I’ve been watching the show very carefully, trying to figure out when TPTB started to lay the groundwork to put Kayla and Shane together.  And despite the fact that they spend nearly every minute together in Alamania, and there may well have been some chem testing going on, I don’t get the sense that anything in particular was in the works.

Here, though, at the very end of their stay in Lawrence’s country, is the first scene where I felt the strings starting to be pulled:

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Personally, I find it very awkward.  Carly’s comment about Kayla being a comfort to Shane sounds forced, especially when she tries to take it back, saying, “I’m sorry, I know he’s married to your sister, I just thought …”  I mean, who says that?

The point of these “call someone on their feelings” scenes is usually to show that there is some truth to them, even as the person denies it.  But Mary Beth Evans doesn’t play it that way.  She shows confusion, certainly, but Kayla comes across to me as feeling uncertain about the state of her friendship with Shane.  She was recently blaming him quite strongly about his role in not preventing Steve’s death, and has accused him of coldly working on his “case” without regard to the feelings of the people involved.  I think that Mary Beth plays Kayla as being quite sincere in what she says here, and she’s not saying it to cover up deeper feelings.  She always thought she and Shane were friends, but never really knew him that well.  Their recent conflicts have called that friendship into question, but at the same time she’s gotten to know him better and might start a friendship on a new basis.

Carly’s response, lavishly complimenting Shane and telling Kayla not to turn her back on him, is again soap boilerplate for setting up a new couple.  The coda to the scene could also be read this way:  Kayla calls Marcus, and stresses to Shane (who comes up in time to overhear the end of their conversation) that she was talking to her “friend” and talking about how she can’t wait to see him.  It’s begging to be read that Kayla, in denial of her feelings for Shane, is latching onto Marcus.  (A few months from now, this will indeed be the case.)  The scene calls for a final awkward exchange of glances between Shane and Kayla, Shane registering a bit of jealousy, Kayla a bit of pique (with a hint of uncertainty underneath).  But Mary Beth and Charles again play against it.  Kayla plays her line pretty straight, and Shane merely smiles, seemingly happy for Kayla that she has a good friend in Marcus.

I’m not implying that Mary Beth and Charles were against the pairing of their characters.  Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t.  I’ve heard mixed things about that.  But here, at least, I think both felt, quite rightly, that it was too soon for this kind of signal to be sent, and played the scene accordingly.

Okay, everyone, deep breath.  It’s time to plunge into the dark side.

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It wasn’t until 2006 that I found out that the Shane and Kayla pairing had ever happened.  I was reading my mom’s Days history and there was a one-sentence reference to the relationship.  One of those “For a time, Shane and Kayla became close” sentences you read in soap synopses.  I think I stared at it for several minutes waiting for my eyes to clarify this into something that made sense.  Then I said “That’s so wrong!”, threw the book down, and walked out of the room, like I could erase it from my memory.

I’ve thought about this since then, and I’m not sure why I reacted so strongly.  I know my reaction was not unique, and in fact seems to be shared by many Steve and Kayla fans.  On the TWoP boards, someone jokingly spoiler-tagged “Shayla” (the black bar looked like a CENSORED tag) and then we all started doing it.  I’ve seen Shayla called the Couple Who Must Not be Named, and “the worst storyline of all time.”  This on a show that did Melaswen.

It’s not that shocking of a plot:  two sisters in love with the same man.  In fact, you might call it a soap staple.  So why the hate?  Well, I think it has a little something to do with the fact that we’re talking about two supercouples here.  And supercouples were not broken up and then paired off with each other.  Sure, one might die and a new love interest could be brought on for the surviving one.  But that’s it. 

Tom Langan famously said in 1992 that “the era of supercouple is over.”  I think this story was the first shot across the bow.

I’ve always thought that Shane and Kim were the best example of the so-called “supercouple problem.”  Here’s the problem as I see it:  you have about two years of story between first meeting and making it to the altar.  Then about a year of relative happiness, maybe a baby story.  Then a big breakup, with probably a year of story out of that.  That’s about four (maybe five) good years.  The problem is, what do you do after that?  Too much happiness = back burner.  Too many breakups, and you risk jeopardizing what made the couple work in the first place.  After you break up for the tenth time, is it really true love?

With every other supercouple, something seemed to happen to bail out the show from this problem.  Bo and Hope started in 1983, and they left together in 1987.  For Roman and Marlena, Wayne Northrup left, Drake Hogestyn came in, then Deirdre Hall left, all in the course of four years.  For Steve and Kayla, they started in 1986 and Stephen Nichols left in 1990.  Adrienne and Justin were written out together after about five years.   Jack and Jennifer are a little different because their story started at the end of the supercouple era [1989], so by the time they hit their five year mark the show had drastically changed.

