May 7, 2006

Kendall Reborn!

Note to self:  Any time Kendall starts to glow and look all happy and hug people she otherwise hates, tell her how happy you are for her then step away from the Kendall.  Baaad stuff is about to happen.

Many people, including myself, were eager for a Kendall and Zach reunion, much less an actual wedding.  As a fan of the couple, I have to say the reunion went a little fast for me.  Sure, I wanted then back together, but a two-episode speed-fest designed solely to create more drama and shock-value for the battle over Kendall's insides and the bouncing baby bounty within was not what I was envisioning.

"Whaaaa?" you may be asking?  Some readers may recall a scathing column I wrote a couple of months back about my frustration over Zach Slayter's actions.  How could I be a fan of Zach and Kendall, yet still be furious with Zach over his behavior? 

Hey, where soaps are concerned, I live in the moment.  As I pointed out in that particular column (which I am unable to reference because it went to live with Column Jesus due to a Microsoft Front Page mishap), I was always a Zach fan until that moment when I lot of things came together for me.  All at once, a pattern of very passive-aggressive behavior came into focus and I couldn't NOT see it any more.  The writers are nothing if not consistent with this character.  Zach makes these unilateral decisions with far reaching effects and doesn't even have the courtesy to sweat as others experience the fall out. 

Sure, when he faked his own death, he did not know he was leaving behind a fatherless son, yet when he did know he had a son, he turned his back on him.  When he knew Ryan was not dead, he chose to not allow Greenlee and Kendall to be adult enough to make their own decisions about Ryan's place in their lives.  Instead, he assisted Ryan in his deception under the age-old premise of protecting the mentally impaired from their own choices.  Zach is one of these people who not only knows what's best for others, but aggressively goes about making choices for them in that interest; choices they would likely never make if they had the chance to do so while privy to all of the information Zach possesses.  But then, they never get that option because Zach does not allow it.  Despite his persona of "loving with open arms," in truth, he does not trust people to make intelligent choices for themselves and takes it upon himself to make choices on their behalf with life altering and far reaching ramifications.

After his experience in covering up Ryan's NotDeath, when he learned that Dixie, a woman he barely knew, was alive and doing something similar, again, he not only agreed to remain silent, but aggressively helped her in covering up her alivedness.  Obviously, his familiarity with the Chandlers and the Martins is cursory at best.  He owes them nothing, much less a truth that isn't his to tell.  One would think, however, that once he knew what his new friend, Dixie, was up to, his recent history with cover ups and the Undead would lead him to back quickly yet carefully away from this Undead woman saying, "I'm sorry, I just don't have the best of luck with these situations and truthfully, despite all of my experiences with the Undead, I have yet to see a positive outcome."  After seeing how his own faked death affected the people in his life and after seeing how Ryan's faked death affected the people in his life, one would think he would lose the appreciation for such duplicity. 

He also helped Erica cover up her disappearance, which might as well have been a death as far as Bianca was concerned.  She grieved for her presumably dead daughter (we now have Undead babies on AMC as well) without the comfort of her mother, who was as usual, too immersed in her own drama and acting out to be there for her family when they need her (yet she is more than eager to take advantage of their affection and protection when the chips are down for her).   No, Zach did not make the choices for Erica and should not be held responsible for what she did, but again, he lied for and covered up for someone who was deceiving her loved ones at their expense while she played showgirl and got her ego stroked on a regular basis. 

I guess all this lying and covering up for people who are deceiving others who are aching to be with them just hits me wrong.

As I have stated many times over the 7 years that I have written soap commentaries professionally, my affection and disdain for characters, shows, storylines and yes, even actors, is quicksilver and fickle.  I love them one day and can't stand them the next.  I have no "undying" love or hatred for anyone in particular on soaps.  Everyone is on permanent probation with me and no one is better than their last act.  Rest assured, I will tell you folks all about it either way, although you may need a compass, roadmap and GPS to keep up with my ever-fluctuating opinions.  Trying to stay objective in this game is beyond challenging, but I do my best.  I feel that falling into unwavering love or hate with a character immediately limits a writer's scope and puts them into a pretty dangerous box.  When a character can do no wrong in your eyes, you just lost your writer's vision and dissolved into the fanboy adoration puddle that makes for an unbalanced and gratuitous view. 

