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 Two Scoops: July 14, 2008 columns
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Billy J. Miller
Whodunit? Annie, that's whodunit
For the Week of July 14, 2008
A key component to the success of the whodunit is, of course, the whodunit. Murder mysteries which reveal the killer outright are a different beast due to not being as fun to solve because, well, there's nothing to solve.
My first exposure to 'whodunit' murder mysteries came from watching Matlock and In the Heat of the Night with an aunt when I was a pre-teen. For me, the attraction to that particular type mystery was inherent in the formula itself: first, someone is murdered by an unseen assailant. The writers, through the show's heroes, grant viewers the ability to piece together the puzzle by making sure all the evidence (subtle or obvious) necessary to make a couch conviction is available. Finally, the mystery culminates by having the good guys use proof collected throughout the show to figuratively draw a map pointing to the killer.

When all doubt that Colonel Mustard committed the crime in the library with the candlestick has been assuaged, the viewer should be able to sit back and either say, 'Yep, I knew it!', or 'Well, I was wrong, but I understand why.' The evidence used against the killer must be logically assembled so that even if the murder occurred off-screen, viewers at home can still assemble a strong case and feel good about solving (or almost solving) the mystery. Cheap tactics such as the murderer being revealed as someone who has never been seen until the last few moments of the mystery are bound to receive poor reviews from both critics and sofa-bound sleuths.

A key component to the success of the 'whodunit' is, of course, the 'whodunit.' Murder mysteries which reveal the killer outright are a different beast due to not being as fun to solve because, well, there's nothing to solve. Rather than guess whodunit, the viewer knows the identity of the murderer but is forced to sit back and watch as the guilty party inevitably point fingers at false suspects who look just guilty enough but, obviously, didn't kill the victim.

Unless a swerve completely out of Pine Valley's left field occurs, it's rather obvious that Annie Lavery's Janet Green impression killed her brother. We weren't shown the damning evidence right away, of course; we had to wait all of three days in order to see a zombie-eyed, pasty-faced Annie recall her crime of passion. Sure, a new variable could be thrown in at the last second, and All My Children's writers seem to have planted the seeds for one to occur: maybe Annie's vicious blow didn't kill Richie, but only rendered him unconscious, and helpless to avoid Colby's car, thereby making it so that driver Dre and passengers Cassandra and Colby unwittingly finished off the evildoer.

Let me be straight with you: I don't see that happening. Richie was almost certainly deceased by the time he auditioned for the role of a speed bump, leaving the teens' alleged hit-and-run as nothing more than a red herring. Annie killed Richie, plain and simple.

But why? Did her brother's cocky threats finally caused her to snap? Was she was already feeling desperate about her contrived plan to keep her husband firmly wrapped up in her web? The writers would like for you to believe both of those things, and in terms of the storyline, they're probably true. But I'd like to submit another piece of evidence, if the court would allow it. Your Honor, I present to you, exhibit Greenlee.

Both the character of Annie and her portrayer, Melissa Claire Egan, have been sacrificed at the Holy Altar of Greenlee. Think I'm wrong? Let's play Matlock and break down the evidence, shall we?

First, drudge out any of your AMC tapes from 2007 or surf over to YouTube and do a search on Ryan and Annie. Was that a couple in love? Yes, yes it was. Admittedly, the Powers That Be rushed things after the Satin Slayer was apprehended early last year. Ryan and Annie were making their way toward one another with nary a push or shove. Then Ryan discovered that Kendall really, truly loved Zach, which meant no lovin' for him. He then proposed to Annie, thereby putting the proverbial pedal to the metal and rushing the relationship. Still, the couple's affection grew and became real.

In May 2007, Greenlee, played by actress Sabine Singh, returned to town. The first item on her agenda: reunite with the current love of her life, Ryan Lavery. But that didn't work, did it? Nope. Recall that at this point and time, Ryan's memory was still very much intact; seeing Greenlee stirred a few old feelings, but they were just that: remnants of the past. He'd moved on with Annie, and Greenlee came to accept that.

This past January, Ryan took a bullet to the head. Given all the times Mr. Lavery has been shot, most viewers took this one in stride, with many hoping for something a little more, ahem, fatal. All seemed well until Ryan began forgetting little things here and there, eventually erasing 2008 through early 2004 entirely when he awoke one morning in late January, early February. The night before, while cuddling with his wife on the couch and their daughter sleeping between them, Ryan told Annie that all he needed to be happy was his family, by which he meant his wife and daughter.

Over the last several months, Ryan has been regaining memories, few of Annie, but most Kendall- or Greenlee-oriented. This past Friday, Ryan deduced that all of his most significant memories were of Greenlee; surely that must mean something...?

Yep, it sure does: it means that Melissa Claire Egan is on her way out, and why? To clear the path for Ryan and Greenlee II.

Official word of Egan's departure has not yet been released, but it's not hard to see that it's coming, and coming fast. Not only are Ryan and Greenlee obviously gravitating toward one another, but Annie isn't exactly keeping all of the friends she's made since her June 2006 Pine Valley debut: she got along with Greenlee for a little while, but that acquaintance-ship was all but destroyed the night she broke into Greenlee's department; she intentionally sabotaged a pivotal Fusion presentation; she threw Zach, a man who could be considered the only real friend she has in town, to the dogs in order to get new Chief of Police Jesse Hubbard off her back; sacrificing Zach all but ruined her friendship with Kendall; Ryan's memory loss cost her an ally in her husband; and last but not least, she's keeping Ryan's botched vasectomy to herself in order to get pregnant, which I'm sure will go over quite well when it is invariably revealed that Annie knew about Ryan's botched knot-tying operation for months.

