I am a Political Science graduate, major in International Relations and Foreign Service, with an interest in anime, religion and philosophy
ABS-CBN and iWantTv broadcast a rerun of the 2012 classic hit Walang Hanggan. It stars Coco Martin and Julia Montes in their first and most famous pairing. This is an opportunity for newer audiences to be invested in one of the most popular and well-written teleseryes of the time. At least when compared to today's soap operas, Walang Hanggan holds up for having incredible acting, proper pacing fit for the arcs of the story, and character archetypes that would define future works.
This article will provide an essential rundown of what works for the story while critiquing certain concepts that are present in the story and how they influence the view of Filipino audiences.
An intriguing aspect of the series that works for its kind of story is the concentration on its main cast. Rather than shifting between factions or growing the cast to prolong the story, we simply have the protagonists and the family face challenge after challenge and learning from them in a natural way. There are two aspects to this storytelling that work, the characters, and the conflicts.
The characters of the story are quite rich in what they bring to the story's discourse. Walang Hanggan is a story of everlasting love (symbolized by the infinity ring) that is grown over years of difficult relationship-building. We begin with the match between the rich Marco Montenegro (Richard Gomez) and the peasant Emily (Dawn Zulueta). Betrayal and misunderstanding break their bond, as Emily is pushed aside when Marco, under the influence of his wicked mother Donya Margaret (Helen Gamboa), presumed she was only after his wealth. As the Montenegros leave the country, the Alcantaras settle around the area, with Margaret's sister, Henya (Susan Roces), and the Alcantara landowner, William, adopting the orphan Daniel (Coco Martin), who falls for William's daughter, Katerina (Julia Montes). The pair are met with misfortune as Katerina's brother, Tomas, has her marry Marco Montenegro's son, the obsessive and disturbed Nathan (Paulo Avelino). Eventually, Tomas plots to kill Daniel, who is rescued by the now wealthy Emily and sets off to claim Katerina and avenge himself. However, in a twist of fate, Daniel turns out to be the son of Marco and Emily, leading to a reemergence of feelings between the pair, which does not bode well with Emily's obsessive right hand Miguel (Nonie Buencamino).
The story presents a pair formed by tragedy and almost impossible odds. Their resilience is tested by various forces and can only find solace in each other in the midst of the difficult relationships they form. Characters in the story are often commentaries on existing familial and marital notions that must be viewed in order to better sympathize with their struggles.
The best example is Katerina. She is objectified by everyone around her. Nathan is obsessed with owning her whole being. His sister, Joanna, and Donya Margaret, their grandmother, initially viewed her as a gold-digger. Her brother envies her and seeks to control her destiny for personal gain but also loves her, almost as if she is his means to win back any semblance of a family lost. Even Miguel uses her as a means to get Emily. It is Daniel and his sincere attention to her needs that break the cycle of objectification.
Speaking of Tomas, the man is a walking problem. He does not learn from his mistakes and uses money to cope with being disowned by his late father. Daniel is perceived as an enemy because, in his eyes, he replaced Tomas in the lives of William and Katerina.
Daniel is a more reactive protagonist formed by circumstance and heritage, which is a common trait for rags-to-riches stories where the poor main character is a secret heir to fortune. However, it is his relationship with his half-brother Nathan that provides the most interesting commentary, the thin line between love and obsession. Daniel and Nathan are almost similar in their fixation on Katerina. Of course, there are obvious differences, such as Nathan viewing Katerina as his world, and Daniel's care for the people around him. While Daniel's suffering drives him to claim Katerina to secure his peace, almost in the same way Nathan does, he does not deny his own limitations and is acutely aware of Katerina's lack of agency. In spite of such differences, there might still be that lingering question over whether Daniel could continue grounding himself through his experience to keep at bay the obsession that defined Nathan's life.
Miguel's growth from supporting character to main villain was more deliberate, particularly in how his obsession with Emily escalated, leading to forming an alliance with Margaret to end the Marco-Emily loveteam and growing in greed and insanity over his frustration to never have Emily as his own, even growing his own greed as a means to his ends. Like Nathan, he was obsessed with the woman he loved yet he expressed it more sadistically, using his wealth and power to ensure that Emily had no one else to cling to except him. He defines the trope of the lovestruck criminal that Hector from Kadenang Ginto would grow into in later seasons.
How Conflict Is Created
Another way the story presents its themes of love and obsession is through the ever-changing conflicts of the story. This is seen in the relationships they form, which are made in terms of their priorities. Margaret presents the internal conflict between control and redemption, accepting that she cannot dictate her son's fate and that she has to do right with her sister. Marco and Emily's dynamic is borne from uncertainty and mistrust and in the situations where Emily was in danger, Marco gave her solace and an opportunity to open herself. Joanna is conflicted over her need to be with her brother Nathan or to form a relationship with Daniel, the latter representing her gradual growth to selflessness.
What makes the conflicts more interesting is that they are challenges based on the flaws of the protagonists. Emily's distrust and Nathan's stubbornness are clear examples. Katerina's lack of agency also works well to prolong the story while giving new dimensions to her relationships, as Nathan's rape and Daniel's drive to save her break her to the point that she had to sacrifice her happiness so that Daniel does not sacrifice his own. It is the character choices that make conflicts work, along with mostly focusing the dynamics on the main cast.
Critiques and Final Words
The troubling aspects of Walang Hanggan have to do with the thin line between obsession and love, along with a lack of definitive agency among its female leads. Though Emily is more proactive, Katerina stands in contrast as an object to be saved or claimed. Daniel is the hero who saves the princess.
We can see some aspects of these deconstructed in future teleseryes, such as Kadenang Ginto's Carlos, who acts as the "hero" to Romina but his insecurities reveal that such a view of himself can never be validated.
While rags-to-riches protagonists are renewed through protagonists like Romina, there are quite a number of Daniels that portray both the limitations of machismo-based salvation and the reductive approach to class struggle and upward social mobilization.
Nonetheless, the series is blessed with great acting and characterization and serves as an example of how to create natural, tense conflicts without excessive melodrama while serving the key themes of love and family any teleserye normally espouses.
© 2020 Mar Louie Vincent Reyes