KNOTS LANDING versus DALLAS versus the rest of them week by week

Discussion in 'Knots Landing' started by James from London, Sep 18, 2016.

  1. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    19/Jan/81: DYNASTY: The Honeymoon v. 20/Jan/81: FLAMINGO ROAD: The Titus Tapes v. 22/Jan/81: KNOTS LANDING: A Family Matter v. 23/Jan/81: DALLAS: End of the Road (2)

    Two illustrations of just how scarily long ago these episodes first aired: On Monday, Cecil Colby, in an effort to impress upon Fallon how eligible a bachelor his nephew Jeff is, describes him as Denver's answer to Prince Charles. On Tuesday, Ronald Reagan is inaugurated as President. (Fortunately, the latter only happened in real life.)

    As well as swiftly establishing DYNASTY as having the least imaginative episode titles of the soap genre, "The Honeymoon" is also a misnomer - Blake and Krystle's vacation is cut short in the first scene when the Carringtons' foreign oil wells are seized in another of those non-specific revolutions perpetrated by "barbarians" and "fanatics." Yes, it's JR and South East Asia all over again, except this time it's in the Middle East, and instead of being plunged into the thick of the crisis as we were with JR, we're largely kept on the sidelines with Krystle, who finds the door to this part of her husband's life firmly closed in her face, and Fallon, quickly ushered from the room when found to be eavesdropping.

    Overall, DYNASTY's second instalment feels more modest in comparison to that epic pilot episode. This is a period of adjustment as characters establish themselves in new roles. Now partners in an oil rig, Matthew and Walter must win back the confidence of their crew and get them to return to work. In an attempt to prove he's more than Blake Carrington's son, Steven must persuade Matthew and Walter to give him a job. These two plot strands culminate in Steven getting into a barroom brawl with Robert Davi, later a bad guy in the second worst James Bond film ever made.

    On the domestic front, Matthew tries to ease Claudia back into "normality" by buying her a car. Much screen time is given to Claudia overcoming her fear and reluctance to get behind the wheel. Finally plucking up the courage, she drives out to the drill site to surprise Matthew. Instead, she has her first, very sweet, encounter with Steven Carrington. And so begins the gradual dismantling of the normal married life Claudia is trying so hard to build. Remembering what happens to Claudia and Lindsay in the last episode of this season, the introduction of the car in this episode could be read as some Big Old Foreshadowing.

    After Steven leaves her, there is a long, (and I mean long) lingering shot of Claudia at the drill site. Alone in her white dress clutching her picnic basket, she climbs some steps to a seating area and the camera slowly retreats, showing her dwarfed by both the mountainous scenery and the brute machinery of the rig. The juxtaposition evokes an unspecified wistfulness. It's not at all clear what the show is "saying" here, but that vagueness alone is reason enough for me to like it. (Let us perhaps think of it as a pre-Reagan moment that serves no purpose beyond itself, the like of which will be snuffed out soon enough.) Unlike the rest of the '80s soaps, early DYNASTY has no stand-alone episodes in which to test the boundaries of its form. In their absence, this shot stands as DYNASTY's experimental period.

    While Matthew encourages Claudia to get out of the house, Blake teaches Krystle how to become the mistress of hers. To this end, he summons all the servants from their beds in the middle of the night, bullies them in front of Krystle, and then fires his gardener of ten years for some perceived slight against his wife. When Krystle objects, Blake assures her that he will reinstate the gardener the following day, "and they will all say, 'Mr. Carrington is a hard man, but he's a fair man.'" Given the timid, docile performances by the actors portraying the staff, he's probably right. (The exceptions being sinister majordomo Joseph, who becomes more of a feature this week, and Michael the chauffeur, whom Fallon continues to delight in tormenting.)

    As "The Titus Tapes" suggests, Titus has been bugging Lute-Mae's for local pillow talk. The bugs are discovered, everyone knows he's behind it, but there's no proof against him. The mechanics of the plot are a bit dumb, but Titus is great, strutting around in his white sheriff's uniform and hat like a cross between Robert Mitchum in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER and Boss Hogg in THE DUKES OF HAZZARD.

    Both "The Honeymoon" and "The Titus Tapes" save their best scenes for last. On DYNASTY, the romantically set business meeting between Cecil and Fallon is full of atmosphere. The nighttime riverside setting, her feather boa, his tux, her Clenet, their secret pact - that Fallon will marry Cecil's nephew if he bails out her father - all feels very "Great Gatsby" by way of Harold Robbins. Meanwhile, on FLAMINGO ROAD, a bored Titus is listening through his final batch of brothel tapes when his attention is caught by the sound of Lane Ballou blabbing about Her Big Secret, the one she will pay $5,000 to keep quiet. As Titus suddenly snaps into life, so does the episode. His one line soliloquy prior to the freeze frame, "Lane Ballou, you've just made your first mistake" carries the same portentous, declaration-of-war quality as JR's "I underestimated the new Mrs. Ewing, I surely won't make that mistake again" did at the beginning of DALLAS.

    "A Family Matter" is my favourite DALLAS/KNOTS crossover so far. If "Community Spirit" acknowledged the incongruity of JR existing in KNOTS LANDING, then this episode downright celebrates it. Unfettered from his DALLAS story-lines, Larry Hagman is free to just play, and the resultant joys are many. I love his visit to Knots Landing Motors, his brief interaction with a disgruntled deaf customer ("Hey, old timer"), his shaking hands with Sid then discreetly wiping the grease off his palm.

    JR might be in town for some vague oil conference thingy, but Abby is the one responsible for bringing him into Gary's storyline. At this point in KNOTS, JR and Abby have never met before, and we're still getting know Abby ourselves. We know she likes men and she likes not doing very much, and just recently she's taken an interest in Gary's deal with Frank and Roy, but that's about it. So why is she so anxious to involve JR in Gary's deal? "That's what makes business exciting!" she says gleefully at one point. Ah ha, so business (and for "business", let's substitute the word "power") is a game for her, just like it is for the folks on DALLAS - but it's not for a game for Gary and Val. Deprived of raising their own child by JR, they're the human cost of his game playing. Meanwhile, Sid and Karen are simply a willing audience for JR/Larry's performance. So put all these different elements in one room, at Abby's dinner party, and get JR on the subject of Lucy's boyfriends ("the strangest bunch of human beings this side of New York City") and you get a really interesting cocktail of a scene. And I love how his toast at Abby's dinner table is upstaged, repeatedly, by Brian and Olivia's squabbling - talk about worlds colliding.

    This is David Paulsen's second foray into the Ewingverse and using JR as a mouthpiece, he articulates some pivotal home truths about Val, Gary and Abby that up until now have remained hidden (to the characters themselves as well as the viewers). JR identifies Abby as a kindred spirit ("You want my little brother Gary, honey"), Val as an albatross (“Gary’s got a noose around his neck and you’re hangin’ on to the other end, draggin’ him down”) and Gary's hunger for ... well, something other than what he has. "You're not talking Sid," JR tells his bro, "you're talking power." Cecil Colby also lectures a neophyte about the nature of power in DYNASTY: "Passion dies, power remains," he tells Fallon. For JR, however, power and passion seem to be the same thing: "You're talking adrenaline and how it surges through your veins when you've got something that everybody else wants ... You're talking about winning, winning like a Ewing wins."

    The sexual tension between JR and Abby, and Abby and Gary is fascinating, and made all the richer knowing that they're each involved with other people in concurrent storylines: Abby with Richard, Gary with Judy Trent, and JR with - at the last count - Sue Ellen, Louella and Afton. (He and Afton finally do the deed this week at Lucy's wedding and very fun it is too.)

    How audacious of JR - to skip over to KNOTS LANDING halfway through a DALLAS two-parter. "End of the Road, Part 2" discreetly accommodates the trip by keeping JR off screen for the first ten minutes or so, and then jumping the narrative forward a week.

    The central event of this week's FLAMINGO ROAD is a fundraising funfair in aid of Field's campaign. It's a bit weird. As the candidate's wife, Constance sets up a kissing booth. When Sam Curtis presents her with a hundred dollar bill, she rewards him with a full on snog, while everyone else stands around smiling as if this were perfectly acceptable campaign behaviour. Meanwhile, Eudora blows her genteel Southern matriarch cred by dressing up as a gypsy fortune teller, complete with black wig and cod foreign accent. Needless to say, you'd never catch Miss Ellie doing that (unless she were in her Donna Reed period, maybe).

    One thing Eudora and Ellie do have in common is a flair for the dramatic proclamation. In last week's episode of FLAMINGO ROAD, Eudora's husband Claude, acting out a watered-down variation on JR's mortgaging of his mama's ranch, secretly sold some sacred (if non-specific) land belonging to Eudora's family. Eudora's reaction, "I will never forgive you for this", was a more decisive version of what Miss Ellie told JR in Season 2: "I may never forgive you for this." This week, Ellie goes one better, vowing to Jock: "I'll never forgive you for what you've done to him... and to me." This is said in reaction to Gary's announcement that now that Jock has a son, i.e. Ray, running the ranch, he and Val feel able to remain in California permanently. Prior to this, it seems Ellie had it in her head that it was only a matter of time before Gary moved back to Southfork. I blame Abby. In an effort to motivate JR into loaning Gary the $50,000 he needs for his deal, she floats the idea of Val wanting to move back to Dallas - should things go sour for Gary at KLM, she reasons, JR might end up with another brother sitting across the breakfast table. JR sees through Abby's story, but her words seem to have floated across the Lorimar sound stages and ended up inside Ellie's head.

    "End of the Road" features Soap Land's third big wedding in four weeks. Judged purely on aesthetic terms, Mitch and Lucy's is the lamest of the bunch. Despite the best efforts of the art department to disguise the fact, the wedding clearly takes place on the cardboard Southfork patio. And although Alex Ward gamely describes it as "the biggest event of the year", there's no denying it all looks kinda cramped. And what would Mr. Afferton, Blake and Krystle's fussy wedding planner, have said about the cheesy wedding band squeezed into rented tuxedos or Gary walking Lucy down the aisle to a taped organ version of the Wedding March? Neither is very au courant. The most fun moment is everyone making eyes at people they shouldn't during the exchange of vows (JR and Afton, Sue Ellen and Clint, Pam and Alex). The most touching is Donna's line to Ray, "It's just a shame the poets were wrong: love doesn't conquer all," which rivals Andrew Laird's quip to Fallon, "Most little girls realise by the age of six they can't grow up and marry their daddies," for Line of the Week.

    Shoulder pads of the week: Sue Ellen's humungous shiny ones at the wedding.

    And the winner is … KNOTS LANDING.
    2nd: DALLAS
    3rd: DYNASTY
    4th: FLAMINGO ROAD
     
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  2. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    26/Jan/81: DYNASTY: The Dinner Party v. 27/Jan/81: FLAMINGO ROAD: A Mother's Revenge v. 29/Jan/81: KNOTS LANDING: Choices v. 30/Jan/81: DALLAS: Making of a President

    On DYNASTY, in an effort to get his hands on their leases, Blake Carrington invites Matthew and Walter, and Matthew's wife Claudia, to a dinner party at his mansion.

    Given Blake's financial problems, Krystle worries that the cost of her new wardrobe ($75-100,000 for the season, not including furs) is too extravagant - until Fallon tells her that it's all part of the game, and the game is called "Million Dollar Spit in the Ocean." Once Fallon has explained the rules, ("Every card comes down and dirty, and a strong bluff is worth more than a full house aces high") Krystle decides to play - a decision so momentous as to be marked by her breaking the fourth wall and looking directly down the camera lens. (This isn't quite a first for Soap Land - JR does the same thing during the first half of DALLAS Season 2.) Her first move is to stand up to Joseph in front of the other servants, insisting that Matthew is placed next to Blake at the dinner table.

    Krystle might be willing to play the game, and so is Walter - in fact, while feigning drunkenness at the Carrington party, he proves impressively adept at it - but Matthew is not. "Then you better go back to that school of geology and let 'em examine the rocks in your head," Walter suggests, "'cos if you don't play the game and play it well, then they're gonna eat you up."

    Last week's strangely lingering shot of Claudia at the drill site might be explained by a similar one of her at the party, highlighting her loneliness, or at least her solitude, amongst all the snazzily-dressed, heartily-laughing rich people. The programme's silent emphasis on Claudia at such moments suggests an empathy with her - embodied by Steven when she enters the library seeking refuge from the game players and finds him there. After all these years, the "library scene" is still exquisite.

    As with "Oil", "The Dinner Party" is peppered with references both political and cultural, serving to both broaden and deepen the context in which the story takes place. First, Fallon challenges Jeff's view that she should join the Young Republicans: "The Russians are in Afghanistan, the Vietnamese are in Cambodia, and you want me to stay at home and knit booties for orphans? Jeff, the whole world's an orphan." Meanwhile, in conversation with Claudia, Steven name checks historical notables "that have done a little time on the flip side: Nijinsky, Dostoyevsky, Peter the Great," before quoting that verse of Emily Dickinson's that has stayed with me my whole adult life: "Much madness is divinest sense to a discerning eye …" (And who says trash TV can't teach you nothing?) On KNOTS, by contrast, Sid Fairgate quotes George Halas: "It's not work unless you'd rather be doing something else." ("Who's George Halas?" asks Linda the Lady Mechanic.)

    DYNASTY breaks another soap taboo by having two of its characters, Fallon and Jeff, get stoned, go skinny-dipping and have a good time. Not until John Ross at his daddy's memorial service will anyone in Soap Land do drugs with such intoxicating impunity.

    But here's the kicker: it's not just drugs for drugs' sake. It's also Krystle picking up the tab for daring to believe she's got what it takes to play the game. When she follows Blake's lead and tries to persuade Matthew to bring his leases in "under the Denver Carrington corporate umbrella", Matthew turns on her, referring to her in the same way Jock did Bobby back in "Digger's Daughter" - as the company pimp. This leads to a heated exchange where he admits he still loves her. A stoned and giggling Fallon clocks everything and rubs Krystle's nose in it at the end of the episode after Joseph (getting his own petty revenge) has summoned Krystle, as mistress of the house, to deal with the two naked people in the family swimming pool.

    Following on from Fallon's "No blacks, no Jews, no Eskimos" speech in the DYNASTY pilot, this week's FLAMINGO ROAD provides Soap Land's second verbal acknowledgement that there is more than one race on the planet. As Field's election campaign hots up, it emerges that his chief opponent (played by the fat one out of Jeb Ames and Willie Joe Garr) may have once belonged to a white supremacist group. The episode even refers to the American South's history of racism, which is more than DALLAS has ever done.

    If DYNASTY is an airport blockbuster with a glossy, embossed cover, then FLAMINGO ROAD is a yellowing paperback in a second-hand bookshop with a lurid illustration on its front. "A Mother's Revenge" is an unexpectedly terrific episode, with a full-blooded guest performance from Alice Hirson - the future Mavis Anderson on DALLAS. (Her screen hubby-to-be Punk can be seen in this week's DALLAS, huddled in afternoon restaurant meetings with Jock and Ray, muttering strange words like "DOA" and "Takapa".) Hirson plays Mary Troy (if nothing else, the characters on FLAMINGO ROAD have great names) who has come to town looking the truth about her daughter Annabelle, who died in the mill fire back in the pilot episode. The fire was started by Sheriff Titus - whom, it transpires, raped and impregnated Mary twenty years before - yes, he inadvertently killed his own daughter! As befits such a dark and lurid tale, the episode is shot with lots of shadowy lighting and big close-ups - let's call it the soap noir look.

    On KNOTS LANDING, the more of a game player Abby becomes, the curlier her hair gets. In "Choices", it's almost a full-on perm. Val, meanwhile, doesn't even realise there's a game to play. "She tries so hard," Abby observes, "but Gary is growing by leaps and bounds. He knows what he wants and he knows where he’s going. He just outgrows his little country girl more every day."

    Following Sue Ellen, Val becomes the second Ewing wife in as many weeks to find out her husband has been unfaithful - thanks to Abby setting her up to find Gary and Judy together. There follows a great beach scene between Val and Gary where Val reviews their entire history together and tries to figure out where she went wrong, before slapping Gary and then collapsing into his arms. This is by far the most emotional reaction of a Soap Land spouse or partner to being cheated on since Ray Krebbs caught Garnet McGee in bed with JR in "Triangle" (DALLAS Season 1).

    Val's response is contrasted with that of Laura, whose suspicions about Richard and Abby's affair are also confirmed in this week's episode of KNOTS. "When I saw you going next door last night, you know what? I really didn’t care," she tells Richard coolly. Similarly, when we rejoin Sue Ellen and JR a full narrative week after the events of Lucy's wedding, their marriage has returned to the state of chilly indifference it was in before JR was shot. If Sue Ellen bothered to confront JR about him having sex with Afton in their marital bed, she did so off-screen.

    This week's FLAMINGO ROAD and KNOTS LANDING each ends on a question posed by its regular blonde vixen. "What would I have to do to get you to love me the way I love you?" pleads Constance to husband Field. Instead of answering, Field picks up a decanter of booze and exits the room, leaving an emotional Constance to take the freeze frame. It's at this point that Field stops being Bobby Ewing and turns into Brick from CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (which is who Bobby was supposed to be in the first place, according to DALLAS/F'LINGO producer Mike Filerman). Meanwhile, Abby takes an altogether more ambiguous approach. "Are you ready for me now?" she asks brightly, popping her head round Gary's office door only seconds after he has ended his affair with Judy Trent. In answer to her question, Gary won't actually be "ready" for more than a year, but no matter: both Abby and KNOTS are playing the long game here.

    Even though Gary and Val have been reunited by the closing credits, "Choices" does mark the end of one particular era of KNOTS. Laura might not confront Abby about seeing Richard enter her house, but the glare she gives her as they both leave for work the next morning makes it clear that this will never again be a show about a group of neighbours who are all genuinely good friends. The days of unequivocally happy episode endings are over.

    Ironically, in the week that he reclaims the presidency of Ewing Oil, JR is informed by Jordan Lee that he is finished as a power in Dallas. JR has been out of the office for thirteen episodes and things have has changed in the interim. Now it's as if everyone in Dallas watches DALLAS and has therefore cottoned to the fact that, instead of being just another ruthless good ole boy, JR is "the biggest cheat, the biggest liar and the biggest double dealer this town has ever seen." As a result said town refuses to do business with him. Enter Leslie Stewart, media consultant extraordinaire. When she promises to create for him “a halo so big, your shoulders will buckle just trying to carry it around,” it's a funny idea - but funny in a knowing way. JR the saint?? We're all in on the joke, audience and characters alike, because we all now view JR in the same way.

    JR falls for Leslie with unusual haste. It mirrors how quick he was to crown Abby "the most delicious conniver it's been my pleasure to encounter" in last week's KNOTS - yet on KNOTS, JR exhibited both a shrewdness and an insight into other people that are lacking in his dealings with Leslie. "I'm going to put you back on top," she vows and he instantly believes her, as if blinded by an urgent need to regain his power - in the same way that DALLAS itself now urgently needs to regain its mojo. After "Who Shot JR?" what can it do for an encore? To that end, "Making of a President" ends on JR's wildest, most reckless statement yet: "I want a revolution. I want those oilfields again."

    Andy Bradley pulls a double shift this week - labouring on Matthew and Walter's rig in DYNASTY on Monday, then celebrating an oil strike with the cartel boys in DALLAS on Friday. Freeloader of the week has to be Stacy Keach Sr. Three days after attending Lucy and Mitch's Southfork wedding as an unnamed guest, he shows up at Blake's table for "The Dinner Party". Spookiest DALLAS/DYNASTY overlap: Krystle's fashion designer or personal shopper or whatever-you-call-the-man-who-comes-to-your-house-to-plan-your-wardrobe-for-the-coming-season is named James Beaumont.

    And the winner is … DYNASTY
    2nd: KNOTS LANDING
    3rd: DALLAS
    4th: FLAMINGO ROAD
     
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  3. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    02/Feb/81: DYNASTY: Fallon's Wedding v. 03/Feb/81: FLAMINGO ROAD: The Fish Fry v. 05/Feb/81: KNOTS LANDING: A State of Mind v. 06/Feb/81: DALLAS: Start the Revolution With Me

    Much of "Fallon's Wedding" focuses on Fallon reluctantly coming to terms with the Faustian pact she's made. Now Cecil has bailed out Blake, she must fulfil her side of the bargain - to marry Jeff and then "go quietly insane".

    There's a slight Anglophile theme running through the cultural references in Soap Land this week: DYNASTY name checks Harrods, the Beatles and Covent Garden, and Michael lists several famous restaurants on the Fulham Road, (on this show, even the chauffeur is cosmopolitan) while on DALLAS, Leslie Stewart takes out an ad in the London Financial Times on JR's behalf. We also meet Jennifer, Cecil Colby's private secretary, played by Maggie the Dead Waitress from DARK SHADOWS deploying an English accent almost as convincing as Gillian Anderson's.

    Jennifer is one of three secondary characters (alongside Ted Dinard and Ed the bully on Matthew's rig) to emerge in this episode. Michael the chauffeur gets his own subplot too. Seemingly peripheral, these elements will eventually interconnect, helping to propel the story forward to its end of season conclusion.

    Ted, Steven's erstwhile boyfriend from New York, has the same sad-eyed neediness (plus the same flat hair and blazer ensemble) as Sam, the "ex-roommate" of Kit Mainwaring we glimpsed in DALLAS Season 1, (Steven also tries to pass off Ted as an ex-roommate in this ep) but there's also a genuine sense of melancholia about Ted that makes him more than just an obligatory archetype.

    Matthew's reaction when Steven comes out to him is interesting. He's far from comfortable - you get the feeling he'd sooner not know - but neither is he judgmental. It's here that the idea of Matthew as Steven's surrogate father, and the Blaisdels as his surrogate family, starts to develop.

    In an effort to impress Blake, Michael leans on Lankershim/Blaisdel's banker, threatening to hurt his family unless he withdraws their credit. (The banker turns up in this week's DALLAS too, as a member of Punk and Jock's Takapa Lake Development Project.) Blake is furious with Michael when he finds out about his strong arm tactics, then unofficially promotes him for it. If what Leslie says to JR in DALLAS is true - "You can't wheel and deal when you have a public corporation" - then I guess you need someone like Michael to do it for you.

