Saturday, October 17, 2015

The gay problem: Why did Days of Our Lives kill off Will Horton without a fight?

Death becomes great actors. Kassie DePaiva has been proving that week in, week out for weeks now, ever since the daughter of her Days of Our Lives character Eve Donovan Larson died at the hands of the show's latest serial killer. Now the murderer has struck again. Victim No. 3: the beloved legacy character Will Horton.

Will's death, predictably, has led to impressive grief scenes from pretty much the entire cast, especially Deirdre Hall, Camila Banus and Alison Sweeney, who has returned to the show to offer a grief-stricken coda to her exit storyline last year in which her character Sami Brady, lost her husband EJ DiMera to a day player's bullet. In show time, Will's death was exactly one year after EJ's demise, and Alison's performances since her return have been flawless.

But are wonderful performances and a few weeks of storyline worth the loss of someone with ties to nearly every person on the show, not to mention one of daytime TV's few gay characters? The soap blogosphere has been seething because in killing off Will Horton, they've not only effectively ended daytime's first gay supercouple -- Will and his husband Sonny Kiriakis -- but it feels like they've undone all the LGBTQ progress they made over the past several years, first with Will's coming out story and then with Will and Sonny's wedding, daytime's first gay nuptials.

It would be especially stinging if killing off Will was the result of homophobic viewers and advertisers who didn't want to see such supposed sinfulness on their TV screens (the same ones who don't have a problem with serial killers on TV because they're not as bad as gays). The show recently changed its head-writing team, and during the transition process, WilSon (as Will and Sonny are affectionately called by fans) had already been effectively ruined. Wasn't that enough?

Sonny left town to take a job in Paris after portrayer Freddie Smith left the show. And Will, who had turned into a nasty, scheming bitch boy after cheating on Sonny with Sonny's former flame Paul Narita, pretty much disappeared for weeks. They dragged him back out of the closet (pun intended) only a few days before stuffing him back in there (permanently, in a body bag).

After grieving for a week or so, Sonny will exit again, leaving Paul, mostly MIA for weeks until a few days after Will's death, as the only gay in Salem because, well, gays and Days just don't mix.

OK, maybe that isn't fair. Honestly, I have no idea why the powers that be at Days decided that Will had to die. In real life, everyone has to go sometime, and death, like shit, happens all the time in soaps. I made my peace with that and moved on shortly after the rumors surfaced that Will would soon be a goner.

My problem isn't so much that Will was killed off but how it happened. He was strangled by Ben Weston, a lame character whose previous victims had all been women. One of his intended stranglees, Deirdre Hall's Marlena Evans, happened to be Will's grandmother. She was saved from certain death by Chad DiMera, the guy that most of the town thinks is the serial killer.

The interesting twist is that Marlena, who must be pushing 70 like her portrayer, put up one hell of an impressive fight. That's a lot more than I can say for Will. In a scene last week with Will's mother Sami, Marlena talked about how she was initially in a state of denial after finding out about her grandson's death. The killer had been targeting women only, and Will was young and strong. Surely he'd put up a fight. Right?

Exactly. Only the writers let Will go without much of a fuss from him on his own behalf. He struggled with Ben for a few moments and fell and hit his head. When he came to. Ben was choking the life out of him. The end.

As I watched, I thought about a recent murder/suffocation scene on How to Get Away with Murder where both the victim and the killer were women. The former was tied up at the time, which made the latter's task a cinch. We know why the victim didn't put up much of a catfight. But why didn't the writers let Will at least have that?

Was it because they think all gay men are weaklings? Do they believe that a gay man isn't a real man and can't fight back? Eight and half years ago, shortly after I moved to Buenos Aires, I was attacked by three burglars in my apartment. I fought like hell on the bathroom floor, and for a while, I was winning. I even managed to get what I thought was the intended murder weapon -- a screwdriver! -- away from the robber who was waving it in front of my face.

I'd never been much of a fighter before that fateful Sunday afternoon, but that bathroom scene proved that I was willing to give as good as I got when my life depended on it. I know Will wasn't meant to survive, but couldn't they at least have let his final scenes alive be colored by an emotion other than fear?

It's possible they weren't even considering Will's sexuality when they wrote his wimpy exit. And if that's the case, shame on them. A good writer knows to consider things from all angles. Perception can be everything, regardless of intent. When writing for minority characters -- gay, black, or whatever -- it's important to consider all the possible implications of how their scenes play out.

But without consciousness, there's no awareness. I keep hoping that the writer's will let Will come back as a ghost. He'd taunt Ben, maybe even slap him around a little. Wait, make that punch him around a little. It won't bring Will back for good, but at least in a way he'll finally get to go out fighting.
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