Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dale Watermulder

Last Thursday I attended a beautiful memorial service for Dale Watermulder, who died on May eighth at the age of 74. Dale was retired from the Knox County Public Library System, where he had served for over two decades as the head of the Audiovisual department at Lawson McGhee Library. I was fortunate enough to work with Dale in AV for a brief period of time (from 2000-2001) and I can honestly say it was the most satisfying and rewarding work experience I've ever had. It was my first job with the KCPLS and I will always be grateful to Dale for hiring me and rescuing me from retail hell (I'm sorry, Kohls: no matter how much I love shopping with you I was miserable working for you). More than that, though, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to contribute in some small way to this awesome facet of our local library system. And I'm so glad that it gave me a chance to get to know Dale better. He was a wonderful, brilliant man and one I greatly admired and respected. He was one of my heroes.

I didn't really get to know Dale until I worked with him but I'd known who he was since I was a kid. My mom worked at a small junior college and she would check out movies from Lawson McGhee to show in her classes. When it was time to return them she would often pull up to the library entrance and send me inside while she made the block. "Take this upstairs to the second floor and tell Mr. Watermulder that it's a return from Dixie Hall at Draughons Junior College" she would tell me. And I would dutifully carry the film case upstairs and return it to Dale. Or Becky. Or Amy. All of whom I would work with years later. In some small way it felt like working with family, because they all remembered me from my days as a pint-sized courier. Plus, by the time I joined the department most of the staff had been working together for years so they acted like a family. There was a refreshing lack of pretense. None of us were really morning people and so, for the first hour or so each morning, we kept quiet and stayed out of each other's ways. Nobody minded if you weren't a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed ray of sunshine at the start of the day; if you just wanted to quietly go about your work until you thawed out that was alright. I assimilated quickly and felt comfortable and at home in that environment. I actually looked forward to work, which was an absolute revelation for me at the time.

Of course that had a lot to do with the nature of our work as well. As head of the department Dale cultivated and curated our collection of movies and music. We provided the public with what they wanted and all the most popular titles were readily available but we also provided materials that were more obscure, more offbeat and random. Dale's knowledge of cinema was vast and varied (and his knowledge of music - classical, in particular - was even more impressive) but he was never snobbish about it. And, this is something I loved so much about him, he wanted to know what we were interested in as well. He listened to our recommendations and suggestions and he took them seriously. Despite his enormous wealth of knowledge he was always keen to learn about new things. Working with him felt like a collaborative process with the single goal of getting the biggest, best assortment of material to the public that we possibly could. It felt great to be a part of something like that, even if it was only for such a short amount of time.

After Dale retired from the library system he would occasionally call me up and we would go to lunch. After we'd decided on a place to eat and exchanged pleasantries he'd always ask "So, what have you seen lately?" He'd get out his little notebook and write down most or all of the titles I'd mention to him. Then he'd tell me what he'd been watching. His recommendations were great. I began my love affair with Hayao Miyazaki after Dale talked him up. I watched The Lady Eve after he suggested it (and I adored it). When I made some remark about loving Hannibal Lecter Dale told me to watch Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer for contrast because it wasn't an entertaining movie (and maybe such gruesome subject matter shouldn't always be entertaining). He really liked Nicole Kidman and I did too so we talked about her work and her all-around fabulousness on more than one occasion. He was upfront about what he disliked as well. I adored The Umbrellas of Cherbourg but he couldn't get past the amateurish singing. He adored Fred Astaire (Swing Time is a title I remember him bringing up several times) but didn't care for Gene Kelly's more robust, athletic style of dancing. I liked The Song of Bernadette but he thought Jennifer Jones was a great big bore. Even when we disagreed it just felt great to engage with someone who knew so much about movies. 

