Whirlwind of emotions

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AMC Two Scoops: Whirlwind of emotions
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The week of October 27, 2008
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Regardless of how you felt about Babe, the degradation of her strength after one of the many recent tornadoes pummeled the life out of her was as heartbreaking as Amanda Baker's performances were phenomenal.

Late this past Thursday afternoon, as I watched Babe's arm fall limply from JR's chest, and as I saw JR realize that his wife had taken her last breath, I experienced conflicted emotions the likes of which I'd never felt during my 12 years as an All My Children viewer. Babe was dead. Babe, a character who had been seen on almost a daily basis since late 2003, was gone, and would likely never appear again.

Quite honestly, I didn't know what to think or feel.

Babe didn't bother me much at first. She was on almost daily, and while she did offer an ugly glimpse into her character when she slept with her brother-in-law during her first night in Pine Valley, this is a soap; that kind of thing happens. But when she learned that her baby girl was actually Bianca's daughter Miranda, and then decided that she would keep the child in order to make JR happy, I came to the conclusion that I didn't like her very much. In fact, "didn't like" is too weak a phrase. How about detest? Loathe? Abhor? Hate?

My disgust with the character only deepened when Babe discovered that her son was alive, and she thought it a good idea to swap babies with Bianca. It was as if the character's idiot brain could be seen forming the thought, "Since I've got my baby back, I guess Bianca can have hers back, too."

Babe's downward spiral continued from there. Playing "musical beds" with Jamie and JR, blatant hypocrisy, rendezvousing with Josh Madden in a kiddie pool on the Fusion rooftop, head writer Megan McTavish gleefully throwing other cast members in front of Babe's proverbial bus...

When the Satin Slayer seemingly killed Babe in early 2007, I was overjoyed. When she was revealed to be alive, I was crestfallen. But Babe had broken my spirit almost two-and-a-half years prior, and so my numbed brain accepted her continued pervasion of my favorite fictional town, certain that she would probably never go away.

But then she did. When actress Amanda Baker took over the role of Babe in October 2007, the old Babe seemed to disappear. In her place was a fresh face, and one that wasn't on my television screen each and every day, beating me over the head with her stupidity, promiscuity, hypocrisy, and selfishness.

As 2008 wore on, the unthinkable happened: I grew to like Babe. I'm not sure when it started, but in regards to how, it must have been that the new Babe was actually tolerable when she was on. Her infatuation with Richie Novak never struck me as a super-couple in the making, but I think the tease at a pairing served to give viewers a break from the popular JR-Babe pairing, while at the same time rooting for them to rekindle their romance.

Even more appealing than reduced screen time was Babe's expanded array of emotions. Alexa Havins, the first actress to play Babe, seemed capable of only two emotional outputs: smugness, and crying. If she wasn't sassing another character, she was sobbing about something. Those two expressions comprised the whole of her emotional spectrum.

Amanda Baker's Babe, though smug at times, and still somewhat of a hypocrite, was far more diverse. She could be compassionate, sad, angry, smug, determined, hurt... all of those and more, and in the same scene if need be. In short, she was multi-dimensional, something that the original Babe didn't have the brains to be.

Allow me to clarify that this article is not meant to bash Alexa Havins, but to point out that the interpretations of the character were unique. One I abhorred; the other I grew to tolerate, then enjoy. Alexa may have been the actress to originate Babe, but after a short time, Amanda Baker made the character her own. Even more astonishing was my realization that Babe had become one my favorite AMC characters, something I never considered to be possible given my belief that she'd never even enter the ever-expanding "characters I can tolerate" category.

As I watched JR and Babe sort out their differences and work their way back to each other, I found myself cheering them on. In a previous column, I wrote that JR and Babe's destructive relationship had run its course. Each had emotionally battered the other into submission so many times that even for a soap opera, a new chance -- a New Beginning, if you will -- was out of the question.

But as Babe and JR gave in to their feelings and began to trust each other again, I felt my interest growing. Babe's eyes were opened to Richie's true nature, and that revelation shined light on a path that led to JR. When they shared a tryst at Jesse and Angie's wedding in May, I rejoiced: JR and Babe, a pairing I'd liked even when Alexa Havins was around, had been reforged. This time felt different. This time, I believed, they'd make it all the way.

And then the writers killed her.

Regardless of how you felt about Babe, the degradation of her strength after one of the many recent tornadoes pummeled the life out of her was as heartbreaking as Amanda Baker's performances were phenomenal. When JR carried her from her bed and took her into the chapel so that they could say their final goodbyes, I ignored the fact that a woman in Babe's near-death condition couldn't have possibly sat up. I suspended my disbelief, and said my goodbyes to a character that had dominated All My Children for the last five years, and to an actress who had convinced me to see what JR had seen: that there truly was some good in Babe.

