Is Blake Carrington supposed to be a total prick, or was this completely acceptable behavior for a leading man in 1981?
This was the question I asked myself after watching season one of “Dynasty.” In this article, I’ll be taking a closer look at episodes 1 -3 of Season 1. Eventually, we’ll make it through the whole season; then we can all talk about it together.
Everyone knows the story of “Dynasty:” Krystle Jennings (Linda Evans) marries her boss, Blake Carrington, played by John Forsythe who was 63 years old when the series started, and you can certainly see all 63 of those years. In the early ‘80s a 63-year-old man was certifiably ancient. This did not stop show creators Richard and Esther Shapiro from casting him as the romantic lead. Much can be said about the disappearance of actual adults and adult stories from TV and movies, but for cram sakes, if you look into Blake’s eyes you can practically see him screaming for a sitz bath.
Krystle is a beautiful small-town girl from Ohio who was selected by a dirty old man and bombarded with jewels, coats made of endangered species, and rides in boxy limousines. Falling in love was her only option because deep down she knew that if she rejected Blake he would erase her from civilization.
I feel really bad for Krystle because even though her kindness is as clear as her blue, blue eyes, she strikes me as not being all that bright. She refers to Blake as her Prince Charming (who stormed the beach at Normandy) and talks about living in his castle. It’s all very juvenile especially since, even though Krystle is much younger than Blake, she’s still nearly 40 years old.
By marrying Blake, Krystle becomes the stepmother to his two children from his as-yet-unnamed previous wife. (Alexis doesn’t enter the scene until season 2.) Fallon (Pamela Sue Martin), 25, has returned home for her Daddy’s wedding after gallivanting around Europe. Blake meets her at the gates of the mansion riding a stallion. He’s got her prized filly with him. In order to assert dominance Blake intentionally spooks Fallon’s horse, causing the creature to dump Fallon in the lake. Blake fishes her out and they take an idyllic ride together while Fallon, now stripped of her wet clothes, is wearing only her Daddy’s coat.
From the very beginning, Fallon does everything she can to let Krystle know that she’s not welcome. Fallon isn’t into sharing her silver-haired father with anyone, much less a woman with hair almost as silver as his. Fallon compares Krystle to a cocker spaniel who wears “dime-store perfume.” (Zing! You know Krystle was a Charlie girl.) We know Fallon is a wild child because, in addition to being a bitch, she manages to both drive a sweet vintage roadster and bone Blake’s chauffeur. Also, she sounds alternately bored and infantile when she says “Daddy.”
Meanwhile, Blake’s only son Steven (Al Corley), 23 and also home for the wedding, has been living in New York. Blake pretends he’s not home when the majordomo tells him that Steven has arrived.
Steven is a sensitive soul. When the mincing wedding planner tries to embarrass Krystle with his talk of stephanotis flowers and “Well, which wedding march do you want? The Wagner or the Mendelssohn?” Steven steps in and slaps the dick right out of his mouth. Then he plays some mournful piano and shoots pained looks into the middle distance.
When Blake finally deigns to see his son, he derides Steven for living a soft life in New York, then tells him that he has to come to work at Denver Carrington or be cut off entirely. Steven counters with a well-thought, valid argument that Blake and Denver Carrington have pumped all his money into the Middle East rather than developing America’s oil resources (all of which is entirely true.) Blake scoffs, then baits Steven by saying that he’d heard the same argument from “men he almost respected” and didn’t have to hear it from his own son. Blake caps this off by telling Steven that his opinions and statements of fact don’t matter because he is a “man who puts his hands on another man.”
That’s right, Steven is a homo; though you probably figured that out because he was familiar with classical music and able to out-bitch the professional-queen wedding planner. Also, he doesn’t even sleep without lip gloss.
But it’s not so bad, as Blake is mildly understanding. He tells Steven that he can forgive a little “homosexual experimentation” just as long as it’s left in the gutter where it belongs. No, this is a great time for Steven to come to work for his asshole father and cease to be queer. Steven expresses his skepticism at this idea. Blake puffs up and suggests starting a foundation called The Steven Carrington Institute for the Treatment and Study of Faggotry.”
Again: Is Blake Carrington supposed to be a total prick, or was this completely acceptable behavior for a leading man in 1981?
Do you need more evidence before you are able to make a decision? Consider this: Before Blake began grooming Krystle to rule by his side for all eternity, she had an affair with a craggy younger-ish wildcatter named Matthew Blaisdel (Bo Hopkins) while Matthew’s wife, Claudia (Pamela Bellwood), was in a mental hospital. (Not so sweet now, are you Krys?) Their affair ended a while ago when Matthew had to go to the Middle East in order to earn more money for Claudia’s lithium and shock treatments, but his feelings for Krystle remain, as powerful as a slick and spurting oil well.
