Kill me once, shame on you. Kill me twice...eh, who cares?
For the Week of April 14, 2008
Killing a character on a soap opera is a lot like retiring a professional wrestler. Both events occur to further a storyline and, if appropriate, the character can also return to further the storyline.
I'm about to make a comparison that many of you might find odd. However, I promise it makes sense, so just bear with me for a minute. In professional wrestling, wrestlers retire all the time. I can't tell you how many matches I've seen that have one guy put his career on the line against another guy, only to lose and be forced to retire. Maybe the good guy triumphs over the bad guy, who is booed out of the arena by fans happy to see the jerk hit the road. Or maybe the bad guy is the victor, thereby sending the good guy packing and furthering the villain's reputation as someone you don't want to trifle with.
Unfortunately, such matches often mean nothing. One wrestler "retired" in February of 1999 only to make a comeback the very next month. He lost again, which meant he had to retire again -- only to return repeatedly over the next several years. Even the wrestler's most diehard followers eventually reached a point of complete apathy toward their one-time-hero's returns. "Oh, so-and-so is coming back? I wonder who's going to 'retire' him this time."
Killing a character on a soap opera is a lot like retiring a professional wrestler. Both events occur to further a storyline and, if appropriate, the character can also return to further the storyline. But here's the thing: if you're going to kill a character (or retire a wrestler), it really has to mean something. There must be consequences worthy of the character's death.
All My Children saw a stunning resurrection in the form of Jesse Hubbard earlier this year. Despite his popularity, many fans are still having trouble accepting Jesse's return. "He died onscreen," they say. "Tad saw his spirit," they point out. "He helped guide Gillian Andrassy Lavery to Heaven," they cry. Yes, he did all of these things -- but he's alive. Why? To lead criminal mastermind Robert Gardner to a stash of valuable diamonds, that's why. Robert Gardner and his flunkies orchestrated Jesse's pseudo-death so they could interrogate and subsequently persuade Mr. Hubbard to lead them to the diamond stash.
Problem is, Jesse's death may have been faked, but it certainly seemed real at the time, didn't it? Jesse's spirit did appear on a number of occasions, and not all of them have been properly explained. Tad's vision of his former friend is easy enough: he hallucinated. Bam, there you go. It's not the best fix in the world, but it's fair and plausible enough. What about Gillian, though? Gillian, who died so violently that her spirit needed help transitioning to the great golden kingdom in the sky. I remember Jesse Hubbard's angelic form clearly, so how are you going to explain that, O Powers That Be?
Maybe they won't. Maybe things will continue on as if these other-worldly events never happened, although I assure you, they most certainly did. But that's fine. Okay, writers, you faked Jesse's death. I believe you. I'm happy to have the character back, I'm happy he's been re-united with his soul mate, and I'm enjoying Jesse's interaction with Thaddeus, so I'll let you get away with it -- this time.
And that's the crux of the issue right there: "this time." If Darnell Williams (Jesse Hubbard) should choose not to renew his contract when it expires in 2012, there will be a huge backlash if his exit is dictated by death. If you kill a character too many times, people will start to lose interest in his constant demises. As we've already stated, a character's death -- especially a popular character -- should have impact. Not shock value -- impact. If you kill a character over and over, there will be no impact; thus, the deaths will all have been for nothing.
You want an example of a key character's death that was done purely for shock value? Dixie Cooney Martin. Dixie was killed for no other reason than to show viewers that no one was safe. New characters, legacy characters, in-between-veteran-and-new characters... everyone was fair game to the Satin Slayer. Yes, there were behind-the-scenes reasons for Cady McClain's (Dixie's) exit, but we won't discuss those here because quite frankly, they're not important. She was died to send a message to Pine Valley's population, but unfortunately, the message got lost in the mail. Why? Because Dixie's death had no impact. It was shock value, nothing more.
While we're on the subject of the Satin One, let's look deeper into Alex Cambias, Senior's return. I like that Alex was the one who came back to haunt his eldest son. It provided Zach with closure for what happened between him and his father, and it also did an excellent job of why Zach feels compelled to save every damsel in distress who happens across his path.
