Reaction to General Hospital‘s decision to resurrect Robert “Franco” Frank has been met with very strong reactions from fans and critics alike. While I found last week’s “shocking” reveal to be rather anticlimactic, I’m most intrigued and excited about the “what now?” – the direction the soap goes from here. Roger Howarth’s role as antagonist creates the opportunity to not only drive from his character’s perspective, but serve as the catalyst for launching new ones for others.
To say Franco’s existence is polarizing would be an understatement. There probably hasn’t been a more universally loathed character on General Hospital in years, but the disdain extended to his portrayer too. James Franco’s performance and subsequent storyline was panned, with many unsure of the reason for telling such a storyline, other than a failed attempt at stunt casting and humoring a bored celebrity.
The serial killer wreaked havoc on Port Charles from the moment he ventured into town. Franco’s obsession with Jason (Steve Burton), and subsequent rejection, led to an almost three year game of cat-and-mouse. Like Jason, Franco was “born” as a result of someone else’s actions – Jason Morgan after AJ’s drunken accident and Franco the serial killer after going to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Somehow that connected them and drove his desire to see them become friends. When rejected, he focused his obsession into a need to hurt Jason. In Franco’s mind, Jason couldn’t understand just how alike they were, all the while carrying the secret knowledge that they were so “alike” because of their twin connection.
With each resurfacing, Franco’s acts of terror became more lethal, more sinister, and he had no remorse for his actions. In three years, he kidnapped numerous people, engaged in psychological warfare and masterminded the rape of Michael in prison and perpetrated the rape of Sam. When Jason killed Franco in January 2012, it was the end of a terrible chapter of GH history, one wrought with a terribly conceived, executed and acted storyline. Fast forward a year later – Franco was revealed to be Jason’s twin brother and his daughter is the key in AJ and Tracy’s battle for control of ELQ. Gone, but still very much a part of the canvas.
I can’t say I agree with head writer Ron Carlivati’s decision to saddle Howarth with James Franco’s ill-conceived character. If I were in his shoes, I would have taken a different approach, something I detailed in a column a few months back. This is an unnecessary uphill battle that Ron, his team and Howarth must contend with. It’s not going to be an easy trek, but the easy path isn’t necessarily the best one.
Any good writer infuses their characters with traits that humanize them. A villain can be a villain yet have some sort of quality that viewers or readers can either relate to or sympathize with to some degree. An element that gives viewers insight to just how this person came to be, and sets up the possibility down the road that said character is more than just the things they’ve done; maybe they’re a product of their environment, upbringing or interactions with others.
This was something briefly touched upon under previous incarnations of Franco during the tenure of former head writers Robert Guza, Jr. and Garin Wolf. Ultimately the reasons for Franco’s psychosis were irrelevant. His role was to serve as the foil to Jason’s protagonist and eventually meet his end at the hands of his Jason. Further developing the character is something that must continue if Franco is to successfully be integrated beyond the “bubble” of Jason and those closest to him.
The writing team faces the unenviable task of turning the ill-conceived, one dimensional character into one that’s viable for the long-term. I don’t mean viable in the sense of a romantic interest (though I’m sure that will come later), but as one who can become fully dimensional whilst being more than just the pre-defined antagonist; fitting him in the scheme of the current narrative. The brilliance in Carlivati’s decision to resurrect Franco lies in the various role he plays for other characters.
For Sam (Kelly Monaco) and Michael (Chad Duell), he served as the target for unresolved anger. They, undeniably the ones most affected by Franco’s machinations, were finally able to confront him for subjecting them to abuse simply because they had Jason’s love. Michael was re-confronted with his rape not only by Franco’s presence, but with the video Franco made with Carter, “proving” at least in Franco’s mind, that he did nothing to hurt Michael.
Michael was disgusted by Franco’s belief that an apology and clarity that he only intended to hurt Jason somehow excused his actions. “[Jason] was like a father to me for the first year of my life and, in his own way, every year after that. He was the best friend that I ever had. He respected me. He trusted me. He protected me from people like you,” he said emotionally. “I only got through the rape because of Jason. He taught me how to be a man. He didn’t judge. He didn’t push. He just listened. How you two could be related absolutely blows my mind, let alone be twins. So, don’t just sit there and say, ‘I only meant to hurt Jason, not you.’ No, screw you!”
The next day, while arguing with Morgan’s girlfriend Kiki (Kristen Alderson), Michael unexpectedly revealed to her that he was raped in prison. That argument led to Kiki understanding why Michael is so protective of his brother, wanting him to enjoy life and not worry about the dark consequences that could befall him if he goes too far.
