Pop the champagne — Despair in the Afternoon has reached its hundredth post! Since Incandescentflower and I are the type of people who enjoy random milestones, we thought we’d celebrate with a look back at a very special General Hospital event:
The year was 1996. Bill Clinton had just been elected for a second term. VH1 introduced the world to the wonder that is Pop-Up Video. The Macarena was inexplicably sweeping the nation. And GH’s ratings were more than double what they are now, so ABC approved a Primetime special.
That special? Was General Hospital: TWIST of FATE, and it was pretty awesome.
We start with a promo, which reminds us that this show once featured a woman who was torn between Sonny and Jax, and her name wasn’t Carly. Oh, and Laura Spencer was recently blown to bits while her ex-lover and possible baby daddy, Stefan, watched in horror. Meanwhile, Luke kind of went insane. Let’s see how that all turned out, shall we?
Ah, the old Faces of the Heart credits. How I miss you!
We open at Wyndemere, where Stefan is brooding in the wine cellar, as you do. There is no doubt in my mind that if I had a gothic mansion with a creepy wine cellar, I would be brooding down there every chance I could get — or, at the very least, drinking wine and addressing long winded monologues at my velvet portrait of Jason Statham. Go ahead and mock! YOU KNOW IT WOULD BE AWESOME.
Stefan pulls a red ball gown out of a crate, telling his portrait of young Laura that he’d intended for her to wear this the night she “finally” returned to him and Nikolas. He goes on to outline an elaborate fantasy for this hypothetical reunion. Stefan would possibly make a very good fan fiction writer. This whole speech is reminding me that even though I always liked the character, he could be a bit of a delusional, creepy stalker from time to time.
As Stefan continues to monologue, we see images of Laura’s funeral procession entering the cemetery. You can tell that this was made for Primetime because although the quality still seems soapish, everything’s just a little bit shinier and nicer looking. Location shots! Real outdoor lighting! Fancier editing! Lots of action!
Laura’s pallbearers appear to be Edward, Lucky, and Justus on the left; Tom, Alan and Tony on the right. I can understand most of those choices, but the inclusion of Tom kind of baffles me. Unless they vaguely related on the Webber side? Laura’s family tree has always kind of confused me.
Back to Stefan, who throws the gown and the portrait in the fire, weeping as he says: “Laura Cassadine, that’s who you should have been. What was Luke Spencer, but a girlish mistake?” Oh, whatever, Stalky McGee.
Speaking of Luke, he’s looking mighty spiffy in his funeral duds and sunglasses. His hair is in the in-between phase here: post-curls, but pre-cut. I do not approve.
He hugs Amy, who I’m assuming wasn’t in on this whole elaborate farce (OMG, SPOILER!) because this is the last time she appears in the episode. I know telling Amy a secret was the best way to make sure everyone in town would find out about it before the end of the day, but that was still kind of a crappy thing to do to Laura’s sister. Poor form, Spencers!
The other visible mourners include a crowd of extras, Keesha, Ned, Brenda, Mike, Audry, Tom, Felicia, Mac, Emily, Monica, Kevin, Lucy, and Ruby. Luke subjects them all to a long, angry, paranoid eulogy, blaming Stefan for Laura’s “death”. Of his wife, Luke says, “She was smart, she was savvy. She was strong, and gutsier than most.”
Can I mail this scene to the current writers the next time they try to paint Laura as a weak, boring dishrag who tied Luke down and wouldn’t let him have any fun?
Geary’s really chewing the scenery here, which is fun for once because Luke is supposed to be acting as much as Geary is. Of course, no own else knows that, so they’re all increasingly disturbed by Luke’s hyperbolic antics. When Tony tries to defuse the situation, his ex-brother-in-law’s jacket falls open to reveal a gun tucked into his waistband. Well, you know what they say about a gun revealed in the first act…
Luke demands to know where his sister is, promising Tony she’ll be joining Laura in the grave soon, unless they can get her away from the Cassadines. But Bobbie, of course, is with her husband Stefan at Wyndemere, sporting a refreshingly mobile face. Hi there, Barbara Jean!
Bobbie bemoans the fact that she isn’t welcome at her sister-in-law’s funeral and begs Stefan to assure her he had nothing to do with the explosion that “killed” Laura. The expression on Stefan’s face is not terribly reassuring, I must say.
