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    THE SPIN-OFF

DYNASTY versus DALLAS versus KNOTS LANDING versus the rest of them

James from London

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01 Sep 14: DALLAS: Hurt v. 16 Nov 16: EMPIRE: Chimes at Midnight v. 15 Mar 19: DYNASTY: Parisian Legend Has It…

Each of this week’s episodes is very distinctive. ‘Hurt’ is New DALLAS at its darkest and most brilliant. ‘Chimes at Midnight’ plays almost like a stand-alone instalment of EMPIRE until a turns-everything-on-its-head twist in the last scene makes you want to watch the whole thing all over again. ’Parisian Legend Has It …’ is proof that, despite all previous evidence to the contrary, New DYNASTY is more than capable of taking itself seriously long enough to produce a uniquely atmospheric and mysterious hour of drama when it so chooses.

“No more secrets — this ends now!” declares Elena Ramos at the top of this week’s DALLAS, heralding a non-stop thrill ride as one devastating revelation leads to another and then another, and dramatic pay-off follows dramatic pay-off. Revelation #1 comes in the aftermath of Drew’s funeral: “I know the truth,” Elena tells the Ewings. “I’ve read JR’s letter. I know all of you framed Cliff Barnes.” This much everyone in the family already knew, but there’s more. “Your father didn’t kill JR,” Elena tells Pamela. “Bobby’s been lying to all of you — you helped him frame an innocent man.” This comes as a surprise not only to Pamela but to the other Ewing women, Sue Ellen and Ann. “Tell me this isn’t true, Bobby,” Ann asks her husband. “It’s true,” Elena insists. “I wanna hear it from him!” she yells.

Bobby’s response brings us to Revelation #2: “JR was dying,” he explains. “He arranged for his own murder and it was up to me to pin it on Cliff. JR felt that with Cliff behind bars, the family could move forward, put an end to the feud that caused so much pain for both families.” “It had to be done, Pamela,” Christopher chips in. “There was no other way.” “No other way? You end a blood feud by walking away from it!” Ann protests. “Pamela, I know you’re upset —” John Ross begins, only to be interrupted by Sue Ellen. “You knew,” she realises, before turning angrily to Christopher, “and so did you …!” “They both only knew the truth after Cliff was arrested,” Bobby clarifies. “But you continued to lie to us?” Ann asks on behalf of herself and Sue Ellen. “You couldn’t know!” he replies. Elena interrupts this very satisfying game of ‘Who Knew Precisely What and When’ to deliver a taboo-busting speech that made me punch the air the first time I heard it. “JR’s plan wasn’t to end the feud or anything so altruistic,” she argues. “When he died, we rushed to sentimentalise him. We remembered the charm and the fun and the wit, but he was also a thief and a liar. He ruined people’s lives. He got us to write his ending, the ending where JR Ewing isn’t a monster.” Elena might be talking about JR, but her words apply equally to the pedestal Jock was placed on after his death in 1981, not just by the other characters but by DALLAS itself. The new series’ depiction of Jock has been far less rose-coloured, and now, by applying the same clear-eyed view to his son, it feels as if the whole process has finally come full circle. And how incredibly satisfying that, of all people, Elena, aka “that Mexican girl” as JR once referred to her, should be the one to cut him down to size. I’m reminded of the lowly Mrs Scotfield who was responsible for the downfall of Ewing Oil in 1987.

“You wanna line us up in front of a firing squad because we framed an innocent man? There ain’t nothing innocent about Cliff Barnes!” barks John Ross, going on the attack. “Why are you doing this, Elena? How is this even your concern?” adds Christopher, paving the way for Revelation #3. “That’s the deed to my father’s land, the land of my ancestors, the land my family has a rightful claim to, a land rich with oil,” says Elena, handing Bobby an envelope. “JR manipulated the records. He switched the deeds. The land my father bought … was a dry, worthless rock. My father died drilling a rock. My brother went off the deep end drilling a rock. My family is ruined because of JR’s duplicity and greed!” Now it’s Bobby’s turn to be shocked. “I had no idea,” he says.

Even as the Ewings are trying to absorb this news, Christopher cues up Revelation #4 by asking Elena how she found out about the deed switch. “Cliff Barnes told me,” she admits. “You’ve been talking to my father?” asks Pamela in surprise. “He came to me,” she explains. “He wanted to help me … Both of our families have been wronged by the Ewings, Pamela.” Thus far, Nicolas has stayed in the background, watching in silent dismay as the very secrets he murdered Drew to keep buried have been brought to the surface by Elena, but now he chooses to make his presence felt. “What was it you said to me, Bobby — ‘the truth sometimes hurts'?” he asks smugly. This leads to Revelation #5 as Bobby quickly deduces that Nicolas was planted at Ewing Global by Elena. “Nicolas and I are childhood friends, yes,” she acknowledges. “I knew he would help and he has.” “So you’ve been lying to our faces ever since and you squirmed your way to get our trust back? Screw you!” snarls John Ross at the woman he was in bed with the night before.

There are further revelations to come, but now it’s time to Elena to tell Bobby what she wants in return for keeping her mouth shut: “The money you made off my father’s land and a piece of Ewing property. These are my terms. If you’re not happy with them, I’m more than happy to tell the world what you did to Cliff Barnes — what all of you did.” Oh, and there’s also the small question of what happens to the man currently rotting in a Mexican prison cell. “You pardon Cliff, we don’t go to the police with your crime,” adds Nicolas. “That said, I can’t predict what Cliff might do once he’s free.” At this, he permits himself a slight smile which earns him a “You son of a bitch!” and a sock on the jaw from Christopher. Pamela walks out in disgust. Bobby orders Nicolas and Elena to leave as well. John Ross stops Elena on her way out. “You sure got what you wanted last night, didn’t you?” he mutters.

