I’ll be honest with you: I used to hate weddings. Now, because I can have one of my own, I guess, I’ve come to embrace them — real or pretend. For example, I’ve done a lot of television watching and crying for the last week as Will Horton and Sonny Kiriakis got married on the daytime drama Days of our Lives.
This is NOT normal behavior. Certainly not from this curmudgeon!
But I can’t help it.
A veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of Days of our Lives’ royalty flank Sonny (Freddie Smith) and Will (Guy Wilson) at their wedding. On the far left: Marlena Evans (Deidre Hall) and Justin and Adrienne Kiriakis (Wally Kurth and Judi Evans). On the right: Sami Brady (Alison Sweeney), Lucas Horton (Bryan Dattilo) and Kate Roberts (Lauren Koslow).
And it’s a perfect example of why I’ve always been a fan of the genre of serial storytelling. It’s not because of any giant spectacle or sweeps month ratings grab: it’s because these important stories, told slowly over time can fundamentally alter behavior, lead public perception and change people’s lives.
I came out as a soap opera lover as a teen — years before I came out as gay — and I even studied soaps in college! Often, it’s been a maddening relationship. While soaps have sometimes been on the cutting edge telling some sociologically important stories, in others they have been unbearably slow in embracing a changing society.
Some Gay Soap History
Let’s take LGBT issues, for instance. In the seven years — yes, only seven — since the first gay male kiss on daytime, we’ve come to the first same-sex wedding*. That’s an impressively short amount of time, especially given how late Days came to the party by introducing Sonny Kiriakis in 2011 as an openly gay man and developing the long, sometimes painfully slow arc of Will Horton coming to terms with his own sexuality and falling for Sonny.
No, I won’t fault Days for finally coming to the table around the desert course, because they seized the zeitgeist by the horns, stopped the music and reset the conventions of the genre and committed to telling a contemporary love story in modern terms using today’s social norms and not relying on unfounded paralytic fears of an older, less wiser, generation. When so many people were predicting the end of soaps, Ken Corday did the right thing in trying to save his: he decided to shift the focus to contemporary values, begin to compress the time it took to tell stories in serial drama and let the naysayers be damned.
It’s the only way you make change happen. It’s the only way you become relevant.
No one should wonder — at all — why Days of our Lives won the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Drama last year.
Freddie Smith and Guy Wilson portray Sonny Kiriakis and Will Horton, daytime’s happiest gay supercouple. Would that we all looked this good in our own wedding pictures!
Why We Love Them
Nick Fallon, nefarious ‘smarmy’ evildoer — assayed brilliantly by Blake Berris — tried, in the days leading up to the wedding, to undermine Will’s confidence, something that was pretty easy to do in the past. He said that the reason that people in Salem were captivated by Will and Sonny was that it was a good old-fashioned romance where the worldly guy (Sonny) came back home and fell in love with the golly-gee wholesomeness of the hometown “total newbie” (Will). And, do you know what? He was right.
That’s why we love this story. It IS a good old-fashioned romance. We love this story for the same reasons that people have been crying at the end of romantic movies, plays and television shows since those media were invented: humans fall in love with love and we love nothing more than watching people fall in love. Oh, and we love happy endings.
When Sonny begins to come up the aisle, on the arm of his mother, there’s a moment when you think he may bolt and run up to Will. His is a character that knows his own mind and he knows what he wants and he has always known that he wanted Will more than anyone or anything else.
When Will sees Sonny coming up the aisle, realizing that he’s there for him, it almost takes his breath away. Forever questioning, forever wondering about his self-worth, forever feeling inferior, you realize at this moment that Will gets all of his strength from Sonny. Sonny has infused him with power, allowed him to be himself, allowed him to grow up and become his own man.
When Will says at the end of his vows, “But most of all, Sonny, I love you,” everyone knows how full of truth and how redolent with meaning that short sentence is.
Wilson and Smith’s off-screen friendship and chemistry along with their respect for Will and Sonny’s relationship infuses and elevates their on-screen portrayals.| Image: @THEguywilson
Telling the Tale
The writing of the wedding arc has been as superlative as it gets throughout — careful and nuanced — and, in the very best traditions of serials, reaching deep into the story for anchors to bring everything together. Tad references getting told off by Victor Kiriakis in his best man speech; that’s from the summer of 2011, when Sonny came to town. Victor’s own arc from telling Tad “no one talks to a Kiriakis like that” to showing a bigoted associate the door with a “Family values, my ass!” has shown masterful continuity.
And more than that, the short scene in the park on the way to the wedding with Will and T seems like a throwaway, but, without saying it aloud, what Will is remembering is exactly where Sonny kissed him for the first time — an occurrence that began after Tad disowns Will. Then comes Sonny’s kiss, which Will is not ready for, leading Will to sleep with Gabi, T punching out Sonny, Gabi getting pregnant and setting the whole plot in motion.