    The most interesting scene of "Fallon's Wedding" is the one between Cecil Colby and Krystle. Cecil describes Blake as "a hunting animal, sleek and fast" for whom, like JR, the chase is all important. He advises Krystle to "find out what Blake wants most and then don't give it to him." Cecil's motives here have always felt ambiguous. Is he, in his own perverse way, genuinely trying to help Krystle (and perhaps spite Blake at the same time)? Or is he setting a trap for her? And does he already know that what Blake really wants from Krystle is a child? What occurs to me this time around is that now he knows Fallon and Jeff are to be married, Cecil doesn't want Krystle to produce an heir before they do (if at all). This mirrors the anxiety felt by Sue Ellen and JR in DALLAS Season 1 that Pam and Bobby will be the first to deliver Jock a grandson.

    Over on DALLAS, Leslie Stewart has figured out what JR wants: her in his bed. (It's become apparent to Sue Ellen too, much to JR's annoyance: "Have you had her yet?" "Leslie Stewart is a highly qualified professional. She’s doing a brilliant job." "That means you haven’t had her.") Leslie continues to keep JR at bay, doing the whole unattainable Hitchcock blonde thing, while simultaneously recording their conversations. Cecil would be proud.

    But while JR's desire for Leslie might be real enough, perhaps his enthusiasm for her PR campaign (which feels vague at best - a couple of slogans and a full page ad and Ewing Oil is suddenly "internationally known and important") is just a smokescreen for what he's really up to: financing the counterrevolution in Southeast Asia. For all his hyperbole about craving "the power to shape history, change the course of things a little so that someday everybody'll know JR Ewing's been here," all he really wants is to be a big shot in Dallas again. On one level, JR's parochiality is part of his (and the show's) charm. On another, it's what makes him so dangerous: if the world outside of Texas is unimportant, even unreal, to him, then it's all the easier for him to instigate an overseas war. After all, what's "a little suffering in a tiny country in South East Asia" if it gets him back into the cartel? "It could get messy," his contact warns him. "I don't wanna know the details," he replies.

    With no Claudia Blaisdel or Joan van Ark this week, it falls to the men of Soap Land to provide the neurotic behaviour - Jeff Cunningham and Richard Avery in KNOTS, Field Carlyle in FLAMINGO ROAD, and to a lesser extent, Cliff in DALLAS.

    This week's F'LINGO RD centres on a crucial speech Field is due to make at the Truro Fish Fry (think Southfork Barbecue, but with catfish and Dixieland jazz instead of steaks and a hoedown). Politically, Field is in early Cliff Barnes territory - idealistic, vaguely liberal, but ultimately compromised by his dealings with big business. Initially, Field writes the speech from his heart - promising "jobs for minorities", among other things - but gets overruled by his backers. "It's the majority that will get you elected," Titus tells him and Sam Curtis, Field's chief financial backer, agrees. Yep, Sam Curtis, aka Mark Graison, might be the show's blue-eyed, strong-chinned action hero, but it turns out he's as motivated by self-interest as the rest of the characters. And perhaps this lack of a fixed moral compass is the most interesting thing about FLAMINGO ROAD.

    It's really good fun watching Field, frustrated by his role as political puppet, unravel, get drunk and have to be put back together in time for the big speech, while the rest of the Weldon family plaster on fake smiles and try to keep up appearances. Constance and Sam, meanwhile, take every chance meeting as an opportunity to do a little flirting, much the way Sue Ellen and Cliff did in early DALLAS.

    "The Fish Fry" also offers Soap Land's campest scene to date as Constance and Lane Ballou vie for the attentions of flamboyant hairdresser Mr. Eddie. It prefigures all those beauty parlour bitch fests on DYNASTY.

    Another mainstay of the '80s soap, the custody battle storyline, makes its debut this week in KNOTS LANDING when Jeff Cunningham, Abby's ex-husband, threatens to fight her for their kids. I love the mock-interrogation of Abby by her lawyer: "You ever smoked grass, snorted coke, been to a porno movie?" This line taps straight into the hedonistic DEEP THROAT/disco period during which Abby and Jeff's marriage would have taken place. (The one recent series I've seen that really feels like a successor to KNOTS LANDING is the short-lived SWING TOWN. Set in 1976, it deals with the impact of sexual and social liberation on three American suburban couples. "A State of Mind", with its glimpses of Abby and Jeff's past relationship, seems like a chronological sequel to that show.)

    "A State of Mind" is a fab episode of KNOTS, and for the third week in a row it's an Abby-centric one. In "A Family Matter", we saw her having fun scheming with JR. In "Choices", she turned properly mean, using Judy to try and break up Gary and Val. This week, it's a whole other situation: challenged by her ex-husband about her independent lifestyle, she becomes a kind of de facto feminist ("Wake up, Jeff, this is the 1980s. Millions of mother's work." Tell that to Sue Ellen in DALLAS: "I find it very interesting that you hired a woman to tell you how to run your business," she says to JR. "It’s always been a Ewing creed that women were seen, not heard.")

    Throughout this episode of KNOTS, Abby refuses to tell Jeff whether or not she's been sleeping with the married man who lives next door, insisting that it has no bearing on her ability to be a good mother. When she does admit the affair to Karen, she is magnificently unrepentant about it. ("Yes, Richard and I have been to bed together! Isn't that deplorable? It's deplorable that that poor, pathetic, insecure man has something, one thing in his life that makes him happy. He has no job, a pitiful marriage, a wife so full of herself she has no time for him anymore. All he has is wicked Abby, who happens to make him a little happy once in a while.") Even 32 years later, Abby's attitude feels fresh and surprising, and has been echoed this month by Gillian Anderson's detective character in THE FALL, a brilliant BBC series I've become slightly obsessed with, who is equally unapologetic about the impact of her sexual conduct on those around her. ("Man f***s woman, OK. Woman f***s man -- that's not so comfortable for you," she suggests to a senior male colleague.)

    There is much marital misery on DALLAS this week: Ellie is icy cold to Jock, again accusing him of favouring Ray above his other sons. Sue Ellen and JR remain fascinatingly indifferent to each other, barely bothering to conceal their respective new love interests. And I really like the binge of reckless behaviour Pam embarks on after Bobby breaks their dinner date for the 476th time this season: yanking her office door almost off its hinges, knocking back the booze at Liz's party, snogging the face off King Galen of Moldavia in a Port Aransas hotel room. The only happy couple in "Start The Revolution With Me" are Lucy and Mitch. They have one really sweet scene where all of Mitch's objections to Lucy blowing their budget on his birthday presents evaporate in the face of her irrepressible enthusiasm.

    KNOTS and DALLAS each ends on a particularly ominous note this week. Having been humiliated by Abby, Jeff backs out of the court fight, but makes it clear to Karen that he hasn't finished with her yet. "You've got a war on your hands," Karen warns Abby. On DALLAS, JR has a genuine war on his hands. His contact in Southeast Asia, Claude Brown, reminds him of the possible consequences to both himself and Ewing Oil if he goes ahead with the counterrevolution, and gives him one last chance to back out. "I never change my mind," JR replies. The episodes close on Abby and JR each wearing their most defiant faces.

    And the winner is … KNOTS LANDING
    2nd: FLAMINGO ROAD
    3rd: DALLAS
    4th: DYNASTY.

    (But why is DALLAS the only show still using the same generic background music ...?)
     
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  4. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    10/Feb/81: FLAMINGO ROAD: The Election v. 12/Feb/81: KNOTS LANDING: Players v. 13/Feb/81: DALLAS: The Quest

    DALLAS finally sheds the generic background music … only for it to resurface on FLAMINGO ROAD. "The Election" is a crucial FL'INGO RD ep which at long last reveals who will be the new soap senator: Field Carlyle or Jeb Ames. (It's also the first, but certainly not the last, instance of a previously used episode title being recycled from one soap to another.)

    Bobby Ewing also enters the political fray this week, abandoning his new-found devotion to solar energy after only a fortnight for a shot at Dave Culver's senate seat. Field and Bobby's respective other halves, Constance and Pam, both come under scrutiny regarding their suitability as senatorial wives. When asked by a pushy TV reporter (played by Garrison Southworth's nurse from DALLAS Season 1) how she will cope with all those "political groupies" her husband will have to contend with, Constance plays the devoted wife to the hilt, insisting it won't be a problem. On DALLAS, Pam is called into question for her lack of wifely devotion. "A senator's wife should be beyond reproach," JR reminds his little brother before informing him that Pam has staying at the same Port Aransas hotel as Alex Ward.

    Bobby confronts Pam upon her return home, they have a heart to heart, and agree to put their problems behind them. In this respect, their behaviour mirrors that of the Averys in this week's KNOTS. Richard also has a new job, and like Bobby and Pam, he and Laura hope they can paper over the cracks in their marriage at the same time.

    No DYNASTY this week, but echoes of Matthew and Krystle's story-line recur throughout "The Election". When Eudora Weldon meets with old flame Elmo Tyson to ask him to endorse Field, her son-in-law, as a political candidate in his newspaper, Elmo's reaction is similar to Matthew's when his old flame Krystle tried to persuade him to sell Blake his oil leases. Then when Constance steps outside during the Weldons' election party, she is as surprised to see Field kissing Lane as Fallon was to overhear Matthew declaring his love to Krystle on the Carrington terrace at their family party - except where Fallon was delighted, Constance is devastated. And Matthew and Krystle's situation is itself mirrored by Field and Lane's. Despite their mutual declarations of love, they realise their commitments lie elsewhere and so after their smooch, agree to put their relationship behind them.

    DYNASTY might have been the first of the '80s soaps to mention black people, but this week FLAMINGO ROAD becomes the first (and only) one to introduce black characters who actually refer to themselves as black. The characters are construction worker Carl Turner (who will later operate on Karen MacKenzie after her shooting, but let's not worry about that now) and his college kid George, and they live "somewhere" in Truro (the geography of the town is vague to say the least). George is surprised that a "bigoted sheriff" like Titus would recommend Carl for the foreman's job on Sam Curtis's land development project thingy. Titus stirs the melting pot further when he tries to persuade Carl to employ a bunch of inexperienced (and presumably illegal) Cuban immigrants as his construction crew. When Carl refuses, Titus has George picked up on an armed robbery charge. "How many other blacks have come up against his brand of justice?" George later ponders. "Rousted one day, turned loose the next day - no explanation, no rights." "What happened to you had nothing to do with you being black," replies Carl flatly. "His brand of prejudice crosses all colour lines." In other words, Titus is an equal opportunities bigot.

    It's an interesting decision, in 1981, for a prime time TV series to create specifically black characters, evoke a racially-charged situation, (the scene where George is stopped and arrested has all the markings of anti-black police harassment, even down to Titus's deputy calling him "boy") and then sidestep the issue so neatly. Yet it feels true to Titus's character - he has no interest in racism for racism's sake; where's the profit in that? There's a vague parallel here with Cecil Colby's dismissal of gender considerations in the opening episode of DYNASTY: "I'm not a feminist, I'm not a masculinist either. If somebody can put a dollar in my pocket … I'll hire them."

    There's a great exchange towards the end of the episode where Elmo asks Titus what motivates him: "You don't live big, you don't travel. You're rooted to this town like a tree. Why the money? Why the need for power?" Titus laughs. "Because it's there," he replies. Like JR and Jock and Blake and Abby, Titus gets off on the game, the chase, the "taking" of power. Like JR and Jock, but unlike Blake, he's parochial. But unlike the Ewings, he isn't motivated by anything so quaint as family. He has no principles at all, not even the distorted ones of a racist.

    Field having won his senate seat, "The Election" concludes with what must be Soap Land's coolest use of a freeze frame thus far. The picture freezes on a shot of Constance and Field, the victorious couple. She's holding onto his arm, her eyes looking possessively up at him while he gazes off in the direction that Sam and Lane took when they left the party. Over this image, we hear the voice of the TV reporter from earlier announcing Field's win: "Youth, intelligence, good looks, a beautiful wife. And now the state senate on his first try. The newly elected senator from Truro is off and running." Slowly, the camera starts to move in on the image of Field, kind of following Constance's gaze, until his unmoving face is in close-up. "The only question now would seem to be - how far will he go?" asks the voice-over. The ambivalent expression of Field's frozen face gives nothing away.

    I'm not quite sure who the "players" of this week's KNOTS episode title are, but the central focus of the ep is Linda the Lady Mechanic's infatuation with Sid, and Karen's response to same. We've been there before with Sid and his neurotic ex-wife and we'll go there again with Karen's next husband and Paula the Forest Ranger (even down to Mack and Paula getting stranded together overnight the same way Sid and Linda are here), but for some reason those other stories both feel more substantial than this one. (Perhaps it's because Linda, as sweet as she is, isn't as well-developed a character as either Susan Philby or Paula Vertosick.)

    The peripheral stuff on "Players" is more interesting: Val confiding in Karen about Gary's affair ("I died"), Richard pretending not to mind that Laura's latest commission is more than his annual salary, and even Ginger telling Kenny about her pregnancy. There are also some small but notable relationship shifts: Abby might be back to smirking mischievously on the sidelines, but she and Karen are openly antagonistic to each other in a way than they never were before the events of last week's episode. Meanwhile, Karen turning to Val in her hour of need would seem to mark the beginning of their special "let's go get a pizza" friendship-to-end-all-friendships.

    Over on DALLAS, any episode that sends Sue Ellen on a stakeout has to be a bit nutty bonkers, and indeed an air of free-floating stupidity, reminiscent of mid-period DYNASTY, hangs over much of "The Quest". Having discreetly observed Sue Ellen about to enter a restaurant, the detective following her then gets out of his car for no other reason than to render himself completely visible to her. And even after staring at him staring at her, Sue Ellen continues to insist that she can't be sure who's following her, that it's "just a feeling". Meanwhile, Lucy invites her in-laws round for dinner. As she issues Afton with a not-very-cryptic-at-all warning against embarrassing Mitch by behaving a massive slut, Ma Cooper looks on proudly, completely oblivious to what Lucy's talking about. And in Port Aransas, Jackie dreamily laments Pam's decision not to openly commit adultery with Alex. "You, dear heart, are an incurable romantic," coos Pam fondly, instead of punching her in the face.

    However, it's all worth it for the wonderfully bitter break up scene between Donna and Cliff. And the sight of Sue Ellen raging against the world in Dr. Elby's office. Plus, what a ridiculously fun cliff-hanger: "Dear God, it can't be!" Sue Ellen gasps. I know how she feels: the Farlow house in Denton, Rebecca's house in Season 5, the Weldon house in FLAMINGO ROAD - they all look exactly the same, but … it's just not possible.

    And the winner is … Dear God, it can't be … FLAMINGO ROAD!
    2nd: DALLAS.
    3rd: KNOTS LANDING
     
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  5. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    16/Feb/81: DYNASTY: The Chauffeur Tells a Secret v. 17/Feb/81: FLAMINGO ROAD: Jealous Wife v. 19/Feb/81: KNOTS LANDING: The Loudest Word v. 20/Feb/81: DALLAS: Lover, Come Back

    Tennis features on both DYNASTY and FLAMINGO ROAD this week. On the Carrington court, a game of mixed doubles serves as a neat illustration of Fallon's relationship priorities - her new husband and stepmother are left twiddling their rackets while she trains all her attention on her father. The exclusive tennis club in FLAMINGO ROAD is used to represent social standing in Truro, as Constance and her bitchy friends just can't believe they're having to share court space with trash like Lane Ballou.

    "The Chauffeur Tells a Secret" might be a clunky title, but it's a really strong episode. While "the chauffeur" is obviously Michael, the "secret" is that Fallon married Jeff so that Cecil would bail out Blake. This leads to a great scene where Blake really lets Fallon have it:

    "I've been able to claw my own way up from setbacks before. I've gone to congressmen and kings and dictators and mob bosses when I needed help and I got it. When you were safely tucked off at school and on jets and in $200-a-night hotel rooms in Rio and Europe and the Caribbean with your beach boys and soccer studs and you name them, you found them, I was here, without you - handling the problems, clawing my way if I had to, and I did it without your damned help."

    I love the kaleidoscope of images this speech evokes: "congressmen and kings and dictators and mob bosses … private schools and jets and $200-a-night a hotel rooms … Rio and Europe and the Caribbean … beach boys and soccer studs." That's a whole (albeit trashy) novel right there.

    The cultural references are equally diverse in this week's DYNASTY: 16th century poetry ("And I will make thee beds of roses"), 70s soft rock ("Supertramp are boring??"), "The Taming of the Shrew", Baryshnikov, Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway …

    My favourite scene is where Michael orders the boss's daughter out of the limo and they take an impromptu walk in the woods. Something I never realised before: Michael's reminiscence about his childhood ("When I was a little kid, we were pretty poor and when my mother used to ask me, 'How much do you love me?' I'd say, 'A million dollars.' When she had to go to my grandmother's back East and she'd come home and she'd ask, 'How much did you miss me?' I'd say, 'A million dollars'") is his sullen way of telling Fallon he's in love with her. It's also the perfect expression of avarice and emotion intertwined.

    Another good scene is Claudia's session with her psychiatrist, Dr. Jordan. Theirs is a very different dynamic than the one between Sue Ellen and Dr. Elby on DALLAS. The Elby scenes, while hugely enjoyable, have mostly become an opportunity for Sue Ellen to grandstand, as befits a rich man's wife who's paying someone for the privilege of listening to her. With Claudia, it's different. Her therapy is presumably part of her ongoing medical treatment, and the relationship between doctor and patient feels more equal. Dr Jordan might tease Claudia as a prod to get her to say what's on her mind; she might evade the issue by complaining about the sunlight in her eyes, but it's not a personal rebuke. Dramatically, however, both doctors serve the same function: they allow Sue Ellen and Claudia to reveal what they cannot say to those closest to them, but what we, the audience, need to hear.

    And so it is we learn that at the Carringtons' dinner party, Claudia recognised, or at least intuited, Krystle as the woman Matthew slept with when she was in the hospital. It's interesting that this wasn't signposted at the time - in the same way that the moment where Laura's suspicions about Abby and Richard were alerted in KNOTS (at the Averys' party) wasn't marked by a big, dramatic close up.

    In FLAMINGO ROAD, Constance's reaction to an equivalent situation is far less subtle. As the titular "Jealous Wife", she spends the whole episode stamping her foot and complaining loudly about her Krystle/Abby equivalent, "that tramp" Lane Ballou. Morgan Fairchild is great fun, but compared to Soap Land's other wronged wives, Constance feels a little lightweight - understandably so, given that she is closer in age and upbringing to the genre's original spoilt princess, Lucy Ewing. In fact, at one point in "Jealous Wife", Lane actually tells her to grow up.

    Constance's attempt at revenge - barring her rival from a fancy reception in Field's honour - backfires when Lane makes a big GONE WITH THE WIND style entrance on Sam Curtis's arm, draped in a fur wrap and wearing a spangly dress that puts all the other women in the shade. Even worse for Constance (but fun for us), Field figures out her plan and forces her to eat crow and apologise to Lane.

    On DALLAS, Lucy also receives short shrift from her new husband for some underhand behaviour, when Mitch discovers she's been employing a cleaning lady on the sly. Sitcom stuff this may be, but it is funny - particularly the scene between Mitch and Dolores the cleaner, who so doesn't get the confidentiality clause in her employment contract.

    Younger than both Constance and Lucy, and sweeter-natured than either, Lindsay Blaisdel nevertheless manages to get into some deep doo-doo on DYNASTY this week. She invites a boy she's sweet on home from school to study Shakespeare, whereupon he gets horny (and disses Supertramp) and she gets freaked out. So far, so Diana Fairgate in "Step One", but instead of getting drunk with a strange guy on the beach, Lindsay drives off in her mother's car. Just as Claudia did when she first got behind the wheel, Lindsay ends up driving to the Lankershim/Blaisdel drill site as if it were a kind of beacon. The scenes that follow are all really good in a KNOTSian sort of way. There's a lovely little character exchange between Lindsay and Walter, then we see Lindsay reunited with her concerned parents, and then she and Claudia truly bond for the first time - think Karen and Diana in "Step One" only less strident - while driving home together. Foreshadow alert: oh, the irony of Claudia and Lindsay forging a connection in the same car in which their relationship will effectively end.

    The scene of Steven breaking bread with the Blaisdels is lovely in its ordinariness. To compare the warmth of this dinner with the chilly, austere one he shared with Blake and Fallon in the pilot episode is quite poignant. There's something so natural, so unguarded about the Blaisdels' reactions to his fairytales of New York, ("bicycling in Central Park on Sunday afternoon, riding a Staten Island ferry at twilight") and so unpretentious about Matthew excusing himself and Lindsay after dinner so that they can work on her homework, that when Steven starts spouting poetry to Claudia in the kitchen it feels like the most natural thing in the world …

    "The Loudest Word" is an exceptional episode of KNOTS. A stand alone episode dealing with something as major as bowel cancer just shouldn't work, but it does. The very fact that Val's diagnosis appears out of nowhere is precisely what makes it so real. This isn't an episode of high drama - there's no time for that. Instead, it's about fear - the kind of clammy, gnawing, intangible fear that turns into terror without you even noticing. The scene where Gary breaks down in front of Sid and Karen just after he's trashed his and Val's bedroom is the most nakedly emotional moment in the Ewingverse (and all of Soap Land) thus far.

    As the Fairgates and Averys wonder aloud what they would do in Gary's or Val's situation, one can't help but flash forward to what lies in store for Sid, Diana and Laura. And then the arrival of Bobby, with his words of comfort for Val and tough love for Gary, creates a connection to JR's death and Pam's fate - both cancer related - in New DALLAS. In fact, it feels like there's an emotional link between this instalment, Sid's death, "Noises Everywhere" and the episodes of New DALLAS that deal with the aftermath of JR's passing - where a kind of reality slices through the gloss and melodrama and the story becomes somehow greater than the sum of its parts. (It feels as though Jock's death should fit into this group, but I'm not sure it does.)

    The way Bobby lays into Gary, telling him he has no courage, is still kind of shocking. It's the sort of thing Bobby could never say on DALLAS, where somehow his moral proximity to his eldest brother - making him perpetually the good guy to JR's villain - means that he must always defend Gary. There simply isn't the space on DALLAS for Bobby to express his own ambivalence. There's an interesting symmetry here in that the only person Val can admit her fear to isn't one of the KNOTS cast, but her trusted crossover brother-in-law.