Bobby is then confronted by each of the three women he has deceived. First is Sue Ellen, who takes JR’s love letter, the same one that she read aloud at his funeral and, in a gesture that feels almost as sacrilegious as Elena pushing JR off his posthumous pedestal, screws it up, pronouncing it “garbage! … If he really loved me, why didn’t he tell me he was sick? Why didn’t he give me a chance to say good-bye?” Bobby has no answers for her. She follows this with another question: “So — who really killed JR?” He refuses to tell her. She looks at him with angry contempt. “Hell of a way to be the steward of Southfork,” she snaps. Next, Bobby faces Pamela, who seems more disappointed than angry. “From him, I expect lies,” she says, referring to John Ross. “From you, I expect better.” Lastly, it’s Ann’s turn. “Tell me you were weak,” she pleads, “tell me you were doing it for your brother — but don’t tell me you framed Cliff because you thought it was right.” “It was right,” he replies simply.

Throughout each of these confrontations, Bobby remains unwavering in his insistence that he was doing the right thing for the right reasons (“I wanted to spare you, spare the family,” he tells Sue Ellen. “The less you knew about JR’s plan, the safer you were … No-one can stop me from protecting this family,” he tells Ann.) But then, left alone in his study, he finally comes unglued as ‘Hurt’ by Johnny Cash plays on the soundtrack — a somewhat obvious song choice, perhaps, but a hugely effective one. Certain lines resonate powerfully. “What have I become, my sweetest friend?” croons Cash as Bobby looks down at a photo of JR, before throwing it angrily against a wall as Cash sings the next line, “Everyone I know goes away in the end.” Bobby sends the contents of his shelves and desk crashing to the floor as Cash growls, “You can have it all, my empire of dirt,” before collapsing wearily into a chair and wearily surveying the damage on “I will let you down, I will make you hurt.”

This instalment of DALLAS feels like a companion piece to JR’s funeral episode. While that ep served as an elegiac farewell to a much-loved character, full of moving eulogies and remembrances, this one examines the flip side of grief, where darker and more painful feelings reside. (They didn’t call it ‘Hurt’ for nothing.) Elena having reminded JR’s family of what a monster he could be, it now falls to Sue Ellen to humanise him again. Despite Bobby’s refusal to tell her, it doesn’t take her long to figure out who did pull the trigger (just as she did the first time JR was shot). “You were JR’s most trusted friend. Once I remembered that it was easy,” she tells Bum, He tells her how sorry he is. “I’m sure you are,” she replies sarcastically. “I’m sure you’re sorry for shooting JR. I am sure you are sorry for robbing me of a good-bye … JR was my husband! He was my love! I should have been the first one to know he was sick — not you! I should have been the one that was there with him — not you!” Then she asks about the moments immediately before his death: “Was he scared? Was he in pain?” “He was brave,” Bum assures her, “and he loved you very much.”

Bobby and Elena have a private meeting where he agrees to her demands. “You could have had your restitution without burning bridges, without causing so much pain for people who had nothing whatsoever to do with what happened to your father,” he says. “That’s where you and I disagree, Bobby,” she replies. “There’s a pattern of lies and deception on Southfork. There’s a poison that seeps into every limb of this family tree. Somebody had to put a stop to it. Too many lives have been ruined.” Some might call it “a pattern of lies and deception … a poison that seeps into every limb of this family tree”; others might simply call it life inside a soap opera. Either way, it’s the thing that prompted Maj Hagman, when she read the original DALLAS pilot script, to exclaim excitedly to her husband, "There's not one redeeming character in the whole show!”

Bobby also hands over Cliff’s “get out of jail free card” — with one proviso. “It’s a pending pardon,” he tells Elena, “depending on what you decide to do … Do you really think Cliff Barnes is gonna let bygones be bygones? He’s gonna come after the Ewings for his own vengeance and I’m gonna stop him any way I have to. Is that what you want, Elena, more bloodshed?” “That’s not my problem,” she shrugs. “I understand you wanting justice for what JR did to your family,” he persists, “but the Barnes/Ewing feud is a whole other beast and it doesn’t involve you. You wanna take that dog for a walk? Fine — but if it bites somebody, it’s because you let it.”

Throughout this episode, people have been lining up to tell Bobby how disappointed in him they are. As Elena turns to leave, it’s his turn. “You broke my heart today,” he tells her. It’s a beautifully poignant moment.

Elena tells Cliff over the phone that he is to be a free man and that their deal is done. “I am far from done,” he tells her. “I’m not stopping until I wipe the Ewings off the face of the earth. And you made it possible. I couldn’t have done it without you.” The call ends with the sound of his mad laughter, which matches JR’s evil laughter at the end of last week’s episode.

“There were times when Pam and I hated each other. Our husbands and Ewing Oil didn’t mix. But there was always one thing that we could share. We understood what it was like to be an outsider: to be a Ewing without being born to it.” So said Sue Ellen back in ’86. There are a couple of variations on this relationship — two opposing women connected by a common experience — in this week’s Soap Land. The first is Pamela and Elena. There have been several areas of conflict between them since the series began (Pamela’s fake brother Tommy sabotaging Elena’s engagement to Christopher, Elena’s real brother Drew rigging the bomb that killed Pamela’s babies, their habit of falling in love with the same men, etc.), yet Elena makes a point of asking Pamela to Southfork to hear her big announcement at the start of the episode (“Your father didn’t kill JR — your father was framed”) and now she visits her at Sue Ellen’s house to tell her which piece of property Bobby agreed to give to her as restitution: “I asked for the land Jock Ewing took from your grandfather.” “Why?” Pamela asks in surprise. “Because I know exactly how you feel, Pamela. The Ewings have hurt both of our families,” Elena explains. (This also means, contrary to what DALLAS told us when it sanctified Jock after his death, that he really did steal Digger out of what was rightfully his — I knew it!)

