Tessa and Mariah Are Breaking Ground and Mending Hearts on “The Young and The Restless”

I remember the day Bianca Montgomery (Eden Riegel) came out to her mother on All My Children. I remember the way, she looked — like a clone of her famous supermodel mother, Erica Kane (Susan Lucci) — and how she slowly stripped herself of that resemblance. Her gaudy earrings came off first, then her shoes followed by the shimmering dress she wore. Standing in her camisole, Bianca begged her mother to see her, to know that she was still her daughter, to love her as she always had, before saying, “I’m gay.”

I remember that day not just because of what was being said (or not said), but because of who Bianca and Erica were. These weren’t characters who I checked in with once a week; Bianca Montgomery and Erica Kane were daily fixtures in my life. I spent my school breaks sitting at my mother’s feet, watching Erica Kane’s latest travails in Pine Valley. I’d seen Bianca mourn the deaths of her grandmother and her father, survive a kidnapping and recover from a life threatening battle with anorexia. They weren’t just television characters to me, I knew them.

That’s the power daytime television has that primetime, no matter how potent the storylines, can’t replicate: the familiarity that comes from spending days, weeks, months and years with characters. For much of All My Children‘s audience, Bianca Montgomery became the first gay person they knew on that December afternoon and, invariably, she became the first gay person they cheered for.

“They always say that once you meet somebody, once you know somebody, who is gay or lesbian or transgender or any number of things, then you go, ‘Oh, I get this now. It’s not this scary other thing that I have be afraid of,'” Riegel told the audience at the BAM Reunion at ClexaCon. “But Middle America, who were, at the time, very opposed to gay marriage and gays adopting children, were all for Bianca getting her baby back. It was a window to open it up to people who otherwise might not have experienced that.”

That familiarity, along with the demographics of the audience — which skews older and more conservative — has always made daytime television a fertile ground for telling stories that can genuinely change hearts and minds. Unfortunately, though, daytime television tends to be risk averse, overly concerned about offending their shrinking viewership, and opts against telling stories that might challenge their fan-base to embrace differences.

The Young and the Restless tried to tell a love story between two female characters once before — in 1977, a recently widowed Katherine Chancellor started to have feelings for her friend/roommate, Joanne Curtis. The backlash was so ferocious after just one touch between the two characters CBS immediately scrapped the storyline, and the subsequent ratings free-fall doomed LGBT storytelling in daytime for almost a generation.

But, back in March, Y&R decided to try again and began to lay the groundwork for the first true same-sex romance in the show’s 44 year history. Pitched by then-head writer, Sally Sussman, it was billed as a slow-burn.

“This is a love story; it’s not a gay story. It’s about falling in love with a person, not a gender,” Sussman told Daytime Confidential‘s Jamey Giddens. “People fall in love unexpectedly for all sorts of reasons. Some they understand; some they don’t.”

But while Y&R‘s storytelling might be stepping into the modern era, their strategy for capturing the attention of new audiences has not. CBS continues to clamp down on users who post clips of the couple online, while also not posting any of the clips on their own YouTube account. It’s a perplexing decision that’s shortchanged the reach of this new pairing.

But, if you’re looking for a way to catch up on Y&R‘s newest love story, I’ve got you covered: meet Teriah.

Mariah Copeland (Camryn Grimes) first meets Tessa Porter (Cait Fairbanks) at the local nightclub, the Underground. Tessa’s there with Reed (Tristan Leabu), her new music student, and Mariah’s there on her first date with her new billionaire boyfriend, Devon (Bryton James). The two strike a quick and easy rapport. Tessa’s new in town, but she recognizes Mariah from her work on a local television show, GC Buzz, and is impressed. After Reed coaxes Tessa on-stage to perform at open mic night, Mariah’s equally impressed and films video of her performance for the GC Buzz website.

Things quickly pick up for Tessa: she becomes the personal assistant to Nikki Newman (Melody Thomas Scott), Reed’s grandmother and the matriarch of the richest family in Genoa City, and is invited to move into their sprawling ranch. She continues to do performances at the Underground’s open mic nights and, eventually, her talent earns her a deal with Devon’s music label/streaming service.

On the personal front, she starts a relationship with the Underground manager/Reed’s cousin/Mariah’s brother, Noah (Robert Adamson). She’s reticent to commit, though, and even mentions leaving town when she runs into a guy she thought she’d left behind in Chicago. But each and every time Tessa’s reluctant, Mariah’s there to talk her into staying and giving her perpetually unlucky-in-love brother a chance.

