Confessions on a dirt floor

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OLTL Two Scoops: Confessions on a dirt floor
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The week of January 26, 2009
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Ron Carlivati has delved into something that One Life to Live has spent decades glossing over: the true accountability of a person suffering from dissociative identity disorder.

That's right, I said it: I think Nash and Jessica's old vineyard cottage had a dirt floor. J'accuse! I'm sorry, it just never looked finished to me. And am I wrong or is that cottage like one bedroom, the living room, and that's the end? That always struck me odd. Sure, I know you can't show everything on a soap set, duh, but it just looks...small and cramped and, no. Just no. Anyway, space considerations aside, hardwood floors or no, ye olde Brennan Winery cottage was the site of some major houdou this week, as Jessica had a moment of revelation in her old hovel by the vines, and Natalie was none too happy about it. The gauntlet may be thrown down between the sisters, but it's opened up a compelling dialogue about how OLTL has treated DID over the years, and seems to be leading us into a fascinating new storyline reopening old wounds and tearing whole new ones.

Looking back on it, maybe my parents had it easy. All my mother had to deal with from her siblings were manic depressive episodes and constant entreaties for money. Natalie, on the other hand, gets to raise her sister's kids while the "favored daughter" confesses that, 'well, that whole 'killing you' thing - I really did mean to do that.' Ouch. In tackling this plot point, though, Ron Carlivati has delved into something that OLTL has spent decades glossing over: The true accountability of a person suffering from DID. No one really blamed Viki when she went on the lam with Blair Underwood (in her defense, who wouldn't?), or torched Llanfair, or took hostages with Allison Perkins at Llantano Mountain, or threw her husband out a window. "It was the alter," was the familiar refrain, "it wasn't you." And certainly that's true up to a point. I do not believe Viki ever would have intentionally hurled Ben out amongst the gardenias (though I might have), for example. But the issue remains that, as I understand it at least, DID shatters the host personality, leaving it fragmented, and those fragments take on functions and "half-lives" of their own. Each of those slivers of a mind represent an aspect of the host, no matter how secret, primal or neurotic. Therefore, whenever Viki or Jessica integrates, we get to wonder: What happens to the parts of them that burned down the house? Or tried to kill Dorian? Or pulled a gun on Antonio? Or shut Natalie and Jared away in the secret room? And how do their loved ones so easily accept that those impulses no longer exist within the unified host? It's an difficult, thorny side of the issue which OLTL has been content to mostly ignore for twenty years or more - but not anymore. Natalie isn't buying it, and I can't say I blame her, now that we've learned that Jessica gave way to Tess of her own free will. This does not absolve Natalie or Jared of their part in what happened at the Buchanan Enterprises shareholders' meeting, but the fact is we all saw Jessica's white-hot rage against them at Nash's memorial service, just before Tess took over and launched her campaign of vengeance. After the things she said that day, it's hardly a stretch for me to accept that Jessica let her inner predator take over and wreak havoc, or to believe that her rage is still brimming close to the surface. The rivetingly ambiguous thing of this story turn is, neither Jessica nor Natalie was right or wrong in what they said or did to each other last summer when Nash died (and before Tess returned), and neither Natalie nor Viki is wrong today. Those scenes were spot-on. Viki is correct in saying that Jessica is deeply ill and suffering, and that the extreme elements of her fragmented personality do not necessarily reflect the Jessica we all know and love. Yet, Natalie is also correct when she asks what many of us have asked before, namely, how she can be expected to keep kicking her anxieties and traumas relating to Jessica's DID under the rug, or not take it personally when her sister admits she made a conscious choice to descend into psychosis in order to punish her. Maybe Clint, Kevin and Joey compartmentalized DID and its effects on their family unit a long time ago due to Viki's many outbreaks, but Natalie didn't grow up with Viki and Niki, nor did Viki ever, as far as I know, intentionally attack a member of the family. And maybe if Viki, as well as her husband and sons, had taken a more thorough accounting of the dysfunctional effects of her illness on the family, we wouldn't be dealing with Tess today. I love Viki, but Natalie is right in that the Buchanans always apologize for Jessica, largely, I think, because they have never truly dealt with the fact that on at least some levels, the alter is the host, and the host the alter. What Jessica has confessed throws the problem in their faces, and forces them all to deal with it. One of the most revealing and intelligent bits of dialogue this week came when Viki told Natalie, "you're the evolved one," compared to herself and Jess, in that Natalie is able to easily utilize and manage her emotional responses like any regular person. By contrast, Jessica (and previously, Viki) is unable to manage her psyche, which is why she so easily allowed Tess to take over and externalize her fury at being a young, pregnant widow. I can feel for her, and still feel for Natalie too. Until Jessica learns to control the disparate elements of herself, she's going to keep walking around as an open wound. That makes for compelling story, mind you, so I'm not against it - and I can't wait to see where it's taking Jessica, Natalie, and Viki in the future. This is classic soap storytelling, built on family and character relationships and a wealth of history.