Since Blake is an omnipotent man-god he knows all about this dalliance. Rather than be the bigger man about it and sleep easy knowing that he won the ultimate lady prize, Blake sets up a “chance” meeting between Krystle and Matthew at his office. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, especially when Blake practically whips it out and begins pissing all over Krystle to mark her as his own.
Krystle shows her one millimeter of spine and walks out on Blake. On her way out the door she tries to explain why she’s leaving. He tells her that he’s had a really rough day and could she hurry it up.
“Is Blake Carrington supposed to be a total prick, or was this completely acceptable behavior for a leading man in 1981?”
Matthew is a solely unappealing character for the very reason that I can’t stand his crap-lousy face. I hate the way he walks. I hate the way he says “Krystle,” which is frequent. I hate the way the show’s momentum grinds to a deafening halt when the ‘action’ switches to a bunch of dudes hanging around a dry oil rig, waiting to strike black gold. (Then, when they finally did, they all jumped around like idiots who had never seen a celebration before. But I’m jumping ahead.) I hate the way he treats his mentally ill wife. I hate his masculine pride, which I’m assuming is supposed to be admirable, but it’s really not. And did I mention his face?
Matthew was only in season one, due in no small part to my trip on the TARDIS back to the offices of “Dynasty” creators Richard and Esther Shapiro. There I wrote the previous paragraph and sent it as a memo from Richard to Esther and from Esther to Richard, thus resulting in Matthew’s ham-fisted dispatch in the finale episode. However, I must grudgingly thank Matthew and all the filthy extras at the well site for some truly magnificent televisual entertainment. Perhaps this will be the evidence we need to answer the question of Blake’s prickishness.
Matthew’s partner in the oil bid’ness is a man named Walter. Rather than speaking words, Walter communicates via a series of chattering sounds marked with what I can only call “down-homey inflection.” If the crazed look in his eye wasn’t enough to tell you he was totally unhinged then his rapid-fire patois surely would. Also, he has the hair of Bill Clinton’s mom.
On the day of Blake and Krystle’s wedding (of course, she took his ass back, all it took was some goddam flowers), Walter and Matthew discover that someone has sabotaged their oil rig. Everyone assumes that Blake Carrington did it because Blake made it clear he would destroy Matthew and Walter for refusing to sell their measly one rig to Denver Carrington. I think that right there is all the reasonable doubt you need.
Having no other choice, Walter jumps in his Jeep and drives like a maniac until he reaches the Carrington mansion just in time to see the newly anointed bride and groom exit in a shower of rice (back before rice was bad for birds.) Walter leaps from his Jeep and somehow manages not to totally wipe out when his cowboy boots hit the gravel drive. There he accuses Blake of sabotage or at least seems to make noises to that effect.
So what does Blake do?
Blake Carrington, the groom, sets a pair of Dobermans on Walter and stands there while the man is savaged in front of his wedding guests. The production team really got their money’s worth out of those pinschers because the scene goes on about 90 seconds too long.
Blake eventually calls the dogs off and has Walter dragged away, unconscious and bleeding. He turns to his guests and says “Old Walter never was an easy man to do business with!” and laughs the laugh of a soulless man. Then he chastises the guests for not having enough fun at his wedding.
The guests are horrified.
This is when I had to pause the DVD and say, out loud, “How am I supposed to feel about Blake Carrington at this exact moment?”
This is the man that I, the viewer, am looking at through the guileless blue eyes of his new bride, Krystle. She’s the audience’s gateway into this world, and she has now witnessed her husband sic Dobermans on a man who was making a not entirely unfounded accusation. Pile this on top of Blake’s other acts of dickery and, what, we’re supposed to love this man as much as Krystle does?
In the book “Dynasty: The Authorized Biography of the Carringtons,” show co-creator Esther Shapiro describes Blake as “a decision-maker…” who wields real power and who shapes the corporate picture of America.” A man whose “ideology has yielded business triumph after business triumph.”
The final truth, unsurprisingly, is this: I don’t know if Blake Carrington is supposed to be a total prick, or if this was completely acceptable behavior for a leading man in 1981. I hope you’ll join me for the rest of Dynasty Season 1, where we will be exploring this question further.
*Please note that is not Steven Carrington in the photo above. That’s Jeff Colby and I’ll be discussing my feelings toward him next week.
You can email Erin Lady Byrne (firstname.lastname@example.org) or find her on Twitter @ErinLadyByrne where she is currently rereading “The Catch Trap.”