The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (and Then Went Back Out)

So, the mysteriously vanishing John Black popped up for two episodes last week to have scenes with Brady and Kristen.

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Drake Hogestyn tweeted last month that he hadn’t taped at Days since mid-March, so the episodes that aired last week were the last he’s filmed at this time.

Even if he goes back to shoot tomorrow, they’re so far ahead that we won’t see John until at least the holidays. Which is… really weird.

John’s role in this Kristen/Brady story has been very bizarre. I loved the twist of him getting angry at Marlena for keeping the relationship from him and then for making things worse between him and Brady. Then John essentially disappeared for months, popping up now and then to keep being mad at Marlena while he brewed up some vague plan to make Kristen admit her feelings for him, thus proving to Brady that she was only using him. I find it hard to pinpoint where, precisely, it went off the rails, but it was well off them by the time John confessed to Marlena that he still has feelings for Kristen after all.


I understand that you never fully get over exes. But that was such a wild leap for me to make. I don’t for a second believe that John thinks Kristen is a good person or someone he’d want to be with — so basically, he’s still attracted to her and wanted to bang her. That’s the opposite of noble. And this story brought out the worst in Drake Hogestyn’s acting. I’ve never considered him a master thespian, but I’ve often enjoyed John Black on my screen. He’s one of daytime’s great heroes. When I interviewed Drake and Deidre Hall just before they returned on-air in 2011, I found him to be incredibly charming and enthusiastic about getting back to work.

The thing to remember, of course, is that John and Marlena were brought back when McPherson & Thomas came in — replacing Dena Higley and (then the executive producer, not the writer) Gary Tomlin, who had written the couple out in early 2009. For all the good things I have to say about this Tomlin/Whitesell team, I don’t think they know what to do with John and Marlena as a couple, or even with John as a character. He’s had a tough time fitting into this “New Salem,” the smaller Salem that emerged in 2009; even his stuff under MarDar never quite worked.

A huge problem, from where I stand, is this insistence on writing John as tortured. That isn’t what Hogestyn does well. He’s a likable goofball in real life. Let John be that. Let John be the dad everyone wishes they had. Let him support Marlena and go toe-to-toe with the DiMeras. But I don’t think these tales of inner conflict do him any favors at all, and since he came back from the dead in 2008, that’s basically all it’s been.

I don’t know if we’ll see John again. If I had to take a bet, I’d say we will, especially since he received such a non-exit. I’m not a couple or character fan at all, but it feels weird to have John just not be in Salem. I’d rather he had stayed dead in 2007-08 if that’s how it was going to turn out. And while Marlena has been very enjoyable to me since her return, I’m not especially interested in seeing her in some big new romance. If they don’t know what story to write for John, don’t write one — keep him and Marlena together, keep him on recurring, and let us see him two times a month and on special occasions. I don’t want to go back to the Days of John and Marlena being written like a pair of twenty-somethings constantly being torn apart by circumstance, but it feels very off not to have them together — and, even worse, to have them just drift apart this way. And that’s a fact.

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3 Comments on “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (and Then Went Back Out)”

  1. Dan Says:

    I won’t miss John Black. When I came back to DAYS in 2008, I was really impressed with his work during the RoboJohn period. He played damaged well. At Christmas, I cried when he witnessed everyone gathered at the Hortons for Christmas and he phoned his psychiatrist saying that he wanted his memory back because he wanted to be apart of that.

    While I think TPTB should play an actor’s strengths, they shouldn’t be boxed in by their weaknesses. Like it or not, we are in the final days of daytime drama and there are plenty of strong competent veteran actors out there who could fill Drake Hogestyn’s place. Of course, our luck they’ll hire Ron Moss as John Black’s longlost twin brother with a brain tumor or some other WTFery.

    I have no problem with John silently fading into the night. I don’t need some grand swan song because the actor’s usually give it their all and then you want them back. I’m happy if we learn, ala Payla, that John has left town and have Marlena make a comment in passing that she and John hadn’t renewed their vows, they just meant they were married in their hearts or some other bull response to let John go.

    In regards to TomSell and Jarlena’s place on the canvas, I’m not sure I can argue too much. As I’ve stated before, I’m never quite sure whether some of these name hires are hired because the writers want the character or Sony wants the name attached to their brand and expect the writers to make it work. For example, I’m not convinced Kristen was a part of TomSell’s grand plan. For me, it worked, but I suspect at times Kristen may have been foisted on them and they ran with it.

    On the otherhand, I think Marlena works in a supporting role as Sami’s overwrought mother, Will’s concerned grandmother, and a member of the University Hospital staff (a role they need to utilize more). Her relationship with Hope has been refreshing, but at times I expect Marlena to ask Hope to come to bed with her. Hell, Bo isn’t around and John’s been too busy trying to get into Kristen’s pants…

    Which brings me to your point about John’s feelings for Kristen. It’s messy. I loved John’s revelation because it made sense for me for the reason you said; you don’t stop loving someone. Personally, I would have written the story in a way to reinforce John’s hero complex (which Kristen played on in the initial attack story) and made that a stronger part of John’s desire for Kristen. It is hard to buy John loving Kristen as she was because his main concern for Brady was that Kristen would hurt him.

    • mykleraus Says:

      I… am torn. It feels sloppy for John to go out this way. It feels unfinished, and I honestly don’t buy that Marlena or Brady would just be like, “Oh well, John’s floating out there somewhere, whatever.” If they really, really don’t want John around, I’d prefer they kill him off just for the closure. Because I don’t know how Marlena moves on with John just being “out there somewhere.” It’s another version of Bo, only completely in the show’s control and much uglier emotionally.

      I agree about playing up John’s hero complex. It isn’t that I don’t believe he’d still be sexually attracted to Kristen, because he was once and that ended very abruptly. But for him to have some unresolved feelings would have to be played very differently, with the emphasis totally elsewhere, because it doesn’t quite line up with the ending of their relationship. Kristen lied about the baby because she knew John was going to go back to Marlena. John spent almost two years in some epic, unconsummated love with Marlena that anyone with two eyes could see. John felt obligated to Kristen, and he loved her in a way, but it wasn’t like Kristen and Brady, where he was 100% in love with her until he found out about her lies and had to break it off.

      • Dan Says:

        I’m so use to the fade into the canvas exit that I’ve accepted it. John’s revelation deeply hurt Marlena. It really allows Marlena to let go. I think Marlena needs to be on her own for a while. I hope she is played as support until at least the spring.

        When John attempted to take Kristen to bed, it didn’t feel genuine. I didn’t believe either character was doing it other than because the plot said so. I didn’t believe John had done enough to lure Kristen away from Brady or at least adequately convince Kristen that he was emotionally invested in her.

        It’s interesting to be revisiting this story given the latest casting news. I’m not surprised, and I’m not even disappointed. I wonder if this was why they played fast and loose with John because they weren’t sure how the fall out of John/Kristen would play?

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