing in this season’s premiere (when she took over the mic during a show after a traumatised Jamal fled the stage). Shyne has been making life difficult for all concerned and so this week, Lucious gets Andre involved. From the moment Andre claps eyes on Nessa, the attraction between them is clear. In the final scene of the ep, they’re about to have sex on his desk when he suddenly pulls away from her. “I can’t,” he says. “I want to, but —” “It’s okay,” she whispers. “I know you lost your wife.” Right on cue, Rhonda’s Ghost materialises. “You can do it,” she tells Andre encouragingly. “We can do it together. We’ll both do it. And it’ll be really good, just like it always was.” And so, while Andre ravishes Nessa, Rhonda ravishes Andre. As with the threesome on DALLAS, it’s the man who is most freaked out by the situation. (Admittedly, in this case, that’s because he’s the only one who knows it’s actually happening.)

DYNASTY is as annoyingly smug and stupid as ever. The sole highlight of this week’s ep comes when Alexis, having learned that New New Cristal has secretly ordered a DNA test to determine if Blake is the father of her unborn baby, enlists the aid of Tony the gardener to corrupt the test. “All we have to do is switch out the original paternity sample with a non-Carrington sample so the tests come back as not a match,” she explains. This is reminiscent of the FALCON CREST plot where Melissa swapped the blood samples in the paternity test over Maggie’s baby. However, as this is C21st Soap Land and Tony has the same amusingly low IQ as Hank (aka Fake Adam), an extra twist is required and so he takes the non-Carrington sample from Bo the dog.

And the Top 3 are ...

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2 (2) EMPIRE
3 (3) DYNASTY
 

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25 Aug 14: DALLAS: Dead Reckoning v. 09 Nov 16: EMPIRE: One Before Another v. 08 Feb 19: DYNASTY: Even Worms Can Procreate

“Who is to blame for Drew’s death?” replaces “Who sent Pamela the video of John Ross and Emma?” as the question everyone on DALLAS is asking, but to which viewers already know the answer: Nicolas.

Whereas JR’s death was a suicide (of sorts) arranged to look like a murder, the Mendez-Ochoa cartel makes Drew’s murder look like a suicide. In both cases, a significant item is removed from the body to help achieve this deception: JR’s belt buckle and Drew’s St Christopher medal. It is the absence of the medal, which Drew always wore around his neck, that convinces his mother Carmen that his death was self-inflicted. “Suicide’s a mortal sin,” Elena reminds her. “Drew wouldn’t have been able to do it with it on.” The morgue scene where Drew’s family identifies his body is as wrenching as the one where the Ewings did the same for JR. Just as there were four Ewings present then (John Ross, Bobby, Sue Ellen and Christopher), there are four characters present now: Carmen, Elena, Bobby and Nicolas. (Nicolas, the murderer, looks as grief-stricken as everyone else). Drew’s coffin, like JR’s, is draped with an American flag and we see his mother weeping over it just as Sue Ellen did JR's. And also like Sue Ellen, Emma receives a posthumous, movingly written love letter from the deceased: “I saw a light in you, a goodness in you that I’m not sure you saw in yourself, but the truth is you deserve a better man than me. I’m sorry I didn’t fight harder to be that man.” Drew may have only around for a fraction of the time JR was, but the significance given to his passing makes it clear that, within the context of the series, his life mattered just as much.

While Elena blames herself ("Drew is dead because he discovered the deed switch. He couldn’t live with that. If I had just told him the truth from the beginning …This is my fault”), Nicolas argues that “JR Ewing is the reason your brother is dead.” However, Emma believes her father is responsible. “It’s your fault Drew is dead," she tells Harris. "You hired him to blow up that rig and he killed himself over the guilt he felt for killing those babies.”

Meanwhile, Pamela still maintains her overdose wasn’t an attempted suicide — it's just that her desire for revenge on John Ross meant more to her than her own life. A fine distinction perhaps, but one that would make sense to Shyne on EMPIRE. “If I gotta blow somebody up, I don’t care if I die with him,” he tells Lucious after declaring war on the Lyons. “What you need to come to terms with is that you were willing to throw your life away,” Sue Ellen tells Pamela gently. “I wasn’t trying to kill myself, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t ready to — and that terrifies me,” Pamela finally admits. Sue Ellen can relate: “I didn’t die when I passed out drunk and set that fire, but I just as easily could have. That terrifies me.” Back when New DALLAS began, independent, career-minded Elena was the young female character with whom Sue Ellen identified (“If I hadn’t met JR, I’d like to think that I could have been like you,” she told her then). Now, it's conflicted, self-destructive Pamela she has most in common with. The beauty of New DALLAS is that there’s enough room for both comparisons to apply; Sue Ellen is both strong and self-destructive; career-minded and conflicted.

But the Award for Most Unequivocally Suicidal Character of the Week goes to DYNASTY’s Alexis who randomly decides to shoot herself in the mouth at the end of this week’s episode, but upon seeing New New Cristal out riding with her ex-husband Mark, suddenly decides to shoot her instead. However, it’s Mark who ends up taking a bullet while New-New does the whole thrown-from-her-horse-then-dragged-along-the-ground-while-pregnant thing.

