Was it Rape? Exec Producer Brad Bell Weighs in on The Bold and the Beautiful's Sex Controversy
Linsey Godfrey, Pierson Fode
The history of daytime drama is littered with rapists who’ve been turned into heartthrobs by writers eager to cash in on a star’s sex appeal. That was the case with Luke Spencer on General Hospital, Jack Deveraux on Days of Our Lives, Todd Manning on One Life to Live…and the list goes on and on. Has it happened yet again, this time on The Bold and the Beautiful?
Last fall, the CBS soap aired an episode in which callous womanizer Thomas Forrester (Pierson Fodé) had sex with his ex-girlfriend Caroline Spencer (Linsey Godfrey), who was seriously impaired by alcohol and (unbeknownst to Thomas) antianxiety medication. The next morning, Caroline was horrified when she realized what had taken place and screamed at Thomas not to touch her, which seemed to suggest that she felt raped.
But executive producer-head writer Bradley Bell has taken a 180-degree turn with Thomas, who is no longer an indiscriminate sex pig and is now downright saintly. What’s more, he’s become the victim in this scenario, since the one-nighter with Caroline resulted in a baby—news that was kept from him until only recently.
Did the show start off with a story of non-consensual sex, then change course in an attempt to turn Thomas into a romantic hero? Or was this always the plan? We spoke with Bell and asked him to clarify his intentions.
There are viewers who consider what Thomas did to be sexual assault, while others cut him slack. Some actually blame Caroline for mixing booze and drugs irresponsibly. Still others see this as a “no-fault” scenario. Why be so fuzzy about sexual consent, which is such an important and timely issue?
I don’t think it’s fuzzy. We were careful to write it so that the audience knew Caroline had taken a pill and was a bit out of it, but Thomas did not know about that pill. Caroline was kissing him back. It was very much a give and take. Thomas thought the sex with Caroline was completely consensual and beautiful and that it was the culmination of their love for one another. He didn’t know what the audience knew. He was shocked the next morning when she woke up to have this negative reaction.
But here’s the problem: The viewers and Thomas could clearly see Caroline was wasted and he also knew she was emotionally devastated after her bust-up with his brother, Ridge [Thorsten Kaye]. He didn’t need to know about the pill. He and Caroline had been drinking together and she could barely keep her eyes open. Her speech was not the speech of a fully aware person. And while Thomas may have been drunk as well, he wasn’t so drunk that he could not see her condition. He’d been lusting after Caroline and it really felt like he saw an opening, so to speak, and went for it.
Again, Thomas was under the clear perception that the sex was consensual. He is not the type of character who would do something like this. I don’t think it was fuzzy.
Did you craft this story so that it could go either way?
What do you mean by “go either way”?
Did you purposely create a scenario that let you to keep your options open—one that would allow you to either hold Thomas responsible for a sex crime or let him off the hook if you needed to keep the character around?
I certainly left it up to interpretation. Unlike other soap plots in the past where it was plain to see that a person has been violated, this was left up to the interpretation of the characters and the viewer.
You are the most socially conscious producer in daytime so you get how soaps can be important and enlightening. Why would you leave sexual consent “up to interpretation”? And let’s not forget that, when the sex took place, Thomas was being written and portrayed as an overt predator who had already caught hell for having sex with a Forrester intern. Do you see why there is confusion here and why some people see it as rape?
I think Thomas was reckless in [Fodé’s] early days on the show and what really made the shift in the character was the birth of his child. Thomas felt a real connection to little Douglas, and had great feelings of love for him. He didn’t quite understand what was happening—that Douglas was, in fact, his son—but once he started to feel that connection, he started to see that there was more to life. Thomas wasn’t happy with the way he was living. But I can certainly see how people could be very upset with Thomas and blame him for what happened. But, again, we were careful to keep him unaware. His perceptions were dim. Her perceptions were dim.
Despite Caroline’s initial reaction of horror, she has subsequently said that what happened wasn’t a sexual violation. But just because the writers put those words into her mouth doesn’t make them true. Many women choose not to report a rape, or go into denial about what really happened. Some fear not being believed or fear public vilification. The Bill Cosby case has certainly brought that to light.
There were some very unique circumstances that led up to that evening with Thomas and Caroline. The next morning, she was horrified and upset on many levels—especially that Thomas is Ridge’s son. That added to her distress. Caroline felt violated, and in many ways she was, but it was never Thomas’s intent.
So we should just forget about how she felt the morning after?
Caroline impulsively took a pill—one she hadn’t taken before and hasn’t taken since—but she didn’t immediately remember that when she woke up the next morning. At first she was blaming Thomas completely, because his story didn’t seem to make sense, but as she began putting the pieces together as the drug wore off and her mind became more clear, she was able to lessen her blame and take on a bit more of her own participation in what happened.
Well, let’s put it this way: If your daughter was impaired by alcohol and meds and unable to make a clear decision about whether or not to have sex with a guy and then that guy made the choice for her, would you be OK with that?
No, of course not.
B&B takes place in California, which now has a “yes means yes” law that defines sexual consent and instructs colleges how to handle rape accusations. Under this law, the lack of resistance does not mean consent, and the law also says consent cannot be given if someone is incapacitated by alcohol or drugs. Granted, Forrester Creations isn’t college, but if it were, a judge and jury might disagree strongly with Thomas’ “perception” and send his ass to the slammer.
Perhaps but, again, Thomas was under the clear perception it was consensual. That doesn’t make it right. Thomas was not okay with it. No one was okay with it. It was a terrible and unfortunate night.
There’s much talk on B&B right now about avoiding a scandal that could damage Forrester Creations if the baby’s true parentage were to be revealed in the press. Wouldn’t it be far more damaging if it became known that this baby is the result of rape? This could actually be a powerful story.
You are completely accurate on that. Any business scandal would pale in comparison to some kind of sexual misconduct or criminal offense. But that’s not the story we’re choosing to tell here.
Well, thanks for your willingness to discuss this. One has to ask these questions because daytime drama has a habit of pretending rape ain’t rape. And it wouldn’t be the first time it happened on a Bell show. The Young and the Restless did it with Malcolm [Shemar Moore] and Drucilla [Victoria Rowell], as well as with Paul [Doug Davidson] and Christine [Lauralee Bell].
When we do take on that issue on B&B, we will do it thoroughly and respectfully. We will treat it as the incredibly serious offense that it is.