All Saints: Emotional Blackmail is Not Romantic

Ah, dear All Saints. Your final three seasons (10-12) were so full of sloppy, insulting writing that I could single-handedly keep Hathor afloat for a year. And yes, I watched all three of said sloppy, insulting seasons. What can I say, I’m a Wil Traval addict; I also sat through a season of Rescue Special Ops and am planning on sitting through what looks like a B-grade horror movie that takes itself too seriously. Like you never had a celebrity crush.

Anyway, a storyline spanning seasons ten and eleven was particularly galling to me. Junior Resident Bart West (Andrew Supanz)  initially treats Anne-Marie ‘Annie’ Preston (Yael Stone) for a suspected case of the chicken pox, only to realise that it’s actually cancer. He hands her over to oncology, and you’d think that would be the end of it, right? Nope. Super-professional that he is, he gets romantically involved with a patient who is potential terminally ill. There’s a lot of filler, but when the chemo fails, Annie resigns herself to dying. She watched her mother die of cancer, and the radiotherapy did nothing but prolong her agony, and she prefers a swifter death to the time the treament would buy her. Except Bart is adamant that Annie try radiotherapy, a much more invasive treatment with less likelihood of recovery than chemo. (At least so AS says. No idea if that’s true or not.)

Now, you would think that if you had a terminal illness, and the first invasive, debilitating treatment had failed, yours were the wishes that counted first and foremost, right? Not according to Bart. He loves Annie so much (after three months!) that he can’t bear to let her go, and emotionally blackmails her into having the radiotherapy. The following episode, Annie is in hospital, miserable and in pain. (Later, we discover her bones are so brittle she broke a rib coughing.) Her roommate died the previous day, and she recounts to Bart how envious she was that her loved ones were around her and let her go; she wants Bart to do the same for her. She holds out her arms to him, begging him to let her go; he walks away. Then, as Annie dies a painful, drawn-out death thanks to the radiotherapy, he refuses to see her. Dude, what was the point in bullying her into the treatment if he’s not actually going to stand by her in her final days?

And hey, just so Bart could be an all-around class-act, he took out his anger over Annie dying on his patients, yelling at one for ‘wasting’ a day being indecisive about chronic pain versus a hysterectomy. ‘Cos that’s not being unprofessional, see, that’s being romantic that the love of your life (all three months!) is dying.

The thing is, there are plenty of men – and women – out there like Bart, too selfish to put their so-called loved one’s desires to be free of pain above their own wants – in this case, more time with Annie. I’m not disputing that. What I found offensive is that Bart’s refusal to let Annie – a woman he had only known a few months – die when the alternative was relentless pain being portrayed as romantic. It’s not romantic, it’s manipulative, emotional blackmail.

And what surprised me is how many people – at least on the fanboards (which in all fairness, I generally found to be highly unreflective of what people I knew thought of it) that the Bart/Annie storyline was tragically romantic. Again, people, emotional blackmail is not romantic. So these women want a man who loves them so much that he would rather they live in pain than die in peace? (I have an ex you all might be interested in, if that’s the case.) The mentality that Bart was romantic troubles me more than his manipulative, controlling behaviour in the first place; controlling, manipulative people will always exist, but there doesn’t always need to be people who pander to their beliefs that such behaviour = romantic.

Watching the show again on DVD made me think of the Twilight craze and how ‘romantic’ Edward’s controlling, stalker-ish behaviour is. (Though Annie at least tries to fight Bart, which is more than can be said for Bella.) Getting involved with a patient you diagnosed with cancer while they’re undergoing treatment is not romantic; telling someone you’ve known for a few months you love them is not romantic; emotionally blackmailing them into a treatment they don’t want is not romantic. It’s just being a selfish, controlling jerk.


  1. Patrick McGraw says

    Like you never had a celebrity crush.

    Alyson Hannigan. Date Movie. That is all.

    And I was thinking of Twilight too before I got halfway through this article. I could dismiss it as just another crappy thing some people love if there weren’t a huge number of adolescents taking to heart the message that Edward’s horrible behavior is The Most Romantic Thing Ever and Proof of How Much He Loves Her.

    It’s like an indoctrination course for future abuse victims, training them not to recognize abuse for what it is.

