The final part of a highly personal, non-objective series highlighting various aspects of the last episodes of Guiding Light, which which ended its 72 year run on September 18th.
What was it that got me first?
Was it the opening flurry of Guiding Light's logos throughout it's 72 year history or was it the show's last "Only Love" opening featuring the most of the current cast as it had never done before? Whatever it was that first triggered a torrent of emotions that ran through me, this is what happened on Guiding Light today:
In the wake of Alan Spaulding's death, Fletcher whisked Alexandra away to see the world. Doris pulled strings and got Ashlee into a writer's program at Berkeley; Daisy and Ashley went to California together for school, while James stayed behind and bonded with his father. Mindy informed Billy that she was moving back to Springfield. Remy and a newly pregnant Christina got married in the quickest wedding in soap opera history. Olivia & Natalia settled on a name for the baby — Francesca, named after Frank. Maureen played matchmaker for Matt and one of her pretty school teachers. After weeks of online dating, Frank & Blake finally hooked up for their date, with seemingly all of Springfield stalking him. Beth gave Phillip, who once had great dreams of being a writer, a journal in which to put his every thought.
It wasn't what happened "today" that was most important; it was what happened "one year later" in Springfield that truly mattered. As I sit a home, with the television now turned off and with more than a few tears in my cynical eyes, I cannot help but be amazed that I bore witness to what I believe was one of the greatest series finales of an American institution as has been produced during the long — and now endangered — life of a uniquely American genre.
I've watched many soaps go off the air, many of which I was a fan. Of their series finales, there are three that I think were fitting, magnificent tributes in their final weeks and their last day. In no particular order: Texas, perhaps the most underrated daytime drama ever, left the air with a stirring scene of most of the cast gathered at the darkened television studio KVIK (which had been sold) and raised a salute "To Texas!" My all time favorite soap operaThe Edge of Night had as it's last scene most of the entire cast spring into action to solve another mystery and another murder as life went on full force in Monticello. Finally, Santa Barbara ended with one of it's most popular couples, Mason & Julia, celebrating the birth of a child and most of the principle cast literally dancing into the sunset to one of the most beautiful original songs composed for daytime, "Never Let Go." Not to be forgotten, Another World merits an honorable mention for it's brilliant and poignant last scene, where Rachel & Carl ascended the stairs of the Cory mansion while the camera slowly zoomed in on a photo of the late Mackenzie Cory. It is into these ranks that Guiding Light's series finale takes its place.
In terms of the structure, I can only applaud the decision to include a "One Year Later..." coda as the last segment of the show. If I am not mistaken, this has never been done in a soap finale before and — by giving us a glimpse into the lives of the citizens of Springfield after their initial plots & narratives over — we got to see how life went on. Remy and Christina became proud parents. Shayne and Marina reunited to raise Henry. Frank and Blake also became a couple, while he shared parenting duty with Olivia and Natalia. Rafe came home from the army unharmed. James and Daisy continued to date. Buzz and Lillian were still happy. Jonathan and Billy became close ("Uncle Billy"!) with Jon working at Lewis Construction! Meanwhile, Dinah & Mallet reconnected and he slung her over his shoulder like he used to do! I even danced a little jig when it was revealed Rick found love (and marriage) again with Mindy, making The Four Mouseketeers whole again! Despite all the happiness & joy, everything boiled down to Springfield's biggest, most star-crossed lovers.
The year earlier Josh had left Springfield for Tulsa to work on H.B.'s memorial V.A. hospital and find himself. Before he left, he confessed his undying love for Reva with words that may go down as some of the most romantic ever said on a daytime drama: "Every part of me was built to be with you."
In return, Reva confessed that she too loved Josh but needed some time to pull her own self together. Thus, Josh gave her a year and said he would meet her at the lighthouse at noon and to meet him there if she was ready.
In one of the most lovely scenes GL has ever filmed, a year later Josh arrived at the lighthouse as promised, and so did Reva with Colin (a wee bit old for his age) in tow. In what would turn out to be a heart pounding moment of emotional suspense, Reva — who looked stunning — told him she had found herself again and asked Josh if he still meant what he said about wanting to be with her forever. He said yes. As their theme music swelled, Josh and Reva kissed and before they drove off together, these were the final words spoken:
Josh: Are you ready?
They then clinbed into Josh's truck and drove away on an adventure with the lighthouse in the distance and the words "The End" appeared the screen.
Zimmer and Newman were transcendent in their final scenes. The way Josh's voice cracked, the way Reva looked at her Bud, the hope (and fear) in the way both of the characters and the actors carried their bodies was as intimate as the daytime form gets. These actors broke a barrier between the screen and the audience allowing us to feel what they were feeling and live in the moment — their moment — as if we were living it ourselves.
The true and unique power of the American daytime drama is that very transcendence: the ability to be a part of an epic story with human dimensions. While the others may scoff at "soaps," it is by the genre's very nature that they have existed as a part of our cultural landscape since before World War II. Other forms and genres of American entertainment may be more well-regarded, but without the power of the emotional connections of their fans to these stories, few have lasted 72 years and, going forward with seven soaps left, beyond.
In my mind, all the anger, hurt, recriminations, controversies and blame games that have been and will be repeated ad nauseum regarding the ultimate demise of Guiding Light can wait another day. I have more to say, but not now. For the moment, I wish to remember my mother, Grace, talking on the phone with her friends — all of whom passed on years ago — about Ed Bauer, Rita Stapleton and "that evil Roger Thorpe." I want to remember how they didn't like how Alan Spaulding "messed with" Hope Bauer. I want to remember how they were not caught up in ratings, backstage shenanigans and fan wars, but enjoyed "the stories" as entertainment, morality plays, and the occasional parable or two.
I want to recall The Four Mousketeers in New York; Brent/Marian; Lizzie's leukemia; Frank, Eleni and Alan-Michael; Fletcher and Maeve; Hampton, Gilly, the Grants and all those Black Spauldings; Annie Dutton, Sonni Carrera, Susan Piper and Mary Anne Carruthers; the Springfield Blackout; Mike and Bert Bauer; everything San Cristobel; the early ill-fated Claire Labine era and the much maligned Ellen Weston's stories; and even my beloved — if only by me and three other people on the planet — Reva clone story. I will even miss that final, irritating theme song that I just happen to have on my iPod.
It's all gone now, to live forever more in cut up videos on the internet and, over time, the increasingly selective memories of it's fans, including myself. As for today's finale and regardless of any criticisms they may be due, Guiding Light's last executive producer Ellen Wheeler and its last de facto head writer Jill Lorie Hurst allowed Guiding Light to leave the air with closure, class and a brilliantly written final coda for its biggest couple. Though the light had long been dimmed, I am glad that this 72 year-old institution was allowed a dignified and heartfelt ending.
There is a destiny that makes us brothers,
None goes his way alone;
All that we send into the lives of others,
Comes back onto our own.
Fade to black.