It's been a crazy couple of weeks on ABC's General Hospital! Femme fatale Ava Jerome (Maura West) was revealed to be the murderer of Connie Falconeri (Kelly Sullivan). Sonny Corinthos (Maurice Benard) tried to kill A.J. Quartermaine (Sean Kanan) by shooting him point-blank in the chest. And Dr. Robin Scorpio (Kimberly McCullough) abandoned her husband, Patrick (Jason Thompson), and her little girl, Emma (Brooklyn Rae Silzer), to leave Port Charles and save the life of her old friend Jason, a controversial decision that has infuriated many GH fans. What's behind these big, bold, ballsy moves? TV Guide Magazine got some insight from the show's head writer Ron Carlivati.
TV Guide Magazine: You've crossed quite a few lines lately — lines you wouldn't have been allowed to cross not all that long ago in this play-it-safe world of soaps. So what's with the fearlessness? You've taken Ava and Sonny to a place where neither can ever truly be redeemed. Any worries you might be killing your golden geese?
Carlivati: You should never discount a great story idea just because it might make a character irredeemable. It might have seemed that Todd Manning, who led the gang rape of Marty on One Life to Live, was written into a corner but he wasn't. Neither was Luke Spencer when he raped Laura on the dance floor. He went on to become one of daytime's great heroes. You can't be afraid to let characters make giant mistakes.
TV Guide Magazine: But isn't murder, or attempted murder, a bit different? Sure, Sonny has killed before but it's usually been to protect his financial holdings from other mobsters or to protect his family. Here he tried to kill his adopted son's birth father. And Ava has been a wildly fun and campy villainess but then, suddenly, s--t got real when she blew a hole through Connie.
Carlivati: The stakes need to be huge! To Sonny, there's nothing more important than his children. From the very beginning, his relationship with Michael was set up as being something very special. And now Sonny's done the worst thing possible. This will lead to a great story down the line: What's going to happen when Michael finds out Sonny shot A.J.?
TV Guide Magazine: And it's not just Sonny you're messing with here— by taking Shawn and Duke into his confidence, he's made them guilty by association. And Carly knows he did it, too.
Carlivati: Carly knows Sonny so well that the moment she heard A.J. got shot she knew Sonny was guilty. Right or wrong, proof or no proof, it just came flying out of her mouth. But that's Carly. Sonny could have had a rock-solid alibi and been on the other side of the planet when A.J. was shot and Carly would still believe it was him! Duke being asked to give Sonny an alibi puts him square up against Anna. Will he lie to her face? Will he hinder her investigation? And now that Ava and Sonny have this secret, how will it impact her relationship with Morgan? And wait until you see what happens next with Ava and Sonny. It gets even crazier. It's time to not be afraid to let these characters take action that is deplorable and unforgivable. Sonny and Ava can still remain interesting and viable despite their willingness to kill. We can still care about them. We may not love them, or approve of what they do, but we can care.
TV Guide Magazine: Yeah, but we also remember Sonny's promise to Michael — that he would not kill A.J. That makes what he did even more unforgivable.
Carlivati: That was a very critical moment after Connie died and Sonny showed up with a gun to kill A.J. and Michael pleaded with him not to do it. Then A.J. was acquitted of Connie's murder and has been walking around free ever since. Everything in Sonny has wanted to blow this guy away and the only thing holding him back was that promise to Michael. So we needed a moment where he just snaps, where he's so furious and out of control that he's not even thinking about that promise. For Sonny, it's only, "I want that a--hole dead!"
TV Guide Magazine: Ava doesn't even have that excuse. You seriously had no concerns about revealing her to be a cold-blooded, totally in-control killer?
Carlivati: Of course, we were nervous! Especially the more we and the audience got invested in Ava. It was always my plan to have her be the killer but there was still the chance that we would change our minds and not write it that way. As the character started growing in popularity, [executive producer] Frank Valentini said, "You know, Connie's killer doesn't have to be Ava. Maybe something else happened. Maybe someone else came in and killed Connie." There was certainly that temptation to protect Ava but, in the end, we decided it was a stronger move to stick with our original idea and see where that could take us down the line: What will happen between Ava and Sonny if and when he finds out she killed Connie? What will he do? She will have nowhere to run!
TV Guide Magazine: I took a lot of crap on Twitter for being surprised you had the nerve to make Ava the killer. All the Monday morning quarterbacks were saying, "We knew that for months!" because Connie had scrawled out the initials A.J. in blood. But that so easily could have been a red herring.
Carlivati: Absolutely. The audience was supposed to think it was Ava. We had never shown A.J. pulling the trigger, so they must have known there was a reason for that. Of course, they're going to say, "Oh, I knew it all along." But you really don't know for sure until it's actually revealed. In the past we probably would have backed off and pulled a switcheroo. We would have revealed that Connie was still alive when Ava left the room and that a third person entered and killed her. There were a few other possible outcomes.
TV Guide Magazine: So where does Ava go from here? Do you need to keep setting her villainy bar higher and higher?
Carlivati: Once we had her kill Connie all bets are off. The trick now is how do we maintain her longevity? I'm sure that every time we have Ava do something horrible poor Maura West is wondering, "Are they writing me into a corner they can't write me out of?" But that's the challenge for the GH writing team. How do we keep spinning Ava's story outward? How does she keep wriggling out of trouble even though, at this point, it seems like there is no way she can possibly do that. How does she stay just one step ahead of everyone else? The goal is not to redeem her but to find ways to make her emotionally relatable. In a weird way, having Ava kill Connie actually frees us up. Now you really have to sit up and take notice of this woman because you know she is willing to do anything.
TV Guide Magazine: Is this in any way reflective of our new era in cable drama, where we as an audience flock to shows like Breaking Bad and Dexter and Ray Donovan and give ourselves permission to root for killers?
Carlivati: I'm watching House of Cards and rooting for Kevin Spacey! Yeah, I think that's certainly a part of it. This is not a black and white world of good guys and bad guys anymore. It's a very messy world. To me, that's why Victor Cassadine can become head of the WSB or Obrecht can become chief of staff at the hospital. As a writer, it's so much fun to try to find the humanity in even the most awful people. Maybe that's why I create so many characters who come on bad from the get-go, like Ava and Brad and Britt and Obrecht. I love the challenge of where do we go from here.
TV Guide Magazine: Yet there's still a sizable portion of your audience that wants black and white scenarios. They're having a fit over Robin's decision to leave her family and go off to help Jason.
Carlivati: I know a lot of the fans see this as Robin choosing Jason over Patrick and Emma. I don't look at it that way at all. It's not like she's choosing between two suitors. One of these men is in big danger and the other one isn't. Jason needs her help. Robin had a line I wish we could have made into a much bigger moment. She said, "How can I look my daughter in the eye after everything we've taught her — that when a friend is in danger you must go help them? How can I look the other way knowing someone I deeply, deeply love is out there needing my help?" I'm not saying this is an easy decision. Leaving your husband and your daughter is horrible! But I certainly think her choice is defensible.
TV Guide Magazine: Plus, in Robin's mind, is she really choosing? Doesn't she think she can make this all work out — that she can save Jason and return to her family?
Carlivati: Exactly. She thinks she can have her cake and eat it, too. Look, I don't blame the audience for being upset but we really did explore every permutation, every way possible to write Kimberly McCullough off the show. People say, "Why couldn't Robin do the job across town so that she and Patrick can still see each other?" Really? So, meanwhile, Patrick is completely stagnating in an off-camera happy marriage? That's not a valid choice. That's not a character I'm interested in writing for. We did what we needed to do.