Revisiting Benjy

I was not happy with the Benjy storyline when it first aired in 1988. At the time, I didn’t see any reason why Steve and Kayla’s storylines shouldn’t be just as meaty and emotional and riveting as their storylines before the wedding. So it was a major let down to see Steve and Kayla pick up and take home a libido-killing kid the very first moment they step out of their hotel room on their honeymoon.

I have a different perspective now. Stories about happy, established couples are much more difficult to write, so you have to judge them by different standards. When I watched the Benjy storyline recently for the first time since it aired, I was pleasantly surprised to find it better than I remembered. Plot mechanics are very important in a plot like this one, and the show kept the adventure moving forward. We were teased with the idea that Benjy’s father was a powerful, evil man. A mysterious man from Roman’s past also seemed to be connected to Benjy in some way.

But I figured the plot mechanics would be better, compared to what we see today. What was a surprise was that the show managed to tap into character issues even in this light, happy-couple story.

Before I go on, I just have to point out how amazingly well-cast Jim Lunsford was as the grown-up Benjy. Observe the eerie similarity:

Compared to the current era of sudden and unmotivated plot twists, I think the show did a decent job of showing that Steve and Kayla had little choice regarding taking Benjy home. There is a series of scenes where Steve and Kayla try to turn Benjy over to the authorities, but then realize no one at the US embassy can speak sign language, and that, further, if the boy’s mother isn’t found, he will be placed in an orphanage. Given Kayla’s recent deafness and understanding of the isolation that can cause, and Steve’s experience growing up in an orphanage, these two characters simply couldn’t leave him to his fate. It’s a good example of how something outlandish or unrealistic can work when the character’s actions are very much in character. Compared to how the show had Nick suddenly taking home Artemis and DeMarquette, this is poetry.

The show also managed to find a little internal character conflict. Kayla feels an instant maternal pull toward Benjy, but instead of using that to make her seem saintly and goody-goody, the show delicately explored “Kayla the caretaker” as a character trait. The show walks a fine line by having Kayla be a little too maternal, a little too eager to take in Benjy, so that it’s making her a little bit crazy. Steve, on the other hand, maintains that they have to do everything they can to find the boy’s mother, because he knows what it’s like to be a child and lose his mother. This leads to some believable conflict between the two of them, and it keeps the story from being too sweet and cuddly.

All this conflict, though, was done with a light touch. Kayla knows that Steve is right, Steve understands how Kayla feels. Even when they disagree, Steve can see Kayla wants to help Benjy for some of the same reasons that drove her to break through to him—so he can’t help but love her for it. “You like to take in strays,” he tells her. It is also really nice to see Steve be the strong one and Kayla be the crazy one. Just like the deaf storyline, this is Kayla reaping the rewards for all the work she did fighting for Steve. She now has someone that is always there for her.

The show gives us the whole emotional arc where Kayla is slowly reconciled to giving Benjy up, and we get all the emotional beats of this story, before the story takes a turn when Steve discovers Benjy’s mother, dead. It’s very well done, and shows how good the show was at milking each point of the story for maximum drama before moving on.

The show also connected Benjy to the other issues in Steve and Kayla’s life, notably their thorny relationship with Jack at this time. One of the reasons Steve is reluctant to take the steps to adopt Benjy is because of how adoption turned out in Jack’s case. And there is a wonderful scene with Jack and Kayla, where he sneers at her living at “Handicaps R Us,” and Kayla snaps back that Jack doesn’t know anything about love, and tells him (accurately) that he is lonely and unhappy. It’s very satisfying to see Kayla hold a grudge against Jack, and to see the balance of power shift between them. This is at a time when Kayla could get to Jack the way no one else could, because of his lingering feelings for her. Matt Ashford and Mary Beth Evans play out this dynamic perfectly.

In fact, you can see the scene here.

By the way, as I go through the DVDs I am watching, I think I will continue to blog about them. I’ll also be watching many of the surrounding storylines, so you might hear about Jack and Jennifer, Roman and Diana, Roman and Isabella, and (maybe) Justin and Adrienne, in addition to Steve and Kayla. I have the DVDs all the way up through Kayla’s departure from Salem in 1992. Anyone else who has DVDs or wants to get on the Devoted to Deveraux site can feel free to play along.

7 thoughts on “Revisiting Benjy

  1. Awwww, I’ve been thinking about Benjy lately. I can’t help but be very bitter about the way they killed him off (and I’m sorry, if this makes me an S/K extremist or what, but I’d have preferred S/K named their son after him).

    I didn’t care for the Benjy story in the 80s either but watching the clips I really do enjoy the story now and it was a way to keep going with the deaf storyline they worked so hard to setup.

  2. Thanks so much MP for the link to the vid. Looking back at scenes like this make today’s shows that much more difficult to watch. There have been some good shows lately but I agree with tripp. I too was very bitter with how TPTB handled Benjy’s return and death. There was so very much potential.

    On a similar yet separate note – does anyone know the song that is being played during their dance? I flove it!

    BTW, MP, please write up the Benjy s/l! Can I bribe you with some chocolate chip cookies? brownies? gooey butter cake? Name it and it’s yours!

  3. Ah, sweet little Benjy. While I still kind of resent that Steve and Kayla couldn’t even make it out of the lobby of their hotel without ending up with a child to take care of, I do agree with you comments about that storyline.

    It really is a pretty well put together storyline that turns into a nice umbrella story involving Roman and Diana and Shane and Kim. And I love how they throw those little charater moments in. Not just between Steve and Kayla, but with Kayla and Roman and, of course, Kayla and Jack.

    As outlandish and cartoonish as some of the plot elements occassionally became, the storyline still remained grounded in the characters and that makes it work quite well in the end.

  4. Ooh, I’m sorry, Kathleen and Flaco, I don’t plan to continue my recap/analysis chapters for Steve and Kayla for the Benjy storyline and beyond. (I love brownies, though, so you’re tempting me!) I will post about what I’m watching, but more along the lines of a regular blog post. Thanks for the vote of confidence on those things, because I worked really hard on them—it’s nice to hear you liked them! At some point, I plan to go back and expand the first two chapters (Steve Stalks Kayla & Frankie and Max) and add more detail, make them more in line with the rest of the chapters.

    Tripp—now that I’ve watched the Benjy storyline again, I’m even more bitter about the lost opportunities with having the grown-up Benjy back on the canvas. So much potential wasted.

    Esp, it’s really impressive the way they tied the Benjy story to Shane and Kim’s story, Stefano’s return, and Roman’s missing years, and managed to present real family, believable conflict at the same time. And this was all written by scabs! Sigh. Even the scabs then were better than the regular writers now.

  5. I look forward to your posts on the ongoing re-watch.

    I re-watched the Benjy story when I was doing my big re-watch a couple of years back and like you, I was more impressed with it this time around than I was the first time. If that’s only in comparison to what we have now, so be it. You’re so right though that they worked it nicely in with the other stories and character motivations, so it made sense.

    The waste of Benjy as an adult was horrible, and even more so now that Stefano is back and in the mix with all his other children. The Benjy – Steve/Kayla link could have been interesting with all of that.

  6. What I did was imagine S&K being given the story now, and I realized how happy I would be with it!

    I thought the Pocket story was decent in terms of the emotional beats, but the dramatic value was nil. So it was refreshing to see the generally good plot (some silly moments excepted) in combination with the emotional/character based elements.

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