Meanwhile, Nikolas finds Katherine at home, just as she’s about to leave for the funeral. Katherine’s apartment appears to be Jason’s current day penthouse, although I can’t remember if it’s actually supposed to be the same apartment or if they just reused the set. In any case, it’s really weird to see that particular space decorated in flowing white curtains and flowers.
Nik is cold and distant on the subject of his mother, which is how we know he’s really burning with the manpain on the inside. Katherine wants him to go with her, but he aggressively kisses her instead. Ew. I think I’d repressed their weird and inappropriate love affair.
Back at the funeral, Laura’s other son watches as her casket lowers in the ground. I’m unclear on how everyone was convinced she was dead. Whose body is in that casket? Is it empty?
Luke says he’s taking the remains of his family and getting out of dodge before the Cassadines kill everyone. Well, nothing melodramatic about that. Tony finally makes Luke shut up by pointing out that everyone else loved Laura too and deserves a chance to mourn in peace. Luke actually apologizes, and they hug it out. I really miss Luke’s friendship with his favorite ex-Doc-Bro-in-law.
After the funeral, Mac gently confiscates Luke’s gun, prompting Luke to call him “Bubba.” This also makes me sniffle a little.
Edward comes over to Ned and Brenda, wanting to know where “the scoundrel” she married is. Hee! I miss Edward and Jax’s business rivalry. Apparently, Jax is in Australia — on business, Brenda uncomfortably assures them, but as we jump over to a visual of Jax horseback riding on the beach, it becomes clear that his “business” is of the SEXY variety. And sure enough, he’s riding toward a woman in a slinky dress. She turns to reveal — Miranda!
(Please do not be fooled by that exclamation mark. I am in no way excited by this development. Miranda was possibly the most boring, useless character ever, and even just the sight of her bland, doe-eyed face makes me want to preemptively fall asleep.)
Miranda, you may recall, was hideously disfigured in an explosion (that had something to do with Mac?) years ago, and then colluded with Jax’s family to make it seem as if she had died because she didn’t want to burden Jax with an ugly wife or something. Well, sounds like true love to me! Now that she’s no longer hideous, she let Sonny trick her into seeking out Jax — just in time to break up his second wedding to Brenda. And then she ran away again. Because she sucks.
Anyway, tears in her eyes, Miranda flashes back to her wedding to Jax, which took place on this very beach, it seems. In a voiceover, flashback Jax promises she is “the other half of me, I could never be happy without.” Yeah, okay, flashback Jax. You just keep telling yourself that.
Back at the cemetery, Lucy doesn’t want Luke to leave town, reminding him that if he leaves, Sonny will be in charge of the club and he won’t know to give her her special table. Luke smiles fondly at her, prompting my third “awwww” of the episode. I miss Luke having friendships and giving a damn about people! He makes her promise to take care of herself and watch out for her Doc.
I’m sad that Kevin doesn’t get anything to do in this episode. I would gladly have sacrificed all of the Katherine and Miranda-related plots for some Kevin and Lucy shenanigans… Now, Tom and Felicia come over. Ugh. After having been subjected to the aggressive awfulness of current GH, these two don’t seem nearly so objectionable, but at the time, I really loathed their relationship. Little did we know that something worse — Felicia and Luke — was waiting in the wings!
Felicia is surprised when Tom says he can’t make it to the wake, which is apparently being held at the Quartermaine mansion. Tom claims he has a patient who needs him, but he and Luke exchange significant looks, so I’m guessing this is related to my earlier questions about how they managed to fake Laura’s death.
Oddly, Tom wants to know where Sonny is, and we jump over to Brenda wondering the same thing to Mike, since “Luke’s his best friend.” Man, remember when that was actually true? Turns out the man in question is at General Hospital. And as he bursts into the Emergency Room, highly agitated, it becomes clear that he’s under the impression Brenda has been badly hurt in an accident. The first nurse he accosts has no idea what he’s talking about, but a second one soon shows up. She looks just like CJ’s assistant, Carol, from The West Wing (although IMDB refuses to support me on this).