There are other little things that I remember. Insignificant things that I found so endearing. He would wear turtlenecks under cableknit sweaters, most of which were so well-worn that they'd started to unravel at the seams ("We're pretty casual around here" he told me during my orientation). He once told me, after I'd dropped to my knees to reshelve an item and then quickly stood back up, that I looked like Alice in Wonderland growing smaller and then larger by the minute. He never forgot anybody's birthday and brought in a nice cake for the department to share each and every time. He gave us cocoa at Christmas. There was never much fanfare but that made all the gestures seem even more genuine. 

I'll occasionally have this dumb daydream about how fun it would be to co-host a movie series on television with Dale, like Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore (or Rose McGowan before her) do on The Essentials on TCM. It's silly but I sort of wish I'd told him about it. I think he would've been amused. Though it had been a few years since our last lunch date I thought of Dale often. I imagine I'll continue to think of him often. I didn't know him very well for a very long period of time but he had an enormous impact on me. He was one of my very favorite people in the world and I am so, so sorry that Knoxville has lost such a vibrant, extraordinary presence. But we are better off for having benefitted from his kindness and his generosity for the years that he was with us.

Monday, May 12, 2014

PostScript: Nick Fallon - One Last Goodbye

Rest in peace, Nick Fallon. When you were at your best you were better than everybody in Salem and, when you were at your worst, you were still, in so many ways, better than most. You could be cruel but Salem is not a particularly kind place; the crimes of so many others, often overlooked, were far worse than the ones you committed. You hurt a lot of people but I don't think you hurt anyone as much as you hurt yourself. Your life on this show was a series of mishaps and horrors. You bore the brunt of everyone's contempt and scorn in a way that few characters have had to do. You deserved so much better but, if it's any consolation, know this: your story resonated in a way that most do not. The tragedy of it will stay with me forever. Though there was nothing I could do to help you I can honestly say that you have helped me. You made me feel less alone in the world and for that I thank you. I will never ever forget what you have meant to me. I will mourn you, miss you and love you always. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Requiem for Nicholas Fallon

"This poor baby got nobody. Just nobody!"

I think about this line from Rebel Without A Cause, spoken by poor, doomed Plato's bereaved housekeeper just moments after the troubled teen is killed, a lot when I think about Nick Fallon.

Nick was a particularly tough nut to crack because he was either unable or unwilling to be entirely honest with the people who cared about him the most and because those same people could not or would not put the time and effort into truly figuring out what was going on with the tormented young man. It was in the Days of Our Lives writers' best interests, from a storytelling perspective, to keep Nick's thoughts and feelings largely hidden from the audience. By denying us the opportunity for more than the faintest glimpse into Nick's interior life Days alienated us even further from a character who already alienated a sizable percentage of the viewership. Did that make it easier for some fans to view Nick as little more than a thorn in everybody's side? A nuisance at best, a villain and a monster at worst? It felt, so often, like Days didn't want its audience to empathize or identify with Nick Fallon, though many of us did. 

Even the worst characters on soaps usually have friends, cohorts or, at the very least, lackeys. Unless you count the blink-and-you'll-miss-him Percy Ruggles, who was entertaining but little more than comic relief, Nick Fallon never really had anybody. I don't mean nobody loved him, because Maggie and Julie obviously cared for him, but he needed a real confidant. Someone who knew all the things he'd done but was willing to stand by him regardless. Someone who really wanted to understand where he was coming from and could look at things from his perspective. Someone who saw him for exactly who he was, accepted him, and refused to walk away. I don't know if "partner in crime" is the term I'm looking for here or not. I feel like if Nick had had some sort of real partner then he may not have felt compelled to commit quite so many crimes. What must it do to a person if he feels like nobody really gets him? What if nobody even wants to bother trying? What does that kind of psychological and emotional isolation do to an already damaged human being? No one should be shocked or surprised by the awful things Nick did. Maybe they should be surprised he didn't do much worse.