Mariah and Tessa quickly become each other’s closest friend. They spend a lot of time together, sipping wine, sharing popcorn and watching bad romantic comedies. Mariah’s a constant source of reassurance for Tessa and Tessa is finally able to repay the favor when Mariah starts to realize that her new boyfriend isn’t over his ex-wife, Hilary (Mishael Morgan).

“I know Devon likes me, I just see the way he looks at Hilary,” Mariah admits. “Devon has been working very hard to try to convince himself that he is over Hilary. He had me convinced too. It’s not that I think that we’re soulmates or anything like that — or even that I believe in that sort of thing — I just know that when he’s with me, he’s not really with me.”

Tessa doesn’t try to talk Mariah out of what she sees — it’s been obvious to everyone for a long time — and, instead, wraps Mariah up in a tight hug, holding her while she cries. The next morning, Tessa encourages Mariah to share her feelings with Devon but Mariah’s reluctant. She’s never been that girl; she doesn’t want to come off as insecure or pathetic, even if that’s who she’s turning into.

“No,” Tessa asserts. “You are smart and funny. And you hide behind those walls of yours but you have a huge heart. No one should make you feel like you’re their second choice because you are incredible. Completely incredible.”

Tessa reaches up and brushes Mariah’s hair back, lowering her gaze from Mariah’s eyes to her lips. There’s a brief flash of recognition in Mariah’s of what’s coming and what everything leading up to this moment has really meant…and she doesn’t shy away from any of it. Mariah and Tessa are alone on her mother’s gaudy couch, seconds away from sharing a kiss — when their boyfriends come knocking at the door.

Mariah patches things up with Devon but the way she looks at Tessa has changed. It’s like someone’s turned on the lights in a dimly lit room and Mariah’s forced to acquaint herself with Tessa anew. She thinks back to the near kiss, she focuses on Tessa’s words and the moments when Tessa’s hands touch her own. And when the pair ends up alone in a hotel room in San Francisco, and Tessa touches her again, promising to do whatever she can to help Mariah, the result of all of that processing comes to the fore: Mariah pulls Tessa into a sweet, but impulsive, kiss.

Mariah pulls away first. Shocked by her own impulsiveness, Mariah apologizes repeatedly but Tessa — who, by the way, didn’t pull back from the kiss and seemed pretty into it — assuages her guilt. They both agree that they got caught up in a moment and decide to leave the memory of their kiss in the past. Their boyfriends return to the room and both girls stare wistfully at each other, while welcoming them with a hug. Mariah tries to recommit to her relationship with Devon, even saying, “I love you” for the first time, just after her kiss with Tessa.

It sounds like gay panic — and, maybe on some level, it is (and, ultimately, the outcome is the same) — but this feels different. This doesn’t feel like Maggie running to hook up with Jamie Martin after she impulsively kisses Bianca or Natalia taking comfort in Frank as her feelings for Olivia start to rise to the surface. Mariah is not afraid of loving a woman, she’s afraid of taking a risk.

“This is the best relationship that I have been in in my entire life, with someone intelligent and sensitive who likes everything about me. We have so much fun together and our personalities mesh,” Mariah later confesses to her best friend, Kevin, before sarcastically adding, “And so it’s only reasonable that I would consider throwing it all away after one kiss with Tessa.”

Kevin pushes Mariah to tell Tessa how she feels and she tries to but before she can, Tessa pushes her firmly into the “you’re more than a friend, you’re family” camp and Mariah loses her nerve. She accepts her position in Tessa’s life and tries to settle for good, instead of continuing to hope for great.

Mariah convinces herself that what she has with Tessa is enough. It’s enough to be the person Tessa trusts and leans on the most. It’s enough for Tessa’s bedroom to be right down the hall and to know that they’ll wake up to each other. But, when Mariah hears Tessa talk about what a great guy Noah is or when she catches the couple kissing, her heart breaks a little. And then, when her brother pushes to usurp Mariah’s place in Tessa’s life, she realizes that nothing, short of what Tessa and Noah have, will ever be enough.

The next time the pair cross paths, they’re back at the Underground, with their boyfriends, celebrating the release of Tessa’s first EP and a set of regional tour dates. When she’s with Devon and Noah, Mariah’s able to feign enthusiasm for Tessa’s successes — both personal and professional — but when they’re alone, her mask slips. She takes uncharacteristic jabs at Tessa and finally calls her out on the mixed signals she’s been sending.

