For this week's Two Scoops, the title of the memoir of the late, great Michael Zaslow, who played Dorian and Jenny Wolek's favorite pistol-toting piano man, David Renaldi, seems very appropriate. "Not that man anymore" is a vaguely cliched phrase that was tossed back and forth all over Llanview these last five days, always regarding one very specific character. It's also appropriate that Zaslow, in a touch of synergy, played the fascinating Roger Thorpe, one of daytime's other most famous rapists (Luke Spencer still being #1 with a bullet).
Permit me a momentary digression about this, folks; you'll see the point in a minute. On Guiding Light, Roger was a rare example of perfect creative discipline, utilized just right by the creative teams involved; he remained mysterious, dynamic, layered, guiltily sexy, yet human right to the end, and his tortured relationship with victim Holly Reade (who, unlike Marty Saybrooke, had had a prior romantic relationship and marriage to Roger) was never reduced to gooey sentiment or murky, ambivalent characterization. Roger loved Holly, she loved him and wanted him, they had been together for a long time prior to his terrible marital rape and other assorted crimes, and despite his bestial acts, Holly always gravitated back towards the unearthy pull of their ancient passion. But, no one was allowed to sugarcoat Roger Thorpe; Holly was allowed to see their relationship as horribly dysfunctional, something twisted which kept her away from a safer, stabler life. He was a lover, a debonair businessman and secret agent, a father and grandfather, but another part of it, a darker part, was something else, something animal, and we were never allowed to forget his capacity for evil, nor was he. In this way, Roger Thorpe remained viable as a leading man on GL; when he would say "I'm not that man anymore," we knew and could trust that this was both true and untrue, and that Roger, and his family and friends and enemies, and the writers and producers of the program, knew that.
Todd Manning is another story, and this week in Llanview, as poor Danielle made the rounds on her Getting To Know Dad Tour, was most definitely the wrong week to have characters like Starr, TeaTťa, even Cole and Matthew, lining up to say variations on "Todd's not that man anymore." Why is that, you might ask? One reason, two words: AIR QUOTES.
I refer of course to the bugnuts insane scenes this week in which Todd showed up at Dr. Marty's office and ordered her to sit down with his latest love child and explain to Danielle how she had "forgiven him." Marty told Todd she hadn't forgiven him for his sexual assaults, but Todd reacted to her anger with jovial condescension and teasing, trying to cajole her into letting go of what seemed to him to be a minor grudge. Then, he broke out the "air quotes" as he said, "I know you're still mad for what you think I 'did to you.'" Air quotes. As in, not serious. Todd was grinning and laughing the whole time as he shrugged off his (several) rapes of Marty Saybrooke as No Big Thing, and tried to get her to see his point of view.
Who exactly are scenes like this being written for? I mean, thankfully Marty got to have a realistic reaction by throwing him out and telling Todd she owed him nothing, but who enjoys this? Not Todd fans. Not this former Todd fan, anyway. And I can't see the Todd fans still hanging in there being willing to swallow that, though I haven't checked our boards this week. Was Todd's body language a personal choice by Trevor St. John or was it in the script, and in either case, why did they, they being the OLTL production staff, cast, and crew go through with it? I don't care when a viewer started watching or which actor they started watching with, the core tenets of Todd's character are that he is a "reformed rapist" who has committed horrible crimes against women and is now, supposedly, an antihero working to make up for his past and live a better life, though he often lets his demons get the best of him. That is the character, as far as I'm concerned. Or was the character, until 2008. Now I don't know who he is, and as of this week and what shall forever be known as "The Air Quotes Affair," I don't know if I ever will again. Todd Manning as we knew him for years no longer exists.
I'm aware that people may be tired of hearing me trash Todd, and believe me, I am tired of writing about Todd this way. Incredibly tired. I was hoping to have a break from writing long dissertations about the character's horrible descent in the last year or two, but OLTL keeps writing in these ridiculous, offensive scenes and when they fall on my week, I am left with no choice but to comment. Online fandom has been burning up with talk about these scenes, yet I can't find anyone willing to defend Todd's behavior with Marty. And honestly, it breaks my heart because this is a character who was once one of my diehard favorites. But if Todd has no real remorse for Marty left, if he laughs in her face and uses air quotes to describe the rape, what is left of Todd besides a sexy smile and a nice body? How can the show have scenes like that one day and follow it up with Starr and Cole singing his feeble praises to Dani the next? How can OLTL go from scenes like that to Cole, Cole of all people, appearing in the following episode telling Danielle that "Todd tortures himself everyday" over Marty? He sure didn't look tortured to me!
