Out of the Past

When all else fails, bring back the dead spouse.

I’m watching the climax to the Cal Winters story now, where Diana’s wedding plans with Roman are jeopardized when her dead husband from six years ago shows up in town. This story is, frankly, awful, having just about every bad element you ever see with these types of stories. (It also shows a remarkable lack of originality, considering that Roman and Diana have been together less than a year. Is this the best they could come up with, really?)

1) The spouse has never been mentioned before. In Diana’s case, since she’s a relatively new character, this isn’t quite as bad as it could be (see Johnson, Steve, with Marina). But, when Diana was introduced, all we heard about was her Great Love James, who had recently died. It would have made more sense to bring him back from the dead.

But, since they weren’t married, the obstacle would have been merely emotionally complex, instead of the apparently far more interesting “Help! I can’t get married because I’m already married!”

2) Upon discovering Cal is still alive, Diana doesn’t tell Roman about it. Instead, she is evasive and secretive and puts off setting the wedding date. Whenever she resolves to tell Roman the truth, she is either interrupted, or Roman says something like, “I’m so glad there is nothing standing in our way, Diana,” or he reads her a poem Carrie wrote about how much she’s looking forward to being part of a real family again (no joke!).

All this means that when the truth finally comes out, and Roman asks her again and again, “Why didn’t you tell me?”, Diana has no answer. And that’s because the answer is, “To create fake suspense.”

3) Despite the fact that they only knew each other for a few weeks before impulsively eloping, whereupon Cal immediately crashed in a fighter plane and was presumed dead, Cal is psychotically sure that he and Diana are true love forever.

This is always the case. These back from the dead spouses never say, “Damn, I still love you but I see you’ve moved on. Well, best of luck.” They are always impervious to logic. When, finally, they grudgingly face the fact that the new love interest isn’t going anywhere, they turn bitter and vengeful and start wreaking havoc. Many classic Salem villainesses got their start this way, including Anna Brady and Emma Donovan.

This storyline is so common that almost every long term Salem couple has been through its wringer at one time or another. Marlena, Kim, and Kayla could have a cozy coffee klatsch where Kim and Marlena reminisced about having their wedding crashed by Emma and Anna, respectively. And Kayla and Kim could compare notes about what it was like to be unjustly accused of the returned one’s murder. (Considering their long years on the show, it’s amazing that Bo and Hope haven’t been given this story. Unless you count Hope coming back from the dead to disrupt Billie and Bo.)

By the way Out of the Past is a fabulous film noir starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer. Check it out!

10 thoughts on “Out of the Past

  1. I’ve been catching bits of this storyline lately because it’s on my Steve and Kayla DVDs. It really was a strange one. These secret marriages that nobody bothered to mention — why did that seem like a good plot device. Why would anyone keep a marriage and loss of a loved one secret from someone you care about? It’s a good reminder that even back in the good old days, there were some really goofy storylines. It is fun seeing Jack poking around Diana’s office all the time. I don’t think they ever built him his own office. But at least they acknowledge the situation — Diana asks Jack if they should exchange offices since he seems to prefer hers.

    By the way, I think I’m also pulling the plug on current Days watching. I’d still like to see some Steve and Kayla, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Phillip is gone just as I’d started to take an interest in the actor/character. Nick is apparently going. I give up!!

  2. My jaw dropped when I heard the latest casting rumors, Flaco. JKJ, Blake, Drake, and now Deidre Hall. I wonder if DH didn’t want to take a pay cut, or if they even pitched the idea of putting her on recurring. I would hope they would use the money saved to hire a good writing team, but I’m not very hopeful.

    I am more and more sure that Ken Corday is the root of the problems at Days. It’s sad.

    Oh, and I agree that the Jack/Diana stuff was the best part of the Cal Winters story. I loved the scene where he finally confronted her and tried to blackmail her into selling him her half of the Spectator.

  3. Total weirdness seems to prevail. I’m actually fast forwarding through Nick scenes because I can’t stand the character assassination. There is a new Brady on who actually seems quite good, but why get my hopes up.

    I haven’t seen any more Cal Winters story because my daughter (my co-watcher) hasn’t been around.

  4. You just gotta love the tried and true back from the dead spouse as obstacle plot. It ranks right up there with WTD, amnesia, and big soapy weddings as a true soap staple.

    I think Jack and Jen were the only couple to escape this trap and that’s probably only because Jen grew up onscreen and they couldn’t figure out how to give Jack a presumed dead wife.

    I know that Bo and Hope kind of escaped it, but since Hope was her own presumed dead spouse, they still had the storyline, just in a non-traditional way. RoJohn and Marlena had it twice with Marlena coming back and the real!Roman coming back.

    If I had lived in Salem and had a presumed dead spouse, I’d have been scared to get married again just because you know they would show up again.

  5. Let’s face it. If you lived in Salem, there are many, many things you would be afraid to do. If you gave birth, you would immediately engage a body guard for the little tyke to try to ward off the inevitable kidnapping. When love ones died, you would drive a stake through their heart and cut off their heads to avoid their inevitable return from the dead. You would write a daily journal to help when your inevitable amnesia/brain washing occurs. Life is Salem is not for the weak.

  6. It is like living in the Bermuda Triangle, isn’t it? Soap towns are place where you can see Murphy’s Law (“Whatever can go wrong, will.”) truly in action.

    My mom and I were talking about Nick this weekend. Poor kid had a bright future when he came to town. Now look at him.

  7. The Nick thing has got me so depressed. I’m assuming he’ll now be carted away to a loony bin or jail and that’s the end of yet another interesting character.

    Philip and Stephanie are proving to be an appealing couple, for what it’s worth.

  8. Stephanie and Philip are appealing, but the way they’re playing it now, where’s the long-term, sustained conflict going to be? (It’s very frustating, as a romance novelist, to watch Days!)

    As for Nick, they could so easily mine his problems for really cool psychological drama. I think it could be argued that his pain medicine impaired his judgment, and that when he killed Trent, he really thought he was protecting Melanie. After all, he’d just seen Trent push her into a grave stone and knock her out. So there’s a defense there for him, and they could sentence him to the state hospital (a la Crazy!Steve) for a little while to take him off canvas, then bring him back in a couple of months as an unknown quantity—is he cured? Is he not? Can we trust him?

    The problem is that Days these days doesn’t seem to know how to mine the drama. They sometimes have decent set-ups but the follow through is shallow and perfunctory.

    What’s sad is that the kind of drama a lot of us crave could be done through strong character work, which doesn’t require fancy sets or a lot of budgetary bells and whistles.

  9. Exactly. Most of my favorite soap opera moments are entirely character driven and take time to play out. The Steve and Kayla story was great because it took so long for the problems to resolve themselves and because both the problems and the resolutions came out of their well-established characters. Nick could be a great story. I’m unfortunately fairly sure it won’t be.

  10. Paula, I agree. Filming on location and good sets are nice, but character-driven stories and meaty dialogue is much more important for hooking and keeping viewers. Of course good writers cost money, but I think even bad ones aren’t cheap.

    I am curious to see Phillip and Stephanie, Flaco. I always thought they’d have chemistry. Maybe I’ll check out some clips.

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