Perhaps the saddest moment of all was when JR reached into his pocket and withdrew two wedding rings that didn't have a chance to make it back to their owners. I was shocked that Babe and JR didn't have time to get married before Babe passed. It's a shame they didn't get to exchange vows before the sun set on Babe's fictional life.

As sad as I am for JR and Krystal, I hope the writers (whether the current regime or the inevitable next) don't resurrect her. Returns from the grave are expected in this genre, but are far too frequent, which often render most soap deaths meaningless to viewers, who simply sit back and speculate how so-and-so will return. Babe's last scenes were so powerful that to bring her back would undo the final touching moments that AMC's writers worked so hard to craft. For those who loved Babe, as well as those who hated her, the character is gone, and that's the way it should stay.

The Cards Never Lie

There were so many powerful scenes this past week in the aftermath of the tornadoes. As much as I enjoyed JR and Babe's last moments in the chapel, that scene ties with Opal and Krystal's conversation in the hospital. When Krystal snapped at Opal that her baby doll was dying, Opal hung her head, moaned, and began to cry. Krystal's tongue lashing continued until Opal stopped her with a broken look and said, "I know what it is to lose a daughter."

The scene was gripping, and truly showcased the talents of Bobbie Eakes (Krystal) and Jill Larson (Opal), who has been on the back burner for far too long. It was tremendous, and either woman should consider it for an Emmy submission.

In regards to Opal's soothsaying, I think it fair to say that anyone whoever doubts Opal's predictions, whether they be fair or fearful, is an idiot. The woman was right, so heed her words, Pine Valley.

Speaking of the tornadoes, I enjoyed the story for the most part, but I do have one complaint: why haven't Amanda, Jack or Carmen been shown since the storm hit? Taylor mentioned that she brought someone in to the hospital, but who was it? Was it Amanda? When we last saw Jake, Amanda and Taylor, they were taking a drunk and depressed Amanda to her yacht. Did the trio honestly ride out the storm on the water?

I understand that the tornadoes were meant to propel certain characters into new stories that deal with the storm's aftermath, but the absence of many characters weighed heavily on my viewing experience.

Welcome Back, Dr. Death

Even as I sniffled at Babe's demise, I couldn't help pumping my fist in the air and bellowing "YES!" when David Hayward walked into the chapel. Finally, one of the most layered characters in soaps has made his long-awaited return. Here's hoping new head writer Charles Pratt, Jr. knows how to treat the beloved anti-hero.

Beyond Redemption?

As Zach and Bianca's controversial storyline continues to unfold, many viewers have panned them, stating that their actions are beyond redemption. When Kendall awakens from her coma, these people hope that she'll take one look at Bianca's newest child and banish it, Bianca, and Zach from her life. To these viewers, Zach, Bianca, and the baby have been marked as unforgivable.

Whoa, back up for a second. This is a soap, people. Characters do stupid things all the time, whether their actions are in-character or completely contrived. That's just the way it is. In some instances, you can blame the writers. Writers who don't have a particular understanding of a character might make them do something seemingly unforgivable for one reason or another -- shock value, more than likely. But other times, what they do does eventually make sense, and you can either way to see how the story unfolds, or walk away from them and never look back.

What bothers me most about the verdicts being passed on Zach and Bianca is that the story has only just begun. Do I think Kendall will be bothered by the baby's paternity when she awakens? Of course I do. But I don't believe Zach or Bianca to be past redemption. This is a soap. Every single character on the show has committed reprehensible acts, and even characters who are l new to the canvas will screw up eventually.

Many of these fans who have passed judgment on Zach and Bianca probably root for characters whose criminal record is lengthier than War and Peace. AMC fans are rejoicing at the return of David Hayward (as am I), but for all the jubilation, keep in mind that David kept Bianca away from Miranda once he realized that Babe was his daughter -- among many other horrible deeds committed by the dastardly doc. Adam Chandler is always a popular character, yet who can forget the cruel tactics he used to keep Stuart away from Marian, or more recently, walking away from Krystal when she went into labor? Slighted Kendall fans always seem to forget the crap their favorite female pulls on an almost daily basis; Erica's supporters seem to look past her vanity; Josh Madden drugged Erica to arrange a coup of New Beginnings; Ryan...

Hmm. I might have to throw my hands up on that one.

Look, the list of any character's rotten deeds could go on and on, but why bother? Truth be told, I'm not a big fan of the Zach-Bianca baby, either, but I don't believe any character to be irredeemable. This is a soap opera. Characters will do unthinkable, idiotic, cruel things, but they can always be redeemed. It seems to me that anti-Zach and anti-Bianca fans are just looking for an opening to rip the characters to shreds. Go ahead if that makes you feel better. But I urge the rest of you to sit back and watch the story unfold. Wait, watch, and remember that in soap opera land, even the most wicked of characters always receives a second, third, fourth, and twenty-fourth chance.

-- David

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