Soap operas have been around ever since broadcasting began, with the first of its kind dating back to a 1930 radio show based in Chicago. The term is born of the fact that soaps and detergents frequently advertised on early radio dramas, aimed at housewives who typically listened to these shows while doing the washing up in the evening. The melodramatic nature of this particular brand of entertainment – evident in both the stories and the acting style – provoked the ‘opera’ addendum.
If you’ve ever been stuck at home watching daytime television for any period of time, you’ve probably fallen victim to the compulsive nature of at least one soap opera. American favourites include “All My Children”, “As the World Turns”, “The Young and the Restless”, or “One Life to Live” – soap operas which have played a major role in North America’s television culture. It’s not just an American phenomenon, however: Britain and Australia boast some of the longest-running soap operas in history, among them the national television treasure of the UK, “Coronation Street” which has been on air for well over fifty years.
To maintain frequent episodes and a dedicated fan base, soap opera writers have to keep their storylines interesting, dramatic and unpredictable – which leads to often unrealistic twists in the plot. These plot twists can be so outrageous that even M. Night Shyamalan would blush; if the plot is kitsch enough, sometimes it can even work its way out of soap opera fandom to make national news.
The following are ten of the most surprising plot twists to grace the soap opera airwaves; some were met with joy from fans, while some appalled viewers. From cases of mistaken identity to demonic possession, these plot twists are representative of what we all love to hate about the classic soap opera.
9. General Hospital – The Dream That Cured Cancer
Dreams have the ability to do a lot of things, and in the world of “General Hospital”, apparently they have the abilities to cure all ailments. At one point in this bizarre show, a character – Emily Quartermaine – became afflicted with breast cancer. She attempted to drive her boyfriend Zander away (to save him from her suffering, of course) by pretending she was romantically involved with Nikolas, who was married to Lydia. Convoluted enough already. But…
Emily then had to forgo finishing her chemo treatment as it was affecting her immune system too severely. At this point, she discovers that Nikolas has fallen in love with her, though Emily ended up marrying Zander. Phew! Yet, Nikolas’ love had the power to heal her; while she was unconscious, Emily had a dream that she was kissing Nikolas, and when she awoke from her dream, she was cured of cancer. Magic.
8. As the World Turns: Nice Girl Turns Bad
Barbara Ryan was known to be a heroine and overall nice lady on As The World Turns. But all it took were two straws to break the camel’s back: After experiencing an explosion that left her injured and disfigured, and finding out that her husband Craig was using her for her money, Barbara snapped. As she unraveled, she committed fraud, attempted murder, kidnapping, and even corrupted her children to commit heinous acts. The heroine that viewers knew and loved was gone forever.
7. Passions – Valerie / Vincent
Mentally unstable Vincent Clarkson was a sometimes-female, sometimes-male who blackmailed and stalked his victims. Vincent had numerous affairs that included a relationship with his own uncle as well as his father (who impregnated him). Vincent had an alter-ego by the name of Valerie, and would wear a mask when taking on her identity (which was how he was able to commit his numerous affairs). After Vincent gives birth in the kitchen, he resumes his murderous rampage as revenge against his parents for abandoning him as a baby. We understand if you’re lost.
6. The Bold & the Beautiful – The Incest Loop
This plot twist is practically incestuous. For years, it was believed that Bridget Forrester was the child of Ridge Forrester and Brooke Logan. But then Sheila Carter revealed that Bridget was actually Ridge’s sister. It doesn’t stop there though. The declaration was later reversed when it turned out that Eric Forrester was not Bridget’s father. So, this alone shocked the soap opera world. But then things took a creepy turn: Bridget and Ridge became intimate. Even though they weren’t technically related, the fact that there was a father/daughter and brother/sister relationship at some point in their lives makes this plot twist a bit disturbing.
5. All My Children: A Surprise Reunion
“All My Children” produced groundbreaking television twice in one plot line, even if it made no sense. In the 1970’s, the character of Erica Kane had an abortion of the child she conceived with Jeff Martin – a scandalous move for any TV program at this time. Of course, an abortion is a very final decision – but not in the world of “All My Children”. In 2005, the plot line was revisited to reveal that the ‘aborted’ fetus was in fact transferred into the infertile wife of Dr. Madden. So, the child was alive and grown up, and was able to reunite with Erica and Jeff…
4. The Guiding Light: Evil Clone
Hold on to your hats, this is a plot twist that ages and moves very quickly in a short period of time. When Reva Shayne died in a 1998 episode, her lover Josh Lewis had her cloned by Dr. Burke. Reva’s clone was appropriately named Dolly (the same name given to the first cloned sheep), and was able to age several years thanks to an aging serum by Dr. Burke.
But then it turned out that Reva wasn’t really dead, but instead held hostage by Josh’s ex, Annie Dutton. Dolly felt threatened by Reva, so she kidnapped her. But then Dolly committed suicide by taking an overdose of the aging serum.
3. Ryan’s Hope – The Kidnapping Gorilla
Ryan’s Hope was a daytime soap opera that ran from 1975-1989 and had one of the weirdest plot twists to hit even the most melodramatic series. One of the main characters, Delia, was kidnapped by a gorilla named Prince Albert. The producers didn’t use a real gorilla, but instead, a man dressed in a gorilla suit, so fans of the show were confused as to whether they were watching a soap opera or the Carol Burnett Show. Perhaps the show’s cancellation is no surprise, if it was resorting to plot points such as this.
2. Days of Our Lives – The Salem Stalker
It seemed that in the early 2000’s, the popular show “Days of Our Lives” was in trouble. The situation was desperate enough that producers brought back James Reilly as the head writer. His solution? Kill off nearly everyone in the show…
…Or not. As soap opera fans were sent into a near panic over their favorite characters being killed off one-by-one, it later emerged that these characters were fine. They had actually been sent off into a secret community called Melaswen (“New Salem” spelled backwards), and the “Salem Stalker” had been brainwashed into thinking she was really was killing her family and friends.
1. Crossroads – It Was All A Dream
One of the worst plot twists of all time heralded the end of one of the most painful soap opera revivals of all time. In the UK, Crossroads – set in a motel in the Midlands – ran throughout the 1980s. It became ruefully loved for its dire production values and unashamed ‘cheesiness’. A misguided attempt to revive the series over ten years after it ended was met by distaste among fans, who cited a lack of cohesion with the original series and poor plot resolution as chief criticisms of the new, glossier Crossroads in 2001. A couple of flailing years followed, and eventually producers called it a day. They finished the series in a way which clearly demonstrated their consistent lack of respect for plot coherency when the final episode revealed that the entire two year series revival had been the daydream of a bored supermarket worker. Ouch.