“Please believe me, I didn’t mean to send any mixed signals,” Tessa says. “Sometimes, you can have real feelings for someone but the timing’s just off.”

Tessa reaffirms her commitment to Noah and tells Mariah that he’s what she dreamed of when she was a kid. Her abusive upbringing had her convinced that all men would treat her like garbage and Noah’s upended all that. Tessa doesn’t want to mess up her relationship and encourages Mariah to focus on her relationship with Devon.

“Just be happy and forget everything else,” Tessa says as she hugs Mariah good-bye.

And, to her credit, Mariah tries. She spends the weekend with Devon in Chicago and dons a matching costume on Halloween. When she invites Tessa to spend some “girl time” together, it sounds like a genuine effort to make their friendship work. But then, Tessa tells her about the romantic weekend Noah’s planned, and Mariah sees the life she so desperately wants and she can’t take it anymore. She abruptly exits and goes home to fill her empty heart with empty calories.

When Sharon returns home, she notices her daughter clinging to the Halloween candy like it’s a life preserver, a telltale sign of heartbreak. Mariah’s instinct, one honed by years of heartache and tragedy, is to avoid conversations about her feelings but she can’t anymore.

Tessa’s committed to Noah.
If she’s kissing his sister, I don’t know how committed she really is.

What follows is an amazing conversation between mother and daughter, one steeped in a history dating back to 1994. Sharon describes the electricity of falling of falling in love for the first time and Mariah recognizes everything her mother describes. The racing heart, the long conversations that are never, ever long enough, the regret of any day spent apart. Mariah feels all of that, she just doesn’t feel it for Devon. It is not a small thing for Y&R to cast Mariah’s love for Tessa in the same mold as one of the show’s great supercouples, Nick and Sharon. It’s a normalizing force for a conservative audience that might not view a same-sex story that way.

When Mariah confesses that fact to her mother, Sharon assures her that she’ll find that special someone one day. Mariah explains that she already has.

“Well, who is he?”

She.”

“What?”

“Who is she?”

Sharon pivots from being surprised to being supportive with ease and looks forward to meeting the woman that has captured her daughter’s heart.

“What’s her name?”

Tessa.”

Mariah anticipates her mother’s reaction; everything Sharon says, she’s asked herself a thousand times before. Why her brother’s girlfriend of all people? Mariah never wanted this, but when love found her, she was powerless to stop it. She can’t tell Tessa how she really feels, not at the expense of Noah’s happiness, so she’s stuck, pretending that the life she’s living is the one she wants. Sharon urges Mariah to be her true to herself and to go to Tessa and tell her how she feels.

When Mariah finds Tessa at the coffee house and asks her for the complete truth, Tessa knows what’s coming. She’s seen this conversation coming for months now and, despite her attempts to delay it, it was always inevitable. Knowing the heartbreak she has to dish out, Tessa’s uncharacteristically detached — the warmth that’s characterized their friendship, the warmth that’s fueled their intimacy, is missing. Tessa sits straight in her seat, completely stoic, as Mariah’s feelings pour out.

Mariah starts by asking about the kiss in San Francisco. She pleads with Tessa to tell her that everything she felt then, everything she’s been replaying in her head since, wasn’t a lie. Something happened, Mariah says, and, finally, Tessa confirms the truth.

“The kiss wasn’t about San Francisco or being at a music festival. It wasn’t about anything except for you and me,” Tessa admits. “And it was wonderful. But it’s too complicated. That moment was perfect, but it’s passed.”

Mariah doesn’t understand. How can something be perfect and, yet, not worth recreating again and again? Tessa leaves open the possibility that one day, she and Mariah could be something more, but, for now, all they can be is best friends. Mariah cannot abide that, she can’t go back to pretending that they’re just friends.

“Tessa,” an exasperated Mariah says, before walking away, “I want you in my life too, I do, but not like this.”

It’s a heartbreaking outcome — made that much more poignant by Grimes’ incredible performance — but, hopefully, it’s just the start of this new ‘ship. Hopefully. Even after eight months of build-up, rumors persist that CBS Daytime will succumb to pressure from the show’s conservative fanbase — many of whom have swarmed social media to express their displeasure — and drop the storyline. And, if they do, it’ll be an especially sad moment…in part because it will have squandered the Emmy-worthy talent of Camryn Grimes, but also because it’ll mean that in the 40 years since Katherine Chancellor and Joanne Curtis, nothing will have changed at CBS or in Genoa City.

