"You have changed me."
Those desperately uttered words have perfectly and succinctly summed up the sick, twisted and ultimately riveting story line of Todd and Marty on One Life to Live.
I use the word "riveting" in its purest sense: not to imply something that is entertaining or enjoyable for entertainment's sake alone, but rather as a thing that keeps our attention for better or worse, against whatever other instincts that might ask us to look away. In other words, this story line of compounded lies and grand delusion has kept many of us as glued to the screen as a car accident might induce a chronic case of rubbernecking or a nasty lover's quarrel in a supermarket might cause us to turn and watch. Yes, this is the story we thought "they" would never tell, but there is a question lurking just beneath the surface reactions for those fans titillated by the prospect of the loathsomely nicknamed "Tarty" and those other fans filled with disgust and anger:
Exactly whose story has been told?
The first and rather obvious answer is that this story has been Todd's, not Marty's. I certainly understand the idea that this tale should have also been hers and yet may take that turn, but I would rebut that Marty's story has more or less been successfully told. Through the years (and one recast), Marty has gone from promiscuous party girl to rape victim to rape survivor to empowered woman. Marty took her violation, her anger, her rage, and her devastation and turned her life into one full of meaning and purpose as a psychiatrist and mother to Cole. No matter what plot lines were thrown in her way, Marty eventually emerged from the horrific night of the gang rape as someone capable of trust and love years later. In short, Marty was forever changed by the rape, but she found a way to not be solely defined by it.
Todd is a different story. No matter what Todd has done since he was first convicted of raping Marty, his world has not changed. Oh yes, he foud love with Tea, married Blair a thousand times, had a great relationship with Starr, loves Jack, cares for little Bree, has been protective and even compassionate toward his family and one or two people who might have passed as his friends. Most importantly, Todd has sought forgiveness from Marty and tried to set things right, eventually reaching an understanding of sorts with her. However, forgiveness does not always erase a debt, a memory or pain.
At the end of the day, Todd has always been Todd the Rapist. It always comes back to that definition, doesn't it? Not even being raped by Margaret changed that equation. It is the destructive self-loathing of being Todd the Rapist that has defined Todd Manning since he was the ringleader in Marty's gang rape and the many psychological and even physical crimes he has committed mainly against women before Marty and ever since. Todd has known this all along. Todd has wanted to "fix" it. Todd has wanted to change, but has never been able to bring himself to completely do so, backsliding time and time again into the abyss of his self-loathing and anger, lashing out at the world for hurting him in ways real and imagined. If the focal point of Todd's self-loathing has been the night he raped Marty, there was only one person could truly "fix" Todd: Marty.
This is why this story has always made sense to me as a psychological thriller, despite its horrific implications. A man who has done great, irredeemable wrong sees and takes advantage of an opportunity for the ultimate "do over" with the one person he has hurt above all others. In many respects it is every "what if" conversation we've ever had, every "apology" we've ever wish we could have given, every love story we wish we'd been able to reinvent despite our own mistakes magnified a thousand times. In Todd's world, amnesia did not happen to Marty. Marty's amnesia happened for Todd. This is where some critics have missed the point in their insistence that if Todd wanted to be the hero, he would have revealed an alive Marty to her friends and loved ones, thereby reaping the glory as a result. Todd never wanted be a hero to everyone else; he only wanted to be the hero in Marty's eyes.
Marty's amnesia provided Todd with an excuse to use her as a tabula rasa by rewriting the past, in every case a role reversal of all that had gone before. In Todd's rewritten script, he cast Marty as the smart but flirtatious ingenue instead of the promiscuous and rowdy wild child in college. He cast himself as the lovestruck nerd with a huge crush who couldn't get her attention instead of the sullen and angry frat guy who'd orchestrated her vicious sexual assault. Todd further rewrote himself as a misunderstood loner who was failed by his wife and child, not the sociopath who had driven nearly everyone in his life away. And, in the most symbolic role reversal of all, Marty was not held against her will in his home as he nurtured her back to health as opposed to her helpless subjugation and degradation that he was responsible for at the frat house many years ago.
