For a series that wears its excess as a glitter-gowned badge of honor, the shoot-out should have come as no surprise. Too much? Too far? Too tasteless? Considering the drop in the ratings that would soon follow, perhaps. But given the infamy the event immediately enjoyed, it was all worth it. Remember, this is Dynasty we're talking about here! (At least those 29 episodes didn't turn out to be a dream, right?) Everything about Season 5 is bigger, brighter and bitchier, including the addition of perhaps its most glamorous character ever in the form of a British princess (in a year when Diana fever was as strong as ever). The season also holds an unfortunate place in Hollywood history: guest star Rock Hudson was supposed to appear in more episodes, but his deteriorating health (he would die from AIDS-related illness shortly after the season ended) shortened his stint and was splashed across the tabloid headlines, causing further paranoia about a disease that was still in its infancy.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Pardon my excitement, but it's been far too long since Paramount has released the most anticipated of all of Dynasty's nine seasons--nearly a whopping year and a half (?!) after the second installment of Season 4. It's a small saving grace that the studio decided to release both volumes at the same time, compiling the season's 29 episodes across two sets (and eight discs), available in a bundle or separately. (This review will take the whole season into account and be the same for both volumes; I don't recommended buying one without the other).
When last we left Denver, headache-stricken Fallon Carrington (Pamela Sue Martin) was frantically fleeing from her wedding to Jeff Colby (John James) on a dark and dangerous stormy night, while Alexis (no last name required, especially because there are like six of them) was being carted off to jail (in a ravishing red gown!) for the murder of Mark Jennings (Geoffrey Scott)--who took a tumble over her penthouse balcony near the end of Season 4: "You can't believe what it's like there! The foul language, the stench! I am not going back!" Also making a memorable entry was Dominique Devereaux (Diahann Carroll, whose addition to the cast was fantastic--and highly publicized)--or, as she prefers it, dominique devereaux ("I like to use the lowercase 'd's on my name...that's my signature in Europe!"), a world-renowned singer with a mysterious agenda set to make a splash as she moved into La Mirage ("Blake, she has something against you...I can feel it!" warns Claudia). Sad sack Kirby (Kathleen Beller) was sent packing by a fed-up Alexis (no need to worry, fans! We still have Claudia to fill the "pathetic" void), while scheming Sammy Jo (Heather Locklear) was in desperate need of money and custody of her son (okay, really just the money) from waffling ex-hubbie ("I'm gay! I'm not gay"!) Steven (Jack Coleman):
"I'm gonna say this straight, Sammy Jo: I want you out of this house!"
By the end of the season opener, Fallon was missing, Alexis was prepping for a murder trial, Blake Carrington (John Forsythe) was facing a potential crumbling of his empire (some continuing silliness about South China Sea oil leases), the allegiances of the Carrington children were once again shifting, Steven was spurning the advances of his beard--excuse me, wife!--Claudia (Pamela Bellwood) and we had an official kidnapping on our hands ("My two best dresses were in that suitcase, honey lamb...but if everything goes the way I planned, your mom's gonna have more...lots more!"). Oh wait, Fallon's dead? (Um hmmm. Sure she is!) You'll also be happy to note that Adam Carrington's (Gordon Thompson) offensive treatment of women continues this season, as does his intense hatred and jealousy of Jeff (if he didn't get arrested for that while paint poisoning subplot from Season 3, why stop now, right?). He also isn't too fond of Steven, as evidenced by this indictment at the salacious trail of Alexis (where Adam serves as attorney):
"The truth is that you hate your mother! Love/hate...now that is the sick name for it, isn't it? Now we get down to the truth of it, don't we? That really strikes a nerve! The same one Alexis strikes in you, cause you blame her for turning you into the sniveling fag that you are and always have been!" Whoa, hey Adam! What's with the homophobic anger? Spending too much time with Sammy Jo? I'd say I can't even write this stuff, but I probably could...which doesn't make it any less enjoyable: "Damn that check! I should have killed Mark Jennings before I ever gave it to him!" vents Alexis as the realization of her words dawns on her face. "Oh, Adam...I didn't mean that! That was just a figure of speech!" This show is never more of a giddily guilty pleasure than during its trial sequences, which put Judge Judy (and the entire Italian court system) to shame:
Alexis: "Adam! I insist that you move for dismissal immediately!"
