Grave robbers

Samantha Gene Brady is one of those characters people love. Or love to hate. Or just hate.

For myself, I only caught the tail end of scheming Sami. I saw the very last of her multiple failed weddings, with Austin in 2006, and also the last of her paternity test switches (she blackmailed Lexie into telling Carrie her baby was Lucas’s … I think). Soon after, Hogan Sheffer came on as headwriter and rather abruptly turned her into a leading lady rather than an anti-heroine. (He also wrote the infamous rape of Sami by EJ, which I am not even going to attempt to talk about today.) I thought at the time that the transition was a little abrupt, from the schemer and manipulator who constantly shot herself in the foot, to a heroine with multiple men in love with her who had more children than anyone else in town.

I still think so, but the show eventually managed to find something of a middle ground as time went on, keeping her impulsive and mouthy and easily driven to extremes (as she was in her scheming days), while keeping her romances firmly front and center. I’m someone who appreciates what she brings to the table: energy and spark, a certainly unpredictability, chemistry with co-stars; while feeling impatient with her copious screentime, and a bit of an eyeroll anytime she is called on to Act with a capital A.

However, one thing that the show desperately needs right now is energy and spark, so I’ll say cautiously that, so far at least, I have been enjoying her return.

I find this whole “let’s dig up Will’s grave … or not” plot point to be a bit strange. Usually Days tends to gloss over the icky details of what might mean to actually disinter someone and take a peek at their remains. It all stays discreetly offscreen. So having John and Paul head to the graveyard with shovels and a wheelbarrow — Paul, who is usually so levelheaded! — was odd, to say the least. And then, having brought it up, it feels strange that in the end they didn’t actually do it. I’m guessing there will be some plot reason for the delay; otherwise, it’s strange.

However, it made for a pretty great entrance for Sami to come in and grab the shovel to stop them, and her instant rudeness to Paul in particular –“Hi, you’re the one who ruined my son’s marriage” — was refreshing. I always enjoy when the good guys don’t get along. It might not be fair to blame Paul for what happened to Will and Sonny, but it’s understandable.

So far the highlights of Sami’s return have been her scenes with Lucas on Will’s grave, and her “happy crappy birthday” scenes with Eric.

I really enjoy Eric and Sami’s twin relationship. Greg Vaughan plays so well opposite big, showy actresses like Ali Sweeney (and Ari Zucker!). In this scene, they traded news about their lives very naturally. I particularly loved how she was trashing Nicole but in a good-natured, big-sisterly, she’s-not-good-enough-for-you way, and when Eric had had enough and said “Shut up, Sami,” she shut up. They feel very real as twins who are opposites and who argue a lot, but still love and support and help each other. (Which is why I will NEVER EVER WATCH that Hallmark movie where they play lovers! Ew ew ew ew!)

I was unimpressed with the way the Will story played out this week: Sami steals Hope’s gun and pistol-whips poor Dr. Rolf (seriously, he looked so frail cowering on the floor), she gets arrested, she gets released … and then Hope just hands over to her their best lead. Uh, nice job, commissioner?

But, for all that, I am still engaged and interested. I enjoy how so many people have been involved, and those who aren’t, are talking about it. Even in Salem, someone coming back from the dead should be big news! No doubt “Memphis” will look like the Horton Town Square and the Brady Pub, but it feels like things are about to kick into high gear, and I’m excited to see what happens.

Payoff

As an Ericole fan, I’m in heaven right now. And hell. But mostly heaven.

Brief though the reunion will be, the show pulled out all the stops for it. When was the last time we saw a whole episode devoted to an estranged couple’s heartfelt confession and hashing out of past misunderstandings, followed by two episodes of them in bed together?

Swoon.

Shipper reactions aside, it was such good, satisfying soap. The juxtaposition of the Ericole reunion scenes with Brady fretting about Nicole’s whereabouts was particularly well structured. When he said bitterly to John, “It seemed my brother knew what Nicole needed more than I did,” and the show cut to Eric laying Nicole down on the bed … well, nuff said.