Of course, Todd's fiction to Marty was undone by the fact that Todd continued to be as reprehensible as ever to everyone outside of her sphere, from the double blackmail of the doctor and the nurse to the planned baby switch before he changed his mind. Todd did, however, change his mind. Why?
Because of the sex.
At first, I was as angered and repulsed as just about anybody else that Todd and Marty had sex. I felt Todd was raping Marty all over again, as many others have repeatedly said and could not understand why it was necessary for them to actually have sex. However, as I watched Wednesday's explosive episode the narrative truth of that particualr aspect of the story revealed itself to be more important than I had at first thought.
In short, if we take the reversal of the truth to its logical conclusion from Todd's point of view, the act of the brutality of Todd's raping Marty and the whirlwind of damage that it did to her, him and everyone in its path could only have been undone completely by Marty having sex with Todd willingly. The reset button pushed. The circle completed. The fantasy made reality. Todd fixed. No more baby switch. Blackmailed nurses and doctors let off the hook with bonuses. Tell Starr the baby is alright. Let Marcy take her new little girl home because she'll be a good mother. Said by Todd with a genuine smile. "You have changed me," Todd said desperately, pitifully and with great self-delusion to Marty as the truth came out.
"You have changed me."
That simple statement brings us to the second story told through this Todd & Marty mess, the subtextual one upon which bloggers, soap critics, magazines and regular viewers at large have not widely commented. This story is every bad and wrong thing its critics have called it. Irresponsible. A dangerous message to young women. The indulgence of a rapist's fantasy. A monumental insult to rape survivors everywhere. This Todd & Marty story is all of those things and many more. It is also a firm indictment of a phenomenon that soap fans have indulged and encouraged since Luke raped Laura at the campus disco.
I'm not saying that Brian Frons or Ron Carlivati actually set out to use this Todd & Marty story as a critique on fan indulgence of rapists on soaps and the women — both on the screen and in the audience — who fall in love with them. Nor am I pointing a metaphorical finger at any specific person, blogger, or critic. Nonetheless, I think the critique exists whether it was intentional or not.
I have read and watched and sometimes listened to all manner of justifications about various soap rapists and their love interest victims. Luke did rape Laura, but her love and forgiveness changed him. Jack raped Kayla, but Jennifer's love and forgiveness changed him. Jake raped Marley, but she not only gave him her blessing to marry her sister, she came back to Bay City to reunite with him after her sis and he broke up and, later, Jake, died in Oakdale a beloved hero. A raging debate still goes on about whether EJ raped Sami, whose pairing is one of the most popular in Salem even as he has now impregnated her and another woman. Love might not save the world, but it certainly gives a reprieve to a number of daytime's rapists.
Out of the shockingly high number of female friends of mine who have been victims of various forms of sexual assault, I have yet to hear a single one make an argument of equivocation between a date rapist or violent attack. However, every fan of these and other "romantic" rapists have a reason to "forgive them their trespasses" as it were. These reasons almost always boil down to either "it wasn't really rape because of X, Y or Z" and/or "it was because of _______'s love & forgiveness that he found redemption."
"You have changed me."
This is the great narrative of daytime with notable exception. Fans were revolted by the idea of Augusta taking up with her sister Julia's rapist, Dash Nichols, on Santa Barbara and the storyline was aborted. The groundbreaking story of Roger and Holly's marital rape on Guiding Light was an ugly, raw saga of psychological and emotional landmines that played out for over 20 years.
However, when it comes to many of soaps "rapemances," the prevalent idea among fans is that love can conquer all. Love can heal all wounds. Love can forgive the unforgivable. Happily ever after is possible if only "we can get through this," almost always with the caveat that the rapist is "hot" and that the couple have "amazing chemistry" despite that tiny little detail of sexual assault.
This is the narrative of Laura, Marley and many other soap women who fell in love with soap rapists because they could see "the good" in these men who violated them or people they knew or cared about. The audience has been invited to forgive these rapists as well, if not embracing these men on their own terms. After all, is there not a hearty and vocal contingent of "Tarty" fans fully aware of Todd's role in gang raping of Marty who want them to get together?