Work, friendships, marriage... Slowly at first but now hurtling forward at breakneck speed, any and all ties that Annie has to Pine Valley are being severed. Instead of the calm, independent, intelligent Annie Lavery who came to town a little over two years ago, we've been left with a shadow of the character's former self due to a curse all too familiar to many soap actors: once the need for you is gone, your character is written to look as vile, irredeemable, and disgusting as possible in order to prop the other characters who will remain behind after you're gone.

When all of her transgressions come to light, Annie will either be incarcerated, tossed into Oak Haven, or something much more final. And you know what? It's a darn shame. Annie was an interesting character when she first came to town, and she's an interesting character now. Rather than explore other romantic possibilities -- as big a Zendall fan as I am, I would love to see her with Zach -- they're tossing Melissa Claire Egan, one of the show's more talented performers, to the wayside in favor of a re-pairing that almost nobody wants to see.

Ask yourselves this: if Ryan truly loved Greenlee, who has been back in his life for over 12 months, why is he only just now realizing this? Because Rebecca Budig's Greenlee, not Sabine Singh's, is in the picture, that's why.

We love you for your drama, All My Children, but it's been years since we've credited you with being intelligent.
But She's Erica Kane!

Some characters, of course, are written consistently ad nauseum. Jackson Montgomery knows that he and Erica Kane are meant to be, we the viewers know that they're meant to be, and Erica knows this as well. Unfortunately, Erica's affinity for feigning ignorance to this fact is is proving severely annoying to the viewing audience.

I find Erica tolerable only when she's not involved with a man. Uh-oh, that's almost every Erica Kane storyline ever, isn't it? When presented with a muscle-coated hunk of man meat, the savvy businesswoman who made a name for herself all on her own becomes a sniveling, eyelash-batting, horny teenager who makes unspoken plays for others to tout her successes so that she can be reminded that she is the queen and all others are but humble servants who willingly kiss the ground on which her designer heels tread. Every time Erica displays any form of self-doubt, the never-ending stream of "But you're Erica Kane!"s come rolling in, prompting my thumb's seduction of the fast-forward button on my remote, who is always willing to submit.

Yes Erica, you are Erica Kane. That means you do whatever you want to whomever you want even when the obvious is staring you right in the face. Like a schoolgirl who knows a boy likes her but for whatever stupid reason doesn't want to admit it, Erica played dumb (quite convincingly) to Kendall when her daughter mentioned her and Jack's overt, palpable affection for one another. Jackson? Erica replied, allegedly baffled. Why, whatever do you mean? Jackson and I are finished.

Sure, Erica, of course you are. Never mind the way you look at him and he at you when he stops by for a visit, or the way you slyly spy on the guard overseeing your visit in the hopes that if she (the guard) looks away for just one moment, you might brush fingertips with your soul mate through the screen that separates visitors from inmates.

But remember, you're Erica Kane! You're cunning, manipulative, and petty, so go ahead and make out with Sam Woods for the ultimate purpose of creating an unnecessary foil that stands in the way of your inevitable reconciliation with Jack. He'll be jealous, and you know he'll be jealous. Your high school mentality thrives on that very kind of psychological warfare, so by all means, do what you do best: drive people away until they come back to you, crawling, begging, mumbling "But you're Erica Kane," until you've been praised enough to bid them rise from the ground, no longer broken but made whole due to the sacrifice of their dignity, self-respect, and character.

All in the name of Erica Kane.

Loose Ends

* It seems to me that we could have omitted a few minutes of Greenlee talking to her stuffed tiger in favor of an extra scene explaining how Zach came to be arrested at Fusion instead of having it happen in literally under 15 seconds. Did Jesse arrest Zach on a homicide charge, or assault and battery? Bad, bad editing.

* Petey Cortlandt's aged character may be that of a stereotypical computer nerd, but I prefer that to the cookie cutter bad girl we see whenever an aged female returns to the Valley.

* I'm going to miss actor Billy Miller. Richie had enormous potential as a David Hayward, Adam Chandler-esque "gray" character, one whose actions could be interpreted as maybe good, maybe bad, but you're not quite sure either way. Miller's performance often made me believe entirely in the yarn he was weaving, even when I knew deep down that he was probably lying. That's the mark of a great actor, which means that AMC will throw him away in favor of characters we would probably rather see die in their place. Unfortunately, Richie lost all possibility for redemption the moment he hit Zach and dumped him in a ditch. Some crimes, such as buying a sperm clinic to impregnate your wife or poisoning a boat full of people to seduce a woman, you can get away with. Others, you just can't.

* For many reasons, most probably due to time constraints, soap writers see fit to re-write history. Colby recently turned 18 when in fact she should only be ten. Some things, such as aging a character, can be overlooked if done at an appropriate time: I don't mind an 18-year-old Colby Chandler, but if Ian Slater asks his papa for the cars keys any time within the next several years, I'll be annoyed.

Some re-writes, though, are too stupid to be ignored. Here's my current favorite: if Ryan's baby makers weren't effectively cut off at the pass, why is Annie likely to become pregnant just now? If one or both partners in a relationship couldn't complete their part of the baby-making merger and if both individuals trusted each other, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't practice safe sex. After all, if no one's going to get pregnant or pass along sexually-transmitted diseases, why go to the bother of protection (not that any soap characters use it, anyway)?

If you haven't yet figured out my point, it's this: Ryan and Annie probably haven't been using birth control or condoms, which means, due to the ridiculous vasectomy re-write, they could potentially have become pregnant any time over the last two years that they've been having sex. And yet it hasn't happened, but I'll bet you any amount of money that it's about to. Why? Because the current writers are idiots, that's why.



-- David




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