Let me tell you a secret

Is a secret more interesting before it comes out, or after?

Ideally, of course, the answer is both. We should be biting our fingernails anticipating the reaction when all is finally revealed, but there have to be other interesting things going on too. It can’t be all about the secret (otherwise, we get Mimi’s storylines for the past four years). If the secret is only interesting before it comes out, that means the story wasn’t really that good to begin with, and the suspense of keeping the secret was the only thing giving it juice.

A well-done reveal is like a shot of heroin all around—good for the writers, the actors, and the viewers, and if it’s a good, meaty secret, good for the storyline too. Reveals are moments that people tune in for, or take their fingers off the fast-forward for. Even the hackiest hack in daytime knows this, so TPTB string us along, tease us with false reveals, and let interested third parties in on the truth. (I could do a whole post just on the dynamics of reveals.) However, if you wait too long, viewers’ antipication turns into impatience and finally into indifference. Generally speaking, bigger secrets can be kept longer, because the payoff and fallout from the reveal are bigger. The longer you wait, the bigger the payoff has to be.

Of course, characters on soaps keep all kinds of secrets, but let’s take a look at a common type: when a rootable character in a rootable relationship keeps a secret out of fear of losing their partner’s love. As common as this is, it’s quite difficult to do well. First, you have to justify the secret-keeper by giving them some particular reason why they won’t tell their partner, and why they’re willing to settle for a relationship based on a lie. Second, for the duration of the secret, you’re going to lose the opportunity to develop the relationship much. The power imbalance of one person being “in the know” and the other being suspicious or clueless (or in Lucas’s case, both) means the relationship is basically on hold until the secret comes out. You have to minimize the character and relationship damage as best you can, and make up for the loss with an otherwise great story.

On Days right now, we have two characters keeping secrets: Sami and Nick. To tell or not to tell? Last week, each had their choice staring them in the face.

Let’s look at Sami first. Her secret is that she had sex with EJ in exchange for his help in saving Lucas’s life. Now she’s pregnant, with no idea who the father is.

Keeping secrets is nothing new for Sami, particularly keeping a secret from her fiance. The difference in the storyline this time is at its heart. Sami is for once not the guilty party. This is not insignificant, but that was cold comfort in January and February, when in terms of day to day watching it made very little difference.

The problem was, the show didn’t take care to minimize the damage to their relationship. Sami looked weak and stupid. Lucas suspicious and judgmental. Their relationship stalled. The show needed to make up its mind. Is Lucas a living, breathing character, or just a mirror for Sami’s guilt and fear of being found out? Is their relationship supposed to matter to us, or is it just a meaningless MacGuffin like her relationship with Austin was last summer?

Last week, finally, things started looking up. They let us in on what Sami is thinking. Lucas asked Sami what was bothering her, and she said she didn’t want to tell him. When a secret comes out, she said, “You always withdraw your love,” and, “I’m Sami Brady,” with all the heartbreak and humiliation it implies. If ever there was a reason for fearing the judgment of everyone in town, maybe “I’m Sami Brady” sums it up.

Lucas, however, begged Sami to tell him, while acknowledging that he has not stood by her in the past. “Give me a chance. Trust me.”, and Sami, weakening, opened her mouth …

Then we got the timely interruption, naturally. But this time the interruption was by an unexpected player in the drama: Celeste. A wild card. In some ways, she’s the classic third party who learns the secret first. But Celeste almost certainly has her own agenda here. Rather than pointing out the obvious truth that Sami’s least bad option is to tell the truth and hope for the best, Celeste quite calmly suggested that Sami kill EJ.

This is another ingredient that has been missing: interesting collateral drama. If Lucas were given something active to do, too, it would be even better. (A TWoP poster suggested that Lucas investigate and figure out the rape, but not say anything because he wants Sami to tell him. Then when Kate inevitably reveals all at the wedding, Lucas could calmly say, “So?”) All the signs—big secret, long kept, murderous intrigue, May wedding—are pointing to a big reveal during May sweeps. The payoff to this story, whatever it is, will make it or break it.

Our other Days secret-keeper is Nick. Unlike Sami, he seems capable of learning from his mistakes. After getting burned for not telling the truth about being LonelySplicer, he was determined to tell his other secret (that he slept with Billie), because he wanted to be worthy of Chelsea’s trust. I really, really appreciate this move on the part of the writers. If Nick were to be found out in both of his secrets (rather than coming clean), he would be in danger of losing his good guy status. It’s nice to show some human fallibility, but this story is supposed to be a good boy/bad girl redemption story. If Nick established a pattern of deceit, it would take a lot of the fun out of it.

