I was having a Twitter back and forth a few days ago with a Jason/Sam fan about Kelly Monaco’s push to “clean up” the Sam character about a decade ago. I found myself writing a tweet that agreed with that poster that some of the things Sam did in 2006-08 were out of character, and then I started to wonder if I was being a hypocrite or trying to avoid an argument because I know I’ve written other tweets/comments regarding this time period being my favorite Sam stuff.
I found myself trying to figure out if I really do actually like the character of Sam or have I convinced myself to push my opinion above toleration because General Hospital has put her at the forefront for the better part of fifteen years? Am I gaslighting myself into liking a character I actually don’t?
I haven’t really done a lot of thinking about Sam. I don’t write a lot of fanfiction with her which means I haven’t had to break down her character. The one story where she plays a role is All We Are, and I’ll be the first to admit that that was not a story that did either Sam or the Jason/Sam relationship a lot of justice. But I have some stories in the pipeline where I include Sam and I have to do a better job of understanding her.
So do I like Sam? I don’t know. Maybe? Buckle up, this is a long one.
I didn’t pay attention to Sam when she first came on the show in 2003. I was going to school, so I missed GH more than I saw it for a while. I saw her with Jax and I knew she had come on the show as salvage diver who got involved with Jax and some valuable playing cards. Sam was a character that was meant for Jax — all of her promotional materials had them paired together. Kelly Monaco was a transplant from the recently cancelled Port Charles, and instead of bringing her legacy-related Livvie Locke to the show, they created Sam McCall.
I get the reasons we didn’t bring Livvie to the show. Port Charles had gone occult by that point and in order to make Livvie relevant, you’d have to jettison a lot of that supernatural background and you’d have to bring back Kevin to make her connection useful (he was her father). Still, it might have been worth it because within three years, Sam had to be given a family connection because she was floating around without a lot to do.
The show had no idea how to use Sam that first year. The chemistry with Jax never really panned out. She oozed chemistry with Sonny, but the show wasn’t yet ready to commit to breaking up the uber-popular Sonny and Carly at that point. And then they had Sam get pregnant and Jason claim the baby.
I hate that storyline. So much. To this day, I still don’t understand what motivated Jason and I think the entire situation was incredibly out of character for not only Jason, but for Sam as well. Sam let Sonny get away with lying about her which was not the character I remembered with Jax. And instead of Sam staying in the sphere of Sonny and Carly to make trouble, we moved her over to Jason.
I don’t hate the idea of Jason and Sam in a lot of ways. What I found hard to get into was the idea that Jason would step in that way and then take in Sonny’s mistress. In order for that lie to work, he had to let the world believed he’d cheated on his wife at the time. Jason had come so far from the crap he put Robin through, so this felt like a digression. Their pairing was problematic for me for a long time, and I don’t think that story did anyone involved any favors.
I also still didn’t know who Sam was. Was she the bad-ass, take no prisoners salvage diver and con artist? The trampy mistress? The damsel in distress? I couldn’t tell and obviously, neither could the writers.
I got a new full-time job in the fall of 2004 and tuned out again until August of 2005. When I came back to the show, Jason and Sam had done some sort of weird double story, Sonny and Carly were broken up, and Jason had lost his memories.
For me, General Hospital hit a really good groove for about three and a half years from Fall of 2005 to about the spring of 2009, the show made a lot of interesting casting decisions, changed story directions, and revised a lot of characters. Sam was one of the most beneficial of these — because they finally decided who Sam was going to be. In February of 2006, they made her Alexis’s daughter.
This is usually a sign of failed character on a soap — the last ditch effort to make them relevant is to give them a relative on the show that they didn’t know about. Sam was an island character, connected to Jason only. She had no friends, no family. No life outside of that story.
Either Sam needed a new love interest or she needed new connections. They decided to give her both. They connected her to the Cassadines, then broke up the Jason and Sam pairing for several months.
I know some of the people I’ve talked to hate this story decision and I get it — without the Alexis connection, Sam truly loses all relevance. But the network was invested in Kelly Monaco and Sam desperately needed a reboot. She got one in 2006. They decided Sam was going to be the daughter of a long-line of hot, crazy messes and then set her free of a couple that swallowed her whole.
2006-2008 is also the period in which I referred to earlier as being both my personal favorite era of Sam and being an out of character turn for her. And I think it can be both.
Because I can view that period as being unconnected to the Sam we have to today. I don’t think the Sam we have now would have done a lot of the things she did then — sleep with her stepfather, watch Jake get kidnapped, refuse to help Liz find her son and then even try to get Liz to believe Jake was dead, and hire men with guns to threaten Liz and her kids. So, yes, if we think of Sam as the heroine and lead of General Hospital, which (like it or not) she is now, then 2006-08 was wildly out of character.
That being said, that period was not out of character for the Sam we’d had up until that point with one exception. I don’t believe any version of Sam ever would have hired men with guns to threaten a child. I get maybe doing it to Liz, but I don’t think she would have done it to Cam and Jake. I’m not sure she would have kept the Jake kidnapping secret forever, either, but freezing and watching that kid get taken? Yeah, I buy it.
I don’t blame Kelly Monaco for not liking how her character was going, but I do blame the network for giving in. Sam was shaping up to be my favorite kind of soap opera character: the messy vixen who was unpredictable, engaging, and wildly entertaining to watch. And Kelly thrived with that material — when she ripped into Elizabeth over Emily’s body, I was horrified and glued to my screen because it was ridiculously soapy and melodramatic. The Sam and Elizabeth rivalry should have fueled this show for another decade.
Instead, we quietly rebooted Sam yet again and turned her into the female lead.
And I think I can finally answer the question — do I like Sam? Eh. No.
I did once. There were flashes of a Sam I could have liked with Patrick and Silas. But the show didn’t need another heroine. We had that in characters like Robin, Elizabeth, Lulu, and Kate. We desperately needed characters like Sam and Maxie who were stirring drama and causing chaos. GH decided to domesticate both of them and now the closest we have to the messy vixen is Nina and Ava.
I have a lot of reasons for not liking Sam today and I think I’ll have to get into that at another point because it folds more into the problems with Jason and Sam altogether, so I want to do more with her romantic pairings — what’s worked and what hasn’t.
Sam was never going to be my fav, the character I root for and want to watch succeed. But that was never her strength. She came on this show causing chaos and drama, and from 2003-08, that’s what made her interesting. I’m sure she has her fans now, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that once we discarded the archetype of the vixen in 2008-10 when we not only cleaned up Sam, but Maxie, that the show began to fall in the ratings.
We tune into soaps for the drama, and without the vixen, General Hospital has been on life support. Sam could have been an iconic bad girl with a penchant for occasionally doing good. Instead, we got another cardboard good girl we didn’t even need.