Anyway, Nurse Carol leads Sonny away from the main area — and his bodyguards — telling him Brenda hasn’t stopped asking for him. She’s slightly flustered when Sonny wants to know who the doctor is and why it isn’t Alan Quartermaine. (Because…he’s a surgeon and the freaking Chief of Staff, not on call in the ER all day? Oh, whatever. In the General Hospital universe, where every doctor works every specialty, this is actually a reasonable question.)
Back at the funeral, a perfectly fine Brenda wants Mike to give her one logical reason why Sonny would miss Laura’s funeral. Her Sonny-dar is apparently pinging, telling her something is wrong. Unfortunately, Sonny’s too flustered by his worry for Brenda to notice how sketchy “Nurse” Carol is acting until she lures him into a deserted trauma room. When he turns to leave, a man in a white lab coat grabs hims from behind and sticks him with a needle. Uh oh!
Mike suggests they just head over to the wake in the hopes that Sonny will show up there. Brenda agrees, but as Mike walks away, she stares blankly off into space, which is soap opera code for a flashback.
Sure enough, we’re launched into a montage of her finding Sonny and nursing him back to health after he was shot while breaking Frank Smith out of prison. Back in the present, Brenda hops into her cute little red car and zooms away, determination renewed.
Meanwhile, Sonny’s unconscious body is covered in a sheet and wheeled out of the hospital, right under his bodyguard’s nose. Possibly the one part of the show that hasn’t degraded over the years is the quality of goons employed by the Corinthos organization — they’ve just always sucked this much. I’m willing to bet, actually, that if Sonny’s henchmen had ever been even mildly competent, 90% of the calamity in town over the last fifteen years would never have happened.
Back with Katherine and Nikolas, she angrily pushes him away before laying into him for grabbing her without her permission, which she claims is not appropriate in this country. Please explain that to today’s writers, Katy! For his part, Nik appears appropriately flabbergasted and then chagrined, so Katherine takes pity on him. She tells a long, boring story about her mother, who you might remember was a lowly cook at Katherine’s rich father’s mansion.
The point of the story seems to be remembering small details about a person who has died can make you feel close to them. I’m not really paying all that close attention because I’m suddenly too distracted by noticing how COMPLETELY the current writers have ripped off the Katherine/Dominique story with Emily and Rebecca:
Two sisters who never knew each other — one who was beloved by all and grew up in luxury, only to die tragically at a young age; one who grew up poor, downtrodden and bitter, only to come to town after her sister’s death? Working with her secret partner and lover, Bad Sister cons the rich, grieving husband of Good Sister into falling in love with her to bilk him for his fortune? The widower’s friends are all suspicious of her but he defends her against all accusations until at last the con artist’s secret partner becomes jealous enough to reveal the scheme? Nope, nothing similar there!
Actually, I’m sure that’s all just a wacky coincidence. Today’s writers can barely remember the things they wrote last week, much less stories from sixteen years ago.
Anyway, Katherine’s story about her mom just makes Nikolas more sad, because he barely knew his mother and couldn’t even say what her favorite flower was. Before he can really open up about it, however, Mac bursts in, wanting to know why Katherine missed the funeral. Huh. Looks like that penthouse door has always been impossible to keep locked. So, I guess Katherine was still with Mac at this point? Yet another relationship which bored me to tears. Nikolas leaves them to fight it out.
Stefan gets all pissy with Bobbie, but finally explains that years ago, Helena ordered him to kill Leslie Webber. He defied his mother at great risk to himself because 1) he couldn’t kill Laura’s mother, and 2) he’s just not a killer, period. So…his compromise was to make Laura think her mother was dead, while keeping poor Leslie drugged into a coma for over a decade? Good plan, Stefan. Very humanitarian.
Stephen Nichols starts vying with Tony Geary for the scenery-chewing award of the episode here, tearfully promising to swear on a stack of bibles or any life she wants that he did not kill Laura. After laying the passive-aggressive guilt on thick, he exits to go brood on the cliffs.
At his jazz club — which was a hundred times more awesome than the Haunted Star Casino, by the way — Luke is pouring himself a drink when Brenda comes in, still on her quest to find Sonny. Exasperated, Luke reminds her that Sonny might be a little sensitive about dead wives, what with his own blowing up and all. Brenda finds this plausible. Luke advises her to stop pushing, and she ruefully acknowledges it’s probably good advice. She also tells him she’s going to miss him, which is nice, given I don’t think they ever really had much patience for each other. After she leaves, Luke pulls out another gun. Yeah, seriously, Mac. Did you really think he wouldn’t have a back up?
