One Life to Live’s Robert Ford has committed reprehensible acts since he appeared in Llanview, and luring a mentally ill Jessica into his bed is assuredly the most vile. But was it rape? And can he be redeemed?
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As we enter February sweeps, it appears one of the big reveals headwriter, Ron Carlivati, has planned for One Life to Live will be that the true biological daddy of Jessica Buchanan Brennan’s son, Ryder, is Robert Ford instead of Brody Lovett. That very unpleasant turn of events for Jessica will be very controversial, for many reasons, not the least of which are the circumstances surrounding baby Ryder’s conception.
Poor fragile Jessica suffered a mental breakdown when her own biological father, Mitch Laurence, gave her electroshock treatments to force her into submission so that he could impregnate her with his own child. Although Jessica was rescued before Mitch could “achieve” his objective, the trauma of her near rape caused her to regress to a seventeen year-old with no memories of the last 10+ years of her life. To keep a long and absurd story short, it was during the throes of Jessica’s latest in a long string of mental illnesses that Robert Ford, fully aware of her damaged psyche, lured her into his bed and took her nouveau virginity and it now appears conceived a child with her.
Robert Ford did many reprehensible things upon arriving in Llanview, and the writers have made considerable effort to turn the character around and to convince the audience that he’s really not such a bad guy. The major hurdle to Ford’s redemption and transition into a Romeo is what many viewers believe is the “rape” of Jessica. In reference to a different character Carlivati is quoted in the latest edition of Soaps In Depth “I always see the possibility for redemption in every character. So I’m never afraid to take them pretty far, because it’s always interesting to see how they can come back from that. Hopefully the audience will go along the journey with us”. My personal observation is that a large portion of the audience is NOT willing to go along the journey to Ford’s redemption because for those viewers, rape is not a crime from which there can be redemption, and for those viewers Carlivati’s insistence on telling this redeemed rapist story AGAIN is wearing thin. The general revulsion I’m seeing from the viewing audience toward Ford will only be compounded if my suspicions that Jessica’s alter Tess rears her head again prove correct.
I know that I am in the minority in that I do not believe Ford raped Jessica. I’m not talking about the legal definition of rape here because 1) I am not a legal expert and 2) legality is such a flimsy concept on soaps where characters commit all kinds of criminal acts and unless they’re being written off the show they rarely are arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned so I have a hard time getting all bogged down in the criminality of characters’ behaviors. I am only referring to my personal view of the moral distinction and my opinion that rape is one of those horrible terms like genocide that should be reserved for specific acts, in this case sexual activity that is forced or coerced. Certainly it is beyond vile to seize upon a person’s mental illness as an opportunity to seduce them or lure them into a sexual relationship they would refuse if their judgment were not impaired.
I fully understand why many viewers believe that Jessica’s mental illness prohibited her from giving “informed consent” and that is why her willingness, if not eagerness, to sleep with Ford does not qualify as consensual, and therefore, at least morally, meets the standard of rape. I find the term consent, in this particular case, to be ill-defined and ambiguous. Jessica was not forced to have sex, and she was not really coerced. She had the mental judgment of a 17 year-old (not a 30 year old) and while that certainly impacted her decision making, she still was capable of making a choice as are many 17 year olds who are choosing to have sex. That in no way mitigates Ford’s repulsive decision to take advantage of her, but he took no overt action to create the conditions of her impairment, and he didn’t force or coerce her to engage in sexual activity. This is not a situation where a guy drugged or got a woman so drunk she couldn’t refuse his advances as demonstrated by the fact that Jessica had the capability to say “No!” and when she did Ford complied.
Nevertheless, my observation is that most people do believe Robert Ford raped Jessica and I suspect that is going to be an insurmountable obstacle to this story moving forward. Mr. Carlivati has already hinted that Jessica will suffer yet another set back to her mental health and her alter Tess will emerge once again. I believe it will be written in part to promote a romance between Tess and Robert Ford. Mr. Carlivati has proven willing, if not absolutely determined, to tell stories with a rape to romance element, and this presents an irresistible opportunity to tell just that kind of story again. Robert Ford will be right up party girl Tess’s alley, and I can see her seducing him as she seduced Nash, and Jared, and a whole host of unwitting men in her first run on the show (because the collective IQ of Llanview plummets at least 20 points every time she appears). This time Robert will be the jilted lover on the rebound because his current girlfriend is exiting and leaving him in the lurch.
I’m sure a heartbroken Robert Ford will be unable to resist Tess’s powers of seduction and very likely will fall head over heels for her, just as Nash once did. The problem with selling this romance to the audience is that unlike Nash, Robert will know that Tess is just a manifestation of Jessica’s mental illness, and that will simply reinforce a large portion of the audience’s perception that Ford is a rapist. It will not matter that Tess will very likely be the aggressor, and perhaps may even be using Ford for her own ends. He will not be perceived as a victim, but as the rapist who is once again violating a woman who is incapable of consensual sex because she’s mentally impaired.
Soap writers obviously thrive on controversy and none more so than Ron Carlivati. This story, although slightly less repugnant than the “rapemance” between Todd and Marty, will certainly fire up the audience and be a hot topic of debate, and as we’ve heard “Any Buzz is Good Buzz.” I cannot be sure if it is arrogance, ignorance or brilliance but I am sure that Carlivati will find this story to be great soap, and if the audience doesn’t go along for the journey, it will be their fault for not having the good taste to know great soap when they have it. I am willing to bet that it will be successful by the standards of the powers that be, because they continue to tell variations of this story over and over again and I can only assume they consider it successful storytelling. I agree with Mr. Carlivati that a good writer has to stretch the limits for the characters and take them as far as he can, because otherwise the show winds up with a bunch of bland characters that are neither villainous nor heroic and that gets really boring.
The character of Todd Manning proves that even rapists can be made sympathetic and rootable, but it must be noted that it took years and a prison term and several heroic acts for Todd to strike that chord with the audience, and a portion of the audience never bought his redemption. The question remains can Ford be redeemed with so little foundation, and without remorse or suffering any consequences for violating Jessica? I don’t have the answer and I am getting my earplugs ready to drown out the screams of outrage I anticipate while I wait to see if Carlivati has the skill to write a story that will achieve that end.
For further clarification on this columnist’s views about character development and redemption see: https://tvsourcemagazine.com/2010/04/1862-the-not-so-good-wife/