    Bobby is written in a harsher, less obviously sympathetic way on "The Loudest Word" than he ever was on the original DALLAS, (even during the character's "dark" periods) and Patrick Duffy really steps up to the plate. I'm not sure the character ever feels as three-dimensional again - not until the opening episode of New DALLAS anyway.

    Abby appears only once in "The Loudest Word" when she, Laura and Karen drop by the hospital to see Val the night before her operation. At first glance unremarkable, this is actually a little gem of a scene where everyone puts on their brightest smiles and no one says what they're actually thinking. There now are so many unspoken nuances between these four women, whose relationships have quietly and suddenly become quite complex.

    There's no real attempt to absorb Bobby's KNOTS excursion into this week's DALLAS, where he's run off his ass with campaign strategies, political meetings and whatnot. Like Field's advisers a couple of weeks ago, Bobby's counsel suggest he play safe when speaking to the public, and steer clear of thorny issues like abortion and women's rights. Mention of the latter is kind of ironic given that Pam's role in the campaign has been reduced to that of coffee maker - but at least she does it resentfully.

    "Lover, Come Back" is one of those DALLAS episodes I've never quite got. Sue Ellen's discovery of Dusty alive but in a wheelchair, the revelation of his impotency, the weepy ending where he sends her away - it's always felt too overwrought, too soapy, too far removed from all the wheelin' and dealin' at Southfork and Ewing Oil. However, the DALLAS Decoder site has inadvertently provided me with "a way in" to this ep. I really liked the site's critique of "Prodigal Mother" which likened that episode to the Douglas Sirk women's pictures of the 1950s. Given the parallels between "Prodigal Mother", in which Pam ventures out of town for a bittersweet reunion with a previously dead loved one, and "Lover Come Back", where Sue Ellen does the same thing, I thought I'd see if the same Sirkian comparisons might apply - and they do. The superficial tropes are all present and correct - the fur coat, the runny mascara, the haughty maid and fancy house - as are the more crucial themes of female suffering, sacrifice and redemption. Suddenly, this episode makes sense to me - and it's only taken thirty-two years.

    And that brings me to another parallel: between "Lover, Come Back" and "The Loudest Word". In these episodes, Dusty and Val are each faced with a decidedly unglamorous, unsexy medical condition - impotence for him, a possible colostomy for her. (You wanna know how unsexy? Just watch how quickly Diana Fairgate - usually so keen to make issue-of-the-week stories all about her - exits stage left as soon as she hears the word "colostomy".) Can Sue Ellen and Gary surmount a lifetime of weakness ("My entire life up until this point has been a mockery," admits Sue Ellen; "You have no courage at all," Bobby tells Gary) to assume the burden of caring for a loved one?

    Aside from KNOTS, which resolves its story after Val gets the all clear, this week's soaps each end on, if not exactly a cliffhanger, then a note of tantalising uncertainty:

    At the fancy reception on FLAMINGO ROAD, Constance, having made her apologies to Lane through gritted teeth, takes to the dance floor with Field. So do Sam and Lane. As the two respectable looking couples glide dangerously close to one another, (the orchestra playing a saxed-up version of the title music) Field and Lane share a furtive glance over their partners' shoulders. At that precise moment, the frame freezes on the four of them.

    At the end of this week's DALLAS, Dusty asks Sue Ellen to leave and not come back. It might be intended as a noble, self-sacrificing gesture on his part, but the irony is that he's actually denying her the opportunity to become a better person. The camera freezes on Sue Ellen as she starts to walk away ... back to her self-described mockery of a life.

    Best of all is the final moment of this week's DYNASTY. In the midst of quoting Marlowe, Steven knocks a dish or two from the Blaisdel kitchen table, and he and Claudia find themselves kneeling on the floor gathering the broken crockery. (Here, I can't help but flash to an equivalent scene in a 1989 episode of BROOKSIDE: "I'm used to it, Billy - picking up the pieces.") The kiss that follows, between a gay young man and a non-judgemental older woman, comes as a genuine curveball, and yet it feels so wonderfully, illogically inevitable.

    And the winner is … KNOTS LANDING
    2nd: DYNASTY
    3rd: DALLAS
    4th: FLAMINGO ROAD.
     
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  6. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    23/Feb/81: DYNASTY: The Bordello v. 26/Feb/81: KNOTS LANDING: Moments of Truth v. 27/Feb/81: DALLAS: The New Mrs. Ewing

    It's Bizarro Week in Soap Land - midgets become supermodels, suburban baby showers are gatecrashed by terrorists, and the first half of this week's DYNASTY is taken up by a long sequence where Walter and Steven visit a whorehouse in order to alleviate Steven of his "problem".

    DYNASTY's bordello resembles Lute-Mae's in FLAMINGO ROAD - a quaint Western saloon bar vibe with pretty girls in negligees hanging out on the balcony as if life as a sex worker were a never-ending slumber party. The atmosphere of both establishments is more homely than whorehouse, with nary a hint of violence or disinfectant. Given that these are typically sanitised Hollywood takes on prostitution, DYNASTY's has the edge in that its bordello proprietor, Lucy, embodies the "wise maternal madam" persona far more convincingly than the airhead that is Lute-Mae. Plus the scene between Steven and Sarah Pat is very sweet (and all the more interesting when you know she'll be back to bite him in the ass in the season finale), and there's some lovely character stuff with Walter. As with Pamela Sue Martin's pool playing in the pilot, those really are Dale Robertson's hands playing Mozart's "C Major Sonata" on the piano, accompanied by a nice little reminiscence abut his mother, akin to Michael's in last week's episode.

    A neat bit of soapy synchronicity: Last week, JR's financing of a (conveniently bloodless) coup in Southeast Asia resulted in Ewing Oil's and the cartel's wells being returned to them. This week, Denver Carrington's Saudi Arabian oil wells are nationalised - thus putting Blake in the exact same position that JR was in at the end of last season (give or take a zillion dollars or two). He subsequently exhibits a darker side to his personality - humiliating Steven, sabotaging Matthew's rig - which leaves Krystle seriously disillusioned. "How beautiful it is here," she broods, "and how ugly sometimes."

    Elsewhere, this DYNASTY episode is dotted with atypical behaviour, which only serves to make the characters more rounded and interesting. Fallon, having behaved outrageously towards everyone since the series began, exhibits a more tender side during a scene with Steven where she gently persuades him not to return to New York. Doris, Krystle's tactless former colleague whom we met at her bridal shower, proves to be more perceptive than one might have suspected when Krystle, feeling responsible for what Blake has done to Matthew, turns to her for help. "Which one of them are you in love with?" Doris asks. The biggest turn around of all is when Krystle then pawns a necklace bought for her by Blake and gives the money to Matthew to help him keep his business afloat. They end up kissing on his couch before she breaks free. "I can't give you anything else that belongs to him," she says.

    Is "Moments of Truth" the worst episode of KNOTS LANDING thus far? The women of the cul-de-sac trapped together in a hostage situation - it should work, and every time I watch it I think maybe, this time, it will ... but it never does. I can't exactly put my finger on why. I think it's to do with the direction - somehow we never really get a sense of time passing, so the tension doesn't build, and the climax, where Karen and Val grapple with one of their captors over a gun, is clumsily staged.

    Most perplexingly, the female characters are largely underused: Ginger whimpers, Val is relegated to hair-stroking duty, and Abby's description of Laura as "all teary-eyed and helpless" proves disappointingly accurate (that one slap notwithstanding). This leaves Karen free to emote as if it were an Olympic sport (when she's not secreting her wedding ring in various bodily crevices) - and it falls to wicked, wicked Abby to man up and show some genuine guts. If the episode belongs to anyone, it's Donna Mills.

    Holed up at the Averys' house, the cul-de-sac men politely take it in turn to go nuts. Kenny flips out first. Then Gary gets his macho out of the hall closet and flattens a pushy reporter (is there any other kind in Soap Land - Elmo Tyson notwithstanding?). Finally, Richard and Sid have a shouting match which is quite good.

    The bad guys in "Moment of Truth" remind me a lot of the trio who kidnapped Bobby in the first season of DALLAS. Both gangs are a one-girl/two-boys combo, with the woman, in each case a flinty-eyed red-head who has a sexual history with at least one of the men, clearly in charge. It's kind of a Ma Barker/Baader-Meinhof Mash Up - with the added implication that poor, plain-looking women are inevitably eaten up with resentment towards their wealthier, better-looking counterparts. "I bet your wife's hands don't look like these," snarled Bobby's kidnapper Fay in DALLAS. "People like you," sneers Rose, Fay's KNOTS equivalent, "rich pretty privileged people, you buy what you want. People like me, we never could and it gets harder every day."

    In other bizarro news, Lucy Ewing Cooper becomes DALLAS's next top model despite not knowing what a portfolio is. Having landed the job, she spends the rest of the episode communicating solely via high-pitched squeals and burbles. Meanwhile, Uncle Bobby becomes a state senator less than two weeks after taking up politics as a career. His first order of business? To hire his family's arch nemesis, Cliff Barnes, as his legal counsel. While this makes no real world sense, it at least sets a precedent for Bobby inviting Cliff to join Ewing Oil in Season 11.

    "The New Mrs. Ewing" is Dr. Elby's penultimate episode and his advice to Sue Ellen seems to signal a turning point for her character: "Trust your instincts. Put the past where it belongs. It's time to move on." So far, Sue Ellen's idea of moving on amounts to initiating a motel room affair with a married man, but hey - it's early days.

    The most fun bits of this week's DALLAS: Leslie sabotaging a meeting between JR and the cartel (which now includes Marilee) and a couple of classic soundbites from Ellie and Jock: "You both sicken me!" and "I am Takapa!" The latter comes during a family gathering to mark Ray and Donna's nuptials - the fifth Soap Land wedding in nine weeks. "Welcome to the Ewin' family, Donna," Sue Ellen smirks after Jock's outburst. Good to see her "new start" doesn't yet preclude making ironic asides during cocktail hour.

    And the winner is … DYNASTY
    2nd: DALLAS
    3rd: KNOTS LANDING
     
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  7. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    09/Mar/81: DYNASTY: The Beating v. 09-10/Mar/81: FLAMINGO ROAD: Bad Girl/Secrets v. 12/Mar/81: KNOTS LANDING: Man of the Hour v. 13/Mar/81: DALLAS: Mark of Cain

    This week, Steven Carrington succeeds where Bobby Ewing and Skipper Weldon failed: he moves out of the family home - and what's more, his father approves. "A young man shouldn't be tied umbilically to the place where he was born," says Blake, even if the unspoken laws of Soap Land dictate otherwise. Admittedly, it helps that Steven simultaneously announces his intentions to start working for the family business - which Skipper also does in "Bad Girl", the first of this week's two FLAMINGO ROAD eps.

    Steven explains to Blake that he wants to become a man with dirty fingernails: "I want to do it the way you did it. I want to get my hands real dirty. I want my muscles to ache. I want to sweat and get dog tired and then come falling in to bed at night knowing that I'm learning, really learning this business the way you did."

    What brings about this change of heart in Steven isn't entirely spelled out, but is clearly linked to his relationship with Claudia. It's as if finding out he's capable of sex with a woman has made Steven believe he's also worthy of becoming his father's heir. Indeed, he seems to be in love not just with Claudia, but also his newly discovered heterosexuality. For the first time, he is able to speak of his future as one of growth and possibility: "Next spring, up at the lake, when this tree I planted begins to show off her leaves, prettier and greener than any single leaf in England, I want you to be there," he tells Claudia during a bedroom scene. Ironically, Al Corley has never looked more feminine than when lying in Pamela Bellwood's arms. At one point, it looks as if Claudia is sharing a post-coital moment with Kim Wilde.

    "The Beating" contains the most moving scene in DYNASTY thus far where Matthew asks Claudia away on a belated honeymoon. By this point, he knows that she knows about his affair with Krystle, but neither can bring themselves to speak of it. He explains that the trip is an attempt to make up for hurting her in the past. What he doesn't realise is that the damage has already been done and Claudia is now sleeping with Steven. There is no anger in the scene, only sadness and regret. At different points, each character is in tears, but still don't say what's really on their minds.

    While on vacation, Claudia and Matthew run into Brian Dennehy, completing his trilogy of Soap Land characters. Previously Luther Frick in DALLAS and Lynn Baker Cargill in KNOTS LANDING, here he's Jake Dunham, an old college football pal of Matthew's turned lawyer. In just a few week's time, Jake will be doing his best to put Blake Carrington away for murder. Points to DYNASTY for tying him into the story ahead of time. Which other soap would make the effort? I can think of only one - PEYTON PLACE.

    One of PEYTON PLACE's great strengths was its flexible structure, in particular, its ability to expand at will, to include never-before-seen characters and locations that we willingly accept were part of the town all along. FLAMINGO ROAD pulls off something similar this week when Skipper takes over his father's position at the mill, and we're straightaway introduced to three characters who have apparently worked there for years - secretary Alice Kovacks, who has nursed a secret crush on Skipper's father for over a decade (echoes of Julie Anderson's relationship with her boss on PEYTON PLACE), Alice's gold digging younger sister Christie (aka Linda the Lady Mechanic from KNOTS who has evidently crossed over to the dark side following Sid Fairgate's rejection of her four weeks earlier) and Christie's horny, possessive boyfriend Tony.

    Christie is a blast - a hundred times more fun than she ever was as mousy little Linda - and brings a much needed element of dime-store novel sleaze to FLAMINGO ROAD. She immediately makes a bee-line for Skipper who is sap enough to fall for her little girl lost routine. Alice disapproves, but Christie doesn't care. "Now I've found him, I've got a shot at Flamingo Road," she says. Like the similarly named Kristin on DALLAS, she delights in taunting her big sister about how she won't make the same mistakes she did: "I'm not gonna be like you, Alice, growing old by myself in some mail order dress. I'm gonna be a Weldon."

    A wayward sister also pops up on KNOTS LANDING - Ginger's youngest sibling Cindy. "She's got rules and regulations and those rules become a prison," says Kenny of his whacko mother-in-law, thereby explaining why Ginger's sisters feel the need to cut loose each time they visit the cul-de-sac.

    The theme of characters being imprisoned - by birth, marriage or circumstance - continues to recur heavily in Soap Land this week. "You make the Weldon house sound like some kind of prison," observes Christie while talking to Field. "The only difference is that the spoons there are made out of sterling silver," he replies.

    Jeff Colby finds himself locked in the same kind of prison as Field this week. Taking a leaf out of Steven's book, he proposes to Fallon that they too move out of the Carrington mansion. Her refusal to even entertain the idea causes Mr. Affable to lose his temper for the very first time. "Most of all, you love your father," he shouts, "so why did you marry me? Why didn't you marry him?" This echoes Andrew Laird's line to Fallon earlier in the season ("Most little girls realise by the age of six that they can't grow up and marry their daddies") and sends her running barefoot from the house … and into the arms of Michael the chauffeur. Later in the episode, Michael is driving a limo containing Fallon and Krystle when he is set upon by two nameless henchmen who give him the beating of this week's episode title. "You know the rules," Michael murmurs to Fallon afterwards as a bewildered Krystle looks on. "I broke the rules. I had it coming." Fallon subsequently confronts her father ("You just can't go around beating up every man in Colorado I sleep with!") who orders her to make her marriage work.

    Elsewhere, we see Lindsay running away from her parents after learning of Claudia's affair with Steven, only for Matthew to catch up with her in order to bring her home. It's hard to think of two DYNASTY characters with less in common than Fallon and Lindsay, but in this ep we see each of them literally running from the truth, only to find themselves back where they started.

    It's interesting how disco dancing is depicted in Soap Land. What in reality began as an underground movement in about 1970 and was later co-opted (around the time of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER) by the real-life equivalents of Jeff and Abby Cunningham and the adventurous suburban marrieds of SWING TOWN no longer has anything to do with any sort of social or sexual subversion (Claudia's whirl around the dance floor with creepy Lawrence in last week's DYNASTY notwithstanding) and has instead become the sole province of white upwardly mobile couples. On KNOTS, it's the way the neighbours choose to celebrate Gary's promotion in "Bottom of the Bottle" and how Kenny schmoozes his contacts in the record business. On DALLAS, it's a harmless way for respectable young couples, Bobby and Pam and then Lucy and Kit, to spend their evenings out. And now that Matthew and Claudia are officially on the up, thanks to his oil strike, they also get a chance to shake their booties, alongside ambitious attorney Jake Dunham and his materialistic wife Louise.

    On FLAMINGO ROAD, it's a slightly different story. For all the talk of non-stop partying at Lute-Mae's, Lane Ballou's covers of MOR standards (more often than not with the word "blue" in the title) are usually as funky as it gets. This week, having been abruptly dumped by Skipper when her slut credentials are verified by the bartender, Christie hits the jukebox and embarks on some of the most libidinous gyrating this side of Betty Anderson in PEYTON PLACE. Meanwhile, the resident hookers, who include DALLAS's Dora Mae, watch from the sidelines with prim disapproval.

    There are a few big marital explosions in this week's Soap Land. As well as Jeff and Fallon's first fight, Matthew erupts when Lindsay fails to return home and all his festering resentments regarding Claudia falling pregnant when they were teenagers come boiling to the surface. His dialogue rings painfully true: "Isn't that what you tell your shrink? That it was both our faults, that we helped take away the best years of your life?" he yells at Claudia. "That's not true," she protests. "Then what is?! That I didn't suffer enough? That the boy doesn't suffer??" Meanwhile on F'LINGO RD, Field, mistakenly believing that Lane and Sam have eloped, has the mother of all fights with Constance, striking her across the face and knocking her to the floor. He heads to Lute-Mae's to drown his sorrows and in a fab little twist, it is he rather than Skipper, who ends up in bed with Christie.

    In this week's KNOTS, Karen finds a joint in Eric's pocket. "When I was a kid, we were taught that marijuana led to drug addiction," recalls Sid. "Then the pendulum swung in the totally opposite direction. Everybody called it harmless." This attitude is reflected in the stance taken by Blake a few weeks earlier with regard to Fallon and Jeff's weed-induced skinny dip. "Perfectly acceptable in this house," he shrugged. It's not so easy for Sid: "I feel betrayed by my own son." The scene where Eric waits in vain for Sid to provide him with some sort of comfort or reassurance after Ginger's sister ends up in a coma (thanks to Eric Stoltz lacing another joint with PCP) is just heartbreaking, even more so when one remembers that Sid has but a few episodes to live.

    However, the episode's best scene is where Abby, convinced that Jeff has abducted her kids, turns to the Averys for help - and finds Laura more sympathetic than Richard. Really good.

    DALLAS feels kinda muddled this week. Much of the episode is given over to Bobby dealing with the fact that he has an inherited a seat on the senatorial committee that will determine who gets Takapa - Jock or Ellie. The obvious conflict of interest does not prohibit his participation. The far-fetchedness of this scenario doesn't worry me - it's no more implausible than Miss Ellie rewriting her will from beyond the grave - but the concept of Bobby as an earnest politician is harder to accept. The idea that he has any kind of social awareness that stretches beyond the confines of Ewing Oil and Southfork just doesn't ring true for me. As he said at JR's graveside, his role as the good brother was always defined by JR's as the bad: that's all he knows.

    The funniest bit of the episode is Mitch returning home to find a camera crew in his living room and Lucy dressed as Little Jimmy Osmond. And isn't that Sheriff Titus's future KNOTS LANDING bastard son Steve Brewer ogling Lucy's cleavage on a magazine cover? This isn't the only interest displayed by the media in the Ewings this week: Louella fields a call from the Wall Street Journal following the release of Ewing Oil's pro-ecology, anti-strip mining policy statement. This plot development has never made sense to me. I get Leslie using reverse psychology on JR by sabotaging his meeting with the cartel, but this statement is reverse psychology with back-flips. Other unexplained weirdnesses: Sue Ellen appearing to drink champagne during an afternoon tryst with Clint, Pam and Ray both referring to "Ellie" without the prefix of "Miss", and Herbert Wentworth conveniently dropping dead so that Rebecca can be reunited with Pam - but without anyone in Dallas having heard of this captain of industry's demise which took place two months earlier.

    And the winner is … DYNASTY
    2nd: FLAMINGO ROAD
    3rd: KNOTS LANDING
    4th: DALLAS.
     
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  8. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    16/Mar/81: DYNASTY: The Birthday Party v. 17/Mar/81: FLAMINGO ROAD: They Drive By Night/Hell Hath No Fury v. 19/Mar/81: KNOTS LANDING: More Than Friends

    Once again, DYNASTY leads the way on the cultural reference front with Julius Caesar, Marie Osmond, Jonathan Swift, Ben Jonson and Goldie Hawn all getting a look-in. KNOTS LANDING comes a close second with shout-outs for Henry Higgins, Gloria Steinem, Flannery O'Connor and Carson McCullers - plus there's a poster on a classroom wall for a production of "Equus". (Seems the spirit of David Crane is alive and well at Knots Landing High.) FLAMINGO ROAD's one concession to the outside world, aside from name-checking the Mayo Clinic, is an intriguing bit of advice Titus offers Field: "Read the mood of this country. Morality is becoming a respectable word again."

    In the first scene of "The Birthday Party", Michael gets his revenge for the beating he took last week by telling Blake about the necklace Krystle pawned to bail out Matthew. Later, we see a clearly preoccupied Blake getting beaten at pool by Joseph. "Your mind doesn't seem to be on your game today, Mr Carrington," Joseph observes. "I seem to find myself surrounded by people I can't trust," Blake replies. Then Krystle appears and a plan begins to formulate in Blake's mind. "I think we ought to have a birthday party for Cecil," he tells her. "Would you wear the emerald necklace I bought for you?" Krystle nervously agrees. After she leaves, the men resume their game and Blake wins with ease. "You seem to have turned your [game] around," Joseph remarks.

    There is an equivalent scene in "They Drive By Night", the first FLAMINGO ROAD instalment of the week (boy, NBC were really burning through these episodes back in the day). Titus is playing chess with an unseen opponent, with whom he apparently communicates by letter. (Whereas Blake at least has a paid servant to hang out with, Titus has no direct human contact at all.) He is puzzling over his competitor's latest move when he receives a telephone call regarding his ongoing scheme to rid Truro of Lane Ballou once and for all. It's good news. After hanging up, he looks at the chess board, chuckles and moves a piece. "Checkmate," he announces triumphantly. I guess what the two scenes illustrate is that Blake and Titus are strategists who see everything in terms of winning and losing.

