The first people to appear onscreen in the series premiere of Dynasty, Josh Schwartz’s modernized remake of the classic show, are the Trumps: Donald, Ivanka, Tiffany, Trump Junior, and Eric are at a ribbon cutting ceremony. This is followed by a shot of the Kardashians.
I take this as a declaration of intent: Like Gossip Girl and The OC before it, the latest Josh Schwartz creation is going to be about rich people. But this time it’s not those quiet, repressed, Emily Gilmore-type rich people who seem to throw big parties precisely in order to avoid having scenes. These are rich people who throw parties in order to have more witnesses when they do make a scene. These are rich people for the age of reality TV! We aren’t on the Upper East Side anymore, baby.
In a voiceover, a woman’s voice tells us that “Carrington Atlantic,” a power company, is the company that has its fingers in every pie. Today, apparently, is the day she expects her father to hand over this company. She has a confident, brash, New York-y voice that fits perfectly with the Trump-Kardashian vibe.
When we first see her (her name, as we will learn later, is Fallon Carrington), she’s in an airport bar, sucking an olive off a cocktail pick and complaining about some “mansplainers” she meets there who accidentally spill key information about a company that’s going under, named Windbriar, because they think she’s a stewardess. We are to gather from this that the show is in on the joke; it may be all about trashy rich people fighting over their ill-gotten wealth, but it also knows enough to make winking complaints about things like mansplaining and white privilege.
Meanwhile, Fallon’s brother Steven, once the favored child, is protesting to protect a Native American burial ground that their father wanted to frack, but luckily, he still has a phone with great reception that he can use to video-call Fallon with. She persuades him to come home.
Back at home, Fallon’s father (Blake Carrington, who she informs us in a voiceover is “kind of old school,” with a verbal nod in the direction of old-white-boys’-clubs) is patiently listening to the ideas of one “Ms. Flores,” aka Cristal, who thinks their ads should focus on social initiatives like training underprivileged kids to code, everyone’s favorite capitalism-friendly charitable endeavor these days. Blake points out that Cristal is clearly saying he’s out of touch, which she limply denies.
There follow two scenes intercut with each other: Fallon struts off a private plane and is greeted in a highly familiar manner by Michael, the chauffeur, who goes down on her in the back of the limo while she wears his hat and rambles about her ambitions. Meanwhile, Cristal is summoned to Blake Carrington’s home office, in his giant boarding-school-sized mansion, and is greeted by none other than Alan Dale, who once played the patriarch of a different Josh Schwartz-created dynasty, Caleb Nichol, and now plays Blake’s slightly crabby butler.
When Cristal arrives home, she is delighted to see her brother Steven, who shames her gently for her use of a private plane but gives her a big hug. He admits he was summoned by their father and says, “Maybe he’s dying,” with entirely too sunny a smile. Fallon stalks off towards Blake’s office, only to discover him fully horizontal with Cristal. After a rather retrograde and, in light of what’s going on in the world this week, somewhat unfortunate joke from Fallon about how Cristal’s “looking for a promotion,” Cristal quickly tucks herself back in and smiles sweetly as Blake introduces her to his kids as… dun dun dun… his fiancée.
Of course, we all knew that was coming from the show’s logline, so it doesn’t have all that much oomph going into the first commercial break, but at least the clothes are cute and Steven is a delight.
In a giant sunroom, everyone is served fancy cocktails by a faceless peon while Fallon stares dubiously at Cristal and makes graceless references to “all [Blake’s] girlfriends.” Even Steven rolls his eyes when Blake starts explaining the origin of their epic romance. Fallon just says, “It’s only an engagement. Anything can happen,” before storming off. Cristal is left alone with the only sane member of the family, Steven, but as soon as he expressess urprise she says pathetically, “He really didn’t mention we were dating?” Oh, honey. You are not ready for this family. I’ve only known them for eight minutes and twenty seconds and I can tell that. Cristal apparently was the one who asked Blake to call Steven, because “family is everything.” Well, sure. It worked for those guys in The Godfather.
By the way, the Carringtons have horses. We know this because Fallon and Blake have decided to continue their argument while surveying the giant meadow where their horses roam. Blake realizes that Fallon thought she was getting the COO spot, and Fallon tries to impress him by giving him her dirt on Windbriar. Blake just says she’s not going to scare Cristal off.
Fallon, pissed, goes off to interrupt Michael’s work in the garage with her complaints about her dad. Michael gives her a tip about her dad bidding on the Braves (presumably a sports team, going by its semi-offensive name, but I definitely can’t be bothered to google it) and says he doesn’t need anything in return, because he makes two hundred grand a year and is banging his boss’s daughter. Classy. Fallon asks him to find out all about Cristal. This should go great.
