Before there was Marvel’s Wilson Fisk, Kilgrave, Agatha Harkness, Cornell Stokes or Abomination, there was Days of Our Lives‘ Stefano DiMera – a villain the writers from Marvel TV shows could learn from.
Days of Our Lives might be the most crucial piece of television history ever conceived. What began as yet another daytime soap opera about the lives of an everyday American suburban family turned into so much more over the years, morphing its storylines and characters to adapt to every new generation since it began its TV run in 1965. In more than half a century’s worth of stories and characters, I could argue that none of them has been as influential as the villainous Stefano DiMera. From making deals with the actual Devil to becoming an immortal A.I., Stefano’s borderline cartoon-like villainy forever changed the tone of Days of Our Lives for the better.
You never knew what Stefano DiMera’s Machiavellian machinations would bring upon the town of Salem next, and that’s what turned a standard soap opera into such a brilliant piece of daytime TV. The element of surprise became essential for Days of Our Lives and might have been why the series enjoyed such a prolific TV run – one that continues to this day on NBC’s Peacock streaming service.
Joseph Mascolo gave life to one of the greatest TV villains of all time, and it’s easy to see how Stefano DiMera could have influenced many other villains over the years. Stefano’s villain formula is just too irresistible, which is why it’s surprising that the Marvel TV shows haven’t created a solid villain in the same league as Stefano DiMera yet.
Coming from a franchise that has given us Thanos, Ultron, and even the Civil War version of Baron Zemo, the Disney+ villains have been vastly underwhelming by comparison. The best we got was probably Agatha Harkness, and even then, she didn’t play a considerable enough role in WandaVision to be considered a formidable antagonist. If anything, Wanda was more a villain in that show than Agatha, but that seems to be the norm in the Marvel TV universe.
It’s the same reason I specifically mentioned Baron Zemo from Captain America: Civil War and not the one from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: the villains in these Marvel TV shows barely pose a threat, serving more as teasers for what’s yet to come to the MCU films rather than being a significant character in a TV show.
Even Loki‘s Kang the Conqueror was little more than a red herring by the end of the series. While I’m sure that Kang will become a pivotal part of the larger MCU, his role in the show is laughably short. Again, Loki could have benefitted from a more threatening villain that felt like it came from the classic Marvel comics. In the TV hall of fame, only Stefano DiMera fits that description to a T.
Superhero shows are today’s soap operas. Instead of familiar dramas and love triangles, TV fans now want to see the same over-the-top action they get on the big screen on a smaller, more personal scale. The idea of making these Marvel TV shows as a way to develop some of the perhaps more unknown characters in the Marvel Universe is fantastic, but it needs a bit more thought into its self-contained narratives.
Characters like Stefano DiMera took a good show and turned it into an excellent one, and the same thing could happen to these new Marvel shows. We just need some villains that are more of a foil to the heroes and less of a marketing device.
Say what you like, but none of the Marvel TV villains have been as interesting or memorable as Joseph Mascolo’s Stefano DiMera.