    The weather is bad in Soap Land this week - appropriately so. The storm raging outside Steven's apartment when Ted asks if he can spend the night articulates Steven's turbulent emotions in a way he himself is unable to. Similarly, when Krystle visits the pawnbroker at the end of the episode to buy back her necklace, only to learn he has sold it, the dramatic rainstorm we see through the window tells us more about how she is feeling that she is free to express in that moment.

    Rain pours and thunder rumbles throughout "They Drive By Night" as well - the turbulent weather a fitting backdrop for Field and Constance's tempestuous marriage and the thunder evoking a sense of impending doom as Slade - the creepy Harry Dean Stanton-meets-Andy Warhol assassin who has been hunting Lane Ballou for the past five episodes - edges ever nearer to his prey. Slade is also responsible for Soap Land's grimmest death to date when he casually executes recurring character Frank Coyne, who has bridged the gap between Lane's past and present since the pilot episode, in a seedy motel room.

    This use of natural elements to mirror characters' emotions is known as "pathetic fallacy". According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, pathetic fallacy is the "poetic practice of attributing human emotion and conduct to all aspects within nature" - or as writer Grace Dent once put it, "Now and then someone on EASTENDERS remembers the concept of pathetic fallacy and turns on a bloody big hose." A cliché then, but an undoubtedly effective one.

    Just as the story of Sue Ellen's alcoholism culminated in a near tragic car accident at the end of DALLAS's first season, so Field's drinking seems to be following a similar pattern. Claude and Eudora finally address their son-in-law's booze problem in an equivalent scene to the one that took place between Jock, Ellie and JR in the first part of "John Ewing III" - but unlike JR, Constance won't hear of her spouse being sent to a clinic.

    While the Weldons discuss Field, he is driving whilst drunk with Christie in the passenger seat. Needless to say, it is raining heavily and, just as inevitably, the car crashes and Christie is seriously injured. Faster than you can say Chappaquiddick, the senator abandons the scene and calls Sheriff Titus for help. Titus then rearranges the evidence to make it appear that Christie was driving and Field is as innocent as a new born lamb. (We learn in the following episode that Christie has survived the accident, but has been left with "a face that would scare a lust-crazed sailor," as Titus delicately puts it.) A distraught Field turns to Lane Ballou who drops everything to rush to his side - much to the chagrin of Sam Curtis, who was just about to propose.

    Next week's instalment of DALLAS is the first (of sixty-two) directed by Michael Preece, but this week he makes his Soap Land debut helming "They Drive By Night" - and in this episode, he captures what is for me the quintessential Soap Land look, (prior to Invasion of the Pastels, anyhow) whereby the classic Hollywood glamour and opulence of the 1950s (think Douglas Sirk's women's pictures) is tempered by the low-budget pulp fiction mise-en-scène of film noir. (It's surely no coincidence that this episode title is a play on 1940 noir classic THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT.) This soap-noir look is most clearly illustrated in the final scene of the episode, where Constance finds Field embracing Lane in the darkness of his late father's house. While Donna Mills has been busy flirting with the neighbours and balancing the books at Knots Landing Motors, Morgan Fairchild has been quietly pioneering the classic soap diva look of big hair, thick eye makeup and lipgloss, shiny dresses and twinkly earrings. Speaking purely visually, at this point Constance Weldon rates higher on the Abby scale than Abby does. In this scene, all of Constance's glamour is framed within and contrasted against the dark shadows and lurid, looming close-ups of Preece's camera. Meanwhile, she hisses the kind of dialogue that strikes at the vengeful, passionate heart of Soap Land delirium: "You bastard, I'll never forgive you for this! … I swear on my life, I'll see you both in hell!"

    I swear on my life, I'd completely forgotten - if I even realised it to begin with - how much fun FLAMINGO ROAD could be. Surely the second of this week's double bill, "Hell Hath No Fury …", will prove an anti-climax? But no, the fallout from Field and Lane's reunion means that most everyone is at each other's throats, even former BFFs Lane and Lute-Mae. And once again, Field Carlyle proves he has much in common with Jeff Colby. Each is a newlywed whose marriage this week is revealed to have been predicated on a lie.

    Fallon to Jeff on the real reason she married him: "Because your uncle promised to bail out my father if I did."
    Field to his in-laws on Constance: "I don't love her, I never did and I never should have married her."

    Jeff and Field both have fathers-in-law with whom they have gotten on famously - until now. "Blake Carrington I never did like very much," Jeff drunkenly reveals to a table full of dinner guests at his Uncle Cecil's birthday party, before going on to insult his own wife - just as Field does in front of his father-in-law: "You wanna know the real problem, Claude? … You. You spoiled her rotten. No man could stand her self-centred, wilful, constant manipulation … You've pampered her, given into her, let her walk right over you." Claude's outraged-Southern-gentleman response is simply too much fun: "You ungrateful adulterous drunk! … He's no kin to me. I'm gonna git you, Carlyle!" Conversely, Field's scene with Eudora, where he prepares to move out of his in-laws' house and she speaks of marriage in terms of honour, commitment and duty, is probably FLAMINGO ROAD's first genuinely poignant moment.

    Cecil's birthday party is the DYNASTY equivalent of the first Ewing barbecue - a family gathering where almost everything that can go wrong does. Back then, it took the combined efforts of Jock, Digger, JR and Sue Ellen getting drunk and running off at the mouth to ruin the party. In this case, Jeff does the same thing almost singlehandedly, first by monopolising his uncle's girlfriend and then delivering the mother of all toasts where he annihilates each member of "this emerald studded zoo of ours" in turn. It's probably the character's finest moment.

    "Hell Hath No Fury …" (FL'INGO RD) and "More Than Friends" (KNOTS) both ask the same question: What happens when a man who's been cheated on runs into the wife of the man who cuckolded him? If you're Sam Curtis, you rescue Constance Weldon from a couple of would-be gang bangers in a bar (imagine the scene where Bobby and Ray save a drunken Sue Ellen from those cowboys, and then factor in a flick knife). If you're Earl Trent, you find yourself teaching a creative writing class that includes Val Ewing, then you make her cry by trashing her essay in front of her classmates ("puerile ... a rehashing of the most outdated cliches") before apologising and planting the seed in both Val's and the viewers' minds for the first time that she might just have what it takes to be a genuine writer.

    Both double acts then move up a gear: Sam and Constance retire to a motel to engage in a spot of revenge sex. (In a parallel world once-removed, this is Mark Graison and Jenna Wade doing the nasty - which feasibly could have happened had Mark and Bobby ever been alive at the same time after "Swan Song"). Meanwhile, Earl attempts something similar by luring Val to his apartment and then locking the door behind them ... (My, what a busy month it's been for Val: two hostage situations, surgery to remove a malignant growth, and she still finds time to complete her writing assignment and arrange a visually pleasing fruit salad for Gary - and all without a word of complaint. Not so much Poor Val as Stoic Val.) Actually, the teacher-student section of Earl and Val's story is the more interesting. Once the story tips over into melodrama, both characters become so highly strung they kind of cancel each other out.

    Another question is posed on this week's KNOTS: "Can a man and woman who work well together remain just friends?" Given that the couples surveyed are Gary and Abby, and Laura and Scooter, the long-term answer would seem to be, "No, they can't." The Averys get the bigger slice of the subplot pie, and while Scooter's temporary head transplant is a tad distracting, there's some great interplay - both dramatic and light - between Richard and Laura. I'm not sure the similarities between the Pleshette/McCashin and Woody Allen/Diane Keaton partnerships are ever more apparent than during the bedtime exchange in this episode's penultimate scene.

    And the winner is … FLAMINGO ROAD
    2nd: DYNASTY
    3rd: KNOTS LANDING
     
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  9. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    23/Mar/81: DYNASTY: The Separation v. 26/Mar/81: KNOTS LANDING: Designs/Squeezeplay v. 27/Mar/81: DALLAS: The Gathering Storm

    This week on Soap Land, everything's going to hell in a hand cart. Jock and Krystle walk out on their respective marriages, Blake kills Ted, Sid goes over a cliff and JR and Abby indulge in the first recorded case of inter-soap intercourse (well, since Kristin and Kenny anyway).

    The logistics of Ted's struggle with Blake and his instantaneous demise upon head-butting the fireplace fender aren't wholly convincing, but it doesn't really matter. By this point, Ted's death is almost a foregone conclusion. It's previously been established that "Steven comes from a world where culls, cripples and homosexuals are taken out behind a barn and slaughtered before they get a chance to breed." This week, we hear more about this world: "You're so many different people," Krystle tells Blake, "gentle and sensitive one minute, treacherous and brutal the next. Maybe you have to be that way to survive in your world." It appears to be a similar world to the one inhabited by Cliff Barnes. "His world only knows givers and takers and he wants to be a taker," says Pam of her brother in this week's DALLAS. Ted isn't a taker. Nor is he treacherous and brutal. What he is is awkward and gawky (watch him squirm and lie badly as Blake quizzes him about his time at Princeton), maybe a little smug and prissy, (hear how he puts down Denver for its lack of a metropolitan opera house) but fundamentally he's loving and decent. "I wanted you to be wretched, someone I could hate," he tells Claudia helplessly, "but I can't." "I didn't invite you into this house," Steven protests when Ted follows him out to the mansion as if the same rules that govern vampires should also apply to homosexuals. But by entering "my father's house," Ted has transgressed the laws of Soap Land and must pay the price.

    Blake and Krystle aren't the only couple separating in "The Separation". Steven finishes with both Ted and Claudia (although he neglects to inform Claudia), and Krystle and Matthew share one last kiss before she sets sail for Ohio. Of those who remain behind, Claudia wants to leave, but can't. In an achingly poignant scene at the drill site, she asks Matthew if they can go "somewhere far away from here … I just wanna make a fresh start." "Claudia, look around you here," Matthew replies, patient but perplexed, "this is the fresh start." "Not for me," she replies sadly. This a really lovely, mostly sad episode, with camera work and music that give it a full-blooded, cinematic feel. Somewhat incongruously, it's also our first indication of just how bloody weird a character Joseph is. His outburst about Blake, his master, in front of the other servants -- "it OFFENDS ME to see him hurting!" -- never fails to make me laugh.

    "Designs" and "Squeezeplay" make for an interestingly odd KNOTS double bill. Ironically for such a diverse show, they have more or less the same plot. "Designs" serves as a re-enactment of the stolen parts storyline thus far - Abby and Gary deceive Sid, supposedly for his own benefit, (this time patenting his engine design behind his back) with help from JR - as well as foreshadowing what is about to happen in the very next episode - Karen's suspicions aroused by Gary and Abby's behaviour, Sid stubbornly refusing to believe that either his sister or best friend would do him harm. One distinction between the two episodes is Larry Hagman's Special Guest Appearance in "Designs". He even gets the freeze frame.

    "Squeezeplay", in which the stolen parts plot returns with the FBI hot on its tail, gives us the same scenario again: something's afoot at Knots Landing Motors, Karen's suspicious, Sid is trusting, and Gary, Abby and JR (now in absentia) are all involved. In fact, the familiarity of the story lulls us into a false sense of security. The first half of the episode is quite funny, almost a caper, with Karen and Richard breaking into the KLM offices after hours. Then all of sudden, everyone's in serious trouble, with the law and with each other. ("What's terrible is where we are now," exclaims a bewildered Val.) Increasingly preoccupied with the subplot of her missing children, Abby has never seemed more sympathetic and relatable - but when confronted about her involvement with the stolen parts scam, she brazenly lies her way out of trouble and, shockingly, pins all the blame on Gary. Throughout this season, Donna Mills has done a brilliant job of keeping the audience off balance. Just when we think we've got a handle on Abby, she turns around and surprises us again.

    Once the FBI get involved, the episode starts to move very fast - major developments that might take weeks on another soap are dealt with in a few scenes: suddenly Gary has turned himself into the authorities, Sid is taking part in a sting operation, Roy and Frank are arrested, and the FBI are checking the Fairgates' mail for bombs. The story manages to be low-key, matter of fact, and insidiously tense all at the same time.

    Watching in hindsight, the last five minutes are horrible - Abby imploding when she hears Jeff's tape, then Sid taking his last drive with Salmaggio: the small talk, the brakes failing, the shot of the beach rising up to meet them as they go over the cliff and Sid's cry of "Oh my God!" continuing in our ears even after the screen has frozen on his stricken, open-mouthed expression.

    By this point in DALLAS, Jim Davis's decline is unavoidable and poignant to watch, but in a way that adds to the sadness of Jock and Ellie's separation. Miss Ellie might be, as Donna describes her, "a very bitter woman," but she is also a very sad one. Although she has been married to Jock for forty-five years at this point (by Ray's calculations anyway) and Krystle to Blake for only eleven episodes, there is a parallel between the two women. "I love him, I always will," Miss Ellie tells Donna, "but I can't put up with the Ewing ways any longer, never knowing if what he says is true." "I've loved you, Blake. I've loved you the best I could," whispers a tearful Krystle to her sleeping husband, "but I can't live with the suspicion, I can't live with the rage."

    Now we're over the credibility hump of Bobby serving on the senate committee that will rule on Takapa, his situation within the context of the family becomes interesting again. He even attempts to re-enact the bedroom scene in "A House Divided" where he tells Pam they may have to leave Dallas. This time, however, Pam objects, explaining that she has just been reunited with her mother. As with a lot of things to do with Rebecca, there's a strange detachment in Bobby's reaction. He's pleased for Pam and all, but in the same way he'd be if she'd just been contacted by an old school friend on Facebook - he doesn't even embrace her - and by the end of the scene, he's back to talking about his own problems again. Similarly, Rebecca displays an odd sense of entitlement regarding her relationship with Cliff. That he might not want to see the mother who abandoned him as a child seems not to occur to her until they're face to face. However, Victoria Principal is lovely in the scene where she gently warns Rebecca about the consequences of exposing Cliff to all the Wentworth money and power. Everything she predicts will come true in the next season, and then come true again tenfold in New DALLAS.

    "The Gathering Storm", with its several disparate storylines, lacks the end-of-season tunnel vision of this week's DYNASTY and KNOTS, but nevertheless ends on an exciting note, with JR making one of those intoxicatingly reckless pronouncements that have become his stock-in-trade this season. "I'm gonna bring Bobby down if I have to destroy Ewing Oil to do it" and "I want a revolution - I want those oilfields again" are now joined by "Jeremy, I'm here to sell you Ewing Oil."

    Cultural references of the week: Moments before their arrest, Frank tells Roy how much he's looking forward to watching GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES on the hotel TV that night. And in the haunting scene where Ted approaches Claudia at the bookstore, a couple of Beatles-themed books are prominently displayed on a nearby shelf - for some reason, it's kind of a jolt to realise John Lennon has only been dead for a few months at this point.

    And the winner is … DYNASTY.
    2nd: KNOTS LANDING.
    3rd: DALLAS.
     
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  10. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    10/Nov/81: FLAMINGO ROAD: The Victim v. 11/Nov/81: DYNASTY: The Verdict v. 12/Nov/81: KNOTS LANDING: The Vigil v. 13/Nov/81: DALLAS: The Big Shut Down

    "The Victim" refers to Lute-Mae, who is attacked by Lucy Ewing's former drug dealer (Peter Horton) in this week's instalment of FLAMINGO ROAD. Unlike Laura's ordeal in KNOTS LANDING or Krystle's in DYNASTY, what occurs is unambiguously depicted and spoken of as rape. In this week's DYNASTY, Blake refers back to his rape of Krystle, delicately describing it as "the night that I wanted you to have my child." (He brings the subject up in order to tell her he's changed his mind about having children. Too late - she's already pregnant.)

    The use of the word aside, "The Victim" is a crassly inept, cliché-ridden portrayal of the issue. Peter Horton's character is your generic TV movie obsessive, sending anonymous gifts and snapping photos of his beloved from afar before turning nasty. (Like any self-respecting psycho, he has his own dark room where he can develop and display his stylishly stalker-ish black and white 10x8s.) A much bigger problem, however, is Stella Stevens' performance. As Lute-Mae, she is incapable of saying even the most trivial dialogue convincingly and so nothing about her trauma here rings true. Her delivery of the line, "It must have been a man who called rape a sex crime!" as a sub-Mae West wisecrack is a particular low point.

    Sexual exploitation works better on DALLAS where JR introduces a reluctant Afton to Vaughn Leland as "a delightful perk" and orders her to sleep with him. It's all part of JR's plan to buy up the Farlows' oil. Following Kristin and Dusty, Vaughn is the third returnee from DALLAS's Season 2 heyday and his scenes are the smarmy highlight of the episode.

    Lute-Mae reports her attacker to the police, but Sheriff Titus is reluctant to make an arrest because of the the accused's background: "The boy's family helped found this town - they grow more oranges than Florida can eat in a year." This taps into the same "one law for the rich" theme as the sentence Blake Carrington receives for voluntary manslaughter in this week's DYNASTY - two years' probation. When Brian Dennehy, in his role of prosecuting attorney Jake Dunham, denounces the sentencing as "a travesty", I'm reminded of a line he delivered as Luther Frick on DALLAS: "The only kind of justice poor working men like us can get [is] the kind we go out and get on our own!"

    This topic is developed further when Blake, now a free man, runs into Jake at the St Denis Club, DYNASTY's newly established equivalent of DALLAS's Cattleman's Club, only with a fancy maître d' instead of a bevy of buxom cocktail waitresses. He accuses Jake of exploiting "the death of some homosexual" to further his political career. Jake's impassioned response ("I don't care if Ted Dinard was a homosexual or a heterosexual or an asexual, my job is to defend the rights of people, all different kinds of people, by prosecuting violations of the law") elicits nothing but a sneer from Blake. "Now I know what they mean by that expression 'Justice is blind'," he scoffs. "It is blind because of people like you, pal!" Blake's contempt is matched by Constance's in FLAMINGO ROAD: "Rape and Lute-Mae Sanders is a contradiction in terms," she declares, blissfully unaware that she's talking about her own mother.

    Whatever point about social injustice FLAMINGO ROAD might be trying to make is seriously undermined by the description of Lute-Mae throughout the episode as "a former madam". This is news to the viewer: the last we knew, the character was still presiding over a fully operational whorehouse. It would appear that Constance's aborted "Clean Up Truro" campaign has been implemented by the network between seasons. The resultant subtext of this whitewash is that, contrary to Constance's opinion, rape and Lute-Mae are not a contradiction in terms - but only because she no longer earns a living from prostitution.

    Truro's happy hookers aren't Soap Land's only conspicuous absentees this week: Carrington chauffeur Michael is fired offscreen by Joseph at Blake's behest, and Jock Ewing takes his final steps on Texas tarmac during a layover between flights so brief it is missed by JR, Bobby and viewers alike. In hindsight, there is a poignant parallel between the Ewing boys being deprived of a final glimpse of their daddy, and Eric and Michael Fairgate not being allowed to visit their father in the hospital. (Yes, KNOTS is back - behold the scrolling panels! I was genuinely excited to see them.)

    It's interesting that Blake should wait until now to get rid of Michael. Could it be that since his ex-wife's testimony at the trial, Fallon's relationship with her "in-house stud" has served as an uncomfortable reminder of Alexis's with hers, i.e. Roger Grimes? While arguing with Fallon over his decision, Blake even calls her "a carbon copy of your mother". At any rate, it's notable that the four faces now absent from DYNASTY's opening titles - Michael, Walter, Matthew and Lindsay - are all characters who helped ground the show in a wider, more "real world" context.

    Speaking of the real world, the Middle East gets a bad press from Soap Land this week. Dave Culver describes it as "volatile" on DALLAS, while Mother Blaisdel calls it a "hellhole" on DYNASTY. When Matthew returned from there at the start of Season 1, we watched him remove the dust sheets from the furniture in his family's house in what felt like a symbolic gesture of renewal. Now similar sheets, along with cobwebs and shadows, shroud Alexis's old paintings in her long abandoned studio on the Carrington grounds. The sinisterly lit, gothically flavoured scene she shares there with Joseph, "still the impotent voyeur", remains a series highlight, as well as our first real glimpse of what lies beneath her veiled facade.

    One of the soap tropes pioneered by DALLAS back in the day was the idea of several unhappy rich people all living under the same roof while locked in perpetual disharmony. So it's ironic that just as the original Ewing family disperse - Jock to South America, Sue Ellen and Baby Josh to San Angelo, Pam to the funny farm - the other soaps are taking a leaf out of the book that DALLAS wrote. On FLAMINGO ROAD, Field reluctantly moves back into the Weldon house for the sake of his appearances only marriage to Constance, while DYNASTY has contrived an ingeniously ironic way to bring Alexis into close proximity to her ex-husband and his new wife: by moving her into her old studio - the very same studio deeded to her "lock, stock and barrel" by Blake as a gift for giving him the son from whom he is now bitterly estranged, and designed by the architect whom Blake would later cripple when he found him in bed with his wife.

    "The Victim" is probably Soap Land's worst episode to date, "The Vigil" possibly the best. While the week's other shows deal mainly in broad strokes, creating big swooshes of narrative momentum, KNOTS goes the opposite route, piling small detail upon small detail to create something quite exceptional. Just a few examples: Gary lying to Karen about the severity of Sid's condition when he first tells her about the crash, Karen, in turn, lying to her children and to Sid himself, Karen and Abby doing their best to kid around with a completely paralysed Sid, the repeated assurances that the metal tongs attached to his head aren't hurting him, the terrifying reality of the situation coming only intermittently into focus ... The action of the episode unfolds over a couple of days but is so concentrated it feels almost like one long unbroken scene.

    As Karen keeps a jealous, round-the-clock watch over Sid at the hospital, the unspoken sibling rivalry between Gary and Richard resurfaces. After Richard scores a hit with a surprise breakfast, (reducing an exhausted Karen to hysterical laughter in a lovely scene that provides the episode's sole moment of light relief) a guilt-ridden Gary tries to compete by bringing her a change of clothes. Karen, however, sees straight through him: "You wanna be blamed or forgiven and I don't have the energy for either." But it's the Fairgate kids who provide the most quietly heartbreaking moments: Michael falling asleep on his parents' empty bed, Diana singing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" to her comatose father, Eric asking Gary, "Is my dad gonna die?" Even in a family as functional as the Fairgates, everyone's alone, isolated from each other.

