The beast and the black dossier

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The beast and the black dossier
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The week of March 10, 2008
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The show came alive again this past week with incredible performances and crackling writing, as Starr and Cole made all the wrong choices.

Welcome to the Two Scoops auditions, Soap Central fans. Michael is back with a second sample column for your enjoyment. Please take some time to read over it and then drop us a line to let us know what you think, whether you'd like to read more from Michael every week -- or if you'd like to wait to read from someone else. And if you would like your own chance at being a Two Scoops columnist, please click here for more details.

Well, well, well. I can safely that when I tuned in to OLTL this week, this was not what I expected to see. Even though I'm loving the show right now, I was not pleased when ABC began constant airplay of promos which made it clear that this week, Starr would be losing her virginity to the mouth-breathing Cole Thornhart. Between that story, and much of the rest of the show being what Dawn so elegantly described as "stuck as neutral" during the writer's strike episodes, I was expecting an enjoyable, well-written and mildly diverting but otherwise just "okay" week in Llanview. Oh, how wrong I was. The show came alive again this week with incredible performances and crackling writing, as Starr and Cole made all the wrong choices, Clint and Lindsay bonded over a sultry little number in black and pink, and Markko losing his balance at JUST the wrong moment (I thought he was supposed to be a dancer!) awoke a slumbering beast.

There's A LOT to talk about this week, but the biggest hot button of the week has to get addressed in full. First, on the topic of the teens: I don't think much of Cole; I feel he's dragged Starr down. And while in my opinion the teen scene's storyline has improved since Ron Carlivati took over, I still think Cole has all the charisma of oatmeal. I still don't believe he's the son of the real Marty Saybrooke, and I really didn't want him to be Starr's first. Like many of you, I watched Starr grow up on the show and feel very proprietary towards her. I remember her first year on OLTL, when they wouldn't let her talk very much, and how little by little she grew into the pint-sized hell raiser we came to love. So over time, I had built up this expectation that when they finally moved towards this storyline with Starr, it would be done carefully with a young person who was worthy of her character. Like Travis! Remember poor Travis? He is now rocking an unfortunate blond dye job over on Gossip Girl. ANYWHO, for me, Cole just doesn't fit the bill. But then I remembered that I wasn't too thrilled with Will Rappaport being Jessica's first either, and her character survived. And if there's one fact of life realistically portrayed on soaps, it's that sometimes we give of ourselves to the wrong person, or at least not "The One". Not always in the way we hoped, and not always for our first time. So even if Starr thinks Cole is perfect for her now, it doesn't have to stay that way. Why, on soaps, that's practically a death knell! What's more, the show has made it clear that Starr and Cole's understandable but impulsive choice will have some consequences for them, and that it will not happen in a vacuum of blissful, improbable "young love" where safe sex is just an ephemeral concept. Therefore, having settled these issues in my mind, I decided to give the storyline a chance. And I'm really glad I did, because the blowback from Starr and Cole unleashed a horrifying and fascinating side of Todd that we haven't seen in a long time.

Love him or hate him, hate to love 'im or love to hate 'im, it's a testament to Todd Manning's staying power as a character that after all these years, the minute he breaks his (mostly self-imposed) shackles and attacks, he can still make the Internet and most of fandom spontaneously combust. I think my hard drive was smoking after Wednesday's show (then again, that may have something to do with its proximity to the radiator). And I get it, I really do. What Todd did when he discovered Starr's deception and tracked her to the Wilde house was violent, shocking, ugly, and totally out of the bounds of acceptable human behavior. Yet it was also great television, and great Todd, as far as I'm concerned. Now, a disclaimer: I may be a "Todd fan", but I in no way defend or agree with his behavior this week. He deserves to be punished. I may dislike the character of Cole, but he in no way deserved that beating from Todd. (Unless it was for his singing in "Prom Night: The Musical". And poor, beautiful Markko and his poor, beautiful face! And biceps! And face! If anyone needs to get vengeance on Todd for his latest misdeeds, it's poor Langston and Markko, who are tremendously more appealing to my eye than Starr and Cole.) In my mind, there is no excuse for Todd's actions or anything he said or did...but at the same time, I feel it's often under these conditions that Todd is at his best as a character. As soon as Todd realized he'd been had by the kids, "The Beast" was out in full force and slouching towards Bethlehem, so to speak.