In other words, they played the long game. Soaps NEVER play the long game. It’s so astonishing, I can’t even think of a time when a story was so well plotted and so well written in a multi-year arc. I was infuriated — just infuriated — when Gabi got pregnant by Will because it seemed an easy way to bust up Will and Sonny’s nascent relationship with every tiresome, hackneyed, eye-rolling, old-fashioned soap opera cliche in the book. Why? Because soaps NEVER play the long game. But here? Son of a bitch, if they haven’t neatly tied up every loose end.
As such, OF COURSE a reformed T is the best man, standing up for them proudly. OF COURSE Lucas has become one of Will and Sonny’s biggest champions. OF COURSE Marlena is the one to marry them, her long arc with Will’s struggles comprising some of the most special scenes over the last several years. OF COURSE EJ DiMera saves the day for a Kiriakis wedding. OF COURSE Sami, however inadvertently, throws a spanner into the gearbox. OF COURSE Justin and Adrienne are the most supportive parents in the world. OF COURSE there’s no “DAYSaster” event [Sami's wedding is coming!] because it would ruin everything that’s absolutely, positively right about this story.
What I think elevates it further is the power of the central performers. Guy Wilson, while a seasoned actor, had only been playing this role for a very short amount of time before these scenes were shot and his roughly four months of screen time — including many days where this story has not been shown — is an awfully compressed interval for someone to claim a character, stamp it as their own and make the audience believe in your characterization — especially an important character previously played by a popular actor.
I’ve watched Guy’s performances closely since he began and he started to charm me early on. He’s a subtle performer who commits readily to the material. His innate intelligence and commitment to the role and the story show through in his performances. As Will is now an older and maturing adult, some of Guy’s choices are bolder than his predecessor, but he plays true to the character brief. The character continues to grow.
Freddie Smith as Salem’s ‘white knight.’ Sonny generally keeps true, but we all know he has an edge. His last name is Kiriakis, after all.
On the other hand, he plays most of his scenes opposite Freddie Smith, the young man who created Sonny Kiriakis and who is, for my money, one of the finest young actors on the air, so Guy has had to hit a pretty high bar every time he’s up. (You’ll note that I did not say “on daytime.” That’s because I believe that differentiating between actors on daytime and primetime — or now online — is a meaningless and often demeaning construct.)
Freddie is such an easy performer — smooth, solid, layered, confident — everything that Sonny needs to be. He always matches the show’s veterans note for note and lifts up the entire scene, not merely playing his own sides to showcase himself. It is the hallmark of understanding of what it means to be an ensemble player. And it’s damn rare, in this day and age, to find that understanding and ability in someone so young.
New Order Built on the Past
The thing about serials is that, for an audience to buy into them over the long-term, they need to develop relationships with certain characters and certain families. That multi-generational feeling was very much in evidence in Sonny and Will’s wedding and the powerful turns by veterans Deidre Hall, Wally Kurth and Bryan Dattilo [who made me weep like a baby, damn him!] and a lengthy knock-out of a monologue masterfully delivered by the peerless 86-year-old Peggy McCay, served to cement the couple firmly into the bedrock of this show.
I received a tweet awhile back in which the writer called Will and Sonny the modern day Tom and Alice. It was the perfect response. Perfect.
Frances Reid and Macdonald Carey as Tom and Alice Horton, the original central “tent pole” characters of the long running NBC drama Days of our Lives.
If Days of our Lives is to have a promising and relevant future, its anchors must be placed in characters that both mirror modern life and reflect back on the long history of the show. For decades, Tom and Alice Horton were that center. Plenty of things happened to them, plenty of drama swirled around them, but Tom and Alice as a unit did not waver. Looking back, it’s hard not to think of one without the other. As the show nears the half-century mark, it seems to me that the next generation’s standard bearers of a rare solid soap opera relationship should be Tom and Alice’s great-grandson and the man that he loves.
It is the perfect way to honor the rich history of the program, to honor the genre and to show that the deep, deep roots of serial storytelling have a place in the modern world to tell today’s stories and tackle today’s issues.
In five years, I would love to see Will and Sonny raising their child — or maybe even more than one child by then — and interacting in fundamental ways with the other denizens of Salem while creating a loving and stable home at the center. It would be a powerful statement, one that Days seems to be on the cusp of making. It is certainly one that I would relish.
For the nonce, though, I’m just happy that this story has come into my living room (and smart phone and laptop) and that I was able to share in it. It was simply magnificent.
*Okay, okay, okay, fine! TECHNICALLY this is not the first same-sex wedding. Bianca and Reese on All My Children in 2009 were the first, but that’s a storyline fraught with controversy, not to mention poor plotting and lack of integration into the canvas. Also, their marriage would not have been legal where they lived, because Pennsylvania, where fictional Pine Valley is located, was not — and still is not — an equality state. Days has made Salem’s locale into an equality state in the plot — by fiat — and this is the first daytime TV same sex marriage in the post-DOMA era.