General Hospital: Land of Confusion

While General Hospital has had a lot of fun moments for fans to enjoy recently, there is a lot of story that isn’t working simply because lack of clarity. Intrigue and mystery are always welcome on soaps but the fans should never be so confused by what’s happening that they can’t enjoy it.

Cynthia Watros recently did a podcast with Soap Opera Digest where she teased that the audience will get to see another side of her character Nina once she finds out that Nelle is her daughter. After listening to the fun interview, I posted the following comment on Twitter: “Cynthia seems so sweet! Sounds like things will get wild once she learns that Nelle is her daughter.” This prompted a fellow fan to ask me if Cynthia had really spoiled that Nelle is Nina’s daughter. No, Cynthia didn’t spoil anything. The audience is supposed to be fully aware that Nelle is Nina’s long lost daughter.

I can understand the confusion. There are still a lot viewers on social media who think that Willow is Nina’s daughter even though the twist that Nelle is Nina’s daughter was played many months ago. The problem is that this shocking reveal wasn’t very clear. It didn’t help that the episode in which the truth was given to the audience ended up being chopped into two episodes and edited full of flashbacks. However, even without the flashbacks the set up made very little sense.

The episodes focused on the rivalry between Carly and Nelle. We saw a young Carly interacting with a 10-year-old Nelle before she had even set foot in Port Charles. This would make Nelle much older than Michael when her baby daddy should actually be older than her. And if Carly had know about this little girl’s existence this whole time, why hadn’t she put two and two together before? If that wasn’t enough for fans to try to wrap our heads around, we were then told that Nelle’s hatred of Carly was all based on her seeing Carly as an older sister and being angry about being left behind in an unstable home. It wasn’t until the last few seconds of the two part episode that it was revealed that Nelle had the other half of Nina’s necklace.  With all that rewriting going on in such a little amount of time, it’s not surprising if the reveal that Nelle is Nina’s daughter didn’t resonate with the audience.

This is one of many examples in which the writers think they are telling one story but the audience thinks they are being told something completely different. Not everything needs to be told through a series of misdirection. Soap audiences are smart. They have long memories and can follow a story. But if the plot keeps bouncing around, everyone will just end up with whiplash rather than an understanding of the story.

Another example of misdirection gone wrong is the quad with Nik, Ava, Franco and Elizabeth. This story was meant to keep the audiencing guessing who would cheat first – Nik and Elizabeth or Ava and Franco – and then shock the viewers when married couple Nik and Ava were the ones with the unexpected kiss and one night stand instead. Many of the emotional beats that were needed to explain what exactly was happening were skipped over. All four of the characters involved were written out of character for the majority of the story and the writers had to manufacture conflicts that worked against the show’s recent history. My pal Alan Sarapa with The Pop Break recently wrote a list of ten rules for soap head writers and “Recent history matters” was the first on the list for good reason. Telling viewers that the investment they put into a story that they just watched was all for naught is not a good way to show appreciation for their viewership.

Pacing was another factor that made this story hard to follow. It was barely played and when it was the viewers had to remember where it had left off weeks prior. This also made it particularly hard for the casual audience to follow. For example, if someone missed the episode where Franco and Elizabeth became aware that both Nik and Ava were using them as pawns, they wouldn’t have known that they were locking lips with their friends in order to beat them at their own game. And after that all was not revealed until weeks later. The writers need to think about how this would play for the viewer when paced this way. Going roughly a month or more before providing a clear explanation of the events isn’t good story telling; it’s a headache.

The current writing team’s style preference seems to be to shock the audience as much as possible. That’s not a bad thing at all but the overall picture needs to be as important as the surprises that pop up. If characters aren’t acting like themselves and history is being rewritten in ways that make little sense, confusion and annoyance will outway any feeling of surprise.

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