days marlena tony andre Deidre Hall thaao Penghlis jpi
Credit: Paul Skipper/JPI

Melaswen Island: Come for the revenge, stay for the hospitality.

Picture it: Salem, 2004. A crushingly large number of its residents had been murdered in cold blood, and Days of Our Lives viewers were angry, hurt and pretty much in shock. The killer had been found, the murders avenged, and it had seemed like we were left to pick up the pieces and move tearfully on. Then on May 25, the rug was pulled out from under us in one of the most off-the-wall reveals in soap history: Melaswen Island.

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It was payoff (we guess?) after months of watching our favorite Salemites killed off one by one, starting with Abe. The future mayor had been shot dead by a mysterious figure wearing black gloves, the first in a slew of murders that would decimate the town of Salem. After Abe’s death, we lost Jack, Maggie, Cassie, Victor, Caroline, Tony, Doug, Roman — even poor Alice was killed with one of her donuts stuffed in her mouth!

Who was doing this? And why?! We loved these characters!

It wasn’t until Tony’s murder while recovering from a tiger mauling (because why not?) that we finally learned that the Salem Stalker was none other than Marlena! Our jaws hit the floor. What was going on? Had Marlena turned evil? Had Hattie, masquerading as Marlena, turned evil? Was our favorite shrink possessed? Again?

Deidre Hall and Thaao Penghlis"Days of our Lives" Set NBC Studios 1/14/04 ©Paul Skipper/JPI 310-657-9661 Episode # 9739

That last question was actually pretty valid, as the Salem Stalker story was being written by Passions creator and headwriter James E. Reilly. Though he was still very much working on his own show at the time, NBC had approached him in the summer of 2003 to also write for Days of Our Lives and help goose its flagging ratings. The same strategy had, after all, worked before, back when he wrote Marlena’s possession storyline a decade earlier.

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And like Satan’s Salem vacation, the Salem Stalker was winning some strong reactions from the viewers. Actually, it’s probably safe to say they were flipping out. The cute little murder mystery had rapidly gotten out of hand and turned into an out-of-control culling.

But flipping out was pretty much what Reilly wanted. As he told back in 2004, ”I was never trying to destroy the fabric of this show. But I did have to shake it up, because it was really in trouble. Be angry at me! Hate me! It shows that you are involved. But watch the show to see what happens. Stay tuned.”

What happened was… even crazier than the increasingly bizarre murders. Once we learned that Marlena was the killer, the cops gunned her down in a shootout on the roof of the police station. She too died. And woke up in a coffin in Salem. With tropical plants everywhere.

And that’s when we got the big reveal, complete with a special opening for the episode that aired on May 25. Upon waking, the first person Marlena ran across was an absolutely serene Alice.

“Hello, darling, I’ve been waiting for you,” Alice cheerily greeted Marlena.

“Oh,” Marlena mourned. “I knew it. I’m dead!”

But she wasn’t dead, of course, and neither was Alice. She was just on Melaswen Island. (That’s New Salem spelled backwards. Cute, right?) Every single one of the Salem Stalker’s victims was, in fact, alive and living in an exact replica of Salem built on a tropical island. Oh, and they were also given Hawaiian shirts.

When Tony showed up alive on the island, too, folks were more than a little suspicious to find a DiMera mixed up in the whole thing, despite his protestations of innocence. The problem was, they were suspicious of the wrong DiMera.

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Tony, it turned out, was actually André, and he’d been the one who had drugged half the town, faked their deaths, brainwashed Marlena into thinking she’d been the Stalker and hauled them all to Melaswen. It was all an elaborate scheme to get revenge by… giving his enemies an all-inclusive tropical vacation? Honestly, we’re struggling to see the downside here.

It was all wonderfully bonkers, but at the end of the day, the important thing was that no one had been killed. False alarm, everyone could go back to business as usual. And that’s exactly what they did — after a big confrontation that ended with the island exploding. Plus, Marlena and Roman took a little castle detour, courtesy of André, but that’s a whole other tale.

marlena abe roman Deidre Hall, James Reynolds and Josh Taylor jpi

Was it effective in shaking up the show? Undoubtedly. At least while it was happening. Nothing lasting really came of it, but that’s something most fans would agree was a good thing. Nobody wanted practically the entire cast of veterans killed off.

There were also a few plot holes opened up by the Melaswen reveal, like the fact that Abe’s ghost appeared in Salem after he “died.” But honestly, he wouldn’t be the first daytime character whose haunting turned out to be fake, so whatever.

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Either way, here we are 18 years later, still talking about it. Which means Days of Our Lives recovered from its ratings slump to keep on trucking. So hey, as Reilly said, be angry at him, roll your eyes at him, but keep being invested. In the end, that’s what keeps our shows running.

Check out our photo gallery of Days of Our Lives’ 10 craziest stories to date!