The second example of feuding women finding common ground takes place on DYNASTY. Even though Alexis caused New New Cristal’s miscarriage (albeit unintentionally: she was actually trying to kill her), she is still able to empathise with her loss. As Blake puts it, “at the end of the day, you’re a mother who’s lost her child. You understand more of what she’s going through than I ever possibly could.” “After Adam, I went to bed and wouldn’t leave,” Alexis recalls. “I closed the blinds, turned off all the lights and locked the door.” “When did it stop?” Cristal asks. “The pain?" she replies. "It didn’t. It just moved behind other things instead of in front of them.”

Elena has another surprise for Pamela. She hands her a document: “It’s your father’s pardon. You can either use it or burn it. If your father gets out, he will go after the Ewings. That shouldn’t be my call. It’s yours.” This gesture recalls Donna Krebbs’ last scene in ’87 when Senator Dowling gave her the final say over whether or not the Ewing brothers should go to jail over their involvement with BD Calhoun.

There are still three bombshells left to go off on DALLAS. First, Harris Ryland, having learned that Emma has been making private deals with the Mendez-Ochoa cartel, decides the time has come to tell her that he’s been secretly working for the CIA all along. “This is bigger than you and me, Emma, and whatever our quarrel of the week is,” he insists. Next, Bum has news for John Ross: “That video of you and Emma, I tracked down who sent it to you: It was Nicolas Treviño.” This leads to the final revelation of the ep when John Ross spitefully spills the beans to Nicolas: “Did Elena tell you how she got JR’s letter? She came to me last night and, well, you’re a smart man, Nicolas. You can put the rest together.”

Like DALLAS, this week’s EMPIRE is dominated by one storyline in which pretty much all the characters are involved. The company is hacked and held to ransom. Exciting! Whodunnit? Various suspects are suggested and quickly discounted: Shyne (“way too complicated for his ass”), Tariq (“too messy”), etc. Eventually, Andre figures out that the real culprit is Gram, a tech-savvy ex-boyfriend of Tiana with whom Hakeem has an ongoing beef. Gram protests his innocence, but “we found everything on your computer, brother,” Andre tells him smoothly. Gram asks if they're gonna call the cops. “That’s what white folks do,” Lucious replies. “We got something better in mind.” Enter Shyne and his boys, who only too happy to rough Gram up (and maybe even worse). And just like that, Shyne and Lucious are back on the same side, at least for now.

There’s an equivalent situation on DYNASTY when Blake finds out who he believes is responsible for firing the gun that killed Mark Jennings and Cristal's unborn baby: a henchman named Mack. Like Gram, Mack denies having anything to do with the crime, but Alexis claims to have seen him in the vicinity just before it happened. Blake doesn’t call the cops either — he just beats Mack to death with his bare hands because this week, Blake’s a cold-blooded murderer, Lucious-style, and what’s more, Cristal and Anders are his accomplices who help him get rid of the body.

What we already know, of course, is that Alexis framed Mack (it’s a little eerie to hear the former Paige Matheson refer to somebody by that name) to cover up her own guilt. But what we won’t discover until the closing scene of EMPIRE is that Gram has also been framed — and you’ll never guess by whom.

Among Empire’s leaked files is a nude selfie of Cookie that she sent to Angelo, which ends up on a giant screen for all to see. So far so New DYNASTY, but here the humour works because it's character-based rather than farcical: Hakeem covering his eyes to avoid the sight of Cookie’s cookies, Lucious hurling a chair at the screen in anger and Cookie herself yelling defiantly, “What the hell y’all looking at? They perky!” It also leads to an unexpectedly tender scene where Cookie, concerned that she is jeopardising Angelo’s political campaign, tells him they should split: “I believe in you, Angelo, and I think you can do some amazing things for this city … but if you stay with me, you’re gonna lose … I think you should go.” It’s an act of self-sacrifice on a par with Sue Ellen breaking up with Dusty because she didn’t want to be a constant reminder of his impotency. Later on, Cookie is watching TV when Angelo, besieged by reporters eager for a quote about her topless photo, suddenly strips off his shirt, “in solidarity alongside Ms Lyon and women everywhere.” Cookie is surprised to find herself saying, “I love you” to the TV screen.

After merely hinting at a potential dependency problem for Jamal two episodes ago, EMPIRE all of a sudden shows him suffering withdrawal symptoms as he attempts to quit his medication before relapsing towards the end of the episode. Not since FALCON CREST took Maggie Channing from casual drinking to fully fledged alcoholism in the space of about three episodes has a Soap Land addiction taken hold so quickly. While Elena is out to expose family secrets on DALLAS, a stoned Jamal wants to celebrate them on EMPIRE. “The secrets, the dirty little secrets,” he rambles to Major D. “I’m talking about the good ones too, these beautiful, beautiful secrets that we hide and if they keep hidden, they just gonna curl up and they gonna die inside, but nah, I’m gonna put it all in the music. I’m gonna set us all free. All of us.”

Speaking of secrets, DYNASTY's Fallon and Sam are concerned about Steven’s strange behaviour and decide to visit him in Paris. This is Soap Land’s first visit to Actual Paris since Bobby and April’s fateful honeymoon in 1990. Now as then, there are establishing shots of the Arc de Triomphe, strolls along the Seine, street artists, swanky balls and an atmosphere thick with European intrigue. Whereas Bobby and April (or more accurately, Sheila Foley pretending to be April) had to make do with slumming it in the honeymoon suite of the George V hotel, the Carringtons have their very own luxury apartment in the middle of the city. In place of Sheila Foley stealing April’s identity, the plot revolves around Fallon and Sam trying to figure out the identity of Steven’s mysterious friend George Emerson, who just happens to have the same name as a character in Steven’s favourite novel, 'A Room With a View'. Is he a grifter, a lover or, as the resurrected Matthew Blaisdel was to Claudia at the end of Season 1, simply a figment of Steven’s muddled imagination? It’s a genuinely intriguing mystery.