Cristal is out with friends doing what women always do on TV shows, which is hold out their hands and marvel over the diamonds thereon. Said friends may have names, but they’re really pretty much there to provide exposition. Apparently, Cristal has been in a relationship with someone named Matthew who was never going to leave his wife, but she also loves Blake because he’s worldly. OK then. Just as Cristal’s bragging that she “can’t be bought,” a bottle of champagne shows up from Blake. The other women are psyched.
Steven and Blake have a super awkward encounter in yet another fancy sitting room, where Blake is doing work. He semi-graciously offers to Steven that he can stay as long as he likes, and Steven smiles genuinely as he says he really likes Cristal. Then his dad says that he’s come across an opportunity to get involved with renewable energy, which is apparently what Steven has always wanted. This is Windbriar, which of course is the lead that Fallon already provided.
Somewhere out on the town, Cristal has given in to the forces of nostalgia and champagne and showed up at a construction site where her ex-boyfriend is working in the middle of the night so they can have a private talk in the front seat of his car. Apparently she never even told him she was dating Blake? Or she was dating them both but didn’t tell him she was getting engaged? Or something? Anyway, she says good-bye, he kisses her on the forehead, and this very scandalous scene is captured on film by Michael.
The next morning, Cristal and Blake are rolling around in the sheets when he asks why she was out so late and she makes a super obvious “I’m lying” face before saying she lost track of time what with all the champagne and her friends. After she struts off in her silk pajamas to get coffee, he finds the pics from Michael on his phone. DUN DUN DUN.
Cristal arrives in the kitchen to find Cranky Butler overseeing a giant operation in which all other paid staff is busily covering every surface with empty champagne glasses. Cristal is shocked to learn that there will be 190 people at the event and that it won’t be outside but in the ballroom. She pulls Cranky Butler aside and says her friends are going to make fun of her if they learn her house has an actual ballroom. She demands wildflowers, Bowie on Spotify, and an outside event. Cranky Butler is cranky. Steven wanders by to make an unremarkable quip, which seems to be a large part of his role here.
At home, Matthew is pouring coffee in his much more prosaic kitchen when a sad-looking blonde woman comes in and says some morose things about thirteen being an unlucky number. Just then a woman arrives to take care of her and sends Matthew on his way. Meanwhile, Matthew gets a call on his cell from Carrington’s number.
Cristal is posing for some professional snaps out in the Alice-in-Wonderland-style garden when the photographer says something about getting more light on her face. “Which one?” Fallon snarks. Do you get it though? Blake tells her in an aside that he has a strategy, just before Matthew shows up. Carrington elaborately pretends to introduce them, and they pretend not to know each other. Carrington toys with them for a bit, then kisses Cristal deeply to mark his territory and pulls Matthew aside. Fallon, who isn’t exactly the subtlest shade in the Sephora gift set, ruins the game by emphatically mentioning Matthew’s wife to poor Cristal, who is beginning to catch on to the web woven around her.
At a fancy martini bar, Steven tries gamely to pitch a be-suited Windbriar exec, who asks what exactly Steven does at Carrington. Steven admits that he protested against Carrington’s energy policy, and is kind of the black sheep. The Windbriar exec, who also loves renewable energy, is charmed by Steven’s admission. Maybe a little too charmed. His right knee, in particular, is now expressing this charmed feeling up against Steven’s left knee. Steven extricates himself from the situation with a handshake, only to find a much cuter, younger, naughtier-looking dude behind him who is also charmed by Steven.
Meanwhile, Fallon is working with cheerful industriousness to make dinner with her father and future stepmother (and two paid staff) as awkward as possible. She would like her father to know that she’s seeing a former employee and rival named Jeff Colby that night. Blake calls him a “charity case,” by which I suppose we’re meant to hear “black.”
Just then Steven arrives to make things even more awkward. He’s mad about being set up with the Windbriar guy, which makes Fallon mad since she gave her dad the Windbriar tip. Unfortunately, Windbriar is situated on a lot of frackable land, which kind of ruins Steven’s interest in the deal. Fallon, ticked off, informs Cristal that her dad “is a genius at making you feel like he’s acting in your best interest when really, it’s all about him.”
Left alone with Blake, Cristal decides to join the well-deserved Blake pile-on. She calls him out on bringing Matthew around to manipulate her, and not believing her when she said it was over. Then she says, echoing Fallon, “It’s only an engagement,” and tells him to figure it out: “You’re Blake Effing Carrington.” Somehow that doesn’t have quite the same ring as “Because I’m Chuck Bass,” does it? But then, maybe I’m biased. Meanwhile, Cranky Butler listens from behind the door, pleased as punch to see the engagement in peril.
