January 19, 2004

How many of you have been watching One Life to Live and wondering what on earth they are doing delving into even the notion that Todd Manning may have raped, yet again?  I read spoilers before I actually saw it play out, and I’ll admit I came into it unhappy with the way the story was turning.  The scenes surrounding the act in question were startling and upsetting, and far from the enjoyable stories I hope for when I tune into what has become a real hour of escape for me.  As most of you know, I’m a GH-weary viewer, and that means that like it or not, any act of any violence on almost any show bothers me nowadays.  I see SO much of it on GH that I unfairly depend on OLTL, the only other daytime I watch regularly, to provide me with enough romance, comedic interlude and good old-fashioned “soapiness” to last for two hours instead of one.  When I read that OLTL was revisiting Todd and the pretense of violent sexual crime, against his own wife and supposed soul mate, the mother of his children no less…well, I reverted directly to my typical GH stance and prepared myself for the worse.  About a week into this story I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, I was wrong.   

There are many soap stories that are difficult to view, and this is no exception.  Even more upsetting, in some ways, is the fact that “difficult” stories sometimes segue into grand romances such as the case of Luke and Laura.  If you asked any non soap viewing person if it makes a bit of sense that a woman can fall in love with, marry and start a family with her rapist…well, they’d probably think you were nuts.  There isn’t much reality in that story but then, not one of us was watching it for reality in the first place.  If you watch GH these days you’ve likely been forced to view every soap thread from angles in which they were never meant to be viewed.  I believe that GH has actually started to ruin the “it’s just a soap” aspect that is completely integral to the genre, by driving too far past that line…repeatedly.  That would be another column though, point is that I’m admitting that I have a hard time putting aside that feeling that every move the writers make is based in salacious need for “man soap” storytelling.  In all fairness, OLTL has sidestepped that to a great extent lately and it was unfair of me to go into the story expecting that it be being told for no other reason than shock value.  Until the entire thing plays out, I can’t know that.  I do believe OLTL deserves my patience in allowing them to tell the story and see for myself where it’s going…and that should be what a soap is all about.   

When I read the spoilers, my mind started working on why.  Why would they be revisiting this with Todd?  The recast of Trevor St. John has been fairly successful, very successful in my book.  Todd and Blair and their oft on again/off again saga is front burner, sometimes too often in the opinion of some.  Judging by the airtime and the good dramatic writing devoted to the character of Blair, tptb are not exactly looking to ruin her either.  My first thought was that Roger Howarth’s Todd had the face of rapist Todd and anyone who watched back then couldn’t completely let that go, no matter how family oriented Todd became.  Truthfully, with the recast I was finding myself just wanting to see at least a short period of marital and familial bliss for Todd and Blair.  I could have accepted it too, but I’m not sure I really could have if it were RH’s face on the screen, even though I *thought* I wanted it back then.  TSJ has done a fabulous job of showing the inner rage and hurt that Todd has always displayed, and he does portray Todd as frightening in his intensity - much as RH did.  His face however, doesn’t invoke the images of the rape as RH’s, when in character of Todd, does.  Maybe the writers realized that this integral part of who this character was and has become, was missing without RH’s face to take us back there when necessary?  This was my initial reasoning, but I am no longer convinced that I was on the right track.   

“He Said”

