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:

YouTube link

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.