In marked contrast to the Sami/Lucas conversation—where Sami wouldn’t tell while Lucas pleaded with her to do so—Nick wanted to tell, but Chelsea ended up stopping him. He got as far as telling her the secret involved sleeping with an older woman, and she cut him off. “It’s in the past,” she said. “I think that the only thing we should be thinking about is you and me and our future together.”

Then Billie rushed in, saying, “Did you tell her?” And naturally Chelsea put the pieces together. Again, this resonates with Sami/Lucas: there, the person interrupting kept the secret from being told; here, she revealed it.

This little storyline is an example of a very well done secret story. Character damage was minimal. Little teasers were played lightly—like Chelsea speculating on the identity of her mother’s mystery lover. Their relationship wasn’t all about the secret: they were dealing with LonelySplicer and getting to know one another. The secret wasn’t drawn out too long. The reveal was nicely handled and beautifully acted.

And I think the fallout is going to be very interesting. Billie and Chelsea’s relationship will have to be healed. Bo and Chelsea’s relationship is also in jeopardy. (It killed me today [3/13] when Chelsea said to Bo, “You’re lying to me. Everyone lies to me.”) It highlights some of Billie’s personal problems. And perhaps best of all (a mark of good soap writing), Chelsea’s hit-bottom moment looks to be leading directly and logically into her next storyline (speculation here), being suspected of setting fire to Bo and Hope’s house. And Nick will get another chance to be the white knight, and believe in her and stand by her. As I said at the beginning of this post, that’s the mark of a good secret: when it comes out, the story becomes more interesting.

Special note: Friday’s marvelous episode (3/9) when most of the above happened, was written by Jeanne Marie Ford. Nice job, Jeanne!

13 thoughts on “Let me tell you a secret

  1. Good post.

    My biggest issue with the secret that Sami is keeping is it’s controlling her in her life. That could be said for almost all soap secrets but Sami has rarely any interaction with anyone else that doesn’t involve her secret. If they could at least show Sami trying to think of other things her stepfather is in a coma and had his kidney removed and her sister is missing and I’m sure Marlena is gasping to death over it. It’s frustrating because Sami’s life is now about THE SECRET. I wish she would realize that and admit to it, so it (and therefore EJ) is no longer in control.

    Meanwhile Nick…I was irritated with Billie and Abby for their reasons for him not tell the secret. They were right (well they were all right and all wrong) but Billie and Abby’s reasons for not telling Chelsea were either wrong (Abby saying Chelsea doesn’t care for him) or self-centered (Billie saying it’s her decision to tell the secret). If they had explained reasons in a logical way, I’m sure Nick would have listened.

    *sigh, had so much more to say but work is making me do my job now.

  2. I’m glad to know who wrote Friday’s ep–b/c it was quite good.

    I like what Tripp has to say above, b/c I think the best soap drama is when both (or all) parties in a disagreement are partially right. . .Thinking back to Steve and Kayla (and who doesn’t?), their best fights were when both of them had some of the truth, logic, or common sense on their side.

  3. julianscat—it is a beautiful thing how all the players in the Chick secret were able to act believably and at least somewhat sympathetically. There really is no villain, but there are still interesting issues and problems. (Soap opera Holy Grail!)

    Again, in nice contrast to Sami, you could make a strong argument for Nick never telling his secret. He wanted to tell because he wanted to be trustworthy, but he didn’t have an obligation to tell. Nice grey area all around.

    Tripp, I’ve posted before about my frustrations with Sami’s storyline in January and February. Even her interactions with EJ, which were the most interesting thing happening to her, got sadder and sadder as she lost more and more power. I’m not saying the story is perfect now, but there’s been a definite improvement. You’re right—if she could think or talk about something else, it would be nice. Also, if she could realize what Celeste told her, that EJ’s obsession with her is his weak point, and find a way to use that against him (not to lure him to his death, though!), that would also improve things immeasurably.

    I’m still fond of my idea of Sami and Lucas pretending to break up, working together to forge the paternity test so that it appears EJ is the father, and having Sami infiltrate the Dimera organization and bring everybody down.

  4. I love your idea of a pretend breakup. As far as I know, DOOL hasn’t done that in a long time so it would be worth watching anyway, but certainly add spice to the Lucas/Sami dynamic which I think is there but is getting buried next to Sami’s plight of trying to keep things from Lucas.