    • The Other Patrick says

      Yeah. In my series on Twilight, this is what just happened: Edward takes Bella to a family outing where they have a chance meeting with other vampires. An evil vampire wants to hunt Bella. Why, asks Bella, and Edward:

      »It’s my fault – I was a fool to expose you like that«
      »It is partially your fault. If you didn’t smell so appalingly luscious, he might not have bothered.

      If that doesn’t sound like someone about to break out the niqab and forbid his wife from leaving home… We also have this, of course:

      I was watching Edward carefully, knowing his temper, worried about his reaction.

      Romantic, indeed.

      Celebrity crush: Natalie Portman, Kate Winslet.

      • Elee says

        My celebrity crushes were Viggo Mortensen and Sean Bean (LOTR!fan). I feel so old (I am only thirty, darnit!) And Angelina Jolie. I am pretty sure, that a lot of women in real life wouldn’t recognize emotional abuse for what it is. I needed a lot of time to place my ex’s suicide threat when I broke up with him in right terms even though I was luckily not so hormon-addled with 17 to take him back. Rape as something bad is such a novel concept (last 50-60 years mostly), so to recongnize something less tangible like emotional abuse as something bad is so much more difficult. That’s why I like to read here – because it makes me aware of things I never thought of and of different perspectives.

        • Scarlett says

          Elee, the ex I mentioned? Was emotionally abusive and I stayed with him for a good year after I wanted to leave because he was ‘suicidal’. (I’m not belittling people who are genuinely suicidal – it’s just that his suicidal tendancies conveniently timed with my first attempt to leave.) I agree that rape is still a contentious issue so it makes sense that something as vauge as emotional abuse a lot of people don’t understand.

          • Elee says

            No I understand you, I wouldn’t judge anyone for backpedaling in such situation. My ex actually told me outright that he will kill himself after I said that I don’t see a future for us. And it is so difficult to be sure, that you’re making a right decision when you’re 17 and have no prior experience with relationships. I was so stricken with the horror of responsibility he just heaped over me. It was pretty close for me, if he would have been more subtle at manipulation, it might even have worked, but when he took a knife and tried to show me how OMGi’llcutmyself he was, I got really angry. Still afraid as hell that he would actually do something, but luckily angry and I think it had thrown him that I reacted so differently. But as i said – there was a real possibility I would have stuck with him. What a nightmare, when I think about it.

      • M.C. says

        I’ll admit that I didn’t read Twilight, but I’m not really worried about the message those novels send. Because they are vampire novels and those are almost always some kind of rape fantasy for girls/women. And any sane person knows that sexual fantasy is different from sexual reality.

        • The Other Patrick says

          I disagree with you here not about sexual fantasy, but about Twilight: the book presents the (sexless) relationship as the ideal romantic relationship, not as a sexual fantasy of any kind. Sexual urges are not even mentioned, at most implied.

          Twilight is not a rape fantasy, it is an abusive and controlling boyfriend fantasy where the girl cooks, shops and cleans, and it is presented as a fantasy all girls should find equally enticing.

    • Scarlett says

      Patrick, Hannigan seems to be a common celeb crush among men, which totally goes against the idea that men like ‘traditional’ tall, blond beauties like Charlize Theron. God forbid men would follow a short, freckly redhead to the ends of the earth; it might force the studio execs to rethink their strategy.

  2. lilacsigil says

    Ugh. I’m sorry my country inflicted this upon you! I would have no trouble accepting this as a storyline if it weren’t for the fact that this kind of aggressive, controlling behaviour is seen as romantic, by both producers and fans.

    (As for the radiation vs chemo, it really depends on what kind of cancer you have, where it is, and how far along it is. For a lot of things, chemo is worse; for some, radiation.)

    • Scarlett says

      I actually liked most of the show, up til early s9. Admittedly I stayed for Traval and then because I sensed the show was ending so figured I would stick it out. It was quite generic, but then, so was McLeod’s and both still managed to have strong female casts who were given a decent opputunity to act. It seems there’s a general popular movement towards Twlight-style stories, where being a controlling, manipulative emotional abuser ‘romantic’.