“Sweet dreams, bad boy,” smirks a nameless villain, as we see Sonny passed out on the couch next to an empty syringe. Ominous music plays in the background. DUN!
Back on the beach in Australia, Jax finally catches up to Miranda, who somehow thought she could outrun a horse. Why is she always running away, he asks?
MIRANDA: Because my legs work now, and I get to walk away from anything I don’t want to be apart of.
Oh, SNAP! She thinks that Sonny sent him after her, but Jax reluctantly admits it was Brenda, who “knows things aren’t finished between us.”
They exchange the following incredibly sappy and overwrought dialog:
MIRANDA: My darling, my first love, my husband…I’m dead, and you’re married! It doesn’t get much more hopeless than that!
JAX: If you’re dead, then who am I holding? Who’s eyes am I asking to look into mine and see that I’m not dead either?
MIRANDA: I don’t sleep with explosives, and I don’t sleep with married men…
Um…good policies, both? She runs away again, but it’s obviously halfhearted, and he catches her almost immediately.
Brenda, of course, has decided to completely ignore Luke’s advice. She breaks into the Penthouse (or maybe the nameless thug from before left the door open? It’s not clear) to find Sonny unconscious. Brenda rushes over to him, employing the classic “shake and scream at your patient” nursing technique. It’s about as helpful as you might imagine.
Over at misty Wyndemere, it’s fake flashback time! Genie Francis, not looking anything close to the twenty-something she’s supposed to be in this flashback, stands on a Greek cliff’s edge, holding baby Nikolas. It’s all very windswept and dramatic, with the slow motion camera work and the moony soundtrack. “Young” Stefan watches her, his puffy, white romance novel shirt billowing open. Hee.
Back in the present, Stefan hears a noise and calls for Nikolas. But it’s Luke who approaches, gun drawn. Luke shoots deliberately wide, saying he should have killed Stefan when he first came to town, but spared him for Laura’s sake.
Bobbie comes running out, having heard the shot, and both men immediately start screaming at her to go back into the house. Poor Bobbie. She throws herself in front of her husband, daring Luke to shoot her too. Luke says he’ll leave if she’ll come with him, but she launches into an angry diatribe about how much her life sucked before she married Stefan:
What life? Rattling around in all those rooms with Lucas? Working twelve hour shifts because I’ve got nothing to look forward to and nothing to believe in — except for the gospel according to Luke Spencer? I hate what happened to Laura, and I’m sorry that you’re unhappy. But I have the life that I want.
Hey, where is Lucas during all this? Did he move into Wyndemere with Bobbie or stay at the Brownstone with Tony? Either way, I feel kind of bad for the kid, since his sister is dead, his dad went kind of crazy, and the prospect of spending time with him has been deemed a horrible fate to be escaped at all costs by his mother.
Stefan pushes in front of Bobbie, telling Luke it’s his fault the vendetta between their families will never be over. Luke seems okay with ending it with a bang right there, but Lucky interrupts. You know, for an island only accessible via private shuttles, Wyndemere sure does get a lot of traffic.
We cut to Katherine, who is defending Nikolas to Mac. Mac didn’t like Nik? I guess? I…really could not care less about this plot.
Tony finds Nikolas at Laura’s grave. They have a really sweet conversation about the surreality of grief; Tony reminds Nik that they are family, of a sort. It’s nice. This isn’t a pair of characters whose relationship I really remember. But if anyone is fit to talk about grief on the canvas at this time, it’s probably Tony.
Nikolas admits he used to think he didn’t care whether Laura lived or died, but now he knows he was wrong. He asks Tony what Laura’s favorite flower was. (Daisies, for those who care.) Nik is sad, some more. Aw, Nik.
Brenda’s on the phone with the 911 operator, who has somehow determined that Sonny overdosed on heroin. Sonny’s now awake, but just barely. Brenda doesn’t want him to fall back asleep. She’s sad and disturbed that he’s doing drugs. He groggily mumbles that he’s been set up, but can’t say by who before falling over, sick. Brenda holds him, helpless and scared.
