For the first time in longer than I can remember, ABC's General Hospital is showing signs of renewed life across much of its canvas, bringing back long-absent and much missed characters, making frequent references to events in its past, and putting renewed emphasis on the doctors and nurses of its title institution. It's a huge blast of much-needed fresh air after years of poorly written, low-end mob stories (although at present we still have one of those, with poor unbalanced killer Sonny on another murderous rampage and people who should know better fretting about what will become of him). GH still has a long way to go until it's even half as grand as it used to be, but in these increasingly dark days for daytime drama any attempt at improvement or correction is cause for celebration. (On that note, wait until you see what's coming in the weeks ahead on NBC's Days of Our Lives. I was on the set last week and I'm here to report that it's all good.)
The encouraging work that new head writer Garin Wolf is doing at GH - especially where the long-maligned Quartermaine family is concerned - has me thinking about a column I wrote in April 2009 for TV Worth Watching, an online magazine that is must-read for any serious television fan. The focus of that column was on Helena Cassadine, the monstrous matron of the formidable Cassadine family, who at the time was briefly but effectively energizing GH. I suggested a storyline that would be in sync with the Cassadines' past behaviors and would also return several callously dispatched veteran actors and characters to the show.
Since it once again feels like good things may happen and anything is possible on GH, I thought this might be the right time to revisit many of the points I made in that column. (To read the original, please look here.) After all, if the new writing regime at the show is open to change and wants to continue bringing back popular characters from the past (most recently Monica and Skye) why not go for broke? With Katie Couric's new ABC-produced talk show circling overhead, quite possibly preparing to land next fall in the time periods GH has occupied for decades, Wolf and Co. have nothing to lose, and fans have everything to gain.
Now that everything is once again in play, I believe that Helena (played by the amazing Constance Towers) could be utilized in a story that would undo much of the seemingly irreversible damage that has been done to GH during this decade, especially where the show's once story-rich Quartermaine family is concerned. GH has been losing fans at a rapid clip since it began killing off members of the Quartermaine clan, and it will take a drastic and outrageous story to fix the resultant mess. That's precisely what makes Helena uniquely qualified to ride to the rescue on her broomstick. The character and her family's history, dating back almost 30 years, are so over the top that nothing she might do would surprise viewers. After all, it was the saga of the Cassadine family's plan to freeze Port Charles in August 1981, by way of a weather-controlling machine hidden on a remote tropical island, that propelled GH into the pop-culture pantheon even before Luke and Laura famously got hitched.
Here's what GH should do with Helena. In a wild storyline that would recall the GH of old, it should be revealed that AJ, the oldest son of Drs. Alan and Monica Quartermaine, did not die in 2005 when he was murdered by an already forgotten minor character. Rather, one of Helena's minions got to AJ before his "lifeless" body was discovered and injected him with one of those only-on-a-soap drugs that kept him alive, albeit with a barely perceptible heartbeat. AJ was later removed from the now-crowded Quartermaine crypt and whisked away to that secret lab Helena had built ages ago, several floors below the basement of the title hospital. In 2001, we were told that Helena's son Stavros hadn't really died when Luke seemingly killed him back in 1983. He was actually in that same subterranean lab in a state of suspended animation awaiting the development of the treatment that would revive him almost two decades later.
As Helena's story progressed, we would learn that Cassadine medical personnel revived AJ and slowly nursed him back to health, all the while programming him to be loyal to Helena, who had grown tired of her long-running conflict with Luke and Laura Spencer and decided instead to seek long-overdue revenge on the Quartermaines -- and not simply because Tracy Quartermaine is now married to Luke. Longtime viewers will recall that it was a Quartermaine -- the globe-trotting Alexandra -- who first brought the Cassadines to Port Charles back in 1981 and touched off a series of events that eventually led to the death of Helena's beloved husband, Mikkos. With AJ as her pawn, Helena would eventually take control of the Quartermaines' vast business empire, restoring her to a position of great power in the international financial community.
We could then happily discover that, despite his programmed loyalty to Helena, AJ felt the need to make things right with his father Alan (the all-important Stuart Damon), whom AJ shot in the back the last time the two were together. When Alan suffered that fatal heart attack after the Metro Court Hotel hostage crisis in 2007, AJ secretly arranged to have him brought to Helena's subterranean lab, where he has since been stabilized and remains in a coma [ready to awaken and help restore GH]. Helena was fine with this because she had nothing against Alan and thought that he, too, could be useful to her if he regained his health.
Further, it would be revealed that Helena had, at the time of Emily Quartermaine's murder in 2007, been having the young intern followed, since she despised the girl and could not abide the love her grandson Nikolas Cassadine had for her. Helena had been planning to kidnap Emily and brainwash her into rejecting Nikolas, and she had arranged for a double to replace Emily while the brainwashing took place. As it happens, it wasn't Emily whom Diego Alcazar murdered on that fateful night. It was the double. (Remember, the actual murder occurred off-camera.) The recently introduced Rebecca would turn out to be the brainwashed Emily, sent into action by Helena as part of her nefarious plan.
It's not like any of this extreme science-fiction would be new to GH, or even to the Cassadines. After all, Stefan Cassadine secretly kept Lesley Webber alive for 12 years after Helena attempted to kill her in 1984, and Helena held Lucky Spencer hostage for one year and brainwashed him while Luke and Laura grieved the "loss" of their son in a fire. And, as mentioned above, Helena kept a comatose Stavros alive for 18 years until he returned to briefly wreak havoc on the residents of Port Charles in 2001 before falling into a bottomless pit in that same subterranean lab. The Cassadines are world-class experts at mischievously switching bodies, keeping the almost dead alive, creating convincing lookalikes, and fooling everyone into thinking their loved ones are either lost or not. We need them to be restored to their full power, and we need that now - just as we need the Quartermaines restored to their former glory!
Think of the excitement that would be generated by this wild and wacky storyline -- one that would be very vintage GH -- as so many much-missed characters returned to the narrative in the biggest Cassadine caper since the classic story of the weather machine. Toss in return appearances by Lesley Webber, Noah Drake, Audrey Hardy, Bobbie Spencer and her son, Lucas Jones -- and reveal that Holly's son Ethan is actually Robert's kid, not Luke's - and all will be well again.