It all started with a guy falling down a fire escape. The other young doctor wasn't responsible - it had been an accident - but he was blamed anyway. The boys from the wrong side of the tracks always are. The young doctor was a good man with a tight-knit family and aspirations to so much more than what he'd been born into. What would this mean for his future, either with the green-eyed, scheming young nurse who didn't understand the words "he's just not into you," or with the spunky young heiress whose father ran half of Pennsylvania, the one whose unwanted fiancé he'd just "killed"...the one who he thought had only six months to live? And hey, what about the restless young Italian actress that just got admitted down the hall? Or the widower chief of staff with the annoying teenage daughter? Or the hard-drinking Irish reporter who just can't seem to 'learn his place?' And what about that icy "daddy's girl" he works with, who keeps getting nasty notes from what must be one of his jealous exes? She won't last ten minutes...
So, yeah, the title for this week's column is "Between Heaven & Hell." For those of you who don't know, this is not merely the name of a particularly rancorous OLTL discussion board, but also one of the original proposed titles for One Life to Live. At the time, OLTL creator Agnes Nixon reportedly felt this title would properly convey the class and societal struggles she intended to portray on the show when it began in July of 1968, forty long years ago. ABC found this title to be too dark, however, so here we are. I don't regret the name change, but I do find it terribly appropriate for a column covering OLTL's 40th Anniversary episodes, when Viki Davidson, our 40-years-strong "icy, 'daddy's girl" heroine journeyed into that purgatory between life and death herself, met some old friends, and came out on the other side stronger. Doesn't she always?
First, let me thank Ron Carlivati for calling back to the "Starship Heaven" storyline from the '80s but not actually bringing back "Starship Heaven." That was before my time; I've seen episodes from the story, but I still don't get it. At all. Feel free to help me out here, people: They were on a spaceship? Like, an actual spaceship? Where was it going? Were they still en route to Heaven? That's kind of depressing, to think that it's still taking Eugenia Lord, Joe and Meredith that long to reach the pearly gates, or...planet...or space station...whatever. And who was the captain? The engineer? Who has to work on their way to Heaven? And who thought up that fashion scheme onboard? I tell you, if I'm Meredith Wolek and I've been onboard since 1970 or whatever, at that point I would be picketing on the bridge for new clothes. No more white muumuus. I just don't get it, okay? Now, that's not to say that last week's version of "Heaven" didn't have its own budgetary issues. Why is that in the last ten years, every "out-of-body experience" that a Llanviewite always seems to look the same: Bare, spartan set, a few lights with colored gels, a lot of gauze and curtains? Does it always have to look like a "Jack's Dollar Store" version of the Black Lodge from Twin Peaks? Think up a new setup, Mr. Valentini, that's all I'm asking. But you know, putting aside fashion and budget quibbles, it was pretty delightful for me. The way Erin Torpey returned, as Jessica's lost daughter "Megan Part II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf" (forgive my schlock horror reference), was a stroke of genius, and I was pleased to see that Erin was as graceful, serene, and all-around wonderful as I'd remembered. I'll admit that just a few scenes with her and Erika Slezak made me forget all about Bree Williamson, despite my own heartfelt praise for Bree's work after Nash's death. Asa quibbling with the Almighty over his housing prospects was also vunderbar; Phil Carey played the iron-willed patriarch to the hilt once again, and Erika Slezak seemed genuinely thrilled to see him. While I wasn't a fan of Ben, I appreciated his appearance and reunion with Viki, which was only right during the story. And of course I have to mention "Agnes" the angel. Agnes Nixon can barely read a line of dialogue to save her life, but I was thrilled that she actually graced OLTL with her presence after also guesting in AMC's anniversary episodes a few years ago. She's still a brilliant, beautiful woman, and her cameo was totally appropriate in my mind: She really is all of Llanview's "angel."
