We don’t know what we don’t know

For all that I think the Shayla storyline is underrated, Kim’s role in it is probably the weakest link. This was mostly due to the fact that the show couldn’t make up its mind how much Kim was supposed to genuinely care for Lawrence. They wanted to retain sympathy for Kim, so she had to be seen as mostly just trying to get the goods on Lawrence. But they also wanted to show that Shane and Kayla (and later Jack and Jennifer) had reason to distrust her motives. It was all nicely messy, but sometimes it went too far and it was just confusing.

Then, after playing it coy about it for months, they decided they did want Kim to develop feelings for Lawrence, just in time to discover the truth about him during the trial. No doubt they thought it would up the drama quotient, if it wasn’t clear she would bring Lawrence down after all, and then if there was a big dramatic scene where she realizes the truth (which there is). I don’t have all the Lawrence/Kim scenes so maybe there is something in them that makes it work, but Kim falling for Lawrence during his trial for rape is the worst possible timing. Kim has to believe that Jen is lying, because Lawrence explicitly denies raping her. This makes me very, very queasy, given Kim’s own past.

The show also had another ball to juggle. How much does Shane care for Kim? Most of the time, it’s quite clear, to me anyway, that Shane has moved on from Kim and genuinely cares for Kayla, but that Kim can still push his buttons. This is how Charles Shaughnessy plays it, and I think it works best that way. If he was drawn to Kim too, it would make him look bad to be so entangled with two sisters. It would also give more fuel to Shawn’s arguments that if Kayla would step aside, Shane and Kim would get back together.

But, sometimes they couldn’t resist throwing a little curve ball.

Some background: it’s the middle of Lawrence’s trial, and Shane, Kim, Kayla, Jack and Jennifer are all cooperating to try to find more evidence on Lawrence. Kim has been tasked with finding a video that supposedly exists of Jen and Lawrence’s wedding night. Apparently Lawrence has a habit of keeping a camera filming in his bedroom (just like Fynn!). However, Kim sleeps with him instead, taking a moment to block the camera that she knows is there. Shane and Jack later break in and search for the tape, which they find is missing. Shane takes the tape from the night Kim was with Lawrence and sees enough to know they slept together. He doesn’t tell anyone, including Kim, what he saw.

We see Shane’s ruthlessness here, his willingness to use Kim’s feelings for him to get the truth. He touches her face and says “old habits die hard” so he can attach a bug to her earring. This is a callback to how he used her when they first met, and is also consistent with how he used Kayla and her job at the lab, over the course of this case.

When Kim finds the bug and confronts him, it plays like a supercouple confrontation scene. Maybe that’s partly because Charles and Patsy have such killer chemistry and play off one another so well. But he definitely makes it about more than the case when he lists Victor, Cal and Lawrence, and says “Is there anyone you wouldn’t sleep with?” It’s like a punch in the stomach. Does he lash out like this not only because she slept with Lawrence but because he heard her mocking him earlier (“Shane who?”)? It’s not clear, but the juxtaposition is suggestive.

It’s very similar — maybe too similar, Days does love to recycle! — to the fights they had about Victor after Kim slept with him to save Shane’s life. That was a brilliant story for them because it touched on Kim’s insecurity about her past as a prostitute, whether Shane could really get over the fact that she had slept with so many men. And Shane in turn had to confront the same thing, especially after it was revealed Andrew was Victor’s child — which of course he wasn’t really. And of course this is when he still thinks Jeannie (I mean, Theresa) is Cal’s child, so there is that parallel as well.

I suspect that the show was keeping their options open about this, not so much here as for the future. This scene is about as close as it gets to suggesting Shane has real feelings for Kim in this period. After this scene, they use this event for awhile longer to create insecurity for Kayla (as you can see they did here) without suggesting that Shane is genuinely drawn to Kim. But I think they wanted to keep this card in their back pocket to potentially play later. I also suspect that the long term plan, if they had one, was that Shane and Kim would eventually reunite. But the churn going on backstage in 1991 and 92 — the revolving door of headwriters, Patsy Pease’s leaves of absence — makes it difficult to know anything for certain.

