WTF Wednesday: The Salem Stalker/Melaswen

It was a full decade ago, in the summer of 2004, that everyone was running around on a strange island called Melaswen (“New Salem” backwards… yeah). Everyone’s houses had been perfectly replicated with tropical plants added, Jennifer gave birth to JJ in between falling off cliffs with Jack, and Tony André gave the most convoluted explanation ever for how he made it appear Marlena had murdered several friends and family members when, in fact, they’d “simply” been drugged, switched with doppelgängers, whisked off to a tropical replica of their home, outfitted in Tommy Bahama resort gear…

Seriously, try and watch this scene of André explaining the Salem Stalker plot to Bart (it’s part 1 of 2, both of which are maddening and terrible) without your blood boiling with fury:

I remember watching this and thinking it would have been easier just to run a title card that said, “You know what? We take it all back. Pretend none of those people died, okay?” This was such a horrifying cop-out.

But let’s rewind to the beginning. Dena Higley’s short 2003 run as headwriter was abysmal — random and anonymous and dull: Bo and Hope become bounty hunters! Everyone wants some magical goop from a Native American reservation! Cassie and Rex are miraculously Kate and Roman’s kids! The one thing she did get right was the budding Sami/Lucas romance, so I’ll give credit for that — but the show needed a serious kick in the pants. That’s when NBC lured back James E.Reilly, who had written Days during its outrageous highs in the 90s, from Carly being buried alive to Marlena’s possession to the Kristen/Susan fiasco. Reilly had gone on to create Passions for NBC, and they wanted him to do double duty and revive Days.

Reilly’s return was about as subtle as everything he’d written previously (and, for the record, I fell in love with Days during his first run): Basic Black threw a fashion show, Bo and Hope were bopped on the heads by an anonymous assailant, and we were off.

l_days-of-our-lives-the-salem-stalker-dvd-video-melaswen-57b3
The show was suddenly fun to watch again, but it was also like a damn live-action cartoon. Everyone’s IQ dropped 50 points, Sami hated John again and wanted her parents back together, Celeste was having wacko visions, there was some lunacy about the ghostly head of Tom Horton… But there was a sense of atmosphere and adventure, and as tasteless as a lot of it felt (recovering alcoholic Maggie was beaten to death with a liquor bottle!), I was hooked and wanted to know what was up and what would be the plan moving forward.

For a recap of the murders, you can check out this video, and then this one, from an Australian TV station, which pretty quickly sum up the story up through Marlena being revealed as the killer. Or you can read this “amazing” — no, really, it’s amazingpoem I found online years ago, which is honestly one of my favorite things ever. Go ahead. I’ll wait. “Marlena Evans, she [sic] not through!”

So we watch all these people — including Alice Horton! — get slaughtered, Marlena goes to prison and gets shot trying to escape, Marlena goes on some kind of magic coffin ride through Hell… and then she lands on a tropical island where she’s greeted by Alice, who explains that all the serial killer’s “victims” are there, very much alive and hanging out in exact replicas of their homes. Other Salemites wind up on the island, which has a force field that Hope hilariously keeps running into, and then we finally get that insane Tony/André explanation (as well as a Psycho-esque reveal of Stefano’s alleged skeleton).

I remember almost throwing a shoe through my TV the day that aired. (Actually, I was visiting home, so it was my parents’ TV, which might have been what stopped me.) It was absolute bullshit. There are so many plot holes in that explanation that I can’t even pause long enough to type them all. We saw all the murders through Marlena’s drugged eyes, apparently? Then where did these doppelgängers come from? Maggie was lying there, beaten and bloodied, after she got hit — she wasn’t just shot with a dart and then swapped out. Doug saw Marlena in that grave with him, which is why he wrote her name. And Tony’s plan made no sense. Why go to all this trouble and expense? If you hate these people so much, kill them!

Marlena

So what really went on with this storyline? It’s ten years later, and we don’t have answers. Were they actually planning to kill all those people off? All of the actors have insisted that they thought they were really fired, even Frances Reid. They were touting this as “something never before done in daytime,” and there were all sorts of wild theories out there, like that the end of the story would be a relaunch of the show, with Drake Hogestyn and Deidre Hall in the Tom and Alice Horton roles. They insisted that it wouldn’t be a cop-out and that the killer was really Marlena, to the point of having Hall do a short stint as Marlena lookalike Hattie Adams to disprove the theory that it was an impersonator, and then we got a reveal that it was “Tony” brainwashing Marlena and no one was dead. I hated how it made it feel as if nothing we saw onscreen would ever “count” — especially because Victor and Colin Murphy were slapped onto that island to erase Nicole’s crimes, and this was the same period in which teenage Chelsea turned out to be Billie’s child Georgia, whom we’d seen be stillborn six years earlier.

