The moment John McBain chose to sexually to ease his pain by sleeping with another woman, any sympathies towards him evaporated. One Life to Live has resurrected one of the most loathsome pieces of this characters history.
Pain Is Overrated
For many years, there’s been much discussion about what’s “wrong” with John McBain. Why does he work with one love interest but not another? Like many, I simply lost interest in the character and cannot fathom why anyone wants their favorite female on the show to be attached to him. It’s important to note that I haven’t always felt this way.
When the character was first introduced, he was mysterious, brooding and sexy as hell. As John McBain’s portrayer, Michael Easton, has often explained, the character is “damaged.” It was enough to create a desire to know what made him so withdrawn and closed off emotionally. More than anything, I wanted to know what or who could heal him. After eight years and so many women who loved him and wanted to be “the one,” only to receive heart ache in return, I no longer care.
His so-called “damage” is pathetic when compared to more severe tragedies suffered by other characters on the show, and his anguish seems more like self-absorption. John’s Pain! John’s Pain! Is pain so much more PAINFUL than anyone else’s? No! He’s just an emotional coward withholding affection and then feels so terrible about the pain he inflicts on anyone who cares about him. He seems content to stay in a relationship with a woman (any woman) until she demands more from him than vague explanations about his feelings for them that are impossible to interpret, and then he very deliberately moves on to the next conquest and the cycle continues.
It became a chore to care about John’s pain anymore when it was simply an excuse to hurt others. It didn’t matter if it was Natalie, or Evangeline, or Blair or Marty, all were very different women with different qualities to offer. They all loved and committed themselves to John, only to be left devastated by his refusal to open up and commit to them in return. John McBain is the perpetual tease — all promise and no delivery. Each time he entered a new relationship, there was always the question of, “Is this the one?” Each time the new love interest would peel away another layer of the character to reveal the same thing the previous layer exposed.
The source of all this fury is frustration — frustration with myself for allowing the writers to dupe me yet again with this character, luring me into the same old tired story of John’s pain that they always tell. Over the years my emotional responses to John McBain have run the gamut from mad love to absolute unmitigated loathing until finally it tapered off to indifference. Indifference was a good place for about three years. I miss indifference. I could have lived with indifference for as long as they kept John away from characters I care deeply about, primarily one Ms. Natalie Buchanan Banks. But as we know, that didn’t happen and against my will I was forced to care about John McBain again but with prejudice. I reluctantly settled in for the journey, and I was shocked to find myself enjoying the ride.
Chemistry is subjective, and for me Michael Easton and Melissa Archer share a chemistry that is off the charts. But it wasn’t their blazing chemistry that reeled me back in, and it wasn’t the story because they still seemed to be telling the same old story of John the serial cheater and user of women. Then the unimaginable happened and Marty became pregnant and in that instant three things became crystal clear to me; 1) John was being prepped for fatherhood and 2) Marty and John’s baby wouldn’t survive and 3) I was certain that Natalie was finally going to have a baby, John’s baby. It is said “two out of three ain’t bad” but that’s a lie.
The story that ensued transformed John’s character, a transformation that began when he learned he was going to be a father. Once he recovered from the shock and accepted with regret that any future he’d wanted with Natalie was lost to him, John began to relish the prospect of having a child and his gloomy persona lightened up and we started seeing glimpses of the man John McBain could be. I was amazed at how likable that made him. Then Marty lost the baby and John returned to the somber soul he was before and we all know what happened next. John and Natalie reunited, but not before “Le Moan” heard round the world and the inevitable “Who’s the Daddy” story followed.
I have a “frenemy” on the message boards who proclaimed far and wide that this story with Natalie, who in typical soapy fashion lied to John at every turn about the paternity of her baby, destroyed John’s character because it made him look stupid and gullible. I respectfully disagree. While John certainly didn’t come across as the sharpest tool in the shed, it was well worth it to finally see a John who was unencumbered by demons and commitment phobia and the emotional void that had made him so unlikeable for so long. It was almost like a rebirth to see John happy and anticipating his future with excitement and (dare I say) optimism.