Speaking of open wounds, Jessica's therapy buddy with the big pecs had a breakthrough of his own this week. It's a gun, it's a flashlight - hey, don't sweat it, Brody, it's all threatening phallic symbolism on the mean plains of war-torn Basra. Wes and his unlikely muffin top haircut laid the "Real Talk" (TM R. Kelly) on Lt. Lovett this week and so far our poor fireplug is dealing with it as sexily as possible. Meanwhile, Wes follows in his compatriot's footsteps by taking his shirt off over and over for little to no reason and this is me not complaining in the slightest, Mr. Valentini. Seriously, we are meant to believe that Wes and Marty haven't slept together, right? Right? She came on to him and he blew her off? And he keeps wandering around the hotel half-naked and she's sleeping there and they're still not doing it? I mean, their friendship is great and Susan Haskell's scenes with Justin Kahn are lovely, but are we sure Wes isn't hot for Brody? Because let me tell you, my best friend who hasn't watched OLTL since "the great heterosexual Rex betrayal" of 2002 will hit.the.ROOF. if this dude turns out to be family. Yum. Just yum. But Marty is truly brain-damaged if she's eschewing Wes for more time at Rodi's, so let's get to that if we may.

John McBain, bartender is so far not much of an improvement over a) John McBain, police detective, b) John McBain, constantly-fired-from-the-police department loafer, or c) John McBain, rageaholic burn victim. Why? Because they all add up to John McBain, passive-aggressive commitmentphobe. It's not that he's "just not that into" Evangeline, or Natalie, or Blair, it's that he's not that into any woman because none of them can compete with his all-encompassing self-absorption in himself and whatever goal is directly in front of him - this month, it's born-again wild child Marty. His behavior towards Blair this week really disgusted me and wiped out pretty much any goodwill I'd built up for the character; he was treating her exactly the way he used to treat Natalie or before her, Evangeline when he was disengaging from them. Pop quiz, people: Blair walks in on John and Marty in a romantic clinch at Rodi's. Things go downhill, and the manic Marty begins unloading abuse on Blair. What will John's response be? a) A torrent of explanations and apologies to Blair, b) A strident defense of his girlfriend to Marty, or c) Studied ambivalence and a scan of the bar's wood finish for cracks? I couldn't believe his attitude towards Blair afterwards; something like, "it's not my fight even though she was bashing my girlfriend, and besides, she has amnesia, I can't do anything. Amnesia! She forgot her name! She forgot her telephone number!" (Apologies to Britney Spears) And then he starts attacking her instead. Are you kidding me? In real life, a woman would do exactly what Blair did, namely ask, "Why are you treating me this way?" I'm not sure if either Nat or Van asked John that particular question, but the answer is the same for all three women: Because he's over you. He does not care. He's already checked out and he will take you if he can get you in the meantime, but his eye is on the next prize, and right now, that's Marty. She deserves better too despite her shenanigans, and I wouldn't wish McBain on any of the women mentioned. Michael Easton can be an affable, talented actor, but OLTL has consistently made a bad mistake sidelining his natural "Average Joe" characteristics and highlighting a morose, passive-aggressive streak which comes off all too real, raw and unpleasant to watch. Some of us have already seen far too many self-important jerks like John in real life, guys who pretend that everything's someone else's problem and that their logic is infallible instead of cruel. John isn't just bad boyfriend material, he's become bad soap opera material. And no woman Blair's age should have time for a man who can't make time for her, for her children, or for her emotional needs but will drop anything to indulge the capricious whims of a struggling woman who would rather make out with him than deal with real therapy. Unless John is the center of someone's life - Cole's, Marty's, you name it - he's bored.

