So here's the thing: I'm not going to be that funny tonight. (In case you ever thought I was funny. We should probably tell you now there are no refunds.) Don't really have it in me. I'm in an awkward position here. I mean, we have a week's worth of perfectly reasonable One Life to Live to discuss, right? Lots of things happened. Viki began the hunt for Tess, Marty remembered Cole, Nora saved Clint's bacon, Adriana skedaddled, John zeroed in on his prey, Starr went into labor, and Tess left Natalie and Jared with one hell of a parting gift. Sure, lots of stuff happened. I even enjoyed watching a decent amount of it. Even when I do not like an overall storyline, such as the Tess caper, I can admire the writing and dramatic material in individual episodes, and I felt a lot of the "meat" that went into the Tess story this week was very solid, tense, nailbiting stuff. I loved Charlie and Viki reconnecting; I loved Dorian communing with Mel; I even liked Cole talking to his mother, not knowing how close she really was. So, tell me something: How come all I can think about is next week?
This is your first disclaimer, and there will be another. All of the above storylines will be discussed, hopefully with the slim modicum of humor and lightness that I can muster right now. But after we're through talking about everything from this week, a large portion of this Two Scoops column will be taken up with discussing a future development in next week's episodes. This major "spoiler" has preyed on my mind since it hit the daytime press, as I'm sure it has for many of you, and though next week is not my turn on "Two Scoops," I feel compelled to discuss it with you now. I have been given special dispensation by my very accommodating editor-in-chief to discuss the events of next week, as a kind of preemptive strike; I had worried that he would say no to my unorthodox request, but instead, he felt that my not discussing it was "not really an option." I feel the same way. So here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to write about this week's shows, and then there will be a cutoff point for the remainder of this column, a sort of "Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here." Beyond that point, which will be highlighted for you, I will be discussing several major spoilers for next week's episodes as they relate to a particular storyline. If you don't want to know what happens, don't read beyond the cutoff point. If, on the other hand, you do know, or want to know, you may read on. I'm not going to tell you how to feel about what is coming to One Life to Live. I am going to tell you how I feel about it, and why I feel as I do. The rest is your business.
So: Tess. If it's a female fugitive from the law, do we still call it a "manhunt?" Is that too phallocentric? It certainly seems like it to me. Anyway. Tess is still on the loose, but the circle is rapidly closing for her. She's got dynamite and she's got bad abdominal contractions, never a good mix! I have never been one to sympathize with Tess; I never much cared for when OLTL used to overly "characterize" Jessica and Viki's alters to try to show them to be well-rounded, three-dimensional people, because the truth is, they're not. Tess, like Niki, Jean, etc. is merely a fragment of a whole person. Tess has little to no empathy for anything outside of herself, and she's been cutting a bloody swath across Llanview since she first appeared to us at the very end of 2004. That's why I never bought into Dena Higley's attempts to overly romanticize the character, keeping her frontburner with Jessica locked inside, to the point where I seriously feared Jess was never coming back. Tess, in her own way, does love Nash and Bree, but she can never understand love, because she can't understand empathy, or right and wrong. To me, she will always be the madwoman who happily torched R.J.'s apartment or gave Viki a stroke. Her actions this week proved to me that she will never be made of anything but rage and pain - when Natalie foolishly invoked Nash's name at just the wrong moment, Tess decided to go it alone by rationalizing that that's what Nash would want her to do; she equated Nash's idea of "having it all" in life with her being able to both murder her family and give birth to that family's latest arrival safely. If Tess truly understood Nash or his wishes, she would never have started this, but Tess only understands the world according to Tess. I have virtually no sympathy for her character, such as it is; what I sympathize with about her is that, for all her sex, drugs, and murder, Tess is still just an angry little girl who can't understand basic human concepts. Judging by spoilers, my theory may be driven home next week, as Tess leans on the only person who truly relates to her.
Incidentally, Natalie and Jared were sweet in what little time they got this week. Jared's willingness to die for her, to put her first, just keeps him in my cool books. Plus, he looks really hot in that t-shirt. What can I say?