Pamela is released from Soap Land Memorial Hospital after solemnly promising to “make myself the priority.” She tells Sue Ellen that, as they never got a prenup, she intends to stay married to John Ross: “I can’t take the chance of him being awarded any part of my shares of Ewing Global.” Sue Ellen wonders how this qualifies as “making yourself a priority.” “I am making myself a priority,” Pamela explains, “because if I walk away from this marriage, John Ross wins and I’m not about to let that happen.” This is the same sort of soapy reasoning Sue Ellen herself applied back in the day when she told JR: “Hating you the way I do is enough to keep me sober.”

“Maybe if Drew had never gotten involved with you then we would still be together and maybe I wouldn’t have slept with John Ross and maybe Pamela wouldn’t have tried to kill herself,” says Emma to her father, thereby illustrating “the domino effect” — that classic Soap Land storytelling device whereby one plot development sparks off another, then another — that New DALLAS is so good at: from Ryland trying to break up Drew and Emma to Pamela’s overdose in three moves. By comparison, EMPIRE’s plotting feels more fragmented. While some story strands disappear for weeks on end, seemingly forgotten about, only to resurface when you least expect it, other plots repeat themselves ad infinitum. I’ve lost track of how many times each of Lucious’s sons has turned against him and then returned to his side. Currently, Andre is back under his spell while Jamal is the angry outsider and Hakeem’s soul is up for grabs, but they might easily have all swapped positions in a few episodes’ time. It reminds me of how Angela was continually writing Lance in or out of her will on FALCON CREST, on almost on a weekly basis. But whereas FC often felt simply inconsistent, as if the writers were having trouble keeping track of what was going on, the Lyons’ repetitive patterns of behaviour — falling out, reconciling, falling out all over again for the very same reasons — feel true to real family life, albeit heightened to the extremes of soap opera — a soap opera where the characters feel compelled to express their conflicts both through the medium of hip hop and in a public arena. As Jamal says to his father this week, “You love this type of drama!”

EMPIRE’s brand of exhibitionist soap opera reaches its ultimate expression this week as Jamal, in an attempt to combat his stage fright, collaborates with Hakeem on an intimate performance to be broadcast from his apartment on Empire XStream. As Jamal delivers a soulful number about unity and togetherness, full of “we made it through the storm and we’re still together” type sentiment, his mom and brothers look on supportively. Lucious, however, is busy monitoring the streaming numbers and isn’t impressed: “They need to go up. Hakeem’s audience ain’t even tuning in because they’re not here for this Kumbaya crap. We need some fire in here!” His solution is to drip poison in Hakeem’s ear about Andre’s new romance with Nessa, who Hakeem has also had his eye on. When it comes time for Hakeem to take the mic, he loses it and delivers an angry, homophobic rap against Jamal who he accuses of conspiring against him: “You got us doing this Mickey Mouse performance about brotherhood when you know Andre’s giant ass crushing my girl!” Lucious is thrilled and, as a shouting match between the brothers develops, he orders the cameras to keep filming. Cookie, however, pushes him out the way and starts pulling out plugs, and pretty soon, everyone’s screaming at everyone. “Petty ass dumb bitch!” “Shut your Frank Ocean wannabe ass up!” “Turn these cameras off!” We’ve seen plenty of public meltdowns on New DYNASTY — almost every time Blake or Fallon stand on a stage to make a formal announcement, they get drunk and start ranting on about something or other — and they’re all predictably farcical. This one, however, is visceral and thrilling.

As the Lyons create chaos on their streaming service, there’s further online action on DYNASTY where Sam launches himself as an influencer on Instagram, only to be upstaged by cutesy footage of Anders and Bo (DYNASTY’s dog rather than DALLAS’s paralysed rodeo rider). This comedy subplot culminates in Anders telling Sam he loves him like a son and Sam learning his Lesson for the Week (which he’ll have inevitably forgotten by the next episode): Some Things in Life are More Important Than Seeking Approval from Strangers. Such mawkishly sentimental moments on DYNASTY always take me a bit by surprise: we’re meant to actually care about these people?

It’s been a notable week for Soap Land’s underlings. As well as Anders going viral, the lovely Becky gets a bit of a storyline on EMPIRE. A few episodes ago, she was passed over for the position of Head of A&R in favour of smug Jewish white guy, Xavier. It’s interesting to note the casual racism thrown his way in this week’s ep by Cookie, who refers to him as ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, and Becky herself, who informs him testily that “this ain’t chutes and ladders, this is the music business. I thought you people understood what the word ‘business’ meant.” Xavier doesn’t respond to this jibe directly but later manages to make Becky look bad in front of Cookie and Tiana. “Why didn’t you have my back?” Becky asks him. “It’s just business,” he replies. She then has a mini tantrum at her desk which only makes her more adorable. (There’s more tit for tat rivalry in the workplace between Fallon and Culhane, both now involved with Blake’s football team, but that's all super boring and pathetically childish.)