This is not to say that Todd is exactly Blair's dream option these days, either. They've had some excellent scenes these last few weeks, and had some good moments this week too, well-played by Trevor St. John and Kassie DePaiva, but it was overshadowed for me by the bizarre writing and positioning of Todd's character. On one hand, he is genuinely remorseful for at least some of his sins and is getting back in touch with his humanity and his family; fine, I can accept that if it's written well. On the other, you have him in scenes with Téa talking about how they are going to beat all the charges and get him off scot-free. Todd shows up at Blair's begging for access to the kids and pleading with a chance to prove himself to be a better man and a better parent, but before he sees Jack and Sam, he chats Téa up about how to make sure there are witnesses to his kidnapping plot. WHAT?! Seriously, what? Do the writers not understand the inconsistency here, the hypocrisy involved? How can I seriously buy into Todd's redemption when he spends half his scenes working to make sure he doesn't actually have to pay or take actions to redeem himself? That's not to say that Todd and Téa's gleeful, nasty smugness isn't fun to watch; just watching Téa lose her damn mind when she thought Todd was cooing over Blair's picture on Thursday was priceless. Their relationship is twisted and dysfunctional on a level that even Blair and Marty can't quite match, because in some ways, Téa is Todd's perfect female counterpart; she doesn't want him to change because it's the worst parts of him that turn her on. She makes romantic noises about him being a better man, but really what she wants is for him to appear to be better, so he'll be free and clear and on hand to rock her world. Florencia Lozano and Trevor St. John have a kind of cynical and decadent chemistry that she never had with Roger Howarth, since Todd and Téa's relationship in the '90s was too often played straight (and foolishly so, in my opinion); her material with Howarth was much more earnest and "innocent" in its own way. I'm not saying that Todd and Téa 2009 are camp, but I think there's something a lot more scandalous, and a lot more honest, about her and how they relate today. You can easily see why he would gravitate to Téa when the women who would want him to really try to change have told him off. She'll always have him - she even essentially told him this week that his children are now liabilities, things that can be used to trap him. It's really something to watch. Dirty, nasty, horrible, a little sexy, but it still leaves Todd's character in a strange quandary. As long as Todd leans on Téa and works to escape prosecution, he is not seeking redemption. Still, they are fun to watch - for now. But true love? No way. True enabling.

Todd may be mucking around with Téa but the investigation against him is proceeding apace, and BTW, I have to say I thought Janet Zarish looked absolutely fabulous on Friday as Lee Halpern, taking it to "the man" and demanding immunity and a deal from Bo, Nora, and their budget-conscious roadshow production of The Wire. She had finally found a new blouse and was working it, people. Oh, and did anyone else get a weird little chill from Todd turning on Lee hissing about people who betray him, then ripping her top off to reveal her bug? If they were going for a pitch black characterization of Todd, that's how you do it, alright. Creepy. And again, not exactly redemptive for ol' Todd. Meanwhile, cute Mr. Dillon Qua - I mean, "Schuyler Joplin" has found his mom's suicide note, so I'm sure he'll be on the warpath too. I like Scott Clifton as "Mr. J." and that "Greedo Shot First" Star Wars vest is hot, but so far his scenes with Starr have been painfully stilted. I can only hope the writing there will improve, or that they'll put him with other people. He's a very talented actor, but so far the school stuff is for the birds. Which brings us to the first of this week's truly dud storylines.