But it gets even better: Watch as Alexis channels her inner Susan Hayward when she gives her own closing statement, violin music rising in the background. This particular circus ends just in time (with perhaps one of the most hysterical twists you'll ever see in the series thanks to some detective work by Dex and Adam, some remarkably advanced photo technology for 1985 and some cross-dressing tendencies by a crook) for us to see one of the show's most memorable introductions ever: that of Catherine Oxenberg as Amanda, who we soon find out (spoiler alert!) is the daughter Blake never knew he had with Alexis.
While a little rough around the acting edges at first, Oxenberg is a regal addition to the series--her accent ("Mummy!") and her timeless beauty presented with an icy visage and an arresting gaze. Amanda is elegant, feisty, determined...and bratty, pouty and spoiled. It's clear the writers are eager to fill the daughter role vacated by the now-presumed-dead Carrington ("God knows she's got Fallon's temper!" observes Stephen; adds Alexis: "Of all my children, I sometimes think she's the moodiest..."); once her paternity is settled, she wastes no time flirting with an all-too-willing Dex (Michael Nader).
It's a good thing, too, because it gives us exchanges like this:
Dex: "If teasing is a hobby of yours, little girl, I'd give it up and learn how to bake brownies instead!"
But wait, there's more!
Dex: "Well, Amanda...your mummy's been worried about you!"
The sexual tension between the two builds to a fateful decision in the early part of the season, one that comes back to haunt the duo as a slowly suspicious Alexis sees the giant flashing neon warning signs (giving Collins some great material to feast on). But Amanda is given a new distraction with the introduction of Prince Michael (Michael Praed, sporting a regal mullet) of Moldavia in Episode 18, a young and dashing charmer who instantly sets his sights on the hard-to-get beauty. On his side is Alexis, who spots an opportunity for her daughter to move up the social scale:
Alexis: "Do you realize you've just turned down--if not turned off--the catch of your generation?!"
Mummy quickly applies the pressure to her daughter--and to King Galen (Joel Fabiani, sounding a lot like Seinfeld's J. Peterman), who she (surprise!) had a fling with back in the day. Standing in Michael's way is jilted lover Elena Kerry Armstrong, whose accent I'd question if the country actually existed), the Duchess of Branagh (a place that Alexis doesn't respect very much: "It's so small and Dutch-y that I never remember its name..."). Also standing in Michael's way are his own cheesy come-ons: he likes to talk about specialties from "The House of Moldavia" (his penis, get it?!), which Amanda apparently falls for hook, line and sinker.
Perhaps she got confused given her love for specialties from "The House of Dex" (as in "I just happen to know a painless cure...a specialty of the House of Dexter!"). The DexSex (can I trademark that?) later causes some jealousy from our typically cool cowboy, who isn't too keen on Amanda's flirtations with the Prince: "Did you enjoy your dance with His Highness? Heir apparent to the Rhode Island of the Carpathians?" (Burn! Or not. Oh, Dex...you really need to work on those insults...)
The Prince isn't the only amorous distraction thrown into the fray this season: The love of Blake and Krystle, seemingly solidified by the birth of daughter Kristina halfway through the season (an unintentionally funny sequence of unplanned home childbirth), is soon thrown two curveballs in the form of some Hollywood royalty (billed as "Special Guest Stars"). Entering the fray first is Rock Hudson as Daniel Reece, the former boyfriend of Krystle's (now deceased) sister Iris. Seems it was "Krysti" that Daniel truly held a flame for, which is news to the new mother. (There's another secret that's soon revealed, which will have ramifications for seasons to come.) Daniel quickly sets his sites on stealing away Blake's wife ("I have a rule: I never go after anything that can't be taken")--and he uses her love of horses to do it, helping Krystle realize her dream of being an Arabian expert (watch for a Very Special Horse Whisperer Krystle segment in Episode 13: "Somehow, that little colt helped you discover the truth about me!"). That equine ecstasy leads to some laughable exchanges, like when Daniel forces Krystle to choose between two horses:
Daniel: "It's time to take that risk...start choosing."
