On the Soap Shrink’s Couch: One Life to Live’s Todd Manning

Thinking Fans on Todd: Marilyn Henry says, “I do not understand how some fans see him as sexy or hot. He is cruel. Sick. Unfeeling for others. As such, he is dangerous” … while Dale agrues, “Just because I and others find something of worth in watching Todd does not make our opinions any less valid than yours, or Marlena’s, or Joe Blow’s” … and more. See Comments below. 

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By Damon L. Jacobs

What do you call someone who is capable of committing abhorrent crimes against others? What do you call a man who can rape another person, attack a blind woman, lie to his own wife that their newborn is dead, kidnap a woman who is presumed dead by her friends and family, and then plot to fake his own grand child’s death?  If you live in One Life to Live‘s Llanview, you call that man Todd Manning . 

If you’re in the therapist’s chair, you call that person “Antisocial.”  When most of us hear the word “Antisocial” we think of someone who doesn’t like to socialize at parties.  But in clinical terms, the term refers to an individual who is capable of

Todd doesn’t truly want to atone for his crimes, he doesn’t authentically want to stand up and do the right thing. He just wants his “pizza,” i.e., Marty’s love.

committing horrendous violent crimes against others without any sense of guilt or remorse.  They can lie, cheat, rape, even kill, without batting an eyelash.  The only type of regret they express is when they have been caught, or when they have done something to sabotage their goals. Charles Manson, Ted Bundy and Scott Peterson are all classic example of individuals with symptoms of Antisocial Personality Disorder. 

Frequently, if individuals with Antisocial are not held accountable for their crimes, then they will raise their violent behaviors to a new level.  I believe we have seen this take place in the past year with Todd (played by Trevor St. John).  Not only did he brutally assault Cole twice, but then he went on to hold Marty Saybrooke hostage (mentally if not physically), and then rape her.  Any hope that Todd’s love for his daughter could save him was squashed when we saw him turn on Starr, and plot to fake the death of her unborn baby so that he could raise the child as his own with Marty.  Clearly his emotional and physical violence have escalated, and the consequences are getting more and more dangerous for everyone involved.  

Now, some may argue that Todd in fact has changed.  I have read arguments from people who say Todd’s love for Marty is pure, albeit misguided, that his actions reflect that true love, and that his suicide attempt proved that he is capable of guilt. 

To these points I must disagree.  Sure, Todd has been bummed out and suicidal about how things have turned out for him.  But all this has taken place in a context of thinking that is considered “egocentric.”  Egocentrism refers to the tendency to be unable to comprehend how another person feels or thinks separate from himself.  In Todd’s case we can see he is depressed and remorseful that he didn’t get his happy ending with Marty.  But he is unable to comprehend how his actions have severely damaged Marty emotionally, not to mention how he harmed Cole, Starr, Blair, or poor Dr. Joplin.  

An analogy might make it clearer.  Let’s say one is waiting for a pizza, and the delivery person is in a horrible accident on the way to their home.  A compassionate person may feel upset that someone was harmed, be concerned for their health, and perhaps even feel some guilt.  An egocentric person would simply be upset that the pizza hasn’t arrived.  Todd doesn’t truly want to atone for his crimes, he doesn’t authentically want to stand up and do the right thing. He just wants his “pizza,” i.e., Marty’s love.  

Unfortunately, the prognosis is not good for people with this disorder.  In the real world, it is unusual someone with Antisocial would seek out therapy, unless it’s part of a scam. Typically the only way someone with Antisocial gets treatment is in a prison setting, and even then it’s unlikely they are suddenly going to be able to develop a moral conscience.  

What do you think Todd deserves as punishment?  Do you believe it is possible for him to be rehabilitated?  Do you see any similarities or differences between Todd’s crimes and Annie’s crimes from All My Children?  The Soap Shrink wants to know what YOU think!

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Damon L. Jacobs is a family and relationship therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of  Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve.  He blogs regularly at www.shouldless.com.

Comments

  1. Marilyn Henry says:

    Thank you, thank you. This is exactly what I feel about Todd, though I am not knowledgeable about the behavioral illnesses.
    I was thinking he was a sociopath, which I understood to be a person who has no empathy and sees people only as they relate to him and enjoys manipulating those others to see their reactions–a kind of power thing, often without any other purpose. I’m not really sure that IS a definition of a sociopath. I knew someone like that and because they can act reasonably normal, lie easily, and even charm when they want, they are hard to catch out, and in fact, often fool those who are not their targets. Such people can cause many problems at work, in relationships, in families and in a zillion other ways and feel no guilt or remorse. Serious, life-changing problems, as I experienced.

