Being and Nothingness

The critic Vivian Mercier wrote of Waiting for Godot that Samuel Beckett “has achieved a theoretical impossibility—a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What’s more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.”

Perhaps Beckett would like to come write for Days?

There are always times, on a soap, when the plots have to slow down, when things get delayed for another plot to catch up, when you’re waiting for sweeps or sweeps just ended. And yet you gotta put something on the screen. How do you stretch out nothing?

James E. Reilly, when he was writing for Days, liked to set up untenable situations—the secret that can’t be kept, the marriage that’s a terrible mistake—situations that you don’t think can possibly last for long. But you would be wrong. JER stretched out plots indefinitely. The lines repeated verbatim day after day, the unnecessary flashbacks to an earlier nothing moment, the maddening false reveals. (As annoying as Sami’s secret-keeping is now, there has not been even one false reveal, and only one timely interruption—Celeste at the church. Cast your mind back if you will, to Mimi keeping Claire’s paternity secret, and thank God for small favors.)

At the other end of the spectrum of quality we have Days circa December 1986, which I am currently watching for my ongoing S&K analysis. The big Stockholm adventure has just wrapped up, and Steve and Kayla just had their first kiss. The Adrienne storyline is percolating but not yet a focus. Steve and Kayla spend the entire month of December doing nothing much but going on a few dates, sharing a few kisses, and getting in a few fights. They have the same conversation a few times over. And yet it’s a joy to watch, because we’re watching two well-rounded characters falling in love and trying to figure out if their relationship could actually work. (If only Chick could get a little of this!)

Fast forward to Days today. We’ve been stuck, by and large, since the middle of February. Shawn and Belle on the island. Steve in the loony bin. EJ running around being sinister but not really doing anything. The police paralyzed. Last entry I talked about my conspiracy theory about why this might be, but that’s not relevant here. Instead let’s take a look at how Hogan Sheffer and his team are handling the nothingness.

With Belle and Shawn, I believe he is attempting to give them a story like the one Steve and Kayla had in December ’86. (I’m not going to compare them to Steve and Kayla because that’s not fair.) They aren’t doing much, but they talk a lot. They talk about their feelings, they talk about sex, but they aren’t a couple, yet. And it took me awhile to get over my irritation with Belle’s born-again virgin speech, but since then their dialogue has been decent. If only these two characters were better-established, if only these two had a real source of conflict (other than third parties), if only I could get the feeling from these two that they’ve been longing for each other for ten years. I’m feeling something, a little something, but I wish it were more. Because these pauses in a developing relationship can be so much fun on a soap.

(Because it can’t be said enough, the show has it backwards. The couple they need to be giving space and breathing room to is Nick and Chelsea, not Shawn and Belle. Rachel Melvin and Blake Berris would be outstanding if the show would slow down and let them simply interact for a bit.)

The other thing we’ve been seeing lately, which I applaud, is the mini-storyline. This is something that unfolds over the course of a few days or a week, and it can either leave you mostly back where you started or add a fillip of extra zing to the larger storyline. (1986 again: Steve stealing Kim’s evidence is an example of the former type, Steve smuggling the emeralds an example of the latter.) We’ve seen Kayla and Max go off to Italy to see Stefano, we’ve seen Steve escaping from the hospital twice, we’ve seen EJ and Phillip installing Billie’s security system at Bo and Hope’s house. Some of these have seemed to go nowhere, though they may pay off later, and some seem to be groundwork for a larger storyline. Either way, all of them have been engaging and interesting while they’re happening, involving different members of the cast and good dialogue.

Pausing in a storyline is necessary, even desirable, on a soap. Sometimes it builds necessary suspense: the secret kept, the evil plotted. Sometimes it’s necessary for character motivation: the longing has to build before the kiss, the desperation has to build before the bad choice is made. And sometimes it just gives your characters/actors room to breathe, to develop and explore their relationship.

But you have to know when to pause, for how long, and how to use those pauses to good effect, so the audience remains glued to their seats. And I’m sure I need hardly say you certainly can’t make the mistake that Days has made the past few months, which is slowing down all the stories at the same time. Mini-storylines alone, as fun as they are, just won’t cut it.

So in the words of Samuel Beckett:

Let’s go.

We can’t.

Why not?

We’re waiting for … something to happen on Days.


13 thoughts on “Being and Nothingness

  1. I love your blog, marypickford. You always seem to say what I’m thinking but so much better than I can say it (and with far fewer four letter words than I would use).

    I’m all for the dramatic pause. Your example of S&K in December was perfect. Yes, they had the same conversation a lot, but each time was subtlely different and, usually, a small step forward (and, occasionally, a big step backward).

    When things started to slow down in February, I thought this is what we were getting again. A short time period to allow them to flesh out the S&K relationship/crisis. All the stuff while Steve was in jail through the choking was pretty similar, but I felt each scene added a layer and I was okay with it (in part because SN and MBE played it so well). But, then it just kept going and going and going. And that’s when the wheels fell off. As you said, it didn’t help that all of the stories were having the same problem (except Chick which was moving at warp speed — exactly the opposite of what it needed to do).

