Jumping the Shark:a term used by TV Critics and fans to denote the point in a TV show or movie series' history where the plot veers off into absurd story lines or out-of-the-ordinary characterizations.
Many fans of Guiding Light point to the death of Maureen Bauer in 1993 as the moment their favorite soap jumped the shark. I respectfully disagree.
I was a fan of Ellen Parker's portrayal of Maureen Reardon Bauer. I agree with the general consensus that Maureen provided a kind of warmth and heart to GL, that she filled a void left when Bert Bauer died in 1986. (It is a testement to Maureen's significance as the heart of Springfield that, to this day, there are references to her: on the day of Coop's death, just this year, Vanessa and Lillian spoke about how they couldn't help but remember their dear friend who'd also been taken away much too soon.) By the time the decision was made to kill off Maureen, however, the waters of Springfield had gone stagnant. Dramatic possibilities for the show's core character - Ed Bauer - were extremely limited: Ed and Maureen were in a happy marriage and raising a child together. Merely having Ed stray from his marriage and be unfaithful with Lillian Raines was not enough to sustain a plot twist, let alone light fires under other characters in Maureen's sphere. From a creative point of view, the killing off of Maureen was a brilliant, if heart-breaking, plot development. Maureen's death touched every character in Springfield, and was the catalyst for at least half a dozen dynamic story lines that made for some of the best drama in Guiding Light's run.
In a nutshell for those not familiar the character: Maureen was married to Doctor Ed Bauer. Maureen (or "Mo") was an extremely warm, homey woman - very kind-hearted and open. The child she raised as her own (Michelle) was actually the product of an extramarital encounter Ed had with Claire Ramsey. Mo forgave Ed his indiscretion and, when Claire made it clear she didn't want her baby, Mo immediately became Michelle's mother. Mo's closest friend in the world was Vanessa Chamberlain, with whom she shared a closeness rarely seen between women on television - very loving, very supportive...they were true soul mates of the Platonic variety. Another friendship that was special to Mo was the one she shared with Roger Thorpe. This relationship was significant for several reasons. First off, Roger and Ed were life-long rivals and enemies. Also, Roger was seen as the town's villain, a blackguard. He had a dark, ugly past, and a penchant for falling right back into his old habits. Roger didn't really have any other person in his life who he could think of as a friend. Mo was the only person who accepted him for who he was, and didn't constantly revisit his past deeds. Mo was also very friendly with Lillian Raines, a nurse who worked closely with Ed Bauer.
In 1992, Lillian Raines was diagnosed with breast cancer. As many people who face life-threatening illness tend to do, Lillian became more and more dependent on her doctor -Ed Bauer. After a time, she fell in love with him, one thing led to another, and the two ended up having an affair. Discovering the truth about Ed and Lillian's affair, a broken-hearted Mo confronted her husband. Feeling betrayed not just by her husband, but by a woman she considered to be a friend, Mo decided she needed to get away. She packed her bag and drove up to the Bauer's vacation cabin, outside of Springfield. Desperate to mend his broken marriage, Ed followed in his own car, hoping Mo would give him time to explain himself, and forgive him as she had in the past. A heated confrontation ensued, with Maureen stating, categorically, that she would not be a doormat, that she was through with forgiving him, and that there was nothing Ed could say or do that would repair the damage he'd done. Having said all that needed to be said, Maureen left the cabin and drove off into stormy weather. Ed followed shortly after in his own car, only to come upon the scene of his wife's car accident on the road. Maureen was rushed to Cedars, but attempts to save her life were unsuccessful.
The Aftermath : The Lives She Touched
Mo Bauer's death sent all of Springfield into mourning. Not a single person in town could say that he or she was not effected on some level by the passing of so warm and open a neighbor, so loyal a friend. GL viewers felt the same way - it was a week of mourning for Maureen Bauer, and the loss was palpable. From a purely emotional perspective, Mo's death was gut-wrenching. As a plot device, though, it was brilliant. The passing of Maureen Bauer directly led to:
Ed: Initially, Mo's death provides Ed with an opportunity to visit a dark place - to drown in self-loathing, to consider a return to the bottle. It also changes and fleshes out the dynamic between Ed and Michelle. Only after Mo is dead is there any reason to highlight the father/daughter relationship in depth, and it is powerful to watch Ed - loving his daughter, tortured by guilt over his wife's death - struggle with the little things Mo has always taken care of. Powerful, too, are the scenes between Ed and Michelle, wherein Michelle insinuates that she knows about Lillian, but never comes out and says it.
Maureen's death also frees Ed up to form a relationship with Eve, fall in love with her and, eventually, marry her.
Michelle: having sensed something was amiss between her parents, and even having suspected that Lillian and Ed were having an affair before Mo'd death, Michelle shuts down after losing her mother. She is filled with rage against her father - a rage she doesn't feel capable of giving voice to. After Mo's death, it seems as if no one will be able to reach Michelle. The killing off of Maureen gives way for Michelle's transition from mere child to adolescent, and gives the very talented Rachel Miner (maybe the finest child actor soap opera has ever seen) the opportunity to showcase her talents.
