By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman
General Hospital: Last Tuesday came word that Steve Burton is leaving General Hospitalafter 21 years playing Jason (Quartermaine) Morgan. You’d think I’d be happy because I have always disliked Jason, the hitman who was the central “hero” of the show. But as Burton leaves I have changing feelings.
In the past I’ve called Burton a “limited” actor because, for one thing, he lacked training. But Burton did arguably stand fast all those years, playing a character absurdly written to be some sort of daytime icon: a murderer who usually saved everyone in town, and was viewed by former headwriter Bob Guza as a living saint. With his trademark black tee-shirt, bulging muscles and gun frequently in hand, Jason as written by Guza was the ultimate hero as he murdered at least nine people over the years.
Guza gave him what was supposed to be an understandable motive for being an unapologetic killer: his “conscience” screw was loose or missing altogether from his brain, ostensibly having been knocked out years ago when the former good guy/med student was in an automobile crash. And being the mob enforcer for GH’s other anti-hero, the murderer Sonny, his boss and closest friend in one of the most remarkable bromances in daytime history, always gave the Jason character a shoot-out or some other violent situation to play.
But looking back, perhaps I was mistaken about Burton being so “limited.” Perhaps this contradictory role as written was just impossible to play with unerring believability. Who accidently or not becomes a psychopath overnight? Other killers/psychos we have known in other mediums, like actors from James Cagney (in White Heat) to Al Pacino (in Scarface) to James Gandolfini (in The Sopranos) were left up to us, the audience, to judge. But GH always hung a sign around Jason’s chest — “Love me.” I do have a conscience, and never let Guza brainwash me to into loving Jason, a true criminal. To me, Jason was never a hero.
Perhaps it was because the audience always felt pressured to wind up loving Jason. Guza gave Jason little to no complexity. To justify the absurdity of this saintly killer, Guza gave him no inner life, no conflict. So with Jason, the conscienceless Borg (as many fans called him), what did Burton really have to play? But give the actor credit: he did grow from a one-dimensional teen-ager to, at the end, a man who seemed almost real. Burton was just grand mourning his dead son Jake, and recently in his break-up scenes with Kelly Monaco’s Sam. Note: this last sequence was written and produced by Carlivati and Valentini, not Guza. It’s a shame Burton is leaving just when these two might be able to make his character more profound and complex. Maybe they could even have him repent for his murderous past.
What do think of Burton’s Jason, past and present? Was the borg-as-empty-vessel all Guza’s fault? How did Jason remain the central character so long on GH? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
More General Hospital: Alexis finally got a big, fat kiss from Shawn … Anna and Luke were seen in bed together … and Tracy got a new lover, albeit a rapist, Joe Jr. Not a bad week for older women on GH — a group hardly ever written for any more. Even I have to give Ron C the credit for this … On the other hand, was there ever a more confusing soap opera episode than GH’s on Friday? “Explained” (as clearly as mud) was Ewen’s earlier life connections (complete with phony flashbacks) to the Jacks family — something about a card hand called “The Dead Man’s Hand.” Jerry was using the “numbers” of it to get out of prison. Huh? I just couldn’t follow the episode, a first for veteran soap fan moi.