    All that said, I think things are going to be moving again and that makes me happy. Either that or the meds finally kicked in . . .:-)

  2. The problem, of course, was that some of the continuity of the scenes with S and K made no sense. I don’t have the love for BB and MM that I do for SN and MBE, so I can’t say the same, since I hate to say how much I’ve FFd through their scenes. But one day Steve almost seems to be ok (on his meds, after the mace), and then we have the pinning, and then, the day after he has roughly pinned Kayla to the bed in anger, and they have seriously fought, she turns up all cheery with the laptop and email from Stephanie. Huh?

  3. Mary, I was just telling ESP in a PM that it’s possible the speed of Chick’s storyline is also due to your theory of Corday’s putting the vets on backburner (and putting stories on hold). The fact is…once almost all storylines got stalled out, the only plot left to move forward was Chick. In almost every episode featuring them since helping Shelle in Toronto crossed off a major event in their story (LS reveal, Pervert save, agreeing to date, Billie reveal) and now we are stuck at the hairbrush because they got to the end that had been planned so far.

    Weird how they pause in places they shouldn’t like Sami and S&K while practically using the FF button for other storylines like Chick.

  4. The weird stall in the other stories may explain Days’ sudden inability to process basic geography (the intercontinental cruise that took 2 days, etc.)

    Chick needed to slow WAAAY down. 1986 down. But not hairbrush down, LOL

  5. I so agree that sometimes the pauses can be the best parts, they can be the parts where you just get to see the characters being themselves, in effect, rather than being caught up in big dramas that make them act stupidly.

    I also agree that they’ve got all of this kind of backwards as to where the pauses should and shouldn’t be.

    I can only hope that despite the hole of boredom that was Feb sweeps, that this is just a case of pre-sweeps doldrums (side note, I cannot believe it’s almost May already), and that at the very least the dragging Sami, S&K and B&S stories will come to some sort of climax in May, even though I expect the EJ stuff to continue on after. Please?

  6. Zara, I can’t believe it’s almost May either. I feel like I’m still sitting in my seat waiting for February sweeps to kick in.

    It’s been maddening how the show has not used S&K’s slowdown to establish the degree of Steve’s craziness/brainwashing and exactly how he feels about Kayla right now, and why he’s treating her the way he is. It would be the perfect time to do so. And there could have been more overlap with the cast that was available. It would have been a nice touch for Kayla to ask Abby not to tell Jack about Steve being in the asylum, or for Kayla and Steve to talk about telling him, or not. Even if they couldn’t bring Matt Ashford and SN together for a scene, some reference to whether he knows or not would have been welcome.

    Tripp, I like your theory that Chick was sped up because it was the only storyline where anything was happening. I shouldn’t say I like it, because I wish they hadn’t done it, but it makes sense.

    I really, really hope we are just in pre-sweeps doldrums now, and things will start happening again.

  7. Once again Marypickford, brilliant commentary, and as always, so well written. I agree we need the pauses to see the characters as they are under “normal” circumstances. Then when something big happens it explains why the characters behave the way they do, or spins us on our butts in shock that they would behave in such a fashion! Then an explanation as to why the sudden change.

    Up until very recently I was beginning to think that the show would never really move forward with Steve and Kayla and allow the layering that we say back in the 80s. It looks like TPTB finally have some direction for them. Let’s hope TPTB are looking down at the maze from the top and not inside it the way the viewers should be.

  8. Thanks, Kathleen. Yes, it would be nice to think the writers have a plan! I like your metaphor of the maze. I’m always hesitant to judge a storyline while it’s still going on (though I do it anyway, hee), because there can always be a twist in the maze.

    I’m just glad the storylines are moving forward. Amazing what a difference it makes. Today (4/24) was really dark, but good drama.

  9. Ahhh, Marypickford, but when it’s dark and the rainbow finally shows it is that much more beautiful. We need the layering.

  10. I’m a little afraid to speak this aloud and somehow jinx it, but this week has been pretty awesome in its soapy goodness. Amazing what a little forward movement will do.

    And the radical difference between the past two months and this week, which reminds me so much of the show’s pre-Feb-sweeps momentum, only serves to convince me that some version of your conspiracy theory is true.

  11. I agree, Paula, about this week, and I too am afraid to say it. esp said she heard there was some sort of showdown between Hogan and Corday. If that’s true, maybe, just maybe, the right man won?

    Kathleen, no one can bring the angst and the cathartic payoff better than SN/MBE. I started out this storyline with high hopes, and now I’m getting hopeful again. But shhhh. The soap gods are capricious and vengeful.

  12. Well, of all the theories on hearing what happened BTS, I still like yours the best MP.

    What scares me is…this stunt/experiment whatever may actually have doomed the show to a slide they can’t recover.

    Another thing that scares me is Nielson’s changed how to grade college students in February which, if that is what affected the ratings slump, then there probably is no way to recover.

  13. Marypickford, I agree. SN & MBE are the pinnacle soap actors when it comes to these type of storylines. They layer their performances with skillful subtlety. The show this last week have been exceptional. I too prefer to whisper lest the gods hear.

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