The appeal of One Life to Live’s Todd Manning character is a bit difficult to explain. If I’m perplexed by my feelings toward him, I can only imagine what others feel. If I were to give a surface level assessment of Todd, I’d say he’s an abhorrent character with little to no redeeming qualities. His actions, which span from the immoral to criminal, can be downright heinous. I wouldn’t want to know Todd, let alone be around him in real life. Nor would I want any woman to have any sort of relationship with him.
But he’s not real. In a way, his lack of existence makes it ‘okay’ to look past his sociopathic tendencies and examine him closer. It’s one of the beauties of fiction – the ability to look beyond the normal representations of good and bad; to find shreds of decency that, over time, can build the illusion of redeeming qualities and instill new representations beyond the initial conception.
In all forms of entertainment – from literature to film – fictional characters can be bad people yet still resonate in a good way with the audience; even lauded by critics for their unapologetic existence. Ones enjoyment of a ‘bad’ character tends be based more on complexity and ability to captivate; less their real-life moral compass and/or if the character manifested into a living person.
In the film (500) Days of Summer, the main character Tom grew up believing he would never be happy until he meet “the one.” As the narrator states, “This belief stemmed from early exposure to sad British pop music and a total misreading of the movie The Graduate.” My attraction to Todd Manning doesn’t stem so much from The Smiths and Dustin Hoffman, as it does an early reading of Wuthering Heights. Perhaps if I had read Pride and Prejudice first, I would be attracted to Mr. Darcy instead of Heathcliff. So you see my enjoyment of such a miserable character is solely the fault of Emily Bronte and not mine!
Ant-heroes are a staple in classic literature. Take Macbeth for instance. William Shakespeare crafted a tale in which a supernatural prophecy turns a generally good man (Macbeth) into one who became consumed by his ambition and desire for power. Macbeth, initially heralded for his bravery and courage, morphs into a tyrannical king once he murders his way into power. He’s an anti-hero haunted by the horrific crimes he’s committed, yet continues to kill to maintain power. Throughout the course of the story, you come to understand his motivations for his actions, even sympathize with him to an extent.
On the television side, The Wire’s Omar Little is another example of the criminal anti-hero that amassed a large fan following. Omar was a street-version of Robin Hood; robbing the criminals of their drugs and money and keeping it for himself most of the time. Though a ‘villain’ in the criminal sense, Omar’s strict code of ethics won him over with fans and even some of the members of the Baltimore PD. Omar never killed the innocent (ie “tax payers”), didn’t use profanity and was loyal to those who showed loyalty to him. Intimidating in appearance, complete with a trademark face scar (ala Todd), Omar roamed the streets of Baltimore, striking fear into the hearts of the criminals with his trusty shotgun while whistling “The Farmer in the Dell.” He murdered, but for ‘good’. He robbed, but only from criminals. He desired power and respect, but only when it suited him.
Todd is not so much an anti-hero, but more of an anti-anti-hero. I could list all of the many, many, many terrible things he’s done (and they are numerous), but the most infamous thing he’s known for is rape. In 1993, back when he was mainly known as Frat Boy #2, Todd led the vicious gang rape of Marty Saybrooke during Llanview University’s Spring Fling party. The storyline, written by then-head writer Michael Malone, was a gripping tale that continued to impact the canvas over a decade later.
While Todd is not the first (or the last) soap character to have committed this crime, the realness of this particular storyline didn’t leave a lot of room for rewrites. For example, Luke’s rape of Laura on General Hospital was rewritten and for years was referred to as a ‘seduction.’ There was no “grey area”. This could not be dismissed as simply the behavior of a romantic rogue.
Todd was initially conceived to be a short-term character, but Roger Howarth‘s commanding portrayal led to the writers deciding to turn him into a main character. The storyline also led to Howarth winning an Emmy for Outstanding Younger Actor. The show obviously wanted to keep him around after that. In order to achieve their desired result, Todd would have to undergo a transition that most ‘bad’ soap characters go through, the ‘redeeming’ phase. Yet, this phase was done dramatically different than previous years.
Though viewers were given an explanation for his repulsive actions (lots and lots of childhood trauma), his crime was never excused or glossed over. Todd began to care for people – Rebecca, then Blair and later Tea – something missing in his earlier sociopathic characteristics. He also became heir to the Lord fortune and was revealed to be the brother of the beloved Victoria Lord. Most of the early Todd years were based on classic gothic novels such as Frankenstein, Great Expectations, and, of course, Wuthering Heights.
The end result was the development of a dynamic, unpredictable, multi-faceted character with many traits that conflict with one another. He’s violent, gentle, caring, apathetic, smart, obsessive, crazy, irrational, devilish, heroic, angst-filled, comical, etc. Todd loves, but he feels he’s unworthy of true love because of the things he’s done. He doesn’t love himself and projects a facade of a confident, arrogant playboy, but underneath it all, he’s someone who seeks an unattainable love. All this makes for one messed up guy, intriguing to the viewers and one I can’t help but like.
I’m more than a little sad to see the character depart from Llanview yet again. Especially when his return to One Life to Live had so much potential for an umbrella story rooted in family and his on-again, off-again quest for the approval and love of his family and Blair. Unfortunately, his return arc left a lot to be desired from a writing standpoint, though his performances helped sell what was otherwise a creatively devoid storyline.
Howarth’s exit from One Life to Live doesn’t necessarily have to mean the end of the character’s story. After all, Todd was recast in the early 2000s with the equally talented Trevor St. John, though I doubt that’ll happen again. It’d be jarring for viewers to see a new face after the ‘Tale of Two Todds’ storyline from 2011. The controversial, albeit enjoyable, storyline really cemented Howarth into the role after so many years away.
No matter what the future holds for this fictional anti-hero, there’s only one Todd Manning. Hopefully it’s not the last time fans will see this villain-turned-anti-hero, but if it is, I’m glad I was able to watch his story unfold over the past 20 years.