Once upon a time the very thought of such a thing would have sent seismic shock waves throughout the television business, with affiliates pulling one or more episodes and advertisers canceling their buys. The protests would have been loud and long and ugly. But if there were any complaints or cancellations last week when Will Horton (Guy Wilson) and Sonny Kiriakis (Freddie Smith) exchanged their vows, they certainly didn’t make much news, if any at all.
That may be because the time for kicking up a fuss over this particular story had long since passed: “Days” has thoughtfully and excitingly depicted the love story of these two characters for three years now, never holding back on showing these two men declaring their feelings for each other or showing physical affection -- just like any other lovers in daytime. The show has also put them through numerous challenges on their way to the altar, including one of the two guys having anxiety sex with a female friend and becoming a father, parental objections to their behavior and the advances of other gay men who wanted to break them up.
In short, “Days” has treated Sonny and Will exactly the same way it treats all of its characters -- as if they were just two more citizens navigating the madness of life in the strife-torn town of Salem, where the show is set. There were important differences, of course, as some members of their families and certain of their friends at first expressed dismay about these men being gay, or being together, or both. Will’s grandfather Roman Brady (Josh Taylor) -- for decades a local hero in Salem -- surprised his family and viewers alike with his initial response, which revealed a deep-rooted homophobia. But Roman worked on that, and over time, came to appreciate Will and Sonny for the people they are and the relationship they have.
And then there is “T” (Brendan Coughlin), now so close a friend to Will and Sonny that he was best man at their wedding. Two years ago “T,” who is straight, rejected them in an extremely ugly manner, using slurs not commonly heard on daytime television. But “T,” too, has come around -- just like Roman, and just like daytime audiences.
There have been past stories about gay weddings on daytime but they have all featured female couples, with the notable exception of a mass gay wedding involving multiple couples of both sexes on “One Life to Live,” which was not one of that much-missed soap’s finer moments. Furthemore, Will and Sonny’s ceremony is the first since states have begun in earnest to recognize gay marriage. So the timing for this story was certainly right.
Another great thing about Will and Sonny’s wedding was the inclusion of Will’s great-grandmother Caroline Brady in the ceremony. Caroline (played by the great Peggy McCay) has been struggling with the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease for a couple of years now in another story that has never been told in quite the same way on daytime. Caroline has bouts of forgetfulness from time to time, but she still runs her pub and remains involved in the lives of her family and friends. At no time has she been depicted as a helpless victim or in any way weakened by the struggle that has come her way.
In the best moment of the wedding episode, Caroline briefly forgot where she was and what she was supposed to do when Will asked her to take the altar and say a few words. Everyone who had gathered for the ceremony was immediately unnerved, unsure of what would happen next. When Caroline began to speak it appeared that she was rambling about two men nobody in the room had ever met. None of them uttered a word, but every person at the ceremony responded with looks of great concern and sadness over Caroline’s apparent plight.
But Caroline showed them all: She was telling the story of two closeted gay men who had frequented her pub many decades ago and never had the opportunity to show their love in public or share their relationship with their families. Again, the looks on the faces of everyone in the room as they began to understand that Caroline was clearly and compellingly telling a profound story -- coupled with the renewed realization of how fortunate they all were to be able to share in Will and Sonny’s commitment to each other -- were so real they transcended daytime drama. (The entire cast deserves some sort of group honor for their work here.)
It was certainly one of the greatest scenes of this or any other season in soap opera history -- one that couldn’t have happened in the way that it did if viewers hadn’t been able to follow Will and Sonny’s story during the last two years and if they hadn’t known Caroline for decades. It was also a powerful reminder of what a soap opera can do when it is in the hands of smart producers and writers who are dedicated to advancing the genre even as it is threatened with unfortunate extinction.