The plane carrying various members of the Brady family back from Ireland had veered off course. The hour featured passengers fretting for their lives and scrambling for a dwindling oxygen supply as John and eye-patch-wearing Steve (a one-eyed pilot?) struggled to steer the failing craft into some kind of landing.
The episode was filled with suspense and urgency, like nothing I've ever seen on a soap opera. Imagine the Airport movies, mixed with Lost, mixed with Fearless (a chilling 1993 movie starring Jeff Bridges about what it's like actually to survive an air crash).
The headline event in this airplane crash episode of DOOL was the voluntary death of paterfamilias Shawn Brady (a bravura Frank Parker). He stopped inhaling from his oxygen mask when it appeared there wouldn't be enough air to go around for all the members of his vast family (Bo, Hope, Marlena, Kayla, Belle, Phillip, Chloe, their various kids, etc.). This self-sacrifice was shocking and beautiful at the same time, the kind of selfless act that is thoroughly the opposite of the violence intended to titillate that is de rigueur on other soaps (General Hospital!) during sweeps months.
Kayla and Hope (Mary Beth Evans and Kristian Alfonso) witnessed their beloved Pop die in chilling horror. When Bo, who had been passed out while his father smothered, awoke to discover the shrouded body, actor Peter Reckell delivered the most poignant acting moment of the soap year thus far.
The sequence worked because all of the actors did superb jobs, but what will be long remembered here (and probably honored with awards.) was the directing. Armed with about $1.98 in special effects--one red spotlight, one green spotlight, an airplane cabin set that either shook incessantly or a camera that shook even harder--director Noel Maxam managed to evoke the motions of a real crash. The actual plane ride grew so bumpy and torturous at times, I felt a bit nauseous just watching it on TV. And as the actors delivered their lines into their oxygen masks (a little muddled at times), I felt like I was gasping for air, too.
How did Maxam stage this so realistically? That, darlings, is cinematic magic of the sort we rarely, if ever, see on soaps anymore. And sadly, Days isn't the only soap operating on a minimal budget. Certainly, the show's executive producer Ed Scott must be lauded for putting this totally out-of-the-ordinary soap episode together. Fantastic work!
And one more thing: While I was enthusiastically caught up in this episode, the Marlena voice in the back of my mind kept asking if the entire airplane crisis episode wasn't a metaphor for the fate of a soap known as Days of Our Lives? Think about it. A planeload of favorite characters, cruising on a floundering aircraft toward a crash (read: cancellation). Will they be saved? Can they be saved?
With work like I saw in this particular episode, may there be many more Days of Our Lives!