Every time John said the word “family” it was filled with so much emotion it projected this dream he’d carried with him and never dared hope for and now it was coming true. John finally cleared that hurdle that had blocked him for so long and achieved growth. There was a beautiful proposal of marriage, an actual wedding with emotional vows that was of course interrupted before John and Natalie were declared man and wife. There were all the wonderful firsts of parenthood like seeing the baby’s first sonogram, and feeling the first kicks, and Lamaze classes, holding his newborn son in his arms, picking his name and each and every one of these events opened John up to the potential for a bright and happy future with the family he yearned for.
Certainly John never achieved the level of Brody’s syrupy professions of love that seemingly ooze from his lips whenever he talks to Jessica, but John finally was able to say those three words and mean them. The dour detective had metamorphosed into a peaceful and contented family man, and I couldn’t help feeling sympathy for him knowing that when Natalie’s lies were exposed, as they inevitably would be, his happiness would be shattered.
The day came, the lies were exposed, and there, in my opinion, began the destruction of John McBain’s character. It wasn’t his cold fury or outrage that chipped away at the growth the character achieved. I hated seeing Natalie hurt, but John was more than justified and I knew Natalie deserved anything he would say to her. It wasn’t that he walked out on her and ended their relationship, possibly forever. It wasn’t that he turned his back on the child he thought was his. John was crushed and he was completely entitled to his emotional reactions. It wasn’t because he got sloppy drunk, or because he got into a bar fight – self destructive behaviors that I can completely understand. But the minute he used a woman sexually to ease his pain, or soothe his wounded pride or to get back at Natalie, or whatever, John McBain resurrected the most loathsome piece of his character’s history on this show, and any sympathy I had for him evaporated.
It doesn’t matter to me that Brody and Natalie did basically the exact same thing, because those two characters do not have the established pattern of this behavior that John McBain does. It doesn’t matter to me that John and Natalie did basically the same thing after Marty was presumed dead, or that his entire relationship with Blair was about soothing his pain over losing Marty, because that all happened during my period of indifference and before I’d seen John transformed from the serial sexual user into the committed family man and father. And it doesn’t matter who the woman was, or how mutual it was or how willing she was to allow herself to be used in such a way, because John is still a complete and total ass to use women that way, and particularly assy to openly and without a shred of respect admit to her face “I know what I did, and I know why I did it. To get back at Natalie.” And it was all compounded by the way he treated her the morning after. Slamming down drinks the moment he crawled out of bed, refusing to talk about what happened and telling her to shut up when she tried explain her take on why they made a “huge mistake”.
I realize revenge/hate sex is a soap staple and it sometimes leads to true love, possibly even soul mate connections. I have no idea what will come next in John’s recovery. He showed genuine concern for Kelly when he found her crying at Llanfair but then tears are a natural trigger for John’s rescue instinct (his other fatal flaw) so maybe their relationship will grow deeper and become something more than just him using her body the same way he uses booze. I know that I’m supposed to feel John’s pain, and have sympathy for him. It should be easier in a way because at least this time his pain is caused by an event I actually saw developed with tremendous detail on screen and I know how much he loves Liam and the dream of his family, and I believe that loss is devastating for him. Unfortunately, his predatory sexual behavior overshadows his pain, so I’m not seeing his motivation; just his seedy disrespect for women and that immediately restores my John hatred to full rage.
John has basically become the same sort of creep Bobby Ford was, and I guess that is always who John was, but I didn’t see it before. I have no regrets about going along for this journey, because Natalie has a baby, and I really loved cute happy John with his sparkling eyes and springy steps. The proposal and the wedding with John looking down into Natalie’s eyes, with happy tears glistening in his own was all the payoff any soap fan could hope for and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that. If as I suspect there is another twist in the Paternity Saga and Liam turns out to be John’s son after all, I hope we see a return to that John, but there will be much to forgive by that time. I’m not certain the fans are as resilient as the writers may have presumed. And now that we have serial sexual user John back, I really wish I could pull out my GPS and find directions to that place of indifference. It’s a good place. I need to find that place again.