What is daytime’s most unpopular romance? Judging from fan complaints, I’d say it’s Holden and Carly on As the World Turns. Here are two characters — wed not to each other — who are or were partners in two separate long-running supercouples.
Well, so what? Since partner switch — and adultery — are staples of soaps, I can’t quite understand why there is such a huge fan outcry against this romance. So I’ve sought guidance from two valued members of Team Marlena: I’ve asked our Patrick Erwin, who dislikes the pairing, to explain the fan hostility he believes is justified. For the other side of the coin, I’ve turned to my longtime friend and ardent ATWT fan, a television writer/producer who wishes to be known only as pjs. He, too, has an explanation for why the fans hate the romance, why the fans are wrong, and why he likes the pairing of Holden and Carly.
Enjoy the debate, Thinking Fans. It may inspire you to post your own thoughts in the comments section at the end.
HOLDEN AND CARLY: THE WRONG TIME, THE WRONG FACE
By Patrick Erwin
Message boards and the virtual soap universe have been filled over the last few weeks with some loud and strong reactions to the pairing of Holden and Carly on As The World Turns. I don’t think I remember a pairing in recent memory that has drawn SUCH a negative reaction from viewers.
The intensity of the reactions seem, at first glance, to be especially puzzling. Holden and Carly are both popular, long-term characters. They’re portrayed by talented actors (Maura West and Jon Hensley).And it’s a soap, where characters swap partners and explore new relationships and feelings all the time. On paper, this story seems to me to be an intriguing idea. But I think there are a few specific reasons why this story is generating such a strong negative reaction.
One is the pacing — this story is chugging along at a very quick pace. That might work for a new romance, but when you have characters who are making changes in their lives as radical as what Holden and Carly are doing, it would have been smarter to show us their feelings over the course of a few more months. ATWT might be hitting all the beats, but before we’ve had time to get used to any of those beats, we’re off to the next one.
Another is the complicated friendship and relationship between the two couples (Carly and Jack, and Holden and Lily). Jack and Holden are cousins, while Lily is friends with Jack and has developed a close friendship with Carly. It’s indeed a soap opera, and more forbidden barriers have been broken over the decades on many shows, including ATWT. But it seems a little hard to swallow, at least in this case, that Holden would betray Jack in this way, or that Carly would disregard Lily’s feelings.
But honestly, I think the biggest factor is one that has NOTHING to do with content. I can sum it up in three words: Martha, Martha, Martha. Fans have NOT gotten over the departure of Martha Byrne. Noelle Beck is making a strong effort to bring Lily to life, but fans haven’t gotten used to nuLily just yet. Factor in that Byrne’s departure was handled so badly, and done so quickly, and I think fans are directing a lot of their anger and frustration (which has had nowhere to go) at the Holden/Carly story.
I’m sure that as objective as I try to be, some of my dislike is just my personal preferences. It just seems like a stupid choice to make. If the characters of Lily or Jack were off the canvas, or killed off, this pairing might make more sense to me. But no matter how well West and Hensley work together, I keep thinking that this is so out of character. Holden MIGHT look to someone like Carly after years of bumpy roads with Lily. But no matter how many guys Carly has dallied with, I can’t help but think she would never do this to Jack, because she knows this is a hurt he would probably never heal from.
And perhaps that’s the point I’m missing. Maybe ATWT will slow down the pace, and not try to shove 13 weeks of story into a Friday. Maybe when this blows up, we’ll see a long, arduous road of consequences and healing for these characters. That, perhaps, is something I can get behind.
IN DEFENSE — OR AT LEAST UNDERSTANDING — OF HOLDEN AND CARLY
Why do the fans hate the Carly-Holden affair on ATWT? Could it be that it is one of the most realistic looks at adultery that daytime has ever presented, and as such, is more acutely disturbing than the quickly contrived come-and-go couplings that the soaps dabble in nowadays? This is not the grief sex of a Kendall and Aiden on All My Children or a Carly and Sonny on General Hospital.
The positioning of Carly and Holden as a couple has been slowly developing for months on ATWT. As separate individuals, each has been carefully positioned to be ready for something. Neither has been happy in the lives they’ve been leading for a very long time.
Carly has spent the last two and a half years loving Jack, losing Jack, and trying to win Jack back. Ultimately, Jack made it as clear to Carly that he would never take her back, and she, whatever her residual longing might be, was forced to accepted his final rejection, giving up her long-held belief that she and Jack were fated to be together. Carly’s new reality had to become that of a life without Jack. She continued to devote herself to her children while beginning a new career.
