Unlike modern literature, soaps are not meant to be realistic and psychologically acute. They’re more in the tradition of the heroic ballad, where the heroes face down challenge after challenge—but instead of fighting three swordsmen with one arm tied behind their backs, these characters face down baby switches, amnesia, Who’s the Daddy storylines, and family members back from the dead. The bad guys are really bad. The good guys are really good.
Well, are they?
How about a drinking game with all our good guys, called “Who’s worse?” Characters pair up randomly and compare backstories, and whoever loses has to do a shot.
Marriage and divorce: Is it worse to stay with a man out of pity when you really love someone else, or rush to judgment and divorce the man you really love, without giving him a chance to explain?
Adultery: Is it worse to cheat on a man with his brother or with his son?
Professional ethics: if you’re being blackmailed, is it worse to knowingly alter DNA tests, or to tell someone that any babies she has with her twu wuv will have birth defects?
Shawn: What’s stupider? Driving your car through someone’s living room, jumping off a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean with a toddler, or not bringing money on the run?
Uncategorizable: Is it worse to lure the mother of your child over the edge of a cliff with an animatronic doll, or to drug a man into thinking you’re your own sister so he’ll sleep with you?
I can’t help but feel that something went awry in my years away from the show. When was the last time I felt that surge of excitement and pride when a good guy puts all the pieces together, rescues the lady in time, or does the right thing against the odds?
Instead what do we see? Nick caving to blackmail not once, but twice. Max agreeing to be a smuggler based on Jeremy’s statement that “It’s not like it’s guns or heroin.” Shawn using a hooker and then dumping her cruelly. Shawn and Belle unable to string two thoughts together and being bailed out by everyone in town.
Let’s look closer at Nick, much as it pains me to talk about him right now. Kate blackmailing him to change the DNA test is bad, no matter how you slice it. (Note: As of this writing, I am unspoiled whether Nick caves to Kate’s blackmail. I am assuming he will. I hope I’m wrong.) However, the show made it worse because the lever Kate is holding over Nick is keeping his precious little job at the lab. A selfish reason, and a petty one, given the stakes. I believe that Nick could be blackmailed, perhaps, if the lever was Chelsea, or if someone’s life were in danger. But this? No. Not to mention the utter stupidity of it all, that Nick was already cleared by no less than the commissioner of police. And Kate has exactly what evidence to back up her story? “My daughter told me.” “How does she know?” “I’m not sure. Maybe someone told her?”
The only bright spot, and it is small indeed, is that I think Nick is going to pay for all this. I hold out hope that all this stupidity on his part is setup for him hitting bottom and realizing that he gave up his integrity, his job, his balls, all for the sake of a woman. And what did it get him? Nothing. Not her love, not her respect. Not even some good nookie.
(I still love you, Nick!)
More typically, however, over the years our good guys have not paid for their crimes or their stupidity. This is infuriating for many reasons: hypocrisy, for one. Lack of payoff, for another. A missed opportunity for a good story. Part of the reason Lucas letting Sami sit on death row—for a crime that he committed—gets referenced again and again on message boards is that it was never properly dealt with. I was shocked to learn that even though Lucas confessed to the crime at the last minute, he was too late: Sami was, in fact, executed. She just didn’t die. Some hero.
In a pitiful substitute for paying for their crimes, what we get instead is a small self-accusing speech which is immediately brushed aside by the listener. Shawn after Willow’s death: “I used her and then I dumped her.” Bo: “It wasn’t like that.” Er, yes, it was.
The reason I’m enjoying Stephanie is that the show seems to be gearing up for her to fall, and hard. By the same token, the reason I’m not enjoying Chelsea as much is that not only does she not seem to realize that she got Nick into this situation, the show doesn’t seem to realize it. I hope I’m wrong, but instead the show has somehow twisted Chelsea’s feelings for Nick into a horrific resemblance of Carrie’s marriage to Lucas. Guilt and obligation, with the implication that Nick should and will be humbly content with a few crumbs of affection.
Our old guys, our veterans, seem to be slowly recovering from years of stupid and unheroic behavior. This DiMera story is giving these characters some heroic, or at least active, roles to play. In the younger set, there have been occasional glimmers. Chelsea and Nick last fall running the money to Shawn and Belle. Nick rescuing Chelsea from Dr. Rebert. Lucas standing by Sami at the wedding.
But it’s not enough, not nearly enough. How can the show not realize that the best way to make us admire someone is to make them behave admirably? If Shawn did something smart just once, what a difference it would make. If Nick stood up to Kate and got fired when she ratted on him, or he quit his job, it could still cause lots of angst, but without the stupidity and weakness. If Belle had agreed to give up Claire on the cruise ship to save her life … if Shawn had been arrested for Willow’s death … if Chelsea had come clean about the hairbrush.
If our characters outsmarted the bad guys, or they got into trouble trying to do the right thing, or their mistakes were understandable and paid for, they would truly earn the title “good guy.” Good should be more than the approval of family and friends, more than the absence of malice. Good should be smart, humble, self-aware, compassionate, active … and heroic.