That night, outside the estate, Michael pulls double duty: Waiting around in his chauffeur uniform to be put to work by Blake, and performing emotional labor by listening to Fallon’s problems even as she waits to be picked up by her date for the night, Jeff Colby. Michael seems to like her, but this must be SO tiresome, right? And it can’t be that fun to watch her sail off on her date with Jeff Colby right before his eyes, like he’s just a sex toy with no feelings. His smile shows a definite waver there. I’m hoping he has a secret evil plan that we’ll learn about halfway through season one.
Back at the hotel, Steven picks up two keys: one for him and one for his new young friend from the bar.
Fallon’s out with Jeff Colby, who tries to flirt: “No matter how many zeroes in my bank account, the hottest girl from high school never loses her mystique.” But Fallon’s more interested in helping her dad buy this sports team by teaming up with Colby. The conversation devolves into some fairly juvenile puns on “getting off.” Let’s not go into it.
In the morning, Blake shows up alone at Cristal’s door to apologize. She’s a little shirty at first, but lets him in, and we learn that she wears impractical silk pajamas when she’s at home alone, too. We also learn that she’s doing work this Sunday, because unlike Fallon she actually does expect to earn her salary. Speaking of Fallon, Cristal learns from Blake that it was Fallon who sent him the pictures of her and Matthew. She’s not pleased, but Blake has an idea.
At the hotel, Steven is finishing up what seems to have been a very fun morning with his paramour. Sadly, the paramour can’t resist the giant pile of fifties in Steven’s pants when Steven goes to take a shower.
Back at the Carrington estate, macarons and flowers are being strewn everywhere, along with a giant pink wedding cake. When Fallon figures out what’s going on, she gets a truly dire look on her face and busts in on Cristal getting dressed in a modern, Zac Posen-style white dress. Fallon, somewhat hilariously, waits till Cristal turns around to look at her and then bites the head off the little cake topper she apparently stole from the cake and chews it real slow. That’s like next-level deranged right there. Even the naughty twin from The Parent Trap couldn’t have thought of that. Cristal, bless her heart, says, “Thanks to your stalking, your dad and I are closer than ever.” Someone this naive is bound to be very, very disappointed by season’s end. But she does have a trump card: Blake has offered her the COO position.
Now Fallon’s pissed. She tears the giant shoulder ruffle right off of Cristal’s dress, and they start going at it like jungle animals. Cristal, being such a hard worker and all, easily bests Fallon, and says coolly while holding Fallon’s ineffective wrist, “Please. Call me Mom.” Heh. Steven and Cranky Butler arrive just in time to witness this, and cock their heads in bemusement at the tableau. Fallon stalks off to lick her wounds in private, and Cristal calmly tucks in the ripped end of her shoulder strap so her dress still looks almost like it’s supposed to look that way.
Fallon straightens her hair in the mirror while Steven tries to talk her down from the ledge. She rants that family businesses are supposed to be dynasties. “Wives… they come and go.” Steven goes in for a little pop psychology about how Fallon wants to replace their mom. Fallon says that the company is the most important thing to Blake, and that’s why he should be giving it to her. Steven advises her, “Change the game. Or don’t play at all.”
In a sort of throwaway scene, Matthew shows up to Windbriar with a business partner and a bunch of trucks to test the ground, promising Mr. Handsy Exec that he’ll only use the tests to get Blake to pony up. But he mutters an aside to his partner that this is his last job for Carrington.
Back at the Estate, a string quartet plays languidly while Cranky Butler welcomes guests with champagne. Fallon’s friend, Jeff’s sister, shows up with Jeff and Jeff agrees to talk about the Braves deal. Fallon suggests this be in the poolhouse in an hour. Ahh, the poolhouse. What fond OC memories this brings me.
Blake announces to all his guests that the wedding is today, and Cristal goes outside to marvel at the decorations. Steven reveals that Cranky Butler didn’t do it; their dad did. We see Cristal dancing kookily up the aisle with her two bridesmaids (and I come to the horrifying realization that her somewhat cute dress is actually a hideous wide-legged pantsuit). Fallon smirks from the sidelines, but Steven stands up beside his dad and offers, literally while Cristal is walking up the aisle, to be best man. Next thing you know, Blake’s putting a hideous square diamond the size of my pinky toe on Cristal’s finger, and the guests escape happily to cocktail hour.
Steven and Cristal, who are forming a delightful little step-family bond, clink glasses and exchange a few friendly words. Then Steven’s one-night stand shows up, looking absolutely horrified to realize that Steven is there. Apparently he’s Cristal’s nephew, Sammy Joe. Stepcousincest! Yay! The men try to cover up their awkwardness by claiming that they “crossed paths” last night, like OK, if by paths you mean penises.
Cristal pulls Sammy Joe aside and calls him out on crossing penises with Steven. There’s also some kind of cryptic conversation about whether the people at the party know about Sammy Joe. I would be curious, but I don’t actually care about any of these people yet, except Steven.