The performances by all three primary Mannings were spectacular. Kristen Alderson more than held her own with the adults, giving it back to Todd pound for pound even when she was sitting there in lingerie. I'm so glad to hear also that Kristen was consulted on these sensitive scenes, and that the Powers That Be made sure she was not uncomfortable with playing them. She's still very young, and she deserved all the respect, understanding and latitude OLTL could give her with playing this material. I'm glad the love scene was tastefully shot, as well (and thank God for that fogged-up window!). Kassie DePaiva also deserves to get her due. She played the "straight man" role in a roomful of craziness, and as Blair, KDP had to multi-task in a very busy, emotionally charged scene while keeping up with Trevor St. John and Kristen in the process. First task: See her daughter in bed with a boy, and process that emotionally in only several seconds of close-up. Second: Realize that your husband has gone all Grape Ape, and get the kid who deflowered your little girl out of the area before he gets pounded into Tuna Melt. Third: Stop your husband from having serious flashbacks to his own past as a sexual predator, and keep him from unleashing that on the teenagers. Fourth: Calm your hysterical, half-naked child. Fifth: Somehow, defuse the situation without the cops being called! Kassie DePaiva had to do all of this in only a few minutes of active screen time surrounded by other powerful actors with flashier roles, but she did it and kept it all true to Blair's long-suffering character. Nobody else there could've slammed Todd up against the wall and grabbed his face to shut him down. It was Trevor St. John, however, who set the bone-chilling tone of these scenes. The obvious note for an actor in these scenes would be to run in screaming, yelling at the top of your lungs; we've seen that story before, right? St. John took it to a different place, however: His Todd was quiet, creepily gentle and conciliatory, speaking softly and pleadingly to Starr, trying to sound like a concerned parent, or doctor, or police officer, doing a shudder-worthy imitation of rationality, while all the while his actions and words belied his soft voice. By the time Todd started asking Starr to "tell me how it was done" and asking "were there others? How many were there?", I had goose bumps all over. That was the really dark and frightening Todd I haven't seen in a while -- and to be fair, he shouldn't come out all the time! -- the Todd who can go to that strange and inverted place inside his head, where his love for his daughter and his need for her to be an virginal possession gets mixed up with his fractured sense of self, his hatred of his own dirty deeds, and his complicated feelings about sex and love due to his history as a rapist and abuser of women. To Todd's warped mind, Starr is an innocent creature, and sexuality can't possibly have entered into her life unless it was rape. You mix all these neuroses up in the Cuisinart that is Todd Manning's brain, and suddenly Todd thinks Starr was gang-raped. Todd wasn't talking about Starr and Cole...he was talking about himself and Marty. Trevor St. John was spine-tingling all week long, and somehow Kassie DePaiva managed to keep up with him. The brutalized, driven-to-the-edge Blair, just barely holding it together to keep the family upright, was perfect, especially when she lost it the moment Todd made the repulsive suggestion that Starr should get a "rape kit" done and just started screaming at him. It was all incredibly real, and that's why I think it's been so controversial: We as viewers felt like we were bearing witness to a real-life "domestic disturbance", in all its ugliness. Some of us loved the scenes. Some of us hated them. Some of us just don't want to watch any more. All these reactions are perfectly understandable.

From where I'm sitting, Ron Carlivati has brought the layers as well as the darkness and intellect back to Todd's character, but in the last six months, when Todd HAS been cruel and ugly, he has often only used his venomous tongue, like when he taunted Marcie, or tried to prod a lonely Michael into suicide. This is all classic nasty Todd, but there is an undeniable physical, bestial element to Todd's aggression. After all, this is the man who raped Marty and other women. This is the man who killed Suede (another bad singer), who blew up Guy Armitage; the man who held Viki at knifepoint, gave Blair's baby away, and punched Téa in the face. Todd even has a history of beating on kids Cole and Markko's age, sad to say. For all Todd's best efforts, there is still an animal lurking inside him. This week, it was let out, and while it was very ugly, I also found it as spellbinding as any of Todd's other "(Least) Greatest Hits". Like a car accident, I couldn't look away...and I have to admit, that is a huge part of Todd's longtime appeal. Like I said, I found Todd's behavior horrifying and unacceptable, and I was so glad John clocked him, but as a viewer I was glued to my seat and can't wait to see what comes next. Now, do I like seeing Todd backslide to violence? Yes and no. As a fan of the character, I want him to continue to evolve and grow as he has done over the years, but as a veteran viewer, I also feel that Todd as the dark antihero must always have an element of violence, danger, and making horrible choices. While I think Todd has made some more mature choices of late, like realizing that he could not fight Ramsey with bombs and guns as he used to for fear of injuring his own loved ones, this twist ALSO makes sense to me because I feel Todd is a character who is always "two steps forward, (at least) one step back". (I never thought I'd get to paraphrase that Paula Abdul song with the cartoon cat and relate it back to Todd Manning, but voila!) Now, I feel this way, but at the same time I know another very good friend and long time viewer who is disgusted with Todd and resolutely feels there was no need for that much ugliness on the show at 2 PM. So I totally understand the controversy, and the wide variety of reaction to the scenes. And I'd love to hear from you about it! Was it in character for Todd for you as well, or do you think they made Todd into too much of an ogre? Or do you think Cole had it coming, and not just for his singing? Let me know!