It's true that the burden fell, ultimately, to Nick to take responsibility for his mistakes and to seek out the help he needed but wouldn't it have been easier for him to do that if he'd had a stronger support system in place? What if just one person who cared about Nick - Maggie, Julie, Hope - had been willing to dig a little deeper a little sooner and determine that Nick was in a very bad place before everything jumped the rails last week? Or what if just one of the people Nick hurt this past year, either directly or indirectly, had offered him their forgiveness rather than their scorn and disgust? If the "good" characters on the show, like Marlena, Rafe and Will, couldn't take the high road and treat Nick with more kindness and compassion than he extended to them then what, exactly, made them the good guys in the story? Why should I have rooted for them instead of Nick? 

I have had so many misgivings about Nick Fallon's story over the years but I think his final week on Days was extraordinary. And no day was more important or impactful than Friday. As much as I loved Nick, as much as I rooted for him, as much as I understood his anger and his bad behavior, I longed for Days to show us more. I wanted them to show us the real Nick Fallon - the lonely young man who so wanted to be accepted. Loved. Seen. I knew he was in there. I refused to believe that he wasn't. That's one reason why I thought Monday and Tuesday's shows last week were so fantastic. We saw Nick challenging his adversaries and stirring up trouble all over town but we also saw tenderness and sadness in his exchanges with Maggie and Julie. Then, on Wednesday and Thursday, those genuine moments were all but gone. It was more of Nick twisting the knife, pressing his advantage, pissing people off left and right. Ok, I thought. This is how it's going to go down. I could still be on Nick's side if he was being malevolent but I had hoped that the show wouldn't sell the character short like that in his last scenes. I didn't want sensationalism, I wanted substance. I wanted the balance we'd seen at the start of the week. What I never expected, ever, in a million years, was for Days, in the eleventh hour, to strip away all the artifice and shatter Nick's tough outer shell entirely; in his final moments, Days fully restored Nick's humanity. They finally acknowledged what all of us who've loved him have long known: that he was a person worth giving a damn about. That his life mattered. "There he is," Julie said when Nick finally confessed that he was lost, that he didn't want to keep hurting people, that he needed help. There he is, I thought. My Nick Fallon. Still trying so hard to grab hold of the happy life that was always just beyond his reach. Still trying, after all his missteps, to right himself. There he is. And he is so dear to me. And I loved Days and Blake Berris for creating a character I could care for so deeply. 

And then they shot him. They shot him so many times. I've never watched a scene that devastated me so completely. I've never felt so much despair over the loss of a fictional life. Knowing it was coming offered little consolation, because there was no way I could have prepared for something so brutal. There was no way I could ever be ready to say goodbye to a character I have loved so much. There was no way to keep it from hurting.

Tomorrow Nick Fallon will officially die, in Horton Town Square, in the arms of Julie Williams. And I am so excited for Blake Berris, because he's going to do so many extraordinary things. He's told an incredible story on Days and now he needs to go tell other important stories outside of daytime. But I don't know how I'm going to say goodbye to Nick Fallon. I just know it's going to hurt like hell.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Final Days of Nick Fallon's Life - Part II

To say I misjudged Nick's motivations at the end of Tuesday's episode of Days of Our Lives would be an understatement. Nick confronted Sami in the park and they had what appeared, at first, to be an honest, genuine exchange about their mess of a situation. Nick seemed heartbroken that he had made so many enemies in Salem and he confessed to Sami that all he wanted was to be accepted by the people who despised him. Blake Berris has this terrific way of overselling his scenes, just slightly, when Nick is being disingenuous and there was a decidedly different energy during Nick and Sami's exchange than there was during his scenes with Maggie and Julie earlier in the week. To her credit Sami seemed genuinely moved by Nick's declaration (and Alison Sweeney was so good in these moments) but she was pushing her own agenda as well. She tried to convince Nick to see things from everybody else's perspective, which is of course her perspective. At any earlier point in the story this might have gone down differently but Nick is way past the point of wanting to see the situation from anyone's perspective but his own. When Nick dropped the act and told Sami it was never going to happen, that he would do as he pleased to get exactly what he wanted, it was a truly chilling moment but I could still see where he was coming from. I'd probably have a hard time making nice with a woman who dumped me in a freezing river in late November and left me for dead, too. Maybe Sami should've made an effort to see things from Nick's perspective. At the very least she could have apologized for trying to kill him. 