So that leaves Shane and Kim.  Their story started in 1984 and they got married in 1986.  I still have not seen their early story (though I will!); by all accounts it was excellent.  Shane the spy and Kim the prostitute with a damaged past.  Before and after their wedding they did all the soap staples.  They did the dead wife comes back story (Emma!), they did a Who’s-the-Daddy story.  A Kimberly-is-blind story.  They did a baby kidnapping story, an evil-twin story (remember Drew?).  They did the “a child he never knew he had” story.  They did a presumed-dead story and an amnesia story.  By then it was 1990 and it had been six uninterrupted years.  The tank was starting to sputter.  They did a second WTD story.  Now, I know today no one can have a baby without no one knowing who the mother is, let alone the father.  But back then it seemed a little too much.  I have to think that after all of that the writers just threw up their hands and said, “Forget it!  I can’t think of anything else!”

Patsy Pease did take a break from the show, in 1990.  I had always assumed that part of the reason Shayla happened was that the show lost Patsy Pease and Stephen Nichols at the same time and threw Shane and Kayla together as kind of an afterthought.  Some of the scenes during the Alamania storyline seem to bear this out.  Here are two lead players who definitely need to be a part of the story, everyone else is paired off, let’s chem test them.

I still think that was part of it, maybe the initial inspiration.  But Patsy Pease returned to the canvas well before anything significant happened with Shane and Kayla.  It would have been very easy to drop the whole thing.  What is surprising to me (and I have watched up through March of 1991 at this point) is the care and attention that obviously went into this plot.

And it’s got Mary Beth.  So I might not be ordering this sweatshirt anytime soon:

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(something to wear to your next S&K meetup!)

but I’m enjoying the story much more than I ever thought I would.  So if any of you are willing to come along with me, I would love to have you.

I think this might be my favorite scene from Jennifer’s rape storyline:

Jack already knows something is wrong.  Jen has not wanted to sleep with him since they’ve been back.  He’s taken the rejection calmly, but we’ve seen it sting.  I love the puzzled, watchful expression on Jack’s face in this scene, even as he goes through the motions of their romantic evening.  I especially like the moment when he says that if he had told her earlier how he felt, it might have prevented her from plunging into this adventure and ending up in Alamania with Lawrence.  It shows his thought process, his sense that something went wrong there, and seems to be a way to invite her to open up.

Nothing comes of that, so, what now?  Well, she is still here … still saying she loves him.  Maybe he should just carry on as though nothing is wrong …

They kiss, they head to the couch.  Jennifer says, “I just want you to know that whatever happens, I love you.”  That’s not ominous or anything.

Jack kisses her again.  We can see Jen begin to panic.  Frankie’s entrance is perfectly timed, saving Jen from having to pull away, or rather, having to explain why she’s pulling away.

Frankie’s entrance is perfectly timed for Jack too.  Here is a possible explanation for why Jen is pushing him away.  Every demon from his relationship with Kayla must be screaming at him internally.  That was the last time a woman he loved put him off with feeble excuses, asked him to be understanding, to wait.  And he did wait.  He carried on as though nothing was wrong …

(I have always loved this scene.  Kayla and Steve really did carry on right under Jack’s nose, and I don’t give them a pass for that.  It’s true that whatever they did, it doesn’t justify the rape.  But then, the converse is also true:  the rape doesn’t justify what they did.)

“Frankie coming in like that … it spoiled the mood for me.” 

“I just feel funny, being here in my mom’s house with you.”

Last time, the woman he loved was making excuses because she was really in love with someone else.  Maybe history is repeating itself.

And if history can repeat itself in one way, maybe it can in another.  He says to Jen here, “I never mean to scare you, or hurt you.”   But here’s the thing:  he never meant to hurt Kayla either.  He said to Kayla, “I’ll wait.  I won’t push you.”  And that was true … until it wasn’t.

Sorry about the long-time-no-post.  I’ve been obsessively watching Boardwalk Empire on DVD (no spoilers!  I just started season 3).  Just watched the episode where they killed off Jimmy Darmody (my favorite character … of course. Another bad boy with a tragic past), and it got me thinking about television shows and change.  How do you walk the line between keeping things fresh and yet not alienating what drew people to your show in the first place?