Todd says they had consensual, albeit rough, sex.  Blair sustained the injury to her head when she tripped and fell, not during the sex.  Todd has raped before, and was convicted of that crime.  To take a character that we all know is capable of rape, and put him in this situation now, is on the surface almost surely ruining the character forever.  If this story is left ambiguous, is it possible to redeem the character to something viable, yet again?  My gut says no, although as we’ve already established, unbelievable things do happen in daytime.  I will be highly surprised though, if this story is left in that state.  The question really, is whether a rapist is redeemable.  I’m not touching that, because there can be no one answer and it’s something everyone feels very strongly about, regardless of which stance they take.  It’s one of those situations where each opinion must be given merit, and there will never be agreement among the masses.  For the purposes of a soap, it seems it’s usually treated as a personal crime (unlike a murder situation where friends, family, etc are greatly affected…this is unfair really, since in the real world we know that rape also has far reaching affects) and if the individual who was perpetrated against decides to forgive her attacker, then the rapist does have a chance at redemption in the soap world.  If you’ve watched soaps for any length of time, then you can think of at least one rapist who later became involved in a popular romance.  It’s only sometimes that we stop and think, wow…what kind of example is this?  Honestly though, I don’t watch my soaps for good examples (provided there is restraint within reason) so even if it turns my stomach on occasion, I have to allow that soaps can redeem rapists.  OLTL has actually managed to keep Todd’s past almost always in the present, by keeping him a tortured individual who has not forgiven himself for his past crimes.  That is what makes Todd fascinating to many of us, and what makes Todd’s story a better story in many ways than those of other soap rapists.  It is also what makes Todd still dangerous, something that is sometimes too easy to forget.   

If Todd raped Blair on New Year’s Eve, we can assume that he isn’t going to go to prison for it.  I do not see them writing TSJ out at the moment, and I don’t see where a prison sequence will get us at the moment either.  So, if he’s guilty, he’s going to get off.  That means that Todd has used his children, namely Starr, for all these weeks to try to make Blair drop the charges.  It means that Todd is no longer the young college frat perpetrator, but a grown man, a husband and father that knowingly harmed his wife in the worst way and coldly used his children to get himself out of it.  Or, he’s guilty but he doesn’t realize he’s guilty.  We see moments where Todd looks truly confused and looks close to breaking down when he considers, for even a second, that he *might* have done it.  Even being accused of such a thing at this point, with his past, should be Todd’s undoing (and at moments seems to be), so this all seems par for the course under these circumstances.

Is it possible to have Todd be guilty of this crime and keep Todd a viable character?  Maybe, but I’ll have to believe it when I see it. 

“She Said” 

Blair says that Todd was angry that she slept with Kevin, so attacked her and forced himself on her.  Her injuries were sustained during the attack, and she hesitated to say she was raped because he is the father of her children and she feared hurting them.  She was also obviously in a state of shock of some sort a short time after the incident and seemed unable to put into words what happened.  She clearly seemed to be led through the initial process by Dorian, who was convinced of what happened from the moment she saw Blair after the fact.  Clearly, Dorian could be wrong and Dorian most definitely pushed an issue that Blair didn’t seem inclined to pursue, at first.  But then, Blair’s reactions were not out of the ordinary (if such a word can be used) for a rape victim, and neither were Dorian’s for a loved one of a rape victim, for that matter.  Is it possible that Todd raped Blair, yet she feels like prosecuting may not be the right thing for her children?  Most definitely!  If Blair is a rape victim here, it would be unlikely that she wouldn’t have feelings of guilt…he is her husband, she slept with another man that night, and now feels responsible for what followed and what the repercussions will do to her children in the future.  She’d be wrong, of course, it isn’t her fault that she was raped…but those feelings would be considered normal from someone in this situation.  So is she hesitating, making statements like “This is all my fault…” because she’s suffering from a victim’s assumed guilt situation, or is there more to it?   

Blair has a long history of doing incredibly stupid (not to mention criminal) things when she’s feeling angry.  It is not out of the question to think that Blair might finally be angry enough at all the hurt and pain that Todd has caused her to get him out of her life for good.  The list of transgressions is too long for this limited space but even the most recent, such as taking her newborn child away from her at birth and telling her the baby died, is beyond heinous.  He deserved to rot in jail for that.  Yet Blair has repeatedly taken Todd back, to the point that even to herself she must look like a joke in some ways.  She has two children with him, and while his parenting is nothing to brag about, it is one of his high points.  Starr deeply loves her father, has issues of her own, and an argument can be made that she actually does need him.  Then comes this latest debacle, where Todd dies, Blair grieves but seems to really accept that the long-standing game is over, and moves on.  She moves on with Walker, proving once again that Blair craves something that most women know better than to approach.  Finding out, after marrying him, that Walker is Todd was beyond shocking and hurtful to Blair.  It was the epitome of making her look like the biggest fool to ever walk the planet.  She became the ultimate woman scorned, even if not in the usual way.  Todd proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he will always have a hold over her…even if she thinks she’s moving on.  In essence, he won the battle they’ve been mired in for years.   