After his confrontation with Sami Nick sought out Sonny and a heated exchange ensued. Nick is really throwing his weight around in these scenes, leaning hard on the people he's blackmailing in order to convince them he has all the power. Like EJ on Monday with the contract killer, Sonny is finally considering a more drastic, permanent approach when it comes to dealing with Nick. I really liked Sonny and Will's conversation at the start of the episode. Will never said outright that he wanted Nick dead but he planted the seed in Sonny's mind by almost saying it and letting the thought linger in the air. For the first time I think both men began to consider murder as a viable option. After Nick and Sonny argued it came as no surprise that Sonny headed right to the Kiriakis mansion in search of a gun.

By threatening to expose her affair with EJ, Nick has also lost the support of Abigail which, if I'm being honest, doesn't really count for much. Abigail and Nick were quite close when Nick first came to Salem but I never really saw them rekindle their connection after Nick was released from prison. I know family is important to Abigail but I think she has treated Nick more like an obligation, a nuisance that needs to be dealt with because they're related, than a person she genuinely cares about. She seemed mildly concerned after Nick went missing late last year but EJ was able to stop her from asking questions using his various, er, powers of persuasion. And now that Nick has something he can use against Abigail she's more than willing to wash her hands of him once and for all. If I were Nick I wouldn't sweat the loss. 

The thing that upset me most about Wednesday's episode was when Nick told Sonny that he would have no problem exposing Gabi's previous crimes if she decided, at some point, that she no longer wanted to be with him. I can try to tell myself that Nick didn't mean it, that he was only saying it to intimidate and provoke Sonny, but I know it's not true. I do think Nick regrets lying to Gabi about his past, inadvertently self-sabotaging their marriage before it had even begun, and I think Nick is sorry that he attacked her that night by the river. But that doesn't mean he won't do whatever it takes to ensure that Gabi stays with him; it doesn't mean he won't destroy the woman he claims to love if he feels like she can't or won't love him back. That should terrify me. And I am frightened for Gabi because in some ways she's alone and adrift in the same way Nick is and she doesn't deserve to spend the rest of her life at the mercy of a man who could and would throw her under the bus if she goes against his wishes. No one deserves that. But I still feel incredibly sorry for Nick, too, because he wants to be loved so badly that he'll resort to blackmailing and terrorizing the woman he wants just to keep her close to him. Like Jay Gatsby Nick doesn't realize that he can't repeat the past. His refusal to move forward - from both the waking nightmare that was his prison experience and the brief, happy period of time he shared with Gabi - is destroying him but he just can't bring himself to leave it all behind him.

Thursday's show was a lot like Wednesday's, with Nick provoking and antagonizing pretty much anyone he happened to encounter. No more quiet family moments (though I'm still holding out for one last scene between Hope and Nick with - dare I wish for it - a reference to Nick's first love, Chelsea), no more peeking behind the mask, just Days driving the point home that Nick is trouble and most everyone in town hates him and wants him dead. Oh, and the hit man EJ hired is tailing Nick now as well, just so we understand that the end is indeed nigh for Mr. Fallon. 

One of the things I'm enjoying about this story is that, for me, there isn't a clear cut hero or villain amongst the major players. EJ, Sami and Sonny might tell themselves that they're performing some sort of public service by ridding Salem of Nick Fallon but I think it looks like they're covering their backsides by silencing the one man who can expose everybody's dirty little secrets. They aren't interested in doing the right thing; like Nick, they're all interested in doing what's right for themselves. They've all made mistakes - some far worse than others, obviously - and I can understand all of their motivations. I just find Nick's to be the most compelling and I still relate with him more than I do anyone else in the story. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Final Days of Nick Fallon's Life - Part I