My problem with Alex Senior's return doesn't have to do with why he was resurrected; it was with how he was resurrected. Simply, there are certain deaths that cross the point of no return. Alex not only died, he was cremated. A lot of super glue and copious amounts of patience wouldn't have been enough to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, and yet there he was, very much alive and looking to teach his former heir a lesson.
Let's go back to Dixie for a minute. Dixie died. Dixie had a funeral. Dixie is occasionally mentioned by Tad and JR. Otherwise, nothing. Zip. Nada. No repercussions from the death of a character that, love her or hate her, is instrumental in Pine Valley's history. In fact, the only character killed by the Satin Slayer that was mourned at all was Erin Lavery. Her death devastated Jonathan, and his grief resulted in growth for Jonathan's character.
So what if Dixie comes back? Good call, I say. Her death was a travesty and should be rectified. But if she comes back as a flesh-and-blood, walking-and-talking mortal, she absolutely cannot die again. Unless she dies in bed as an old lady, that's it. How does the saying go? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. We've been fooled twice, writers; we won't be fooled again.
The first time Dixie died was off-screen. Fair enough. Her body was never found, so yeah, okay, she can come back -- but that's still one death. She returned and was killed yet again, this time by poisoned pancakes. We saw her die in Tad's arms, but what does that matter? Jesse died in Angie's arms, and yet here he is, walking proud, cracking jokes, and living life all over again.
I believe that ABC Daytime wants to save All My Children. I believe they accurately see it as a show that is pivotal to history of the corporation and to soaps, and are thus trying to bring fan favorites (such as Jesse) back to the show's canvas in order to give the audience something to smile about. That's fine, but you'd better be careful how often you do it.
There are tons of characters that have died over the show's 38 years on the air, and yes, I'd love to see many of them return: Dixie Martin, Jenny Gardner, Gillian Andrassy Lavery, Leo du Pres.... I would love to see these and many others return, but in many cases, it's just not a good idea. You've fooled us once in many cases, Powers That Be, so shame on us. But do it too often, shame on you.
Once Upon a Time
"All My Flashbacks" continued this week on AMC, and it could not have been put to better use. On Thursday, 4/10, viewers gathered in front of their television sets for Jesse's Story Hour, a trip down memory lane that was easily the highlight of a fantastic week of episodes. As I said last week, flashbacks should be used to tie the show's past to its present and, ultimately, its future. Listening to Jesse tell the tale of "Jenny Junior's" (let's hope she doesn't insist on being called JR when she's older!) namesake was a brilliant way to tie a current character to a crucial part of the show's legacy.
The You-Know-What is About to Hit the Fan
On Friday, 4/11, AMC ended with a cliffhanger most of us have been anticipating since this past Christmas. Zach knows about the one-night stand, and now that he and Kendall are home alone, it's time for a confrontation. I'm excited to see the fallout from this horrific plot-driven drivel for one reason: Thorsten Kaye (Zach). Thorsten is the rarest breed of actor, one who is so gifted that he is able to say more with his eyes than any of us mere mortals could ever hope to say with our mouths.
The scenes will be intense, and I'm looking forward to one of my all-time favorite couples hashing out their problems without any outside interference: no Ryan, no Annie, no Aidan, no Greenlee. Just Zach and Kendall, which is exactly the way it should be.
I'm quite happy that Annie didn't intentionally spill the beans about Aidan and Kendall's twist. Annie has recently returned to her strong, independent roots, so I was alarmed and dismayed when she tried to seduce Aidan a couple of weeks back. Thankfully she got over that quickly. We have enough petty, catty females on this show and are sorely missing moral, self-reliant ones. I'm glad Annie still falls into the latter category.
Gotta admit, though: I'd take great pleasure in Annie blab to Greenlee about the one-night stand. I love Greenlee, but her treatment of Annie has been horrible in recent weeks. It would be nice to see the tables turn.
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