Sunday Reflections 8: On General Hospital, Jason as an Empty Vessel? … A Great Week for Older Women … A Most Confusing Friday Episode

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.

Steve Burton
Striving to make a bad guy look good

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.

Comments

  1. Dwight says:

    The way Sonny and Jason virtually get off unscathed while carnage is all around them has always been infuriating. I don’t think they need to kill off the character but I hope they do something to him that highlights the violent choices he as made for many years. It would be a fitting denouement to the Guza years.

    Marlena says: I agree, Dwight! We’ll have to see what happens. If they put him in jail, it’s party chez Marlena!

  2. Chris says:

    I think the reason Jason was a central character for so long on GH was because he was legacy character that was part of the Quartermaine family. I really think it was all Bob Guza’s for turning Jason into a “Borg” and a mob hitman for Sonny’s mob, because of Guza’s love affair with Sonny and all things mob related! I’ll miss Steve Burton and Jason (Quartermaine) Morgan on GH and his relationships with his love interests like Robin, Sam, and Elizabeth! I disagree with you about Steve Burton on being a limited actor, because he won a daytime emmy award for best supporting actor back in 1998! Being that he won that emmy award, I think he really did have that training after all!

    Marlena says: Well, it depends on what you think about the Daytime Emmys. No question though that Burton is a king of popularity in daytime, and his loss is terrible for GH.

  3. DS0816 says:

    One of the reasons “General Hospital” has had so much mileage out of both Sonny Corinthos (played by Maurice Benard) and Jason Morgan — portrayed, of course, by the series-departing Steve Burton — is the anti-hero spin. From numerous, various storylines that have played out for, roughly, two decades.

    It reminds me of “Guiding Light’s” Roger Thorpe (the late Michael Zaslow), in that the criminal conduct given these characters — with in-between moments of unlikely heroic deeds — serves as an attempt to strike a balance. Well, sometimes not so much heroic but humane. And not necessarily an ideal balance.

    A story that stood out for both Sonny and Jason was with the character of Stone (played by Michael Sutton). This was during the mid-1990s, and Stone was the soulmate of Robin Scorpio (Kimberly McCullough). When Stone was diagnosed with AIDS, both Sonny and Jason were there for the patient and his lady. After Stone’s death, and with some time having passed, Jason and Robin fell in love. And with Jason, specifically, he achieved more character substance because of his growing period.

    There have been numerous instances of seemingly irredeemable (and/or criminal) behavior for daytime characters. At times, it’s been with newly-established figures (harken back to 1993, with “One Life to Live’s” Todd Manning played by Roger Howarth), who we figure cannot (and/or should not) be salvaged. But there’s something to these parts — the lure of the unthinkable twists — that end up saving such destructive characters. It’s really amazing!

    I was able to catch some of the interview of what actor Steve Burton mentioned to “TV Guide’s” Michael Logan regarding his upcoming exit. A move from California to Tennessee, it seems, is much-desired for Burton and his wife because they want their children to live in a different environment.

    The thing is: I tend to never count anyone being out permanently unless fate intervenes. So, I wish well for Mr. Burton and his family … as I do ABC’s “General Hospital.” Though it has an upcoming time-slot change (Weekdays, 2 p.m. ET), I am relieved that “GH” will, evidently, be around to see its “Happy 50th Anniversary!” come next April.

    Marlena says: Thanks DSO for your eloquent letter and gracious good thoughts for Burton and his family. I also wish them well! Your point about characters (particularly villains) having to balance their dastardly acts with good ones is a good one. And I guess this is the soap world, where villains must be redeemed so that they can continue on their shows. But since villains stopped paying for their acts (and Todd’s rape is around the time that really started happening on all the shows) where did the factor of believablity go? If no one ultimately pays for what they do, what happens to the real life element of morality? Soaps just haven’t been the same — a real lessening of stakes — since there have been effectively no penalities for heineous criminal acts on them. No one ever pays — another reason so many viewers have stopped watching, and a big factor in the downfall of soaps.

  4. NatsGirl says:

    I will be very sorry to say goodbye to Jason. I find him to be a very compelling character. He had to reinvent himself after the car accident that left him without memories or feelings. He has obviously grown over the years, but his loyalty to Sonny is not hard to understand. Sonny accepted him without judgement, like the Quartermaines. I would be curious to know, of the 9 people he has supposedly murdered, how many were other criminals? Characters not being held accountable for their crimes didn’t start with Sonny and Jason. Seems to me it began with none other than Luke Spencer and his rape of Laura. They went on to be one of the first great super couples on soaps!?!?!?! sure seems to me that Sonny and Jason have been punished quite a lot…just maybe not by the legal system.
    I love that Jason has developed a rather wry sense of humor, an ability to see past the foibles in others (Spinelli) to their attributes. In Jason(and Sonny really) the show created a very complex character, which I think has led to his popularity and longevity. so many are sort of “One Notes” – either jokesters, flirts, or whatever. Just my take on it.
    What I would like to see on GH is a return of the Quartermain family… I don’t see why they can’t bring back one or more of the missing sons and have them take over the company business, legal and otherwise. I think that would provide some of the balance that folks are looking for. Personally, I am sooo glad Heather is gone. Talk about a “one note” character. A little of her goes a very long way.

    Marlena says: A good analysis of Jason and his appeal to million of viewers throughout the years. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed him. I don’t know exactly how many of Jason’s victims were criminals; yet he has no human or legal right to be anyone’s executioner. GH isn’t a Dirty Harry movie, after all!

  5. horselover says:

    The main reason I didn’t like Jason (and Sonny) is because every character was sacrificed for them. The whole show revolved around them and the other characters got little POV. I actually liked Jason (and Sonny) in the 90s but I started to resent them when all the other characters were thrown under the bus for them. Honestly, I’m thrilled Jason is leaving. The show needs a different perspective. That said, I am scared that TPTB will make Jason’s exit a big part of the show and the show will still revolve around him. In fact, I’m going to bet on it.

    Marlena says: You’re right about the exit — after all, as you say the Port Charles world did revolve around Jason. I can’t even guess what the exit is going to be. Some kind of punishment would work for me.

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