    And the winner is … KNOTS LANDING
    2nd: DYNASTY
    3rd: DALLAS
    4th: FLAMINGO ROAD
     
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  11. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    17/Nov/81: FLAMINGO ROAD: The Substitute v. 18/Nov/81: DYNASTY: Alexis' Secret v. 19/Nov/81: KNOTS LANDING: Critical Condition v. 20/Nov/81: DALLAS: Blocked

    This week, the FLAMINGO ROAD landscape expands to include a new family, a new side of town and a whole new set of problems. Meanwhile, DYNASTY's world contracts: Steven aside, anybody who's anybody is now living and/or working on the Carrington estate. Both of these approaches works well. DALLAS, however, like FLAMINGO ROAD, has broadened its canvas of late, but with each of the Ewings segregated into their own individual storylines, the underlying tensions between them are dissipated. Sue Ellen flying from San Angelo for an office confrontation with JR, Donna pushing JR into the Southfork pool - these are reminders of how much fun DALLAS can be when the Ewings are in the same place long enough for sparks to fly.

    FL'INGO RD introduces us to the barrio, a large slum dwelling ("Our people are living ten to a room") populated by Cuban immigrants. Among these are the Sanchez family, the stand-out member of which is the son Julio, an archetypal Latino hothead: "I won't spend my life talking orders from Anglos as you do, Papa!" Like another character making his Soap Land debut this week, Italian-American Nick Toscanni on DYNASTY, Julio brings a new flavour, a new energy to Soap Land. Julio and Nick share a passionate, smouldering machismo which is both compelling and borderline ridiculous.

    The Sanchez family bring the topic of race back to FLAMINGO ROAD in the kind of juicy, complicated way the other soaps wouldn't touch. Julio and his father Ernesto work on Sam Curtis's construction site where they are subject to racial harassment from some of the white workers. Meanwhile, Julio's saintly sister Alicia is a volunteer worker at a day centre in the barrio alongside Eudora Weldon. The centre is also a target of racial intimidation, but from another direction - a bunch of barrio boys in bandanas resentful of Eudora's presence in their neighbourhood. This promptly sends Eudora to the brink of a breakdown. Still, for a timid matriarchal do-gooder, she is impressively hands-on. Ellie Ewing might be made of sterner stuff, but for all her committee meetings, you'd never catch her getting down and dirty with the common folk she purports to help.

    There's more slumming it with the hoi polloi in DYNASTY when Blake is obliged to queue outside the probation office with members of the great unwashed, one of whom tries to sell him a television set. It's a very funny scene which reminds me of the bit in "Paternity Suit" where JR and Sue Ellen are dismayed to find themselves in a doctor's waiting room surrounded by ordinary people and their ordinary germs.

    There are two deaths in Soap Land this week - both beloved fathers, each of whom fails to respond to CPR. The first fatality is Ernesto Sanchez who collapses with a heart attack on the F'LINGO RD construction site. Julio is quick to blame Sam for overworking his father (which is kind of true). When Sam tries to help the family out by offering Julio his father's job as crew chief, racial tensions on the site are further inflamed. Things come to a head when Julio is involved in a bar fight and Sheriff Titus wades in. Apparently, he has warned Julio about shooting his mouth off in the past. "According to your government, it's a free country where man is allowed to speak his mind," Julio tells him. "If you was an American citizen, I'd be obliged to agree with you," Titus retorts, "but since you ain't, and the laws of Truro County are my laws, you better consider my warnin'." When Julio refuses to back down, Titus has him arrested and beaten up.

    What does any of this have to do with the rich folks that live on the actual Flamingo Road? Well, Senator Field, anxious to redeem himself for past mistakes, has pledged to improve living conditions in the barrio by investing in urban renewal. The delicious twist is that the barrio is secretly owned by Field's father-in-law Claude and that much of the Weldon fortune is derived from his profits as a slum landlord.

    A highlight on both DYNASTY and DALLAS this week is the first meeting of two long-term adversaries, as Krystle and Clayton take on Alexis and JR. The good guys turn out to be more impressive opponents than might have been expected. Each takes the initiative in trying to ascertain their rival's motives. "You've spent a fortune trying to box me in - why?" Clayton asks JR. "You came back to hurt my husband, first in court, now by moving in ...You want something," Krystle tells Alexis. While JR shows his hand, ("I want Sue Ellen and John Ross off the Southern Cross ranch") Alexis does not ("Motives? That's an ugly implication"). Clayton and Krystle make it clear that they will not be intimidated ("No deal, JR." "I want you out of our house."), and that they will stand between their opponent and their opponent's real target. For Clayton, that means Sue Ellen: "I respect her. And she means everything to my son. And the child belongs with her." For Krystle, it's Blake: "My business is to protect my husband." JR and Alexis fight back the best they can, with threats ("I’ll break you") and bitchery ("Mrs Jennings - oh, I'm terribly sorry, that was your other husband's name, wasn't it?") respectively, but the good guys get the last word. "No, JR, you’re the one who’s going broke," says Clayton. "I was late getting here because I stopped to find out the latest report on oil prices ... By the time your daddy gets back from South America, there just might not be a Ewing Oil." "I want you out of our house," Krystle tells Alexis, "and since you're so familiar with it - the kitchen, the paintings, the missing Ming - I'm sure you can find your own way to the door."

    Children - be they unborn, unclaimed, stolen or estranged - fuel much of Soap Land's narrative this week. While Abby Cunningham's search for her kids leads her into a frustrating maze of bureaucracy and form-filling (a familiar bugbear on KNOTS), Claudia learns on DYNASTY that Matthew has taken Lindsay to South America. It's easy to imagine that he's gone there to join Jock Ewing and Punk on their governmental mission. As Andrew Laird puts it, "Wherever there's oil, there's bound to be Matthew Blaisdel." Upon returning home from the hospital, Claudia stands longingly in the doorway of her child's bedroom, just as JR did after John Ross was taken from him. Lacking his resources to fight back, Claudia goes down the Pam Ewing route instead and tries to kill herself. She later wakes to discover the Carrington mansion has become her Brooktree Hospital and Dr Amerigo Nicholas Francesco Toscanni her Dr Dagmara Conrad. "Dagmara, that's a pretty name," Pam observes this week. "You wanna be my mother's friend for life, call me Amerigo," advises Nick.

    On this week's Pregnancy Watch, Krystle buys her child-to-be an actual silver spoon, Fallon drags Jeff off to the nearest motel for an impromptu insemination and soon-to-drop Ginger complains on KNOTS that "all I am is pregnant." Meanwhile, Jordan Lee proves to Bobby's satisfaction that he is not Christopher's father, and Alexis announces, to Steven's dismay, that Blake is not Fallon's.

    There are plenty of mother/daughter reminiscences this week too: some are bitter ("Fallon, when you were a little girl, you thought you knew everything about everything … You still don't"), some are sweet (Karen recalling how supportive Sid was when Diana was born), some are both (Rebecca fondly recounting the moment when Pam started walking, but unable to say when she began talking as she'd already absconded by then). Her visit with her mother seems to trigger some sort of mental crisis in Pam, with Dr Conrad repeatedly describing her condition as "critical". Of course, there's critical and then there's … Sid Fairgate.

    Karen's superstition in last week's KNOTS, that if she breaks her hospital vigil even momentarily she will lose Sid, is cruelly borne out here. At the start of this week's episode, Sid has awoken from his coma and the effects of his paralysis quickly begin to wear off. A relieved Karen is persuaded to return home for a few hours. No sooner does she than the paralysis returns. Later, during a lengthy high-risk surgery to remove a blood clot from Sid's spine, Karen breaks her intense concentration long enough to laugh and joke about the twenty-four labour she went through with Diana. It is at that moment that Sid flatlines, becoming the second of this week's Soap Land fatalities.

    This episode of KNOTS breaks all the rules of television grammar. Don Murray shouldn't be in the opening titles, but he is. There should be an eleventh-hour miracle, but there isn't. (Even after all this time, part of my brain expects the heart monitor to beep back into life like it always does on TV shows.) And instead of an outpouring of emotion at the end of the hour, there's just the silent ride down in the elevator followed by the weary drive home. It's as if physical exhaustion has won out over grief. An inattentive viewer might assume the family are suffering from jet lag rather than bereavement.

    Not that anything else seems to matter in light of Sid's death, but Lane Ballou and Afton face off again in the latest round of Soap Land Song Wars. Happily, Lane is back to singing semi-obscure songs with the word "blue" in the title. This time, it's a ditty called "Last One Singin' The Blues". What we hear of it is pretty enough, but it serves mainly as a backdrop to Lute-Mae counselling Sam about his guilt over Ernesto's death. Afton, meanwhile, manages to showcase two songs, an angsty little ballad about hearing with her heart and seeing with her soul till it tears her apart, and a jauntier number that ends with a warning that she's "comin' to get yoo-oo-ooo-u". Based purely on screen time, Afton triumphs again.

    Episode-wise, the winner is … KNOTS LANDING
    2nd: DYNASTY
    3rd: FLAMINGO ROAD
    4th: DALLAS
     
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  12. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    24/Nov/81: FLAMINGO ROAD: The Intruder v. 25/Nov/81: DYNASTY: Fallon's Father v. 26/Nov/81: KNOTS LANDING: Aftermath v. 27/Nov/81: DALLAS: The Split

    With Ted Dinard, Kristin Shepard and Sid Fairgate all now dead and buried, Constance Carlyle is the sole survivor of the great Falling Down outbreak that rocked Soap Land in the spring of '81. This week, she starts to regain the use of her legs but swears physiotherapist Steve to secrecy lest she loses her hold on husband Field ("Why throw away a lemon till you've squeezed it dry?"). She does celebrate the occasion by taking Steve to bed, thereby elevating him to the position of Soap Land's latest "in-house stud", a role only recently vacated by Michael the Carrington chauffeur (and previously held by Roger Grimes and Ray Krebbs back in the day).

    While Blake Carrington greets Cecil Colby's private jet in DYNASTY, FLAMINGO ROAD newcomer Michael Tyrone (aka DARK SHADOWS' Quentin Collins and FALCON CREST's Richard Channing) touches down in Truro. Steven Carrington describes Cecil this week as "maybe the richest man in the country", but with holdings in "hotels, airlines and oil", Michael must surely give him a run for his money. It looks like Michael's about to get even richer too, as he reveals his scheme to bring gambling to Truro.

    The snag is that Sam Curtis intends to bid for the same piece of land that Michael needs to put his plan into action. Enter Michael's secret weapon: Sam's ex-wife, Vanessa, now Michael's mistress. Andra Akers, the first actress to play Sally Bullock in DALLAS, becomes the second actress to play Vanessa, the character having briefly appeared in FLAM RD's first season. Viewed from a "DALLAS Through The Looking Glass" perspective, this means that Mark Graison was once married to Mr. Eugene's wife - which doesn't seem too implausible. Akers' version of Vanessa is a blast - a thrillingly brittle blonde seductress. Her performance here suggests she'd have been much more fun wheeling and dealing with JR and Bobby over Venezuelan oil tankers than Joanna Cassidy was.

    Another interesting bit of double casting I never caught before: The reporter who prompted Miss Ellie to get her shotgun out of the hall closet in "Survival" (DALLAS Season 1) is now the architect (well, she did advise him to find another job) who tells Ray Krebbs the land he's invested in "ain't worth a damn" - thereby proving Donna's silent looks of disapproval to have been right on the money. On F'LINGO RD, Sam Curtis is more vocal in his attempts to dissuade Titus and Claude from becoming involved in Michael's land deal - "One of these days you are gonna wish you had never seen Michael Tyrone … When he is through with you, he'll toss you to the alligators without blinking an eye!" - but his words fall on deaf ears.

    "You look at all this and you know why men have fought wars over land," says Michael Tyrone of the property he's after. David Selby is the perfect actor for this kind of stuff - brooding, dangerous, and able to evoke an underlying sense of both tragedy and madness. He can elevate a competition for some land we've never heard of before into something almost Biblical. And even though the details of Michael and Sam's past relationship are sketchy, their showdown in the final scene of the episode feels like a confrontation between Cain and Abel.

    All we really know of Michael and Sam's relationship are Sam's line, "I've known him all my life," the fact that they're now business competitors and that each has a history with Sam's ex-wife. Their triangle is mirrored in this week's DYNASTY by Blake, Cecil Colby and Blake's ex-wife Alexis. Ostensibly Blake's best friend, Cecil clarifies that "the relationship between Blake and me has been based mainly on business." As Vanessa does with Sam, Alexis seems interested in rekindling her old passion with Cecil - but while Vanessa huskily murmurs seductive gibberish as she unbuttons Sam's shirt, ("There are two schools of thought about warm Gulf breezes - some say they're hottest when they blow off a storm, others say they're hottest just before dawn, when the night is the darkest") Alexis and Cecil's sparring is a tad more elegant ("Don't con a con-artist, darling" … "How deliciously May-December").

    Michael has Vanessa do to Sam what JR had Afton to do Cliff at the end of last season's DALLAS - seduce and then drug him. This results in Sam missing the auction and Michael swiping the land from under him. Having got what he wanted, Michael abruptly dumps Vanessa. "I don't need you anymore," he tells her coldly. "You've served your purpose." "I don't deserve this!" she screams, the violins on the soundtrack going as haywire as she does. "Not after what I've done for you! I'll make you pay for this!" Afton makes a similar declaration about JR this week: "I hate him. I wanna get back at him." Unlike Vanessa, however, she is able to follow through on her desire for revenge. To this end, she teams up with Cliff and introduces him to Vaughn Leland. To be sure, Afton is no longer the naive little blonde we were introduced to in Season 3. Who would have predicted when she first appeared that she would be turn out to be savvier than Kristin? (Or that both their offspring would end up living at Southfork in 2013, come to that.)

    At first glance, DYNASTY's Claudia and KNOTS LANDING's Abby are two characters with little in common. However, when each takes inventory of their lives this week, the results are remarkably similar. "I lost Sid too," Abby reminds her occasional nemesis Karen, "and I don't know where my children are, and now I don't even have a job to go to. I don't have anything or anybody. I'm alone." "I've got nothing," Claudia tells her rival Krystle. "Nothing. I don't have my husband, I don't have my daughter, I've got me. Look at me. It isn't very much, is it?"

    The sight of a drunken Steven Carrington being magnetically propelled from the Carrington library all the way through the house and grounds towards the swimming pool, just so that he can hit his head on a railing, almost drown and be rescued by a passing Nick Toscanni just might be Soap Land's weirdest visual to date. He is then rushed to Soap Land Memorial Hospital where he takes Sid Fairgate's place in intensive care.

    "Aftermath" deals with the, um, aftermath of Sid's death, and the whole episode rings emotionally true: Karen coping by ruthlessly keeping everyone, including her children, at arm's length, just as she did when Sid was in the hospital. Eric sitting alone in his dad's car and crying. A desperately eager-to-please Michael following his mom around till she just can't take it anymore. Karen lashing out at Gary. Gary shouting at Val: "I'm sick of being forgiven by you and I am SICK of the way you accept everything!" Karen finally breaking down with Ginger and Kenny's newborn baby in her arms.

    KNOTS being KNOTS, the build up to the delivery of the Wards' baby is unconventionally conventional: we witness the timing of the contractions, the packing for the hospital, the sweating, the pushing, the panting - all the things you ordinarily don't see with Soap Land pregnancies because of the mother being contractually obliged to fall down a flight of stairs in her seventh month. And it's only taken me 32 years, but I finally really, really like Kenny and Ginger.

    Following Sid's funeral, this episode of KNOTS skips forward five weeks, thereby putting it vaguely in the same timeline as DALLAS - which is convenient for the phone call Miss Ellie makes to Gary in the following night's episode of DALLAS. It's kinda weird to see Gary and Val in their own kitchen, but on another show. They're noticeably a lot more tanned than they were in the previous evening's KNOTS - especially Gary, who is suddenly the same colour as Peter O'Toole in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Gary might be sick of the way Val accepts everything in KNOTS, but her blanket acceptance apparently doesn't extend to a summons home to Southfork. ("Gary, you know what happens every time you go back there.") This request from Miss Ellie is prompted by a missive from Jock in South America dividing Ewing Oil up into voting shares (Gary now has 10%). It's unclear what the implications of this development will be, but the scene where Miss Ellie reads out Jock's letter to the family is full of soapy import. In fact, a sense of urgency pervades all of this week's DALLAS, as if someone has turned up the heat under the entire episode.

    Karen pelting Gary with blows in KNOTS when she finds him sitting at Sid's desk isn't the only bit of violence in this week's Soap Land. The future Mark Graison knocks the future Richard Channing to the ground in the final scene of FLAMINGO ROAD after Richard/Michael impugns Vanessa's honour, and Mitch and Dusty Farlow both sock JR after he refers to Afton and Sue Ellen as, respectively, a tramp and a nymphomaniac.

    Like FLAMINGO ROAD, this week's DALLAS ends with a great mano a mano confrontation. This one takes place between JR and Dusty at the Cotton Bowl. Having mostly been on the back foot so far this season, it's kind of breathtaking to watch JR let rip at Dusty so savagely, taunting him for what is essentially a disability. And however good Larry Hagman is in this scene - and he is very, very good - Jared Martin matches him. In stage fighting, it's up to the person on the receiving end to really "sell" the punch - it's their reaction that's going to convince an audience that the blow has connected - and that's what Martin does here. Every psychological jab, every twist of JR's knife reads on Dusty's face, even as he struggles to keep his dignity intact. "Hell, she can’t go without it forever," says JR of Sue Ellen as Dusty turns and starts walking away. "Maybe she won’t have to. I’ve seen ya daddy. Maybe she’s stayin' with you because she’s not goin' without it. There’s only one person who’s man enough to keep that lady happy and on the Southern Cross. AND THAT SURE AS HELL AIN'T YOU!" Those last words and the laugh that follows are majestically ugly, and maybe a little unhinged.

    FLAMINGO ROAD has a great ending too, reminiscent of DYNASTY's two weeks ago. Everyone assumed Alexis was going back to Mexico, but then she pulled the rug out from under Blake's feet with the revelation that not only is she staying, but: "I'm moving in!" Similarly, Sam expects Michael to return to Miami. "What - and leave when things are just getting interesting?" Michael replies. "No way, Sam. You better get used to seeing me around here. I'm making my home here - up on Flamingo Road!" The episode ends Sam walking away from Michael, just as DALLAS's does with Dusty walking away from JR.

    Song Wars: Last time Lane Ballou went head to head with KNOTS, she totally annihilated Karen and Diana's "Put On A Happy Face" routine. This time, however, her uncharacteristically uptempo choice of country sway-a-long "Could This Be Magic" (nothing to do with Barry Manilow or Take That) is entirely upstaged by Jason Avery's brilliantly incomprehensible trumpet version of "The Sound of Music", punctuated by a sweet little giggle at the end.

    And the winner is … KNOTS LANDING
    2nd: DALLAS
    3rd: FLAMINGO ROAD
    4th: DYNASTY
     
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  13. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    02/Dec/81: DYNASTY: Reconciliation v. 03/Dec/81: KNOTS LANDING: Moving In v. 04/Dec/81: DALLAS: Five Dollars a Barrel v. 04/Dec/81: FALCON CREST: In His Father's House

    FALCON CREST kicks off with a late addition to the Fatal Falls Epidemic of '81 when Jason Gioberti (the Digger Barnes of the Tuscany Valley) overreacts massively to a kiss between niece Emma and the brilliantly named Turner Bates. He and Turner get into a fight, Emma intervenes, she and Jason struggle and … Jason falls and/or is pushed through a broken balcony railing, just like Kristin Shepard and Constance Carlyle before him. Alas, without Constance's bouncy curls to cushion his fall, Jason is killed. For reasons that will become clearer (but not much clearer) later in the episode, Emma's mother Angela and her mute manservant attempt to make the suspicious circumstances of Jason's demise look fractionally less suspicious by sticking his body in a truck and driving it off a cliff - thereby re-enacting the circumstances of Sid Fairgate's death, only capping it off with a fiery explosion rather than an unsuccessful surgery.

    The episode crisscrosses between these dramatic events and a somewhat more mainstream domestic set-up in New York. This second set of characters turns out to be Jason's son Chase and his family. This sets up a variation on David Jacobs' "DALLAS was about 'them', KNOTS LANDING was about 'us'" equation, but this time, the contrast is as much between "weird" (the Channings) and "conventional" (the Giobertis) as it is between differing incomes.

    The "us and them" thread runs all through Soap Land this week. On DYNASTY, Frank Dean is surprised to learn from a TV news programme that his humble sister-in-law Krystle has been elevated to the status of a Carrington. Conversely on KNOTS, Val Ewing is shocked (nay, mortified) to see her mother Lilimae described as a bag lady in a local news report on how she helped stop a mugging. The attitudes of Frank and Lilimae towards the rich "them" they're vaguely related to help emphasise the gap between "them" and "us". "They're steak-dinner-for-the-dogs rich!" marvels Frank with reference the Carringtons, while Lilimae airily boasts to a man she owes money to that "my daughter is a Ewin', a Texas Ewin'." "And my cousin's a Rockefeller!" the man shouts after her cynically.

    Throughout this week's episodes, the poor and/or ordinary repeatedly fantasise about being rich and/or famous. When Sammy Jo Dean walks up the Carrington staircase for the first time, she pretends she's Scarlett O'Hara. Over on KNOTS, much fuss is made of Gary's first TV appearance in a commercial spot for Knots Landing Motors. While Richard points out his stiff arms and faltering delivery (which make Gary seem all the more like a regular Joe), Abby and Karen graciously compare him to Kirk Douglas and Robert Redford - which only serves to illustrate how far away Gary is from those legendary names. Lilimae, thrilled by her brief spell in the limelight as a crime fighting vigilante, giddily refers to herself as "some kind of national hero, like an astronaut or one of them Hollywood superstars!" Similarly, airline pilot Chase, aka FALCON CREST's Mr Normal, jokingly describes himself as "Neil Armstrong, home from the moon."

