Wind Beneath My Wings
In disaster cinema there comes a point in the story where, as Heidi Klum would say, one is either in or out. One knows going into the theater or popping a DVD into the player what one is in for the same way one knows more or less what to expect from a slasher pic or a romantic comedy. No matter how the genre's formula is tweaked, it is up to the writers and filmmakers to provide the hooks that will draw you into their specific event or world. What hooks me varies all the time; just as often those same elements may turn me off completely.
The make-or-break moment for me in 1972's The Poseidon Adventure is the sequence when the survivors must climb the Christmas tree to escape the ballroom. In 1964's Fail Safe, the make-or-break moment is encapsulated in the tense conversation between the President of the United States and the Soviet Premier, which must be precisely interpreted. In Deep Impact, the scene is Tea Leoni's first conversation with President Morgan Freeman. There has to be something to make me care or I won't wait for the credits. After learning who lives and dies, the story is over in a movie.
As ongoing stories, soaps present a different challenge when staging major events like natural disasters. Writers must balance the potential short term gains that incorporate recent history into the event itself with a plan for long term stories that will hopefully spin out of said event. When done right, viewers are rewarded with story and character dividends which payoff over time. When done wrong, viewers shrug and switch back to Doña Bárbara.
General Hospital has a long history of staging spectacular events with little long term payoff. On the other hand, The Young and the Restless scored major points with the fallout from the charity gala car wreck. You never really know how these gambles will pay off until you feel the tug of the hook. So how did All My Children do today?
They knocked it out of the ballpark.
THE DRAMA: Today's episode was the one I've been waiting for, the one that truly underscored and highlighted the anguish faced by our characters, the hard choices they had or have yet to make and what everyone stands to lose or, in a few cases, gain. What made the episode even more richly satisfying was less about what these characters said or did but more about what they did not say and not do.
Take Angie and Jesse, for example. With the revelation that Natalia is Jesse's daughter, Angie did not fly into over the top histrionics. Hers was a perfect reaction. The confirmation that she'd suspected something between Natalia and Jesse existed, but not that particular revelation. A marvelous Debbi Morgan communicated Angie's paralyzing emotional numbness after being blindsided with her professional responsibilities as a doctor, a perfect counterpoint to the sheer elation and joy she felt after discovering that Jesse's was alive. Ms. Morgan, always one of daytime's finest actresses, delivered a knockout performance that was as notable for its carefully calibrated emotional precision as it was its understatement!
For his part, Darnell Williams provided the perfect counterpoint to partner Morgan. What could have come across as weasely from a lesser character or actor, Williams navigated a tricky tight rope between acknowledging Jesse's guilt about keeping Natalia's parantage a secret and utter fear about Angie's reaction. Jittery, nervous, and scared are not words that one usually uses to describe Jesse, but Williams made us believe his fear as much as he felt it.
On the other side of the hospital, JR and Krystal struggled to say goodbye to the dying Babe. What was missing here were all the right things: no table throwing or order barking from JR, who accepted the grim reality of his wife's fate and tried to put on a strong front for his wife and son; no crying jags or railing against God by Krystal, struggling to summon the strength to say goodbye to her "Baby Doll"; and finally Babe, who accepted her fate with a grace and dignity not formerly associated with the character. Her insistence that she and JR be married was heartbreaking in its simplicity; his determination to make her last hours as happy as possible had a terrible sense of inevitibility. Babe asking to hold Little A one last time melted the heart. Jacob Young and Amanda Baker, with able support from Bobbie Eakes, were at their best today. More...