One of the things I used to complain about with Hogan was that he didn’t milk the suspense out of his own plot points. I remember Belle “dying” and then being revived in the middle of an episode, Bo being clued in even before Steve showed up on Tinda Lau that he couldn’t be trusted, and countless other examples. With the advent of Ed Scott, Hogan’s pacing, and consequently his suspense quotient, improved markedly (the episodes around Ford’s death come to mind), but overall his pacing was just too fast to truly stoke our anticipation.
(This is an issue I feel I have particular authority to comment on, as one of the reasons I choose to be spoiler-free is so secrets and reveals can surprise me, and I can experience the joy of anticipation and speculation.)
At first, it seemed like Higley was going to be an improvement in this regard. She certainly slowed things down, so there was at least the bare possibility of being teased. It was nice, for example, to be able to wonder who Ava was and what her connection was to Steve. And to be clear here, I’m not talking about complex things like character development, redemption stories, or slow-burn romances, but just the bare mechanics of plot suspense. Will Hope die or will Bo rescue her? What will Shawn do when he finds out he’s Claire’s father? etc.
But, sigh, Higley has turned out to be just as maddening as Hogan was, but in a different way. For one thing, she draws things out to the point of exasperation. This in itself is a forgivable sin, one shared by many soap writers, even truly great ones. What really aggravates me is that she doesn’t seem to know the difference between a good tease and a boring one. Let’s look at MadMathMax and the secret that Trent is his father. For weeks we saw Max react angrily to Trent but refuse to open up as to why that might be. This would seem on the surface to be exactly what I am looking for—a secret or mystery that we the viewers (and Stephanie and Nick) can wonder about and speculate about. And yeah, it got old when it went on for so long. But even putting that aside, this is an example of a secret that is a dramatic null, until it comes out. Basically, we wonder “What the hell is wrong with him?” until we find out.
Wouldn’t it have been more exciting for the character Max if we could have seen him discover that Trent was his father? Imagine him discovering some strange similarity, some telltale prop—I love meaningful props—that he tried to blow off as mere coincidence. But those coincidences would bring up painful memories of his mother and father, that could bring out those old scars (preferably in some more subtle way than the show has done thus far). As the evidence accumulated, it would gradually dawn on him, and us, what the truth was.
Of course, it would also have been nice if something else were going on at the same time. Higley’s bigger problem is that she also doesn’t use the time well—the time the suspense is building—to explore different facets of the situation and the characters involved. This can be lumped in with her overall problem with thinness and mediocrity that I talked about a few posts back. It would be nice if the revelation of the secret hinged on some important emotional stakes for Stephanie or Max or their relationship. Stephanie was eager to find out the secret, sure, but nothing changed for Max and Stephanie’s relationship when she finally did find out. She went from being supportive to being super-supportive, maybe. And nothing really changed for Max or for Trent, either, because they were already in the know.
I need hardly say that this plot is a virtual ripoff of the “Johnson family” storyline back in 1987 for Steve and Kayla. I don’t think Steve and Kayla’s stories are sacred, so that doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is that they are doing it so badly. (Poor Days, they can’t even rip themselves off without screwing it up). The “tease” that Adrienne was Steve’s sister went on for a long, long time. But at the same time, the show was also teasing us with flashbacks of Steve’s childhood and some traumatic event that happened then. The reveal unfolded slowly as little clues added to our knowledge, in order to string us along and keep us engaged. Also, since the Steve and Kayla love story was also developing, the show raised the stakes by making us worry about how this mysterious woman was going to disrupt Steve and Kayla’s relationship. The time before the reveal also helped us get to know Adrienne a little bit and start to care about her. This was particularly important because after awhile it was pretty obvious who Adrienne was. When it happened, the reveal wasn’t much of a surprise, but it was still satisfying because we were emotionally engaged.
We got none of that this time around. Stephanie has been reduced to a bland cheerleader, the always supportive girlfriend who never questions her decision. And while Max’s story should be meaty and interesting—and I think it’s meant to be—he comes across mostly as moody and self-pitying.
There is no subtlety, and very few layers, to Max’s struggle. Perhaps another actor could bring a little more ambiguity to his feelings about his father, and make more of the few good lines Max has been given. I liked when Max said that the reason he was so secretive about his math genius is because he doesn’t want to be like his father (a motivation! Thanks, Days, better late than never!). I also liked Monday’s show when he remembered his mother and talked about how Trent let him go into foster care after she died. And I loved his comment that he has been trying hard for years to feel like a “real” Brady, though I would have loved it even more if it had been followed up with something like this:
Stephanie: And did it work? Do you feel like a real Brady?
Max: Would I be dating you if I did?
And Roscoe Burn’s Trent is delightfully sleazy—he is the one bright spot in this storyline for me.
Now we’ve got a similar situation with Kate, who has done a 180 in her feelings for Daniel as a potential mate for Chelsea. This is either a rewrite, or Kate has discovered something about Daniel, or she’s in secret insta-love with him, or I missed something because—ahem—I fast-forwarded Kate’s surgery scenes, which was when her attitude toward Daniel changed. In any case, so far it seems to be, just like Max’s secret, the kind of mystery with no emotional stakes. I look forward to a ho-hum revelation that changes exactly nothing.