By the end of their respective episodes, both of Soap Land’s gay sons, Jamal and Steven, are bedridden, drugged and helpless. When Jamal fails to wake up after a wild night together, Major D fears he’s OD’d and turns to Philip, Jamal’s PTSD sponsor, for help. “He didn’t overdose, he blacked out,” Philip assures him. Meanwhile, a confused Steven checks himself into a clinic in Paris which is where George Emerson finally appears and admits that his name isn’t really George, that he was lying when he told Steven they slept together (“You’re so generous, so trusting … I’m not even gay”) and that he deliberately made it appear to Sam and Fallon “that you’d lost the plot.” As he’s speaking, he injects Steven’s IV with “a little something to help you relax.” This renders Steven unable to do anything but listen to Not George’s story: “All this started as a sort of morbid curiosity,” he tells him, “to see firsthand the life that I had been denied, and you were the easiest way in — this wounded bird, so far from home, away from the Carrington fortress.” As he is speaking, Not George’s accent shifts eerily from English to American. “But the more I got to know you,” he continues, “the more I grew to resent you, how ungrateful you are. You had everything and you walked away from it. And now I’m gonna claim it — everything my father gave you. It’s a real shame you won’t be there to welcome me home, brother … but we’ll always have Paris.” “Adam,” Steven realises. It’s kind of like 'The Talented Mr Ripley' — only rather than insinuate himself into a rich man’s life to assume someone else’s identity, Adam has done it to assume his own.

Like DYNASTY, EMPIRE ends with an eldest son revealing his true self. “Everything went more or less exactly as planned, apart from that part where you leaked a nude selfie of my mama,” Andre tells his accomplice Vaughn as he hands him a bag of money. Yes, Empire’s real hacker was strait-laced Andre! “No matter how much I try and play but the rules, the world’s always gonna see me as a well-dressed thug, the son of a gangster,” he tells girlfriend Nessa. “Rhonda always said the only thing standing in the way of me taking over Empire was I’m the son that’s not musical. But you — you're the embodiment of music, Nessa. I think Rhona would approve … of us, combining our strengths and becoming powerful together … all-powerful.” Nessa seems to like the idea, which makes her and Andre Soap Land’s first scheming couple since, well, Andre and Rhonda. So has Andre simply replaced Rhonda with New Rhonda, the way Blake did New Cristal with New New Cristal? I guess there’s only one way to find out …

And this week’s Top 3 are …

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

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Interestingly, the best episode in the entire run of Nu Dynasty so far, still comes last in James' playlist. I know he prefers Dallas, but it will be interesting to see in the long run if NuDynasty has a longer lasting impression with its Seasons orders - up to 5 so far, and a sixth season is a real possibility. Maybe it's tone is just better suited for today's post millennials.
 

Willie Oleson

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Interestingly, the best episode in the entire run of Nu Dynasty so far, still comes last in James' playlist
DALLAS was definitely the best of this versus week. The conflicts are fantastic because there's no intentional villainy and they all think they are on the righteous side.
To be honest, I still don't know how I feel about Bobby's decision to go along with JR's scheme, and I treasure that ambiguous feeling.
Sue Ellen makes it all about her, which is also classic Dallas, I think.
Chaos, bitterness and tears. It was a proper way for JR to say "my work is done here".
It was almost complete DALLAS in a nutshell.

I think I enjoyed this DYNASTY episode more than EMPIRE's but maybe that's because a good Dynasty episode sticks out like a sore thumb.
 

James from London

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The conflicts are fantastic because there's no intentional villainy and they all think they are on the righteous side.
To be honest, I still don't know how I feel about Bobby's decision to go along with JR's scheme, and I treasure that ambiguous feeling.
Sue Ellen makes it all about her, which is also classic Dallas, I think.
Chaos, bitterness and tears. It was a proper way for JR to say "my work is done here".
It was almost complete DALLAS in a nutshell.
Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes!
I think I enjoyed this DYNASTY episode more than EMPIRE's but maybe that's because a good Dynasty episode sticks out like a sore thumb.
The Adam mystery was very intriguing, but Fallon is still Fallon and New New Cristal is still New New Cristal, whereas I really like everyone on EMPIRE.

EMPIRE also had a bit of an advantage in that the episode was new to me and I'd already seen DYNASTY.
 

James from London

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08 Sep 14: DALLAS: Victims of Love v. 30 Nov 16: EMPIRE: What We May Be v. 22 Mar 19: DYNASTY: Motherly Overprotectiveness

A gift-wrapped box containing a prostitute’s severed hands, an aunt discovering her nephew’s body dangling from a noose, a long lost son pushing his mother’s face into a fire — all in all, it’s been quite a gruesome week in Soap Land. And has any previous character had such a grim introduction as this? “This guy, El Pozolero, he’s like a ghost who only appears to inflict horror. Last week alone, he killed seventy-five villagers who dared oppose him. He boiled them in acid in front of their families.” That’s FBI Agent Tatangelo, Harris Ryland’s handler, describing the head of the Mendez-Ochoa cartel.

When we first meet El Pozolero, however, rather than boiling people in acid, he is carefully tending his tomato vines and recalling with fatherly affection the first time he met Nicolas Trevino: “He was only a teenager, but I knew there was something special about him. I never met anyone with a more inherent grasp for business and mathematics. That’s why I educated him, trained him to take over the finances of our operation.” (Sounds like Cliff and Frank Ashkani, no?) Listening to this reminiscence with silent but obvious jealousy is Luis — until now, the most senior member of the cartel seen on screen. It seems not even members of ruthless Mexican drug cartels are immune to the sibling rivalries that afflict every other Soap Land dynasty. Case in point: Fallon’s immediate reaction upon meeting her long lost brother Adam on DYNASTY is to dismiss him as a scam artist. Alexis, anxious to cover up her scheme with Hank, is obliged to agree.

