Retcon Of A Legacy
Two years ago I revisited a "place" that I had not been in many years. The path to this destination was covered in shadows from many years ago, yet my fresh footprints could be seen as clear as day. Grief was beckoning me to walk down the path and through its gates once more. I wasn't a stranger to grief. Just that year, I had lost both my cousin and a dear friend a month apart from each other. Two years prior to that, I had lost my best cheerleader - my sweet Maw Maw. But this journey down the path of grief was different. I was revisiting the loss of my husband from over twenty-five years ago. Why was this on my mind again and how could I still be so moved by something so long ago? The answer may surprise you. It was because of a television show - a Hallmark drama series in fact. If entertainment can move someone this deeply, then you know it has done something quite remarkable!
Concerning this program, I had actually written a blog review of the season finale' that year. Those who follow me on social media, know the series well - "When Calls The Heart." The season had ended with the leading lady's "journey through grief" over losing her husband and finally finding the courage to open her heart to love again. As I wrote in that blog post, her "journey through grief, in all of its messy complexities, took me back through my own journey in a raw, real and relatable way. As a matter of fact, the main story arc reignited a spark to write again after a time of sabbatical through personal life challenges." How could something as simple as a drama series produce such a profound affect on me?
The answer is in what I said at the time... "We all need something or someone to ground us, to bring us back to our center, to help us find ourselves again. this is what faith, family and friendship are for. This is what church and community are for. This is what home and wholesome entertainment are for. Who knew that something as simple as a Hallmark drama series would calm the restlessness in me?... It is quite remarkable that a fictional story can both serve as an escape from the cares of the day, while also being so relatable that it is a cathartic experience opening the doors to emotions that hold us back or trip us up in the things we face. This is great story-telling!"
When WCTH came back for another season, the story continued with beautiful continuity of movement and message. The leading lady was flourishing again and falling deeply in love. Her life was a reflection of hope and healing. She was stronger than ever and yes, so very relatable! I understood what it meant to be a single mom and truly live life again beyond grief. Others found similar life experiences that they related to because the stories flowed so well. The leading man was giving perhaps the most beautiful faith-filled message of all - "Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." There is no higher message that a show, a play, a movie, a story or a life can give than this! With the ending of Season 9, the lovely couple and the leading lady's son came together with a "Yes to it all!" The leading man would be a father to her son and an adoring husband to her. She had received beauty from the ashes and life again from death.
So why am I revisiting this again? Because of something else I said in that review a few years ago: "The Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde famously stated that 'life imitates art, far more than art imitates life.' This statement sounds conceptually beautiful, unless we begin to pattern our lives over things we see and hear that go against the simplicity of a life well lived - where each life touches another. While it is true that we often use entertainment as an escape from the 'real world,' we also tend to pattern our world by what we see and hear on a daily basis. This is why what we put into our hearts and minds matters so much. This is also why I have such a deep appreciation of quality screenwriting."
I meant every word of that review. Which is why I came into Season 10 this year with much anticipation as did all the other fans known as "Hearties." Something happened, however. New hands had penned words to the script that were completely incongruent to the characters we had known for years. The story veered from the continuity we had watched from the pilot episode ten years ago. The characters had the same names, but were behaving like strangers on our TV screens. The beautiful love story began to be raveled apart. Each episode was building more angst and confusion, where in years past, viewers were excited week after week to visit their "safe happy place," their oasis and retreat from the harshness of life for awhile. The lessons being acted out as the story line progressed were anything but faith-filled and love driven. Oh there were moments that portrayed forgiveness & healing for some of the secondary characters, but the lead characters began to display selfishness, pettiness, demeaning attitudes, and then to the complete shock of those who watch this "family oriented" show with their children, the story line developed to something that could only be described as emotional cheating by the leading lady. The producers, writers et al. have denied such, but I have spoken to parents of young children who have said they literally had to have a conversation with their children on the behavior that was being portrayed. Some even said they would not let their children watch the last few episodes because of the questions being asked by their little ones.
In short, those entrusted with this beautiful faith-filled series inspired by the lovely writings of Janette Oke, decided to flip everything on its head by reintroducing a romantic "love triangle" after the leading lady was engaged and only a few weeks away from her wedding day. The end result was stares of longing from the "other man," flirty looks from the leading lady, and a clueless fiance' who in previous seasons was so in tune with the woman he loved that he could almost read her thoughts. The final two episodes took the leading lady to a place of apprehension and broken promises of "standing by her man" as he makes a heroic choice for her and the whole town in a severe crisis. She promises to be by his side, but suddenly tells him she can't go with him and that her heart isn't fully with him. He leaves town alone with nothing but a photo of himself, his lady love and the little boy he had already begun to be a father figure for. He boards a train to fight corruption in a political battle and save not only the town, but the entire territory. She told him she was going with him, she drove all the way to the train station with him, and then dumped him before he got on the train!
Now I know everyone keeps saying "it's just a TV show!" You're right it is. But it has been so much more than that for so many people. It has been a life line for those dealing with grief, it has been an oasis for those battling sickness. It has been a safe place for those living in abusive situations and it has been a wellspring of life lessons of faith and love for millions. Writers and producers are free to do whatever they want with a show, but as someone so wisely said, "with freedom comes responsibility." Treating your message, your characters and yes, your viewers with integrity and respect matters. "When Calls The Heart," up until now, was leaving a great legacy for everyone to glean from that has had a part in this show. Why someone at the top decided on what's called a "Retcon" I will never know. Why would you stir up and divide your fans again? Why would you destroy such a beautiful message of love and hope? Why would you tarnish the integrity of the characters and turn them into cheap soap opera caricatures? Why would you gaslight your audience to make them think what they saw for the last five years wasn't what it appeared to be? You erased story lines, tarnished special moments and memories and pretended that certain things that were known facts (and can be proven even by your very owns words) didn't happen or weren't true. Every excuse under the sun has been given as to why. None of them hold water to most of the viewers who are saddened by this debacle. There are several extremely talented fanfic writers who have written storylines for these characters showing the utmost understanding of the characters and respect for the integrity of the stories, who could've written this in a way to preserve all that WCTH has been and still should be.
My final thoughts concerning what I have watched these several weeks are for writers out there and leaders in your community, your business or perhaps just in your home. What you say and do matters. Your words, your actions, your choices are not an island unto themselves. Other lives are affected - sometimes more than you can possibly know. One fan stated that she had lost a loved one in the last several months. WCTH was a lifeline for her, but the horrible lessons being portrayed on this "faith and family" show troubled and hurt her so much that she had to quit watching. It was no longer a healing balm for her. We all can choose to change the channel and writers can just keep doing what makes them or their networks happy or what they think will bring great ratings and make them more money. But at what cost? Whether you are a writer, a teacher, a mom, a dad, a company executive, a community leader, a coach, a pastor etc. remember that you are leaving a legacy of some sort, whether it is your intention or not. Nothing can ever really be erased or faded away. Our minds may dim as we grow older, but our hearts always remember.