    The theme of family reunions crops up a lot too: Val and her mama, Krystle and her niece, the Channings and the Giobertis … even Gary swings by Southfork for a two scene visit. Steven Carrington is finally reconciled with his father, thereby tying up the one plot thread left dangling from DYNASTY's first season. With Steven happy to be back in the bosom of his family for the first time since, well, ever, the Carrington house becomes its own bubble, sealed off from the rest of the world.

    This lack of an outside perspective is underlined by a scene of Blake and Krystle embracing happily in the Carrington driveway, Blake's chauffeur standing expressionless in the background. In Season 1, that chauffeur would have been Michael, and there would have the slightest hint of a smirk or sneer on his face - just enough to undercut the celebratory nature of the scene. Now the chauffeur is a neutral looking extra with no point of view of his own.

    What prevents DYNASTY from yet becoming too smug is an intoxicating sense of paranoia that directly stems from this newfound insularity. Having inveigled her way into the house, Alexis stands guard over Steven's room, warding off anyone she irrationally suspects may do him harm - with Krystle and Fallon her most likely suspects. Meanwhile, Nick Toscanni, in-between checking on Steven, counselling Claudia and psychoanalysing Krystle, has ominous and unexplained visions of dangling feet whilst murmuring, "We all have debts to pay." Speaking of debts, there's also a sense of the Carringtons being attacked from without as Cecil Colby calls in his $9,000,000 loan.

    This distorted view extends to the episode's depiction of the "ordinary" world: When we're introduced to Frank Dean and his girlfriend Bedelia living in a trailer, it's hard not to notice the deliberately bad hairstyle the make up department have given him, or the depiction of Bedelia as a one-dimensional shrew. (She also sweats. Rich women in Soap Land never sweat.)

    It's kind of ironic that Robert Foxworth missed out on playing JR in DALLAS because he thought the character should be more sympathetic. Taking over the role of Chase Gioberti from Clu Gulager whose portrayal in the unaired FALCON CREST pilot was soft and ineffectual, Foxworth adds an acerbic edge to Chase, making him hard and remote, even cold. In his first scene, he speaks matter-of-factly about habitually missing his children's birthdays because of his job. "They live through it," he shrugs. Up at Falcon Crest, Angela and Lance are even more sinister and removed. Julia and Emma are potentially more good natured but are too cowed to express it. (After killing Jason, a traumatised Emma is banished to her room for the rest of the episode, essentially becoming the mad woman in the attic. And could Angela's description of Julia's drinking problem before we've seen it for ourselves mean that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy? - i.e. Angela has convinced her daughter she's an alcoholic as a way of controlling her.) With Chase's children, Cole and Vicky, beset by the same sorts of problems as any nineteen and seventeen-year-old in the Big Apple (sex, violence and dance classes), it's left to wife Maggie to provide the show with its heart, and she does so admirably.

    Maggie joins Donna Krebbs and Val Ewing as Soap Land's third writer. It's no coincidence that all three are married women - "writer" being one of those TV-friendly jobs that can be done in the home environment while simultaneously fretting about family concerns. In other words, it's the perfect career woman/housewife hybrid. Ironically, when we first meet her, Maggie is writing an article about "Women's Rights in the Male Dominated Office".

    Maggie, Donna and Val are all at different stages of their careers - which are accorded a corresponding amount of respect by the characters surrounding them. Val is still a student and Lilimae blithely dismisses her daughter's creative writing classes, decreeing that such talent (such as her own for music) is God-given and cannot be taught ("Just came to me as natural as singin' comes to birds"). Maggie, meanwhile, is just getting established as a magazine writer in New York. "I love your writing," her husband assures her but is nonetheless insistent they give up everything and move to the Tuscany Valley. Donna Culver Krebbs, conversely, is on her way to New York where her first book is about to be published. Hubby Ray is so supportive he even drives her to the airport - but at what cost to his male ego?

    In the scene where Chase and Maggie argue about his decision to uproot the family to California, there's something appealingly gutsy and robust about their relationship. Could they be Soap Land's new Sid and Karen? (Certainly, Karen and Maggie share the same taste in jumpsuits.)

    As well as the beginning of FALCON CREST, this week also marks the first time Julie Harris and Heather Locklear appear as regular characters in their respective shows. Lilimae, in particular, is such a rich character - as warm, open-hearted and joyous as she is manipulative, dishonest and selfish. Just as Chase's plans for a fresh start in the Valley threaten to derail Angela's plans for Falcon Crest, Lilimae and Sammy Jo disrupt their respective new homes with a similar spirit of optimism, as well as non-conformity: Sammy Jo ordering pizza for dinner then sliding down the bannister and crashing into Alexis; Lilimae turning the kitchen upside down to create a good old fashioned country style breakfast that disrupts Val's running schedule. Lilimae's dreams of fame and her unquenchable belief in her own talent mirror Sammy Jo's almost evangelical enthusiasm for stock car racing ("the draftin' and sling shootin', the caromin' and flip floppin', the frammin' and bammin'!") and her sweetly sincere plans to become a mail order hair stylist.

    In FALCON CREST, we learn that Chase hasn't seen his father's family since his mother took him away from the Tuscany Valley some twenty years earlier - which would be around about the same time Val took Lucy away from Southfork. Interestingly, this week's KNOTS and DALLAS both acknowledge this event, but in different contexts. "I went to her with our baby in my arms and she turned me away," Val recalls bitterly, with reference to Lilimae. "I remember when Val ran off with Lucy, you managed to get her back. Having more trouble with your own child?" says Gary to JR, during a brief reunion with his mama and the rest of the Texas Ewin's at Southfork.

    JR's scenes with Gary and Ray where he tries to respectively bribe and blackmail their voting shares of Ewing Oil out of them are the best scenes of this week's DALLAS, along with the three he has with Cliff Barnes. (This is more one-to-one scenes than JR and Cliff have shared since the series began.) In the episode's final scene, Cliff claims his first major victory over his arch enemy: "After all these years, I've finally whipped JR Ewing." The ep ends with Cliff laughing gleefully at JR, just last week's ended with JR doing the same to Dusty. In the final scene of this week's DYNASTY, meanwhile, Alexis launches her first definitive strike against Krystle: enlisting one Morgan Hess to dig into her past.

    A last example of "them and us": When Chase and Maggie arrive in the Tuscany Valley for Soap Land's second funeral in as many weeks, they do so as Angela's guests and so travel in style - a chauffeur driven limousine ferries them across the San Francisco Bridge, through the vineyards and all the way to Falcon Crest, accompanied by a lushly triumphant version of the theme tune on the soundtrack (a great looking sequence that's immortalised in the show's opening titles). By contrast, when they return to the Valley permanently towards the end of the episode with Cole and Vicky in tow, it's in Sue Ellen's old station wagon.

    And the winner is … FALCON CREST
    2nd: KNOTS LANDING
    3rd: DYNASTY
    4th: DALLAS
     
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  14. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    08/Dec/81: FLAMINGO ROAD: The Stranger v. 09/Dec/81: DYNASTY: Viva Las Vegas v. 10/Dec/81: KNOTS LANDING: The Surprise v. 11/Dec/81: DALLAS: Starting Over v. 11/Dec/81: FALCON CREST: A Time for Saboteurs

    This week's instalments of FLAMINGO ROAD and FALCON CREST both closely resemble stand alone episodes from DALLAS's first season. "The Stranger" is a variation on "Home Again", the one where Miss Ellie is reunited with the long lost brother who deserted her years before, only to find out he's now dying. This time around, it's Lane Ballou and her long lost daddy. Adding to the sense of familiarity, he's played by Ray Krebbs' long lost (sort of) daddy, Amos. Turns out Amos is a singer who abandoned his young family to pursue a career in show business - making him also a male variation of KNOTS LANDING's Lilimae. The episode has the same bittersweet ending as "Home Again", only with Lane talking to Sam instead of Amos because he's already carked it on a bus station floor. Following Ernesto Sanchez, Sid Fairgate and Jason Gioberti, this makes him Soap Land's fourth father to die in the last three weeks. While Amos Krebbs is just as convincing as a loveable old charmer on FL'INGO ROAD as he was a devious drunk on DALLAS, this is a slight and overfamiliar tale.

    "A Time For Saboteurs", meanwhile, closely resembles "Fallon Idol", the DALLAS ep where Bobby's old college pal Guzzler shows up and tries to scam him with a fake business deal. This time around, the visitor is an old flying buddy of Chase's, Paul Salinger (later one of JR's Haleyville brothers-in-law, but let's not worry about that now). Like Guzzler, he holds court at the family dinner table with tales of derring-do, impressing everyone but except Chase's wife Maggie. Maggie also resents Paul and Chase's daredevil stunts the way Pam did Bobby and Guzzler's carousing. Where Guzzler flirted with Lucy, Paul seduces Julia. There's even a secret pact - between Paul and Angela instead of JR and Pam. Ultimately, however, Paul is a far nastier piece of work than his DALLAS counterpart and his falling out with Chase much uglier than Bobby and Guzzler's melancholy farewell. (It also involves a way cool airstrip chase sequence between Chase's jeep and Paul's light plane.)

    This feels like an odd choice for FALCON CREST's second episode. Having just brought the Gioberti and Channing clans together, you want to see them interact. Instead, half of the episode is devoted to a guest character. Still, we're given some insight into Chase's background (as we also learn of Nick Toscanni this week, he served in Vietnam) and Julia's isolation - and delaying the inevitable conflict between Chase and Angela is an interesting move (and a notable variation from the pilot version of the show, which began with the Giobertis and Angela already at war).

    As well his service record, this week's DYNASTY also fills us in on Nick Toscanni's Big Secret: he holds Blake responsible for his brother's suicide and has come to Denver to get his revenge - but how far will he go? "Are you a murderer? asks his sister Terry. "Do you want to kill the man?" "No, I don't wanna kill him," Nick replies. "I want him alive. I want to see Blake Carrington suffer." Nick may not be a killer, but Alexis is. When she pulls the trigger that fires the shot that startles the horse that throws the woman who miscarries the baby inside her, we're finally shown a character (a main character that is, as opposed to a guest-appearing hit man) who really will go to any lengths to get what they want (as opposed to arguing with someone next to a broken railing and waiting for them to fall through it). And the sight of a helpless Krystle being dragged along the ground by her horse, her foot caught in the stirrups, has lost none of its sadistic, melodramatic heroine-tied-to-a-railway-track power in the past three decades.

    Now we know how far Alexis will go, but what about Abby? In this week's KNOTS, having tracked Jeff and the kids to an unspecified location where Californian custody rulings do not apply, she takes her ex-husband to bed, wins his confidence and makes him (and everyone else) believe she wants to marry him again - only to then jilt him at the courthouse and issue him with a restraining order instead. Jeff falls for Abby's plan a little too easily, but it's all worth it for Donna Mills' mean-looking "He hurt me - nobody gets away with that!" freeze frame.

    Abby and Jeff aren't the only divorced couple getting it on in Soap Land. Angela Channing and ex-husband Douglas (previously Jock Ewing's lawyer at his murder trial, now proprietor of the New Globe newspaper) celebrate would have been their wedding anniversary with some discreetly off-screen nookie.

    Lust-at-first-sight rears its swollen head twice this week, and both times between it's between a spoilt, married heiress and a sinister stranger. In FLAMINGO ROAD, Michael Tyrone makes Constance Weldon Caryle purr by rubbing her neck with ice cubes, while on DYNASTY, Fallon Carrington Colby exchanges French pleasantries with Dr Nick whilst wearing only a towel, then later climbs through his apartment window to lie in wait for him. (Constance can't do that bit yet because she's still pretending to be paralysed.)

    There's some interesting stuff about gender roles in this week's Soap Land. "Women are into all kinds of different occupations nowadays," observes Val in KNOTS. Indeed they are - the principle antagonist in three of the five soaps is now a woman: Abby, Alexis and Angela. And the primary business in two of the soaps is female-owned and run. "I declare! A woman sellin' cars?? … What's a woman know about machines?" exclaims Lilimae upon hearing that Karen has taken a proactive involvement in the running of Knots Landing Motors. On the domestic front, FALCON CREST's best scene involves Chase watching smugly as an angry Maggie insists on changing her own tyre. Gender roles remain steadfastly traditional in DALLAS, meanwhile, much to Donna's frustration. "Do you feel it's a sign of weakness to talk to a woman about your problems?" Miss Ellie asks Ray, hitting the nail on the head.

    KNOTS and DALLAS each use a variation on the same gag this week. On KNOTS, Richard turns to Kenny for advice on where he can acquire a couple of call girls. On DALLAS, Bobby Ewing asks an old college pal turned doctor about the best way to determine the paternity of a child. Despite Richard and Bobby's insistence that they are enquiring on behalf of a third party (which they are), Kenny and the doc assume that the "friend" they're talking about is themselves.

    Meanwhile, Soap Land's psychiatric patients grow increasingly frustrated with their shrinks. "Boy, am I getting sick and tired of that!" snaps Claudia in DYNASTY. "I really hate it, you know? ... All of this probing. What are you looking for? What hidden motive?" "There's nothing left to talk about," Pam insists on DALLAS. "This is so futile … We can talk from now until doomsday about why I feel the way I feel and it won't change anything."

    Blake and JR are in both financial straits and each leaves town to try and raise the money he needs. Blake flies to Vegas to sell a share in his football team so he can repay Cecil Colby his $9,000,000. Meanwhile, JR travels to New York to discuss floating Ewing Oil on the Stock Exchange - a desperate attempt to raise the $20,000,000 plus interest he needs to stop Cliff, Vaughn Leland and the cartel foreclosing on the company's assets. (New York is represented by the same establishing shot of the Brooklyn Bridge and Twin Towers used throughout last week's FALCON CREST.) Blake's meeting, involving snarls, threats, haggling and hoodlums, is ultimately successful. JR's is not. However, the main purpose of both trips is to remove Blake and JR from the centre of the action for the majority of their respective episodes. When each man does return home, it's to a major baby-related drama: for in the same week that Alexis Carrington kills a baby, Bobby Ewing buys one - a fact acknowledged thirty-one years later in the brilliant drill site scene of New DALLAS's pilot episode. ("Bobby's not your dad," John Ross reminds Christopher. "Everybody knows your dad sold you when you were a little baby.")

    While the best scene in "Starting Over" is Sue Ellen breaking up with Dusty, (finally she gets to make the kind of noble sacrifice she talked about in "Lover, Come Back") the funnest part is the way all the other storylines - Ray's business problem, JR's stockpile of oil, Bobby's purchase of Christopher, Pam's breakdown and Miss Ellie's current de-facto role as head of the family - converge at the end of the episode to create one almighty misunderstanding that manages to be stupid, funny and thrilling all at the same time. "It happened! Oh, we’ve got a baby to adopt!" cries Pam as she grabs Christopher, her shrill elation hitting the perfect manic note for this nutty twist.

    And this week's Soap Land Top 5 are …
    1 (3) DYNASTY
    2 (4) DALLAS
    3 (2) KNOTS LANDING
    4 (1) FALCON CREST
    5 (-) FLAMINGO ROAD
     
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  15. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    15/Dec/81: FLAMINGO ROAD: The Powers That Be v. 16/Dec/81: DYNASTY: The Miscarriage v. 17/Dec/81: KNOTS LANDING: One of a Kind v. 18/Dec/81: DALLAS: Waterloo at Southfork v. 18/Dec/81: FALCON CREST: The Tangled Vines

    Eudora's out-of-nowhere addiction to "nerve pills" comes to a head in this week's FLAMINGO ROAD when Constance finds her on all fours in her bedroom, going through withdrawal. Constance is so freaked out that she forgets to pretend she is paralysed and leaps out of her wheelchair and to her mother's side. At that precise moment, Field enters the room, having just returned from a senatorial trip to Tallahassee, and sees his crippled wife looking not so crippled after all. It's a scene as joyfully ridiculous as the "We've got a baby to adopt!" climax of last week's DALLAS. With Eudora taking Pam's place at the Soap Land Sanitarium - all the better for Claude to have her declared mentally incompetent so he can sell the barrio to Michael Tyrone without her signature - where does this leave Field and Constance's marriage, currently held together by a combination of guilt, emotional blackmail and mutual self-interest? "We're still man and wife," Constance reminds her husband. "What we are is a corporation and I'm still Chairman of the Board," Field replies.

    Last week, Pam Ewing was a hopeless depressive, unable to come to terms with her inability to have a child, while Krystle Carrington was a radiant mother-to-be. This week, they've swapped lives. With Christopher in her arms, Pam is miraculously cured and happier than she has ever been. After miscarrying her baby and being told she can't have another, Krystle is inconsolable. The hospital scene where Krystle grieves for her loss in front of Nick Toscanni carries a raw, red-eyed anguish more emotionally alive than anything we've seen during Pam's equivalent story-line. (Where Nick unlocks Krystle's pain in front of our eyes, Pam's neuroses remain sealed off from us, just as they are from Bobby.)

    This week brings Soap Land's first on-screen divorce, between JR and Sue Ellen, and its first Christmas, celebrated exclusively on KNOTS LANDING. Divorce is a nasty business, as Teddy Becker, an old boyfriend of Karen's visiting from New York, and Evelyn Michaelson, a patient at the hospital where Mitch Cooper is now interning, can attest. Teddy may have been divorced eight years ago, but he still bears the scars. "She's remarried now," he says of his ex-wife, smiling bravely. "I understand she's very happy." It's a similar story for Evelyn: "He's getting a new life, I'm getting a new face," she tells Mitch, smiling the same brave smile as Teddy. But those break ups sound almost idyllic compared to what JR has in store for Sue Ellen: "I have the witnesses and the depositions to prove that you're a drunk, a tramp and an unfit mother … I'll fight you till you're in the streets with nothin' more to your name but the clothes on your back and a little tin cup in your hand."

    The latest round of Soap Land Song Wars is between Lane Ballou on FLAMINGO ROAD (yet again) and the combined efforts of Lilimae, Brian, Olivia and the Wards on KNOTS. For a change, the songs are each part of the narrative rather than functioning simply as background music. In FLAM RD's main subplot, Lane puts her $3,000 savings where her mouth is to make a demo recording of "Could This Be Magic", her own composition no less, at Golden Groove Studios. However, the studio isn't quite what it seems - it's a cover for a bootleg operation - and when the bad guys receive a tip-off from Titus that the FBI is on their tail, they skedaddle, leaving Lane broke and demo-less, but with her dreams intact. Over on KNOTS, an emotional Karen listens from her bedroom window as the Seaview Circle carollers run through "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" and "Silent Night". Meanwhile, Gary watches from his own house. "She doesn't look any older than the little ones," he says of Lilimae, before painting an evocative picture of his mother-in-law as "a little country Peter Pan" who never grew up. Pretty as Lane's song is, it's no competition for Julie Harris and her autoharp. Once again, KNOTS is the winner.

    Soap Land is suddenly full of Yankees. "Why'd you leave New York? Did the Big Apple give you a tummy ache?" Fallon asks Nick in DYNASTY. Meanwhile, Teddy Becker becomes the first KNOTS character to properly acknowledge Karen as a native New Yorker. "I tried to picture you in California, but it's such an incongruous image," he tells her. "I just woke up one morning and decided I liked it here," she shrugs. It's not proving that simple an adjustment for FALCON CREST's Cole and Vicky, described by their mother as "born and bred New Yorkers." "How come it's so humid?" Vicky complains. "California's not supposed to be humid … I'm having a hard time getting used to living out here in the middle of nowhere … The whole town is one restaurant, one bar and one disco … I miss New York. I miss my friends and my dancing, going to the theatre. Falcon Crest just doesn't cut it!" (Not all of Soap Land's young folk are as resistant to new experiences. Vicky's KNOTS counterpart, Diana, is dazzled by the great and the good she mixes with whilst attending a governor's dinner on Teddy's arm, and rich boy Steven Carrington falls in love with the down and dirty world of stock car racing introduced to him by Sammy Jo on DYNASTY.)

    Things also get a bit meta this week. "It's a cute story," smirks Abby, referencing the obvious connection between Teddy and Diana on KNOTS. "'Daughter bags Mom's old boyfriend.' It's been done, of course, on soap operas." This line becomes even more ironic in hindsight when one recalls another time this soap opera story would be told - five years later, involving Abby herself, Olivia and Peter Hollister. Meanwhile, Vicky's line on FALCON CREST - "Dad's got this fantasy that living together on the vineyard's gonna turn us into the Waltons" - is a direct reference to the show that FC's creator, Earl Hamner, is most famous for.

    As Abby notes, the Karen/Teddy/Diana triangle is a familiar soap premise - becoming even soapier when Ted tells Karen he thinks Diana could be his daughter. However, KNOTS characteristically takes the less obvious route, and the whole situation is underplayed with the minimum of melodrama - perhaps too underplayed at times. But it's a sweetly touching ep, as Karen realises Teddy's need to believe Diana is his stems from losing his own kids after his marriage break-up.

    Divorce, childlessness, parental absenteeism … these themes permeate the week's episodes. On KNOTS, Sid's absence hovers over the Fairgates' Christmas while Lilimae's festive cheer only serves to remind Val of all the times her mother wasn't with her as a child ("When I hear her talk about those dear sweet Christmases that never were I just wanna throw up"). The scene where Lilimae presents Val with the dreaded patchwork quilt she has made for her and Val embraces her, thereby silently forgiving her for all those Christmases they missed out on in the past, always touches me.

    And then there's the brilliantly excruciating scene where, after Richard has given Laura the Christmas gift of a car, Laura's boss Scooter shows up and unintentionally upstages him by also giving her a car - only a much bigger and better one. Richard reacts as graciously as he can, insisting his wife keep Scooter's gift, but the blow to his pride is palpable.

    There's a similar dynamic on DALLAS between Ray, whose land deal has collapsed, and Donna, whose star is in the ascendant. Unlike the Averys, however, the Krebbses are past putting on a brave front. "Look at you," says Ray, "my wife, the girl that has everything. You got looks, you got brains, you got political savvy. You can sit down and write a book, and boom - just like that, I guarantee you it's gonna be a best seller. And look at the dummy you're married to."

    "Waterloo at Southfork" is the kind of DALLAS episode - action packed and filled with conflict - that makes you forget however many sluggish instalments or contrived plot devices it's taken to get us there. Sparks fly between Larry Hagman and Barbara Bel Geddes ("Then you're gonna have to break me, JR") while the scene where Miss Ellie stands up to the cartel is justifiably regarded as classic. Her line to Cliff, "How long are you going to perpetuate this stupid Barnes/Ewing feud, till we're all dead and gone?" seems more meaningful than ever in light of events on New DALLAS.