Last week’s DALLAS was so extraordinary, with one intra-family explosion after another, it was hard to imagine how this week’s episode could be anything but an anti-climax. Remarkably, though, they’ve kept the momentum going, in part by widening the show’s canvas as Ewing Global finally goes public to incorporate the various parties with a stake in the outcome, while continuing to fan the flames of familial conflict.

Two real-life American media pundits pop up on the Ewings’ and Lyons’ TV screens this week, adding a sense of verisimilitude to the proceedings (although I can't say I'd ever heard of either of them). Wolf Blitzer (according to Wikipedia, ‘an American journalist, television news anchor and author’) appears on screen in the Ewing Global boardroom to announce that “Hunter McKay, the founder of video company Git It Games, just purchased all 48% of Ewing Global that was up for sale this morning … This purchase now gives McKay a controlling interest in the company.” Meanwhile, Charlamagne tha God (‘an American radio presenter, television personality, actor, and author’) appears on his regular show Breakfast Club to proclaim Jamal as not merely “Donkey of the Day”, but “Turkey of the Year.”

The Ewings react with bewilderment to Blitzer’s news. “Hunter Mackay — where did he come from?!” exclaims Christopher. “Our fight with that family’s been over for years!” adds Bobby. It falls to Pamela to explain how John Ross “just happened” to run into Hunter McKay when he was out with Nicolas, and that Hunter sold him on the idea of taking Ewing Global public as a way of seizing control of it. “Dammit, John Ross! How could you be so reckless?” Sue Ellen snaps. “Your greed has cost us control of this company!” Bobby yells. “You idiot, they were working together! They set you up!” Christopher adds for good measure. But it’s John Ross’s estranged wife who really lets him have it. “You selfish bastard!” Pamela shouts, slapping him hard across the face. “Lying and cheating were the only two things you were good at and now you’ve failed at them too!”

The atmosphere is comparatively calm in the Empire boardroom where Lucious, Jamal, Andre and assorted employees listen to Charlamagne’s takedown of “one of Lucious Lyon’s khaki-coloured kids, Jamal Lyon. Here’s a guy born into music royalty and then he bitched up after he got shot … It’s hard for me to believe that Lucious could raise such a soft ass individual!” “Everything Charlamagne’s saying is true,” Lucious informs Jamal. “Your stats are dropping on Empire XStream and we need to have a little conversation about this, son.” Whereas John Ross is humiliated by his family, Jamal keeps his cool while under attack. “I wish that you literally did not even buy this streaming service because ever since you did, it kills all creativity. It’s all about numbers now,” he tells his father before assuring him that he has something great up his sleeve: “I have the chance right now to possibly do something that could change the game, but if y’all just keep on killing me with stats, it’s not gonna happen.”

The legacy of violent death passed down from Roger Grimes and Tommy McKay to their descendants continues. Roger and Tommy were both shot dead — the former by an eight-year-old girl, the latter during a struggle with his father. Roger’s son Dennis was also shot (by the same woman who killed his dad) before being buried alive, and now it’s the turn of Tommy’s son Hunter to meet a grisly end. Poor Hunter. What he lacked in Roger, Tommy and Dennis’s leather-jacketed, greasy-haired insouciance, he more than made up for in geeky business expertise. “You’re asking me if it feels good to do what my grandfather never could and own both the Ewings and Barnes at the same time? Yeah, it sure does!” he crows to the press after becoming the majority shareholder in Ewing (formerly Barnes) Global. Alas, he doesn’t have much time to savour his victory before he is hanged in his apartment. It looks like a suicide, but Christopher suspects otherwise. “It had to be the cartel,” he tells Bobby. “They’re cleaning up loose ends, people who knew too much about the deal … What if they come after Nicolas? He could be a loose end too — and he’s with Elena!” He phones Elena to warn her she’s in danger, unaware that Nicolas is intercepting her calls.

EMPIRE’s Cookie and DYNASTY’s Adam each have a series of flashbacks this week that depict the events leading up to a parent’s death — her father’s, his fake mother’s. In each case, they are at least partially responsible for these deaths. Cookie’s flashbacks take her back to when she was a teenager seeing Lucious behind her father’s back. When her daddy found out, he disowned her and then died of a heart attack. Adam’s flashbacks begin with his supposed mother confessing that he was kidnapped from the Carringtons as a baby and end with him administering her a fatal drug overdose.

EMPIRE and DYNASTY each contain one of those slightly meta speeches where a character — in both of these cases, the show’s patriarch — all but acknowledges that he’s living inside a soap opera by describing how crazy his family is to an outsider. “Let me introduce myself,” says Lucious to Diana Dubois, the snooty mother of Cookie’s boyfriend Andre. “My name is Lucious Lyon. That woman right there is my wife Anika — she just gave birth to my granddaughter, my son’s baby mama … He somehow got her pregnant during the time he was proposing to his fiancee and getting left at the damn altar … I see you’ve met the gay one and you’ve met the irresponsible one. Where's Andre at — where’s the crazy one?” Blake, meanwhile, describes the Carrington clan to his newly acquired son Adam thusly: “Alexis’s biggest asset is the last name we let her pretend she still has — that and the trailer we used to let her sleep in. Fallon’s thing is she almost married her cousin but then she decided to marry a total stranger instead. And there’s Anders — Anders is like a second father to me and an actual father to Steven. He and Alexis had an affair in the past. We just found out about it and that’s why Steven’s gone.” On paper, these speeches seem similar, but in context, they’re very different. Lucious is out to undermine Cookie in front of Diana, whom she wants desperately to impress, because he’s jealous of her and Andre’s blossoming relationship. Blake’s motives are less clear. He is in the process of welcoming Adam to his family so painting such a negative picture of them doesn’t make much sense. Ultimately, he’s saying it because the writers think it’s funny for him to say it. After all, this is a crazy show about a crazy family who do crazy things! Crazy, huh?

