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|KAM||Oct 7 2013, 02:47 AM|
Thanks so much to everyone who posted about my recap on the back story of Bill and Laura. I see from some responses that I should have been a bit more expansive in telling about the rape. I was very terse and blunt, I think because I didn't want readers to be stopped by thinking I was an apologist for Bill's action. I am not. My mother was not. And DOOL was not. But without putting the rape in a little better context, I can see where the reaction of the character of Laura might not be understood. Not to mention the continuing positive viewer response to Bill and Laura as a couple.
I think to understand what DOOL was doing in the Bill and Laura story, current viewers have to put later soap stories about rape such as Jack and Kayla or Luke and Laura out of mind. The year was 1968. Among many long-running and well-established daytime dramas, DOOL was still a very new and struggling soap, whose long term renewal prospects were still in doubt. The head writer was the brilliant William Bell, who wanted to honor the successful genre traditions, while also creating more vital and modern characters and putting them in creative and cutting edge story lines.
One of the ways that Bell did that was by writing more directly about the sexuality of some of his characters. Soaps had been dishing the repercussions of romantic drama for decades but usually shied away from any emphasis on the underlying sexual urges that caused the drama. It was so very different then than today's sex-obsessed soap stories with the bed hops, hookups, and marriage go rounds. In 1968, there was social turmoil and a 'sexual revolution' among young single adults but traditional moral attitudes toward marriage prevailed and divorce was still uncommon.
The key to the story of Bill and Laura is understanding the impact of Susan Flannery's Laura. That may be hard for those whose idea of Laura is Jamie Lynn Bauer or who first met Susan Flannery as Stephanie Forrester. Flannery's Laura was both a classical soap heroine and a modern professional woman. She wanted marriage and children but she had a strong desire to excel in her career. She was intelligent, poised, and incredibly beautiful. And she was beloved and admired by female viewers.
Both Bill and Laura were portrayed as ambitious young physicians in training -- he as a surgeon, she as a psychiatrist. They were matched as equals in terms of personal charisma, romantic attraction, and the importance of medicine to their sense of self. Bill turned down residency options in major hospitals to stay in Salem with Laura. They fell in love and became engaged, but Mickey was a continuing source of conflict in his attempts to get Laura away from Bill. The brothers fought about Laura as William Bell introduced sexual jealousy into sibling rivalry with this triangle.
Then came the plot point that drove Bill and Laura apart. When Bill's hands were presumed to be permanently disabled by disease, preventing him from ever again being a surgeon, he was not only impacted physically, but also unmanned psychologically in his relationship with Laura, through his sense that he was no longer the man with whom she had fallen in love. So in despair, Bill disappeared from Salem, leaving Laura behind. By doing this, Bill thought to set Laura free from his failure. However, by preventing Laura from using her psychiatric skills to heal his heart, Bill not only broke her heart but undermined her own sense of usefulness as a physician.
While Bill was gone without word, Laura recovered a sense of her professional self worth by Mickey asking her to assist him with psychological evaluations in (I think) the Susan Martin trial. Laura saw Mickey in his professional world, began to admire and care about him, and eventually agreed to marry him, in the belief that Bill was gone for good from her life. Of course, Bill came back, fully restored by an experimental therapy as a skilled surgeon, only to find that he had lost Laura to his brother. He was consumed by regret as well as sexual jealousy over the thought of Laura as Mickey's wife. On his part, Mickey was dealing with sexual insecurity over the growing fear that he could be responsible for the failure to conceive a child with Laura.
Most everyone, except Mickey, understood that Laura's marriage was a mistake that was likely to cause lasting unhappiness for all concerned. Laura and Bill both felt angry at each other as well as personally guilty -- he for running out on Laura instead of letting her help him; she for trying to replace Bill with his brother. Viewers were disturbed and saddened by Laura's situation. However, this being a Horton story in 1968, it was absolutely clear that Laura's marriage vows to Mickey must trump her love and desire for Bill.
Into these fraught relationships, William Bell dropped his bomb shell. One night Bill got drunk after a patient died during surgery. He knew he once could have had Laura to talk him through his despair, but he was alone. At the bar, Bill heard a song about a woman named Laura, who was only a dream. Drunken Bill muttered that she was not a dream...she was real. He staggered back to the hospital where he found Laura sleeping in quarters and had sex with her. Of course, this was not shown on screen in 1968. William Bell later said he deliberately left it to the viewer to determine what Laura's response was to Bill. But it was rightly viewed as rape.
Also, it had to be seen that way. As much as viewers wanted Laura to be with Bill again, her marriage vows absolutely prevented their sexual union at the time. There had to be some external compulsion that both caused and excused their sex. Bill had to have his moral sense repressed by a black out drunk that unleashed his sexual desire and Laura had to be overwhelmed before she could have extramarital sex with her husband's brother. Years later, social mores had changed to the extent that, in a similar story line, Laura's successor was allowed to reconnect with her lover despite her existing marriage. Marlena was able to act willingly on her sexual desire for John. Even though her marriage made it 'wrong,' it did not ruin her character as a heroine. It was simply a spring board for great soap drama that has continued on today.
But in 1968, William Bell had to use forcible sex to achieve a break through moment for DOOL. Viewers were shocked in a stunning, jaw-dropping way that Laura and Bill -- these two beloved and admired characters who were supposed to be together -- were in such a situation. 'OMG. Bill raped Laura. How could that happen? What will happen next?' Over the next eight years, viewers never tired of watching to find out if secrets would out and Bill and Laura ever could be together again after such a bad act.
And because William Bell wrote the story with psychological insight, viewers at the time understood why Laura would forgive Bill, just as they eventually did. First, viewers knew that in her heart Laura loved and desired Bill as much as he did her and understood that he came to her out of a need for her comfort and not to dominate or humiliate her. Second, viewers knew that, as a psychiatrist, Laura was trained to analyze and understand human sex drives and psychological pressures. Laura knew that her marriage to his brother was a torment to Bill, and she felt some responsibility for creating that stress. Finally, viewers knew, long before Laura did, that Bill was willing to sacrifice his love and his freedom to protect her and their son.
Still, it took many years and obstacles for Bill to be redeemed, and Laura could only leave Mickey after Mickey had cheated on her and later abandoned her for Maggie. (Mickey had his own mitigating factors, since viewers knew he was unfaithful to a wife who didn't really love him and his final abandonment was the result of amnesia. Plus Maggie was apparently very appealing back then as Mickey's true love.)
IMO, the story of Bill and Laura was one of the most important in DOOL history, successfully modernizing the soap genre in terms of dealing with sex while staying true to its romantic traditions. Its down side came later after William Bell left the show. Subsequent writers kept trying to trade on its success and created a DOOL tradition to turn to rape as a fall back plot point when other creative resources ran dry. Sometimes this has been done with true psychological insight and good dramatic repercussions, as with Jack and Kayla's story and the whole Johnson family saga. Too many other times it has not. It is interesting to think about the social and sexual changes reflected in soaps today, as the show has Bill and Laura's daughter and grand son deal with the fall out from Jack's rape of Kayla. I look forward to seeing how this revisit of DOOL rape history is handled now, and if it lives up to its dramatic potential.
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