Despite his lifelong ties to first love Lily, Holden has had a profoundly difficult few years. Almost single-handedly, he kept his and Lily’s family together through one crisis after another. First, their son Luke came out, and Lily’s one-time husband Damien tried to manipulate her into a plan to “de-program” Luke. The climax of this effort left the pregnant Lily in a coma for a few months. When she gave birth and recovered, she worried about her weight and then decided to split her time between a corporate endeavor at her mother Lucinda’s company and an affair with her oldest friend Dusty. When Dusty was found murdered, Holden let himself be charged in an effort to save Lily who he incorrectly thought was guilty.
At the end of these years of conflict, Holden, the consummate family man, was left with a wife who truly loved him and kept lying to him about big things and small (keeping a memento of her friendship with Dusty). For their marriage to work, all Holden wanted was for Lily to tell him the truth. The more she didn’t, the more distant they had become. Finally, Lily left town for a few weeks to get herself together and to see if she could be the kind of wife that Holden could trust.
Holden was once again a single father. He’d worked for years to keep his family together. Now Lily was gone. Holden was hurt and unhappy. His kids wanted him and Lily back together. His mother-in-law wanted him and Lily back together. He wanted him and Lily back together. Lily’s best friend Carly wanted him and Lily back together. But so much had happened, and the only one who seemed to hear Holden was Carly.
As their kids played together, they talked. As they shopped for groceries, they ran into each other and talked. As Carly would come to the family farmhouse to discuss things with Jack, she’d see Holden and they’d talk. She and Jack were over, and everyone knew it. Holden and Lily weren’t over, and everyone knew it. But Holden and Carly were bonding over conversations about their unhappy love lives, about their children, about their hopes and dreams. And when Lily came back to resume her life with Holden on his terms, the bond between Holden and Carly had been undeniably forged.
What was happening between them slowly became obvious, and then it became overt. But it happened only after the two characters had been positioned for it over a very long time.
And when it happened, you could feel the heat. A horseback ride. Yet they still resisted. A drive to their kids’ summer camp. Still they fought. Until finally — a kiss. A kiss neither could forget. A kiss that consumed their thoughts.
Holden couldn’t tell Lily what was on his mind when she asked. And Carly couldn’t tell Lily what was on her mind when she asked.
They both knew it was wrong. It violated bonds of friendship, family and marriage. But it had to happen. Theirs was not a hastily contrived-by-the-writers love affair. In fact, love has nothing to do with it. This affair only came about after the two players endured their own separate years of unhappiness and unfulfilled need. Each had a void in their life and the tentative physical attraction slowly occurred to them and filled it. Neither planned for it or wanted it, but there it was. And once that attraction filled the void, the affair was almost inevitable. It distracted them from their own suffering.
Again, why do the viewers hate this pairing? Not just because we believe Carly and Jack belong together. Not just because we believe Lily and Holden belong together. The viewers hate this pairing because it is so believable, because this is exactly how it would happen in their own reality … not just in the heightened dramatic framework of the soaps. This pairing threatens stability and family and undying love, and it’s not what anyone wants. It’s simply what happens.
I do not believe Carly and Holden will last, as love has nothing to do with it. I do believe that ultimately Carly and Jack are (as Carly frequently stated) inevitable, and that Lily and Holden are forever.
What’s fascinating is how quietly realistic (some might even say boring) it is to see characters grapple with the fact that what they’re entering into is wrong. Self-aware Carly has always made the wrong move, only to suffer for it, and she knows that about herself. She’s merely doing what she always does as she knowingly enters into something that can only blow up in her face. But that’s what makes her Carly. Holden, on the other hand, has, in recent years, lived the life of a saint. To see such a straight arrow grapple with transgression and knowingly jeopardize everything he holds dear is what truly makes this story even more dramatically interesting. Holden is as much the opposite of the kind of man Carly has previously been attracted to as she is the kind of woman he wants. The separate and blended family dynamics that these two are unbalancing in their affair add a truly heart-rending dynamic.
Now, as to the Martha Byrne factor. I loved seeing Martha as Lily. But absolutely nothing we’ve seen in Noelle Beck’s Lily violates the character that we grew to love. In fact, Noelle’s newness as Lily actually makes Lily far more vulnerable because Noelle herself is truly in an underdog position. I think she’s taken over seamlessly which is no mean feat in itself. Anyone who chooses or refuses to believe that they’re watching Lily is simply not paying attention to all the good work this actress is doing. This is an exceptionally well-done recast of a popular character. I applaud Martha for ditching the show in its display of contractual disrespect! She was treated badly. I also applaud the show for such a successful new hire in Noelle Beck who was the right choice to play Lily in so many ways.
Holden’s reticence to embrace Lily was strongly established before Martha’s departure. Had she not left, the exact same pairing of long-rejected Carly and long unhappy Holden would have still been waiting in the wings.