Their hash it out conversation was very good, and Greg and Ari both played the hell out of it, particularly the final exchange before their kiss. (I do so love an angsty “we shouldn’t do this but we can’t resist” scene.) It all went a long way to fix the sad hatchet job that Dena and Josh did on Ericole, though “I’ve wanted this for so long” worked a lot better for him than it did for her. I would rather they had written her lines more like, “How could I have been so blind?” But that is a mere quibble.

When Nicole went to break the news to Brady, I actually think the dialogue was even better. First of all, as I said last time, dark Brady is so much more compelling than nice guy Brady. Eric Martsolf played to the hilt Brady’s cynical bitterness at this whole true love reunion. His snide comments were nevertheless on point: “Oh, the passion just overwhelmed you, you just had to hit the sack.” Well … yeah.

So, painful as it all was, it was also somehow refreshing. Because it feels like things are back in their proper place at last, compared to the last two years, where Ericole and their history were simply erased. I particularly liked when Nicole said that her hatred of Eric was a wall, keeping her from facing the truth that she loved the man who killed Daniel. I said in my last post that her forgiveness of Eric was like a dam bursting, so I’m glad to see Ron hitting the same point. And Brady pretty much summed it up when he sneered in response: “There’s a thin line between love and hate, isn’t there?” Well said, Brady.

All in all, it was a perfect way to write out Nicole: use the Deimos murder, have a full-fledged Ericole reunion (that still leaves Eric free for another pairing), take Brady in a different direction, leave open the possibility for Nicole to return (in nine months with a babe in arms, perhaps? Just saying). The broken relationship between Brady and Eric should be a gold mine for quite some time.

Contrast this to Theresa’s exit, which in some ways this resembles. An old boyfriend of hers, who just happens to be a Mexican drug lord, shows up with no connection to anything, and we have to swallow that Shane and Kim would allow their daughter to whore herself out to him indefinitely in order to bring him down. And as far as we know, she’s still there, right? I was never a huge fan of the character, but for those who were, what a slap in the face.

The only really compelling part about Theresa’s exit was when she had to lie to Brady and pretend she didn’t love him (very soapy, and presumably Nicole will be doing the same with Eric next week). Of course, to get the most drama out of it, there should have been major fallout for Brady from believing that lie … but instead he hardly mentioned her at all. What a waste.

I should say: he never mentioned her, until this week, when Ron made a solid attempt to tie together Brady’s treatment at the hands of Kristen and Theresa with his treatment of Nicole now. Brady had a great line when he said that after Theresa and Kristen, he was going to turn his best friend, Nicole, into the love of his life, and she would never let him down. What a great way to make this a cumulative response to those experiences, and to retroactively explain the sudden change in Brady’s feelings for Nicole last winter!

At any rate, my only worry now is that Ron set all this up merely as a good way to write Nicole out, and won’t properly deal with the fallout. Eric should not be willing to take Nicole’s exit at face value, and Brady needs to stay dark for awhile and then he actually has to PAY for this crap. We’ll see … being a long term Days viewer does make one cautious! But for now, I literally cannot imagine how it could have been better. How often can I say that?

Screencaps Joanie

Off the wagon

Sorry for the long time without a post, everybody. I honestly think now that I would have been better off not watching Days for the last six months of Dena, and started fresh when Ron’s material started. As it was, almost all the characters that were featured heavily under Dena I grew to dislike or (what is almost worse) be bored and impatient with.

But this last couple of weeks  — despite the relative absence of Steve and Kayla, grr — I have finally started to truly enjoy the show and look forward to watching each day. So far I’m excited to see how the double wedding will play out, but let me back up a little and talk about some other stories first.

Let me start with Lucas. I have been off and on over the years with Lucas/Bryan Dattilo, but I think this story has really given him a chance to shine. I particularly like how even though the trigger to his relapse was Adrienne/Bonnie dumping him, the show has made it clear that it is about so much more than that. Kate’s decision to say “I told you so,” fire him, and then try to save him, is unfortunately in character, and it has given Lauren Koslow the best material she’s had in years, too.