Jax carries Miranda into one of those conveniently unlocked and fully furnished abandoned cabins that always pop up whenever characters on this show need them. They fight some more. Hey, Miranda was supposed to be Australian, right? Could the actress not even attempt an appropriate accent? God, she is terrible.
Jax is mad that Miranda thinks she can just drop in and out of his life without giving him any say. Miranda’s mad that he…had the gall to move on with his life after she deliberately let him believe she was dead? I guess? I don’t know. They’re so boring, it’s hard to pay attention.
Sonny’s head is lolling all over the place, probably not helped by the fact that Brenda keeps shaking him and shouting for him to wake up and talk to her. When he doesn’t respond, she slaps him and orders him, “don’t die on me, please!”
Cut to Lucky, begging Luke, “Come on, Dad, please!” I see what you did there, editors!
Lucky admits he hates Stefan too, and wishes all the Cassadines were dead, but if Luke kills Stefan now, he’ll go to jail and Lulu and Lucky will be orphans. Bobbie chimes in, reminding Luke that the two of them grew up without parents too, and it wasn’t exactly a picnic. (I’ll say!) Jonathan Jackson is overacting his little heart out in this scene, by the way. After some more histrionics, Lucky takes the gun from Luke and tosses it into the grass. The Spencer men finally retreat.
Stefan thanks Bobbie, saying no one has ever risked their life for him like that before. Oh, like Luke would ever have shot Bobbie. But still, it’s a nice gesture. Bobbie says she did as he asked, considered the matter, and has made the choice to trust him. He promises she will never regret the choice she made here tonight. Oh, I’m sure that’s not true.
At the graveyard, Nikolas is sitting on the ground, flashing back to Laura visiting him in the hospital at some point. (After he was shot in the neck that time?)
His man pain looks epic. Oh, Tyler Christopher. You were so pretty before you got bloated.
Brenda wants to keep Sonny talking while they wait for the ambulance: “Say something intelligent for once in your life!” Hah! Shows how well she knows him, I guess.
She takes the heroin paraphernalia and hides it under a sofa cushion. So the police won’t find it, I presume, although 1) that’s a ridiculously bad hiding place, and 2) if he’s already got heroin in his bloodstream, I’m not really sure what more evidence they’ll need. But whatever. Sonny mumbles something about shooting dope, and she assures him that she believes he didn’t do it, but doesn’t think everyone else will be so understanding.
To keep him awake, she asks him about his childhood dog, smacking him until he mumbles that Deke killed his dog. Wow, way to pick a good memory to focus on there, Brenda.
Sonny keeps mumbling incoherently about Deke and his dog. Brenda tries to comfort him, saying nothing Deke did was Sonny’s fault. As she hugs him to her, the paramedics finally arrive.
Jax and Mirana are still fighting. He keeps saying it’s not over between them. She claims it is, but kind of blows it by admitting it was the thought of him that made her well again, and that she’s in love with him still. Ugh.
The ambulance carrying Sonny pulls up to the hospital. Brenda gets all shouty with the paramedics, refusing to leave Sonny’s side — to the point of actually stopping the gurney from moving so she can assure a barely conscious Sonny she’s not going anywhere. Uh, Brenda? That’s great and all, but possibly at this point he might rather get treated for the FATAL OVERDOSE he’s still experiencing? Just before they finally roll him away, Sonny mumbles, “Brenda, I love you,” and I immediately clutch at my heart, regressing to a squealing thirteen year old.
The world goes into slow motion as Brenda watches them work on Sonny through the trauma room door. We flashback to the two of them doing their From Here to Eternity thing on the beach in Puerto Rico, as the Sonny and Brenda piano theme twinkles in the background. Ooh, it’s an S&B love scene montage! Next: the first time they had sex, and the alley kiss. Nice!
Stefan is still lurking outside in the dark. He unfolds a white cloth to reveal…the gun Lucky threw away earlier! DUN! Speaking of Lucky, now safely away from Spoon Island, Luke berates him for improvising. (“I loved that gun!”) More importantly, now it’s out there somewhere with his fingerprints all over it. Damn, did you guys just feel that anvil falling on our heads? I SURE DID.