A black biracial, bisexual girl raised in the South, working hard to restore North Carolina's good name. Lover of sports, politics, good TV and Sonia Sotomayor. Spends her Thursday nights trying to make #Shonday happen.

Natalie has written 32 articles for us.

13 Comments

  1. SPOILERS FOR RECENT EPISODES AHEAD!

    Thank you so much for this. I’m thrilled to see their story laid out like this, and I hope that more people will watch. I’ve really been in love with this pairing. Both actresses are doing a fantastic job! (OMG the way that Tessa holds Mariah’s hair when they hug… ♡♡♡♡♡)

    Camryn Grimes continues to break my heart with her performance (that coming out scene was just… wow.), and I love & appreciate that they are using some of Cait Fairbanks’s own music! (This track is fantastic: https://soundcloud.com/catbeachmusic/with-me)

    I want to hear more from her as an artist, and I’m hoping that the producers will stay the course on this story. (Since Mariah broke up with Devon this week, I have a glimmer of hope!) But even if they don’t, while it will be a true shame, I suppose it will still have been better to come this close and have it not work out than for them not to have tried at all…

    • @purplefuku I’m a sucker for a girl with a guitar so I was destined to be enamored with Cait Fairbanks’ portrayal even before they took Tessa down this road.

      I was thrilled to see Devon and Mariah finally end things last week. They haven’t made sense together for a long time and both of their hearts belonged to other people. I’m anxious to see Devon and Tessa talk about the break-up. I think those scenes could be really interesting.

  2. One of the first soap storylines I ever saw was Sharon and Nick’s love story. I watched Nick become a father to Sharon’s daughter Cassie only for her to die tragically in her youth, haunting both the characters for years. Many years later, they brought back the much beloved Camryn Grimes to play her long-lost twin Mariah. Mariah has evolved quite a bit from when she originally came on the show. I still feel weird finding her attractive considering I’ve literally watched this actress grow up on camera.

    I really hope the writers stick with this storyline despite the backlash. They’ve done a good job so far of making it make sense for all the characters involved to feel the way they do and it’s quite obvious that what they feel for their current SO’s pales in comparison to what they feel for each other. If they plan on keeping them with their boyfriends it’s going to look blatantly obvious that the writers only did so to please the loudest part of the audience who hates all things gay.

    I’m glad Y&R is even taking this risk by telling this love story given soap opera’s history with LGBT storylines, the backlashes they always create, and the current political climate. General Hospital also has a storyline involving two women and they’ve been receiving the same sort of vitriol about it. I swear every week these four actresses are getting negativity aimed at them on their social media accounts and they always handle it with more grace than I would give the situation. I don’t think soap fan’s realize that they are killing their own genre by relentlessly and consistently brow-beating these shows to not evolve but instead be “traditional” and tell the same storylines they’ve been telling for 40 some odd years with a lot of the same characters. You would think losing four shows in like a 5 year period would have been a wake up call.

    • @turkish I have the exact same issue…especially after Alice came back and they were evoking all these memories of Cassie…I just couldn’t look at Camryn Grimes without flashing back to those days of her taking care of her grandma, Millie. I get the value of doing that–it really made the audience feel like Mariah’s a core character–but it just made me feel a little creepy.

      Like you, I hope the writers stay the course with Mariah and Tessa. I was glad to see Devon and Mariah break-up last week, particularly since it felt like Mariah was breaking up with Devon for herself–a realization about the kind of love that she deserves–and not for Tessa. I think we’re in for a long wait on the Noah/Tessa break-up though…this storyline has all the trappings of an affair.

      I couldn’t agree more about the daytime audience’s willingness to cut off their nose to spite their face. The only thing I’d add is that, for all the talk that’s happening on social media and for all the “I’m never watching this again” threats, there’s very little evidence of those viewers actually abandoning the show. Networks are giving into empty threats and doing a lot of damage to the LGBT viewers in the process.

      That said, while I want to acknowledge the climate into which daytime injects their stories, I also don’t want the fact that they told the story to be the story (if that makes sense). I want good, compelling storylines for all of daytime’s LGBT characters…just having them on the canvas isn’t enough.

  3. Thank you so much for this piece, Natalie. It means so much to me. I grew up watching Days of Our Lives the same way you described watching your soaps here, and I can’t even imagine how it would have changed my life to see a queer storyline. Also the love you put into recapping Tessa and Mariah’s storyline just made me swoon!