Down on Earth, things were a little rocky this week. The spirit of Mel Hayes - my poor, sweet, beautiful, missed Mel - finally made himself visible to Dorian, and boy was it great to see Stephen Markle again after so long. I appreciated his appealing to Dorian's sense of decency and identity, but I regretted that this was immediately followed by a series of scenes with David and Dorian pettily squabbling over why she should save Viki. In my opinion, for Dorian, even at her worst, there should not even be a question: Despite the two women's enduring feud, Dorian has laid down her time, her strength and her life for Viki many times over in the last several decades, without having to be poked and prodded just because one of her exes is BFF with Viki. For goodness' sake, Dorian let herself live with the stigma of being Victor Lord's murderer for around twenty years just to protect Viki's honor and sanity, which was the ultimate indicator of just how strong and deep and layered their bond really is. (And no, Ron Carlivati, I appreciate your indication that the 2003 Victor Lord was not real, but I do not believe that Dorian killed Victor and just lied in 1995! You're going to have to explain that stuff someday.) I just felt there could've been more to that life and death struggle while Viki was up in the "Heaven high-rise." I did feel that Dorian's scenes on Thursday with "Mel," and then on Friday with Viki, were excellent, and that her monologue to Mel in the hospital chapel was particularly stellar work by Robin Strasser. It did make up for the off-notes earlier in the week, and I don't expect Dorian to pay in jail time for her actions towards Charlie; I do hope Charlie, at least, learns the truth, and gets some measure of payback. I also pray Dorian finally takes Mel (and Addie's) advice: To find her own identity, and stop biting Viki's style. IMHO, for all of Dorian's "Cramer pride," she has always eschewed the identity of her dysfunctional, diseased mother and father, which is why she has never gone back to her own maiden name of "Dorian Cramer," even when everyone else in the family (including long-lost latecomers like Blair and Cassie) is willing to bear it. Wouldn't it be a quantum shift if Dorian tried her family name on for size for the first time since the halcyon days of Nancy Pinkerton?
Across the pond from Llanview, the Mendorra story plodded along. Carlo sent Sarah and Cristian over another set of treacherous falls, and I appreciated the parallel to the classic story of Tina on Iguazu Falls, but this story is really long overdue to "open up" to the rest of Llanview and the rest of Tina's not-yet-present friends and family. Fortunately, I know that that's not far off, and neither is more CORD! Oh, he looked good. I hope Cord reads his ex the riot act for her actions since leaving Llanview, and I hope that for however he long reads said act, it contains at least five to ten uses of the word "girl!"
We didn't just go into the afterlife during this anniversary, though; we traveled through time. I speak of course of the big story in which Bo and Rex are LOST IN 1968! Oh, man, what a trip! Say what you will about '80s OLTL or the silly Old West story, but I am all over this. John Brotherton in ridiculous sideburns with a cornpone accent channeling Clint Ritchie! Melissa Archer in a crazy black wig and fake tan fearing the wrath of "Meester Asa!" Little Austin Williams glaring at everyone under a dorky haircut and traditional Paul Satterfield Khakis Of Psychosis as young Spencer Truman! And of course, Farah Fath as the late, the now-suddenly-great-in-my-mind Emma Bradley. Yes, Fath is chewing up the scenery and then reconstituting it as a liquid shake in this role, but IMO this is exactly who the mother of David Vickers should be: Tacky, loud, and cranked up to eleven. That saintly image Spencer painted of a faded goddess in his family locket was so boring. I loved all the references to the past, like the old TV and the original OLTL theme, I loved the Jared/Natalie parallel to the forbidden love of Clint and Maria, and I loved Rex and Bo's shocked reactions to their predicament. I have to wonder if Rex-as-Bo will sire Emma's child, and not Asa. Hmmm...
