General Hospital‘s Elizabeth Webber has been a fan favorite on the sudser for 16 years. Most of this adoration can be credited to the character’s talented portrayer Rebecca Herbst. However, despite the popularity of the character, it seems as if every time her story is about to move to the front burner, it fizzles out. Is this an affliction unique to the character of Elizabeth? Why is the she stuck in the perpetual state of the non-story story? What can be done to reset, revamp and refocus the character to make her relevant again?
I got the idea to do a column on GH’s Elizabeth several weeks ago. In fact, I started writing this several weeks ago, then something surprising happened – I was overcome with writer’s block. It was an odd sort of writer’s block; one exclusive to this particular topic. No matter how much I brainstormed, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Why was I at such a loss for words when it came to a subject I was passionate about? That’s when suddenly, it hit me. It was if the fog clouding my mind dissipated, leaving the only logical answer. It wasn’t me, it’s Elizabeth. Elizabeth is the problem!
I suspected I might not be the only one having difficulties writing about Elizabeth. Perhaps soap writers shared this same pain. It seems odd that a character who evokes such a passionate reaction from viewers, especially one with rich familial ties to history, could be difficult to write for. Alas, that seems to be the case. I’m not advocating anyone to throw in the towel and stop caring for the character. On the contrary, I think where there’s difficulty lies an opportunity for great success. Resolving the perpetual state of the non-story story doesn’t mean carelessly dumping the character into a storyline just to have one. Words needs to be found for her again – words that find a way to reinvigorate a stale character with some much needed character direction, self-exploration, growth and a newfound relevance in the Port Charles universe of 2014.
For 16 years, Elizabeth Webber has been a General Hospital staple – harkening back to her debut as a wild-child teenager hell bent on wreaking havoc on her sister’s love life. In a tragic moment, her life was forever changed when, on the night of the school’s Valentine’s dance, she was brutally raped. This was a turning point for the character as she was no longer the over confident bad girl, but a girl struggling to rebuild her life in the aftermath of a horrific event. Through her journey of recovery, Elizabeth morphed into the role of the tragic heroine.
It was a role that was further defined during her first major pairing with Luke and Laura Spencer’s son, Lucky. The pairing, somewhat of a modern take on GH’s most popular super couple, became synonymous with the character. Their on-again, off-again storied romance has lasted through various recasts, exits and interpretations of Lucky; ultimately suffering as a result of inconsistencies in character motivation, actions and execution. What started out promising never quite reached the epic status afforded to the “L&L” that came before them, partly due to the above mentioned reasons. Their last round ended terribly thanks to a terribly plotted story that resulted in Elizabeth having an affair with Lucky’s half-brother Nikolas.
She hasn’t faired so well with other men either. As a former bad girl, Elizabeth has routinely fallen for the irresistible charm and allure of many Port Charles rebels. Failed relationships with Jason, Ric, Zander and most recently, Port Charles’ most notorious black sheep, AJ Quartermaine, all ended in heartbreak and left the character more guarded as a result.
This leads me to Elizabeth’s children. Cameron, the eldest, is rarely seen, left behind by the SORAS bus that has characters born shortly before and after (Morgan and Molly) playing supporting roles in other stories and even driving some of their own. Her middle child, Jake, was tragically killed in a drunk-driving accident a few year ago. Her youngest, Aiden, is also rarely seen. With none her children’s fathers actively involved in their lives, she’s left to carry the weight as a single mother.
Most, if not all of Elizabeth storylines for the last 10 years have been romantic triangles, dark tragedies and who’s the daddy takes that left the character more damaged than before. As a result of everything the character has endured, not only has she lost her confidence, but she’s lost her relevance.
I doubt there’s anyone who would disagree that Elizabeth is in desperate need of a hard reset – one that doesn’t involve her falling into a new relationship. I know there are fans out there that eagerly want to have Elizabeth in a relationship. Quite frankly, a relationship is the last thing the character needs. Elizabeth needs to focus on herself, the woman she wants to be and the life she wants for her children. Most important of all, she needs to find her voice. There’s no need to embroil Elizabeth in yet another triangle that leads to her decimation in the end.
I hope the character’s absence these last couple of months, into the non-story story abyss, is part of a plan to rest the character before embarking on a new tale. In order to move forward, the show must go back to basics. Not every character needs to be in a pairing to be exciting. Sometimes the best stories are the ones that are most relatable. Who can’t relate to taking a good, hard look and themselves and asking, “What the f— am I doing with my life?” We’ve all been there. It’s time for Elizabeth to go there too. Drop Nikolas and AJ to the backburner of Elizabeth’s perpetual non-story story existence and focus on this instead.
Pull from Elizabeth’s storied, complicated, dynamic, legacy and tragic past. Don’t be afraid to revamp or re-introduce aspects long forgotten, especially if it makes sense. Like Laura before her, Elizabeth has been defined by who her lover is at the time. Luke could be with Laura, but Luke was and still is, allowed to have adventures outside of his love interest. Who is Elizabeth without a love interest? Who is Elizabeth, the woman? What are her goals? What is her passion? What does she stand for?
Prior to becoming a nurse to support her family, Elizabeth was an artist and model. Somewhere between bedpans and wrangling her children as a single mother, she no longer has time to be an artist. Pull from her past to help shape the woman she is today. There are two characters on canvas who can change this for her – Ava Jerome and the infamous Franco Frank.