One of the best exercises I know of for a true writer to experience is to every now and then write the other side of the argument.  If you love a character, really explore the negative aspects of that character and take an objective walk on that shadow side, which is what I did with Zach in my previous column.  Every character has one or else they are nothing more than a piece of cardboard.  Because of this duality, each character will have fans who love them and people who can't stand them.  Stepping into the shoes of the other side really cleanses the palate and fosters a healthy objectivity.  Likewise, writing out the positive side of an actor or character you just can't stand is equally as fun.  Often, if the writer really knows what they are doing, it's less of a challenge and more of a liberation.

That's where my head was when I wrote the Zach column.  I have had quite an appreciation for each character that Thorsten Kaye has portrayed, all that "Brown Penny, Brown Penny" bullshit aside.  Zach was no exception and like the character of Chris Stamp (played by the delicious Jack Scalia), I genuinely liked him from the beginning.  It was only upon objective, critical examination that the string of behavior came into view for me. 

Any time you criticize the actions and behaviors of a popular character, it is to be expected that their zealous fans will instantly go on the defensive for the object of their affections.  Pitch-forks, torches, tar and feathers at the ready, they will trudge after, torture and hopefully destroy anyone who disagrees with their own observations and beliefs, all on behalf of a fictional character.  As I mentioned to a few of the people who wrote to challenge what I had to say, fiction is art, whether that fiction is a book, a painting or a story told on TV.  Interpretation of art is very individual and just like five people who study a painting will come away with five very different impressions of that painting, people who study a fictional character will do the same.  It's all subjective and it never ceases to amaze me how personally one person takes the interpretations of another.  It's as though having a difference of opinion about a character somehow mars one's credibility and warrants message board attacks and email onslaughts.  "This is how I see it" is immediately construed as a call to arms.  Even though it never ceases to amaze me, I have gotten used to it over the years and don't so much give a shit any more.

So yes, I was having an anti-Zach moment of simply being fed up with the plethora of characters all across the ABC Daytime board who make decisions that affect the lives of others, usually "for their own protection" and to save them from their own dumbass selves.  If characters were as stupid as other characters seem to think they are, half the town would be walking around with helmets and on leashes tied to gym equipment.  To me, there is no discrediting that is more vicious and insidious than withholding vital information because you do not trust the person concerned to make decisions for themselves.  It stuck in my craw and so I wrote it out to purge the thoughts.

That did not stop me from being a fan of Zach and Kendall as a couple.  Their romance was delicious and endearing and of the wonderful slow burn variety that is so rare in soaps today.  My appreciation for the build up to their tear-jerking admission of love is one reason why I wanted their reunion to be more than a means to an end for storytelling purposes.  Like her immediate affection for Babe, Kendall's instant dewy-eyed, picket-fence future with Zach felt contrived and more utilitarian than romantic.  Sure, we know they both love one another under it all, but the mental tape that constantly plays in Kendall's head is far too defeating and her self-esteem much too low to allow her to trust again that quickly and give herself to him without a long process of convincing and proving.  As she herself said, "I am one big walking grudge."

Even as I type that,  I think about how desperate Kendall is for love and acceptance and how she fed for years on any crumb Erica would toss her from the big peoples' table.  I think of how hard she had to work during Bianca's pregnancy to win her loyalty and affection.  Kendall will give and give into a relationship, knowing fully well that it is only a matter of time until she completely derails it somehow.  My impression from Kendall is that she will enjoy what she can get from a relationship for as long as it last, but she knows fully well in her soul that all relationships are terminal and that as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, the day will come when the person who yesterday looked at her with love and adoration, will look at her with horror and repulsion.  For her, it's only a matter of time until they see the "real Kendall" and reject her.