    • Scarlett says

      And re chemo vs radio, I’ve no idea what’s best in certain situation. But the show makes it clear that the chemo didn’t work and the radio was more invasive with less likihood of sucess, and Annie made the choice to die instead. Whatever the show’s medical inaccuracies (and they had a single RN as their advisor at that point) I had a problem with the fact she made her choice to die in peace than live in pain and Bart was all ‘no, I DEMAND you live in pain for me ‘cos I love you so much’… and that that was considered romantic.

  3. M.C. says

    I’d say 90% of the so-called chick flick or rom-com genre feature a couple where at least one of them is emotional abusive or down right psychopathic. But the audience is supposed to find it romantic.

    Come to think of it, how many couples with a healthy relationship are there on tv/film anyway?

    • The Other Patrick says

      I know this is a much-maligned film, but that’s why I think Observe and Report is a masterpiece – I think it’s deliberately ugly and showing how what we normally accept as idiosyncracies or even cute tics is, in fact, abhorrent and dangerous behavior.

    • M.C. says

      So I thought about it, and the only couple with a healthy yet interesting relationship I could come up with is the Doctor and River Song. Sure, he’s a time travelling alien who looks like a 20-year-old and she’s a criminal archaeologist in her 40s, but they are still portrayed as equals… (And it’s kina sad that this is the only example I have of a good tv romance.)

      • says

        The Doctor and Donna were also a fair example, though they were a platonic rather than romantic couple.

        Part of the reason for non-healthy relationships is that they don’t make good drama. Even when the relationship is otherwise healthy, it can quickly be strained by the drama going on around them. Quick example – Law and Order SVU, Stabler and his wife seem to love each other and treat each other respectfully enough, but because of the outside stresses on their relationship their marriage is often on the rocks. Same with Criminal Minds and Hotchner. Can there really be a healthy relationship when the individuals involved can’t really be considered healthy? The kudos I have to give are that they don’t pull a happy ending out of their asses like Twilight did. They actually portray the people as genuinely flawed and trying to work on their flaws, and ultimately, that is important to a healthy relationship.

        Otherwise, only examples I can draw from are minor characters who get to stand a little outside the drama. But as characters, they are incomplete, very little of their relationships are shown, so we can’t actually evaluate them.

        Perhaps a better question is, is there such a thing as a truly healthy relationship? All relationships have problems because there is no such thing as a perfect person. The trick is in how you cope when such problems arise.

        • Scarlett says

          Um maybe Hepburn and Tracy in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Actually, come to think, the three main relationship in the movie are all pretty loving and respectful – although I’m not sure if that counts, ‘cos the movie’s not about the ‘relationship’ side of relationships so much as the difficulties of being in an interracial relationship. Even when there’s tension between the three couples about the interracial relationship, there’s no tension within each couple themselves, if that makes sense.Though I can totally see that if it were remade today, they would bring in a lot of tension within the relationship about said difficulties and have them break up.

        • The Other Patrick says

          What is a healthy relationship? Even without the necessities of drama (i.e. conflict), what would be the marks of a relationship where you could say, yes, that is healthy? Is it “just” the lack of manipulative behavior?

          Just so I know what I’m looking for when mentally going through the movies I’ve seen :)

          • says

            It’s respect, plain and simple. If disagreements are handled with both parties treating each other respectfully, even if they aren’t treating each other nicely, I’m willing to define it as healthy.

            I have a friend who is in a BDSM relationship. I consider her relationship perfectly healthy because while they may break out the whips and chains, they know each other’s boundaries and respect each other. It’s not my cup of tea, but then, neither is the 2.5 kids white picket fence option.

            Manipulating someone is disrespectful. Ignoring how your partner feels about a particular issue is disrespectful. Even if you don’t give in to your partner on that issue, it’s important to still respect their feelings.

    • Charles RB says

      I know a guy who said The Addams Family was one of the best depictions of a family for its era – because unlike other sitcoms , Gomez and Morticia were loving equals who treated each other with respect.

        • scarlett says

          I’ve actually got an article on Modern Family scheduled. For all the show’s flaws, I did like that the three main couples were on equal terms and treated one another with love and respect… even when the patriarch is on his second marriage to a much-younger Colombian immigrant it doesn’t come across as pathetic older guy/gold-digging trophy wife’ trope.

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