Hey, not bad

I wanted to do a post on today’s show because I thought it was actually decent.

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I’ve been rolling my eyes for weeks at Hope’s willingness to get back together with Aiden when HIS SON RAPED HER DAUGHTER, but today was a decent payoff for that frustration. My frustration was partly with the show, and not just with Hope. I thought they were genuinely trying to sell us Haiden, round 2. An idea I find so nauseating it is making Rope look good — seriously.

(And all this happening while Rafe lay tied up with the timer ticking down was fairly suspenseful, though I think they could have stretched it out even more. Like Hope goes to his house to cry on his shoulder, but his mother tells her triumphantly that Rafe is done with her and is with Blanca. So Hope goes home, discouraged … as the clock ticks down.)

I liked that Aiden’s fudging on when he was actually replaced with the double came back to bite him. It was such a weaselly lie — he already spilled he was working for the Dimeras and was hired to kill her, but he couldn’t resist holding back that one extra fact.

But why was Roman so eager to excuse Hope for giving Aiden another chance? Why was everyone? One of my pet peeves with modern Days is how other characters on the show are so willing to excuse a supposed “good” character’s actions. You know, people don’t have to agree on things.

But I should be careful what I wish for, because when Days does disagreement it sometimes turns out like Chad and Jennifer today.

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I thought the scenes themselves were great, honestly. Billy Flynn and Missy Reeves did really well and had a really nice rhythm going. Their recriminations they were hurling at each other were nicely specific — I liked that Jen said she was wary of him from the beginning, because she was, though saying Ben only went crazy because of Chad was stretching things a bit far. And I liked how he brought up her pill popping and said she was just doing this because she was going crazy about her daughter.

But. It all came out of freaking nowhere. We needed to see Jennifer seeing something specific to set her off, to make the danger to Thomas seem urgent. And we needed a longer buildup of simmering frustration, more distrust between the two of them, before this final crack up.

Well, one takes what one can get, these days.

 

On trial

Previous Jack and Jennifer post: Speechless

I am not going to spend too much time on Lawrence’s trial for rape, mostly because it was good, but not great, soap. I enjoyed watching Jennifer come to the decision to prosecute, and watching her fight through Jack’s well-meaning advice not to do so. And there are definitely some stellar moments to enjoy, like this one:

Missy does well with Jen’s testimony. First of all, I love when someone has to summarize all the ins and outs of a complicated soap plot with a straight face. She was impersonating an heiress to save her best friend from an arranged marriage which would (inexplicably) expire after her 25th birthday. He doesn’t know what his fiancee looked like? Well, no, the one time he met “Katarina” Jennifer happened to be impersonating her. Lawrence forced Jen to marry him by holding her grandmother hostage and threatening all her friends, she had to go to his room because the only escape from the house was an elevator in his room … it all sounds perfectly ludicrous.

Nevertheless, when it comes down the nitty gritty, her insistence that despite the fact that she went to his room on their wedding night, and pretended she was interested in him, and poured him a glass of champagne, that she still “said no” is very powerful, and still (depressingly) resonates today.

One thing I appreciate (again, depressingly realistic) is that Lawrence’s lawyer goes after Jennifer’s character. Since this is essentially a he said/she said case, Jennifer’s case rests largely on how believable she is on the stand. So he goes after her for impersonating Carly — she was a liar then, how do we know she isn’t a liar now? If she was such a good actress she could undertake this impersonation, how can she fault Lawrence for believing her act?