It’s an old cliche in soapland that characters will be forgotten for years, and then right before they come back, everyone is talking about them. But when drunk Lucas ran into Gabi and Ari and Gabi made it clear she is going to keep Ari away from him, it gave Lucas another reason to feel he’s losing everything, and it led naturally to thoughts of Will … right before he stumbled into the church to see Will’s widower ready to marry someone else. Genius!

I really, really liked Lucas’s rant to the two prospective married couples. First of all, it drives me crazy when soap writers feel the need to have everyone approve of everyone else. So when Lucas lashed out not just at Sonny but at Chabby as well — his point about the 40% divorce rate was perfect, and he could have added that it’s more like 90% in Salem — it was a refreshing change of pace.

Lucas’s conversation with Will was also surprisingly nuanced. I particularly liked how Lucas kept saying Will was just his own drunk mind talking to him, and Will neatly turned that around to mean that Lucas knew everything Will said was true. Chandler Massey’s mournful demeanor added just the right pathos to the scene, and he and Bryan played off one another perfectly as father and son. I didn’t see all of Chandler’s first run as Will, but it always seemed the show focused more on his relationship with his mother. So this was particularly gratifying.

I supect that Will’s return is going to be just what is needed to jolt me into caring again about Sonny and Paul.

I always thought that the triangle of Will/Sonny/Paul had the potential to be far, far better than it was. A triangle where ALL points of the triangle can be paired with each other should have been a gift to a creative soap writer, but it was hampered by the flat, repetitive writing, Will’s abrupt change of character to “baby Sami,” and Guy Wilson’s acting. Let’s hope Ron has something better in mind.

Compared to Lucas’s abrupt fall off the wagon, Brady’s has been more gradual, but no less serious. I really like that the show had them fall off the wagon together, but then took them in different directions.

I would have liked to see the show connect the dots a little bit more to explain why Brady would suddenly turn to the dark side (lots of angst to mine in Theresa’s departure), but I do love the result. Brady is undoubtedly handsome and charming, but he has always been just kind of there for me as a romantic lead. But give him some alcohol or some cocaine, let him be eaten up with jealousy, and suddenly I’m interested.

I think what Eric Martsolf is particularly good at playing is the strenuous self-deceit that goes into maintaining the false front of an addict; it’s rather like the old saying that the best liars are those who believe their own lies. When he protests that he’s fine, Nicole hanging out with Eric is fine, no, he doesn’t want to drink, everything is FINE — it’s clear that he wants it to be true so much that at that moment, it feels true. And the stress of maintaining that false front makes him lash out all the more behind Nicole’s back.

That brings me to Eric and Nicole. As a shipper of course I am delighted that Ron clearly intends to revisit them one more time — short-lived though it may be. I’ve seen many people pose the question about what that means for Eric after Nicole leaves in November –and it’s a good question! — but at the moment I refuse to think that far ahead.

The story is moving quickly, by necessity, but so far logically. The show has taken advantage of the fact that Nicole has hated Eric for so long, TOO LONG, to slyly suggest that finally forgiving him has been like a dam bursting. This round of the Bricole relationship, as with all things Dena, has been poorly explained, but I’m willing to squint my eyes a little and say that both Nicole and Brady got involved with the other as a safe harbor. Brady, burned by Theresa who (he thinks) abandoned him, and Nicole after making the colossal mistake of getting involved with Deimos. I could take it one step further (and maybe get into fanwanking territory) and say that she secretly longed for Eric who has rescued her so often in the past, but since she told herself she hated him, she got involved with the one person who is as close to Eric as possible without actually being him.

