Keeping a secret from someone you love is a time-honored Salem tradition:
Sweetie—about this baby I just had. Actually I miscarried weeks ago and I stole a baby from your ex-wife. And, funny thing, this baby is actually yours. She decided not to tell you she was pregnant. So, really, from your point of view it all comes out in the wash, don’t you think?
Um, I started having an affair before we were even married, but I thought the best thing to do would be to go ahead and marry you after all.
You know that guy you’re dating? He’s your brother, actually. I guess I should have told you that before you fell in love with him, but I thought my vague clues and hints to stay away from him would do the trick. My bad.
Sorry, honey, my first wife isn’t dead after all. Our marriage? Invalid. Sorry about that. Oh, by the way, I’ve been married before.
Is it any wonder Salem couples put off having The Talk? It’s all just so awkward and hard to explain. So what happens, naturally, is that the secret comes out in the worst way possible, leaving the deceived one to screech, “Why didn’t you tell me?” The reasons usually alternate between some variation on “I was afraid of losing you” and “I was afraid of hurting you.” And it usually seems insufficient.
For all that, however, I don’t mind this storyline. It happens so often on soaps that it’s one of those things you just have to accept or go crazy, like love triangles. I ask that the show at least give me some reason for the secret keeper to keep his secret, and to do something interesting with the secret while it is kept. Don’t make every scene about the secret, for one thing, and tease us fifty million times the The Secret is About to Come Out. And, ideally, use it in different ways along the way to the big reveal.
My last example above, of course, is for Steve, putting off The Talk with Kayla about Marina’s return from her watery grave. And I’m happy to say that Steve’s keeping of the secret is surprisingly well done, much better than I remember. First, the first clues of Marina’s reappearance are just vague hints. Steve has no reason to believe that she is actually alive. He doesn’t feel the need to open up a big can of worms for the sake of what amounts to a disturbing memory. Also, Steve’s feelings of guilt over Marina’s death are wrapped up with his feelings of responsibility for Shane’s “death” during the Daniel Lucas storyline. This is Steve in reactive mode, falling back on his old instincts, bottling everything up, and keeping anything from his past as far away from Kayla as possible. All the other times his past came back to haunt them factor into this as well. There’s a sense of “how much can I expect her to take?” (And when Steve does find out later that Marina is actually alive, Kayla gets into an accident and is of course counseled to have “absolutely no stress,” which gives him another reason to keep holding back.)
And there’s another thing. Kayla knows there is something up. Granted, there are a lot of scenes in the way of standard soap secret keeping: Steve acts suspicious, Kayla asks him what’s going on, he covers, she backs off. But Kayla, early on, is trying to give him space to deal with whatever is bothering him. This, by the way, shows Kayla’s growth, that she isn’t pushing and pushing him anymore to open up. She is angry and frustrated at times, concerned and supportive at others, and sometimes they seem almost back to normal. But, as the secret keeping stretches out longer and longer, a sense of unease is introduced into their relationship, which all comes to flower here:
This isn’t the big reveal. But it’s almost as good. The timing is perfect. We’ve seen Steve acting worried and suspicious and Kayla trying to respond to that in different ways. And at the same time her frustration is building, ours is too. If Kayla didn’t confront him, or if Steve didn’t pay in some way for what he’s been doing, it would feel too much like Kayla was a bit of a doormat. Her suspicion that he might be having an affair is perfect. The show used to be so good at this back and forth dance.
Of course, there is an element of “just tell her, dammit!” to this scene, but overall I think we can see where Steve is coming from. I think that what comes through is his anger that she doesn’t trust him enough to let him handle all of this. So while Kayla is hurt because she feels like Steve doesn’t trust her enough to tell her what is going on, Steve is upset because he feels like Kayla doesn’t trust him to deal with it. It is a breakdown in trust that never gets fully resolved. This scene is part of the groundwork of the slow alienation of Steve and Kayla from each other, so that when the big reveal actually happens, it’s enough to drive them apart.