    I also miss Sami as a kick ass character. Didn’t she used to be one? I think that’s why I loved her turning the tables on Kate with the video switch. I wish she could do the same against EJ. As much as I love S/K and want Kayla to bring EJ down, I want Sami to be a part of that as well (no, not kill him, LOL).

  5. Well, I’m not well-versed in Sami’s history, knowing most things only from hearsay. From what I saw of JER’s Sami, she was always active, but a lot of the things she did were stupid and self-destructive. I don’t think she was ever really kick-ass except possibly when she was getting the better of Kate, and even then there was a schoolyard vibe to it. (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.) What we’ve all been longing for, I think, is for all that energy and wiliness be channelled into something more productive than her latest scheme, or covering up her latest scheme.

    I still have hope.

    ETA: oh, of course, the castration! I think that sure qualifies as “kick-ass”!

  6. I guess my thoughts of Sami tend to be of her when she was a teenager and she was more of a take charge type person. Keeping the secret that John/Marlena had that affair wasn’t so terrifying and she certainly handled herself better. And I do remember her shooting her rapist Alan in the groin. Heh.

    I guess I just want her to do that for EJ.

  7. One of the things I really like about Nick/Chelsea/Billie is that there are so many ways to look at the problem. Any one of these characters could be at least partially blamed for the mess. You could even make a case that any one of them could be at least partially a victim in this scenario.
    Chelsea seems to be the major victim here, but Chelsea was a thoughtless bitch to Nick, using him whenever the whim struck. He knew that and apparently that day was the final straw. He was very susceptible to Billie’s neediness. On the other hand, instead of acting the gentleman and turning down her drunken overtures he went right ahead and had sex with a vulnerable, drunken woman. Not so much the white knight hero.
    Billie was devastated by being dumped by Steve (although I have no idea why she thought she had a chance or why she was so heavily invested in him), fell off the wagon and was completely trashed. She made a choice to get drunk, even though she knows she makes stupid decisions when she does. On the other hand, she’s an emotional, lonely, needy woman.
    Chelsea was madly in love (or so she thought) with Lonely Splicer and therefore not at all interested in Nick. So she ignored his feelings for her and really trampled all over them.
    All in all it’s just great, juicy, soapy fun.

  8. Densie, that’s what I love about this scenario. When it first happened I was a little squicked out, but it’s really paying off in a big way. I loved how Nick gained confidence from the encounter, and was able to stand up to Chelsea for the first time after it. And then when the Lonely Splicer thing came out he really, really wanted to tell this secret, because he didn’t want to be a liar twice over. Lots of interesting subtleties.

    Sami was great today (3/19) telling Chelsea that Nick and Billie have both forgiven her for things in the past, so maybe she should extend them the same courtesy.

    Are you the Densie who does “Daysmania”? I love that site!

  9. I admit too that I am enjoying the scenario more than I ever thought I would. (Who knew?) I still think it would be time for Chelsea to be the real bad guy for a second and have Nick stop putting her on a pedestal but as Denise says, all 3 of them were wrong and 3 were victims.

    Blake and Rachel are doing great iwth all the angst between their scenes. Knowing how much I loved watching their kissing/make out session, I really love the potential this couple has.

    *Glares at Willow and Jed to stay away*

  10. It looks like I might get my wish, after all, to have them forced to work together when they’re on the outs. Gotta use those lab sets, right?

    I would be happy to have Willow be part of a “friend” triangle which Days used to do a lot with their supercouples—I’m remembering Jennifer being jealous of Jack helping Isabella, for example. In this case, Nick could help Willow and it would make Chelsea value Nick all the more, both for seeing what a nice person he is and upping the jealousy factor. (But NO sex or even a hint of it, please! We already went through that with Billie!)

    Plus Chelsea and Willow are both kinda bitchy and they’re fun together.

    I’m totally with you on Jed. He’s painful to watch. Ew.

  11. Yea, I enjoyed the Chelsea Willow sparring though my show today preempted part of their scenes with local city talks/hearings. I think some of the joy of watching them yell and threaten each other is because they are both self-centered characters who are finally learning to think of others for a change. Willow has much further way to go than Chelsea but she’s pregnant so she better catch up soon.

    ITA being Willow being the Isabelle to Nick and Chelsea. I’m really not worried about Willow and Nick. It would really make him look bad if he turned to Willow now but I worry that we will see more Jed with Chelsea.

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