Listen, I'm open to all points of view, and if there's someone out there who still believes in this character's soul as opposed to simply his romantic chemistry with his leading ladies, then I'm more than willing to hear from you. Write in, by all means. Explain to me how it all fits together and what the "air quotes" really mean, how Todd is still the same tortured soul. Because I don't see it, and I'm ready to throw in the towel on Todd.
What's happened with this character is bigger than one or two people being at fault, not just an actor or writer, it's many people; it's incompetence on a larger level. They ruined Todd with the "rapemance" and instead of attempting to fix the character, they seem to just keep plowing through, with bizarre, mixed messages flying back and forth onscreen every day. Utter confusion about Todd is the only way scenes like the one with Todd and Marty, and a key physical moment such as the air quotes, could have gotten through the taping process. It was unbelievably offensive, and for my money, it may just have destroyed the last shred of Todd Manning's soul. Simply having lots of other characters tell me he feels bad no longer cuts it after frickin' air quotes. Neither does Todd whining about how it serves him right that Danielle hates him. I'd hate a guy who broke out the air quotes with his rape victim too! On the subject of Todd, OLTL can't have it both ways. They have got to shape up or ship him out. As Donna Summer said, and Roger Thorpe would appreciate, "enough is enough!"
Anyway. I figured I'd get that out of the way first. As for the rest of the week, I'm gonna be real here, it's a mixed bag. For example, Matthew and Danielle are cute, and Matthew's "pimp cane" is adorable, but unfortunately, they're stuck being educated about the wonders of Todd. Langston and Blair got quality time together, but it was all about "The Coward Robert Ford." And Viki and Charlie's story continued to develop, but it still doesn't make much sense to me. So let's dig deeper.
First of all, there's Jessica. This girl is like Charlie Brown with Lucy and the football when it comes to Mitch. After another pervy, quasi-incestuous mash note, she seriously considers going to meet Daddy Dearest alone on the docks. "Maybe he just wants to talk!" Really, Jessica? Which of your alters is that stupid? In any event, poor, long-suffering Brody went himself, and Jess got a syringe in the shoulder from butch Nurse Charles. Why the heck she didn't scream for Viki the minute she saw that psycho I have no idea, but I guess we're not allowed to ask those questions. Lazy plotting.
Jessica's sister ain't doin' much better. The widow Banks has nothing to do except pout at John about being such a crazy, impulsive girl who he has to protect from herself. Yawn. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt in 2004. These scenes were more patronizingly chauvinistic then than when Natalie was supposed to be in college, and they're worse six years later. I was amused to see Marty throw a touch of sarcasm at John and Natalie when she found them together, but it didn't last before Marty was back in 'Hushed"Hushed-Tone Woman Of A Certain Age With No Storyline' Storyline" mode. Poor Susan Haskell. She has to put up with air quotes and Evangeline's old scripts. At least Melissa Archer is only recycling her own stories, though that doesn't look like much fun either. Remember when Natalie had a job and a future, and was involved with a man who could say "I love you," and it was a guy who lived in a place that had real light fixtures?
But wait. There's more. What do we call Langston and Ford in terms of cheesy couple portmanteaus, first of all? I'd say "Langford" but I fear that would offend noted online soap personality Anthony Langford. I dunno what the couple name will be, but man is he creepy. Abs or no abs, every time Ford lurches onto the scene with his velvet voice, I keep hoping Chris Hansen from Dateline will show up and make him take a seat. Why is Cristian shrugging off Ford's obvious interest in a high school student? Why is everyone doing that? I like that Blair encouraged Langston to not disdain her sexuality, as most young females on daytime today are punished for that while the men's libidos are celebrated, and that is a double standard that must be defied -- but really, Ford is a total skeev. He was all but shoving his junk at Lang during the party at Capricorn, and he just keeps getting ickier. Do not want, America. And neither should Langston. Instead of doing this "young person has first love but develops a roving eye" story with Ford, they should've introduced a character with real connections to the show, and a personality as well as pecs.
