You may have seen the above General Hospital clip making the rounds on social media, ridiculing the long-running soap opera for shamelessly plugging Marvel’s Doctor Strange, in theaters November 4. After all, General Hospital airs on ABC, the same network that airs Agents of SHIELD and is also owned by Marvel’s parent company Disney. If you’re not an avid viewer, this clip is exactly that: two soap characters randomly dropping the name of an upcoming movie in the middle of a tender moment.
For General Hospital fans, however, the Doctor Strange shout out is actually not strange at all. Sure, it’s definitely a cross-company product placement, but it’s entirely in-character for these two specifically. Rather than the awkwardly placed plug it appears to be out of context, her bringing up Doctor Strange is a meaningful moment in a coupling that’s been a couple of years in the making, and has involved Marvel from the beginning.
Here’s a primer: The guy in the clip is Ned Ashton, one of General Hospital‘s long-standing characters that has been played by Wally Kurth since 1991. For most of his history on the show, Ned has nursed a relationship with Alexis Davis (Nancy Lee Grahn) that’s off-and-on since the ’90s. The woman in the clip is Olivia Falconeri (Lisa CoCicero), who entered the show in 2008. but the writers didn’t start pairing her up with Ned until mid 2014, when Ned helps cheer her up following a harsh breakup.
In the August 25th, 2014 episode, they went to a movie together for the first time.
Ned: You’re supposed to return those 3D glasses after the movie, Miss Falconeri.
Olivia: Oh, for pete’s sake. I swear, I forget every time.
Ned: And you pulled me into your web of crime.
Olivia: That’s right. And if you don’t want me ratting you out to the cops, I get to pick the movies from now on.
Ned: Well, that actually might be a real threat if you hadn’t proven your good taste tonight. Picking Guardians of the Galaxy. That was a great flick.
Ned: And here I thought you were gonna drag me off to some arthouse film.
Olivia: Who, me? Ned, no. Give me a good popcorn flick every time.
They insist that they’re not dating, because Olivia’s still raw from her breakup and Ned’s thing with Alexis is starting back up again, but their shared love for Marvel movies gives drive to their budding romance. No, seriously. The show portrays Ned’s main squeeze Alexis as a woman who dismisses Marvel’s output as “silly movies,” which opens up room for Ned to geek out with Olivia instead.
Credit to the writers, Ned and Olivia maintain a habit of talking about Marvel movies even when there’s no Marvel movie playing. Case in point, in the December 16th, 2014 episode, Ned and Olivia finally admit that their movie outings may be more than platonic, but decides to stop before they cross a line. During “the talk,” they bring up a movie that did not hit theaters for another 5 months:
Olivia: I like hanging out with you, Ned. That’s the problem. The more I hang out with you, the more time I want to spend with you. And worse than that, every time I see you with Alexis, I just get mean.
Ned: No, you don’t.
Olivia: Yes, I do. You saw me this morning with the eggs and the lox. I was a snide, snippy, little bitch, and I don’t know who that is. And I sure as hell don’t like her.
Ned: You had a bad moment.
Olivia: Yeah, and I’ll just keep having more of them. And I don’t want to have more of them. I don’t want to be the kind of person who insults another woman because she happens to be with a man that I have feelings for.
Olivia: And I don’t know how to stop it, Ned. The more time I spend with you, even as friends, it’s just gonna get worse. And so, the only solution is not to see you at all.
Ned: I guess this is it.
Olivia: Yeah. I guess so. I’m gonna miss you at the next Avengers movie. It’s not gonna be the same without you stealing my popcorn.
Ned: Make sure you get some extra butter for me.
This is as hilarious as it is sweet. Think about it, the show positioned the thought of two people not being able to watch Avengers: Age of Ultron together as some kind of moment of doomed romance.
Their relationship turned complicated after this, in that recognizably soap opera way. Olivia has rebound sex with Julian, the son of a mafia boss who happens to also be Alexis’ ex, and predictably gets pregnant. In order to protect the baby from being claimed by the mob, Ned breaks up with Alexis and lies about having slept with Olivia, claiming the baby as his.
This was the excuse to launch Ned and Olivia as a couple, but soon after, Wally Kurth signed a contract with NBC to return as a full time cast member on Days of Our Lives. Forced to write Ned off the show, the writers abruptly nixed the Ned-Olivia storyline. All of a sudden, Ned feels guilty over lying about the baby and leaves town entirely, not to be seen again for months.
Over the next year and a half, Ned would occasionally roll back into town whenever Kurth was due for guest appearances, and sparks would fly again when he runs into Olivia. Most overtly on the April 21st episode of this year, in anticipation of a certain Marvel event.
Olivia: How long are you in town?
Ned: Oh, a few more days. But maybe we could get together, go see a movie?
Olivia: I’d like that. Are you gonna be in town on May 6th?
Ned: May 6th… Captain America: Civil War.
Olivia: I literally cannot wait to see it. Whose side are you on?
Ned: Who do you think? A noble, principled man out of time… Or a charming, slightly entitled corporate genius?
Olivia: You’re going Tony Stark.
Ned: And you are Team Captain America. True blue! Heart on your sleeve!
Olivia: I’m so predictable. I’m sorry.
Ned: I was going to say admirable.
Where to begin with that exchange? How about the clever use of Ned’s erratic appearance schedule to organically bring up the movie’s release date? Or the sweet manner in which it subverts the movie’s “Choose a side” marketing gimmick to instead highlight why they’re a pair (which incidentally also serves as a reminder that Cap and Iron Man, despite their differences, admire each other very much).
In September, Ned returned again and started to pick things back up with Olivia, who had since come out with the truth about her child’s father and is now a single mother. The Doctor Strange scene was a pivotal moment for them, because this is the first time they’re able to fully admit to their feelings without anything being in the way. When Ned tells her that he doesn’t want to see Doctor Strange without her and Olivia is so overwhelmed by it that she lunges in for a kiss, it’s not so much a hysterical attempt to bolster Doctor Strange‘s importance by suggesting that the movie gets women going for you, as it is Ned re-committing to her by referencing the constant in their entire relationship, which just so happens to involve the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
By the Wand of Watoomb, is there anything wrong with that?