At any rate, I like how the show has taken Nicole’s gratitude to Brady for helping her when she was at her lowest, and given it a twist by having Brady threaten a judge for her, and then make sure she knows it. It makes that gratitude a little bit manipulated, and stands in contrast to Eric’s selflessness and integrity in regards to the hearing (when he testified on her behalf) and her job at the Horton Center. The scenes at the Horton Center have been a delightful callback to their work together at the rectory … which would not be complete without hot fantasy or two. Yowza! Go Eric!

I really look forward to seeing how Nicole reacts to learning that Brady tried to get Eric to fire her, which she surely will, and the real reason Eric hightailed it back to the farmhouse. And given that he knows she killed Deimos, and Eric doesn’t,  I see that coming back to bite her … and possibly be the seeds for her departure.

Tears

Well, I have to give Ron credit. He took a shit story, and with a lot of help from Mary Beth and Stephen, managed to spin a little bit of gold from it.

There’s still a lot of problems with the story, mostly centered around Tripp’s problematic characterization, but let’s start with the awesome Mary Beth Evans. No one cries like she can!

It’s a testament to both the writing and Mary Beth that during Wednesday’s scenes I was passionately rooting for Joey to change his mind and stay, because in general, this is the opposite of what I want. I think James Lastovic started out promising (and his blue eyes are a perfect mirror of Mary Beth’s), but he has sadly sunk in further and further as an actor during his time on the show. Also … I know it’s shallow, but I seriously cannot get over his hair. He looks like a member of Ratt.

More importantly, the character was severely damaged when Dena turned him into a killer. I genuinely think the only way to salvage the character is to send him off to prison, and bring him back in a year with a recast and a reboot, hopefully with some interesting layers.

It was so gratifying to hear Kayla’s point of view articulated at last. I was impressed with how Ron artfully reinvented Kayla’s previous cheerful welcoming of Tripp, by having her say “How could I say no? You put me in an impossible situation.” I also loved when she pointed out that Steve has a history of making unilateral decisions.

The dialogue in the Joey/Kayla scene was also excellent. When Kayla attributed his desire to turn himself in to a desire to earn Steve’s respect, I loved how he said it was not because of Steve, but because of HER and the values she raised him with. It was a perfect way to reconcile her (and the viewers) to his decision, because it paid tribute the one constant relationship in his life which has been too often overlooked.

I cannot say often enough how refreshing it is to see Kayla be able to be angry and to blame Steve, even to the point of being unfair. I was seeing some arguing on Twitter this week about who’s right, who’s wrong, and “team Kayla” and “team Steve.” I don’t care about that. Drama, the best drama, is when you can see both sides, sympathize with both of their pain. Layers, what are they?

The weak link in all of this is still Tripp. I hope Ron can save him because I know he’s still on the show, but at the moment I can’t stand the character. It think it might have been a mistake to go for the big dramatic showdown with the scalpel — I suspect that Ron wanted to give Tripp something in the ballpark of Joey’s bad acts, in order to put him on roughly equal footing with Joey. That solves some issues — it gave Tripp a reason to tell Joey not to confess, it gives Kayla a solid reason to say “If our son is going to prison, your son should too!” — but it creates new ones. I’m not going to forget the image of Tripp holding a knife to Kayla’s throat anytime soon, and I think Steve seems a little too willing to let bygones be bygones.

(Look at the framing of this shot — Steve watching Kayla and Joey leave, with Tripp lurking in the background. Perfect.)

But, these past two weeks have been damn good soap, so let us hope for better things. I’d like to see Steve think he can move past it and be there for his son “because that’s what parents do,” but with Joey gone and Kayla traumatized and angry, he’ll find it more difficult than he imagines. Stephen could really sell that kind of angst.

Screencaps Joanie (except the Ratt one 🙂 )

Bad Tripp

Mixed bag this week.

I thought the hospital scenes with Abby were well done. Missy Reeves was particularly good, and I teared up when she mentioned holding Abby’s fingers as a baby. I appreciated how we saw most characters in town being told the news of the accident and expressing their concern — think about how Dena handled Kayla’s brain surgery as a sad contrast.