Can't stop, won't stop! This "Dorian and Charlie scheme to kill Mitch" story also makes little to no sense. Let's recap: Ghost Mel appears to Dorian to tell her to fight Mitch, and find a way to stop him without doing something underhanded and nasty to innocent people. Dorian then proceeds to fight Mitch by doing something underhanded and nasty to innocent people. Fine -- Dorian being underhanded and nasty is often what makes her so great -- but then what was the point of Mel appearing to her at all? And for the love of Pete, how on Earth earth is using Charlie, who is not a trained killer, who is an unreliable, grieving father and alcoholic, and who has a known relationship with her and has been seen with her at the Troy McIver On The Loose From St. Anne's Memorial Bar several times, a viable way to keep Dorian insulated from the crime with "no fingerprints?" Does she really think no one will suspect her or Charlie, that they won't be questioned? That their whereabouts together can't be verified, or that Charlie is some sort of frickin' master assassin who can never be caught? If I was going to go to someone in Llanview to help me kill Mitch, poor, shaky Charlie would be near the bottom of the list right now.
I think part of the real reasons Dorian's doing this are evident in the physical blocking onscreen and some of the key details in the scene. Dorian has been dragging Mel's rose around with her for at least a week, and it was ever-present in her scenes with Charlie; she nuzzles close to him, whispers in his ear, shares hushed confidences. Dorian has always identified Charlie with Mel, in part due to their problems with the hooch. She enjoys his company and on some level, I think, enjoys sticking it to Viki even as she tells Charlie she is sorry for his troubles. In the past, she's admitted an attraction to Charlie. I think Dorian's playing on his guilt to both find herself a patsy and make herself feel better by sticking close to someone who reminds her of her great lost love, and while I usually love Dorian, I think that's terribly shallow and facile of her. Charlie is both a crutch and a convenient proxy for her murderous intentions. He doesn't deserve it, doesn't want her, and what's more, he is not a reliable hit man; Dorian would normally be too smart to use him this way, but she's thinking with her heart on her sleeve, and with that rose clasped in her glove. I just wish she'd admit it, and then do something that makes more strategic sense.
That aside, the Charlie and Viki confrontation scenes just killed me. I pray their marriage survives this, despite Charlie's teeming self-loathing, and that they can begin again with their family. Kerwin and Slezak played that perfectly, and it was a heartbreaking bright spot in an otherwise so-so week.
There was another large bright spot, however, and that was the continued Cult Baby Follies with, of all people, Stacy. Not just Stacy, but Kim, Kyle, Oliver, and Schuyler. Finally, this story is moving. You can't get anything soapier or more fun than an all-out war between a bunch of gay guys and scheming exotic dancers. Their tag team cage match this week was totally epic, and you could tell all involved were having a great time. I'm glad Oliver and Kyle didn't spend months doing the old Michael and Marcie two-step that was done during the Tommy and Hope stories, watching other people's babies or Todd's family with clueless longing; instead, these two know everything and are preparing to act. Poor Schuyler is a shell of his former character of late and I hope Stacy's latest insane plan to induce labor will shake him to his senses, because Rachel's right, he is behaving like an addict.
It's a hard week in Llanview when the Stacy storyline is the most interesting, but there it is; that story has been running on all cylinders this month, likely in preparation for February sweeps, which will hopefully lead to a lot of housecleaning on the canvas. Sorry to be a bit of a downer this week, but while there was quite a bit to like, there was also a lot to critique, and the show seems off-balance this month, top-heavy with a couple stories and characters and not enough of others. Why have Viki and Todd barely reacted to Mitch? Why does Mitch ignore all his other heirs? And will OLTL ever admit Todd and everything about his story is a hot mess? I hope to have more to praise next time as we enter sweeps, and I hope you'll be there. Until next time, in the words of Jerry Springer, take care of yourselves, and each other.