PHEW! With all that out of the way, I can finally talk about the rest of the week. It wasn't all Todd beating the crap out of high-schoolers and accusing them of raping Marty, er, Starr. We also had the corporate intrigue at Buchanan Enterprises, the slooowww burn with Gigi and Rex, more of Jared and Natalie looking fine as hell in business suits, Viki and Charlie continuing to settle into the homestead, Dorian accessorizing a gym towel with her jeweled pin (DIVA!), and of course, an irritating non-appearance from Adriana. It's amazing that even when she was off-screen and not even heard on-camera, Adriana was still just as annoying as ever judging by Rex's reactions to her when she called from Paris. I could just hear her nattering on, emasculating him and preparing to drown her sorrows by flirting with another white supremacist. By contrast, Gigi and Rex are just adorable together. Like an old time movie romantic duo in a screwball comedy. Is she Jean Harlow or a really young Barbara Stanwyck? Or even Bette Davis? I can't decide. And I have no idea who Rex is. Maybe Robert Walker? Or is that too creepy? Oh, who knows. One way or another, I am totally aboard the Gigi and Rex train. Bring on the blended couple names! My only gripe with Gigi is when she showed up at BE to interview with...NO RESUME. "Oh, you want one of those? Well, I can write my jobs on my hand..." As a person straining in the workforce today myself, I'm particularly sensitive to that, having slaved over my own resume. Somehow, Jared and Natalie took it in stride, though, hiring her on the spot. Probably for $15 an hour. I've changed my mind, I hate you, Gigi! (No, I don't.) Why don't I live in Llanview? As for Gigi's benefactress, Viki and Charlie got a little time this week but it was just enough for now. Poor Charlie is just trying to read a nice mystery and Natalie comes down on him. Rightly so, yes, since he is hiding something, and I do love Nat, but I still felt for him. That's a rough second conversation to have with your girlfriend's daughter, especially when you know she's got it bad for your real son. I'm glad Charlie and Viki got their couch time, even if they didn't do the old "leg sandwich" like Viki and Ben (but I prefer Charlie, anyway).

Speaking of Jared and Natalie and their great office patter, they were just a small part of the blossoming (and awesomely so) Buchanan Enterprises storyline that dominated the other half of this week not belonging to Todd and his sucker punch. Jared, Natalie, Clint, Bo and Nora (plus the other board members) prepared to do battle with "Virgil Webster," Asa's folksy-named, never-before-seen nemesis. According to Clint and Jared, Virgil's Andy Griffith-esque skullduggery led to the workers revolting at BE's "Colombia project". At the thought of a nefariously-engineered workers' revolt, I had to flash back to the movie "Ocean's 13", in which Casey Affleck, one of the "13", poses as a revolutionary at a Mexican dice factory. I can just see Carlo Hesser filling the Casey Affleck role, donning coveralls and asking his "fellow laborers", "Have you forgotten about Zapata?!" Now, my first thought for a solution to this Colombian situation would be to send Cord Roberts in with a machine gun and a Speedo, just like in his globetrotting heyday with Tina, but it seems this did not occur to Clint. No, instead Clint found himself turning to Lindsay, and a slinky, seductive, morally questionable beauty in a black evening dress with a pink, not Lindsay! THE WEBSTER FILE! You have to admit, it looked every bit the part of its seductive evil. Those color contrasts! The pink and yellow post-it notes! The ominous black laminate! Either Lindsay artfully repackaged it, or Sam Rappaport was a more stylish man than I gave him credit for. One way or another, Clint and Lindsay sparkled together in a way Jerry verDorn had yet to do for me on this show. He seemed much more comfortable and at home playing a good man in a morally questionable place, struggling with a divided conscience, considering his options, and finding in Lindsay perhaps a more suitable partner than Nora. Or at least I sure think so. I'd love to see a couples swap with Lindsay moving to Clint, and Bo and Nora finally reuniting. If nothing else, the rapport between Clint and Lindsay was devilish and great fun to watch, and verDorn finally had the full grasp of Clint as Clint struggled with his choice, then surprised himself and brought the hammer down on Webster with cold confidence. In that moment, the brilliance of the story since Asa's death shone through: Everyone is trying to fill different roles in the wake of Asa's passing, trying to figure out who they are today. Natalie has found new purpose. Jared is trying to balance family, prestige and love. Bo is out in the cold, grappling with Asa's legacy, and is once again Clint's impulsive younger brother. And Clint...well, Clint finds himself walking in Asa's shadow in a whole new way. It's a new world for the Buchanans, and sometimes, they may have to play it the way old Asa would. Will they survive the experience? Only time will tell. This was a week for the veteran characters and for me, they delivered.

Next week, things just get crazier: Poor Antonio finally pays for subjecting us to the Summer of Santi. Also, Talia hopefully gets more to do. But poor Carlotta! Not the flan! You can't take it from me! I thank you guys for all the feedback so far -- ALL of it -- and I appreciate your interest, and hope to see y'all again real soon.

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Two Scoops is an opinion column. The views expressed are not designed to be indicative of the opinions of Soap Central or its advertisers. The Two Scoops section allows our Scoop staff to discuss what might happen and what has happened, and to share their opinions on all of it. They stand by their opinions and do not expect others to share the same point of view.

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