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.
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.