“There’s a poison that seeps into every limb of this family tree,” Elena told Bobby on last week’s DALLAS. Cookie uses similar imagery in response to Lucious’s speech on this week’s EMPIRE. “This is my family,” she tells Diana Dubois. “Yeah, we are a twisted tree, but I wouldn’t trade one gay, one high, one low, one crazy, one lazy branch of it. This is who we are. Take it or leave it.”

The closest DALLAS comes to a wackily dysfunctional family this week isn’t the Ewings but the Rylands. “You people,” says Luis wearily during a sit-down meeting with Judith, Harris and Emma where they try to extricate themselves from the deal Emma rashly made in last week’s ep to double the cartel's shipment of drugs across the border. While Luis plays the straight man, Judith gets all the best lines. “I am extremely unhappy right now,” he says sternly. “Would any of you like to guess as to why that is?” “You’re a Taurus?” she asks brightly. When he refuses to allow them out on the deal, she does that sexy-yet-grotesque thing she does and starts to unzip her top. “Luis, I have always been a proponent of reciprocity in all my relationships,” she purrs, “and … I am willing to renegotiate in a way that helps both of us. Now, I believe our son has tasked you with finding our wayward whore Candace … Once you take care of our Candace problem, I will agree to increase the amount of product running through the pipeline by 25%.”

As much as it pains me to say it, there are only four weeks of DALLAS (and therefore this thread) remaining. Intentional or otherwise, there are glimpses here and there of characters’ journeys coming to an end. “The hardest part of knowing the truth about JR’s plan was not being able to confront him on why he did what he did, on how he felt so entitled to lie to all of us. As a result, I’m afraid I’m never going to be able to move on,” says Sue Ellen on DALLAS — an admission made all the more poignant for being devoid of self-pity. Even more significantly, this week also marks the final appearances of two Soap Land legends: Cliff Barnes and Nicollette Sheridan (once Paige, now Alexis). Both Cliff’s and Alexis’s fates are sealed by the children they betrayed: Pamela, whose unborn children her father sacrificed, and Adam, whose identity his mother denied to save her skin.

While Pamela visits her father in prison, Adam visits his mother in her loft. Initially, each adopts a conciliatory tone. “I’m sorry for helping the Ewings put you in jail, for failing to protect your legacy,” says Pamela. “I hope that someday you’ll be able to accept me, Mother,” says Adam. Pamela then slides an envelope across the table to her father. He assumes it contains the pardon he needs to get out of jail. Instead, it’s the deed to Ewing 6. “That plot of land was robbed from your father,” she tells him “and because of that, I was robbed from ever having one … All I ever wanted from you was love, but you always hated the Ewings more than you ever loved me.” Adam likewise produces a document that symbolises his mother’s betrayal. “Do you know what this is?” he asks her. “Of course I don’t. Why would I?” she replies nervously. He explains that it is a copy of Hank’s genuine DNA results which proved all along he was not a Carrington: “They were signed for by someone in the family, someone who clearly switched them. Someone who is you, Mother.” Cliff and Alexis plead for forgiveness. “I’m so sorry for what I did,” says Cliff. “I know I failed you.” “I am so sorry, Adam,” says Alexis. “Please tell me that you understand.” “I can never forgive you,” Pamela tells her father. “I’m gonna listen to my heart and forgive you,” Adam tells his mother. Whereas Pamela withholds Cliff’s pardon from him (“You wanna leave me here?” he asks. “You’ll forgive me if I stay in prison?”), Adam hands Hank’s DNA test over to Alexis. “It’s over now,” Pamela tells Cliff. “You avenged the wrongs done to your father, and I’ve avenged the wrongs done to me by mine. Goodbye, Daddy.” "Burn it," Adam tells Alexis, referring to the test. “It’ll be our little secret. And from this point forward, it’s me and you against the world.” As Cliff watches his daughter walk away, his hands outstretched towards her, a confused, haunted look on his face, Alexis crouches down in front of an open fire and watches contemplatively as the DNA test burns. Adam stands behind her, gently places his hand on her shoulder, and then abruptly pushes her head into the flames, holding her down as she screams. This is easily Soap Land’s most macabre visual ever, and there should be something satisfying about Alexis finally receiving her comeuppance for the deception she perpetrated so long ago (i.e., passing Hank off as Adam), but alas we’ve been burnt by New DYNASTY (no pun intended) too many times. We now understand that this is a show that has scant interest in the dramatic repercussions or emotional consequences of its characters’ actions and that there’s nothing here for us to believe or invest in. While there’s an undeniable frisson to the moment, a moment is all it is.

DALLAS also ends darkly. Judith and Harris are unnerved when Luis shows up at their home unexpectedly bearing a gift-wrapped box. Even before opening it, Judith knows she isn’t going to like what she finds inside. (I’m tempted to suggest it’s because she’s already seen the episode of EMPIRE where Cookie opens a similar box to find her cousin’s head inside, but that won’t be broadcast for another two years.) In any case, she’s sufficiently prepared not to scream the house down when she finds herself presented with a pair of dismembered human hands. “Those hands belong to your whore, Candace,” Luis explains smoothly. “It’s my gift to you to show you that I’m a man of my word — and this here is to make sure you keep yours.” He shows them live footage on a laptop of Emma and Ann bound and gagged in the back of a truck. All her composure lost, Judith whimpers in horror. “I propose a new deal,” Luis continues. “Double the shipment immediately or they’re dead.” It may not be quite as shocking an ending as Adam pushing Alexis into the fire, but it means more.