On the other side of the fan divide for those who hate "Tarty", there is another ironic consideration. Read many of the posts and fan reaction and an interesting thread emerges: a lot of fans who hate the story do so not so much because of Marty's mistreatment by Todd, but rather because his overall redemption has been rendered moot. These fans wanted Todd to eventually find happiness, to conquer his demons, to find peace. In short, they want Todd "fixed," something this story line has denied many of them once and for all.
"You have changed me."
In fact, once upon a time Todd Manning was one of the biggest hotties on ABC daytime. Roger Howarth's version of Todd was originally a nameless one dimensional villain whose sole day player role was to lead the gang rape against Marty. Then somebody thought Howarth was both talented and "hot" and Todd gained a name, a backstory and 15 years of narrative backflips and plot gymnastics to develop, deepen, and make the character complex. To a large degree, that narrative has been a success thanks to Mr. Howarth and now the terrific Trevor St. John. Through all of these changes however, the character of Todd has always been a monster. A self-aware monster.
Ignore ABC's marketing department's shamelessly exploitative promos, whose job it is to get people to watch the show. The narrative of Todd & Marty has challenged the audience to see this story in a light that goes against conventional soap wisdom and still somehow reinforce it at the same time. It has been a twisted magic mirror held up to the viewer, daring us to look at the reflection. Todd's explanation for why he did what he did (this time and the first time) echoed what every soap opera "rapemance" rapist has ever said to the object of his affection/obsession: he was desperate, he was crazed, he had one agenda or another that turned into something more pure and loving because
"You have changed me."
What played out on the show itself has not been a "rapemance" as decried by its critics nor has it been a romance as celebrated by those who champion "Tarty." This has been a story cloaked in the trappings of 19th century Gothic conventions, complete with a somewhat inaccessible house, a faithful nurse, a skeptical doctor, a doe-eyed invalid and the brooding, emotionally damaged lord of the manor harboring terrible secrets, all specifically refit for Todd's dark and twisted story. It has been all about Todd's delusions and manipulations and quest for the kind of redemption that no one other than Marty could give him, with words no less powerful than those Luke once said to Laura or any number of daytime's romantic rapists have declared at one time or another:
"You have changed me."
Here is the irony: unlike Luke, Jack and daytime's other "rapemance" rapists, Todd may have changed for one brief moment but he has not been transformed. This is the great irony and tragedy of Todd Manning, hated now more than ever by the one person he hoped would transform him into the kind of person he'd destroyed in himself the night he led a group of young men to gang rape her.
I must cite the volcanic work of Susan Haskell and Trevor St. John as the truth finally spilled out. While others here at DC have spoken with great eloquence about these perfomances upon whose critique I cannot improve, I wish to point to one choice by each actor that proved how great this genre can be with great writing. First, upon Marty learning she was a mother and Cole was her son, Haskell clutched and cradled the gun she was holding to her chest as if it were holding her lost child, the gun doubling as an ironic metaphor for the truth. Second, St. John allowed his face to register a combination of terror in his eyes and desperation in his voice as each of Todd's lies were exposed one by one. These two choices symbolize the explosive nature of their work as actors in scenes that were among the best I've ever seen in daytime.
Others have pointed out that history will judge this story one way or the other. Many critics already believe it is is the most colossal mistake any soap has ever made. A lot of fans seem to have a squish name couple they adore. Personally I share with both camps the one thing that makes them tune in day in and day out whether they are repulsed by the masochism of the story or enthralled by what they see as a romance: it has been riveting.
Either way, it may be time (and long past due) for producers, writers and fans to re-examine the phenomenon of glorifying rapists as romantic leads. That, my friends, isn't love in the afternoon.
[A correction: an earlier version of this post erroneously cited that Jack Devereaux had raped Jennifer Horton prior to their marriage. It has been corrected to reflect that Jack actually raped Kayla Johnson instead. JBJ]