When Xander Cook was first introduced on Days of Our Lives in the spring of 2015, I had high hopes for his character.
Xander was Victor Kiriakis' dark, brooding, unwanted nephew who was desperate for his powerful uncle's acceptance and willing to go to any lengths to get it.
He stood in sharp contrast to his cousin Sonny, veered between charming and vengeful, and was palyed by a talented actor who was capable of softening Xaner's evilness by displaying his pain.
But Xander was written into one stupid story after another and became a cartoonish villain with no real point. Eventually, he was written out in the stupidest of ways, only to return twice more for even more ridiculous storylines.
This week, Xander spent most of his time in what looked like a rejected porn movie plot, in which he tortured Nicole and eventually locked her in a cage to punish her for disobeying him,
Meanwhile, in Salem the news of his latest misdeeds was invariably met with the question, "Isn't Xander dead?"
This Xander plot is frustrating because it is so senseless, yet teases viewers constantly with moments that are actually worth watching but go nowhere.
The worst part of the plot is the Nicole as damsel in distress aspect. Nicole has never been one to passively sit around waiting to be rescued, and for a second it seemed like the writers actually remembered that.
Oh. Guards. Xander wasn't kidding. [to baby] We gotta find that phone. [Looks everywhere] Xander used it to call the guards. We have to find it before he wakes up. There it is. Now how do you turn this thing on?Nicole
Nicole tricked Xander into bending over so she could hit him over the head with a vase, only to run into the next room and look endlessly for his phone.
Apparently this was the key to getting the armed guards surrounding the complex she's being held in to back off, though I'm not quite sure how that would work since Nicole's voice sounds nothing like Xander's.
Anyway, Nicole wasted a lot of time looking for this phone and then couldn't get it to turn on. Once she got it on, it mysteriously had no signal in the corner she was hiding in despite the fact that the whole point of getting this phone was that Xander constantly used it to communicate with the guards.
The end result was that Xander found Nicole and decided to lock her in a cage to punish her for disobeying him.
Now, maybe this is the writers' personal dominant/submissive fantasy, but it has no place in this show.
The messaging here was abundantly clear: strong women who try to help themselves must be put in their place.
It seemed like in the writers' mind, Nicole is supposed to be this weak, passive woman that long-time fans know has nothing to do with her original character, and she was only given a moment of strength in order to tear her down further as punishment for it.
Nicole: Xander, please. You don't have to do this. I'm sorry for whatever I did to you. Please just let me and my daughter go.
Xander: Why would I do that?
Nicole: Because it's the right thing to do.
Xander: [doubled over laughing] That is the worst reason I've ever heard.
This is a waste of Nicole, a waste of Xander, and a waste of the viewers' time. It's also infuriating because Xander gets so many great lines and would be an entertaining villain if he wasn't written so stupidly.
It was also supremely annoying that every single character responded with incredulity to the fact that Xander is alive.
This is Salem, where people return from the dead on a regular basis. Characters like Jennifer, who have discovered their dead husbands are very much alive on more than one occasion, have no business being shocked that Xander is alive.
The repetitive dialogue didn't do anyone any favors, either. It felt like the writers thought the audience was too stupid to remember that Xander was presumed dead and is now alive and had to remind everyone every five seconds.
Eric: I don't know where to begin to find Xander.
Jennifer: Maybe I can help. There are tools we use at the Spectator -
Eric: There's gotta be other ways to track people down.
Jennifer: What's wrong with my way?
Eric: I don't want you involved. It's too dangerous.
Jennifer: Well, you should have thought about that before you told me about this. Because Holly is my Aunt Maggie's granddaughter, so that means she's my family too. I'm getting involved in this whether you like it or not.
I did enjoy Jennifer's insistence on accompanying Eric on his mission, though. This is the strong, feisty Jennifer that I remember.
I have mixed feelings about Eric and Jennifer's relationship. I feel like the writers are trying far too hard to recreate what Jack and Jennifer once had, and that just doesn't work. There was only one Jack Deveraux and the point of moving Jennifer on isn't to find a carbon copy of him. Besides, Eric isn't Jack 2.0 to begin with.
Jack was a complicated man with a complicated past who was afraid to let Jennifer love him and often pushed her away. Eric is consumed with guilt over Daniel's death and sometimes pushes Jennifer away as a result, especially when Victor gets in his face about how he should suffer forever for what he did.
It's just not the same, nor would I want it to be. So I wish the writers would stop trying so hard and let Jen and Eric's relationship sink or swim on its own merits.
Eric: You don't need to kill yourself.
Brady: [coughing and wheezing] Nicole needs me...
Eric: She needs you to be healthy.
Brady: She's in danger, Eric!
Eric: I know that!
Eric: I'll find Nicole and Holly.
Anyway, Eric is going to go on this mission to find Nicole and Holly, supposedly because Brady asked him to from his hospital bed.
Given Eric and Nicole's tumultuous relationship history and the fact that Eric has written about 100 unsent letters to Nicole and half his conversations with Jennifer are about the mess Nicole is in, it's hard to believe he's motivated only by guilt and doesn't still love Nicole.
That makes it harder to get behind Eric and Jen, because it feels like a rebound relationship and not anything real.
At least Eric and Jennifer's relationship is based somewhat in reality, though. I don't know what this Hope/Rafe thing is supposed to be, but it's just making everyone involved in it look bad.
Hope and Rafe had two big storylines this week. In one, Dario and Rafe tricked Hope into eating a worm and in the other Rafe tried to convince Hope not to interrogate Ciara's new boyfriend.
That's not a misprint. An entire episode was devoted to Hope eating a worm.
Dario told Hope that in order to become part of the Hernandez family, she had to chug a bunch of vodka shots. That seemed a little bit in poor taste, especially since JJ and Lani were risking their lives to catch a dangerous drug dealer at the same time this was going on.
