Fair warning, my peoples. (BTW, I am not illiterate, that spelling was intentional poseur behavior. Don't get it twisted.) This is going to be a long column, and while all of the week's events will be covered in capsule form, the bulk of my discussion this week will largely be about a single storyline and a single plot point. I'm giving you the option to opt out, and I'm going to give it to you again about a paragraph from here. Now, hands up, who remembers Chappelle's Show? Most of you, I hope? So of course you'd have to remember the Rick James sketch, in which Eddie Murphy's lesser-known brother Charlie tells his "True Hollywood Story" of his various dramatic encounters with the drug-addled R&B superstar. Throughout their shared acquaintance in the 1980s, Rick James would escalate his antics from verbally abusing poor Charlie, to beating on him ("What did the five fingers say to the face? SLAP!"), and even smearing his muddy boots on Charlie and Eddie's brand new couch. Charlie just didn't understand why anyone, even Rick James, would keep provoking him like this. As Charlie Murphy told us years later on television, "Things escalated to the point where, you know, my man got too familiar and I'd ended up having to whoop his [posterior], man, you know. Because he would step across the line. Habitually! He's a habitual line stepper!" Charlie was right. Rick James was a habitual line stepper, and eventually, Charlie had to "check 'im." And I'm afraid that here, in 2008, we've got another habitual line stepper who has gotten too familiar, and it's time for us to check 'em. You see I used the plural, right? The 'em?' Yes, that's right, because the habitual line steppers are One Life to Live, and my poor beloved Ron Carlivati. They are Rick James, and we are Charlie Murphy, and they just slapped us with the UNITY ring. Sorry, Ron. It's time to talk.
Now, here's your second and last choice to opt out. If you are a fan of Todd Manning and Marty Saybrooke Thornhart as a legitimate romantic pairing, outside of her amnesiac state and with her full conscious consent, you have that right and I could never take it from you. If you believe they can beat the odds, the gang rape, the boyfriend murder, the various assassination attempts, the bombing, the kidnapping, the son-beating, the brainwashing and the overall unhealthy obsession and history of psychological, physical, and sexual domination, that is your prerogative and I applaud you for exercising it in what is still a free country. But this column is not going to be for you, and so, if you are such a fan, I would encourage you to click away from this page now. I am taking a risk by doing this, but I don't want you any more unhappy with me than you have to be. I understand your right to feel as you do; I hope you'll understand mine. I promise that I will address certain aspects of the Todd and Marty shared history that some find ambiguous and perhaps of a romantic nature, as I have received mail on this topic which I will discuss later on, and I encourage you to read that. But if a decidedly negative view of the concept of Todd and Marty as informed lovers is something you don't wish to hear about, please, by all means, click out now.
I'm not going to be all that funny (or "stupid," if you prefer) this week because I don't feel I can or should. I have something I feel extremely compelled to talk about as honestly and as fairly and clearly as I can, so I can't be the funny guy much. I hope you guys will understand why. So let's get to it: Todd and Marty kissed at the end of Friday's episode. We all know that, we all saw the promos, we all saw it coming. I expected it to be the amnesiac Marty's dream or fantasy, or that she would initiate it against a stunned Todd's wishes. All these things, I could've tolerated and understood in terms of a narrative. But I was wrong. Todd initiated the kiss. Todd Manning deliberately made out with Marty Saybrooke. In 2008. Judging by the promos, it looks like he's not done. I pray it will still turn out to be a fantasy, but I doubt it. And I feel shocked and disgusted, and it pains me, because this is a head writer I really appreciate, whose work I truly care for, but more on him later. To my way of thinking, there aren't enough ways for me to enumerate how wrong this choice in terms of direction and scripting was. It was truly a trust-shattering, gut-wrenching, camel's-back-breaking moment and it was, I fear, a horrible, irrevocable mistake unless it is properly dealt with. Like I said, I can't name all the ways in which this is wrong. But here's a few.
There are not two Todd Mannings. Some fans believe this, but I strongly disagree. Let me clarify this concept: I don't mean that to say, "there is Todd and then a fake Todd;" I mean, there is not the Roger Howarth Todd Manning from the 90s with one set of rules and definining characteristics, and then Trevor St. John's Todd from 2003-onward with another set of regulations. They are one. When you recast a role, the role is still the same person, with the same history, same family, same core traits, same wants, needs, beliefs. Such is the case with Todd; just because he's got a second actor doesn't mean Todd does not have the same baggage and rich, deep, disturbed past from ten or fifteen years ago, and does not have all the same memories and turning points that changed him from a vicious, stupid animal to a conflicted, compelling antihero. If he didn't, they wouldn't be recasting Todd, and there wouldn't have been a need. Both Howarth's and St. John's Todd gang raped Susan Haskell's Marty Saybrooke, tormented her, hounded her, tried to kill the love of her life, tried to beat her son to death, fought to redeem himself, and on and on and on. There is no separating these actors for the sake of cognitive dissonance and chemistry testing, and the mere implication of that is to me vile and deeply intellectually dishonest. If OLTL is trying to engage in a little similar cognitive dissonance, they are deeply, profoundly mistaken and unbelievably foolish.