I am still a little fuzzy on Chad’s reaction and what it means for the Chabby/Chabi relationships.

He is clearly overcome with grief and guilt for Abby, and feels keenly that the last words he said to her where “stay dead” (Billy Flynn is hitting all the beats there), but I’m not getting (yet) a sense of “It’s really you I’ve loved all along” — the dialogue feels a little more ambiguous. Even when he said tearfully to Abby “I love you,” it still didn’t come across as an epiphany, at least to me, and the camera went to Gabi’s reaction. I really don’t want to see more of him being torn between the two women — it is damaging the character. However, I might be reading this all wrong. I’m content to watch for now and see how it goes.

I am very curious what they are planning with Eric, Nicole, and Brady. They’ve cleared turned a page here and I’m waiting to see how it all shakes out.

I’ve seen some complaints that Nicole keeping her forgiveness of Eric a secret doesn’t make sense, but that doesn’t bother me. People often put off uncomfortable conversations, and that’s the kind of secret I think this is — though taken to an extreme. Also, her instinct to keep this a secret could be telling, that she knows deep down that her forgiveness of Eric means other walls are coming down between them too. All I know is that the scene of them together in Eric’s room was played by both Greg and Ari with a lot of sexual tension, and the moment when she said, “Of course there is nothing between us,” as she turned away, was Soap Denial 101.

From a character (not just shipper) perspective, it was a lovely scene. We saw how much it meant to Eric that she had forgiven him, when he was worried that she had changed her mind. That gave him a reason to go along with her wishes, even though he knows it’s not a good idea. I loved that he tried to talk her out of keeping this a secret by quoting scripture, and the touch of sarcasm with “And you think this is a good idea?” was perfect.

Why is Brady suddenly gripped with irrational jealousy regarding Nicole? Who knows? They could give us any number of reasons that connected with his history with women, but they haven’t. Brady as a character has suffered from bad, or nonexistent, characterization, but he has certainly jumped from woman to woman, convinced each time that this is True Love. This could be explored, or even acknowledged, by the show, but instead the show presents each relationship with a straight face — including his current one. It would be fascinating for Brady to realize that he and Nicole have a similar history of jumping from relationship to relationship, which could give him a reason to doubt what they have now … especially in contrast to Eric’s steady constancy.

Speaking of whom, they need to do more with the fact that this is Brady’s brother he’s jealous of, who he has always been close to, and who has recently been to hell and back…. and who he was recently urging Nicole to forgive.

That brings me to Steve and Kayla. I talked last time about how this story didn’t have to be so crummy, but the fact is that it was, and Ron didn’t really do anything to fix it before heading to this big showdown. I have no sense of Tripp as a person; his characterization is so paper-thin, his reasons for blaming Kayla so laughable, that it sucked a lot of the drama out of the scenes on Friday. I know the Dena portion of the story cannot be unwritten, but how hard would it be to have Tripp overhear Kayla saying to Steve, “I just hope Tripp never finds out the truth about how his mother died” or something else to send him over the edge right now?

Kayla was written well during the scenes themselves — I liked how, after her initial shock, she went to compassion first, and then (finally!) anger when the extent of Tripp’s hatred and delusion became clear. (I’m assuming Ron knows that Steve didn’t actually “leave” Kayla for Ava.) And Steve and Joey talking about Tripp at the same time and putting the pieces together was reasonably well put together.

But, I have to admit the whole thing depressed me, and it’s going to take some pretty damn amazing writing for me to accept Tripp as a viable character after this. Also (and it really pains me to say this), but I feel a little bit like that with Joey as well. Having Joey kill Ava was a major, major mistake, and no matter how many times Steve tries to say it was “sort of” self-defense, that’s not what happened. I don’t know how Joey is exiting the canvas, but I hope it’s something that redeems him a little and gives the character some strength and independence (but doesn’t kill him off). Then, down the road, maybe we can get a recast and a fresh start for him.

In the meantime, give us a Stephanie.

Screencaps Joanie