Revenant and Soap Dead

 Every Friday night, I try to post another term of Soap Opera Jargon. Find previous entries on the Soap Opera Jargon page on this site.

Revenant, according to Merriam-Webster.com means: “one that returns after death or a long absence,” and comes from the French word that means “to return.” It was first used to mean “ghost,” “specter,” or “wraith,” and then developed the meaning “one who returns to a former place after prolonged absence”; both meanings seem to fit the new film, since DiCaprio’s character is left for dead (not a spoiler—it’s in the trailer) and returns to find his former companions. The new film starring Leonardo DiCaprio sent people to the dictionary to look up the title: revenant. At this point the word was the most searched term on Merriam-Webster.com during 2016.

So it turns out that, much like couple code turned out to have a pre-existing word that described it – portmanteau, Soap Dead is the same concept as Revenant.

Soap Dead – Miraculous returns from the dead have been a part of soap operas almost from the beginning, whether it was a carefully laid plot or a “guess who didn’t make it in Hollywood and came crawling back.” However, it didn’t used to be as common as it is today. (See Sudden Doppleganger) Now returning from the dead is so common that people have developed a term, “soap dead” to describe a situation where viewers assume no character is really dead and the actor or at least the character will be back.

There have been a lot of memorable returns over the years. One of the MOST memorable was on As the World Turns when the monk who had been sinisterly lurking around town for weeks pushed back his cowl and said “Hello, Barbara” revealing ubervillian  James Stenbeck in his first of many returns from the dead. This scene made such an impact that if you say “Hello, Barbara” to almost any soap fan and they will know exactly what you mean. ATWT also had one of the best written returns. When Shannon O’Hara McKendrick returned to town it had already been announced by the soap magazines, but it still managed to shock us by setting up a situation where Duncan’s current wife Jessica was assumed to be the source of the phone call that urged Duncan to come because they had his wife in custody, he opened the door and it was Shannon instead. (Sadly they hadn’t planned what should happen nearly as well after week 1 and ultimately Shannon and Duncan were shipped out of town again, ignoring tons of story possibilities.) Once in awhile we can still be surprised. On The Young and the Restless Phillip Chancellor II came back from the dead after being peacefully in his grave for 16 years, when the other end of Cane’s phone calls was revealed at the end of an episode. (I yelled “WHAT!” outloud.) However, it’s such a common occurrence now that they don’t even always bother to come up with a story that makes sense to explain the return like the wax doll replacement that was used for The Bold and the Beautiful‘s Taylor Hayes Forrester or the twin who showed up to take a bullet for Cane/Ethan/Whatever they’re calling him this week on The Young and the Restless. Days of Our Lives has made in an unusually campy joke with pretty much everyone in town back from the dead a couple of times and Tony Demeria is not dead because it was his cousin Andre who was killed, but wait Andre is a live too and Tony was really being held on an island the whole time so both Tony and Andre were the same person, but now Tony is supposedly really dead and Andre is back in Salem….I give up.

On Guiding Light, the most memorable come back was Roger Thorpe who came back after a decade (even though his portrayer Michael Zaslow said he held really, really still a long time on the body reveal to assure they couldn’t).  He’d been shot and fell over a cliff, but was found living as a CIA agent on a tropical island. However, Phillip Spaulding, Alan Spaulding, Beth Raines Spaulding, and Reva Shayne Lewis probably get the Phoenix crowns for coming back from the dead, or at least the assumed dead, multiple times.  A fair sprinkling of other people around town, including Danny Santos, came back from the dead at least once.

At this point returns from the dead are so common than many fans and critics worry about what the concept of “Soap Dead” is doing to the genre. If almost everyone comes back from the dead eventually, how upset can you get when they die? How can you get emotionally invested with the fallout when you’re sure the death isn’t permanent and they will be back among the living? Is “Soap Dead” a flexible answer to casting challenges that help chase ratings or part of the reason not as many people feel the emotional connection to soaps they once did? Stay tuned.

Robansuefarm is the handle of one of Manny and Guiding Light‘s biggest fans following in her family’s footsteps of Guiding Light fandom since 1939. This blog is an effort to make it easy to find Guiding Light and especially Manny online. Check back here for her blog, find fanfic previews and fake WSPR newscasts on her YouTube, find podcasts that look back to old shows and audios of her fanfics on Blog Talk Radio, and finally follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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