Another thing that's intellectually dishonest is the apparent claim by Ron Carlivati in a recent interview that toying with Todd and Marty's level of intimacy is on an even playing field "because she doesn't remember." He's smarter than that, and so am I, and so, Constant Readers, are all of you. It's not an even playing field, it's not okay, it's not even in the same galaxy as Planet Moderately Acceptable, and here is why: Todd remembers. Todd knows everything. Todd knows exactly what he did and when and how and why. Todd has told Marty she has no children; he has told her he did not rape her. He has manipulated her mind to condition her to believe his paranoid, schizophrenic version of their lives; there is no real honesty or open interplay between Todd and Marty, beyond Todd's diarrheic voiding of his own self-pity, loneliness, misanthropy and self-delusion about how he has destroyed his own life (again). 'Blair's to blame, John's to blame, everybody's wrong except me.' When Todd does that to Marty, that is not even-handed or honest; that is not a way to appropriately play with the core tenets of their relationship. That is a profound psychological violation; it is emotional and mental and spiritual violence.
I did not initially object to this storyline despite what I felt was an insensitive comment by Mr. Carlivati above. I felt that yes, Todd and Marty have always had a tangled, complicated relationship post-rape, and it has occasionally edged dangerously close to something more, often due to what I felt was overly romanticized writing, but also with a degree of honesty. Some readers emailed me citing, rightly so, Roger Howarth's own comments from the early '90s about how he felt Todd did fall in love with Marty on some level after they were first consensually involved, and that his squashed affections then turned to hate, cruelty, and eventually destruction. To these readers, they took this as to say, Todd has always been in love with Marty. I can't quite go there myself; I understand the principle of their thesis and I respect it, but I do not agree. I feel Todd's behavior during that early period was still too surface boorish and obviously misogynistic to make me believe he was in full-blown, rapturous love; let's not forget that in that early period, after first sleeping with Marty at her invitation, he was still little more than a limited-run day player, "Frat Boy #1." The investment in Todd Manning by the writers and the fans had yet to develop, and therefore, in terms of the original intention of those scenes, I do not believe he was in love. I think Todd grew to nurture a subconscious affection and yearning for Marty that he could not fully understand or find himself comfortable with due to his own rage and misogyny, one which could've someday grown into love had he not been such a foolish boor or maybe gotten help. I believe part of why Todd raped her was because he could not deal with that affection, but I do not believe he was in love. Rape is always about power and control, never love. Todd had no concept or apparatus with which to deal with his issues with Marty or their love/hate relationship, or his own vicious, disordered, racist, sexist women-hating personality, and because Marty and her sexuality, her intelligence, her freedom and her rejection represented something his personality could not conquer or subdue, he raped her. It's as simple as that. And what Todd and Marty could have one day, possibly, maybe been if Todd had been a better man before the rape died in Kevin Buchanan's bedroom. Even if it hadn't, Todd raped Marty, and there is to my mind no excuse or poetic, narrative throughline that allows me to tolerate a legitimate Todd and Marty romance today.