  4. Loved it! The couple and this recap!
    Keeping my fingers crossed for them!
    Thank you for filling us in!

    P.S.:I hope that my abundant use of exclamation marks gives an adequate impression of how excited I am that maybe, possibly, the dark mark that CBS has cast over lesbionic storytelling ever since Otalia, has finally evaporated.

  5. Thank you for this wonderful recap. I came into the storyline a bit late, so this is immensely helpful. I can’t emphasize how important this is. CBS tried and ultimately bailed on the wonderful Otalia storyline back in 2009. The actresses were barely allowed to touch and a kiss? Totally out of the question. This despite it being one of the most popular couplings in the show’s history. I applaud the writes of the Y&R for tacking this wonderful relationship. Camryn Grimes has been nothing short of amazing, especially in that wonderful conversation with her mom. Let’s give Y&R all the viewership they need to they won’t be drowned out by the Right, who are already calling for boycotting. I just have one criticism. This: “This is a love story; it’s not a gay story. It’s about falling in love with a person, not a gender,” Sussman told Daytime Confidential‘s Jamey Giddens. “People fall in love unexpectedly for all sorts of reasons. Some they understand; some they don’t.” Please don’t go there..when you’ve studied as much gay and lesbian movie/TV history as I have, you realize that almost everyone associated with groundbreaking LGBT stories have used that same exact wording. No, no, NO. They are LESBIANS. This is a LESBIAN story about two women falling in love with each OTHER.

    • I do understand your wish to have people in executive positions acknowledge queer relationships, but I don’t believe you can decide what label should be applied to others, even if they are television characters. There are non-lesbian people who can see themselves in Mariah and Tessa, whether they identify as bisexual, pansexual, polysexual or choose not to incorporate a label for themselves.

      • I would like to propose a story to Autostraddle in which I would like to gather ALL the quotes from network and movie executives through the years who have said the SAME exact words. You’d be shocked. It’s laughable how they want to do this “bold” story, while holding back from saying it’s a lesbian story line. I’m not questioning labels or how people want to identify themselves. I am questioning why executives in this day and age use the same tired cop out “it’s not about a same sex relationship. It’s about two people falling in love” like we are a bunch of idiots. Believe me, they’ve said the same thing since the 1960s and 1970s when they tried to do gay and lesbian story lines.

    • So, I think you’re right, @Donica, about Sally Sussman’s comments which I found frustrating…I included them here because I thought it was important to note the impetus behind the storyline. Those comments (and, really, that entire interview) gave me perspective about what I could realistically expect from this storyline.

      The error that Sussman makes–and the mistake that far too many writers make, frankly–is that belief that stripping a character of the thing that makes them different makes them more relatable and palatable to the wider audience. In that interview, she admits to doing it, not only to Mariah and Tessa, but to the African-American characters whose stories she’s crafted. That’s infuriating and really reveals a lack of imagination on her part. It’s specificity, not broad generalizations, that breed commonality and understanding…and Sussman doesn’t get that.

      It is worth noting, though, that Sussman is not the head writer at Y&R anymore…she’s just the writer who pitched the story and was responsible for a bulk of the storyline. Mal Young’s taken over the head-writing duties and has been responsible for everything we’ve seen on screen since late October. While Y&R is Young’s first head writing gig in the US, he’s got a long resume of involvement with UK soaps, including writing the first pre-watershed lesbian kiss on British TV.

      • Thank you @Natalie for clarifying what I was trying to say. I’m an older woman and I’ve lived through some hideous homophobia with regards to TV and movie characterizations..that’s why her words were so heartbreaking and so frustratingly familiar. Your article above is a superb summation of their relationship so far. I hope they don’t crack under the already strong pressures the way they did with Otalia on “Guiding Light.”

  6. I have not invested in this storyline just yet so this recap of what’s gone on so far is a good taste test. I’ve never watched Y&R but I have been a soap person for pretty much my whole life so I know the people and places.

    I was completely invested in BAM and it really pissed me off when they laid all the groundwork and then had Bianca be with Lena for those few months. And then the rape/babynapping happened (and Maggie and Jonathan) and FINALLY, FINALLY BAM would be together but off-screen because the actresses decided to leave the show (not even going to talk about the break-up that happened).
    I thought this was the worst fuck up to a storyline until Shonda was like ‘hold my beer’ and wrecked Calzona.

    Same with Otalia, unfortunately timing was off for them, just as things were heating up the show was cancelled and in those few months before the final episode Jessica Leccia (Natalia) was pregnant and went on maternity leave. Though making Natalia pregnant on her return was a little silly but the show was ending and they just wanted to wrap everything up.

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