The Cramers had a busy week as well: Dorian gave up "Cramer Enterprises" to keep Langston, and Adriana gave up Rex to keep her dignity. I felt they handled Adriana's final scenes with Rex, Gigi and Dorian with extreme sensitivity, as they have through the whole of Melissa Fumero's brief return. Adriana didn't ride out of town on a broom or drinking the blood of babies; she and Rex discussed the ruination of their relationship, and she decided she needed to find herself again. She also made some peace with Dorian, fitting since their love/hate relationship is easily the most compelling on the show. I enjoyed Adriana's return more than I expected, and I hope we can see her again sometime. I'd just as soon see Cassie away from Pine Valley and home in Llanview sooner, though. As for Dorian, I'm of two minds about her having yet another run-in with the eerily affecting young "Mel," who speaks to her with the wisdom of her late, beloved husband. On the one hand, I admire the narrative device of Dorian being able to keep Mel as such a constant moral counter in her life through this possibly possessed, possible unreal young woman; using this ploy, they can continually respect Dorian's rich character history without having to constantly employ Stephen Markle, who could well be busy or uninterested. On the other hand, I just find the whole story beat goofy and out of place on a show that is constantly grappling with serious drama and comedy, as well as a tad insulting when the show can't seem to actually hire more African-American actors on contract.
Overall, though, Dorian giving up CE, while empowering Nora's character, came off very sudden and possibly a rewrite. There was no reason to end the great conflict between Dorian and the Buchanans here, and with such little fanfare, unless a major "clearing of the decks" is underway for most of the show's storylines. Clint's sudden change of heart and realization of his failings was good for his relationship with Nora, which had been stretched to the breaking point, but for Clint as a character seems boring as heck. I can only hope "Asa Jr." is not as dead as he seems, or Clint and poor Jerry Ver Dorn may go back to doing nothing - and taking the great Hillary B. Smith along with them.
At least one story remains strong, and that's the Viki angle in the Tess/Natalie/etc storyline. Viki is back with a vengeance, and I am absolutely thrilled. I was glad she didn't take Todd's crap or buy into Tina's excuses (Isn't Tina's hair great now, BTW?). Erika Slezak's take on Viki this week was perfectly pitched to match my own anger and exasperation with these characters and their places in this story: "No more BS, time to get down to brass tacks." I also loved Viki's rapport with Charlie, which is getting stronger all the time. I'd like to believe ol' Charlie will give it to Tess but good, but in my heart of hearts, I just hope she doesn't hurt him too badly. Stick and move, Charlie! Aim for the baby! Oh, I shouldn't say that, that's terrible. I actually don't want Jessica and Nash's child to die at all. I think Jessie has suffered enough. Sigh.
Over in Todd World - we might as well call it that at this point, the only thing that funhouse is missing is rides - we got to see what little integrity Janet really has, as she folded in the face of her own identity crisis fetish and let Marty continue swanning around in love with her rapist. Nurse Janet, it seems, is made of such insubstantial, narcissistic, self-pitying stuff that she would equate her own crippling shame and control issues with the deception Todd is using against Marty. The writing of her scenes last week would lead us to believe that because she, Janet, a.k.a. Lee Halpern, a.k.a. Carol Dennison, cannot bear to face her own family after spending years as a sex worker, she allows her own demented logic to be applied to Marty's situation, which Marty is locked in (by her rapist!) without her own consent or informed perspective. Because it turned out "okay" for Janet, it must turn out okay for Marty? Nice, Janet. I hope they lock you up and throw away the key. Marty's hallucinatory scenes with the young Cole were gripping, creepy TV, and the look on Marty's face as she held the baby boy and sang to him, crying without knowing why, was utterly heartbreaking. Likewise, I actually felt for Cole and Starr at the mausoleum, especially when Cole tried to let his mother go once and for all, and yet still too soon. This story has all the makings of a classic daytime thriller, its individual scenes often work well, and yet it falls short in several huge areas, and is about to do so again.
Okay, I've held it in for as long as I can. Time for the cutoff point: From this point on, this column will be critically discussing spoilers pertaining to the next two weeks of One Life to Live, and episodes that have yet to air. If you do not want to know what happens, do not read further. Turn back now! Danger! Radioactive material ahead! Wet Paint! PELIGRO!
So in case you didn't know, and I'm sorry to have to put it like a punch in the stomach, here it is: Todd and Marty have sex next week. I call it rape, myself: "Todd rapes Marty again next week." After learning a little about her son at Todd's convenient discretion (word is Todd will tell her that Cole is dead), Marty then puts on sexy lingerie and convinces a reluctant Todd to go to bed with her. They "make love." There's a whole love scene. Afterwards, John McBain arrives to crash through a window and save the day. Marty does not regain her memory yet. She goes to bed with Todd still an amnesiac. Still only believing in what he's told her. Still brain-damaged. This, to me, is rape. Todd may not have gotten her drunk, held her down or shoved a sweatband down her throat this time, but it is rape just the same. Here's why I think so.