James E. Reilly passed away a few years ago, and I don’t have a lot of confidence that Ken Corday will ever give an honest answer to anything. Melaswen feels like such a rewrite to me, but I guess that could have been the intended “never done before!” twist. Then again, having Marlena turn out to be an actual serial killer would have also accomplished that, but it would have been odd to “sacrifice” arguably the most known/popular actor and character on the show, especially since she was Reilly’s main muse. What’s your theory about this year of nonsense that ultimately meant nothing?

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8 Comments on “WTF Wednesday: The Salem Stalker/Melaswen”

  1. GnuHopper Says:

    Oh, and let us not forget that Jack Deveraux not only died, but had his organs donated and [i]had his spirit leave his body and ascend to heaven![/i] But by Melaswen he’s feeling much better!

    While I know JER has his fans, his treatment of Jack (replace with Ken Doll, kill over and over) has left me with a permanent dislike of the man’s work.

    • mykleraus Says:

      And then Jack turned up alive, only to “die” again when he was whisked off to that castle, and then die AGAIN when he got some illness that caused him to leave his family. Awful.

      Melaswen was either a rewrite or the deaths were written with zero regard for detail. Stuff like Jack’s spirit ascending out of his body is a perfect example. You can’t tell me, “Oh, Jennifer imagined that” or “It was the doppelgänger’s spirit!” Bull. At best, it was a sloppy rewrite; at worst, the entire story was written with a flagrant disregard for the rules of narrative storytelling and audience trust.


  2. From everyone I spoke to from this era, none of the actors knew they were coming back when they were fired. It certainly makes sense, given many of them went onto other things (M .Ashford did OLTL, Alexa Thorpe went on to do other things, John Clarke retired in protest of Suzanne Roger’s firing, Peggy McCay bad-mouthed the show in the press).

    Given my limited understanding of DAYS politics, I’m guessing that JER himself wrote the first six months of the story with both possibilities in mind : that the deaths would be permanent, or everyone might get brought back.

    I became suspicious of the latter around the time of Tony’s tango with the tiger. By March, 2004, they hadn’t brought on any new characters other than Patrick. Typically, if a soap is going to fire a large group of veterans, they begin to simultaneously bring in a new set of actors in hope that the viewing audience connects with new characters. It makes sense not only from a creative standpoint, but as a business model.

    By the time Doug bit the dust, it became apparent to me that they weren’t hiring any new actors, and something seemed a little fishy. So my guess is that JER opted, probably around the Marlena reveal, that the story would go in the direction of bringing back vets/Newsalem. Given the high ratings and attention in the press, it seemed like the most logical choice, as opposed to bringing on a group of newbees.

    But sadly, Mikey, I think you are right. Corday is not the best historian, and I don’t think we’ll ever get the full story.

    • mykleraus Says:

      That’s a really good point: nothing NEW was really being set up. The people who were killed off might’ve cost money, but most of them weren’t carrying story, so it’s not like a lot would have changed. Mostly the killings would’ve freed up Jen (and I guess Lexie, but she was never going to have huge story) for new pairings. I don’t for a minute believe that JER was committed to making Marlena actually be a serial killer — that isn’t how he wrote.

  3. Brian Mathe Says:

    I was a watcher of Days for a couple decades when this storyline happened. I thought it was great. The ‘twist’ that Tony was behind it all was the end of my viewing the show. I haven’t watched an episode since. I never understood. The only thing I can think of is that the people in charge got so much hate mail or pressure from people to change the story that they made up this ridiculous melaswen island.

    • mykleraus Says:

      It was a fun story to watch along with. The show definitely got dumber the minute it started, but it was intriguing and amusing. The entire Melaswen thing with Tony/Andre as the mastermind was not only cheap, but it was a sloppy rewrite. I hated that Days didn’t play fair — there was no way to make sense of any of the clues because it was just a bunch of red herrings. It was a real low point.

  4. Melissa Says:

    I was doing a Google search on this island storyline and came across this. I was trying to figure out when I quit watching days and it was when they all got killed off and went on this island. Dumbest thing I ever saw in my life and I was no longer a fan anymore. I still watch here and there but I am definitely not a dedicated fan like I was 10 years ago when this happened. Mind you, I was only 14 in 2004 and I thought this storyline was stupid. I’ve never looked at this show the same since!

    • mykleraus Says:

      It was terrible. I remember watching Tony/Andre’s explanation and thinking the show was ruined forever. You can’t just tell people that what they watched didn’t actually happen or doesn’t count. Once that trust is broken, it’s REALLY hard to win back.

      Zack’s death actually was a smart move after this, because it was so realistic and brutal that it started to make death seem like a real thing in Salem again. But I didn’t entirely trust the show again until the 2009 ‘reboot.’


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