But then Dario brought out another glass of alcohol and told Hope that she needed to ingest the worm that was inside it.
Among other things, this didn't exactly portray Mexicans in a positive light. It felt like the show was suggesting that Mexican culture was weird and gross with this whole worm thing that Hope accepted as real without as much as batting an eye.
And then when she found out that Dario lied, she didn't seem especially bothered. She decided she'll make Dario and Rafe eat worms on another occasion.
This whole thing was an epic waste of film that didn't seem to have much of a point to it. The only good that came out of it was that Hope got to see Dario working with his criminal hacker buddy and investigate what was going on later.
Julie pointed out to Hope that the whole Hernandez family is criminals. She was right, though she quickly backtracked to exclude Rafe in order to avoid offending Hope.
I guess in Julie's book, helping Hope cover up a murder that was very similar to the murder she constantly condemns Gabi for doesn't count as a crime.
JJ and Lani's undercover mission might have been interesting had it not been an overly contrived, stereotypical story that also partially ripped off JJ and Paige's final storyline together.
Two years ago, JJ went undercover to catch a drug dealer named Kyle that Paige was hooking up with in some bizarre attempt to get revenge on him and Eve by ruining her own life. He continually disobeyed Roman's orders in order to try to catch this guy faster and got himself into dangerous situations several times because of it.
Eventually, Kyle concluded that JJ was a narc because he refused to smoke meth with him and briefly held him at gunpoint before the story took a bizarre turn that I'm not going to waste room trying to explain.
Now, Lani went undercover to catch a drug dealer, making the decision not to tell JJ about it so that he wouldn't disapprove. She got herself in a dangerous situation where the drug dealer, Snake, tried to force her to take a made-up drug called Halo and she nearly died.
I love seeing JJ be given something to do, but wringing his hands over his rapist's latest stupid choice is not what I prefer to see.
Plus, Lani's dilemma was utterly stupid. Snake held her at gunpoint, threatening to kill her if she didn't take a fatal dose of the drug. So either she was going to die or she was going to die. What incentive was there for her to obey his orders under those circumstances?
On top of that, Halo was a drug that supposedly knocked out the user and left him or her with no memory of what had happened while high, yet Snake's maniacal laughter and hyperactivity was attributed to him being high on this drug.
Apparently Abe is also on Halo, since he forgot that last week Lani told him she was going undercover and not to tell JJ and demanded to know why she was undercover.
Fortunately, his amnesia also extended to forgetting that he disapproves of JJ for no apparent reason and was willing to accept his presence at the hospital as well as allow JJ to offer some support.
I enjoyed seeing JJ's new maturity and especially liked that he realized that it wasn't his place to tell Lani what to do, but I'd have preferred to see this evolution on-screen. The way characters turn on a dime on Days lately isn't realistic. It seems like the writers change the characters to fit the needs of the plot, which is just not good storytelling.
There was some more nonsense with the Chad/Abigail/Gabi/Eli storyline.
Abigail seemed angry that Gabi was dating Eli, as if she was betraying Abigail by refusing to take Chad from her. Chad, for his part, got possessive of Abigail when he saw her with Dario and then threw his energy into some supposedly cursed amulet that Deimos was after.
This whole storyline defies logic and trying to understand it just gives me a headache. One minute Abigail wants to be an independent woman and the next she's sulking because she's not seen as enough of a martyr for ruining her marriage.
Jade: Dating you has its challenges.
Ciara: Maybe you should ask Joey how unchallenging it is to date you.
Claire sulked about losing a record deal, after which Jade seemed to convince her that she had no choice but to make a sex tape to get fans' attention.
This is another gross storyline. There are other ways to build a fan base besides filming explicit videos, and chances are Claire will do this without Theo's consent.
In addition, this idea that making it in the music industry is just a matter of luck is ridiculous. Music is a business just like anything else. Talent is only one part of it, and Claire has not been shown trying to do anything to further her career expect go on auditions and sulk when she doesn't get her way.
She has not performed in local clubs, she has not sought out a mentor, and she has not done a single thing to network with people in the industry. And that would be fine if it was a story about a naive teenager struggling to figure out how to make her dream into a reality, but that isn't what this is.
This is a story about how music isn't a real career requiring hard work, with the added message that young women should use sex to get what they want out of people.
Instead of this garbage, Claire should be seeking the advice of her cousin JJ, who was passionate about music until he decided to become a cop instead, as well as keeping in touch with Philip so that she can begin to make contacts in the industry.
Rafe: So why don't you let me ask the hard questions so that way you can be the good guy?
Hope: I am the good guy. What am I supposed to do, just sit back and smile?
While Claire was busy sulking, Ciara took Wyatt to meet Hope and Rafe.
I didn't really see a need for Rafe to be involved in these scenes.
Ciara has bounced from being loyal to Aiden to hating him to losing her father and feeling loyal to his memory. So at this point, Rafe should not be enough of a stepfather to her for her to want him to approve of who she dates.
In addition, Hope and Rafe's banter about her desire to prove something was wrong with Wyatt wasn't amusing. It might have been had Bo been sitting in Rafe's seat. But Rafe is not Bo and again, trying to replace half of a legacy couple with a new character just doesn't work.
Wyatt seems like a nice enough kid who has a bad habit of memorizing info Theo is feeding him in order to impress Ciara. I hope this doesn't turn into something sinister, because this is typical insecure teenage behavior that he might learn to give up if he and Ciara are ever allowed to deal with it on their own.
What did you think of this week's Days of Our Lives? Was there a storyline you loved or hated?
Weigh in below, and don't forget to check back on Sunday for our Days of Our Lives Round Table discussion!
Jack Ori is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.