I’ve noticed a recurring theme in my blog posts of late, where I’ll introduce some topic and talk about how well Days used to handle it and how today, while there might be a bright spot or two, the show utterly fails to reach its old standard. Realizing this makes me feel like a cranky old lady (I’ll be pathetically bleating in the nursing home as Ciara’s daughter marries Phillip’s surrogate grandchild—[ETA: scratch that, they’d be second cousins!]—“Back in my day, couples earned their meant-to-be status!”). Sadly, however, this next essay will be no exception to the general trend.
Let’s talk about props. I was reminded of how a good prop can enrich the plot by the use of the handkerchief in the Santeen flashbacks. A good prop serves multiple functions, and the handkerchief served as an excuse for Colleen to propose a second meeting, marked the difference between their stations in life (when Pete Brady said the handkerchief “cost more than a week’s wages”), and allowed for the tender romantic moment when Santo gave the handkerchief to Colleen by leaving it behind, and when they both kissed it in the same spot. It also showed the strength of Colleen’s regret when the priest took it away.
I can’t think of another recent use of a really good prop, though this DiMera storyline is maybe turning the tide. We have the letter in the wall at Maison Blanche, and maybe this key that Stefano carries around with him will lead to something interesting.
But a more common recent example involves the use of that soap staple, the character looking at a photograph in order to show who he/she is thinking about. When Belle was on Tinda Lao missing John and Marlena, the props department was unable to imagine anything better than to have Belle looking at an unbroken, framed photo of them, which apparently miraculously survived a drubbing in an ocean whirlpool, one where Belle couldn’t even hang onto her own daughter. (“Sorry, Claire, best of luck to you! I only have two hands, and I really like this picture!”) That’s not just lazy storytelling, it’s laughable.
Contrast that to some uses of pictures as props in the 80’s (I’m sorry to use only Steve and Kayla examples in this. I tried to come up with others, but apparently this is what I know best). The first picture of Kayla that Steve looked at longingly was a childish drawing done by Max, which showed a patched stick figure holding the hand of a stick figure with fluffy yellow hair. Next, also thanks to Max, Steve had an overexposed polaroid of Kayla and him together. That cheap polaroid was the only picture Steve had of Kayla from the breakup over Adrienne’s rape all the way through the Jack storyline. It was perfectly appropriate that he didn’t have the classic framed photo, and made his longing for her doubly poignant. The way he carried it in his breast pocket or propped it on a shelf to look at while he played his harmonica showed how precious it was to him.
Later the show used the engagement ring that Steve bought for Kayla (but never gave her) in a similar way. He wore it on a chain around his neck and constantly handled it like worry beads, unable to stop contemplating what might have been.
Speaking of jewelery, another great prop was the necklace Steve gave to Kayla for Christmas in 1986. First of all it was simply a beautiful gift, one that showed how special Kayla was to him. And the way she treasured it showed how much it (and he) meant to her. Then when Kayla learned it was given to him by his mother, seeing Adrienne’s matching bracelet was what revealed to Kayla that Adrienne was Steve’s sister. The final item in the set, the ring, also served in the plot (in a somewhat more lazy me too! fashion), when Jo recognized that Jack was her long-lost son Billy because he had the matching ring. This led to a key moment where Steve, in fear that Jack might recognize the necklace’s resemblance to the ring, performed the painfully symbolic act of briskly unclasping the necklace from Kayla’s neck right before he sent her to the hospital to be with Jack.
If you can count tattoos as a prop, my favorite props of all time have to be the dagger tattoos in the Stockholm storyline. First symbolizing the bond of three friends, “three together, together forever,” then the fracturing of that friendship. Then they’re clues to the location of a treasure, a MacGuffin everyone wants to get their hands on. Steve’s tattoo is the catalyst for Britta’s final betrayal, when she sleeps with him to get a picture of it, which of course leads him to threaten her life and be a suspect in her murder. Later Kayla accuses him of not wanting to get the tattoo removed because “it’s your last link to Britta.” More generally, the tattoo is a mark of Steve’s wild, dangerous life, what makes him so different from Kayla. And finally, it’s just really, really, really hot. You can’t ask for more from a prop than that.
Oh, well, something more to chat about in the nursing home.