Lucky apologizes, but feels pretty good about his performance. For indeed, the entire confrontation was staged! GASP! They turn and we see three people standing next to a parked van: Tom, Leslie and…Laura! OH MY GOD, you guys, she’s totally aliv– yeah, sorry. I can’t even pretend to be surprised. Were we supposed to think she was dead this whole time when the episode originally aired?
Laura comes over and hugs her boys as the happy Spencer theme plays in the background. Wow. Jonathan Jackson was as tall as Genie Francis. It looks strange. They wonder again where Sonny is — apparently, he was in on this whole plot. Laura says he sent a car but never showed himself.
Stefan’s back on the cliffs with Luke’s gun, obviously planning on framing him for– something? I’m not really clear on the plan, here. In any case, unbeknownst to Stefan, Katherine is wandering through the trees, looking for Nikolas. I guess she thought she’d find him sitting out in the woods in the middle of the night, which shows that she’s familiar with the way Cassadine men like to get their Emo on.
We do a whole long, dramatic slow motion thing, flipping back and forth between flashbacks of Luke holding the gun earlier in the episode, Stefan pointing it in the same place, and Katherine standing there with this stupid grin on her face. Then, of course, Stefan shoots her by accident. Oops!
So this was the first of three times Katherine was “mortally” injured on Spoon Island, right? Because after shooting her, Stefan totally fell in love with her (naturally). And then she took a tumble off the parapet. And then…that other tumble off the parapet. Man. That island was just not very good luck for her. You’d think that after the first near death experience she might have learned her lesson…
Previews: Jax and Miranda kissing on the beach, then a cut to them showing up at the hospital, where Brenda is still wearing the same clothes — so either that was fastest transcontinental flight ever, or she literally didn’t leave Sonny’s side for over a day. Sonny wants to know why she’s still there. Brenda “dreamed he was with her.” Stefan panics over a wounded Katherine, but hides the truth from Nikolas. Both Nik and Mac promise revenge on whoever shot her. Drama!
But wait! It’s not over yet. Over the credits, we see Leslie, catatonic, in the van with Laura. Laura promises she’ll never leave her alone again, and Leslie turns her head, seeming to actually recognize her. I “awwww” for the last time of the episode.
The reunited Spencer clan takes off for parts unknown.
I assume the motive for producing a special like this was to expose a new audience to the show. So let’s pause for a minute and take a look at what The Powers That Be in 1996 thought would appeal to a larger audience:
1) Luke and Laura. This is a no-brainer; they were the most well known soap couple of all time. If anything is going to interest lapsed viewers or people who’ve never seen the show before, it’s a Supercouple like this. (I trust I don’t have to spell out the difference in the current regime’s philosophy?)
2) Beloved veterans NOT being viciously murdered. In fact, we’ve got the opposite: multiple vets coming back from the dead! And the really sad part? Laura’s fake funeral was more elaborate than many of the real ones we’ve had in recent years.
3) Flashbacks and high production values. This was a period in the Sonny/Brenda/Jax EPIC TRIANGLE OF DOOM where Sonny and Brenda were on an upswing, so multiple flashbacks to their greatest hits reminded old viewers/informed new ones of their long history. But we also got some brand new flashbacks to retconned events like Stefan and Laura’s courtship and Miranda and Jax’s wedding. Plus a Nik and Laura one to tug on the heart strings. FLASHBACKS MAKE EVERYTHING BETTER.
4) Interconnected, multi-generational storytelling. The whole town came out to pay their respects to Laura, and even people who didn’t know her well were effected in their own ways. We had an emphasis on family connections, and lots of different characters interacting.
5) Limited mob action. Sure, Sonny gets poisoned by a mob rival, but not only is that relegated to the B plot, it’s also clearly just an excuse for him and Brenda to swoon all over each other for an hour. In other words, characters are dictating plot, not the other way around.
6) No Jason Morgan. Can you imagine what would happen if current GH tried do a big Primetime special without the patron hitman saint of Port Charles? AHAHAHA! I think Guza’s head would explode. (Jason was out of town visiting Robin at school or something during this episode, I believe. I vaguely remember him coming back for the aftermath of the Sonny/heroin thing.)
Man, that was entertaining. My motivation to get caught up on this week’s no doubt craptastic episodes is now even lower than it was before, but the CARNIVAL of DEATH awaits, so I guess I’ll soldier on somehow…