Matt Ashford does so well with his reactions during Jen’s testimony. When Jen says “I told him to stop” he closes his eyes and he is clearly feeling not just her pain but remembering when Kayla told him to stop. We can see it’s hard for him to even stay in his seat as the lawyer attacks Jen. And then, when the lawyer brings up his final zinger that if she thinks rape is so contemptible, why is she involved with Jack? — Matt’s reaction is spot on. Jack looks sick, and not at all surprised, even as everyone else reacts in dismay and surprise. (Of course, they all should have known the lawyer would bring this up, but I digress.)

And then when Jack finally does jump up and run out of the courtroom, Kayla is the best person to go after him. Not to comfort him, but to confront and challenge him. Jack emotions are spilling out of him and he tries to apologize to her, but Kayla cuts him off. One thing I love about this part of the storyline is that it forces Jack to realize what Kayla went through after the rape, the trial, the publicity, the character smears he put her through. I love that he apologizes, but I also love that we see that his apology doesn’t help. And I love that Kayla doesn’t have any words of forgiveness for him — in fact, she acknowledges how bad it was by saying she couldn’t have gotten through it without Steve.

And Steve, of course, is the best person to inspire Jack to step up. Jack wants to live up to the faith Steve had in him, and Kayla is telling him that Steve was there for her, and he needs to be there for Jen. It’s what got her through her own ordeal — and it’s what will get Jennifer through hers. And Jennifer’s needs are most important now. I love that it’s Kayla that reminds him of that.

 

 

Who’s running this ship?

I enjoy thinking about the process of writing a soap. I enjoy looking for signature characteristics of different headwriters, good and bad. I have prided myself on my ability to get inside the writer’s mind, think about what they were going for, and evaluate how well it was working. This is really fun when the stories are good, but it can even be fun when they aren’t, because you can think about what the goal was (turn X into a heroine … redeem Y … create a romance for Z) and suggest ways that the story could have been better.

I have to say, I have been utterly flummoxed for the last few months. I felt I have a handle on Dena’s writing style from knowing it in her last run, and it was on display in January and February (the big car accident, the Ava story). I felt I knew a little bit about Josh Griffith’s style from watching last fall, and certain elements of it were on display in March and April (the Yo Ling story, Abby going crazy) — but since then I can’t make head or tail of who is in control. Dena was supposedly on a leave of absence while what we are watching was being written. So this should be Josh (and Beth Milstein) in full control. So why isn’t what we are watching anywhere near as good as what we saw last fall? Some possible explanations:

  1. Dena is a better writer than I am giving her credit for, and she had a hand in last fall’s stories. What we are watching now is what Josh is like alone.
  2. Beth Milstein is a bad writer and a bad influence.
  3. Josh had one good story in him, and that was the Necktie Killer story, and now he is totally at sea.
  4. Dena still had influence. She and Josh were both jockeying for full control, and the writing suffered.
  5. Josh is gone now, so Dena is gutting his stories and rewriting and re-filming stuff.
  6. No one is writing the show. They are getting scripts from the paint huffers in the alley.

I actually think that #4 is the most likely explanation. I think this because we have been hearing about cut scenes and dropped stories for the last 3 or 4 months, with no letup in sight. For example, quality aside, if Josh was in full control, why would he bring back Aiden so soon after killing him off? It honestly feels like a the stories are a product of that children’s game, where you pass a story around the room with each person adding a little bit. Stories start up and change direction or are entirely dropped.

Another example: they seemed to be setting up a “who killed Diemos” story, giving everyone a motive. Victor, Justin, Phillip , and Hope were all given motives, along with Kate and Nicole. Now he’s back, and it looks like all of those things are being dropped. Steve and Kayla looked like they were getting a Mr. Simple triangle with Fynn, and I was genuinely excited for it. Now it looks like that is dropped too. The cast is going through another bloodletting: Summer, Belle, Shawn, Lani, Fynn, Phillip are all gone. They might still be on my screen for months, but it’s hard to get invested when I know they’re leaving. It’s all so inconsistent. It really feels like no one is in charge.