Also this week, we had more development in the strange Marty/John/Blair/Todd "pseudo-quadrangle." Yes, the Todd and Marty scenes are creepy and icky, but I don't think the show is going for a romantic angle here; rather, it seems to be growing into a tense psychological exploration of the characters with a touch of something disturbing, in that Marty has no frame of reference of how to react to her rapist, so she responds to his "opening up to her" by becoming more physically affectionate. Todd's retelling of Marty's rape was harrowing, and I felt it was extremely well-acted and written. Now, while I don't think the show will go here, and while I have always felt both sets of Todd and Susan Haskell's Marty have had a compelling chemistry, I must go on record and say that under no circumstances do I support any kind of Todd/Marty romance; the concept that "it's not RH's Todd, so it's not an issue" is the biggest load of tripe and bul that I have ever heard and borders on not only deeply misogynistic but downright insane. Todd is still Todd and has immense character history with Marty. It would be the rape victim with the rapist and is unacceptable, despite the crackling forbidden chemistry between the actors. That aside, I am really enjoying their scenes and I think it's illustrating for us just how desperate Todd is (and unstable) to try to wipe away everything he has done to his family and friends in recent months and live in this "neverland" with the amnesiac Marty, where she is just the understanding friend he wanted after they first slept together, and not the woman he has victimized time and again. In his time with what he calls the "new" Marty, Todd seems to find a kind of serenity, where he can avoid the way he has burned down his whole existence in Llanview. Where will this end? How will Todd find his way back from this precipice? I have no idea but I'm enjoying the ride. Meanwhile, Blair got some great writing this week when the show admitted what I have said all along: Blair has no sense of identity on the show without Todd anymore, mostly because prior writing teams have not deigned to give her one. I'm not thrilled about the Blair/John hook-up as I think she can do better, and I don't see how being with John will help her find her way back to her own person, but I did enjoy their scenes as well and I'm going to keep an open mind as to what is coming for Blair's future, as her own character, with or without Todd. Give her back Craze!
I am now going to deftly avoid discussing the finer points of Starr and Cole's endless melodrama or Brody's delectable pecs, both of which were also featured this week, and instead focus on closing my column with something else, and that's a tribute to two of the people referenced in my opening paragraph, two cornerstones of Llanview history who unfortunately were not honored in an otherwise very satisfactory anniversary week. These two people are Michael Storm, who played Dr. Larry Wolek, and Ellen Holly, who played Carla Gray. Larry was "the young doctor" who accidentally sent a man careening down a fire escape in the first episode of OLTL, and later went on to fall for "the spunky young heiress," Viki's sister Meredith. Later, Larry married the infamous Karen Wolek, who, as played by Judith Light, became a doctor's wife-slash-call girl and gave her legendary confession on the witness stand during the Marco Dane murder trial at the end of the '70s. Larry was a regular character throughout OLTL's history into the early '90s, serving as a mentor to Marty during her med school days, but since then has appeared only infrequently, most recently during Viki's heart transplant drama in 2004. As one of Viki's oldest and closest friends, her brother-in-law and father to her forgotten nephew Dan, I find it sad that Larry and his original core family from 1968 - the Polish Woleks - are no longer in residence today. Carla Gray was the "Italian actress" who was really a young black woman who "passed for white" in the hopes of pursuing a movie career; upon returning to Llanview, she dated both white and black men who were unaware of her heritage before embracing her own identity along with her estranged mother, Sadie. Later, Carla married stalwart cop Ed Hall, who ran the Llanview cop shop for many years prior to our man Bo. Ed was played by the great character actor Al Freeman, Jr., and Ed and Carla's adopted son Joshua was originally played by Matrix star Laurence Fishburne. The Halls were phased out in the 1980s, with Ellen Holly being unceremoniously fired. While I love the Lords, Buchanans and Cramers, and embrace this anniversary's series of episodes, I feel that there's still a few wrongs that haven't been righted during Rex and Bo's tour into the past. During each anniversary, OLTL never fails to mention these core, multicultural families from its early years, Polish-Americans and African-Americans, and never fails to spotlight the Carla Gray storyline or Karen Wolek's confession on the stand; it's very sad to me, then, that despite these repeated references, OLTL has never seen fit to honor these characters properly by returning their core families to prominence in Llanview. Wouldn't it be fantastic to see some of these classic characters again, or to one day see a handful of Halls or Woleks standing side by side with the rest of our current favorites, and then be able to go back and look at the new OLTL Trivia Book out this month and say "Hey - they're all still here?" If a soap opera does not have a clear line to its past, it has nothing. Anyway, that's how I feel. These characters deserve our respect and our remembrance, and I urge you to seek out clips of them at the readily available video sharing website of your choice. So, enough editorializing. I love you, One Life to Live; you've done right by me this past year, and you're in your best shape in ten years. You had a good birthday, and I enjoyed your party. Keep on heading for the big 5-0. Kiss kiss.