On soaps, characters and actors can come and go more freely, plots and relationships can change more drastically, than on a sitcom, or nighttime drama, or really any other kind of show I can think of.    But at heart I think soaps tend to be very conservative, very afraid to rock the boat.  You wouldn’t see Days kill off a major, extremely popular character … what am I saying, of course they would.

But, he wouldn’t stay dead.  That’s the difference.

When James E. Reilly did the Salem Serial Killer storyline in 2003 and 2004, I wasn’t watching Days, but my mom had just retired and picked up watching it again right in the middle of the storyline.  I actually got invested in it too, just from her telling me about it.  Here was a departure from the norm, where major characters are never really in danger, where no one stays dead, where you can predict the lines the show won’t go over.  James Reilly knew what he was doing (short term, anyway).  He got a lot of people talking about the show, got some mainstream press.  I remember having a conversation with my trainer at the gym, saying “I can’t believe they killed Alice!”  Neither of us had watched the show in years.

When they got to Melaswen, I lost interest, of course.  I’m sure a lot of people did.  That’s what happens when you pull your punches.  I’ve heard since about the back story to this, that James Reilly was committed to everyone staying dead, but such was the backlash that Ken Corday lost his nerve and insisted everyone be rehired and then turned around and said it was the plan all along.  (And Frances Reid, bless her heart, came right out and said he was full of shit.)   I’m no fan of James Reilly but having okayed the storyline to begin with you can’t just say “Never mind, erase that!”  Be very careful in being bold, but if you go for it, stick with it.

Anyway, none of this has much to do with the real subject of this post, which is the end of a very lovely plot arc for Kayla:

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Actually, there is a slight connection.  If Days doesn’t get rid of major, popular characters (and it doesn’t), how do you move the story forward?  One of the problems on soaps that comes up again and again is how to make the bad guys “pay” when you can’t write them out.   You can’t send them to jail or kill them off, so what do you do?  This is a great example of how to do it.  Lawrence loses someone he loves, just like Kayla did. And maybe even more importantly, he breaks down in front of Kayla and Shane, losing his smooth, always-in-control demeanor.  That’s a perfect set-up for Kayla to realize that winning doesn’t bring Steve back. (If Lawrence were still smug and on top of everything, this wouldn’t work in the same way.)

This also refers back to Jack and Kayla’s conversations, that “no one gets off scot free” and that violence isn’t the answer.  Jack told her “I learned that from you,” but she forgot that, she forgot her own lesson, or her own philosophy, if you will.  That’s very human — I love that we saw Kayla consumed by anger and a desire for revenge.

Steve told Kayla once that “everyone says things like that” — things like, people are good deep down, that violence doesn’t solve anything — “but you really mean it.”  That’s why this scene works so well.  It’s Kayla rediscovering her own deeply held beliefs.

I love big reveal scenes.  Don’t we all?  When the secrets are revealed, the confrontation finally happens.  Where it All Comes Out.

Soap writers, good and bad, know how much we love this.  So they make us wait.  And wait.  But, a good soap writer uses this time to do interesting things with character and plot.  Things happen — the pressure of the secret might make some other explosion happen.  Or someone jumps to the wrong conclusion, leading to multiple complications.  Or, or, or.  And then of course there are all the teasers.  It’s all going to come out! — actually, no.

Here’s a handy rule of thumb, though:  you can tell a bad soap writer by how often they go for the false reveal.  If there’s nothing else going on except the suspense of waiting for the secret to come out, it isn’t much of a story.  (I’m talking to you, James E. Reilly!)

Here is a great example of a It All Comes Out scene:

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(One of the first things that strikes me about this scene is seeing so many major players, all in one place!  Imagine the budget for this episode!)

Carly is the center of the secret(s) revealed here, and they do a really good job tying the different threads together.  For anyone who doesn’t know the basic story, Carly has been keeping three different secrets:

1. She is Katarina von Leuchner

2.  Frankie is her brother

3.  Lawrence forced her to bring Bo to this house, in exchange for Frankie’s life, who he is holding hostage.

We see all of these come out at once.  I love seeing all the different reactions. Now Jack can understand why Jennifer was so determined to pose at Katarina — it was to help her friend Carly.  And we get to see Jennifer calling Carly out for not telling her that Frankie was her brother, and that she knew Lawrence before.  Knowing this wouldn’t necessarily have changed what she did, but it’s a betrayal of how much she has done for her friend, when Carly didn’t trust her enough to tell her the full truth.

