Deep Soap: Murder Most Foul

by | May 20, 2009 at 9:11 AM | Deep Soap

It has been a long time since there was a great soap opera whodunnit.  (Carmen Mesta?  Trent Robbins? Hardly.) With the recent murder of All My Children’s Adam Chandler (or should I say, “Adam Chandler”?)… I’m still waiting.  Years ago I was entranced by the show’s “Who killed Will Courtlandt” saga.  Will met the qualifications for the perfect soap murder victim.  He was a well-written, well played character that crossed the line from love-to-hate to deserves-to-die.  For those young whipper snappers not watching at the time, Will’s detestable acts included enabling Hayley’s alcoholism then persuading her to marry him, blackmailing Craig and raping Gloria.  Everyone, including the audience, wanted to kill him.  Back then, AMC spent months setting up believable motives for everyone in town, as well as multiple plausible scenarios on the night of the murder.  Yes, it was a bit silly that everyone happened to be wearing a trench coat, but hey, it was foggy.

AMC’s current murder mystery lacks all of the elements that made the classic story work.  Viewers don’t want to see Adam die.  He is a beloved veteran who occasionally veers into love-to-hate territory.  For the past month Adam hasn’t been in his diabolical “gaslighting Dixie to convince her she has post-partum depression” mode.  He has been the victim of David’s latest mysterious drugging scheme.  He isn’t mentally competent at the moment.  His minor league misdeeds of the past month are not truly his fault.  The faulty-heart valve that nearly killed baby Ian seems to be more the responsibility of the doctor who created the valve, and David who used it during surgery even after he realized there was a problem with it, than Adam who merely kept quiet about the valve’s possible problems.  Out of all of the things Adam’s done wrong over the years, trying to market a product that has the potential to save lives is hardly the worst.  My sympathies were with Adam during the lead-up to the shooting.

Kendall and Zach’s decision to abandon their seemingly dying baby in the hospital to kill Adam was completely out of character, and made them look like the world’s worst parents.   They’re also the world’s worst potential murderers, since they didn’t bother to bring weapons.  Perhaps Kendall planned to beat him to death with her high heeled shoes. Zach, a man who killed Josh in order to give Kendall a donor heart, may have simply been hoping that the sheer weight of his own hypocrisy would strike Adam down.

I loved how one episode concluded with a nurse solemnly, definitively declaring poor little Ian a goner.  Then, the next episode Dr. Jake was all, “Hey how about I try this newfangled CPR thing,” and a few minutes later the baby was miraculously saved.  Of course, nobody seemed to make much of an effort to let Zach and Kendall know that their child was alive.  Pine Valley Hospital makes Seattle Grace look like the Mayo Clinic.

All of the other suspects’ motivations were equally weak.  JR and Adam are always at odds.  JR’s improbable belief that Adam might have killed Dixie doesn’t seem like it would be enough to push him over the edge before he established proof.  Krystal had nobody to blame but herself for selling her baby to the highest bidder decades ago.  She’s in a borderline abusive marriage to David Hayward.  So I’m not sure why she’s blaming Adam for all of her problems.  The other potential killers — Liza, Tad, Scott, Erica, have equally implausible motives.  If Crazy Annie turns out to be the culprit it will be a blatant rip-off of the twist that Janet-from-another-planet killed Will Courtlandt.   Adam’s evil, recently fired nurse would be an unsatisfying “the butler did it” revelation. There is also a curious lack of emotion to this storyline.  Adam was reviled by many, but he was also loved.  Nobody is shedding any tears on his behalf.  If a show is going to kill of a veteran character, it has to allow the other characters to have an appropriate reaction.

Of course, from the moment that this storyline was spoiled, savvy fans began speculating that the victim would turn out to be Adam’s twin brother Stuart.  I can see how someone who does not know the show that well, like the current headwriter, would view Stuart as an expendable character.  In my opinion, killing off Stuart could turn out to be as boneheaded as killing of Maureen Bauer.  Though he has appeared only spradically for the past few years, Stuart is the heart of Pine Valley.  With the death of Myrtle, who fulfilled a similar function on the show, AMC has lost most of its “moral compass” characters.  A soap needs people who offers unconditional love and dispenses wise advice.  The rarely seen Dr. Joe is now all AMC has left. Plus, Stuart is flat out awesome.  He adopted Scott when his mother died of AIDS.  He makes bold satirical choices.  He likes fishing.  According to Marian, he is great in bed, and she ought to know.  I don’t want to visit a Pine Valley without him in it.

The production of the episodes, with numerous cuts to shadowy figures, and a sudden proliferation of guns, were unintentionally funny.  “Adam” going down while the voices of those he wronged echoed in his head was the kind of scene that gives soaps a bad reputation.  The 24-style split screens grew tired a few years ago when every other show on television started ripping them off.  Adam, Stuart, and the viewers deserved better.

Blind Item

An Executive Producer, fed up with a twenty-something performer’s chronic tardiness, told the thespian that if he/she shows up late again, his/her salary will be bumped down to scale.