    Todd is more obvious and very sick. And I agree that he would be difficult to change even with good therapy. His remorse is all centered on himself and short lived. Should he be locked up? Definitely. But where? Prison perhaps, but he would cause havoc in that life. A sanitarium seems better, but it wouldn’t just be for therapy. It would be to keep him away from society.

    I do not understand how some fans see him as sexy or hot, as they say. He is cruel. Everything with him is a means to an end. He is SICK. Destructive. Unfeeling for others. Completely self-interested, even self-obsessed. As such he is very dangerous.

    He is also intelligent, so keeping him in a padded cell or a locked room would probably drive him to total madness. I wish the writers would not play him as some sort of leading man type, or make him the center of so many stories in such a way as to make him seem attractive. The actor is good-looking; Todd is not.

    Damon says: Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Marilyn! I shy away from the term “sociopath” because it is not a clinical term, but for all intents and purposes, he is absolutely a sociopath. I’m not sure why people love Todd either. But then a co-worker yesterday reminded me that people loved Ted Bundy and Charles Manson too.

  2. Brandon says:

    Hey Damon, interesting column, and I completely agree with Marilyn above. It’s utterly befuddling to me that “One Life” seems to continue to want to play Todd as a viable romantic lead, considering all the vile things he has done over the years.

    If you track the history of his throughline, even going all the way back to the Roger Howarth years, you see a pretty consistent pattern developing: Todd does something bad (he spearheads a gang rape, say), then he finds redemption (he saves three people from falling off a cliff in a car), then something bad happens to him (he gets shot in the back and left for dead in foggy Ireland), and he comes roaring back even more reprehensible than ever. This pattern has repeated itself now continually for fifteen years on this show, and yet we’ve always kinda sorta rooted for Todd to come out on top, and the show has always counted on that.

    But it feels different now, somehow: I don’t root for Todd anymore after what he did last year with Marty. He knew what he did was completely wrong, and even though I’m more or less fine with the fact that he couldn’t help himself but to regress to his former behavior, the only thing he has EVER known from, but nonetheless: knowingly withholding Marty from her friends and family, from her SON, combined with plotting openly to steal his own daughter’s baby for his own selfish, egocentric reasons, was just beyond cruel, beyond inhumane. There’s no coming back from something like that without a literal lifetime of psychotherapy, I would think, and because the show doesn’t seem to want to play out a story like that, how can we in the audience actively root for and empathize with a character who KNOWS he is evil, cruel, misguided, and thoroughly damaged and refuses to do thing one about it?

    These days, I CRINGE whenever I see Todd onscreen, particularly when he’s being flirtatious with Tea and/or Blair, two women who we KNOW for a fact are smart enough — they’ve proven it in the past, for God’s sake! — to walk away from Todd, because it debases the intelligence of everybody in Todd’s sphere. You’d think they’d have figured out by now that the way to endear an audience to the show is NOT to allow the characters that we know and love to continually make fools of themselves, for the sole purpose of keeping on the canvas a character who long ago wore out his welcome and his necessity.

    Damon says: Excellent points, Brandon, well put! His pattern of violence / redemption seems to be getting more serious, but at least Blair and his family are no longer putting up with it. THIS is the kind of patient Dr. Sinclair on AMC would be thrilled to work with!

    Marlena adds: I’d like to say bravo to both Damon and Brandon for all the thought displayed in this piece and in the letter. I especially love Damon’s comparison of Todd toTed Bundy and Charles Manson. The OLTL writers only wish they had “celebrities” as big as these monsters! And Brandon, I join you in your frustration that OLTL has overplayed stories with Todd beyond any human logic or belief. When you encourage your audiences to love a character, however many heinous acts he has committed … you’ve got a Showtime serial killer named Dexter. When will soap writers learn that daytime soaps are not pay cable television?

  3. Matthew J. Cormier says:

    For all the years I’ve watched Todd I’ve seen him go through this pattern of committing horrible crimes against the ones he loves, feel no guilt about it and blame everyone else. And every now and then he gets to a point where we almost believe he has changed and the circle starts again. And all these years I’ve thought one thing: it seems to me that Todd is a wounded child trapped inside a man’s body. I believe that Todd’s actions, the way he blames others and never takes responsobility is childish and that perhaps Todd has some form of developmental delay where he is simply incapable of taking responsibilty? Todd is also very impulsive, he acts on emotion rather than on logic and when confronted with someone who thinks logically Todd believes they are ganging up on him. These all make me wonder if perhaps Todd has a very severe and undiagnosed case of Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder where he simply acts on impulse and never thinks things through, and perhaps it was made worse by a tramautic childhood where he was beaten and mistreated and then coming into loads of money he was never taught to act like an adult and take responsibility for himself.

