The mob has always been a part of General Hospital’s canvas but they weren’t always portrayed as the heros. Audiences were never told to root for Frank Smith, for example. The criminals and murderers were seen as villains. This was before Sonny Corinthos (Maurice Benard) was introduced in 1993.
Sonny Corinthos began as a deeply flawed character. Anyone who dared to love him paid a price for it. He had a troubled childhood and wanted a child of his own to give the love that he was never given. Though his vocation was a violent one, there was a vulnerability to him that made him complex. This was shown to audiences through his tumultuous love affair with the beautiful Brenda Barrett (Vanessa Marcil). Brenda loved “Sonny the man” more than “Sonny the mobster.”
He was a fascinating character because of his constant struggle between good and evil. Viewers were intrigued as Sonny straddled this line and was assigned devastating consequences should he ever cross it. There was a sense that he wanted to do the right thing, yet wasn’t always sure what that was, something many of us can relate to albeit on a more grounded, real-life level. Unfortunately the years were not kind to this character and even less kinder to the characters that surrounded him as a result. The Sonny that Brenda and fans fell in love with was stripped away, leaving behind the mobster with nonredeemable qualities as the flawed, tragic anti-hero of a man became less and less. His traumatic childhood and vulnerabilities were used to excuse cruel behavior rather than grow the character. He became stagnant in this new incarnation.
When Sonny hurt someone it became okay because it was done by a (very flexible) code. He didn’t regret it or feel guilt because, under the pen of previous writers, he was entitled to a flawed set of rules which allowed him to engage in villainous behavior without having to suffer the consequences of such behavior.
The characteristics of Sonny’s desire to have a family were also skewed. Sonny’s dream of being a loving husband and father originally made him sympathetic. When he lost his pregnant wife Lily (Lilly Melgar) our hearts broke with his. It was this unrequited longing that led Sonny to commit the horrific act of stealing Michael (Chad Duell) from AJ Quartermaine (Sean Kanan and later Billy Warlock).
After blaming AJ for the loss of his unborn child with Carly (currently played by Laura Wright), Sonny ruthlessly hung AJ on a meat hook, taunting the recovering alcoholic with bottles of booze for days until he forcibly signed away his parental rights forever. Yet AJ was the one who was vilified, simply for wanting a relationship with his child, a child stolen from him by a notorious criminal and his bed wench. AJ was a mess of a man who was troubled with his own demons, but he was never allowed to know what it would be like to have a child change your life, until years later. Carly unilaterally took it upon herself to decide that Tony, Jason and later Sonny would all be better options as fathers for her son, rather than letting AJ sink or swim on his own. The meat hook incident wasn’t treated as a bad thing, as Sonny was only doing what he thought was best to protect the child he’d come to love with the woman he loved.
The devotion imbued within the character during his romance with Brenda was also removed. Instead of him going through the pain, heartache, joy, happiness, and obsession of pursuing a woman, he turned into a total playboy. Sonny now has a lengthy list of women he’s shared his bed with. None of these relationships had the romantic appeal and rooting factor that viewers want to see in a romance. We never believed he loved Angel, Hannah, Faith, Sam, Jordan, Emily, Claudia, Claire, Olivia, Ava, etc.
The fact that Sonny was all of a sudden blessed with the ability to impregnate every woman he came into contact with and now had kids popping up in Port Charles right and left became almost a running gag. The man who had once wanted nothing more than to have a child now had a bunch of children and didn’t care how his life choices directly affected their safety and well-being.
The Sonny who wanted to be a loving father, who we all believed would be a loving father, failed as a father. He intentionally shot eldest son Dante at point-blank range in the chest. This despicable act was whitewashed as viewers were told it wasn’t his fault because Dante had not yet been revealed to be his son. That still never made it okay. He ignored his daughter Kristina until it served him, though he didn’t seem to have an issue nearly killing her in a car bomb because he disapproved of her friendship with Johnny Zacchara. There’s Morgan, his youngest, the one “most like him.,” who feels the most of Sonny’s control and manipulation. And then there is Michael, “his son,” his namesake, who he stole.
Michael has tried to smother AJ with a pillow, bought a gun when he was a kid, accidentally shot a woman, murdered a woman with an axe, and shot a mob hitman. He has been put into a coma from a gunshot wound and gone to prison where he was sexually assaulted. While Sonny and Carly want to convince everyone that stealing him from AJ somehow protected him from a far worse fate, it’s simply a flawed rationale that’s not grounded in reality or fact. AJ was an alcoholic and a screw up who made bad life decisions as a result, but the Quatermaines aren’t mobsters. Michael would have had the love and protection of his grandparents, uncle, aunts, and cousins — those that weren’t killed as a result of Sonny’s business that is.
Despite all this Michael has continued to look at Sonny through rose-colored glasses, to the point were it became overly naive and even a little bit insane. He seemed brainwashed by the environment for which he was raised. Sonny needs to have repercussions for many things but what he has done to Michael is the worst of all his crimes.
Michael’s real father AJ had returned to Port Charles with goal of building a relationship with his son. Michael learned of how he had been taken away from AJ and a heartbroken AJ had learned of how unprotected Michael had been under Sonny’s control. Though initially upset, this was not enough for Michael to turn his back on Sonny. It did however lead to Michael spending quality time with AJ and the Quartermaines. He moved away from the crime world and into the corporate world as he worked along side AJ to gain control of ELQ. Then Sonny murdered AJ.