Still, this all was deep, fascinating stuff back in its day, and so I understood, and still do understand, Ron Carlivati's interest in toying with Todd and Marty's relationship while Marty has amnesia. I approved of it in (as I saw it) the terms of the story, at the outset, being a psychological thriller in which a deluded, self-pitying, unstable Todd descends into the cocoon of his "private world" with the innocent and trusting Marty, and loses all track of her lasting identity and his own, only remembering their old, ruined possibility of friendship or more. And hey - maybe that's still what's happening here. Maybe it's just Marty's fantasy after all. Maybe Todd really is as bananas and criminally insane as he came off when he initiated the kiss with Marty. Maybe we'll see him lose it on Monday, or soon, and if we do, I will change my opinion accordingly and hopefully come to see the purpose of this storyline and applaud Carlivati. Maybe, maybe, maybe, but right now, we don't know; all we have is a insensitive comment by the head writer and an actor who, while very talented, often plays these kind of things very close to the vest before the bravura finale of a storyline. All we have is a tasteless network promo and a rapist who has spent over a decade trying to atone starting to rape his victim again, on a whole new level. We have no indication that Todd will not get away with this with another slap on the wrist and just continue with his twisted life, or that he will recognize the sick depths of what he just did. Todd has spent close to fifteen years trying to make up for what he did to Marty, and we have followed him, we have tried not to feel for him but felt for him, or we hated him, or we loved him, but we followed his path out of his own abyss with the few people who dared to try to share his corroded heart. As of yesterday's show, he just blew all of that away - with a kiss. A kiss that was, as far as we know, Todd's own fully-informed, totally cognizant choice. If Todd is not shown to have an extended, full-blown mental breakdown, and does not spend time in St. Anne's (and I mean, months, the Lindsay Rappaport Special), then what he has just done is nothing less than a kind of total character assassination which even Todd as a character can't really come back from. And what self-respecting fan of Blair Cramer, or Téa Delgado, or Evangeline Williamson, would want their favorite heroine re-paired with a rapist who seduces his impaired victim and then is not properly condemned and potentially, maybe rehabilitated? Who would ever watch it? There is almost no way out of this, and right now, it just seems as though it is a truly foul, cynical ploy that will not have the proper repercussions, just as the show has yet to adequately address the ill feelings of those who rightly have problems with this controversial storyline. As of yesterday, I fear that it is no coincidence that Todd quickly divorced Blair when Marty moved in. I fear we may be looking at an all-new, all-gruesome (the idea, not the beautiful Susan Haskell) Mrs. Manning; I know I'm not the only one. If that happens, it will be a huge blow to all of our collective psyche; if Todd is not appropriately punished for it and justice is not adequately done, then I know I won't be watching. As of today we have no security or assurances that OLTL and Carlivati understand how dire a situation this is for the characters, and for me, that the biggest problem.
Since the start, I have defended Ron Carlivati. Like most people, when he came aboard I expected more of the same old drivel I'd been watching out of lax habit for far too long. But quickly, I sensed there was something more substantive, more sincere and eloquent to his work; there seemed to be actual, intricate planning, as lovingly rendered as his tender, recognizable characterizations of many of my longtime favorite characters. I still feel that about 75-90% of his last year of work on One Life to Live was excellent. I still believe in Ron Carlivati. I never said he was "a soap god;" I felt that was foolish hyperbole, and too soon. Every head writer makes mistakes, has dud storylines, bad patches; it is, in my opinion, unavoidable. Such has been the uneven summer of 2008. And I understood that; I even liked a lot of what he did with Mendorra and 1968. But in an era that is very possibly the twilight of daytime soaps as we know them, trust in a writer is extremely fragile, and hard-fought. OLTL fans have been divided on Carlivati's work from the start, but at least they were divided, as opposed to raging in unison as most of us, I think, have for the last several years. Even your old work can't save you; Michael Malone was a legend in OLTL fans' eyes for his brilliant work in the 1990s, but in 2003 he returned with a host of bad storylines and has since been dismissed by the majority of fans as a failure and worse, "a traitor." Because he betrayed "our" trust, like so many other writers, producers, network executives. Trust and faith are almost impossible commodities among soap fans these days; the trust to allow your favorite storyline or characters to take some time off on a crowded canvas, or the faith to see a sad or difficult storyline through to its conclusion, because you fear, as I often do, that you will be let down again, or your favorites will be destroyed or fired. You have good reasons for that fear. And it would be one thing if I had never enjoyed Carlivati's work; then, it would be easy for me to write this piece, or to dismiss him like Malone or others. But, I still believe Ron Carlivati is incredibly talented, incredibly capable, and probably OLTL's best hope for a future. I can't even say I didn't like anything else on Friday's show, because honestly, I liked a lot of it. I liked a lot of the whole week! And, again, maybe it is just Marty's dream or fantasy of a kiss. Maybe Todd will be shown to be as unstable and sick as I feel he has to be to kiss Marty. Maybe then, I can stop holding my breath and keep giving Carlivati the shaky benefit of the doubt with this incredibly dangerous storyline. But right now, Ron Carlivati is coming off a very uneven period and has just dove into a minefield. Once trust and faith is lost, it can rarely if ever be restored with a majority of the contemporary audience (online, at least). They remember the failures of the past and they hold it close to their heart. I fear that if this storyline plays out as it currently appears, with no full disclosure of and reckoning for the true horror of Todd's actions on Friday and for the last several months, then Carlivati will never be able to come back from this, in others' eyes or mine, even if he were to write five "BJ's Heart" stories in a row. And that would be a tragedy, because I love much of Carlivati's writing, and I want to keep on loving it. But even I have my limits, and if this story continues on a shallow "tease" route with no proper fallout, I will have reached my end. Right now, Ron Carlivati, you're a habitual line-stepper, you're crossing the Rubicon, and you need to start being honest with your audience onscreen and off. Carlivati has always been candid when interviewed in the past; I hope he can be again. Because we all need to hear it. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.