    I’ve heard that a lot of people are predisposed to violence and that it takes a stressor to set them over the edge. Is it possible that an undiagnosed learning disabilty like ADHD combined with childhood abuse, neglect and rape sent Todd over the edge and that he is simply not capable of true remorse? Is it possible that somewhere over the course of his life Todd’s ability to process events and logically comprehend his actions was impaired?

    I guess my question is, what can one do to treat Todd? What would Todd have to do to truly show remorse and change his life? Or is it too late?

    Also, does the fact that his whole life everyone made excuses for Todd affect this ability to change? The fact he’s always forgiven? He sent Blair’s child away, she forgave him, he raped Marty in 1992 and eventually she forgave him, he did many things to Viki and she always forgave him … see the pattern? Did the forgiveness of all these people make Todd less able to change? Is it the impulse disorder that causes Todd to lash out at the ones he loves?

    Damon says: I was waiting for you to weigh in Matthew! You certainly hit the nail on the head with your observation that practically everyone in Todd’s life has forgiven him for his crimes, thereby enabling him to go out and commit more horrendous crimes. Is there a treatment for Antisocial? There is no consensus in the psych community on this, but many scientists are studying brain chemistry to find out if empathy and compassion are attributes that be instilled in adults who have none. The jury is still out on that one.

    How does one get to be this way? Nearly all people with Antisocial have been receivers of severe and traumatic abuse as children. This was briefly touched upon during Todd’s court trial in 1998, but has not really been explored since then. To be honest with you, I really don’t see the symptoms of A.D.D., as Todd is quite able to slow down and narrowly focus on an intended goal when he wants to. After all, faking baby deaths, kidnapping children, changing his face, imprisoning women, this all takes a fair amount of focus and concentration.

  4. Dale says:

    Hi, Damon. I really hesitated before weighing in on Todd. Over the last few months, I have actually enjoyed watching Todd, and I can’t say that’s always been the case. As the writers have progressively written Todd into a darker more irredeemable place, the more fascinated I have become.

    I told you that I hesitated to respond, and let me explain why. I, along with a number of other online posters have frequented message boards and provided our takes and opinions on Todd. Those of us who find Todd interesting and his actions creepily fascinating have been called all kinds of names – “sick”, “misogynists”, “misguided”, etc. I am not affected by the name calling of anonymous internet people, but nor am I amused by it.

    Just because I and others find something of worth in watching Todd (and horrors!) being entertained by him, does not make our opinions any less valid than yours, Marlena’s or Joe Blow’s. It’s tough to be a Todd fan these days! LOL! But I look at it this way: if one is open enough to listen to what other people are saying instead of reacting to all of the brou-ha-ha from an emotional place, one might learn something. Speaking for myself, I never really considered what a woman might feel from the “rape-mance” story. I am am man. I was just a story play out on a soap, for heaven’s sake! But I read comments and heard from women who were totally offended by the Todd-Marty dynamic. So, I tried to understand. And yes, I get it. Really. Todd is a misogynist bully. And I get that Todd may be hard to watch depending on one’s real life experiences. If you had been abused or raped, or terrorized, I can see where Todd would be impossible not to hate. And even if you have not endured those kinds of dreadful experiences, I still get why Todd is a bitter pill to swallow. So,it turns out that I am NOT “sick”, a “misogynist” or “misguided” after all! What a relief!

    But how about the other point of view? I think OLTL KNOWS that Todd is misogynistic bully. He is sick and damaged and whether he should have a place in free society is questionable. OLTL has not made Todd a hero. The fans have. I think the show has done a remarkable job of balancing “entertainment” with painting a very dark psychological portrait, and by no means has Todd gotten off the hook for his actions. This is not a happy man. There is no joy in his life. No love, no family, no laughter. He is a prisoner unto himself. Maybe to some, that’s not punishment enough. To me, it is. Pure, total, unabashed happiness, even for one moment, are not possible for Todd. Would going to jail make it worse for him? I think it’s more of a punishment for him to be able to see, but not receive love from Starr, Blair Marty, etc.

    What I love to watch is more than anything is how the people around him react to his actions and crimes. Often, their reactions say more about them than they do about Todd, don’t you think? I could go on at length about how Viki, Blair, Starr, Dorian, etc. react to Todd and the psychology behind THOSE reactions! My final point is, I guess you can say the same about the viewers’ reactions. If you love him, or hate him, forgive him, or want to do bad things to him, look inside yourself and ask yourself why. And THAT to me, is the value of the Todd story. It should provoke thought, discussion and self reflection. And for me, it has.