I’m sorry I haven’t posted much lately. The thing is, I don’t really enjoy writing about the show when it’s bad. I like to be optimistic and praise the show when it does something well, and suggest helpful things to make it better when it’s not going as well. But right now — I’ll enjoy a scene, or see a glimmer of a story setup that intrigues me, and my next thought will be, how is the show going to screw this up or squander its potential? I can’t even go to my fallback — suggesting ways that it could be better — because I can’t make head or tail of what the show is even trying to do.

 

It all makes sense

I’m going to beat a dead horse again.

One thing I didn’t appreciate about classic Days, until I experienced the modern version, is how well-structured it all was. Sure, there are exceptions, but if you go back and watch stories, even the “bad” ones, you’ll be delighted and amazed that they have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Situations were milked for dramatic possibility. Conflicts were presented that naturally arose from different points of view. Suspense was drawn out so we could get invested in things before the Big Drama.

Crazy, huh? Now, I’m not saying things were perfect. The show still tried to sell us character motivations that just didn’t quite make sense. They still pursued couples that didn’t have chemistry. Stories devolved into repetitive rehashing of the same issues. But the storytelling bones of the show were strong, strong enough that the flaws are ones I can live with.

But I digress. As you may guess, I have been watching Shayla again. And I have just seen a very strong climatic arc to the story of Kim and Shane working together to bring down Lawrence, while keeping Kayla in the dark. Three separate story threads come together in a wonderful way. Let’s watch:

So we start out with a very happy Kayla, looking at an emerald ring that Shane has given her. She said she wasn’t ready to wear the ring when he gave it to her, but we can see here that the gift is precious to her and she is obviously getting ready to take the plunge with Shane and tell him she loves him. Then Shawn shows up (who you may remember from my last post is dead set against Kayla and Shane). And Kayla makes the same plea to him now that she did then, that Shane helped her when nothing else could — but this time, Shawn relents.

As I said above, unbeknownst to Kayla, Shane and Kim have been working together for months to bring down Lawrence. While Kayla is rhapsodizing about Shane and what a difference he’s made in her life, Shane and Kim’s secret plans are finally coming to head –they lure Lawrence into attempting to murder Kim with a rare disease he’s been deliberately spreading. At the crucial moment, Shane jumps out and they catch Lawrence red-handed.

This same disease, meanwhile, has infected Bo, which makes him behave erratically and get into a fight at the Cheatin Heart. Roman breaks up the fight and calls Kayla to help with little brother Bo at the police station. This, of course, puts Kayla there conveniently in time to overhear Kim and Shane when they bring Lawrence in. And the big secret is revealed.

I love the dramatic reversal — Kayla has decided she can trust Shane, she can open up to him. She’s ready to tell him she loves him. Even her father has relented. At the station, she gives Bo a moving speech about the importance of opening up, taking the risk to trust someone … and then, she abruptly discovers that Shane has been keeping a big secret from her for months.  With his ex-wife. Who is, of course, her own sister. And all the pain Kayla has felt watching her sister romance the man who killed Steve has been based on a lie too. Ah, it’s so satisfying!

The little nuances, that add so much, aren’t neglected — Bo’s special relationship with Kayla, which is why Roman calls her to come to talk to him. Roman’s anger at Shane for involving Kim in the plot against Lawrence. And Mary Beth just kills it — the scene with Shawn, the scene with Bo, and the scene with Shane.

It’s all so well done, it honestly kind of breaks my heart that people hate Shayla so much.

Triangle troubles

One of the questions from the audience at the brunch with Stephen and Mary Beth last year was “Does Rafe smell good?”

Stephen read the question out loud and his deadpan reaction was priceless as he passed it over to Mary Beth to answer. Then she mouthed “Oh my God” and said he was so handsome and charming and smelled … so … good. It was adorable!