(See, she's technically talking about horses, but deep down we know she has to make a choice between her two suitors! Clever Dynasty writers...I see what you're doing here!)
Daniel also has ties to Dex, the two sharing a history of secret agenting for covert rescue missions in dangerous locales under the cover of darkness (saving soldiers in Cambodia!), which proves to be a convenient excuse for Hudson to disappear for various stretches during the season. That was undoubtedly due to his failing health, which was later revealed to be due to the AIDS virus--which caused an explosion of tabloid headlines (was Evans at risk from her on-camera kiss?!) and perhaps contributed to the reported difficulty Hudson had memorizing lines. It's sad to see the man in his final days, but despite the turmoil he was going through, he still carries himself with the assurance and presence of an A-list star--that voice and those eyes still have the ability to melt the screen, and if I knew nothing of Hudson's personal battles off camera I wouldn't question his commitment one bit. And if nothing else, you get to hear him utter one of the most sultry lines the show has ever given us: "Do you remember one hot August night back in Dayton?" (Stop! I can't take it!)
Soon following him through the guest star door in Episode 16 is Ali MacGraw as Lady Ashley Mitchell, a jet-setting photojournalist rich off her dead husband's fortune. A former acquaintance of Alexis, Ashley has an eye for older men--and quickly wants to make Blake (who is happy to accept Ashley's influence in securing some South China Sea oil leases) the subject of one of her photo essays. Along with Daniel, Ashley serves as a convenient counter-distraction for Blake, threatening to rip apart the core of the Carrington family--and it's clear that someone is on to the potential affairs, a private investigator dressed like Zorro snapping shots of the two couples in potentially uncompromising positions.
MacGraw is certainly another regal addition to the cast ("Lady Mitchell is always where it's happening!"), adding a level of poise and grace that fit perfectly with the show's image. And Dynasty sure is lucky that she's so beautiful because (hmm, how do I put this delicately?) her acting skills are perhaps the most atrocious the show has ever seen. I'm not quite sure if MacGraw has always been this wooden (she has an Oscar nomination? Really?!), but her rigid demeanor and delivery make her appear lost in every single scene. Hudson reportedly needed cue cards, but it's MacGraw who looks like she's staring right at them--and I'd swear she had a script in front of her in various scenes, hidden by props placed every so conveniently (her scenes with Collins are particularly excruciating--she gets eaten alive, and you'll gain a new appreciation for the talents of the show's biggest star).
It's like MacGraw doesn't understand the words she's reading (literally: listen to her pronunciation of "gallant" in Episode 16, which had me rolling my eyes), with almost no variation in tone or inflection to convey any emotion or feeling. She's reading, not acting, and comes across as mannered, affected and robotic (she makes Oxenberg, who has some initial growing pains as an actress, come across like a seasoned pro). She appears highly uncomfortable, and she can't even trash talk properly, her biggest insult referencing the Boston Tea Party (Aw, for real?! Zing!). I are you not to groan when she plants a platonic peck: "I thrive on impulses, Blake...I just gave in to one of them!" (Stop it, Lady Ashley! You're embarrassing yourself!). Speaking of her kissing skills, get ready for some seriously silly smooches (at least three!) with Jeff Colby, the two looking like baby fish stumbling their way through adolescence (has there ever been less chemistry between two co-stars?).
Speaking of Jeff, he spends the early part of the season either drunk (some of his slurred words and eyes-half-closed gazes are to die for), yelling at his wife's funeral or man-whoring himself around, doing his best to insult every woman in his path:
Claudia: "I care very much...you helped me one time when I really needed it, and I want to help you now, if you'll let me."