    And with with that, I am sure I have worn out my welcome! Sorry for any defensive tone! :) Thanks for the article, Damon.

    Damon says: Thank you Dale, I am so appreciative of you for stating your point of view, that’s what real Thinking Fans do! I am so sorry you’ve been called names or been insulted for having an opinion, that is quite unfortunate. I do understand and respect what you’re saying about OLTL’s ability to explore Todd’s “dark side.” My grunt is that Todd never pays the consequences for his actions. True, as you mentioned, he pays the biggest price of all which is that there is no joy or love in his life. Yet I don’t think these are in anyway meaningful consequences for him. I prefer stories where there is more inner conflict in regards to violence and more hopes for redemption, ie., Roger Thorpe or Jack Deveraux. I see Todd as one-note caricature at this point with very little ambivalence or depth.

    P.S. — For a more in depth analysis of Dorian and Blair’s psychological profiles, please check out some of my older columns right here on this site.

  5. Dale says:

    Damon, thank you for your thoughtful response. I enjoyed reading it. So, what do you think would be a meaningful consequence for Todd? Is there one? I am not sure there is, with the possible exception of the death of someone he loves at the hands of one of his schemes , like Jack or Starr. Aside from that, I think Todd is not capable of true redemption or reflection of his actions. Maybe that’s what I find so compelling – how can a person be so detached from the world he lives in? How can such narcissism be possible? And is there anything or any hope that something can save him? I find those questions tantalizing! Yeah, I hate Todd. I would give him wide berth in real life. But from a dramatic point of view, I like to watch Todd. So sue me! LOL!!! Have a great weekend, Damon!

  6. Matthew J. Cormier says:

    Here is one thing I don’t get about Todd: he always makes a very big deal about how much he cares for his children, especially Starr who he has always had a special bond with and yet it seems he almost directs his anger and hatred on her the most. He claims to act out of love for Starr and yet he always does things that hurt her more than anybody else. How is this possible?

  7. Matthew J. Cormier says:

    I agree my diagnosis of ADHD is off base to a degree, but I do agree that Todd is anti-social and needs to take responsobility.

    Here’s a question: If Todd had a loving childhood and wasn’t abused could he have turned out differently? Could he have grown into a stable, loving man that acts with reason?

    Also, since Viki is his biological sister, is it possible that all the recent trauma endured by him and his family could cause Todd to laspse into a case of disassociative identiy disorder (D.I.D.) as Viki (and now Jessica) does during traumatic events? Since there is a family history, is he more likely to do so? Or is Todd’s anti-social nature his only pyschological problem?

    Damon says: Interesting question, Matthew. OLTL did in fact explore the possibility that Todd also developed D.I.D. in response to extreme childhood abuse in 1998. He actually used this as an excuse in court to get away with a crime (can’t remember which one right now). After the case was over, he admitted to Viki that he faked the symptoms to get away with the crime, and she was disgusted. Roger Howarth was leaving the show and during his last scene on his private jet it was suggested that in fact Todd didn’t fake the symptoms and he truly was struggling with D.I.D. No other mention has been made of this.

    Despite what OLTL wants you to believe there is very little evidence to suggest that D.I.D. is a genetic disorder. It is a response to trauma, not a genetically inherited chemical imbalance. Could he have turned out differently if he hadn’t endured trauma and abuse? Could he have been a responsible loving well-adjusted man? Sure! But if he was then he probably would have gone the way of Andrew Carpenter. Unfortunately, there is not much screen time to be had for loving rational men on soaps these days.

  8. Matthew J. Cormier says:

    Damon,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond to my questions and comments. It is very helpful to get the view of someone actually working in the medical profession when discussing a show like OLTL which deal frequently with mental health issues.

  9. VLHE says:

    As long as the “Todd” character remains on the show, I will continue to mute or turn off TV. The character NEVER learns anything from his actions, or is seriously called out on them.

    The character getting away with beating minors was sickening. The writers could have really had a story/message of value had this been persued in a realistic way. In the real world actions such as this are not swept under the rug and goes away the next week.

    I do not understand why this character has remained in the story line all the years, while countless others with much more substance have been released.

    I have watched the show off and on since 1968.

    Had to get this off my chest.

    Damon says: Thank you for your response. You bring up the important issue that Cole was a minor when Todd assaulted him. In the real world, he would have to answer to Child Protective Services for this. In Llanview, not so much.

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