    A gibbering Eudora notwithstanding, old ladies are doing it for themselves in this week's Soap Land. As if Lilimae's homemade quilt weren't impressive enough, Miss Ellie strikes a deal with Clayton Farlow to pay off Ewing Oil's debt to the cartel and on FALCON CREST, Angela Channing acquires someone else's loan - she buys up vintner Carl Reed's mortgage in order to dissuade him from buying Chase's harvest, which in turn would have allowed Chase to pay off the taxes on the land he has inherited from his father. She also uses her influence with the bank to have them refuse Chase a loan. Her hope is that he will be forced to sell up (to her) and return from whence he came.

    Interestingly, the Giobertis have yet to figure out that Angela is behind their difficulties. Regarding her as an irksome but relatively harmless aunt, they have no idea of the extent of her ruthlessness. It's a similar situation on DYNASTY where Alexis is now free to roam the Carrington grounds, dropping poison into Claudia's ear about Krystle and Blake's about Sammy Jo, whilst also listening in on business conversations about Rashid Ahmed.

    Angela's grandson Lance, meanwhile, demonstrates to the audience what a fantastic little shit he can be - smugly threatening Carl Reed then petulantly trashing a bar owner's property and pinning the blame on Cole. The dynamic between Cole and Lance at this stage is not dissimilar from that between Christopher and John Ross in New DALLAS - cousins who might easily be friends but instead find themselves on opposite sides of a feud passed down from a previous generation.

    In each of this week's FALCON CREST and KNOTS, an old family photograph helps bring resolution to a storyline. Karen finds a picture of Sid's grandmother in which she bears a remarkable resemblance to Claudia Lonow with a wig on, thereby ending any confusion over who Diana's father might be. Meanwhile, Chase ruminates over an old snapshot: "That's me and my father. This must have been taken shortly before my mother left him and took me to Paris. We hardly had a chance to get to know one another." (The photo is dated 1950, which means Chase left the valley ten years earlier than was established in the opening episode - but hey, who's counting?) Chase shows the picture to his son Cole, who has been growing seriously disillusioned with grape farming ("I'm sick and tired of this vineyard!"). The pic, and Chase's accompanying history lesson, ("Some of the grapes in this vineyard have been ten generations in the making - my great grandfather came to this valley with cuttings from some of the same vines his great grandfather planted in Northern Italy") serve to imbue Cole with a sense of family pride and the possibility that maybe Falcon Crest can cut it after all.

    The end of "Tangled Vines" reminds me of the last scene of "Call Girl", the Season 1 episode of DALLAS, where JR becomes the last to learn that Pam and Bobby have reconciled at Southfork and the rest of the family chuckle at his dismayed reaction. Here, the Giobertis invite the Channings over to celebrate their good news: they've sold their brownstone in New York and now have enough money to remain at Falcon Crest permanently. Cue big smiles from everyone save Angela and Lance, who are caught looking suitably bemused in the freeze frame. Their look of defeat is mirrored by JR's in the closing moments of this week's DALLAS when the judge announces his decision to award custody of John Ross to his mother, with JR granted access on alternate weekends - a festive reminder, perhaps, that sometimes bad guys do finish last.

    And this week's Soap Land Top 5 are …

    1 (2) DALLAS
    2 (4) FALCON CREST
    3 (1) DYNASTY
    4 (3) KNOTS LANDING
    5 (5) FLAMINGO ROAD
     
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  16. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    22/Dec/81: FLAMINGO ROAD: The Little Foxes v. 24/Dec/81: KNOTS LANDING: Secrets v. 25/Dec/81: FALCON CREST: The Harvest

    Christmas arrives in FLAMINGO ROAD a week later than it did in KNOTS LANDING. The decorations are a tad more excessive - even the barrio slum dwellers have draped their doors with tinsel - but while Lane Ballou's version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" pre-empts Karen Mackenzie's by nine years, "Silent Night" remains the carollers' festive song of choice. Overall, it's a less sentimental ep, with Michael Tyrone behaving positively Scrooge-like. "I want you to evict those Cuban trespassers," he orders. "On Christmas Eve?" asks a surprised Titus. "There are no holidays for men like us," he replies. "Their eviction notices will be in their Christmas stockings," Titus assures him.

    Where FLAMINGO ROAD has the Cuban Sanchez clan, FALCON CREST has the Mexican Nunouzes, a family of manual labourers headed by Gus Nunouz, Chase's right hand man in the vineyard. The budding romance between the Weldons' son Skipper and Alicia Sanchez on FL'RD mirrors the one between the Giobertis' daughter Vicky and Gus's son Mario on FALCON CREST. While Alicia's brother Julio disapproves of her associating with a rich Anglo, Mario's mother (also named Alicia) fears Mario's relationship with Vicky will jeopardise his college prospects. Unlike FL'RD, FALCON CREST does not address the issue of race directly. "We come from such different backgrounds" is as close at it gets - suggesting class as much as ethnicity. Vicky's cousin Lance, however, repeatedly taunts Mario, calling him "a picker" and managing to make the word sound like a racial epithet. After Lance sees Mario dancing with Vicky at The Hideaway (the young people's hangout of choice in FC - a somewhat less groovy version of The Blue Whale in DARK SHADOWS or the Hideaway in PEYTON PLACE) and stabs him with a broken bottle, Angela offers the Nunouzes a deal: a college scholarship for Mario if they drop assault charges against her grandson. They accept the bribe gratefully and without hesitation. By contrast, Julio Sanchez regards even an invitation to the Weldons' Christmas party as a handout and angrily declines it. Only when he is approached by Skipper's sister Constance, to whom he is clearly attracted, does his attitude soften.

    Minor trend of the week #1: One character casting a critical eye over the financial records of another. On KNOTS, Scooter Warren goes through the receipts of his estranged wife Miriam, questioning why he should be expected to pay $212 for her lover's green silk kimono, among other items. On FALCON CREST, Angela is so unimpressed with Lance's bank statement ("How can you spend such an exorbitant amount of money in one month?") that she cancels his checking account. And an entire subplot of this week's KNOTS is devoted to Karen and Gary's very entertaining attempts to first decipher Abby's bookkeeping entries and then persuade her to return to KLM in time for an audit by the IRS. (For her eventual meeting with the auditor, Gary notes that Abby has gone for the "silk blouse and no bra" approach.) On FLAMINGO ROAD, a document of another kind enables Eudora to realise that Claude has forged her signature in a fraudulent attempt to sell the barrio to Michael Tyrone.

    Minor trend of the week #2: Characters speaking and/or pretending to be Spanish. "Meester Avery no en casa," says Laura on KNOTS when a woman she mistakenly believes to be sleeping with Richard calls the marital home. Meanwhile, Lance converses in their mother tongue with the Mexican labourers Chase has hired to harvest his grapes, using a mixture of bribery and intimidation to persuade them not to turn up for work.

    On KNOTS LANDING, Richard's boss (played by Kyle Bennett, the lawyer who came to Sue Ellen's aid after she was arrested for shooting JR) has him handling what Jock Ewing used to refer to as the three Bs - booze, broads and booty. In other words, Richard now finds himself, reluctantly, in the role of company pimp. Following a party for some prospective Japanese clients, he tries to revive a comatose prostitute (a former colleague of Krystle Carrington no doubt fallen on hard times) in much the same way Nick Toscanni did Claudia following her recent overdose on DYNASTY, but more directly modelled on a scene from THE APARTMENT with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. Meanwhile, Scooter takes Laura to the same swanky house currently occupied Michael Tyrone in FLAMINGO ROAD (a location that will eventually appear in all five soaps) for a bungled seduction. By the end of the episode, the Averys' relationship starts to resemble Claude and Eudora's self-described "sham of a marriage" on FLAMINGO ROAD.

    This week's KNOTS also features what I believe to be the only use of the word "orgasms" in the entire history of Soap Land (ironic considering this is a genre where characters are continually having the best sex of their lives). It's Abby who drops the O bomb during a fun scene at the DALLAS Cattleman's Club with Karen.

    The bulk of this week's FALCON CREST has been adapted from the series' unaired pilot. Having grown weary of Lance's various misdemeanours, (tardiness, profligacy, violence, etc.) Angela begins grooming his cousin Cole to be her successor instead. Playing one potential heir off against another is a potent idea and this storyline pre-figures the reading of Jock's will in DALLAS by a full year.

    Cole's head is seriously turned when Angela presents him with a super-sexy sports car, (following the Rolls Royce convertible Blake surprised Krystle with a few weeks ago and the cars Scooter and Richard each presented Laura with in last week's KNOTS, jalopies are clearly the Soap Land gift du jour) and so begins the battle for Cole's soul. There's a very interesting scene where Lance appears to be warning his rival for his own good: "You're hooked, cousin, whether you know it or not, because first, you took the car and now you're in the house. One more step, you'll be trapped for the rest of your life … Lots of people get caught in Angie Channing's web so be careful, cousin." The distant sound of Emma's insane laughter as he speaks only serves to underline his words.

    FALCON CREST and FLAMINGO ROAD each end on a semi-religious note this week. Anonymous carol singers serenade Eudora and her Christmas party guests with "Silent Night", Titus undercutting the spiritual mood with a "Bah humbug!" in the final shot. On FALCON CREST, it's Harvest Day and no sooner has a Catholic priest blessed the Gioberti grapes than the pickers Lance scared off return to lend a hand. It's a miracle! A glowering Lance watching from a distance provides the equivalent of Titus's humbug.

    And this week's Soap Land Top 3 are …
    1 (2) FALCON CREST
    2 (4) KNOTS LANDING
    3 (5) FLAMINGO ROAD
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2016
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  17. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    05/Jan/82: FLAMINGO ROAD: Old Friends v. 06/Jan/82: DYNASTY: The Mid-East Meeting v. 07/Jan/82: KNOTS LANDING: Mistaken Motives v. 08/Jan/82: DALLAS: The Search v. 08/Jan/82: FALCON CREST: Kindred Spirits

    So far this Soap Land season, we've had Cliff Barnes and the cartel buying up JR's promissory bank note to hold over his head and then Angela Channing purchasing the mortgage on Carl Reed's property so she could blackmail him into doing her bidding. In this week's FLAMINGO ROAD, Michael Tyrone goes one better. Furious at Claude Weldon's attempt to defraud him over the barrio, he simply buys the bank that holds the paper on the Weldon mill, then forecloses, wiping Claude out of business. This information is conveyed to Claude in the episode's brilliant opening scene where David Selby is almost demonic as Michael and Kevin McCarthy instantly falls apart as Claude - his clammy desperation simultaneously funny and pitiful. After contemplating suicide, Claude settles for being drunk and racist, branding the Cubans lazy and dirty and telling them to go back where they came from.

    Two weeks ago, Eudora was alternately threatening to divorce Claude and have him imprisoned for forgery. This week, having returned from the Soap Land Sanatarium where she has been cured of her addictions as speedily as she acquired them, she begins singing from the same hymn sheet as Ellie Ewing - insisting that the Weldon family always stick together in times of crisis. Constance appeals to Michael Tyrone's mercy in her own unique way - first slapping him, then passionately kissing him, then slapping him again before vowing, "You're gonna damn the day you ever set foot on Flamingo Road!" It finally falls to Field, after demonstrating complete indifference to his father-in-law's situation for most the episode, to save the day. He agrees to support Michael's gambling application in the senate in return for the Weldon mill. However, there's a twist - Field will manage the mill himself, with Claude merely a minority partner.

    In a relatively minor plot development, Michael pays off the gambling debts of Lute Mae's toy boy/employee, Tony. In return, Tony agrees to keep tabs on Lute Mae's house guest Sam Curtis - thereby becoming Soap Land's first spy in the house since Julie Grey. If Cecil Colby gets his way, Claudia Blaisdel - whom he runs into at Denver Carrington where she is now working - will be the next.

    In "Mistaken Motives", Sid Fairgate has been dead for four months while in "The Search", Jock Ewing has been missing for two days - but there are equivalent shots of both men's wives alone in their marital beds in this week's eps. Where Karen cradles a pillow and cries, Ellie gently reaches over and strokes Jock's side of the bed. There's more grieving in FALCON CREST and DYNASTY where "almost three months" have passed since Jason Gioberti's death and an unspecified number of weeks have elapsed since Krystle miscarried her baby. It is noted by concerned relatives that Emma Channing and Krystle have barely left their respective houses since these events.

    There is no shortage of well-meaning advice for those in mourning: On KNOTS, Val suggests to Karen that she attend a grief support group, which is where she becomes involved with widower Bill Medford. On FALCON CREST, Maggie recommends the Soap Land Sanatarium as a suitable place for Emma, (maybe she could have Eudora's old room?) which results in Emma running away from home. Meanwhile on DYNASTY, Blake first suggests, then cajoles, then finally orders a depressed Krystle to start seeing Dr. Nick Toscanni professionally.

    Bill Medford is a lot like Teddy Becker from two KNOTS' episodes ago - a male character whom Karen can apparently lean on, but who turns out to have his own share of unresolved grief and who she must eventually extricate herself from. The big difference is that Bill somehow feels a much more real, believable character than Teddy - there's a darkness about him that's really compelling.

    Logistically, it's a weird week for Gary, who must be kept at arm's length from Bill Medford, aka the original Gary in DALLAS, lest it causes a rip in the soap time continuum and both actors be sucked forever into the Soap Land vortex. In addition, the entirety of this week's KNOTS occurs during the time it takes for the Dallas Ewings to learn of Jock's disappearance and send the barbecue guests home. Gary is eventually told about his father offscreen when Ellie and then Lucy are seen to call him during "The Search". Perhaps understandably, Gary only appears once in this week's KNOTS, during a party scene where Lilimae entertains the neighbours with her latest composition, which she modestly introduces "the prettiest little song ever written."

    This leads us to the latest round of Soap Land Song Wars, which is between Lilimae and Emma from FALCON CREST. Both accompanying themselves on the autoharp, (clearly the instrument of choice for the borderline delusional) they each perform a song with childhood associations. Lilimae's is "about the Pine Country where Val and I have our roots", while Emma sings a French song "about being young and beautiful and in love", taught to her by her Uncle Jason when she was a girl. It's a pretty ditty, and Emma's use of flashbacks, in which we see her as a young girl singing the same song with Uncle Jason back when he looked like Serge Gainsbourg, is certainly innovative. However, the winner is once again Lilimae. Her performance is as spirited as ever, but it's the reaction of her audience - Gary's near hysterical laughter, Abby's ironic swaying, Val's mortification - that clinches it.

    There's also some minor teen girl rebellion brewing in Soap Land this week. Diana Fairgate, having misinterpreted her mother's relationship with Bill, retaliates by taking up with Roy (a high school Chip Roberts-in-training) and winds up in jail when he gets stopped for drunk driving. Meanwhile, a frustrated Vicky Gioberti ("Nobody here has ever even heard of New Wave - they're just now getting into Disco!") bails out on her chores to - gasp - go for a walk, which is how she ends up running into, and striking up a friendship with, the errant Emma.

    "The Search" is DALLAS's fourth annual "What if ..?" episode, in which the Ewings are forced to contemplate an almost unthinkable scenario. In "Triangle" (Season 1), it's "What will happen if JR and Bobby are really dead?" In "Ellie Saves The Day" (Season 2), it's "What's going to happen if JR fails to strike oil in Southeast Asia and the bank forecloses on Ewing Oil?" In "Ewing vs. Ewing" (Season 3), the family reflects on the possibility of Jock and Ellie's divorcing and the subsequent break-up of the Ewing empire. Here, the question is "What's gonna happen if they don't find Jock?" The character insights that follow, while revelatory in Season 1, now simply reaffirm what we already know (e.g. "Everything JR does, he does for his daddy"). This sense of familiarity is articulated by Miss Ellie: "I feel like I've been through this before." Only this time, the story ends differently. The "What if …?" scenario comes true. "It can't end here," protests JR, "not in this stinkin' mud hole." This was the line that echoed in my head while watching the Ewings in New DALLAS struggle to comprehend how JR's life could end in some cheap Mexican hotel room.

    I've always loved the scene where Pam catches Sue Ellen in JR's bedroom ordering a cab to take her and John Ross home ("Pam, I've gotta go now".) Caught between her past and her future - like Karen in this week's KNOTS, her character is "on new ground now" - Sue Ellen's decision to abandon the family in their time of need (like Eudora Weldon, Ellie believes "the family should pull together when there's trouble") is an act both of selfishness and self-preservation. Watching the scene this time around, all I could think of was the scene that takes place in the same room thirty-one years later where Sue Ellen raises a glass to JR's memory. In that context, the idea of self-preservation seems suddenly trivial.

    This week is the first time both DALLAS and DYNASTY travel overseas. While Alexis stays in "my favourite suite in all Italy!" - all flowers and concierges and "lovely boys" helping her with her luggage - the Ewing boys rough it, trekking through formulaic jungles, dossing down in tents and on makeshift cots (Matthew Blaisdel just out of sight). Lance, Chase and Cole also take a "Dove Hunt" style camping trip this week - Cole's inevitable injury allowing for some father/son bonding while Lance goes for help, only to become embroiled in a series of Kim-from-24 style misadventures. (Like Diana in KNOTS, he even endures a brief spell in jail.) Nice as Cole and Chase's heart to heart is, ("All my life, I always thought you could do anything ... I never thought I could measure up to you," Cole admits, thereby revealing himself to be yet another Soap Land son with his father on a pedestal) one can't help but feel the episode misses a trick by not having Cole and Lance be the ones left alone together - a much more combustible, intriguing combination.

    Although it's great fun to watch Alexis prowling the Carrington grounds and lurking in the shadows, it's even more of a blast to see her this week in her decadent, sinful element, flirting and scheming with old flame Rashid Ahmed. As Rashid, John Saxon is as flamboyant as he was pedestrian in last week's FALCON CREST. In fact, it's sort of fun to imagine Rashid as Tony Cumson's alter ego. The back stories of both characters slot together easily enough - having left the Tuscany Valley at the end of the 60s, Tony would have had plenty of time to reinvent himself as "a Mid-eastern Gulbenkian" (Angela Channing even referred to him having a background in oil) who then hooks up with Alexis in Capri, Portofino and Dubrovnik during her years as part of the 1970s jet set. His recent attempt to settle down with Julia and Lance at Falcon Crest having failed, he dons his fake moustache and accent once more before flying to Rome for another tryst with Alexis, aka "the beautiful woman who is always too busy enjoying herself wherever it is to worry about what time it is wherever she is not!"

    And this week's Soap Land Top 5 are …
    1 (-) DYNASTY
    2 (-) KNOTS LANDING
    3 (1) DALLAS
    4 (-) FLAMINGO ROAD
    5 (2) FALCON CREST
     
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  18. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    12/Jan/82: FLAMINGO ROAD: Strange Bedfellows v. 13/Jan/82: DYNASTY: The Psychiatrist v. 14/Jan/82: KNOTS LANDING: The Rose and the Briar v. 15/Jan/82: DALLAS: Denial v. 15/Jan/82: FALCON CREST: The Extortionist

    Elmo Tyson's surprise decision to stand for election as sheriff forms the main story of this week's FLAMINGO ROAD. The rivalry between honest Elmo and tyrannical Titus divides the town and the Weldon household in particular. Titus wastes no time in reminding the townsfolk of the dirt he has on them. There are allusions to scandals involving underage cousins, motel room raids and "lots more - questionable bank loans, income tax evasion, fraud, drinkin' problems. I tell ya, it is amazing what goes on in the average American family."

    Elmo's campaign is ultimately scuppered when Titus (with a little help from Michael Tyrone) uncovers evidence of the role he played in his dying wife's assisted suicide six years earlier. Unwilling to face a scandal, Elmo withdraws from the race. There's a strong resemblance between this plot twist and the revelation of Cliff Barnes' involvement in his fiancee's abortion death in the "Election" episode of DALLAS. However, this story feels a lot less powerful, probably because Elmo isn't as well drawn a character as Cliff.

    While FLAMINGO ROAD sometimes feels the most lightweight of the soaps, it does boast the broadest range of villains - from the cowardly (Claude) to the ruthless (Constance) to the evil (Titus) to the borderline satanic (Michael Tyrone) - and the show is at its greatest when these characters are knitted together to evoke an atmosphere thick with corruption and betrayal, where the good are powerless and only badness has the chance to flourish.

    In the ep's final scene, Michael toasts Titus's victory with a $500 bottle of Chateau Margaux. "A great wine is like a great victory. It's meant to be savoured," he says, clearly in training for his upcoming transformation into Richard Channing.

    Several Soap Land marriages are on shaky ground this week. In FL'INGO RD, Constance and Field mark their second anniversary (even though their wedding was screened only a year earlier) by each embarking on an affair - Constance with Julio Sanchez (like a hothead Latino moth to a blonde WASP flame), Field with reporter Sandie Swanson (recently seen posing as Rashid Ahmed's pregnant girlfriend on FALCON CREST). Over on DYNASTY, Blake and Krystle both succumb to some extra-marital kissing at almost exactly the same moment, despite being on different continents - he with Alexis in Italy, she with Nick Toscanni in Denver. Laura Avery comes close to joining the marry-go-round on KNOTS when she arrives at Scooter's door after a fight with Richard but finds him in the midst of a reconciliation with his estranged wife. And on DALLAS, a sad and bitter Ray is busy avoiding wife Donna when he runs into old flame Bonnie at the Longview Bar.

    Meanwhile, it's hard to imagine things getting much worse for Jeff and Fallon's marriage on DYNASTY - what with her telling him she doesn't love him ("I never did - it was all part of the deal"), all but admitting to an affair, and arranging to have an abortion without his consent. The latter leads Jeff to consult an attorney pal on behalf of "a friend" about the finer points of parental law. Bobby Ewing does exactly the same thing on this week's DALLAS, but while Jeff is looking for a legal way to stop Fallon going through with the termination, Bobby wants to know how best to forge Christopher's medical records.