And when he isn't busy insulting Fallon to her family ("When are you gonna admit to yourself what kind of a girl your sister was? She was a tramp!"), he's a paranoid mess, convinced she may still be alive. He's soon distracted by red-headed spitfire Nicole "Nikki" Simpson (Susan Scannell), who moves in on the newly single bachelor as her own secret is soon revealed (remember how I called MacGraw the worst thespian to grace the show? Nikki's secret involves her closest competition). In one of the more head-scratching subplots this season, the two soon find themselves in Bolivia (how do I know this? Because they're eating at the "Cantina de Bolivar", of course!) in search of hidden treasure (precious stones!) using a map that looks like a children's menu from Denny's.
Back in Denver, Nikki moves into the Carrington mansion and the claws come out, especially when she's scowling at the giant portrait of Fallon in the living room--a recurring standoff: "Well, you're winning again, aren't you?" she pouts in one sequence, reminding me of a silly cartoon (I half expected her to shake her fist at the picture in exaggerated anger). And lord help Nikki when Jeff catches her wearing Fallon's signature red dress oh no she di-int!): "These are not scared garments! Even if these are Fallon's clothes, they're just old clothes!" Equally amusing is the beat down Nikki gets from the smartest person in the room: Little Blake, who wants nothing to do with this Faux Fallon: "I don't want her to come! You don't like her, either...you want mommy back as much as I do!" he whines to daddy before turning to Nikki: "I'm never gonna love you, only my mommy!' (Dayum, L.B.!) It gets so bad for poor Nikki, she has to resort to this: "Come to bed with me. If you want me to beg, I'll beg...please?!" Stop, Nikki! You're embarrassing yourself!
Nikki: "I'd like you to give your son brothers and sisters... a real family."
Ooh, he said the name of the title! As for Fallon, if you're a Dynasty fanatic like me I shouldn't have to "spoiler alert" this next bit, but just in case...spoiler alert! Apparently ready to move on with her career, Pamela Sue Martin left the show at the end of the fourth season. Her character's departure was mysterious enough that it gave the writers leeway to solve the mess at a time of their choosing, and the "Is Fallon dead or alive?" mystery continues throughout the season. It culminates in the final two episodes, where a flashback (with James playing opposite a different actress as Fallon) and a "revised" portrait in the Carrington mansion clue us in that the character is being re-cast with Emma Samms, who gets a post-episode credits billing in the season's penultimate episode before working her way into the opening credits (donning that sparkly red dress as the horse gallops behind her) in the finale. Seems she's been suffering from some amnesia (you can call her Randall Adams), a mystery that will have to wait until Season 6. For viewers, the reintroduction doesn't have the same power and punch it would have if Martin was returning; in fact, for some, it might be unclear given the character's own confusion ("Wait, are we really supposed to believe this is Fallon?").
The end of the season also brings is the always welcome return of Sammy Jo, a character we still don't see as much of considering Heather Locklear was still pulling double-duty by also appearing on ABC's T.J. Hooker (fear not: in her absence, Oxenberg picks up the slack with the loud colors and sillier "young" outfits that look more out of place than any of the fashions here). But the devious tart makes the most of her minutes, her grudge with Krystle growing more intense by the episode. (We also get some of her trademark junk food devouring, bread crumbs stuck to her mouth as she complains about her burger: "I should send it back...I told them lots of onions!")
While some may point to this year's cliffhanger as the turning point in the ratings, I actually think it's a major plotline from Season 6 that does the most damage to the show's popularity. The seed for that infamous storyline is planted at the end of Season 5, when Sammy Jo runs across a down-on-her-luck lady in a bar: country gal/aspiring actress Rita, who happens to look a lot like Auntie Krystle. That has the gerbil wheel slowing squeaking in Sammy Jo's pretty little head: "That dumb lawyer said there was nothing I could do, but you talking like that makes me think..." she says in Homer Simpson fashion after hearing Rita practice her speech lessons ("I find your fondness for fondue phenomenal!"). "I was just playing with an idea," Sammy Joe thinks aloud. "A dumb idea..." (You got that right!). Perhaps Evans relished the chance to play Bizzaro Krystle, but just the sight of her in that silly wig and Baby Jane makeup (seriously with the lipstick?!) should have been enough to slap some sense into the writers (sigh...more on this big mistake next season).