Rape is about power, and control. In this storyline, whether he or the production staff of One Life to Live care to admit it or not, make no mistake: Todd is the only one in control. It doesn't matter if Marty is the one who dressed up, or pulled Todd into her arms. Marty is not capable of informed consent, is not in her right mind, and is being held without her full understanding by a man who has complete control of her life, her mobility, her freedom and her perspective. Todd has created a situation in which Marty's only emotional and psychological recourse is bonding with him; he has created a situation in which her burgeoning romantic interest in him has been exacerbated by his own actions, and she has been made to believe she can trust no one else. He has brainwashed her, isolated her, used her as a love and support object for himself, and now he is taking her to bed, and it's still all about Todd. Todd scolded Viki this week, telling her he needed someone who would simply understand and support him in his trying times of his own making; Viki had no idea that he meant Marty, who he has kept imprisoned in his care for almost six months even as her friends and family need her. What Todd really requires, apparently, is not a friend, not a partner, but rather someone whose sole purpose in life, whose entire existence, is based around his terms for his happiness and his pleasure. If Todd really sees life that way, is it any wonder that he is about to rape again, after fifteen years? And what better way for him to validate his twisted world view than by having that "service object" be the one person who would never let him get away with it?
From what I have read about the scenes and from what the actors have had to say, I am sure that Todd's "reluctant" roll in the hay with Marty will be something he finds emotionally cathartic and life-changing; all the spoilers have florid descriptions of the act, such as, "Marty helps Todd bury the past." The promos running on television feature Todd following an assertive Marty into bed, admitting, "God help me, I do love you." This is all a carefully-wrapped package, skillfully so, I must say. The message to the viewer is, Todd did not want this, but Marty asked, and Todd is so desperate to be forgiven for his sins that he passively, penitently accepts Marty's "comfort." In Todd's strange mind, the show will claim, he is able to finally "forgive himself" for raping Marty by "empowering" her to redefine their relationship "on her own terms," and take him as a lover with her "consent." Todd is shown as not the aggressor but instead is presented as the Ingénue, the hero carried away on the wings of "forbidden love" by an active and surprising partner. It's all crap. In reality, this is a deeply misogynistic, deeply cynical narrative construct on the part of the production staff. And in terms of Todd's character, his actions are the height of selfishness, self-delusion and sociopathy. Marty has no informed consent to give to Todd, and he has made sure of that since the day he found her in June. What's more, Todd goes to bed with Marty on the same day that he's told her of her son's "death," even as Cole cries for her in the outside world. It's huge lie after huge lie. Every inch of the lovely artifice that Todd has constructed around himself and Marty is built on self-pity and deception - lies he told her, and lies he's told himself - all of it revolving around one thing: Making Todd happy. Making Todd feel better. If Marty truly had consent to give, she would not choose this life or this sexual encounter with Todd; yes, even though she's impaired, she has a rudimentary voice and personality, but it is tabula rasa, a clean slate, without her life experience or characteristics, and worse than that, that clean slate has already been written on, influenced, manipulated and engineered entirely by Todd's paranoid fantasies and abject egocentrism. Everything Marty knows, feels, and believes in is processed and filtered by Todd Manning, every "choice" he offers her is skewed by his reasoning, so how can her love or her self-awareness be her own? All Marty understands is the sad little world of horse manure that Todd has dreamed up in his own mind, in which everyone turned on him for no good reason. All that she has is what Todd has given her, and now he's taking her because he can. Only a truly psychopathic narcissist would call that consent. And, in his ultimate act of self-love, Todd is now "forgiving himself" for raping Marty - by raping her again.
In case I haven't made it perfectly clear, I find this plot twist, and the way it is being approached by One Life to Live thus far, utterly repugnant and morally reprehensible. That's just one man's opinion, but I feel entitled to mine as a long-time viewer. I hope and pray there is some silver lining or unseen angle on this story that allows me to process it with a cooler head sometime soon, but I've yet to see it. As a fan of head writer Ron Carlivati, it makes me seriously doubt everything I've ever appreciated about his work, and it leaves a scar on his name and record in daytime that can never be removed. As a fan of One Life to Live, it makes me want to turn it off and never look back. My reasons for staying, for now, are due to my ragged loyalty to a show I dearly love, which has, for the most part, been on a dogged upswing in the last year (until now), and in the hopes that something will develop or change which will somehow salvage these characters or provide this storyline with a higher purpose. But all it seems to do is destroy everything in its path.