Having experienced that over and over, it would seem that she would be bane to open that door with someone she cares about as much as Zach.  This time, however, in the horror and repulsion game, she was pitching instead of catching.  Rarely in her life has Kendall NOT been the one to screw up the perfect love.  This time, she realized that Zach was not only responsible for the power outage, but also knew that Ryan was still alive AND that he actually facilitated Ryan's efforts to fake his own death, causing cataclysmic decisions to be made.  Zach did more than passively remain silent.  He actively took measures to ensure Kendall and Greenlee had no cause to believe Ryan was alive.  He knew Ryan was spying on the two of them, watching their heartache unfold and seeing the grief that drowned them both in despair, yet he said nothing.  When he knew that Kendall was making life-altering decisions that she would  never have made had she known Ryan was alive, he still remained silent.  Instead of Kendall creating the circumstances that would doom the relationship and destroy the trust, Zach was the one to drop the bomb(s).  That must have been quite a shift for her to experience. 

Did it give her more strength to come back to him, knowing that this time she had not been the bad guy?  Did it make her more or less comfortable re-entering the relationship?  How must it have felt for her to be the one giving forgiveness and acceptance rather than begging for it?

In just a few scenes, she went from being ambivalent about the baby and cagey about Zach to the matriarch of One Big Happy Slayter Family.  Literally hours before she was making love to Zach, she was walking around Uterus Island, drinking health shakes, getting massages and frowning deeply at the thought of Ryan, completely at peace with the idea of signing her baby away to Dr Madden. 

It makes my head spin.  It happened too fast, despite Kendall's monologue to Zach about "How Things Are."  The scenes were brilliantly acted and tugged at my heart strings, but still, I could not help but wish her transformation had been just a little more gradual.

Now, all of that is irrelevant.  Kendall has walked in on JR's deadly plan to kill off his wife.  More tragic and chilling than JR's assessment that this is a perfectly reasonable reaction to learning that his mother is alive is his silence after he realizes that it was Kendall and not Babe who became the victim of his sociopathic malice.

Does he continue on with JR logic saying that the who or the how does not matter at this point?  It won't bring Kendall out of her coma and won't kill Babe instead.  That being the case, why should he pay for his actions in any way?  Accountability was JR's strong suit for about 47 minutes when Babe was in the hospital after the Janet incident.  I guess that moment has passed.

Like Erica, who fully believes that poisoning a man is a completely reasonable solution to the quandry that he isn't the most ethical person in Pine Valley, JR is pathologically insane.  Like Erica, he will be exonerated by his family, protected by the people around him and never made legally or morally accountable for his actions.  Like Erica, he will never receive any kind of rehabilitation for whatever is inside him that makes this kind of behavior OK.

What about Ryan?  Honestly, I don't care that his stepfather was mean to him and his mother allowed it.  Is it tragic? Sure it is.  He is now, however, a grown man, years (decades?) away from that abuse.  When does it become HIS responsibility that he is an asshole?  When does he say, "You know, I suffered tragedies and indignities and horrors as a child, but now I drive my own train.  I make my own choices and I have to stop feeling sorry for myself and get on with being a good person."

Did we or did we not watch Ryan violently beating several other people (not to mention the ones that occurred off screen)?  Did we or did we not watch Ryan pull back his fist on Greenlee, ready to punch her squarely in the face?  Why is it that less than a year away from those situations, I can't convince myself that Ryan is the best candidate for father of a newborn?  Any chance we could get some therapy going (like of the "shock" variety) before we put the molding of a new life into his hands?  Did he take five minutes to wash the blood off of them before he reached up Kendall's skirt to claim her baby as his own to raise?

In this case, I'm sorry, I think biology is the secondary factor and "recent history" should prevail.  I would think that Jack, if he took 5 minutes away from running interference for his homicidal wife and spent some time on his law career, could build quite a case for Ryan being an unfit potential father.  In addition to the violent recent past, there is the fact that several times in his life, he has just disappeared off the face of the earth.  An accomplished attorney should be able to find plenty of material with which to convince a judge that Ryan should be a "supervised visits" dad only.

As far as I am concerned, Ryan, Erica and JR are no different than Janet or Jonathan, yet they are protected and excused by the the town while Janet and Jonathan are reviled. 

There are way too many double standards at work here and honestly, it makes my head spin as much as Kendall's abrupt about-face. 

Stop the marry-go-round (spelling intentional). I want to get off.  Yeeks.

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