Franco served as the catalyst for AJ (Sean Kanan) learning about Michael’s imprisonment and rape. AJ, who’s stated all along that Michael would have been better had he not been taken from the Quartermaines, blasted Sonny and Carly for failing to protect Michael. “You know why he went to jail? Because of whose kid he was. He was Sonny Corinthos’ kid. This is on you, and this is on you. You gotta be kidding me. This? This is who you chose to be Michael’s father? This is who was so much better than me?” He continued on: “You took our boy through hell, both of you. I hope you’re proud of yourselves.”
AJ already hates Sonny (Maurice Benard) and Carly (Laura Wright) for forcing him to sign away his parental rights, but this development added fuel to a fire that was beginning to simmer down in recent months. AJ also attacked Franco when he found out that Michael was raped because of Franco’s actions. Later, AJ tells Monica (Leslie Charleson) about Franco being alive, and his role in Michael’s attack; an incident that Monica knew nothing about. Meanwhile, Carly’s on the warpath and scheming with Sonny to find a way to eradicate Franco, which will end up affecting Shawn (Sean Blakemore) and Alexis (Nancy Lee Grahn) as well.
There’s also Franco’s role involving the Quartermaine family and the fight for ELQ. As Edward’s grandchild, he’s entitled his 12 percent ownership of Edward’s stock and a seat on the board. We already Franco sabotaged the Pickle-Lila segment on The Chew. Does that means he’s making a play for ELQ? If he does, will it force AJ & Tracy (Jane Elliot) to form a united front to keep him out? A sub-storyline in that deals with his estranged daughter Lauren Frank aka Lauren “Kiki” Jerome. Will she want a relationship with him after she discovers the terrible things he’s done?
Ultimately, Franco is on a quest for something he will never be able to attain – absolution. Franco seeks it from those who won’t give it and the brother who can’t. Not because he suddenly realized what he’d done was wrong, but because the game was no longer fun. He chose to become a martyr, letting Jason
“kill” him so he could set him free from the madness he inflicted upon his life; allowing Franco to be reborn elsewhere. But, as Franco said, “And then Jason goes and gets himself killed. I mean, really — who saw that one coming? Here we seem so invulnerable. And to think — right? — After all the crap that I put him through, he goes and gets himself shot in the back and drowns. I mean, how can that be?”
It wasn’t until after Jason died that he realized what he’d done to Jason and those he’d loved was wrong. It took for the object of his obsession to cease to exist before the epiphany happened. “That’s when it hits me. I was wrong. I made a mistake. All I wanted to do was get closer to Jason, and all I did was make an enemy of him. And I couldn’t undo it. But what I could do was try and make things right with all of the people that Jason loved.” But as Carly told him, he obviously hadn’t changed, considering he had to play one last game on all of them.
Without risk, there is no reward. Carlivati is making a huge gamble with this Franco storyline, and though it’s too soon to tell if it was worth it, I am intrigued. Franco’s resurgence creates a fascinating dynamic involving many characters that’s already had ripple effects on the canvas. It’s with caution that I’m approaching this storyline.
I want a character driven storyline to emerge from the wreckage left in the wake of Hurricane Franco’s previous visits. This story should be about the Quartermaines and the impact Franco’s arrival will have on them as a family, their friends and their company.
Don’t be afraid to use characters like Kevin (Jon Lindstrom) to delve into Franco’s psychosis. If anyone would know crazy when they see it, it’s Kevin. Don’t be afraid to have those directly affected by Franco’s actions hate him. The audience will want it and need it to believe that the town won’t miraculously forgive him just because he’s going to be a regular character now. Don’t “redeem” the character and try to turn him into some anti-hero or protagonist.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to end the story prematurely if the audience in large has rejected it. If in 6 months, the story isn’t progressing the way, please end it. Don’t try to force it. Cut your losses, wrap up the storyline and move on. Losing an actor of Howarth’s caliber would be a blow to the show, but one monkey doesn’t stop the show.
The audience needs to trust that their voices are being heard. I know sometimes it’s tough to spot the constructive complaints and criticism in a sea of those hurling nasty, vitriolic comments; a sea of voices who believe they’re entitled to what they want, when they want, exactly how they want it done. Listen to the fans, listen to their feedback – good and bad – ultimately they just want a good show. Hopefully this storyline can deliver it.
Where do you stand on Franco’s return? Tell me your thoughts in the comment section and it may be used in a follow up column in a few weeks.