Dud Numero Uno: Hey, did you know Cole was doing drugs? Because if you didn't, then just to be clear, we're going to slather his face in K-Y jelly and have him make weird "wry grins" in each episode. Do "downers" really make you sweat like Little Richard live in concert? I don't know exactly what Brandon Buddy is going for with those acting choices, but between Starr's wacky rationales ("take life-threatening drugs - as long as it's your informed choice!") and Cole's baggie full of evil Mentos (admit it, prop department, those are the Freshmaker), this whole thing is just not working for me. When Cole threatened to "whip it out" in front of his locker for Starr's viewing pleasure, I'd reached my limit. And then there's Matthew - "the rebel." You know what, Matthew, your army surplus jacket does not make you a rebel. It just makes you that much more likely to end up as the guy who manages the army surplus store after high school, just like Bobby from my own graduating class. Don't be Bobby, Matthew. And get that damn cap off your head. You are not a longshoreman. Neither you nor I have any idea who "the Plain White T's" are. And "Becca" is 18 if she's a day. The whole thing's just a mess, and it doesn't help that Matthew delivers lines like he is reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Come on, OLTL. No.

Dud Numero Dos: I have to take pity on Jacqueline Hendy (Vanessa); I don't think they're giving her any clue on exactly how to play her scenes or what her motivation is. "I have just found a note from my ex-husband which may threaten my dastardly secrets, what is my onscreen reaction? a) Shifty eyes, b) An evil smirk, or c) Mild consternation, in the vein of 'Did I leave the oven on? Why are my shoes so tight? What does the digital switch mean for me?'" There's subtle, and then there's confused. I have no idea what they're going for with Vanessa, and since I'm pretty sure she's as eeevil as they come, I'm tired of guessing. Just have her start hamming it up already, please; that's the only thing that will make this story entertaining. If Andrea Evans was still here she could carry this whole thing on her back, playing Tina "avenging Sarah." At least we've got Téa. "I have a different hairstyle every time I enter a building, Lola, each more fierce than the last. Tell me your secrets, I am the most trustworthy woman on Earth." She's all class. I was glad she brought the feathery Farrah Fawcett hairdo back at the end of the week. By comparison, Vanessa's still stuck with the "Condi Rice" look. And I don't know what's going on with Cristian's hair at all. That just looks rough. You see what I'm reduced to here? The hair. This thing is dying like a dog onscreen. Maybe if they performed every scene entirely in Spanish.

Let's save the best for the last, shall we? Oh, wait, this is last. And here's the best: David and Dorian discover Buddhist enlightenment. YES. THIS. My God, that was comedy gold. They could do another two weeks of this and everyone else might be sick of it but I'd still be laughing. The random Tibetan words, the homeless people, the algae-like soup, Dorian's hilarious attempt at convincing everyone that she was for real and hissing to Moe to hide the silver - I could go on and on. Comedy has a place on soaps, but it's a tricky thing; when you have too much of it, or sometimes any at all, fans crack down, saying the show is "too silly" or "too campy." By comparison, when a soap goes dead serious, the cry is that it's "too dark." Now, a soap can certainly be both of these things, and OLTL has been guilty of both extremes at different points in the last ten years. But I think it's got it just right these days, and while the Buddhism follies with D&D may be broad comedy, it's broad comedy done well, at least as far as I'm concerned. Your mileage may vary, of course. But you can't tell me you didn't laugh at David talking about "sirshana." Or whatever. I'm sorry, Buddhists. Also, I'm astonished to find an actual emotional core under the funny stuff, namely David's legitimate spiritual awakening. It seems he's indeed for real, and his struggle has actually been well-rendered. What's this mean for David's future? And why am I actually okay with him maybe staying like this instead of returning to the cad we know and love? And what of poor Moe and Noelle, saddled with the Cramer millions which Delphina has prophecised will lead them to disaster? Or maybe just a guest spot on FX's Damages, where John Rue (Moe) appeared last week? Call this story silly if you must, but it's quality silly, and I'm glued to my seat.

Another column down, another decent week in Llanview. But my hair's still a mess. Please send your Téa Delgado styling tips and legal advice care of Two Scoops and soapcentral. Or just comment on the column. See you darlings in two weeks, by which time Cole and Matthew will no doubt have graduated to abusing Sucrets or Werther's Candies. Later!

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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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