Rafeserious

I’ve always been neutral-to-positive on Rafe. I’ve found him to be a bit of a lunkhead sometimes, but in that he’s not very different from the rest of the Salemites. I never liked the idea of him with Hope, but I did enjoy their friendship when they were just partners. I did like him with Sami, though I never got too attached because I knew he was doomed to get chewed up by EJami. He held his own in that triangle more than I expected.

Honestly I think my favorite relationship for Rafe was the one with Chad last fall.

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I think Rafe does really well as a ensemble player — a friend, a police officer, a brother. These characters are really important to have on the canvas, so I’m happy to have Rafe on the show. I am not one who resents the sudden influx of Hernandezes — I’m glad to have some new blood on the show and I like the dynamic they’ve set up, especially with Rafe and Eduardo. I’m not sure about bringing on a new character to be a romantic interest for him, as they did with Jordan once before and are now doing with Blanca.

blanca

Blanca seems … nice. The actress is appealing and brings a nice energy to the screen. I think I have been burned by how many new women they have tried to introduce in the 30-something demographic — Summer, of course, is the latest to crash and burn, following Taylor, Jordan, Madison, Serena …

They are doing one thing right with Blanca, which is to bring her on slowly instead of putting her at the focal point of a story right off the bat. But I’m not encouraged by her falling for Rafe so suddenly, and that so far it is the only thing that defines her. That, and being able to make a mean guacamole. Well, there are worse things …

Harebrained schemes

I’ve mostly been annoyed at this whole Deimos story, until now. I couldn’t believe in any of the emotions the show was trying to sell me — Kate or Nicole falling for Deimos, Deimos obsessed with Nicole. I didn’t see any reason Deimos and Kate would want to marry each other. I thought the “Helena” flashbacks were laughable.

But damn if they didn’t hook me this week, a little. I thought the introduction of Chloe into the story was reasonably well done — a retcon but not a horrible one. I think they even had her mention a boyfriend “Robert” back when she showed up in town after Daniel and Nicole got engaged. I’ve always liked Chloe for the most part, and I’ve thought since last year that she would be a good addition to the canvas — a well known and liked character in that age range, who isn’t related to everyone in town.

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Kate’s scheme is crazy, but my fears that the Salem PD would swallow it whole (like they usually do) have proved to be unfounded. Unlike her feelings for Deimos, which I never believed, I do believe she would make a play for the Kiriakis fortune. I really liked the scene where Victor came to Kate with his offer to back up either her story, or Nicole’s. I enjoyed seeing him bait the trap and let her walk into it. I thought Victor’s story to Roman today was a bit sad, though. Victor is usually a lot more subtle than that. Nevertheless, it was gratifying when Roman pointed out that a lot of people wanted Deimos dead and Victor and Kate seem awfully eager to pin the blame on Nicole. The Salem PD does have its moments of clarity, few though they may be.

I am reasonably interested in seeing all the different characters investigated who have a motivation to kill Deimos. And I am very eager for Kate and Aiden to be exposed for the frauds they are. (I’m just shaking my head at Hope for getting back with Aiden — the woman is insane.) Deimos is obviously not going to take this lying down, though I hope he stays “dead” for awhile so we can see the investigation play out a little bit more.

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I’m also grateful it’s given Nicole something different to talk about other than losing the “love of her life” (cough, cough), some different characters to interact with, and hopefully will give her a little bit of her fight back.

I also enjoyed Steve and Kayla’s standoff with Charlene Manson and family on Monday.

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The standoff gave both Steve and Kayla their chance to shine, even Joey … though he’s still got a long way to go before he can get back in my good graces. Steve was an effective hostage negotiator – I especially liked how he used the story of how he lost his eye to connect with Dirk. And of course Kayla the doctor springing into action at the end when Joey was shot.

My favorite moment, though, was when Joey asked Kayla about Fynn and Steve looked up, suddenly alert.

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I love jealous Steve so much, and Stephen plays it so well … I want Kayla to stay with Fynn forever. Ha ha, just kidding! But I do hope Fynn has a little more fight left in him.