Ava Jerome is not only a mob princess and femme fatale, but she she’s also an art dealer in her legitimate profession. Why not have Ava recognize her talent and see dollar signs, encouraging Elizabeth to sell her work in her galleries? Elizabeth put her dreams on hold because life got in the way. How many people have done that in real life? Sometimes you fall in and out of love with someone and end up alone with a family to take care of and bills to play. This is what has happened Elizabeth, and like in real life the character feels a bit worn out. How inspiring would it be to watch Elizabeth’s long forgotten dreams of being an artist finally come true? For those looking for the soapy hook, there’s no reason Ava can’t have an ulterior motive for seeking out Elizabeth’s talents (say using her art as a way to smuggle black market paintings for the Jerome Organization).
Elizabeth is not the only former artist on General Hospital canvas. Reformed serial killer Franco is an artist who has also lost his mojo. Elizabeth and Franco could develop an odd friendship rooted in their love of artistic expression. She would be the person able to look past his flaws and mistakes; knowing all too well the difficulty in trying to atone for past mistakes. She could see him for the man he’s trying to be now, as opposed to the man he was. Of course, this would put her at odds with her friends as they wouldnt be able to understand her creative interest in Franco.
Let’s not forget that Elizabeth is a former Face of Deception. Though the Deception storyline has been on semi-permanent pause since August, what better way to dive back into it than to make Elizabeth the new face of Lucy’s company? With Laura in Paris, Lucy could probably use a little help and Elizabeth could fill that position. Deception could launch itself with a search for a new Face of Deception that could lead them back to the original one. Not only would her aesthetic gifts be of use to Lucy, but her knowledge of health and wellness would make her the perfect candidate for a spokes model. And with ex-lover Nikolas financially backing Deception, it opens the door for potentially revisiting their romantic past down the road.
Just think of the possibilities involved and interactions with other character that could spawn from a Deception angle. Imagine the outrageous Lucy Coe interacting with the more grounded Elizabeth on a regular basis. She could unwittingly get caught up in Lucy romantic complications, which would lead to her examining her own romantic history. There’s also opportunities for work related misadventures with members of the staff such as Milo. The possibilities are endless.
Tapping into Elizabeth’s artistic side is not the only option available. After all she does have a good job as a nurse at the hospital. Why not give her a story centered around her current position rather than having her in the background of Sabrina and Britt’s storylines? There’s more to Elizabeth than just slotting her in the role of a sounding board for Patrick, cheerleader for Sabrina and bitchy quips with Britt.
Play her heavily in the story surrounding the Monica’s dismissal as chief of staff. Watching Monica and others bicker over that spot could lead to Elizabeth mull over possibly advancing her own career. Why not challenge Epiphany (another sadly underutilized character) for the head of nursing position? I would love to see if Elizabeth could hold her own in that sort of battle. Work politics can bring out the worst in everyone and the GH staff wouldn’t be any different. The personnel could be torn between the two, causing some to take sides and making the situation even worse. General Hospital is part of Elizabeth’s family legacy. Her grandfather Steve Hardy was chief of staff and served the hospital for over 30 years! Her grandmother Audrey was a nurse and oversaw the incoming student nurses. Truth be told, it would be nice to see her fight for something she feels she deserves that doesn’t involve staking claim on a man.
If those scenarios aren’t plausible, there’s also Jake’s death to pull inspiration from. He would be seven years old this year if it wasn’t his unfortunate accident. Sadly, Elizabeth’s grief over Jake has never been used to further any character advancement. Rather, Jake’s death hangs over her like a dark cloud of plot convenience — trotted out to demonize her (her breakdown and Lucky’s exit), rationalize her questionable behavior (Not telling Sam about Danny being her son) or used to hurt her (AJ’s alcohol fueled tirade). AJ’s comments last summer could have been used to get the ball rolling in a new direction for the character. Instead, she forgave AJ, stood by him through his initial trial and then disappeared for over a month; No follow through.
With Kevin back in town, use his presence as an opportunity to have Elizabeth become a patient. There are unresolved issues that could be worked out — her guilt over Jake’s death, Lucky abandoning their children to find himself in Ireland, guilt over her feelings for Nikolas, the stress of being a single mother. If you make it interesting, people will watch. GH could use an infusion of a character driven storyline to offset the return from the dead tales, mob wars, baby swaps and reforming serial killers.
General Hospital works best when they mix the show’s rich history with tales of romance, action, adventure, scandal, friendship and hope. Elizabeth and and her fans are in need of some hope. I’m over the storylines that tend to play on her insecurities. In a way, that’s why it never makes sense for her to get the guy in the end.
Now is the time to make a change. Strong female protagonists are the new black (again). I want a smart, sexy and strong Elizabeth Webber in 2014. I want to watch her build the confidence to go after the things she wants in a way that doesn’t involve subterfuge or bickering with other women. This is what needs to happen before she can move on to the next romance. Who knows, maybe a stronger Elizabeth could make a past relationship work. Or maybe a strong Elizabeth will attract the eye of new guy who enjoys those traits in a girlfriend.
What’s on your wish list for Elizabeth? Hit the comments to share your thoughts.