Based on today’s show (5/18), are we looking at a redemption story for EJ? On Monday (5/14) we saw EJ flashing back to Sami telling him the baby was his, looking sad. He told Kate with apparent sincerity that he loves Sami, “Always have, always will.” He said that he respected Lucas for standing by the woman he loves. And today we saw EJ apologizing for the rape, admitting it was rape, and attempting to explain why he is the way he is. Is he playing Sami? Is he sincere? Are these shades of grey I’m seeing?
The redemption story is a soap standard, and done well it can be fantastic. Soaps, to my mind, have cornered the market on redemption stories, because the time we get to spend with characters, coupled with the fluidity of storylines, is the perfect setting to turn a villain to a hero, or a hero to a villain.
But these days soaps too often take shortcuts. It has become a soap cliche that to redeem a bad girl, just have her get raped. To redeem a bad boy, give him a bad childhood. Both of these scenarios can be done well, and have been. But if the rape just wipes the slate clean, if the bad childhood is used as a get out of jail free card, then yawn.
Another shortcut, even worse than the clean-slate rape or the my-childhood-made-me-do-it excuse, is the show redeeming a character by suddenly having every other character on the show tell us, the audience, that this character is good now. We’ve all forgiven him or her—actually there’s nothing to forgive!—so you should too. In fact you must.
Back in the 80’s, we had two wonderful redemption stories, Steve’s and Jack’s. Both of their redemption arcs were wedded to falling-in-love stories, both took place over a couple of years, both were played by great actors. Both were earned. And both had the same problem: after you redeem the guy (or girl) and pair him with his true love, how do you keep him dynamic and interesting? This is where Days has fallen down over and over, stretching back to Anna Dimera, and probably earlier.
A character on the show today who is in the process of being redeemed is Chelsea. I can’t begin to say how much I love what Sheffer has done with Chelsea. From the coldblooded schemer who tried to cover up the accident that killed her brother, and then break up her father’s marriage on top of it, to the rootable, layered character she is today, what a distance she’s traveled! Though I’ve complained here about how quickly Chick’s story is moving, Chelsea’s redemption itself has been slow. Her two steps forward, one step back, zigzagging progress (with each step well-motivated and clear) wedded to her developing love story with the adorable Nick has been mostly well-handled and a joy to watch.
Sami, though, who also seems to be getting the redemption treatment, is different. Unlike Chelsea she was very well-liked by fans as she was. Chelsea had nowhere to go but up. Sami, though she was immature, selfish, shortsighted, and manipulative, was also strong and a survivor, with human insecurities that Alison Sweeney was very good at layering into her performance. She was also active. Is a redeemed Sami even interesting? This is where Days has fallen down in the past, and where I don’t want them to fall down now. I want the character to grow, but I don’t want her to turn into Belle. The trick is to maintain a few weak points, keep a few enemies, and have her use her manipulative powers to good ends, rather than selfish ones. An undercover operative in the plot against EJ and the Dimeras? A detective? An advertising executive?
So that brings us back to EJ. James Scott is so charming and sexy that he’s wasted as a Stefano-type ubervillain, so I would be very happy to see him move away from that. But a toothless romantic lead doesn’t appeal either (and that’s a pretty big distance to travel!). But a charismatic, layered villain would be just perfect. Let’s spend the next few months giving him enough layers to make him human: father issues, family issues, self-awareness, fallibility, true feelings for Sami, fatherly feelings for the baby. A complex villain can be paired romantically with other characters without being fully redeemed. Alex Marshall in his suave younger days comes to mind. Let’s not give EJ the Steve and Jack treatment. Let’s give him the Alex Marshall treatment, the Roger Thorpe treatment.
And no more rapes, hm? Let’s keep our options open this time.