The Carrington’s pool house has an actual pool table in it, so it turns out Fallon and Jeff are playing a little game of pool while they discuss the Braves deal. Colby agrees that Carrington could have his name on the stadium like Fallon wants, but then he has to walk away. Fallon changes the conversation all of a sudden, insisting that she wants to be known by her own name, not her father’s.
Out at Windbriar, Matthew is troubleshooting a truck that’s stopped working when all of a sudden the whole thing totally blows up and shoots fire everywhere. Matthew is just hurt, not killed, and he’s sitting up in a daze when one of the windmill blades gets detached from its post and flies right at his face.
Well, this is probably the most gratuitously silly death scene I’ve seen since ER’s Romano got squished by that helicopter.
Back at the Estate, ominous music plays as the “kissing bells” ring for Cristal and Blake. She explains that it’s a superstition, that the ringing will scare away the devil.
Meanwhile, Matthew, who’s still alive despite having been knocked flat by an explosion and mauled by a flying windblade, begs with his dying breath for his partner to call Cristal. The partner chooses the path of discretion and yells to call Matthew’s wife, Claudia. Fair enough.
Back at the estate, Blake and Cristal kiss and declare they’re going to live happily ever after. The irony may be lost on you, because it’s very subtle.
Cristal throws her bouquet, which Steven catches; he looks nonplussed, but like, if you didn’t want to catch it you should do what I do and hide in the bathroom when the ugly ritual starts, you know? Meanwhile, Jeff and Fallon brag about having moved on Windbriar. Fallon’s going to be chief executive of Carrington Windbriar, her own company, with Jeff’s backing. (Unclear why she doesn’t have her own trust fund to back this.) Fallon says it’s going to be her own company, with her name, and his rival. “Actually, it’s my name,” Blake says, which instantly seals him at the top of my enemies list forever. Uh, dude? If it’s not her name because it’s your name, then it’s NOT YOUR NAME EITHER, it’s the name of whatever British ancestor first inherited the duchy of Carring or whatever. I hate patriarchy. Ugh.
Back at Matthew’s house, Claudia picks up the phone. End of scene. Uh… OK then? Thanks for showing us that?
As the wedding winds down, we see that Sammy Joe has brought a suitcase and invited himself to stay at the estate. Wow, bold move. Then, in an even bolder move, he thanks Steven for not saying anything about his stealing money out of Steven’s pants earlier. Steven hadn’t even noticed, and astonishingly, he isn’t even mad. He just wants to know why Sammy Joe lied about him. Is Steven, like, on something? Whatever it is, he should grind up a little bit in Fallon’s morning mimosa.
Speaking of whom, she’s catching Michael up on her very exciting overprivileged life when Jeff rudely interrupts and Michael, knowing his place, kind of backs off in resignation. Jeff orders a drink from him, but Michael corrects calmly that he’s the chauffeur. Jeff then demands a ride from Michael so that they can go out to drinks. Fallon doesn’t even make a token effort to stop this from happening, though she does have the grace to look embarrassed. Michael should throw a windmill at all of these people.
Finally, Cristal descends the staircase in a very twee little traveling outfit and hat, and Cranky Butler reveals that he’s run a background check on her. “I know everything,” he says. DUN DUN DUN. Before we can find out any more, Blake arrives to escort Cristal off to their honeymoon, to the cheers of the crowd. Just then, Claudia shows up, screaming wildly that Blake killed her husband.
This show managed to get itself a lot of buzz about being “feminist,” because the women are fighting over jobs instead of men. But it’s not feminist in any way I recognize; it’s more a fantasy, about women becoming full participants in the same exploitative power structure that rich white men do. And the racial dynamics among the characters are totally fucked up. That said, on the extremely superficial level of fantasizing about professional success, watching Fallon come into her own is kind of fun.
Like a lot of pilots, this one piled on a whole crapload of plots, essentially throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. And there’s definitely plenty to look forward to in the next episode; we can expect to see Fallon’s rivalry with Blake and Cristal heat up, as well as drama around Matthew’s death and whatever secret Cristal is hiding. But I think I’m more excited to see the outfits and the insults than I am to find out what happens.
And what I really want to see is character development. Something more than the facile analysis of character that Steven provided to explain Fallon’s sociopathy, that their mother left so she desperately needs to be all things to all people. No one-hour pilot can get to in-depth character development for a cast of characters as wide as this one, of course. But a little bit more subtlety, a little bit more respect for the viewers and willingness to treat the characters like complex beings with more than one personality trait apiece, would be swell. It remains to be seen if the frenetic pace manages to slow long enough for the viewers to fall in love with the characters.
We’ll definitely keep watching and recapping, though. So stay tuned for a recap of next week’s episode!