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How to (Not) End a Soap

by Ethan Tussey

by Christine Becker for IN MEDIA RES

 In one of the great last acts in television history (no really, trust me, it was that good), One Life to Live’s final month offered an abundance of traditional serial intrigue, nostalgic flashbacks, reverent speeches about the value of soaps, and clever meta plotlines. Most brilliantly, a soap within the soap called Fraternity Row was cancelled, and OLTL’s characters channeled OLTL fan reaction in their responses. In one episode, Fraternity Row’s number one fan, Roxy, passed out on the show’s set after learning that her beloved soap had already filmed its last episode. She then dreamed herself and the rest of the cast into an exceedingly over-the-top version of Fraternity Row, providing a hilarious spoof of soap opera storytelling, yet also a genuine tribute to it, as it acknowledged the joys of narrative excess in soaps.

At the episode’s end, depicted in this clip, Roxy wakes up and shuffles out of the desolate studio with friend David. Across only a few minutes, the episode shifts from absurd parody to heartfelt sadness, and therein lies my love of soap opera narrative, where the goofy and the profound nestle happily together. This image of finality was not the end of One Life to Live, though. Four weeks later, the actual final scene resurrected a dead character, offering no explanation as to how he could be alive when we had seen him bleed to death on screen months earlier. Of course, this cliffhanger resulted because the writers expected the series to continue online (it won’t), but I believe this is a perfect ending for the series anyway. How better to end a soap opera, a genre defined by its continuing stories, than with a cliffhanger? And what could more boldly defy the form's detractors than to end on the most mocked soap opera trope of them all? I fear that the demise of daytime soaps means the departure of such storytelling, as the genre heads off after Roxy and David into the darkness of an empty, forlorn studio.

One Life To Live "Fraternity Row"

Soap within a Soap on OLTL

from One Life to Live (2011)
Creator: ABC
Posted by Ethan Tussey