Right now, all I can see in the future for the character of Todd is a yawning, black abyss. Looking honestly at this material, I believe any rational person has to admit that Todd has now raped again, no matter how "benign" the situation might appear. After fifteen years of careful writing and characterization, after therapy and soul-searching and angst and love and hate and birth and death, it all comes down to Todd violating Marty Saybrooke one more time. I needn't enumerate the dozens of ways in which this will forever shatter Todd's character and his relationships on the show, but here's a few. Marty is beloved by Llanview; none of her loved ones could possibly cross his path without wanting to kill Todd on sight. And Viki and Jessica, both survivors of sexual abuse, both close to Marty, should never breathe the same air as him again. Blair, Starr, and Téa Delgado should shudder away from his touch. He can never be paired with another woman again in a romance. You can never do another psychological exploration or attempt another evolution of his character. Any future scene in which Viki or another character might say to Todd, "you are not the same man who raped Marty" will fall utterly flat, because what we are learning now is that not only is he still the same man who raped Marty, but he has always been the same man who raped Marty. The Todd I remember less than a year ago knew better than this. He knew the difference between reality and lying to one's self, even if he didn't always want to admit to it. Todd was once the "truth teller," peeling at the ugliness behind the veneer of civility and upper-class gentility; he was so adept at doing this because he understood the ugliness behind his own Ivy League Manning veneer, and judged his kind harsher than anyone else. He would have known the difference between love, and a brain-damaged car accident victim who thinks she wants what a self-pitying liar forces her to take. He would have known what it makes you when you crawl into bed with a woman who thinks you're the only man in the world while you pretend to protest too much: An animal.
Hey, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the "love scene" between Todd and Marty will come off more disturbing and twisted and less hearts and flowers. Maybe OLTL will pull off some bravura conclusion to this storyline that I have not anticipated. I truly, deeply so. The fact that Marty will apparently not regain her memory before being rescued by another controlling male, and will not be afforded the opportunity to take visceral, immediate revenge on Todd, makes me sincerely doubt it. For Ron Carlivati's sake, and the sake of my remaining shreds of respect for his otherwise great work, I hope he finds a way. A few months for Todd in St. Anne's Sanitarium will not do it. A single "weeping Todd" scene like that horribly mawkish execution tableau two years ago will not do it, either. I cannot conceive of a single scenario to bring Todd out of this and still give the audience and the characters, particularly Marty, what is required for cathartic justice. The way I look at things, there is no going back from this twist in the tale. It's like the end of Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho, where on the last page, the titular madman looks up and sees a neon sign which reads simply THIS IS NOT AN EXIT. Another deeply cynical move on the part of ABC Daytime is their hasty, 11th-hour cobbling-together of PSAs for sexual violence advocacy group RAINN, to be aired after next week's episodes, featuring Susan Haskell, who, in true network synergy, has always been the spitting image of RAINN co-founder and rape survivor, recording artist Tori Amos. God only knows what poor Mrs. Haskell will have to say for the show in those PSAs; I'm not sure what kind of message they could possibly present after these episodes air, especially since the scenes are currently being promoted as being about "forbidden romance," and not "violent crime." Talk about wrongheaded.
I do not hate One Life to Live; I have always loved it. In particular, I have loved the character of Marty Saybrooke, as played by Susan Haskell, and grew to love the character of Todd Manning. I believed in their journeys, separate or intertwined. For fifteen years, I believed their lives were leading somewhere, instead of nowhere. And this year, I believed very much in Ron Carlivati's work as head writer, much of which I still enjoy. I don't want to have to go into November sweeps hating myself for enjoying other aspects of the show, other things he might have written, just because he wrote this particular story. I don't want to have to hate myself for liking the show. The last time I wrote a long, blowhard column about this storyline, I wrote that once a fan's trust in a soap is ruptured, it can often never be regained. I don't know if my trust can be regained with One Life to Live. I really hope so. I may enjoy Carlivati's work this month and in the future, but as it stands now, I doubt I'll be able to praise him personally without feeling dirty. I hope that will change. But right now, what I have learned is that there are apparently no limits, either to what the characters will be allowed to take, or to what the audience will be subjected to. OLTL has made it clear what it thinks of our boundaries. I urge you now to make plain to OLTL how you feel about their choices. I encourage you to write to the show by snail mail, or track down official "ABC.com" e-mail addresses if you can; call the comment lines, which are always available. Write the actors, heck, write your Congressman! (Okay, maybe not.) And please do write me and tell me what you think. If you agree with me, great; if you hate my guts, tell me that, too, but tell me how you feel, so I can know, and maybe so you can say it. Marty may not have her voice but you do have yours, and I urge each of you to use it.
Above all, please know I will be back in two weeks. And on a completely unrelated note - or maybe not so unrelated - remember to also use your own voices to vote next week, however you so choose, because if we don't have a democracy, then where are we? That's right: Todd's house. And you don't want to live there because he might rape you. I love you all. Good night, and good luck!