"Cold Takes" is a column in which we express our passionate beliefs about insignificant events and Internet discourses at least several months too late.
When people think of soap operas, what commonly comes to mind are longstanding institutions such as Guiding Light, The Young and the Restless, All My Children, or General Hospital. However, one of the best soaps of the 21st Century —don't argue with me on this— was Passions, a short-lived cult classic with a strong teen fan base that was on television from 1999 to 2008.
Like most soaps, Passions leaned into the dramatics —long-lost children, family secrets, evil siblings, and forbidden loves galore— constantly reinventing itself to keep storylines fresh and their core audiences rapt. However, what made Passions so great was that so much of its construction was centered around campy supernatural plotlines, largely driven by the character Tabitha Lenox, a witch with a quick wit to match. It was this commitment to camp and the occult that was the true spirit (no pun intended) of the show and brought a level of sensationalism to the series that excited the fan base beyond the typical soap opera programming.
Tabitha Lenox was introduced early on in the show’s run as a villain to the longstanding families of the coastal New England town of Harmony, having sworn an oath to exact vengeance on the descendants of its early settlers after being burned at the stake in the colonial days. What ensued were a series of delicious hijinks against the town and its families, with Tabitha colluding with literal dark forces in her basement to wreak havoc to the best of her ability, frequently clashing with the potential force of pure good, Charity Standish. With the assistance of her companion Timmy, an animated doll who desires to be a real boy and serves as her moral center, and a crystal ball to give her insight into the goings-on of the entire town, Tabitha played equal parts Greek chorus to the quaint neighborhood’s conflicts, as well as an arbiter of chaos in the mortals’ lives throughout most of the series.
Tabitha’s scheming had a combination of bizarre, harebrained devilishness and pop-culture relevance that drew from Bewitched to Carrie to Wicked, making for stirringly absurd attempts at conflict that were outside the bounds of the typical soap opera. Instead of seducing someone’s lover, she attempted to burn someone at the stake, charm someone with evil pendants, or turn them evil altogether —all par for the course for a witch who claims responsibility for the sinking of the Titanic. Her plots for increasingly escalating levels of cacophony while sipping “martimmys” were constantly comically foiled, but there was always a new caper just around the corner with just the right combination of sinister and slapstick to keep the audience on their toes.
With all that said: It would be unfair to consider Tabitha 100 percent evil. Her existence as a villain was largely lashed out as a vehicle of being outcast by the community she called home —an understandable if not, melodramatic reaction to being persecuted in a time of moral panic. As the show progressed and she developed more familial and lasting connections with other characters, her complete rejection of all things “good”, both magical and non-magical became more tenuous over time. She became a single mother and took in a fellow single mother, Kay Bennett, while they raised their children together –while not without a few fits and starts; at one point in a burst of fury, Tabitha turned Kay into a dog. At the end of the show, her arc as a heel comes full circle as she fully embraces the forces of good and saves the town of Harmony, casting aside the longstanding grudge she’d held in favor of a new future.
Passions certainly had all the trappings of a standard soap –beautiful men and women and the angsty dynastical romances that come with it – but the true storyline of the show was the redemption story of a formerly evil witch who was finally embraced by a hometown who had long rejected her. Tabitha’s complicated arc of love, reclusion, and magic, immortalized through a neverending series of escapades made the show a classic treasure for many of its fans.