Is it possible that Blair, out of pain, rage, and yes, self-loathing, saw a way out of this terrible cycle she has spent years hurting herself with?  Can she truly convince herself that Todd deserves to be wrongly accused of rape as a way to pay for everything he’s done to her?  I’d have to say yes, it’s possible.  Blair’s statement a few days ago in response to Victoria’s assertion that Todd isn’t acting like he normally does in a situation where he’s lying, could be very telling.  She said, “He thought he had changed and now he knows he hasn’t”.  If Blair wanted to hurt Todd in the worst way, as he’s done to her in taking away all the work she did to build a “new” relationship apart from Todd, then she’d be smart to aim for making him feel like he’s still that rapist in everyone’s eyes, including hers and even including their children.  Todd’s one goal (whether he knows it or not – Blair does know it) is to be worthy of love, and this time he changed everything to be worthy of her love…even his physical presence.  In one moment Blair can take that away from him and out of rage, hate or betrayal, maybe she just couldn’t pass that opportunity up.    People do make horrible decisions at their lowest points, and Blair was at a low point there’s no question.  What Todd did to her was horrible and what it made her face about herself was probably even worse.  There is also the issue that she was going to have to face the fact that she slept with Kevin as a way to hurt Todd, and in the process intentionally deconstructed something very important to Starr – her marriage to Starr’s father.  As adults, we know that Todd ruined that by lying but to Starr it would look very different.  Getting a divorce over the terrible lies Todd told is one thing, but at the point that she acted out she was going to be forced to take some of the blame on herself instead of leaving it where it belonged – on Todd.  That is a tough thing to face, particularly as a parent.     

The Future 

There are a hundred reasons why Blair is caught in this destructive cycle with Todd, and while it has made for some good viewing over the years, too much analysis of it will probably cause me to be unable to watch them ever again.  That’s where a good soap walks the line, and hopefully succeeds in keeping just enough balance that we can still believe there is a reason these two people haven’t ruined one another completely, even if the reason is based in dysfunction.  Soaps expect us to be mindful of the past, but a good present story should be keeping us from being mired in the past.  Instead we should be able to move with the characters through the drama, even when it’s over the top, and at least see why they moved from point A to point B…even if we know that it would be unlikely to turn out that way in real life.  So far, OLTL is succeeding with that in this story.  They are showing every side, even Starr’s, and they are keeping the characters mostly true to themselves.   

I have no inside information on how this story will play out.  Blair may have been raped.  Blair may not have been raped, but be convinced that she was; whether because she cannot face the fact that she slept with Todd, or because she’s had a psychotic break of some sort, which certainly looked possible, given her state at the hospital at times.   Todd may not realize he’s guilty (though I’m not sure I’ll buy that one); Todd may realize it but not be willing to face it.  Todd may be innocent, having actually, for once, accepted that Blair’s actions were nothing he wasn’t due.  Consider this though.  If Blair is lying, and maybe not facing that she is lying yet, does this make her character viable after this clears up?  Can we forgive a woman crying rape out of anger at her husband?  Initially, I hated this idea for many reasons, not the least of which is the incredibly bad example it sets.  I’m still not sure it would be a wise story move, but I’ve come to realize that I can’t watch for examples on soaps, I have to watch for good drama.  Women do occasionally accuse rape falsely, slap in the face to rape victims though it is.  If OLTL can tell that story, without making what Blair is doing okay in any way, it could be an extremely interesting soap story with huge repercussions.  Consider what it does to the relationship of Blair and Todd. 

