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Falcon Crest's Jane Wyman

Falcon Crest's Jane Wyman

FALCON CREST
FALCON CREST: TV's Most Shocking Moment!

by Cary O'Dell

To me, this veteran TV watcher, it was the most epic, memorable moment in television history.  Forget the moon-landing (before my time anyway)!  Forget the Oscar "going to" "La La Land"!  For me, nothing compares to the season two finale of CBS's primetime soap "Falcon Crest."

Let me set the stage...

For the epoch of the primetime soap, so dominate during the 1980s that it has largely come to define the entire era, two shows (soaps) stick out:  "Dallas" and "Dynasty."  Yet, for as good and as popular as they were, they were actually eclipsed in quality by two other soaps, also both long-running, but mostly existing in those programs's shadows:  "Knots Landing" (a "Dallas" spin-off) and "Falcon Crest" (which followed "Dallas" on Friday nights for the majority of its run).

Falcon Crest's Jane WymanIn regard to the latter, "Falcon Crest" starred Jane Wyman, Susan Sullivan, Robert Foxworth, David Selby, Abby Dalton, Lorenzo Lamas, Jamie Rose and Margaret Ladd.  Later, the series would welcome John Saxon, Lana Turner, Simon MacCorkindale, Sarah Douglas, Cliff Robertson and others.  The series was set in California's Napa Valley with wine, not oil, as the industry at the center of all this family drama.

"Falcon Crest" ran from 1981 to 1990.  Season two--yes, season two!--began with a bang, of sorts.  "Crest," no doubt, had learned a little something from "Dallas" who had, of course, hit ratings and cultural gold with their "Who shot J.R.?" storyline the year before.

So...season two in the vineyard saw Carlos Agretti (played by Carlos Romero), the biggest business rival of the show's Queen Bee (Angela Channing played by Wyman), gunned down.  But unlike the resilient J.R., Carlos was dead.  Hence, a whodunit was afoot!     

Who killed Carlos? was one of the major plots of season two as was the love triangle of Lance Cumson (grandson of Angela; played by Lorenzo Lamas), his new (and pregnant...but not my Lance!) wife Melissa (the DAUGHTER OF CARLOS!; played by the exception Ana-Alicia) and Lance's cousin Cole (played by William R. Moses).  Ah, soap opera! 

Clues to the central mystery persisted throughout the season.  As I recall, it was never fully telegraphed to the audience when the culprit would be unmasked.  But the producers seemed to know what they were doing--don't drag this on too long (an issue that often befell "Dyansty's" plotting; remember that kidnapped Krystal up in the attic storyline?) and ending the season with the big reveal that would keep fans talking through the summer.

Though I was a devotee of the show, frankly, I don't know if I was expecting too much with the solution to this murder mystery.  Though a mere lad at the time, I had been a TV watcher long enough to know what to expect...and not expect.  Usually, these big, series-based TV mysteries could be a little anti-climantic.  The killer always turned out to be some minor supporting player who had only been around for a few episodes in just the last few weeks. 

I mean consider Who Killed J.R.:  that turned out to be Kristin, J.R.'s sister-in-law and mistress.  Granted, Kristin (played by Mary Crosby) had been around for a while but was never a MAJOR character and she could, after being ID-ed, be vanished pretty quickly from the show without upsetting the whole equalirium of the series.

Among the reasons for this TV truism is that, on TV at least, we demand justice!  If someone is guilty of a felony like murder or attempted murder, they have to go to jail...and hence be written out of the series.  Yes, Sue Ellen,  J.R.'s much put-upon wife, had a reason to shoot her husband but we all knew that Linda Gray, the actress who played Sue Ellen, wasn't going anwhere. 

Regular, "OG" cast members never going anyway is why so many TV cliff-hangers often fall flat.  For example, those who survived "Dynasty's" famous (and stunning choregraphed) 1985 Moldovian massacre wasn't much of a mystery since, by the time the series returned in the fall, it had already been leaked to the press about which performers weren't coming back.  Bye, Ali MacGraw; bye, young Billy Campbell playing Steven's boyfriend.

But, then, the end of season two of "Falcon Crest" happened....  And that killer got revealed in the final moments of the final episode of that season...and that killer was....Julia Cumson played by Abby Dalton!  (Julia had had an affair with Carlos who was about to take possession of the Falcon Crest vinyard and, well, that just cannot happen...)

So Julia did the deed. 

WHAT?!!

Falcon Crest's Abbie DaltonJulia Cumson (eldest daughter of Angela Channing) was one of the show's MAJOR characters.  And Abby Dalton had been on the show since the start of it!  Abby Dalton was even in the OPENING CREDITS! 

WHAT?!  I say it again, WHAT!?

Granted, as mentioned, this originally aired when I was bit younger and maybe more impressionable.  But still...this was not supposed to happen!  The killer is not supposed to be someone big enough and important enough to the show to be in the opening credits!

Immediately after Julia was revealed as the killer, I was, truthfully, in disbelief.  Had I just seen what I just saw?  I was SMH before I knew what SMH was.  And, remember, these were the days before Twitter and Facebook and even show-based chatrooms.  There was no place to go to verify, to confirm, to discuss.  Even--yes--the next morning, I was still processing it all. 

Abby Dalton as the killer was a shock to the system, one I have never forgotten. 

Then, surprisingly, when the series resumed in the fall, Dalton was still with the series (and the opening credits) and Julia was put on trial.  Then she was found to be insane and sent to a mental hospital.  But then...she escaped from the hospital and went on the run!  The producers of the show found a life for Julia even after making her a murderer.

It is a credit to the "FC" writers and producers to dare to do something so unexpected, so radical and ground-shifting.  And it's a credit to actress Dalton for upending her character and (eventually) her role within the show in such a revolutionary manner.  And in keeping Dalton's character around it also upended various narrative rules--killers don't always get their comeuppance, at least not right away.

Since the days of "Falcon Crest," I have continued to watch too much TV and have seen many a plot twist that has left me speechless--from some big reveal moments on MTV's "Catfish" to the (no spoilers!) last two episodes of the most recent season of "Ozark."  But in terms of sheer shock value, I'm not sure anything has ever rivaled that episode of "Crest."  And perhaps nothing else ever will.  For me, it was a true memorable moment, and an example of brava TV show storytelling.  And, frankly, I still can't believe it!

 

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