And this week’s Top 3 are …

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

James from London

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15 Sep 14: DALLAS: Boxed In v. 07 Dec 16: EMPIRE: The Unkindest Cut v. 29 Mar 19: DYNASTY: Miserably Ungrateful Men

In some ways, Ann and Emma’s ordeal at the hands of the Mendez-Ochoa cartel on this week’s DALLAS resembles a good old-fashioned kidnapping storyline from the Soap Land ‘80s. In others, it could only exist in a more brutal, post-24 and BREAKING BAD televisual landscape — the scene where Ann, searching desperately for a means of escape, peers through a bathroom window and sees corpses piled on top of one another in the back of a truck, is one example. Another is the sequence where Luis, after receiving a phone call, explodes in anger before pulling a terrified Emma away from her mother and dragging her down to the basement where he dials Judith’s number with one hand and holds a gun to Emma’s head with the other. “I just got a call from one of my men,” he informs Judith. “It seems your trucks have been stopped at the border. Did you not think I was serious about my threat? … I warned you what would happen if you didn’t do exactly as I asked.” Over the phone, Judith and Harris listen in horror as Emma pleads for her life. Ann does the same upstairs in the kill house. The camera is on Ann when we hear the gun go off. We go from her screaming to Judith collapsing in Harris’s arms (“Damn you, damn you!” he cries) before cutting back to the basement where we realise Emma is still alive and Luis has put a bullet in the wall instead. The tension, the anguish, of this scene, is more powerful than any equivalent abduction scenario in the Soap Land ‘80s — which is precisely the point Luis was trying to make. “I want you to think about the emotion you just felt,” he tells Judith. “And then imagine feeling it every day, for the rest of your life. You have one day to get the trucks moving.”

Even after this scene, Luis continues to turn on the charm. He invites Ann to join him for a makeshift candlelit dinner which recalls previous creepy “pampering the hostage” moments: Joel Abrigore preparing a bubble bath for Krystle, Phil Harbert showing Karen a closet full of dresses he has bought her, Roger Larsen planning an overseas vacation with Lucy Ewing while she’s tied to a chair, even Jerome Van Krabbe hosting a formal dinner for a bruised and battered Jeff in DYNASTY: ‘The Reunion’. The menu might not be quite as grand in the kill house, but Ann cannot hide her surprise at how good Luis’ cooking is. “I’m glad you like it,” he says. “The secret is using only the freshest ingredients … Of course, I’m not the cook El Pozolero is.” This reference to his boss immediately causes Ann to lose her appetite. “You must have heard about how he got his nickname — dissolving the remains of his victims in a stew of acid,” Luis realises. “An exaggeration I can assure you.” Ann’s reaction echoes Alex Barth’s when Claudia Whittaker casually implied that she’d poisoned his salad dressing on KNOTS.

Just before Bobby flies off to Mexico to offer himself in trade for Ann and Emma, Judith, who has treated him with nothing but withering contempt since the series began, takes his hand and thanks him. “Emma is all I have,” she whispers. It’s reminiscent of a moment back in ’79 after Bobby himself was taken hostage and Cliff Barnes was tasked with the role of middle man between the Ewings and the kidnappers. “You bring my son home, I’ll be grateful to you for the rest of my life,” Miss Ellie told him then. But whereas Ellie was stoically dignified in a way only a TV matriarch can be, Judith’s anguished desperation feels far more psychologically real. And so we realise that Judith is just as human as Mama ever was, if not more so.

Traditionally, when a Soap Land character is kidnapped, the question of whether or not to involve the authorities arises. Because of its preexisting arrangement with Harris Ryland, the CIA is involved from the get-go, but thanks to the kind of bureaucratic red tape the KNOTS LANDING characters regularly found themselves confronted with, there’s nothing they can (or are willing) to do to help. “At least look like you give a damn!” barks Sue Ellen at Agent Tatangelo. “Locating and rescuing kidnapped American citizens is not just an operational decision, it’s a diplomatic one, above my pay grade,” he explains. Just as the KNOTS gang did when they found themselves tangled up with Manny Vasquez, the Ewings come to realise that they are but small pieces in a much bigger game. Tatangelo tells them that all the CIA care about is bringing down El Pozolero: “Both the Mexican government and the CIA believe catching him is the only way to stop the complete destabilisation of the country … I won’t be able to get your trucks any CIA protection at the border.”

While New DALLAS gives us a fresh spin on the traditional Soap Land kidnapping, the burning of Alexis’s face affords New DYNASTY the chance to present its own interpretation of an ‘80s soap trope. We’ve seen about-to-be-recast characters covered in bandages before — Steven Carrington, Pam Ewing — and however a laughable a sight they may have made, their respective series treated their plight with the utmost gravity. New DYNASTY does not. If there’s a joke going on, the show is determined to be in on it. The result is not so much postmodern as post-drama. Put simply, no one on-screen cares that Alexis has been disfigured. And if no one cares about that, then no one’s going to care that Adam was responsible. And no caring means no intrigue, no tension, no drama. All that leaves us with is comedy — the very specific kind of comedy that only works if you find New Fallon’s relentless self-absorption completely adorable and/or completely outrageous and/or completely hilarious. I don’t, which is why it took me four days to slog my way through this episode. That said, the shot taken from Alexis’s point of view through her bandages is very cool.

