Nothing tears at the heart strings in soaps quite like the death of a child, and last Friday’s episode of The Young and the Restless re-affirmed that belief for me. It should have been a fun night for Billy Abbott and his daughter Cordelia, but instead, a tragedy ensued that led to the longest five minutes of his life.
Anyone who has watched soaps for a period of time could have predicted something like this was coming. Over the years, children have become a plot point on soaps – used to further other stories before they’re inevitably rapidly aged to their teen years and driving stories of their own. In Delia’s case, she was driving storylines from a young age. Viewers watched her grow up interacting with her parents and family on a regular basis. She wasn’t trotted out for holidays and cute moments (even though she had her share of ancillary scenes) – she was a major part of Billy and Chloe’s lives. Whether she was kidnapped or missing or battling leukemia, what happened to her affected those closest to her, and through them, the audience. That emotional connection makes what happened to Delia even more devastating.
Delia’s death is the catalyst that will not only force a visceral reaction with viewers, but shake up the canvas with the fallout from the accident. How do you survive the death of a child? It’s something no parent should ever have to experience, but The Young and the Restless is forcing the audience to ask themselves what they would do; how they’d react in such situation.
For months, Y&R has been rather heavy-handed in playing up Billy’s close relationship with his daughter. As Billy and Dylan bonded over being parents, Billy repeatedly stressed the joys and difficulties that come with becoming a father. For Billy, becoming Delia’s father was one of the greatest achievements of his life. He was a better man because of her and he cherished every moment with her. The more he spoke of her importance in his life, the more I was convinced she wouldn’t live to see 2014. Delia’s purpose wasn’t only to be a prop in Billy’s life, she also a factor in Chloe’s decision to end her marriage to Kevin. Delia continued to try and push her mom and Kevin back together, and it seemed to be working.
What worked against Delia’s favor was the situation with Chelsea and Adam’s newborn son, Connor. Predictably, Connor developed an eye disorder and would need a cornea transplant. Soaps don’t usually tell transplant stories in real time, usually a traumatic event leads to the rather immediate rescue of whoever was in peril. Adam was willing to throw whatever money it took to move ahead on the transplant list, but it just wasn’t possible. The situation was clear for Chelsea, as she wrestled with the reality of what hoping for a donor meant – someone would have to lose their life for her son to lead a normal one.
It was one hour of carefully crafted, intentional, emotional torture. It was as if script writer Amanda L. Beall set out to methodically wear down your emotions, ensuring that each segment would leave you a little more broken than before. There was no way Billy could have foreseen that stopping for ice cream after Delia’s play would lead to such a horrible tragedy. Much like real life, these kinds of cruel twists of fate can happen in the blink of an eye.
As the minutes slowly ticked away, Billy sat by his daughter’s side as her entire life flashed before his eyes – from childhood innocence to motherhood – it was five, excruciatingly long minutes (Genoa City time) that will haunt Billy for the rest of his life. Even though I knew something like this was coming, I didn’t prepare myself for the emotional toll the episode would take on my psyche.
“Sweetheart, I’m not mad about the dog. Just–you gotta answer me sweetheart,” he said in a worried tone. “Dee where are you?” His tone soon turned to that of frustration, “Alright Dee, I’m gonna count to three. One..two..” But before he could finish, he spotted the hat Delia dropped in the street. Soon after, he spotted his daughter’s lifeless body lying on the side of the road. “No. No. No. No. Hey, baby, baby, I’m here,” he says, trying to comfort his daughter. “I’m here. Daddy’s here.” His voice breaks as he lets out a bloodcurdling scream for help.
For the next five minutes, Billy talked to Delia about anything and everything. Whether it was trying to will her awake, by telling her about the party he and Vicky were planning for her, taking the training wheels off her bike, reminding her of the time they wished on stars and made magic happen; he remind himself of the great times they had while also envisioning the perfect future she’d have once she beats what happened to her.
In Billy’s perfect world, his nuclear family is happy and healthy. Over the course of his visions, he sees seven poignant moments in her future life. Returning home to celebrate her acting debut, her first date, graduating from college, running his restaurant as a father-daughter establishment, her wedding, the birth of her first child and ultimately her leaving him and Genoa City for a new life.
Through his visions, Victoria is by his side as they raise Delia, Johnny and another daughter – building the happy home he’s always wanted. Victor is no threat to their happiness – in fact, he’s such a non-issue that Delia even refers to him as ‘Grandpa’. In his perfect world, the only life he sees for himself is one with Delia. But as each minute passes by, it becomes more evident that such a future won’t exist for her. And it’s devastating to watch.
What underscored the enormity of Billy’s panic was the repeated close-ups of his cell phone. Whoever decided to include that deserves special recognition. When I realized the reason the behind it, I broke down even more. We’ve all been in situations where time seems to move at a snail’s pace, especially when we wish it would speed up. To make matters worse was Billy’s wallpaper – an image of him and Delia during a happy moment.
Billy Miller delivered a heart wrenching performance that should not only guarantee an Emmy nomination, but a sure win for Outstanding Lead actor. From the moment Billy realized Delia was missing, he took viewers on a rollercoaster of emotions –anger, fear, disbelief and agony. I felt the pain he was conveying with his performance. I don’t have any children at the moment, and when I do, I hope I never have to experience the anguish he projected onscreen.
It’ll be tough to get through this week’s episodes and I don’t know if I’ll be able to. Friday’s episode wrecked me to my core and I never want to feel that way again. The Young and the Restless accomplished the mission it set out to do, a little too well. Soaps are a medium in which we let these characters into our home five days a week. It’s as if the characters become an extension of who we are; like we know them due to our personal attachment. When you take viewers on a journey and tell stories that affect them on a deep, emotional level – you’re doing something right.
Friday’s episode was a representation of the power of good storytelling. Job well done.
Omar White-Nobles is the Executive Editor for TVSource Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @SourceRyan to discuss soaps, The Tomorrow People, Scandal and more. Also follow TVSource Magazine on Twitter at @TVSource.