And then of course there’s Bo. I don’t have this full storyline on my DVDs, so I don’t know all the details.  But Bo has just discovered that Carly is working with Lawrence, and doesn’t know all the mitigating factors.  The way he grabs Carly and hold her hostage is yummy angst on multiple levels.  It’s a way to foster an escape, of course, but also take revenge on her for deceiving him, and also maybe a way for him to figure out how deep her relationship with Lawrence goes.

The second part of the scene above is also fantastic, where Jack finally convinces Jen to end the charade that she is Katarina.  The setup scene for this is not so great — I just don’t believe that Jen would yet again insist on maintaining the pretense and staying with Lawrence.  I know she is supposed to be protecting Frankie, and is scared of Lawrence, but it just seems bizarre for her to insist that she is Katarina, in front people who know she is not (this, of course, is pretty much what Jack says).  But, since I like the scene that follows so very much, I’ll let it pass.

Jack’s speech is pure gold.  I love his certainty that Jennifer loves him, that he has the confidence to call her out in front of all these people and say so definitely that she loves him, Jack.  After all the times we’ve seen him doubt himself and push her away, this is very, very satisfying.  And it’s a cathartic moment too when Jen finally, finally drops her pose and says she loves him.

We also saw, months back, how Jack pleaded with Steve not to die, how he needed an “honest to God hero-type” to help him rescue Jennifer.  It was obvious then that Jack didn’t think he could be that hero.  Since then, we’ve seen him slowly growing into the role, mostly because he refuses to give up.  But what I really love about this is that he still doesn’t see himself that way, he doesn’t turn into one of our alpha males (God love ‘em!) and try to threaten or intimidate Lawrence.  When Lawrence asks him what he thinks he could possibly do, he says frankly that he doesn’t know.  But, you never know what he might come up with.  He’s asking Jennifer to take a leap of faith with him, and that’s very romantic, and heroic, in its own way.

UPDATE:  I can’t believe I forgot to mention my favorite part of this scene!  After Lawrence makes his getaway, Kayla says angrily that the man who killed Steve is getting away , and Jack tells her, “No one gets away scot free … remember?”  It refers back to their conversation in the garden, of course.  But it is also another way to apologize, and not only for the rape.  For those months afterward, while he gleefully tormented her and Steve, he wasn’t as impervious as he seemed.  The rape changed her life — irrevocably.  Here he’s saying it changed his too.

It feels like kismet that they are doing this JJ storyline on Days, where he finds out that his dad raped Kayla, right as I am watching Jennifer’s rape storyline on my DVDs.

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I’ve actually gotten hundreds of hits on my blog over the last week, from people googling for information on this storyline.  Mostly these were some variation of “days of our lives what did jack do to kayla,” but there were a couple of gems like “after Jack raped Kayla on days of our lives, how did they turn him into a good guy?”

It’s a good question!

Anyway, we fans are always saying that we want them to use the history of the show, and I think this story is a good example of how to do it well (though I really, really miss Matt Ashford here!  He should be a part of this!)  Too often the show uses the past lazily, by having some veteran shuffle out and say “you know, this same thing happened to me once!” and then shuffle away again.  Rarely is there an attempt to emotionally engage with the past, especially in ways that affect the veteran as well as the younger player.

This story clears that hurdle easily.  It is mostly about JJ, of course, and I don’t have a problem with that.  I really liked JJ’s comment that he “doesn’t feel like a blessing right now,” followed immediately by “am I like him [Jack]?”   They are clearly using this as an opportunity to make JJ question his own character, by making him question the character of the father he’s always admired.  They also showed him on Tuesday’s show bitterly railing against his family (excepting Kayla — I appreciated that!) for keeping him in the dark and — interestingly — implicitly letting him feel that he’s the only screwup in the family.

One thing I appreciated, though, was the way we got to see Kayla at work, obviously upset, snapping at Jeannie — I mean, Teresa — after her first conversation with JJ.  Remembering the past was clearly weighing on her, and Teresa’s mention of JJ didn’t help.  I also appreciated that JJ came back to talk to her after finding out the truth.  That scene is probably my favorite of this whole arc:

(The scene starts at 9:50 )  I really like seeing Mary Beth Evans have something with some depth to play, and I think Casey Moss does well too.  I like how JJ starts off saying “I already know but I need to hear from you” then moves to the last ditch “He was just saying that to get Alamain, right?” then softens for a moment as he seems to recognize this is hard on her, then shouting “we’re not okay!” and stomping out.

I like that Kayla doesn’t go into detail about the circumstances, and certainly doesn’t excuse or justify him, but she clearly does want to convey a little bit of the complexity of it:  “I did something to hurt your dad … “

I also like that it doesn’t help, because it wouldn’t.

