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Comment > Losing the Plot by Stuart

This morning I spilt some milk. Before I had a chance to wipe it up, this unlikely instrument of doom caused me to slip, bang my head, and fall into regressive amnesia. Bugger. So the year's now 1984 and I'm apparently typing this on a BBC Micro...

Okay, so I lied. Didn't believe me? Well yeah, that's the point. Somehow, as Neighbours meandered through one of its weakest seasons ever, some bright spark hit on the idea of Susan befalling such a fate, and it's a direction that seems fundamentally flawed.

Soap opera is about journeys rather than destinations. In a world of open-ended, overlapping plots and story devices, what makes the format compelling is the identification of a character taking a journey through their life, making decisions and facing adversity the viewer can identify with, and emerging changed by their journey at the other end. Sadly, the headline Susan storyline seems to fail on every count.

Undoubtedly Susan was in need of a major storyline, as were the Kennedy family in general. But something so tabloid and plot-driven was not the way to go. If soap opera is accepted as a character-based format, then Karl and Susan's rapport is a crucial part. One can place pressure on it, offer adversity, but the wholesale dismantling of their dynamic ultimately cheats the audience and the actors who have worked long and hard to build that interplay.

If Neighbours wanted to do a storyline about mental health, one wonders why they didn't use Susan's job to lead to an emotional breakdown, something achieving the same ends by an altogether more satisfactory means. A breakdown would have been directly identifiable with many of the audience (one in three people will at some point in their lives suffer from mental illness), with opportunities for social comment on the workload of today's educators. Instead, we have a far-fetched, ethereal tale that operates solely on one level, with no op portunity to make broader comments about the lives of these characters and the audience in general.

Soap operas are open-ended—theoretically no storyline should ever entirely end, as the format depends on reaction rather than action. The use of the "reset switch" to restore the previous status quo of a storyline is the antithesis of the format. Yet the Susan story will come to depend on that corruption of the form.

As a linear story, soaps should also be plotted and structured organically, yet the storyline also fails on that count. If one views the ordinary "A to B" journey-style plotting as an avenue, then this is a storylining dead end. Susan cannot remain amnesiac, nor can "evolve" back convincingly to her original state. Sooner or later, the reset option will have to be used, especially with the added complication of Drew's departure, which will require a unified Kennedy front for Libby's sake. The only way one can finish is with a regressive act, which is structurally unsatisfying. Such "magic" restorations are the brittle promise of fairy-tales, not of soaps supposedly grounded vaguely within the identifiable world.

Karl and Susan Kennedy are one of the few genuinely equal couples Neighbours has ever produced. Both compliment the other perfectly and no one performer dominates. It feels like a genuine partnership, and that's what makes them compelling to watch. By robbing Susan of her identity as it stands, an inequality is introduced into the relationship, with Karl now experiencing events on a wildly differing level of understanding to his wife, losing the vital empathy between the characters. Whether the relationship in its broader, functional sense can survive this disruption remains to be seen.

Hopefully at best the amnesia thread will provide a little variation and zip in the usual mix, offering Jackie Woodburne some challenging material along the way. However, few can deny that it marks a new low in plausibility and threatens to do both long-term damage to the show's format and the emotional dynamic of one of its most successful partnerships.