The Prompt: Who is your favourite character of all time?
So this is tricky because “all time” means of all the time and I’m not good with commitment. I also have a penchant for disillusionment – am I alone in finding Little Women disappointing as an adult? I mean – the domestic goddess Meg scenes made me long for pirates and horseback riding trees.
Anyway, my choice is going to shock you. He’s a 60 something white man who raped a woman, constantly ignores his kids, drinks heavily, and is greedy and conniving. His name is Luke Spencer and he’s a character on General Hospital.
Why Luke among all the other characters? Because he’s a horrible rascal who does noble things and has not a modest bone in his body when it comes to repentance. Oh, he repents and when he does, he means it. But his character is never written as having “learn a lesson” from an escapade, at least not a moral lesson and I sort of like his ability to let things roll off his back.
Case in point. He’s on the run with plutonium poisoning from his arch nemesis Helena Cassadine (she poisoned his trademark earring.) He’s been injected with a cure and on his way back home, he takes a drink. When questioned, he points out that the tests to determine his illness showed that years of drinking had not compromised his liver. All along, he always knew when to stop and no one believed him and yet now he has proof of sorts to refute the medical claim. He doesn’t care that it seems stupid for a man on death’s door to sip whiskey, in fact he thinks that’s an appropriate response to death.
Luke is not a reformed bad boy. He’s a flawed man who is driven by his passions (and demons) but really wants to do right by those he loves. I like how they maintain that fine balance – he never apologizes for taking off and he does try very hard to get back to town as promised (the actor is so highly regarded that he only works 6 months a year.)
Luke’s great love was Laura Webber. He raped her and then he married her and they had grand adventures. In between, she was kidnapped by Stavros Cassadine, had a son she didn’t talk about for 20 years and was eventually rescued. When she and Luke and their son Lucky (Lucas Jr) returned to town, the writers addressed the fact that Luke raped Laura – they had previously spun it as a seduction. Not only were their powerful scenes between Luke and Laura, but Lucky just went absolutely nuts and could not forgive his father for a very long time. My impression is that Luke deeply regrets that act and feels genuine remorse, but he also knows he can’t undo it. Laura forgiving him didn’t make it okay, it simply helped her be okay. He’s no saint – he’s had affairs and inappropriate relationships and so forth. So again, flawed person not seeking redemption.
The character of Luke offered up a fantasy masculinity in which brutish sexual violence could be seen as the patriarchal past from which new, ‘70s men like Luke were desperate to escape. The real Luke, viewers were convincingly told, was motivated by love, not hate, by passion, not hostility. Luke’s story invited fans not only to ponder the meaning of rape in the disco era, but also to imagine a battle between different versions of masculinity, at war for supremacy within the same wounded man.
His list of sins goes on – he forced Laura to deny her firstborn son, Nikolas even after Nik donated bone marrow to save their daughter Lulu. Then he saved Nikolas’ life after he was shot. When Laura was in an asylum (the actress left the show), he let her mother raise Lulu. He blackmailed Tracy Quartermaine into marrying him. He consorted with the mob (still does) and sort of let the younger generation grow up without his involvement.
Then there’s Jake. Jake Spencer was the adopted son of Lucky, thus making him Luke’s grandson. Tragically, Luke was behind the wheel of the car that ran over Jake and killed him – a horrible storyline as Jake was 5. Eventually, Luke realized what he had done and tried to rehabilitate himself by stopping drinking, even though he protested that drinking wasn’t the cause of the accident – the darkness was. It was an accident. It was another example of Luke looking at things from a cold factual point of view. And while he regretted that Jake died, he did not feel responsible any more than another random driver. He bought the “naming rights” to a local bar known as Jake’s and had it renamed because it was on the route Jake’s mother drove to and from work – remorse? or a somewhat radical and yet poignant gesture of kindness?
Luke Spencer inhabits this dark and grey moral space in the universe. He certainly believes in evil – their name is Cassadine and he had no hesitation walking right into the lion’s den to rescue his daughter from the Cassadine’s. But he operates within a world of moral ambiguity. Luke has not been redeemed – he continues to wrestle with a dark side, but unlike many television characters he accepts that as part of himself, he’s not fighting his own nature. And he’s not brooding on it either. He’s living the life he’s been given.
My affection for Luke has nothing to do with his leading man status (shocker?) and everything to do with his complicated character and relationships with others, including both of his ex-wives Laura and Tracy. I’m fascinated by his relationship with stepson Nikolas – the son of the man he hates beyond reason, but someone he’s come to know as his own self. Luke doesn’t trust Nikolas because he’s a Cassadine and he waits to be proven right while hoping to be proven wrong. Nikolas is a good guy and still probably the only one to exist in the moral gray as much as Luke precisely because of his heritage.
But Luke isn’t just the product of a horribly abusive father and the consequences of growing up in a brothel, he’s also someone who went on to neglect his own children – sort of that struggle of fatherhood rationalized by “I wasn’t as bad as my own father” – it’s true, but it’s not enough. Now Lucky has left his own children and we don’t know why. (Well, it’s because the actor left the show – but still …)
Luke won’t live forever. Perhaps in ten years, I’ll be writing about the death of the character, but the beauty is that I don’t have to reread the book – I can see how Lucky, Ethan and Lulu carry on as well as their children.
Let me be very clear – I am not condoning the fact that Luke raped Laura. It’s an imperfect medium to explore that story but it also allowed the audience to see how that 1979 rape played out over 30 years, literally day by day when the characters were on the canvas. That’s an interesting moral tale. When you consider the prevalence of rape in our society – and how much of it is committed by a known person – it’s somewhat helpful to consider how that tale of redemption might play out.