It's happening. The moment I've dreaded for ages is fast approaching and there's no way to escape the inevitable outcome. On Friday, Nick Fallon, my beloved Nick Fallon, will die. On Monday it was announced, officially, that Blake Berris's time on Days of Our Lives would draw to a close this week. Nick will not fake his death. There will be no long lost twin, no clone confusion, no robot double (which will disappoint my husband, because he always wants to see more robots in Salem). I know that soap opera death is never a permanent condition and, yes, any character can be brought back in the future, no matter how finite their demise may appear to be when it happens. While I will always welcome the appearance of Blake's Nick on my screen I don't want the character to become a running joke, exiting every so often in one absurd, contrived fashion or another only to be resurrected at a later date (like a Phoenix from the ashes) when the show needs him to spice up their storylines. My psyche can't endure that sort of torment on an ongoing basis. Watching Nick "die" last November and return in January only to learn that he'll be killed off again this week has been, almost, more than I can bear. And, more importantly, I want Nick's death to have gravitas. I want it to matter. I want Days to give the character and his fans a send-off that will resonate in a more meaningful way. I think we've earned it.

If the last two days are indicative of how the rest of the week will go, Nick's going to have a very powerful send-off indeed. I think Days has the potential to really get this right. Because the last two episodes have been brilliant. Nick is pushing all of his adversaries to the breaking point, setting up the drama that will culminate with his murder at the close of the week. People who have wanted to see him dead for months are finally looking for ways to get rid of their nemesis, instead of just complaining to one another about him. And while it's frightening to watch it is also exhilarating. I love that Nick is dropping the pretense, being brutally honest and saying so many of the things that I often think to myself (or yell at my television screen) when I watch the show. I loved it on Monday when Nick told EJ there was nothing the DiMera prince could do to him that could compare to the hell he'd endured while he was in prison. Because how could a man like EJ even begin to understand what it feels like to be so powerless? Nick may not have come out the other side of that experience whole but he is strong and fearless in a way that EJ DiMera will never be. Nick will lose in the end, because you can't go up against the DiMera and Kiriakis families, as well as Sami Brady and Kate Roberts, and hope to be the victor, but thank goodness he isn't cowering before them, or turning a blind eye to their various faults and misdeeds. If the only other option is for Nick to lick the boots of his adversaries I'd rather see him hit them with everything he's got before going down in a blaze of glory.

But the show's true strength lies in its quieter moments. There's a very real, very painful Horton family drama unfolding at the heart of this story and it is producing some of the best scenes I've ever seen on Days. Maggie and Nick have always been extraordinary together. Blake Berris and Suzanne Rogers infuse their shared scenes with so much warmth and empathy. Their exchange on Monday had me riveted because Maggie can get through to her nephew, peel back those hard outer layers and expose the hurt buried beneath them, in a way that nobody else in Salem can. I like that Nick talked about Melanie and owned up to all the pain he'd caused her. For all his swagger and bluster there's a part of Nick that believes he really is a lost cause, that he doesn't deserve another chance to get it right. But still he's fighting against insurmountable odds to get the happily ever after that he's always wanted, at all costs. I don't have words for what scenes like this do to me. They make me feel helpless, because I just want to reach into the television and comfort my fella. It's a terrible shame that, for the last several moths, Maggie's story has mostly centered around Brady's problems with addiction (which seem to come and go as the story dictates) and her grown son's love life; if Maggie had been allowed a little more time with Nick, if she'd dug her heels in earlier and realized what a bad place he was in, this story might have had a different outcome. But their scenes on Monday felt like a goodbye. They felt like too little, too late.

Tuesday's Days, for me, was all about Nick's scenes with Julie. What a fantastic relationship these two have, even though it's largely been developed off-camera. It's true that sweet, sassy Julie would check in with Nick now and again, in between her cruises around the world with Doug. She was supportive and doting, which was great, but she was also entirely blind to Nick's faults. No matter how much love and encouragement she offered him she simply wasn't around enough to be of much help to him. And while Blake Berris and Susan Hayes were always utterly charming and delightful to watch together the time their characters spent with each other never offered much insight into Nick's true feelings and motivations because Nick was being disingenuous, playing a part with Julie and telling her what he thought she wanted to hear. 