Upping the glamour quotient this season is Carroll, who becomes a regular after two appearances late last season. Her arcs revolve around claiming her birthright ("I just want what is mine! I am a Carrington! I'm not gonna stop what I'm doing until it is acknowledged by the entire world!"), staying healthy and staying married to her increasingly frustrated music mogul husband Brady (new occasional regular Billy Dee Williams). She also likes to be a thorn in the side of Alexis, the two getting a few stare-down scenes where they trade barbs ("Unlike your talent, Dominique, timber is a resource presently increasing in value..."). Carroll is absent from a handful of episodes, and is a little underused for my tastes--especially as a foil to Alexis, the two sparring beautifully together: "I have no intentions of crawling into the gutter with you. You should know that I am a street fighter, and I can get very dirty...very dirty." (That's how it's done, Ali!) And given that the Krystle/Alexis cat fights are almost non-existent this season (save for a tame exchange outside a jeweler), we need more of this.
Meanwhile, Adam Carrington spends the majority of the second half of the season fretting over his standing with daddy dearest ("No matter what I do, I'm the interloper!" he whines. "I'm his oldest son! I'm his heir! And I will have what is mine!"), tossing the clueless Claudia around like a rag doll and wasting no opportunity to fire off homophobic insults at brother Steven:
To be fair, Steven is such a pill this season: "I don't know what's wrong with me lately...I've been fighting with everybody..." (hmm, I think I know what the problem is). He starts by trying to exert his masculinity over Claudia (sigh, whose lipstick is still applied from the Baby Jane Beauty School): "You're my wife! It's time you started acting like it!" (Oh Steven, you aren't fooling anyone!) Their charade of a relationship reaches its wimpy pinnacle in Episode 12, where the two engage in the lamest affair fight ever (thanks to Claudia's indiscretion with cute art dealer Dean, played by Richard Hatch):
"Steven, I've been desperate and lonely...it won't happen again! I promise! Please say that you believe me!"
Yawn...these two can't even argue with passion. Imagine my joy when Steven finally succumbs to who he is and officially decides to date Luke Fuller (fresh faced Billy Campbell), the new PR assistant at Colbyco! Yay! Oh...before breaking up with him after one episode?! Boo! (Sigh...). And imagine my joy when Blake finally accepts his gay son with a big bear hug: "No matter who you are or what you are, I'll be damned if I'm gonna lose you!" Yay! Hmm, before seconds later (?!) pleading with Claudia: "You're his only chance!" Boo! I have to remind myself that for the mid-'80s, this was still pretty progressive stuff.
And on a personal note, this season holds a special place in my heart. The introduction of Luke signaled my first official crush (would you just look at Billy?!), and the dynamic between him and Steven became the first time I began to understand what it meant to be gay--and more importantly, to identify with it. I eagerly hoped and waited to see Luke on screen during each episode (I was crushed when he wasn't), and to see Steven be with him; anything that stood in the way of that was agonizing, but even then the storyline gave me hope--and made me realize (at age 11 and 12) that it was okay to be who I was. It was the only exposure to that world (a gay bar?! Gasp!) that I had known at the time, and even just hearing them use the word "gay" was comforting--helping to offset the pain of Steven's resistance.
Steven: "Luke, I care for you...but I love Claudia. And the life I want if I'm ever going to be at peace with myself is a life with a family. Straight. Because that other...lifestyle could never really satisfy me."
Hallelujah! And who was he kidding? Exhibit A:
Luke: "Your wife is very beautiful."