Most of us (even those of us who are still interested in the pairing) are tired of the same song and dance with Todd and Blair.  Wedded familial bliss is the death of a soap couple, but constant, non-stop dysfunction gets old.  There have to be reasons that a couple hit a wall and then regroup, and after awhile the reasons start all sounding the same.  Todd lied again, so Blair can’t forgive him again!  One or the other is faking that they want to be there in order to hurt the other at the worst possible moment, their 346th wedding ceremony!  I mean really, it only can go so far.  Blair has committed her share of misdeeds, but it’s pretty difficult anymore to find a reason why she would be willing to let Todd have another crack at screwing everything up.  They are beyond out of balance as a couple.  If, however, Blair is falsely accusing Todd of rape – even if the reason isn’t completely within her control (she lost reality, for example, and can’t really remember but is somehow convinced that she does), then she has just done wonders toward creating years worth of continued story for Blair and Todd.  It could come out now, and she could have to face Todd, her children and the entire town (And Marty who is supposedly coming back for the trial!) as someone who has betrayed everyone, in one of the worst ways.  Or it could come out to viewers now, but not to the canvas, so we watch Todd maybe get off under a cloud of suspicion and try to live his life while Blair agonizes over what she’s done, unable to admit to it for fear of what she’ll lose.  Or it could play out with Todd getting off under that cloud and our not knowing until some point in the future.  Blair has a lot at stake, if what happened isn’t what she said happened, she stands to lose everything just as much as Todd does if it happened the way she said.  Frankly, it could be riveting.  

While it’s tough to swallow Nora being involved in this case at all, given her history with Todd, it does make for another interesting aspect.  What will it do to Nora *if* she’s representing (And who knows how far Nora will eventually go in this case to win it?  It could get interesting!) someone who has ultimately been untruthful about something that can still be so raw for Nora?  What does all of it do to Starr (a character that OLTL has very intelligently set up for years worth of future story) in the end?  What does it do to Todd?  What is it like to go on trial for something that you previously were on trial for, that you previously denied doing even while knowing you were guilty?  Can Todd and Blair really be together ever again knowing that ALL of the angst of the last however many years has been of their own making?  Will they finally have to stop blaming each other and realize that to continue this way borders on criminal (or may be criminal in this case)?   If tptb are looking for a way to end Todd and Blair, this could very well be it.  Not an ending in the way we’ve seen before, but an ending where they both realize that they’ve created this monster together, that maybe they both deserve everything they’ve gotten.  On the other hand, if tptb are looking for a way to continue Todd and Blair, this could also be it.  Is there a better place to be sitting, from a writer’s standpoint? 

There are obviously many intentional ambiguities so far.  Blair never answered Victoria when asked specifically if she said “no”, pointing possibly toward her having not done so.  It seems odd that Todd would want to have sex with Blair directly following her time with Kevin, pointing toward Todd possibly losing control and acting out of rage rather than anything else.  It’s possible that Blair didn’t say no specifically and Todd thought she wanted to have sex…but this would again be a very gray area, particularly when dealing with someone who has raped before.  If Todd has truly changed at all, wouldn’t he be overly circumspect about those kinds of things?  What exactly does Blair’s recent statement to Starr mean?  She said, “If I decide to drop the charges it won’t be because you told me to, it’ll be because I do what is right”…I mean really…huh?  I’m still not sure how I feel about watching a young child caught up in all of this, but using Starr’s petulance and desire to have both her parents serves to make the story all the more confusing, which I’m assuming is the goal.  It allows for every hesitation on Blair’s part to have merit without it having to necessarily be about whether she’s telling the truth or not.  You have to give them credit on that, it’s working.  It has also been heartbreaking (but not overtly so) to watch her try to make sense of what her parent’s are going through. 

I’m not saying I would’ve chosen to write this story, whichever outcome it may have.  But now that it has been laid out in front of me, I’m not sure I can deny some of the possibilities, despite how distasteful the route toward them may be.  This is one of those stories that could really backfire, in a huge way.  It could also go down in the soap history books as creative and rather brave, if handled correctly.  It could provide the means for many characters to reevaluate who they are, and how they behave.  Either way, it’s already partially successful because it has viewers taking sides, thinking through possibilities and speculating on the outcome.  That may seem like a simple thing, but these days with viewers on the Internet reading spoilers and congregating to disavow shows or characters over every possible social misstep, I’d consider it an accomplishment.              



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