“General Hospital” finally dared to go there, “Degrassi” style. For months, the show left viewers uncomfortably speculating about whether Michael (Chad Duell) had been sexually assaulted. This week, Michael confirmed what the audience has suspected for months when he admitted that he was raped in prison. Done right, this has the potential to be a heartbreaking, informative, groundbreaking social issue storyline exploring the impact of sexual assault on a male victim. GH can touch on everything on why it is more difficult for male victims to come forward than for female victims, how sending teenagers to adult prisons sets them up to be victimized to challenging the notion that prison rape is a fitting punishment for criminals. The show ended Monday’s episode with a PSA featuring Duell and Andrea Bogart that is the first I have ever seen addressing the issue of male sexual assault. Duell knocked the scenes where he told Jason (Steve Burton) what happened out of the park, displaying the perfect mix of anger, shame and vulnerability.
Though using Abby’s attempted rape as a catalyst for Michael’s admission was somewhat of a cheap plot device, it allowed for an interesting comparison between their two reactions. Abby felt scared and violated, but as she pointed out to Dante, she would have told everyone who would listen if her assailant had raped her so she could get proper medical treatment and send him to prison for a long, long time. As a woman, particularly one who works in a profession that brings her into contact with men who have an unfortunate tendency to view women as sex objects, she had contemplated the possibility of being assaulted before. She knew it was not her fault. She hated that she needed Michael to ride to her rescue, yet she did not feel that she should have been able to fight off a bigger, stronger man.
Michael felt like he was a failure as a man because he could not stop Carter, even though it was ludicrous to expect him to fight off a career criminal. He was even more ashamed because of cultural stigmas against heterosexual men having any sort of sexual experience with another male. Jason did a great job of reassuring Michael that he had no reason to be ashamed. For once, he was actually heroic. I was glad Michael had the courage to tell Carly (Laura Wright), though part of his reluctance to to tell her surely stems from her history of unhinged reactions to everything. I am even happier that Michael agreed to see a real counselor, not a stripper with a heart of gold. I still can’t get over Sam (Kelly Monaco) thinking that the best way to solve a teen’s potentially sexual-assault-related PTSD was by having casual sex with a stranger.
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My concerns about this storyline are that GH does not have the best track record with social issue storylines. Last year, Kristina’s (Lexi Ainsworth) domestic abuse storyline started off strong, then somehow became all about Sonny (Maurice Benard) feeling sorry for himself and Alexis (Nancy Lee Grahn) being charged with a hit-and-run. I hope this does not end up the same way. Spoilers already indicate that Dante is going to blame himself and Carly and Dante’s (Dominic Zamprogna) feud will escalate. I want this story to be about Michael, not everyone else’s reaction to what happened to him.
We have been watching Dante’s self-flagellation about Michael’s prison experience for months. Let’s review: all the guy did was tell the truth about Michael killing Claudia (Sarah Brown). In my opinion, the parties responsible for Michael’s rape are: 1) Carter, the actual rapist 2) the staff at Pembleton prison for not placing Michael in a Protective Housing Unit for vulnerable prisoners. His status as a mob kingpin’s son should have made it a no-brainer. The Pembleton warden needs to watch “Lock Up” to learn how to run a prison. 3) Sonny, Carly and Jason for covering up Claudia’s death rather than immediately having Michael come forward, with a lawyer, and persuade everyone that it was self-defense. It was their lies that angered the judge so much that he sentenced Michael to prison.
I also want to know if the fact that Franco ordered Carter to assault Michael will ever be addressed. Franco the Character is returning as part of Franco the Actor’s Oscar hosting hype. Will ABC let his appearance, which will assuredly be clipped on a dozen non-soap websites, concern his character setting up a teenager’s rape? Is it wrong that I hope someone asks James Franco about this storyline on the Oscar red carpet?
Despite my concerns, I have not been this engaged in a “General Hospital” storyline in a while. Monday and Tuesday’s episodes showed that the show has just been banking all of its storylines for sweeps. Not only was there the revelation about Michael, Carly and Jax broke up and Brenda revealed that her mysterious baby was in fact miscarried — though there was enough wiggleroom for the baby to have been spirited away while she was passed out and make a dramatic appearance at a later date. I have a feeling that GH is going to be one of the first shows I playback on my DVR for the rest of February.