I want to hear from OLTL on this storyline in the press and I hope we will; I also very much want to hear from all of you, on what you thought of Friday, and on what I have to say. Do you think Carlivati will show the full fallout of the storyline I believed this to be, Todd's psychological meltdown? Or do you think he just doesn't care? Let me know.
Now then. There is the small matter of the rest of the storylines on One Life to Live. I think we will discuss them now, in brief since really, too little happened.
Tess, Tina, Natalie, and Princess David Vickers - Andrea Evans should be applauded for her amazing acting when Tina cottoned to the fact that Tess was in the hizzy. She's not just camp and giggles; she's a great veteran actress and her face said it all. Tess, meanwhile, is still Queen Obvious. No poker face at all. Nash would be ashamed, Tess. Time to drug Natty and put her in the most lavish, pimped-out basement revenge gulag I have ever seen. If Jean Randolph was here she'd chastise you most harshly for doing it up just a leetle too much. How much could Natalie really suffer in there? She has Tivo! Meanwhile, Todd and Tess - you guys - just...I don't know. I'm uncomfortable.
Cristian's Latest Kidnapping - This has to be getting old for the poor guy. I assume it is Carlo's last laugh on young Mr. Vega, which is just as well, but though I like Cristian...I have my doubts that wherever this is going will be a gripping, emotional storyline he can handle. I did really like the way the airport scenes were structured with all the characters, though. That was a classic "Carlivati Configuration," and it gives me a little hope amidst my horror this week.
Gigi, Rex, Brody, and all the viewers who have turned on them - I still haven/t. I know, right, I told you I liked this show a little too much! But I completely get why people have turned on Rex and Gigi. Rex is smug and incredibly dismissive and cruel towards Brody, who, though his intentions are not purely innocent or un-self-serving, only meant well when he secured the test for Shane and himself. If Brody decides to go ape and refuse to allow Rex to assert paternity, then while I sympathize with the guy, I think he'd be in the wrong; however, he has yet to do that, and Rex and Gigi still treat him like a leper (though Gigi has a bit more reason after that "in the shower" lie). Myself, I just think they're each very flawed and very foolish, and that, I feel, is what their big scene at the cottage on Friday was about; a total disaster finally starting to unfold because none of these people have been wise enough to get out of their own way. I can root for flawed, foolish people, as long as their flaws and foolishness are recognized. I believe Rex and Gigi's is, so I can still enjoy them as well as Brody's amazing chest. Sue me, America! BTW, how cool were those bookend scenes to the Vega pressure at the wedding when Antonio and Cristian confronted Rex again at the airport? That is family and connectivity which RC still excels at, even in rocky times. I just wish it were enough to overcome my deep issues with what just happened with Todd and Marty.
Starr, Cole, Langston, Markko and The Colombian Connection - This storyline stood still; while I am very intrigued by the emerging Montez connection, the only thing about this week's events with the kids that interests me is the return of the subtext-heavy scenes with Cole and Langston, whose burgeoning connection we last glimpsed in February, pre-strike, pre-Mendorra, pre-Todd/Marty kiss. A happier time; while Cole and Langston weren't that compelling then, their "thing" was organic and natural to the young characters, they seemed deeper for it as a result, and they were hopefully going to provide a rationale for Starr's old-school hell raising persona to return. I'm still hoping we're going to get all that. And BTW, Ron? Allison Perkins? Big secrets? Any time. It would really help right now. Just putting it out there.
John, Blair, Marcie, Michael, Layla - Michael was not kidding; truly, he is the whitest boy to ever 'dance.' But he and Layla are cute together, and eminently more watchable than John and Blair and the inevitable return, like that of spring, summer, fall, and winter, of The Singing Blair. I love you, Blair, but please stop. Stop with the singing and stop with the John. Stop now, stop early, stop often. And we all know no one's going to see that picture of Marty, right? Poor beleaguered Officer Fish and his poor cute face. Ah, well.
If I haven't been imprisoned for longwinded gasbaggery, I will see you all in two weeks. And remember: I want to hear from you about Todd and Marty and where you think this storyline is going, and how you feel about Ron Carlivati. I hope I'm not the only one with mixed feelings. I believe in the man, but I also believe we deserve better for our trust and our faith than what we saw at the end of Friday. I still believe in OLTL, and I hope we all can again soon. Ta ta!