Remembering the Resurrection That Stunned Daytime — and Why It Would Never Work Today
George De Sota/JPI
As the World Turns’ James Stenbeck was a legendary villain. His reign of terror included killing, attempting to kill, drugging, coercing, and much, much more.
Yeah, he was bad.
While his time in Oakdale is unforgettable, there’s one moment that stands out above them all: On November 7, 1986, James returned from the dead, shocking viewers and his terrified ex-wife Barbara.
On a dark and stormy night, a breathlessly distraught Barbara sat in front of a roaring fire. She saw a hooded figure walking toward her and cowered in fear as he slowly raised his head. Light shone on a sliver of his face, revealing that the mystery man was none other than James Stenbeck.
“Hello, Barbara,” he said calmly.
“James?” she asked, stunned and confused. “It can’t be. My mind is playing tricks on me. James is dead.”
James took off his hood and said, “No, Barbara. I’m very much alive.” Thunder clapped.
It had been three years since James presumably fell to his death from an airplane. Barbara and viewers had every right to be scared as he revealed himself, considering that James had drugged, gaslighted and even tried to kill her. It was an epic scene cementing itself as the gold standard in back-from-the-dead storylines.
While it was the first time that James returned from the dead, it wouldn’t be his last. However, the surprise and suspense would never be duplicated. It certainly would never be duplicated today. Because what once was a shocking and gripping storyline device is now an overplayed trope. It’s so well-worn that most soap fans refuse to believe that any character is dead for good, as all four show’s canvases are filled with characters whose deaths we pointlessly mourned. Days of Our Lives even created a whole island — Melaswen — to stash away the Salem Stalker’s victims until the powers that be were ready to resurrect them.
The rise of the Internet and social media has also made it more difficult for there to be many genuine surprises. Whether the networks reveal an actor’s return before it happens or someone leaks it online, not much is kept secret when it comes to soap operas these days. Most viewers are rarely shocked by a plot twist, making the days of James Stenbeck’s resurrection truly iconic.
What do you remember about that storyline? Do you miss the days of genuine surprises or do you enjoy being spoiled? Sound off below and then look through our photo gallery of the many daytime characters who have returned from the dead.
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