Season 1 of Dynasty has no Joan Collins, no Heather Locklear, and precious little in the way of cat-fights, so before approaching it I was weary that it wouldn't be the high-camp melodrama it later became. But is it any good?
The triple-length premier episode, "Oil", kicks off the series, and even
without any commercials it runs to a whopping 2 and a quarter hours, making it a beast to get through in one sitting. It definitely does drag, however the majority of regulars are set up nicely in it. Oil company Denver-Carrington is established, as run by tyrannical patriarch Blake Carrington, who resides in his fully-staffed extravagant mansion. The episode sees the return to the fold of his children: Fallon - who has been enjoying a jet-set lifestyle of indulgence and casual sex; and Steven - who has just cameback from New York where he was living with, and engaged in romantic relationship with another man, Ted. The final member of the Carrington family we meet in the premier is Krystle, well, rather she is soon to be a family member, as she is to marry Blake. Krystle comes across as the star of the show from the outset, as an outsider entering into this world she is the audience's point of reference, and is easily the heart of the show.
Her ex-beau Matthew Blaizedale is the only other character who makes a
significant impact in the premier, he is set up as a rival to Blake, both
romantically and professionally, as by the end of the episode he has set up a rival company, along with Walter Lankersham - a walking Texan cliche. Matthew's wife Claudia is unfortunately set up poorly here, all we really know about her by the end of the episode is that she's been in hospital recovering from a nervous breakdown, luckily Claudia's character is fleshed out later on in the season, unfortunately, their daughter Lyndsey - a whining teenager who moans alot - won't be.
Over the course of the season, with the exception of Blake, as the
characters become more rounded we are able to sympathise with them in the
difficult situations they encounter. Krystle, Steven and Claudia are easily the most sympathetic characters, they are all likeable and believable, and seem to suffer the most. Krystle never seems to be fully welcomed into the Carrington household, and as such, we can easily understand how she is driven back to Matthew, even though she tries her best at making the marriage to Blake work. Her good-hearted nature gets the best of her and she is always trying to encourage everyone to get along and help each other, and enrages Blake when that nature leads her to pawn an expensive necklace to aid Matthew. Her most difficult moment, and easily the most horrific moment overall of this season, is when Blake violently rapes her in a drunken rage when he discovers her contraceptive pills. Steven's pathos stems from the difficulties he has with his own sexuality, and how he struggles against prejudice from his co-workers and his own father. His confusion leads him into the arms of Claudia, herself feeling dejected from the lack of attention she is receiving from Matthew, and the knowledge that while she was in hospital he engaged in an affair with Krystle. For me,
the sign of how well written all these characters are is that one
sympathises with both Claudia and Matthew, without taking sides, its easy
to see how Matthew would be tempted by another woman while his wife is
suffering a nervous breakdown.
As mentioned before, the one character who doesn't provoke any sympathy
whatsoever, is Blake. Blake is manipulative and self-centred, and every
time you might start feeling sorry for him, it's clear that his actions are not governed by any compassion for anyone else, either pure self-interest or he is playing another game with someone. He seems to treat Krystle as a
possession, she's there to make him look good, to be a trophy wife, and to eventually provide him with another child to replace the two faulty
children he has - his hedonistic daughter and his homosexual son. His
treatment of Krystle reaches its worst with the aforementioned rape, and it is baffling as to how she can forgive him. Blake's violent nature exhibits itself again later in the season, when he attacks Ted after seeing him and Steven hugging, which leads to Ted's death.
Fallon is not as violent or self-centred as her father, but she does
inherit his manipulative streak. Fallon is still a sympathetic character
however, as her machinations are driven by a desire to please her father,
rather than for her own personal gain. Unfortunately for others, she has
few qualms about who she uses to do that. She marries Jeff Colby so that
his uncle Cecil (another Oil baron) will bail Blake out, even though she is actually more attracted to Cecil himself, and after marrying Jeff she still continues to sleep with Michael (Blake's chaffeur). The drama snowballs in the last few episodes, especially once we reach Ted's death and the subsequent trial.
Any doubts I had about Dynasty's first season were thankfully unfounded, as whilst it may have been lacking in glamorous over-the-top cat-fights, it proved itself to be an utterly compelling and engaging series that truly had me on edge as to what would happen next.