The other danger for the show in using the past, especially the past from 25 years ago, is the high likelihood of getting something wrong.  When Steve and Kayla came back in 2006, there were a couple of references to the past that they got wrong.  At a dinner when Steve still had amnesia, they made a big deal about how he didn’t like the fancy food that Kayla cooked for him, and he referred to himself as a “meat and potatoes” guy.  They were trying to show the distance between them, which was great, but one of the details about Steve that I always particularly liked was that he was a gourmand.  It’s similar to the fact that Kayla, of the two of them, was the sexual aggressor:  these character traits helped to mix up the stereotypes of the good girl/bad boy storyline, and make each character unique.  Another mistake I remember is when Adrienne visited Steve in the psych ward during the “crazy Steve” story, she referred to his past with Duke and Jo, and said that Duke “beat you and your baby brother Billy.”  Actually Duke only abused Jo, and that was key to the whole story.  It gave credence to Steve’s feeling that she gave up Steve because she chose Duke over him and Billy, and not that she was protecting them from Duke.  It was also an important aspect of Steve’s character that he tried to kill Duke for Jo’s sake, not his own.

You can argue that these are minor, and they are.  And if I had been confident in between times that my characters were in good hands, I think I would have brushed them off more easily.

That kind of mistake doesn’t happen here, at least not that I could tell.  I liked how they weaved a mention of Lawrence into the reveal.  I’m not sure I believe that Jen would keep a transcript from Lawrence’s trial laying around, and even more that JJ would know it and know exactly where it was.  But I still liked it.  It’s a great way to string out the reveal for JJ, and isolate him when he finds out the truth.  Plus it adds richness to the use of the past.  (I also take it as a personal shout out to me, given what I’m watching now!)

They did make use of a retcon, when Adrienne says that Jack grew up with every privilege, except love.  But it is a retcon dating back to 1989, so I won’t really complain on that score.  I didn’t like it back then  because it seemed a cheap, and unnecessary, way to try to gain sympathy for Jack.  Here, too, some fans may bristle at the suggestion that an unloving childhood in any way justifies committing rape, which it certainly doesn’t.  However, I think it’s believable that Adrienne would try to put things in context and try to mitigate the harshness of the news for JJ. And just like with Kayla, I’m glad it doesn’t work.

I did have to crack up a little at the line, “Jack deeply regretted his actions, until the day he died.”  Should that be the days he died?  What was it, five different times?

I never really liked how they turned Jack into a coward and bumbler.  I saw an interview with Matt Ashford once where he said he liked that Jack wasn’t a typical hero, and at the first sign of trouble would faint, or run away, or offer to stay behind with the ladies (this when the ladies were usually clamoring to go along).   I can see his point — I too like that Jack is unique — but when it slips over into slapstick it is usually too far for me.

Plus, I can never quite forget this guy:

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Sure, he tumbled off the roof in the end and needed a new kidney, but until then he was giving as good as he got.  This scene is impressive just from a staging standpoint — all that fighting up and down stairs, including Steve’s great jump/drop kick at one point.  I’m guessing that Matt and Stephen worked hard rehearsing this to make it look real.  Also, I know this scene is Very Serious and I definitely watch it as such, but somehow it is also a bit comical how Kayla keeps trailing after them getting in the way, forcing Steve to constantly stop fighting and grab her and tell her to go inside — which she never does.

At any rate, I recognize that I am attached to evil Jack partly because I am such a Steve and Kayla fan.  In order for the whole Jack/Steve/Kayla storyline to work, we have see evil Jack as a genuine threat.  I also know that the transition to “coward Jack” was, in part, a deliberate reaction to how evil he was before, to counter the memory of his bad deeds and make him acceptable as a leading man.  But sometimes I think they end up undercutting evil Jack a little too much — I want to see the the threat sometimes, to see the monster that Jack is afraid of.

But, I’ll give the show credit.  By setting up Jack as the coward-who-faints, they can turn around and surprise and delight us with a scene like this:

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This is great.  What I like particularly about it is that Jack is still Jack — the Jack we know now, anyway.  It makes sense that Jack would know how to fence, given his privileged background.  Besides, if Jack is going to be skilled at any kind of fighting, fencing is just the kind of impractical, semi-esoteric type that it would be.  And I just love the surprise of the “I’m not right-handed” moment (bonus points for referencing The Princess Bride!).  I knew Jack was left handed but it didn’t register until he said it.  Perfect.

(The fangirl in me also loves that what that gives him Jack his final impetus to win is that Lawrence taunts him about Steve!)

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