Tuesday, August 11, 2009

When History is Her Story

If Dinah and Vanessa's tearful goodbye last week reminded you of something, of some other time when a mother and daughter shed tears as a daughter set out to escape the law after killing someone, it's no accident. We've been here before.

Continuity and History.

If it's beginning to sound like a mantra, it's because a mantra is exactly what it should be to a soap writer. Long-term viewers of Guiding Light know all about the relationship Dinah and her mother have shared over the years, about the guilt Vanessa harbors over having given her baby up for adoption, and the less-than-perfect childhood that baby experienced. We know about Dinah's transformation, over time, from angry, resentful, vindictive youth to a mature - if impulsive - woman who often does the wrong things for the right reasons. We know that Dinah has hurt her mother badly in the past but that, through it all, the bonds of mother and child have only grown stronger. We know that Dinah has killed before and that Vanessa has faced the possibility of her daughter living a life on the run, never to see her family, again. For those of us who have followed Guiding Light over the years, Dinah and Vanessa's recent farewell scene was a little bit of a pay-off. The last time we visited this scenario, Dinah had killed Hart - a murder born out of a sick obsession. The last time we visited this scenario, Vanessa's initial reaction was shock and horror, and her instinct was to contact the authorities. The last time we visited this scenario, it was with an hysterical Dinah, begging her mother to bail her out. Vanessa and Dinah have come full circle. Gone is the rivalry. Gone is Dinah's manipulation of Vanessa's guilt. Gone is Dinah's child-like pleas for help. Gone, too, is Vanessa's judgement. This time, we have a Vanessa who, faced with the possibility of her daughter spending the rest of her life in prison, is glad that Dinah has chosen to run.

Continuity and History

Back in February, after Coop's death scenes, there was a small, but significant, scene that may have been missed by viewers who have adopted the habit of fast-forwarding through episodes of Guiding Light. In the scene, Lillian Raines and Vanessa Chamberlain walk into Company and share a short interaction. Vanessa says something about how, any time someone dies in a car accident, she's reminded of their mutual friend. The scene is a subtle nod not only to the memory of Maureen Bauer, but to long-time fans who know exactly what Vanessa is talking about, and why it's a significant moment for these particular characters to share. Tina Sloan, who plays Lillian Raines, tells me that, after that scene was shot she was approached by a younger member of the film crew. This crew member had no idea who Maureen Bauer was, or why her death was so meaningful. She had no idea why Vanessa and Lillian share in the grief of losing Maureen. Still and all, this crew member approached Tina and told her that, while she had no idea what the scene they'd just shot was about, she could feel it was really significant and powerful, and that it touched her for reasons she couldn't explain.

One need not know about the history a set of characters share in order to benefit from this history being respected. When continuity and history are an integral part of drama, it's a win/win situation.

Continuity and History.

While Dinah and Vanessa's recent emotional scene was a nod to old-school Guiding Light fans who have been on the emotional mother/daughter roller coaster with these characters for many years, the scene was also satisfying to newer viewers. It's a great scene because it's a microcosm of what great soap opera is all about: human emotion, love, struggle, family. The scene has heart. It's all about continuity and history. It's the sort of scene that should be required viewing for anyone thinking about a future in writing this type of drama.


B Fuhr said...

The Dinah/Vanessa scene was the first time I bawled like a little baby while watching GL. As a new viewer I didn't know the history, but agree... it pays tribute to the soap opera medium. I could tell that the scene had such deep meaning and felt like the mother/daughter relationship had finally gained such acceptance. Thanks for the look into the past.

Sharon said...

Great tribute to the mother/daughter dynamics that Dinah and Vanessa have played for years. Thanks for reminding us of the history. Their scene declaring their love for each other was a redemption.

bl said...

Just a few thoughts on this one. I liked that Vanessa was on Dinah's side without judgment, but I think part of that came from the fact that Dinah had self-awareness that she lacked after shooting Hart. Dinah did what she did to protect someone and it spiraled out of control. She didn't want to hurt, but help even if it ended up hurting Shayne, Reva etc.

The Lillian and Vanessa talking about Maureen scene was something that I really appreciated. If anything I stopped the TiVo to watch them just hoping they would discuss their shared past.

BTW enjoyed the Maeve interview even if I felt that Matt and Vanessa's break up sucked (not because Vanessa ended it due to Matt sleeping with Dinah or Matt and Dinah sleeping together), but because it felt like the show edited out part of it. SIGH