    There's also a pregnancy subplot in this week's FALCON CREST which follows the blueprint of KNOTS LANDING's Season 1 episode "Small Surprises" - a middle-aged couple (then Sid and Karen, now Chase and Maggie) are shocked by the possibility of another child on the way. This time around, it's the expectant father rather than the mother-to-be who is the more ambivalent, while Cole's and Vicky's reactions exactly mirror those of their Fairgate counterparts. Vicky is as indignant and angry as Diana was, while Cole adopts the same easygoing attitude that Eric did. Instead of ending in miscarriage, however, this pregnancy turns out to be a false alarm.

    This week is a turning point for Sammy Jo on DYNASTY and Lucy on DALLAS. Up until now, Sammy Jo has been a sweet natured and industrious young thing, but when she realises her father has left her in Krystle's care permanently, something changes. She rejects out of hand her aunt's suggestion that she train to be a secretary. "That's how every girl gets a rich husband and a big house," she mutters sarcastically. "Bull!" Conversely, former spoilt brat Lucy decides that the best way to get over her grandfather's death is to join the working class - and so she contacts photographer Roger Larsen about resuming her modelling career. What could possibly go wrong?

    A couple of the other soaps intrude on this week's DYNASTY in unexpected ways. First Jeff finds Fallon watching the future Ben Gibson from KNOTS LANDING on an episode of GENERAL HOSPITAL, and then Victoria Principal's first husband, and Lucy Ewing's former classmate, is among those cheering Steven and Buddy on during their stock car rematch.

    This is a great episode of DYNASTY: lush, swirling, romantic, smart and witty, and helped enormously by the musical score, which continually drives the action forward and makes the various story-lines feel part of one continuous whole.

    Alexis and Abby both impress with their marital manipulations this week, but in different ways. Krystle is caught in a web Alexis has managed to spin from the other side of the world - an elaborate interlacing of foreign intrigue, international oil deals and misleading photographs on magazine covers. Meanwhile, Abby scarcely needs lift a finger to manoeuvre Val into volunteering Gary as Olivia's substitute father at a school function.

    Soap Land trend of the week: Predatory men and vulnerable women. Tony, Lute Mae's FLAMINGO ROAD toy boy, discovers Constance is her real daughter and blackmails her over it. Jackson Mobeley, Lilimae's new beau on KNOTS LANDING, poses as a country music bigwig in the hopes of getting his hands on part of the Ewing fortune. Tom Flintoff, Sue Ellen's dinner date on DALLAS, follows her home and tries to force himself on her. And Turner Bates, Emma's old sweetheart, shows up on FALCON CREST again and tries to blackmail Angela over Jason's death before kidnapping Emma. The only problem is, Emma's too loopy to notice she's been kidnapped.

    Three of the soaps, KNOTS, DALLAS and FALCON CREST, focus on a female character with a tenuous grip on reality - Lilimae, Emma and Miss Ellie. While Ellie and Emma's refusal to acknowledge the respective deaths of Jock and Jason would appear to be a psychological condition, Lilimae wears her "poetic" interpretation of the world like a badge of honour:

    "Valene, there are two kinds of minds in this world. There are minds that are logical and rational and sticklers for details, and then there are minds that are inspired by a larger vision. Now it's no fault of yours, but you have one kind and Jackson and I have the other. We see beauty and magic in what others find dull. You may get your facts straight, but we see the truth." (Sounds like an Old DALLAS v New DALLAS argument.)

    When Jackson confesses that he is a crook and a con artist who knows nothing about the music business, Lilimae just laughs. When Bobby tries to tackle his mother with the truth about Jock's death, Ellie falls apart, delivering her primal "I am Jock's woman" speech that ends with just a hint of self-awareness: "He's alive, Bobby. As long as I believe he's alive, he's alive." And when the memories of Jason's death - and most especially, her role in said death - start to resurface for Emma, she panics, causing a car crash which ironically results in yet another death (that of Turner Bates).

    This week sees Lilimae and Lane Ballou reprising their own compositions for the latest round of Soap Land Song Wars. Lilimae sings her ode to the Pine Country as an after dinner treat for Jackson, while Lane performs "Could It Be Love" (which I previously misnamed as "Could This Be Magic" - here's a thing all about it: http://hillplace.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/the-cristina-raines-song.html) at a fundraiser for Elmo. Based on these two songs alone, I'd call it an even draw, but then Lilimae goes the extra mile with an impromptu rendition of "Who's Going To Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet?" on a greyhound bus, and then tops even that with a performance in Las Vegas's Sidewinder Lounge of "In The Merry Month of May" - an hilariously inappropriate death ballad delivered in her best Ethel Skinner meets Loretta Lynn wig, the last verse of which gives the episode its title.

    "The Rose and the Briar" (written by Scott Hamner, son of FALCON CREST's creator Earl) is a gem. The tale of an elderly woman eloping to Vegas with a loveable conman could easily be twee in lesser hands, but it's consistently funny, charming and cockle warming. Plus there are strong subplots to add ballast to the episode - a wife tossing a couple of her husband's suit jackets on the bedroom floor may not sound much in the context of your average '80s super soap, but within the confines of the Avery marriage it's a huge moment ("I'm just so tired of taking it and taking it and taking it!"). And with Lilimae home safe and sound, the episode ends on a surprisingly ominous note, with Val watching Gary, Abby and Olivia driving off to Olivia's school event, "just like a real family". "I'd look out for that man o' mine if I were you," warns Lilimae. "You got a good thing goin' here, Valene. You gotta protect your dream." There's a similar twist in the final moments of this week's FALCON CREST. The story of the week, Emma's kidnapping, has ended and, like Lilimae, Emma is now back in the bosom of her family. All is calm, but then Julia overhears Emma talking to their mother about how Uncle Jason "died twice" - and realises all is not as it appears.

    This week's DALLAS is fascinating. Two weeks have passed since Jock's death and everyone is in a very different place to when we last saw them, especially JR - shambling, unshaven and disconnected from the world around him. The FALCON CREST kidnap story sags a little, but the climactic car chase is cool.

    And so this week's Soap Land Top 5 are …
    1 (2) KNOTS LANDING
    2 (1) DYNASTY
    3 (3) DALLAS
    4 (4) FLAMINGO ROAD
    5 (5) FALCON CREST
     
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  19. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    19/Jan/82: FLAMINGO ROAD: Heatwave v. 20/Jan/82: DYNASTY: Sammy Jo and Steven Marry v. 21/Jan/82: KNOTS LANDING: The Three Sisters v. 22/Jan/82: DALLAS: Head of the Family v. 22/Jan/82: FALCON CREST: Lord of the Manor

    Once again, it's Pathetic Fallacy Week in Soap Land. The heavy rain Krystle drives through at the end of DYNASTY mirrors her presently stormy relationship with Blake and anticipates her tears when she stops to call home, only to hear Alexis's voice at the end of the line. The sudden icy wind Val experiences in the bathroom of the old house she visits in KNOTS LANDING is the first indication of her affinity with the supernatural. The ominous rumble of thunder over Southfork when JR fails yet again to show up for dinner heralds his explosive confrontation with Bobby later that same evening. But as its episode title suggests, nowhere are weather conditions more pronounced this week than in FLAMINGO ROAD. In Soap Land, as in film noir, a heatwave equals lust - perspiring, panting, innuendo-laden lust. So it comes to pass that Constance and Julio consummate their affair at the JR and Kristin Dirty Weekend Hotel in Tallahassee, the saxophone on the soundtrack going utterly berserk whenever they are together.

    Since the beginning of January, Soap Land has been averaging a marriage proposal a week - first Sam popped the question to Lane and was accepted, then Fallon asked Nick who deferred, and last week Lilimae accepted Jackson's proposal, only for it to be subsequently rescinded. This week, Steven and Sammy Jo cut straight to the chase and exchange vows in front of a kindly looking justice of the peace, thereby providing Soap Land with its first wedding of the season.

    I've never been too keen on the way Fallon's last minute change of heart regarding her abortion is depicted on DYNASTY. Blake's race-against-time dash to the Blandon Clinic echoes his similar rush to Claudia's house after her suicide attempt, suggesting that a woman's right to choose is something she needs to be protected from. That said, I'll grudgingly admit that there is something dramatically interesting about a character as headstrong and wilful as Fallon feeling compelled keeping a baby in spite of herself.

    This is the week that Soap Land first delves into the paranormal. First, Alexis consults Adriana the psychic before leaving Rome. During her brief but brilliantly mad appearance, Adriana blames Alexis for Krystle's accident, a flashback of which she conjures in her crystal ball, ("She was hurt because of YOU!") before predicting that Alexis will marry again and that her new husband will then die ("HEEE WILL EX-PI-RE!!").

    Wonderful as that scene is, it almost pales into insignificance next to what we're presented with on KNOTS LANDING. Dream seasons and UFOs notwithstanding, I'm not sure soap opera ever gets as perverse as this. Following an instalment where the Gary/Abby/Val triangle finally seemed to be gaining some traction after being teased for so long, (it is exactly a year since Abby first admitted to JR that she wanted Gary) and where Richard and Laura's marriage looked like it was headed towards some sort of climax, we are suddenly presented with the most stand alone, idiosyncratic episode in all of Soap Land. In fact, "The Three Sisters" doesn't really qualify as soap opera at all. Essentially, the cul-de-sac women are transposed to another genre, and with Abby sublimating her customary deviousness into an avid interest in ghost stories, it feels a bit like the DARK SHADOWS 1795 storyline where all the actors are re-cast as slight variations on their original characters. Even so, the episode makes better use of the women's existing personalities and relationships than KNOTS' last female-centric ep, "Moments of Truth", and throws up some interesting ironies. For example, a week after Lilimae criticised Val for being "logical and rational and a stickler for details" while she herself was "inspired by a larger vision", it is now Val who becomes the visionary. And as we see Joan van Ark first gaily skipping about in her nightdress playing peekaboo with the dead, and then preparing to join them by throwing herself from the roof of the house, we are witness to the birth of the high maintenance, highly strung "Poor Val" version of the character she will be for the rest of the series.

    Following Fallon's decision to keep her baby, Val's psychic link with three ghostly, abandoned children, born of her being deprived of raising her own daughter, ("there's been a big emptiness in her, a need that never was fulfilled") is the week's second example of the power of the maternal instinct. It's also interesting that that this story should come so quickly on the heels of last week's episode which ended with Val watching her husband driving away with another woman and her child, "just like a real family" - a premonition of what is to come.


    In Jock's absence, the title of this week's DALLAS episode, "Head of the Family", is an ambiguous one. The natural successor he may be, but JR shows no interest in assuming the mantle, preferring to bury himself in booze and hookers. A frustrated Bobby makes a bid for the title when he suggests to Miss Ellie that he take over as President of Ewing Oil, at least on an interim basis, but she won't hear of it. Then at the end of the episode, little John Ross throws his hat into the ring by assuming Jock's position at the head of the family dinner table. In contrast, the title of this week's FALCON CREST, "Lord of the Manor", is clearly an ironic reference to Lance, whom Angela entrusts with the family business while she attends a wine competition in Rome.

    With Alexis returning from Rome this week, it's entirely possible that the two women would have passed each other in mid-air. And just like Alexis in last week's DYNASTY, Angela is joined in Italy by her ex-husband - but this time, it's the man who wishes to rekindle the romance while the woman is more focused on business. Despite both FALCON CREST and DYNASTY acknowledging the comparative ease of international travel - Blake speaks of a three-hour flight on Concorde while Douglas Channing casually references "the jet age" - this is the precisely the kind of globetrotting one almost never sees on DALLAS.

    Given her family's history, Angela's Rome is understandably more rustic and quaint than Alexis's sumptuous, decadent version. It's also slightly less interesting. The more dramatic stuff in this week's FALCON CREST happens back in the Tuscany Valley, where Lance attempts to double-cross a crooked wine distributor by selling him low-quality wine in premium labelled bottles. It doesn't take him long to get out of his depth and by the time Chase cottons onto his scheme, Lance is no more interested in being lord of the manor than JR is in being head of the Ewings. "I don't care about her," Lance yells about his grandmother, "I don't care about Falcon Crest, I don't care about anything anymore!" "The man is dead - it doesn't matter anymore," shrugs JR with reference to his father. Interestingly, JR and Lance are then given polar opposite advice by their shows' respective good guys, Bobby and Chase. "I know what he'd want if he were alive," says Bobby of Jock. "He'd want his boys up and doin' - and that includes running Ewing Oil the way he ran it." "When are you gonna stop trying to fill Angela's shoes?" Chase asks Lance wearily. While Bobby's words are enough to put JR back on track, Lance remains in angry despair: "You don't know what it's like living in this house - I've got my grandmother on my back, my mother's out of her mind hiding from her in the laboratory - it's a mad house!"

    This week's DALLAS is strongest when it focuses on Ellie's and Bobby's attempts to rally JR, Ray and the rest of the family. The further from Southfork it strays - e.g. Lucy's first modelling session with Roger (oh, wouldn't it have been amazing if KNOTS' three ghostly sisters had shown up in the background of Lucy's glamour shots?), Sue Ellen's attempts at entertaining her weirdly bourgeois new social circle - the weaker and stupider it becomes.

    Like Claudia in DYNASTY, Sue Ellen is finding it difficult to adjust to life as a single woman. "I'm sure a lot of people find it easy, living alone, being single, but it's hard for me," she sighs. "I found this charming little apartment on 3rd Street. Well, the charm lasted a few hours. It's been a nightmare," complains Claudia. Both are fortunate enough to have a wealthy older man, Clayton Farlow and Cecil Colby respectively, to confide in, and to offer them alternative accommodation - Clayton reminds Sue Ellen she has a standing invitation to return to the Southern Cross while Cecil offers to rent Claudia a swanky Colby Co apartment at a reduced rate. In each case, we catch our first glimpse of the older man's as yet unspoken ulterior motive. While Clayton's are clearly romantic, Cecil's appear somewhat more sinister.

    Meanwhile, Donna's exasperation at her husband's treatment of her in this week's DALLAS ("I have let him do just about everything except ride over me on horseback ... I'm beginning not to care anymore") mirrors Laura's in last week's KNOTS ("I'm just so tired of taking it and taking it and taking it"). Donna being Donna, her idea of wanton retaliation isn't to throw herself at her married boss the way Laura did, but to commit herself to writing another political biography.

    Pam is the only Ewing wife who seems truly happy this week, but even her sense of wellbeing is precarious. To protect it, Bobby concocts a story about Christopher's biological parents as tragic as the tale of how KNOTS' three sisters were left to grow up alone - for if Pam were to learn the truth, she might end up on the roof of another building alongside Val. The central theme emerging from this week's Soap Land is that if a woman's maternal instinct isn't satisfied, if it is "frustrated and suppressed" as Laura describes Val's - as opposed to Fallon's which won't be denied - then the result is madness. (Blake's suggestion that Krystle's jealousy towards him and Alexis is solely a manifestation of the depression caused by her miscarriage seems to endorse this view.)

    And this week's Soap Land Top 5 are …

    1 (1) KNOTS LANDING
    2 (2) DYNASTY
    3 (3) DALLAS
    4 (5) FALCON CREST
    5 (4) FLAMINGO ROAD
     
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  20. James from London

    James from London Soap Chat Star

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    27/Jan/82: DYNASTY: The Car Explosion v. 28/Jan/82: KNOTS LANDING: Power Play v. 29/Jan/82: DALLAS: The Phoenix v. 29/Jan/82: FALCON CREST: Dark Journey

    The highlights of this week's DYNASTY are the reactions to Sammy Jo and Steven's elopement - Krystle's dismay, Alexis's disgust, Claudia's brave face, Fallon's forlorn sarcasm ("She can make a bed without a wrinkly sheet?"). From the characters' point of view, this is probably Soap Land's most controversial marriage since Bobby and Pam's.

    We don't get to see Blake's reaction to the news. Jeff is about to tell him when they are caught in the blast that gives the episode its title. DYNASTY being DYNASTY, this is a far bigger explosion than the one that killed Turner Bates on FALCON CREST two weeks ago. The spectacle is lost on Blake, however. "My God, I can't see," he exclaims. "I can't see anything at all!"

    As if to compensate for last week's foray into the other-worldly, KNOTS LANDING now embraces the traditional Soap Land themes of power, sex, money and oil as never before. Similarly, JR, the titular phoenix of this week's DALLAS, returns to the game after mourning his father for the past three weeks, finally bedding Marilee Stone to get back into business with the cartel. While Jock's death has yet to be acknowledged on KNOTS, there are several thematic crossovers between the two Ewingverse shows this week.

    Thirty years before his nephew champions methane ice as a viable source of alternate energy, Gary and Abby stumble onto something similar called methanol. On the brink of success, Gary's ambition manifests itself in a way it never has before. "A good job and a nice pay check are no big deal to me, they're nothin'!" he tells Val. "Unless you wanna be a wage slave the rest of your life, you gotta take risks … Is this all there is for us? Is Knots Landing as far as you wanna go?" On DALLAS, JR also has a new focus. "You built Ewing Oil from the ground up," he says to his father's portrait, communing with the dead as Val did in "The Three Sisters". "Whatever it took, you did it for Ewing Oil and I'm gonna do the same. I'm gonna pass it on bigger and stronger to my son. I'm back, Daddy, and nobody's gonna take Ewing Oil away from me or my son or his son. I swear to you, by God I'm gonna make you proud of me."

    Their deal leads Gary and Abby to Mexico, while a worried Val frets at home. The obvious Soap Land parallel here is with Blake and Alexis's recent trip to Rome in DYNASTY. There's even an old flame equivalent of Rashid Ahmed along for the ride - Richard, acting in his capacity as lawyer. (This leads to a wonderfully awkward scene where Richard, speaking from experience, tries to warn Gary against getting involved with Abby.) As juicy as the Rome storyline was, what makes this one even better is the complicated nature of the characters.

    Whereas on DYNASTY, there is no doubt that Krystle is an entirely blameless, innocent victim of Alexis's manipulations, Val brings her own history, her own doubts and neuroses to the table. One can see why Gary might feel stifled by her. "You gotta let him breathe, Valene," Lilimae advises. "Stand by your man, not on top of him."

    Gary and Abby share a passionate kiss in Mexico just as Blake and Alexis did in Italy, albeit against the backdrop of a farmyard distillery rather than in the grounds of a sumptuous villa. Preceding both embraces, the woman praises the man's business capabilities. Alexis recalls "a young wildcatter, a young handsome, hungry husband who shouted out to the world, 'I'll show them!' and you did." Abby, meanwhile, excites Gary by looking to his future. "You can do it! You can make this whole thing happen!" she insists.

    While neither Blake's self-belief nor his strengths as a businessman have ever been in question, the uncertainties surrounding Gary's are pivotal to this story. Whereas Val stands as a cautious reminder of his past failures and weaknesses, Abby symbolises his untapped potential. "She affects you in a way that really frightens me," Val admits. The difference between the two women is angrily articulated by Gary in the ep's final scene - while Val is worried that he will become a Ewing like his big brother, "ruthless and miserable", Abby is hoping he will.

    The subject of Ewing identity is also raised in DALLAS. Having bestowed the highest praise possible on his son, calling him "a real Ewing", JR likens Ray to Gary, saying that he "just doesn't have the strength of character of a real Ewing." "I am a Ewing," insists Gary on KNOTS, "I'm Gary Ewing." One of the things I've found so moving on New DALLAS is that the same struggles of family identity that surrounded the original "lesser Ewings", Gary and Ray, are now felt by the new generation of leading men, John Ross and Christopher. (Also, the miniature oil rig we see in John Ross's apartment in 2012 recalls the one JR shows him as a little boy on his first visit to Ewing Oil at the beginning of this week's episode.)

    That there is next to no musical score in this week's KNOTS adds a strangely neutral quality to the fast moving events of the ep - Gary going into partnership with Abby, Gary mortgaging his house without telling his wife. Without music to "comment" on these events, and Gary and Abby insisting that everything is going great, Val and her anxieties seem even more isolated and out of step.

    There is enough music to form a contender for this week's Soap Land Song Wars, however. It's an unidentified track - let's call it "Mighty Long Road" - a real nice country blues song by Charlie Hart, the recording of which Kenny presides over in his studio. It's up against Afton's opening night number at a swanky new club in DALLAS. A sexy, languid cover of the jazz standard "All of Me" as opposed to one of her own compositions, it's my favourite of all her performances. Two strong contenders then, both of which are met with onscreen bemusement - first Kenny's, when he sees that Lilimae, slippery as her elm tea, has managed to infiltrate Charlie's backing group, and then Sue Ellen's, when she walks into the club on Clayton's arm and sees her ex-husband's former mistress up onstage. Things get even more awkward when Sue Ellen realises that Afton is now involved with Cliff, whom she herself is also dating. All this super-soapy tension gives Afton's number the edge over Charlie's.

    But who could have guessed what a charming little double act Lilimae and Kenny make? There's an interesting parallel between Kenny's attitude towards Lilimae in this episode - he's the only character honest enough to tell her how untalented a musician she is - and James Houghton's admission that he couldn't match the excitement of the rest of the cast when Julie Harris joined the show because he wasn't sure who she was.

    This week's FALCON CREST contains Soap Land's most embarrassing moments to date. After a fight with her parents, Vicky decides to leave home so Lance hooks her up with Diana, an aspiring actress who lives in San Francisco. (Not to get bogged down in continuity, but it does seem odd that Vicky would trust Lance so readily just a few weeks after she witnessed him stab her boyfriend with a broken bottle.) Diana immediately starts grooming Vicky to star in a porno film. This is not part of some nefarious scheme of Lance's - the girl just happens to a procurer for the sex trade in the same way that the guy who picked Lucy up in "Hitchhike" just happened to be a gun toting lunatic (or the photographer whom Lucy has recently started modelling for just happens to start stalking her in this week's DALLAS).

    The scene where Vicky attends her first acting class and starts earnestly improvising with the pornographer who is pretending to be her drama coach playing the role of her father is so cringeworthy I had to watch it through my fingers. The sight of Chase posing as an out of town pervert looking for "kinky stuff" was almost as toe curling.

    It's interesting to see how FALCON CREST depicts the real world - full of red lights, inflatable sex dolls and statistics on missing teenagers. The message seems to be that however gothic, twisted or claustrophobic life gets in the Tuscany Valley, the world outside of it is even worse.

    And this week's Soap Land Top 5 are …
    1 (1) KNOTS LANDING
    2 (3) DALLAS
    3 (2) DYNASTY
    4 (5) FALCON CREST
     
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