Vanessa: Vanessa is heart-broken over the death of her beloved friend, but the suddenness of of this unexpected tragedy helps her to take stock of her life, to revisit that which is important, and to learn to seize the day. Mo's death changes Vanessa forever. Mo's death helps Vanessa realize that she wants to reconcile with Billy. Much later, Vanessa meets and falls in love with Matt - a working class man many years her junior. The old Vanessa never would have acted on her feelings for Matt. The knowledge that life is fleeting, that we can lose that which we hold dearest in the blink of an eye, provokes a change in Vanessa that we still get glimpses of. Years later, Vanessa's late-in-life baby is named Maureen, in honor of Mo Bauer.
Holly: During the period leading up to Mo Bauer's death, Holly is struggling with clinical depression. She can barely get herself out of bed in the morning. She can't get herself to work. She finds the company of other human beings unbearable. There seems to be no purpose in her life, and she is just plain stuck. As Ed's ex-wife, and one of his closest friends, Holly is called upon to support Ed. The chance to be useful is manna from heaven. Upon hearing the news of Mo's death, Holly literally rises to the challenge.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsK3yO5l6Os (starting @2:38)
Most significant for Holly is the unlikely relationship that develops between her and Michelle.
An adult/child friendship of this nature had never before been portrayed on television and, as far as I know, never has been again. It's an unlikely twist of fate that throws the dark, depressed, cynical, middle-aged Holly together with the sad, angry, lonely 12 year old Michelle. I'm pretty sure Maureen would have hated it (never having been Holly's biggest fan - and for good reason), but I love every minute of screen time Maureen Garrett and Rachel Miner share. Without Mo's death, this relationship is neither possible nor plausible. The writers handle this brilliantly, illustrating how it is the little things in life which make us take note of how much we feel loss: when Michelle gets her first menstrual period, she doesn't have a mother to talk to about it, and she doesn't tell her father. In a beautiful and completely original scene, she shares the news of this rite of passage with Holly. Simple, beautiful, profound, heart-breaking.
Maureen's death leads to Ed confessing his indiscretion to Holly. This is pivotal in that it bursts the bubble Holly has built up around Ed. It forces her to stop seeing him as some idealized version of a dependable man who can do no wrong. She's disappointed - shattered, even - when she finds out about Ed and Lillian. It is at this moment that she begins, in earnest, to consider a future with Roger. Roger, after all, is someone she has no illusions about. He is dangerous. He is ambitious. His need for control can be out of control. But, she knows exactly who and what he is, and, ultimately, she loves him and is drawn to him. Maureen's death changes Holly's view of Ed, and sets off a series of events that eventually lead to Cliff House where, after 15+ years, Holly closes the door on the ugliest part of her past with Roger.
Roger: Roger is shattered over the news of Mo's death. Her death provides the writers with an opportunity to illustrate just how isolated Roger is - he cannot even attend the funeral. He sends flowers via Holly, but Vanessa confiscates the card to prevent Ed from finding out who the flowers are from. Roger grieves for his dear friend, Maureen, but he is an unwelcome mourner. Mo's death provides him with the rare opportunity to show his tender side, to be completely vulnerable and human. Much later, Roger's friendship with the late Maureen provides him with a bargaining chip to use with Bridget. Guilty over never having said goodbye to her aunt, and about never having told her about her pregnancy, Bridget helps her late aunt's friend on several occasions. Most notably, when Roger has been shot and is hiding from the police, it is Bridget who keeps his hiding place a secret, and Bridget who brings Holly to him.
Bridget/Nadine/Billy/Peter: Prior to Mo's death, Bridget has made a pact with Nadine to go into hiding, conceal her pregnancy from the world, and hand over the baby to Nadine when he's born. Nadine, feigning pregnancy, plans to pass the baby off Billy Lewis's son. It is the news of her aunt's sudden and tragic death, and the fact that her unholy pact with Nadine keeps her from properly paying her respects, that changes everything for Bridget. Thanks, in part, to Maureen's death, the truth about Nadine's false pregnancy comes to light, Billy divorces Nadine and reconciles with Vanessa, and they adopt baby Peter, not knowing that Bridget and Hart are his birth parents. Looking back on the example of motherhood set forth by her late Aunt Maureen, Bridget eventually decides the adoption has been a mistake, and decides to try and get custody of Peter.
Maureen Bauer's death was no doubt tragic, but Guiding Light is a soap opera. Soap opera is an art form that depends on manipulating the emotions of the viewer, and eliciting a response. Tragedy and heartbreak are not only inevitable in soap opera: they're necessary. The killing off of Maureen Bauer may have broken some hearts, but it also made all manner of wonderful plot lines and character developments possible. The days of Roger getting shot, Bridget and Vanessa fighting each other for custody of Peter, Holly and Michelle exploring an unconventional friendship, Vanessa reconciling with Billy (and later finding love with Matt), Eve's perceived madness, and Cliff House were far from post-shark-jump days.....they were glory days for Guiding Light. And none of these developments would have been possible if Maureen Bauer hadn't driven to her death on that stormy night.