Soap funerals always introduce the problem of how much crazy plot to revisit. “Here lies my brother, who I didn’t know was my brother at first. He was obsessed with my wife and kidnapped her, and I thought we’d be enemies for life. Then it turned out we both shared the same rare blood type, and I got an incurable blood disease. My wife pretended to be in love with him in order to convince him to give me a transfusion, and when he found out the truth he was brokenhearted. Then he wasn’t so evil after all, and we made peace. Until the DiMeras implanted a computer chip in his brain. Sniff. I’ll miss him.” Wisely, soaps usually refrain.
But then there’s John Black. How do you pay tribute to a character who has had everything happen to him, in the most confusing way possible? Who spent half of his years on the show thinking he was one man, and the other half being about a million different men? How do you do it with a straight face?
This is the joy of Days. I spent Thursday and Friday (10/18&19) last week alternately laughing and crying. The show seemed to think it safer to stick to the Roman Brady identity, where at least there were some things to talk about that weren’t howlingly ridiculous. But that led to confusing statements like this:
Caroline: John was, to Shawn and me, another son. In fact, for a while, we mistakenly believed that he was our son.
Anna: It broke Carrie’s heart that she couldn’t be here today ’cause she loved John like another father. Well, I mean, he was her father for all the time when Roman was gone and I was off seeking fame and fortune.
Abe: John was never officially a police officer. But in recognition of his time as captain of the Salem P.D. And his tireless efforts to fight the good fight… I am so proud… I am so proud to say that he will be buried with full policeman’s honors.
And then the capper:
Roman: We shared a name. We shared a family. We shared a life. For those of you who don’t know the story, due to a very bizarre set of circumstances, I came back to Salem years ago to find that there was a new Roman Brady in town, one who unwittingly and innocently had taken my place in every way — father, son, husband, you name it. That was John Black. And as you can imagine, I was more than a little upset. And you know how I can be when i get upset, especially since by that time, he seemed to be more me than I was. And that’s hard to deal with, believe me. That is hard to deal with. But then John — John did something pretty incredible. John came to me, and he said that he would step aside. And he did. I don’t know about you folks, but…I call that class. John, if anybody was ever gonna have my name, I am honored that it was you.
I don’t blame them for concentrating on the John-as-Roman life. Since I wasn’t watching in the 90’s, I only know about John’s multiple pasts through hearsay and guesswork. But after Wayne Northrup came back and John was revealed to be not Roman after all, they had to invent a new identity for John. And they went to town. He was a DiMera pawn trained to be an assassin. He was an international art thief. He was a priest. He was Forrest Alamain. He was Tony DiMera’s brother through Daphne DiMera (proved through blood tests with the character who is now Andre).
And then they just gave up, I think. John never recovered his memory of who he was before he came to Salem.
When I watch old clips of Drake from the 80’s I remember how much I liked him as Roman. He was a workmanlike actor, but he brought pizazz and charisma to the role. He had a wonderful family dynamic with the other Bradys. I particularly enjoyed his protective vibe with Kayla when she was getting involved with Steve. He generated oodles of chemistry with his co-stars and was paired successfully with many different women: Marlena, Olivia (remember her?) Diana, Isabella, Kristen, Kate. (I have also heard that the infamous Sub!Sex with Hope/Gina was a hot sex scene, though I’ve never seen it.)
I loved Drake with Staci Greason (Isabella) but I also really liked Roman and Diana. Just last night when I was watching my Steve and Kayla clips, I saw the first chemistry test scenes of Drake and Genie Francis. Genie brought out a fun side to Drake (even in the 80’s the Drake/Dee dynamic was more self-serious). And even though she is a great soap actor and he is, er, not, somehow he matched her. They took two characters who had lost a great love—Marlena of course for Roman, and James for Diana—and showed them finding love again. In retrospect, I really appreciate how slowly romances developed then. Diana was given months to mourn James, who never once appeared on screen, and the show gave Roman a nice mourning period for Marlena, using the character primarily as a police officer and brother/advisor in the meantime.
Hogan Sheffer didn’t seem to know what to do with John and Marlena, but he gave John some wonderful scenes with Bo, especially last fall when they donned disguises and broke into EJ’s safe deposit box to look for clues. And who could forget the wonderful scene when they visited the DiMera mansion and Tony came in on a horse?
So long, John.