Back at Southfork, Carmen the cook is the only New DALLAS character whose role, beliefs and allegiances have remained unaltered since the series began — but that all changes this week. After it emerges that it was Drew, not Sue Ellen, who started the fire at Southfork, Elena feels obliged to tell her the real reason Drew wanted revenge on the Ewings: the deed switch JR perpetrated on their father all those years ago. Finally, Carmen realises that she is, as Nicolas once described her, "a servant for the people who caused [her husband’s] death and stole the millions that should have been hers.” She then reveals a surprise of her own. As well as making mole and fussing over her kids during the past three years, she has also been listening at keyholes and eavesdropping on staircases. She demonstrates this by flashing back to Bobby and Bum discussing JR’s top-secret letter on the day of his funeral, only now with an inserted shot of Carmen herself watching them unobserved. She then tells Elena that she also saw John Ross reading that same letter at the beginning of this very episode.

And so, two episodes after Pamela seduced John Ross and Emma for revenge, Elena prepares to seduce John Ross to get her hands on that letter JR wrote to Bobby. Where Pamela downed a whole bottle of pills, Elena makes do with half a bottle of tequila. She finds John Ross sitting outside by the gazebo on Southfork, likewise drowning his sorrows over Pamela. “Every time something bad happens,” Elena reflects, “we think we’ll recover, but all those scars, they start to add up. It happens so incrementally, you don’t even notice until it’s too late and then one day you wake up, you look at yourself in the mirror and you don’t even recognise yourself.” This might be one of the most quietly profound things anyone on DALLAS has ever said. Lucious touches on the same theme, the corruption of the soul, as he describes the plot of a short story, 'The Criminal' by Kahlil Gibran, to Hakeem: “A young man who was very kind of heart … depended on the kindness of humanity in order for him to eat. But after some time, he felt himself starving to death, and right when you thought he was about to die, he realised his own true nature. You see, Keem, the nature of humanity isn’t love and peaceful, it’s dark and beastly and it’ll turn the meek and humble into a criminal, and the sons of peace into destroyers of men. He became a destroyer of men because he had to.”

“As the patriarch of the family,” Lucious continues, now talking from personal experience, “you’re responsible for teaching your young ones how to survive in this cold world. Jamal don’t understand that. He thinks it’s all Kumbaya and love but he’s wrong. It’s kill or be killed, eat or be eaten.” This speech, familiar as it is, shows what separates the Lyons from the Ewings, the Carringtons and the rest of the traditional Soap Land dynasties. For them, the primary challenge has always been how to survive within their dysfunctional family: how to live up to the parental expectations and deal with the sibling rivalries inside that rarified world of privilege and power. But when Lucious talks about surviving “in this cold world”, he is talking about the real world, specifically as experienced by black people in America. The Lyons don’t have generations of wealth and heritage to insulate themselves with the way the Ewings and Carringtons do. Lucious is first-generation rich: poverty and prison are a none too distant memory for him, all of which gives his brand of patriarchal rhetoric a specific kind of urgency.

“I don’t blame JR. I blame myself for trying to be JR,” John Ross tells Bum on DALLAS. “The sooner you accept that you are the younger version of me with a twist, the sooner you’ll … be your old self again,” Lucious tells Jamal on EMPIRE. “I am turning into my mother. I am gonna end up old and alone and surrounded by paintings of dogs,” realises Fallon on DYNASTY. John Ross and Lucious go so far as to add a bit of ropey science to their argument. “Having JR’s DNA in my blood is a curse.” “Jamal, you are 50% genetically disposed to become me.”

Having bedded John Ross, Elena looks through his wallet while he’s asleep and finds the letter that proves the Ewings framed Cliff! As if this were not exciting enough, we can actually hear JR laughing from beyond the grave.

There’s no reference to Jamal’s medication dependency this week, but Bo McCabe’s refusal to take any pain relief on DALLAS despite his broken back suggests his determination to turn over a new leaf is genuine. Meanwhile, the launch of Blake’s football team is upstaged when Culhane’s never previously mentioned “history of painkiller addiction” is leaked to the press. Even though he knows it will cost him his relationship with Heather, Christopher arranges for Bo to get the treatment he needs in Tel Aviv. “Bo needs Michael and Michael needs you,” he reasons. This leads to a very touching, beautifully filmed goodbye scene between him and Heather. "I guess it’s true, huh? We’ll always be connected to our first love,” Heather says tearfully, referring as much to Christopher and Elena as herself and Bo. “You never really do get over your first love,” echoes Alexis as she and Blake observe New New Cristal laughing with her ex-husband. “I didn’t.”

Speaking of first loves, neither of Cookie’s previous on-screen boyfriends — the hunky bodyguard in Season 1 nor the hunky promoter in Season 2 — felt like serious competition for Lucious. Angelo Dubois, however, delivers an impressive speech this week which suggests that he might yet prove to be the Dusty Farlow to her Sue Ellen or the Dex Dexter to her Alexis: “I saw your boys tonight on Empire XStream and I realised something … Fighting is your family’s way of life. It’s like it’s in your blood, but somehow, y’all got the idea that I’m not a fighter … Baby girl, I’m not talking about fighting with you, I’m talking about fighting for you and if that means going up against Lucious, well, then so be it.”

And this week’s Top 3 are …

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