Deep Soap: Is ‘General Hospital’ Really Going to ‘Oz’?

Chad Duell in General Hospital (ABC)

Chad Duell in General Hospital (ABC)

GH Went There

Port Charles is a dangerous place to be a teenager.  When Robin (Kimberly McCullough) was in high school, she contracted AIDS from her first love, Stone (Michael Sutton).  Elizabeth (Becky Herbst) was raped while sitting in a park on Valentine’s Day.  Recently, Kristina’s (Lexi Ainsworth) first boyfriend beat her before he was mowed down by a car. So I guess I should not be surprised that ‘General Hospital‘ is now hinting that Michael might have already been raped in prison.  Because the show obviously wants us to think he was.  What was a vague allusion of something that could happen last week became an overt possibility this week. When Jason The Great Savior (Steve Burton) walked into Michael’s prison cell to offer him protection, he found Michael curled up on the floor, catatonic, bruised and with an unbuttoned shirt.  When we last saw Michael, he was being threatened by fellow inmate Carter. He flinched at Jason’s touch.  In real life, getting punched in the face by a convict who claims to be offering protection would be traumatic enough to elicit that reaction from an 18-year-old who is new to prison life.  But this is a soap.  Anyone who flinches when being touched has in all probability been sexually assaulted.  Jason arranged for Michael to be treated in the prison infirmary, which would be natural in either case, but the doctor was shown giving him a blood test which does not make much sense if there was not some form of sexual assault.  There has been some fan speculation that this will somehow tie into Robin’s renewed interest in AIDS medicine.

I am not sure which is worse: if GH chooses to use the old redemption via rape chestnut on Michael to complete the transformation from violent mini-Jason to saintly victim that began when Chad Duell took over the role from Drew Garrett or if GH is treating potential prison rape as a titillating was-he-or-wasn’t-he storyline? It is now impossible not to search for clues in every line of Michael’s dialogue, every expression on his face.   When Michael said, “After dinner, they leave the cell doors open. They–they close the cell doors at night. And nobody’s supposed to be able to get in. Um… to be able to get in.” was he going to confide in Jason?  Why was he limping?  Why does he seem more closed off then Jason?  I feel sleazy watching a storyline about a possible sexual assault the same way that I would a whodunnit.  Yet, I will admit that I cannot turn away.  The individual scenes are well written for what they are.  Duell is very good as a very different Michael and Jason actually seems to feel some human emotions.

That does not mean that it is right to treat a serious issue as something salacious and scandalous.  It seems like TPTB are expecting people to tune in and argue at message boards and water coolers about whether a daytime soap would dare to tell a storyline about a male being sexually assaulted by another male.  Because the daytime audience allegedly wants edgier storylines even though they never seem to result in improved ratings.  It’s just a hunch, but I do not think there are very many members of the GH audience who hoped for a possible prison rape storyline to kick off the summer.  Not only is it dark and disturbing, it seems designed to undo every step the show has taken in the past six months to restore the balance between the mob and law enforcement.  If Michael is assaulted in prison and subsequently protected by Jason, it’s another way to signal that the mobsters are the heroes.

‘General Hospital’ Explores Tragedy Of Guilty Person In Jail

I can picture whoever decided that this would be a terrific storyline rubbing his hands together and saying, “They liked it when we did  ‘The Sopranos.‘  They are going to love our take on ‘Oz.‘” Perhaps Ethan can embark on a new career as Port Charles undertaker, who buries the town’s numerous dead bodies so we can get a ‘Six Feet Under‘ homage, too.  I am guilty of treating prison rape differently than other forms of sexual assault.  I have joked about it happening to various heinous real life criminals.  I even made a regrettable irreverent reference to Sonny’s theoretical reaction to the news in a column last week, but while Sonny’s determination to blame others for all his problems is funny, the subject of sexual assault is not funny no matter who the victim is.

If this is where the story goes, arguably, it is the exact same thing that Liz went through when she was raped.  She, too, was a virgin who was assaulted by an adult and rescued by a male protector.  The difference is that Lucky and Liz turned out to have a beautiful love story.  In contrast, Jason is Michael’s surrogate older brother who kills people for a living. There’s not a lot of possibility for something uplifting to come out of this.  If this were the Claire Labine era, this could become a daring social issue storyline that tackled why violence flourishes in what should be a controlled prison environment.  But that is not the show that GH is today.

If the whole thing turns out to be a mislead, then GH will have used the possibility of male sexual assault as a cheap gotcha moment. You thought he was raped?  We fooled you!  Perhaps Michael was just upset about being beaten. Maybe Carter revealed that he was working with Franco, who we know is coming back this summer and warned Michael that if he told anyone, innocent people would die. Maybe blood tests are standard medical protocol at the prison, or that moment will never be explained.   I know that Michael and Jason will be out of prison in a matter of months if not weeks.  No soap characters are ever locked up for long.  I suspect that what actually happened to Michael will be dependent on the audience’s reaction. I know that mine is guilt for being drawn into such a prurient storyline.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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