By Marlena De Lacroix
My readers know what disdain I usually have for stagey sweeps stunts, so imagine my shock at being sucked into the very beginning of last Friday’s episode of Days of Our Lives and then spit out an hour later thoroughly entertained … and even thrilled!
The plane carrying various members of the Brady family returning from Ireland had veered off course and the hour featured passengers fretting for their lives and scrambling for a dwindling oxygen supply while John and eye-patch-wearing Steve (a one-eyed flyer?) struggled to pilot the failing craft into some kind of landing. The episode was filled with a feeling of suspense and urgency like nothing I’ve ever seen done on a soap opera. It was more likea movie … imagine the Airport movies, mixed with Lost, mixed with another incredibly chilling 1993 movie about what it’s like actually be in an air crash called Fearless (with Rosie Perez and Jeff Bridges).
The headline story event in this airplane crash episode was the voluntary death of paterfamilias Shawn Brady (a bravura Frank Parker) who stopped inhaling from his oxygen mask when it appeared there wouldn’t be enough air to go around for all the members of his vast family on the plane (Bo, Hope, Marlena, Kayla, Belle, Phillip, Chloe, their various kids, etc.) This self sacrifice was shocking and beautiful at the same time, the exact kind of selfless act that is thoroughly the opposite of the violence intended to titillate that is de rigueur on other soaps (General Hospital!) in sweeps months. Kayla and Hope (a heartrending Mary Beth Evans and Kristian Alfonso) witnessed their beloved Pop die in chilling horror. When Bo, who had been passed out while his father smothers, awoke to discover his father’s shrouded dead body, Peter Reckell harrowingly delivered the most poignant acting moment of the soap year.
The sequence worked because all the actors did a superb job, but what will be long remembered here (and probably honored with awards) was the super directing. Armed with about $1.98 of special effects, which included one red spotlight, one green spotlight, an airplane cabin set which either shook incessantly or a camera which shook even harder, director Noel Maxam miraculously managed to evoke the physical feeling of a real crash. The actual plane ride grew so bumpy and torturous at times, I in the audience actually felt a bit nauseous. And as the actors delivered their lines into their oxygen masks (a little bit muddled at times), I felt like I was gasping for air.
How did Maxam stage this airplane crash so realistically? That, darlings, is cinematic magic of the sort we rarely if ever see on soaps anymore. And sadly, Days isn’t the only soap that is operating on a budget of $1.98 anymore. Certainly, the show’s executive producer Ed Scott must be lauded for putting this totally out of the ordinary soap episode together. Fantastic work!
And one more thing. While I was enthusiastically caught up in this episode, the Marlena voice in the back of my mind kept asking if the entire airplane crisis episode wasn’t a metaphor for the fate of a whole soap known as Days Our Lives. Think about it. A whole planeload of favorites cruising on a floundering aircraft toward crash (read, cancellation). Will they be saved? Can they be saved? With work like what was done in this particular episode, may there be many more Days of Our Lives!