Monday, February 25, 2013

Why Britt Westbourne is no Bobbie Spencer (or Monica Quartermaine)

General Hospital head writer Ron Carlivati is a longtime fan of the show who has done an amazing job turning the program around from a dark, mob-centric hour of violence and misogyny into a fun, relationship-centered, history-respective party of soapy goodness. Sadly, he’s not perfect – although in some episodes he does get close – and never are the faults more glaring than when Dr. Britt Westbourne is on screen. Her latest machinations have had some comparing her to 1978-79 Bobbie Spencer, who pulled similar ploys in her one-sided war against Laura Webber. Similarities could also been seen in some of the tricks Monica Webber pulled in trying to win Rick Webber away from Laura’s mother Lesley. But these comparisons fall flat when a true examination of these characters is done. To recap:

Bobbie Spencer was introduced in 1978, a bubbly student nurse at General Hospital. She immediately became friends with Laura, a high school student who was dating law school student Scotty Baldwin. Laura set up Bobbie with Scotty’s roommate Darren, and they became a couple. Meanwhile, Laura broke up with Scotty and ended up in a tawdry affair with her father’s college best friend, David Hamilton. Bobbie dumped Darren for Scotty. Laura ended up killing David, although her mother Lesley was arrested for the crime and confessed to killing David in self-defense to protect Laura. Laura had blocked the killing from her memory, and when she finally remembered, she ran away to New York City. Scotty found her and saved her from an evil pimp. Shortly thereafter, he broke up with Bobbie and got back together with Laura.

Bobbie was furious. She saw Laura as a privileged princess who had literally gotten away with murder and didn’t deserve Scotty’s love. At the same time, Bobbie had problems of her own. Her history of prostitution was revealed (to the audience, not to other characters), and she was being blackmailed by a former john. Yet she was an outstanding nurse, and she had real friendships with people who loved her, including her roommate Jessie Brewer and Jessie’s beau Dan Rooney. Her biggest flaw, aside from the torment she caused Laura, was that she wasn’t actually in love with Scotty – she saw the law student as a guarantee that she would never have to “go back to Elm Street.”

Monica Quartermaine, who played similar tricks on Lesley Webber in 1976-77, came from a similar background. Although she was never forced to prostitute herself, Monica had grown up in an orphanage as “the kid no one wanted.” Adopted as a teenager by Gail Baldwin, Monica was then forced to deal with the attentions of Gail’s husband, Greg. (story rewrites leave it murky whether their relationship was consensual or statutory or violent rape.) Rick was her first adult relationship (this was also changed in rewrites in 1992), and when he was presumed dead, she was so attached to his family that she married his younger brother Jeff rather than lose touch with Jeff and older sister Terry. When Rick returned from the dead, Monica’s immaturity, due to her lack of supportive, loving relationships as a child, left her incapable of dealing with the situation in an appropriate manner.

Compare these characters with Dr. Britt Westbourne, who….. exactly.

Sure, Patrick’s a good-looking man, but the audience has no clue exactly why Britt is so drawn to him that she would put her medical career in jeopardy to torment a woman she sees as a romantic rival. She has no back story, no friends, no family. She is a one-dimensional nothing.

And sadly, so is Sabrina, the student nurse that Britt has chosen to torment. Unlike Laura or Lesley, who were true romantic rivals and fully fleshed out characters who went head-to-head with Bobbie and Monica, Sabrina is … nice. She has friends, and an off-screen cousin who was a minor character on the show over ten years ago, but other than that, nothing. But everyone loves her and the audience is supposed to root for her because Britt is mean and we all know that eventually she’s going to take off her glasses and then wow! And let’s hope it’s a big wow, because right now Patrick seems more likely to adopt Sabrina than date her.

As this story eats up more and more airtime, it is imperative that viewers be given reasons for Britt’s behavior. The actress recently went on contract, and if she is to fill the huge shoes left by such villainesses as Bobbie, Monica, Heather, and Lucy (all who came from poor backgrounds and had well-established back stories), she cannot do it as a one-dimensional paper doll.

The irony is, of course, that Patrick’s wife Robin, who “died” in a lab explosion a year ago, is not dead at all. The audience knows she’s being held captive by uber-villain Jerry Jacks. So while all this is going on, the only emotionally satisfying conclusion will have both Britt and Sabrina out in the cold while Patrick welcomes his wife home.

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