In the spring of 2021, The Young and the Restless (Y&R) had a fun time rolling out their new character, Ashland Locke (played by Richard Burgi). His name was on many characters’ lips and his arrival in Genoa City was hyped for weeks before viewers actually saw him in the flesh.
Six months later, viewers are still no closer to understanding who Ashland Locke is, despite the whirlwind of speculation and revelations around his character. Are Y&R writers still playing coy with their audience about Ashland’s true identity, or are they just as unsure what to do with him?
From the beginning, Locke’s name has been synonymous with a cutthroat, calculating businessman who takes pleasure in destroying anyone who opposes him. Sound familiar? This description got audiences psyched for an antagonist in the mould of Victor Newman (Eric Braeden), but that isn’t really what fans have seen so far. However, could that be what Y&R writers are striving for?
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Much of what makes Locke intimidating is the feeling that he’s about to demonstrate his rumored powers, but so far he hasn’t displayed much. When he tried to back out of selling his media company, Cyaxares, to Victor, he suffered a heart attack — and Victor wouldn’t dial 9-1-1 until Locke signed the contract. Ouch!
Things didn’t look all that impressive in his personal life either, as Locke was totally in the dark about his wife, Tara (Elizabeth Leiner), having an affair with Kyle Abbott (Michael Mealor). In due time, it would also become painfully obvious to everyone but him that his son, Harrison (Kellen Enriquez), wasn’t his at all.
In spite of these professional and private betrayals, the man they call the Locke-Ness Monster hasn’t sought revenge. It appears as though he’s forgotten all about what Victor did to him, and he’s allowed his son to go live overseas with the man who broke up his marriage. Sure, he cut Tara out of his will, but she isn’t even on the soap anymore.
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If Locke hasn’t lived up to his towering reputation thus far, perhaps it’s because Y&R writers see a greater use for the character. In one of Richard Burgi’s first interviews after he debuted, the actor described the role as it was pitched: “no big commitment” and “super-loose”. Yet within a few months, the actor was added to the CBS soap’s official cast page.
And it’s no wonder why. Burgi has been a great addition to the show. He’s crafty and well-spoken. He has the physical presence to command a room. Plus, he’s playing the mysterious angle masterfully. Will it turn out that he’s faking his illness and maneuvering to take total control of Newman Locke? Or is he truly in love with Vicky (Amelia Heinle) and hoping to beat this terrible lung cancer? He could break bad or good, and Y&R writers are clearly enjoying that freedom.
It’s a freedom that has kept Eric Braeden happy, playing Victor for over forty years now. In fact, Braeden played a vital role in creating Victor’s backstory because he was having trouble playing someone who was so one-dimensionally evil. Sure enough, we’re already seeing new dimensions in Locke, as he acknowledges the abuse he suffered from his father. If that tale is true, who wouldn’t be a little bit damaged after such a rough childhood?
Even as we discover more about Locke — such as his real name, Bobby DeFranco, and the various crimes he committed to become a media tycoon — he still doesn’t show a lot of ingenuity or agency. His admitted crimes so far have been on the cowardly side, since all of his victims (the real Ashland Locke, Camilla Rhodes) were already deceased when he betrayed them. These revelations make it seem as though writers are still grooming Locke to be a villain, but then he backs away from villainous opportunities.
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The most recent case in point came courtesy of Jessie Gaines Jr. (Jamison Jones), who had successfully blackmailed him for years and recently tried to ruin Locke’s wedding. So what terrible thing did Locke do, in retaliation? He tried to reason with him (unsuccessfully) and then told Victoria the situation was “handled”. Uhh no, Ashland, it clearly wasn’t.
Soap opera websites regularly predict that Locke will either become the proverbial Locke-Ness Monster any minute now, or he’ll pass away. They tease that he’ll kidnap Vicky, murder Gaines, or succumb to his illness. But as Burgi goes from a recurring status to a contract one — and his character finds himself married into Genoa City’s most powerful family — Locke doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
Whatever “super-loose” plan Y&R writers had for Ashland Locke in the spring appears to be out the window. Will Locke become a villain? To some, yes. Will viewers still like him? As the Moustache would say, you bet. While this character hasn’t shown the qualities of being Victor Newman’s equal on-screen, Richard Burgi could very well become Eric Braeden’s apprentice: a villainous character who is still a good guy when it counts.
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