Yesterday's Nick and Julie exchange, however, dug a little deeper. Julie opened up to Nick about her past, when she was a troubled hellion in her own right, struggling to live up to the expectations that come with being a Horton in Salem. She tried to express to her young cousin that, no matter how rebellious and combative she'd been as a youth, her family always loved her and wanted her to be happy. It was only when she stopped railing against them, creating conflict where there didn't need to be any, that she was able to move forward and find her happily ever after with Doug. It finally hit me that it wouldn't matter to Julie what Nick had done; even if she knew the whole story she'd still be in his corner. You could see it dawning on Nick, too. He didn't have to lie to her, because her love would always be unconditional. And maybe he didn't have to hold on so tightly to his awful past and make everyone around him, like his cousins Will and Abigail, miserable in the process. Maybe it was possible for him to move forward, really move forward and make a happy life for himself, too. 

I thought I knew where this story was going. I thought nobody would be able to get through to Nick at this point, that he would hurtle headlong into his inevitable demise on Friday never knowing that he could have taken a different path. But after his exchange with Julie Nick spotted Sami outside the Brady Pub. He called out to her and, call me naive, I believe he was going to offer an olive branch, maybe try for an actual reconciliation. But Sami ran off, rattled over the fact that she's having second thoughts about the contract killer she and EJ just hired to take care of Nick once and for all. Sami realized, too late, that Allie and Ciara adored their nerdy cousin and the guilt has started to gnaw at her. Like Nick, she's beginning to realize that there might have been a better way to handle the situation. But her insight is coming too late. 

Maybe "too little, too late" is the the whole point of Nick's story.

Monday, May 5, 2014

RIP Nick Fallon? Again?

I've done a really great job steering clear of Days of Our Lives spoilers for the past few months. Since Nick Fallon returned from the dead in January I've managed to avoid most of the information about upcoming storylines and plot twists, as well as all the theorizing, complaining and arguing that goes along with it. I was having fun, for once, just watching the narrative unfold and trying to figure out what was going on inside my favorite fictional fella's unbalanced mind. 

But week before last I accidentally stumbled across a rumor about Nick being murdered. Again. But this time for real. At first I didn't worry about it. It seemed ridiculous that Days would make us think Nick was dead, bring him back and then kill him off for good just a few short months later. But then I got worried. And then I started visiting Daytime Royalty's forums. And then I bought the latest issue of Soap Opera Digest. Everything indicated that a core character would be killed, in public, and half the town would be suspects. I couldn't think of anyone else besides Nick that half of Salem would want to kill so, like most people, I concluded that he was likely going to be the victim. This week's promo, featuring Julie holding a blood-soaked, presumably dying Nick in her arms in the middle of Horton Town Square, left very little doubt as to what would be going down this week. 

I feel like I'm going through some strange fangirl variation of the five stages of grief. I'm anxious, frightened, angry and incredibly sad. But on some level I have accepted that Nick's story is finally drawing to its close. As devastating as it will be for me to lose him I can admit that it's an appropriately tragic end for an especially tragic character. If Gabi ends up doing the deed herself it will not only provide the impetus for her character to leave Salem (when Camila Banus's final episodes air next month) but it will bring Nick's story to its logical conclusion. Nick's greatest weakness has always been his attraction to bad girls. Almost every mistake he's made, almost every crime he's committed has been in the service of securing, at all costs, the affections of Chelsea. Or Melanie. Or Gabi. In the end it will be cruel but fitting if the one person Nick claims to care about, the one person he believes is on his side, is the one who ends his life.

It's not the story I wanted for Nick. It's brutal and unfair but that may be why it resonates so strongly. It rings true.