Season 5 also has a few more surprising moments of sincerity, my favorite scene of them all coming when Alexis visits the bedside of Blake's father Tom (Harry Andrews) in Episode 15 ("The Will"). Collins shows a softer side when sharing advice about love and life with her children, proving that she wasn't just a one-trick bitch. But let's be real...that's why you watch, and she doesn't disappoint this year. It's really unfair how little credit Collins gets for her performance, which some might write-off as easy and over the top. But there's so much required of her, and she delivers in spades with every eyebrow raise, every stare, every slap, every syllable, every purr, every twitch of her lip and every sultry smooch. My two favorite Alexis moments are just small touches in a huge sea of material: watch as she strikes a faux "sick" pose for Dex in Episode 16, then see the "Awww, shit..." silently creep across her face when Lord Galen gets suggestive in Episode 22.
She's simply perfect, turning a cheesy line into a homerun in the bat of an eyelash--like when guest star Kevin McCarthy makes an advances: "Maybe after lunch, a siesta...in one of the cool recesses of my 'hot hacienda', as you used to call it." Alexis, without missing a beat: "Oh Billy, we tried that once and it wasn't such a good idea then. I'd much rather ride one of your gorgeous stallions if you don't mind."
Delicious. Who else could pull that off?! She's so good, you can almost forgive her for eating doves. (Oh wait, that's pigeon?! My bad...and ewwwww!). And when you throw in all the other delicious treats Season 5 has to offer--more of Jeff's chest (sadly, no John Saxon chest his season), more homoerotic man-on-man fights (Coleman and Nader tussling in cheap lawn furniture and rose bushes!), more silly stunt doubles, more of Dex's mom jeans (!) and an insane amount of eye-dropping '80s dresses--it's impossible to resist.
But you don't care about any of that, do you? No, all you want is the money shot in Moldavia, that orgy of glittery gowns and guns that culminates with the entire cast strewn over each other in a pool of bullets and blood, edited together with a poetic grace (don't you just love the bells?!) that would do Brian De Palma proud. Too far?! This is Dynasty, folks...since when was subtlety and good taste in style?
Joan Collins: "No, it was very funny actually!"
Alexis Tribute: Season 5
"That's a big word in your vocabulary, isn't it? 'Bed.' As in, to lie. Or is it to lay? I've never been good at conjugating verbs..."
"I'd like to place a phone call to Paris..." [eye roll] "Yes, the one in France..."
"It's amazing what you can discover about a man by studying the walls of his inner sanctum."
"I don't need Tom's will to break that saloon singer into little pieces! There's more than one way to destroy her, you better believe that...and I'll find it!"
"When I checked out of our love nest on Hong Kong, I was presented with a bill. I found that you had charged all of the beautiful flowers that you'd sent me plus two custom-made suits, about three jeroboams of champagne, tin upon tin of caviar plus those disgustingly sweet and highly unoriginal fortune cookies...and the shoes, too! Rasheed, you are a disgrace to your sex, and your countrymen!"
"Oh, Krystle! Imagine seeing you in front of the jewelers! Are you here to buy or sell?"
The "Billy Campbell Is So Cute I Can't Stand It" Section
Why We Love Sammy Jo
Season 5 Stumbles
Season 5 Stumbles: The Drunk Edition
1. Disappearance (aired 9-26-84)
6. The Verdict (aired 11-7-84)
7. Amanda (aired 11-14-84)
8. The Secret (aired 11-21-84)
10. Kristina (aired 12-5-84)
11. Swept Away (aired 12-12-84)
13. The Avenger (aired 1-2-85)
14. The Will (aired 1-9-85)
15. The Treasure (aired 1-16-85)
20. The Collapse (aired 2-20-85)
21. Life and Death (aired 2-27-85)
22. Parental Consent (aired 3-6-85)
24. The Crash (aired 3-20-85)
24. Reconciliation (aired 3-27-85)
26. Sammy Jo (aired 4-3-85)
28. The Heiress (aired 5-8-85)
29. Royal Wedding (aired 5-15-85)