Is The Saw Franchise Actually A Soap Opera In Disguise?

Tobin Bell standing next to a countdown clock in Saw V.

The famed Saw franchise has scared audiences for almost two decades with nine films, including Spiral: From the Book of Saw, that have trapped unwilling participants in life or death struggles. Stereotypically, this would label the franchise that James Wan and Leigh Whannell helped build a horror series, and to be fair, there’s a good case for that image. However, there’s another possibility that’s been sitting on the table for quite some time, and it’s about time we acknowledge the possibility that the Saw franchise is actually a soap opera in disguise.

You laugh now, but there’s evidence that we’ve collected to prove this as a fact. In a series as drenched in bloody hijinks as Saw, there’s a fair amount of classic soap opera devices used to tell the story surrounding John Kramer’s operation. Everything from flashbacks and blackmail to miscarriages and retcons all set the stage we’re about to break down for you here. You may be ready to play a game, but are you ready to see how Saw is something worthy of a Daytime Emmy?

Betsy Russell and Tobin Bell at the clinic in Saw IV.

A Miscarriage Is Partially Responsible For Jigsaw’s Legacy

Whenever there’s a pregnancy on a soap opera, there’s a good chance the baby’s not going to survive. Historically, miscarriages are the handiest method of writing a child out of a story, which is exactly what happens in the mainline Saw franchise. As we learn in Saw IV, John Kramer (Tobin Bell) was supposed to have a son with his wife Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell). But an unfortunate turn of events caused an accident that led her to miscarry their child, which started John’s downward spiral into Saw infamy. This, of course, feeds into the other half of the Jigsaw creation puzzle.

Bahar Soomekh and Shawnee Smith stand beside Tobin Bell's hospital bed in Saw III.

Cancer And Flashbacks Are The Other Keys To John Kramer’s Run As Jigsaw

Of course, another way to put a soap opera character into particularly interesting scenarios is through a cancer diagnosis. That’s something that accompanied John Kramer throughout the entirety of his time in the Saw series. Between his depression and declining quality of life, John tried to kill himself, but ultimately survived and is motivated to share that gift with others. Eventually, he does die of cancer, but as any good character will tell you, flashbacks can do wonders to fill out a person’s legacy. Which leads to another complication that soap operas, and the Saw franchise, stepped into quite often.

Matt Passmore standing next to a reverse bear trap in Jigsaw.

Retcons Make The Saw Mythology As Crazy To Follow As Any Long-Running Soap Opera

Speaking of Jigsaw’s legacy in the Saw franchise, it felt like almost every film since Saw II introduced a new apprentice that was somehow working with John Kramer at one point or another. Saw II introduced Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) as the first surprise apprentice, and throughout the series, we learned that Jill Tuck, Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) and even Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) were all apprentices of Saw’s gruesome history. Though the kicker has to be the twist in Jigsaw, where Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) is revealed to be the first apprentice before all others. So if you’re not binging this series, chances are you may have gotten a little lost in the retcon shuffle.

Cary Elwes stands in a dimly lit room in Saw: The Final Chapter.

A Long-Lost Character Returned When The Saw Franchise Needed It

Speaking of Dr. Gordon, one of the (originally) first victims in Saw, we never really saw much of him after that first entry. In real life, Cary Elwes and the producers of the franchise were in a legal dispute over compensation, which cause the character to mostly be absent. However, fans still assumed Lawrence Gordon was out there, lending his surgical precision to John Kramer’s twisted games. Sure enough, to drum up the hype for Saw: The Final Chapter, Dr. Gordon finally made his return and was revealed to be in on it (almost) the whole time! Through retcons and contract negotiations, anyone can come back from the shadows.

Shawnee Smith reading a blackmail letter in Saw VI.

Blackmail Plays An Important Part In The Saw Legacy

Everyone knows if you really want to get your way in a soap opera, blackmail is a handy thing to have when making such plays. While we don’t find out about it until Saw VI, Detective Hoffman used blackmail to affect the events of Saw III to his own demands. Thanks to having dirt on Amanda Young being a part of the chain of events that accidentally caused Jill Tuck’s miscarriage, neither of Saw III’s test subjects survived. Blackmail is a powerful tool to instigate soap opera drama in any universe, but there’s one force that’s more powerful in the endgame.

Costas Mandylor in the reverse bear trap in Saw VI.

Jigsaw’s Will Caused A Huge, Duplicitous Squabble

Perhaps the largest soap opera trapping that Saw would see in its thematic midst is a good old fashioned last will and testament. The only difference being the prize is who gets to survive the Jigsaw legacy, as Saw: The Final Chapter would see Detective Hoffman and Jill Tuck finishing their game of cat and mouse that had been running several movies straight. Jill was supposed to test Hoffman as part of John’s last wishes, which led to the crooked detective straight up killing Ms. Tuck in the final film. Boil it all down to the basic nuts and bolts, and it’s another case of someone not liking the results of a will and getting dirty to fight back against said mistreatment.

Anyone who doesn’t think Saw is a soap opera with some added gore and jump scares is probably adamant to claim that it’s all one big horror show. That’s absolutely fair, but soap operas can transcend genre boundaries. Just ask anyone who likes 24, Law and Order or even Spiral: From the Book of Saw, which definitely veers into the police procedural aspect of the saga. In the case of Saw, it definitely has horror elements, but looking at the overall plot, it’s also soapy as hell. You’re more than welcome to apply this school of thought to Spiral: From the Book of Saw, which is currently in theaters.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.