The Secret Life of Objects

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.


14 thoughts on “The Secret Life of Objects

  1. Props can be used really effectively in all mediums, not just soaps. With Steve and Kayla, his harmonica comes to mind because it’s an active prop that gives the audience a chance to see how the character is feeling without him needing to express them in words.

    It’s a shame we don’t get more. Occasionally we see an actor stare at a picture of their loved one (such as Nick holding an outdated picture of Chelsea in his room) but pictures are overused. Why can’t they go down to a local gift shop and buy some cheap gift and have an actor give it to the other?

    Example: Two characters are in that “not ready to admit we love each other outloud stage” and while out and about, they come across one of those gift machines where you have to operate a mechanical arm to get out the prizes. The girl playfully talks the guy into trying to win her the best thing inside but instead he nearly wastes all his money but winds up getting her something cheap like a little trinket. The girl tells him it’s sweet and puts it on her keychain.

    Then later after the couple are estranged, the girl can now be shown to be thinking about the guy by taking the keychain out and stroking it. The cheap thing could really have great romantic implications because the memory it generates has become priceless to her.

  2. Wow, there were so many props like this back then — there was also Kayla’s scarf, Steve’s poolstick, the wedding present rose that Jack crushed, the key in the Marina storyline… Even the sign for courage is sort of a prop in this way. A silly one is the lighthouse kitten that Kayla rescued from the storm, that Steve later took care of while Victor had Kayla. More manly men holding small animals on daytime, please!

    But seriously, even though the Billie storyline fizzled out, the necklace Steve bought for her was a pretty good prop last year. From whatever inappropriate impulse made him decide to buy it, the fact that he had a proxy go out and choose it, and that she never actually received it, it was a decent reflection of the story.

  3. Those are some good examples, lska. I didn’t think of the rose. Also, the harmonica Kayla gave to Steve was the first present he got from her, and even though she practically threw it in his face he was always taking it out and holding it.

    With pictures, I always liked that old picture of Steve that Britta carried around, how different he looked in it, and how it was all creased and faded. Showed how different he was back then, and how Britta changed him (his eye, of course, but more than that).

    Ah, the infamous “BILE” NECKLACE!

    I love your example, too, Tripp. That’s what I was trying to say, that they don’t introduce props that the actors can use to actually add something to the story. But maybe everything just happens too fast. I know Stephen made a comment in his blog once how he liked using props. He said something about how he and Matt Ashford liked to challenge each other with different props and see how the other one reacted.

  4. I could so see SN and MA doing a “prop off” type contest. LOL.

    Yes, the BILE necklace was very infuriating for me but at the same time the fact he sent Hope off to get it without him wanting to choose it really reflected the relationship (like a man using his secretary to pick out a gift for his girlfriend). The reason it was so hated was of course the magazines had a made a pick deal that story would be really romantic for S&K fans! Instead we had Kayla out like alight while Steve made goo goo eyes at Billie through a glass.

    On my idea, can you guess which couple I thought would be great for that example? Hmmmm? Sigh, lost opportunities.

    Seriously, Chick would have been perfect for this stuff. While they were dating, Nick could pick out some weird GEEKY gift for her, like a miniature microscope for her keychain (I’m stuck on keychains it seems) and Chelsea grins but makes fun of it. Then my dream is if she and Nick were to break up (hopefully him leaving her) she can pull that out and suddenly find it to be the most romantic gift she ever received.

  5. A more recent multiple-use prop they’ve had is that picture of Steve and Kayla at the Salem Inn. First, there was that spiderweb fracture in the photo after Steve’s first big episode at the hotel, and how Steve pricked his finger and the blood dripped right into the fracture between them in the photo. Then later, when he was back from deprogramming, they showed us the photo, the shattered glass now repaired and the couple still smiling and together. It was not only symbolic of his healing, but the way he gazed at it with such a lovely mixture of love and regret showed us his emotional state at that moment. Gotta give ’em “props” for that. (Groaning may commence).

  6. You’re right, Paula, I forgot that was the same photo that got smashed. I remember Steve looking at it before he called Kayla for the phone sex, and I welcomed the return of the strategically placed photo (as long as they don’t ask me to believe in one surviving a jump into the ocean).

    Hee, Tripp, I did picture Chelsea and Nick with your scenario, and that would have been so cute—the geeky gift that she rolls her eyes at a little at first that becomes totally precious to her.

    Another great picture prop: the picture of Billy/Jack as a baby that Steve still carried around with him (not able to let it go even when Jack was evil) that showed Jack how his older brother loved him all that time.

    And then we have the only-on-Days prop: the donated or stolen life-giving kidney, which affords myriad opportunities for sarcastic jokes. At one point evil Jack said Steve had to stay healthy “in case I need any more organs.” And I can’t recall the John/Stefano kidney conversation right now, but I remember it was amusing.

  7. Wow, I hadn’t thought about comparing the recent kidneynapping to the kidneygiving from ’88. It fascinates me to compare them now!

    Sigh, I still love chick. I keep thinking of great ways we could have seen them “date” or at least spent time together before they introduced Jett. (I’m saying Jett so people can find your blog too with Jett searches!)

  8. The mention of Jett made me think about the hot tub as a prop. It’s rather obviously a metaphor for getting into hot water.

    You have Max jumping in with his clothes on, signifying that he’s putting everything he has into this venture and getting soaked. Chelsea is tenative about the hot tub and tends to get out quickly when she’s spooked. Jeremy and Stephanie got completely naked in it and did all sorts of stuff I don’t want to think about (given that it’s a communal hot tub), which perfectly fits her recklessness and his embrace of the darkside, and it’s no coincidence that Stephanie’s recklessness ended with a symbolic drowning there. Jett dips into the hot tub to transact business, whether it’s flirting with Chelsea for his own agenda or conspiring with Max to get the goods on Jeremy.

    The hot tub may not be the most subtle of props, but it still works.

  9. Yuck on the hot tub being used as a prop. Seriously everytime I hear the product “hot tub” all I can do is imagine Jett laying on his back and seeing his glistening chest of manliness shining there in the water.

  10. I like your hot tub analysis, Paula. Bravo!

    Maybe there’s symbolic significance to Jett’s odd hot tub pose? Straddling the line between “in” the TTS venture and “out” of it?

  11. Well, my suggestion was that Jett be gay AND undercover. Undercover for plot purposes, and gay to explain the use of a “beard” which doesn’t really make sense for being undercover.

    And I can’t believe I forgot to mention the Prop that Wouldn’t Die: the HAIRBRUSH!!

  12. That hairbrush is the Michael Meyers of props. Seriously.

    I would love for him to be both too (gay and undercover). I know, there have been very good suggestions for the fiancee that nearly explains the rationale behind it, but it still doesn’t explain the “telling Nick she was cheating on him” thing. And don’t tell me he was trying to “bond” with Nick thinking Nick would feel closer to Jett if they both have problems in their relationship. That’s got to be the most stupidest thing I have ever heard. Seriously. Course, then again, Jett is asking Max to do the investigating for him huh?

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