There are some interesting developments in two of Soap Land’s coldest marriages this week: John Ross and Pamela’s on DALLAS and Lucious and Anika’s on EMPIRE. “I never thought I’d see you anywhere near Southfork again,” John Ross admits when he finds Pamela moving back onto the ranch. She tells him not to expect a reconciliation. “My father’s feud with the Ewings is over, but mine is just beginning,” she explains. “I’m staying here … until my idiot husband can figure a way to get the company back, and once he does, I’m gonna take him for everything he’s worth.” Meanwhile, the standout scene on this week’s EMPIRE takes another familiar soap trope, the deliberate smashing of a priceless ornament, to new extremes. Lucious comes home to be greeted by Anika casually dropping a vase to the floor with a cheery wave. She explains that’s she redecorating: “Isn’t that what the good housewives do? I mean, the ones who don’t have jobs?” It’s her way of saying she’s angry with Lucious for not giving her the A&R job at Empire she wanted. Then she smashes a second ornament. “I’m not in the mood for this right now,” Lucious warns her. “You keep breaking stuff and I’m-a whup —“ He breaks off his threat as she picks up a third. “That cost me $200,000 at auction. Put it back!” he insists. Smash! “Next thing you break, I’m a-clean up that floor with your ass.” She picks up yet another objet d’art. “You know I wanted that job, Lucious.” Smash! She then removes her robe to reveal the sexiest, skimpiest, kinkiest lingerie you ever did see. “I am so tired of saving your ass. When are you going to save mine?” she asks, before turning round to shows him said ass. He smiles despite himself — until she picks up one more breakable item. “Look, that is a Jack Kennedy decanter … Please don’t break it.” Smash! “NOO!!!” he shouts. She’s about to smash something else, which Lucious claims was a gift from either a diva or Adeva, but which she leaves intact after he promises to give her what she wants. As a reward, she pushes him down on a table and straddles him. “I like you like this,” he admits. He rolls over so he’s on top. She screams snd laughs. They start going at it. Then Lucious’s mother walks in “Stop it!” she protests. “Y’all humping on the table like yard dogs — that’s where I eat!” They laugh.

Despite the insistence of her sexually conflicted gangster brother, New New Cristal refuses point blank to return to Mexico with him. And really who can blame her? If DYNASTY Mexico is anything like DALLAS Mexico, then it’s going to hell in a hand cart. Bobby and Sue Ellen watch a TV news report declaring that “riots broke out again today in the streets of Mexico City in response to the murder of yet another federal magistrate.” “A bomb went off on the city bus today. Eight people were killed,” Lucia Treviño tells Nicolas over the phone before instructing her servants to shut up the house and flee for their lives: “May God protect you on your journey.” Lucia herself also gets the hell out of Dodge. The Mendez-Ochoa cartel is behind all of this. Previous Soap Land revolutions, be they in unspecified parts of South East Asia or the fairytale kingdom of Moldavia, have taken place almost entirely off-screen. This one’s happening before our eyes.

While the bulk of this week’s DYNASTY focuses on Fallon’s decision to write a book about herself, EMPIRE's Jamal reveals his intention to release an album of songs about his family: “It’s gonna be called When Cookie Met Lucious. Everything about the family — the good, the bad and all the damage done in between.” As a taster, he performs a number directed at his father: “You lied on your mother about being alive, just so your fame and street cred won’t die … You made the good turn into bad, you failed us so much that it’s hard to call you Dad, you’re something like the worst nightmare I’ve ever had … You’re a cold, cold man.” Essentially, it’s Capricorn Crude: the Musical. Meanwhile, Fallon’s book plot is essentially an extended comedy sketch where everything is exaggerated to the extreme: she employs a squad of ghostwriters to each churn out a chapter of her autobiography so the entire tome can be written in an hour. I guess it’s meant to be some sort of parody, but a parody of what exactly? Self-obsessed rich girls? The vapidity of celebrity culture? Didn’t TV shows like ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS and THE SIMPLE LIFE (the reality series with Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie) cover that ground, like, decades ago?

The spoilt princess has been a Soap Land staple ever since we found Lucy Ewing hiding in the barn with Ray Krebbs back in ’78. Ordinarily, the actions of such a character are used to further the show’s overall narrative. It was standing up to Lucy that helped Pam ingratiate herself with the rest of the Ewings, for example. More recently, it's the behaviour of Lucy’s C21st equivalent, Emma Ryland, which has resulted in the crisis she and the rest of her family are now facing. (“This — it’s all my fault,” she admits as Luis points a gun to her head.) On New DYNASTY, however, Fallon’s narcissistic behaviour doesn’t further the narrative; it IS the narrative. Not only that, but it’s the SAME narrative, the SAME punchline, week after week after bloody week.

EMPIRE and DYNASTY’s eldest sons, Andre and Adam, scheme similar schemes this week. After Blake gets him his medical license reinstated, Adam plots to discredit the Carrington football team’s doctor so he can have his job. He achieves this by leaking misleadingly comprising pictures that make it appear that the doctor is a pervert. Andre’s scheme is slightly more complicated (and interesting). As part of her efforts to take Empire into the mainstream, Cookie has booked Tiana to perform at a big fashion show run by the somewhat racist Helen Von Wyeth. With Nessa’s help, Andre secretly films and then leaks Tiana having a fantastically angry rant about Helene: “That bitch didn’t even want me in her stupid whitewashed show to begin with. The only reason she teamed up with Empire is because she got dragged out for doing some whacked out 'Out of Africa' collection with no black people in it. Then homegirl tries to drag me into this damn dress meant for some anorexic white chick. That skinny racist bitch can’t handle my realness!” When Helene subsequently drops Tiana from the show, Andre suggests another Empire artist as a replacement — Nessa — but Helene explains she has decided to go in a different direction: “I think I’m gonna see if Ellie Goulding is available. Now she has the right look.” “You mean the white look,” Andre counters. “A preference is not a prejudice,” Helene replies haughtily. Throughout their conversation, she has been combing her eight-year-old daughter’s hair. “You know, your daughter has such beautiful hair,” Andre tells her on his way out. “I can see why you love it.”

The tone of the subsequent scene, where the kid wakes up to find her cherished locks have been cut off while she was sleeping falls somewhere between the intensity of Luis making Emma’s family believe he has just blown her brains out — an incident so harrowing it’s suggested it could haunt those involved for the rest of their lives — and Adam burning his mother’s face off — which is presented as little more than a mischievous prank. On one hand, the scene knowingly (campily?) invokes the classic “horse head in the bed” sequence from THE GODFATHER. On the other, it demonstrates how far Andre is now willing to go to achieve his ends and ties into the underlying theme in this ep of how long straight hair on a female is viewed as more culturally acceptable and desirable than untamed Black hair.

And this week’s Top 3 are …

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