I think this might be my favorite scene from Jennifer’s rape storyline:

Jack already knows something is wrong.  Jen has not wanted to sleep with him since they’ve been back.  He’s taken the rejection calmly, but we’ve seen it sting.  I love the puzzled, watchful expression on Jack’s face in this scene, even as he goes through the motions of their romantic evening.  I especially like the moment when he says that if he had told her earlier how he felt, it might have prevented her from plunging into this adventure and ending up in Alamania with Lawrence.  It shows his thought process, his sense that something went wrong there, and seems to be a way to invite her to open up.

Nothing comes of that, so, what now?  Well, she is still here … still saying she loves him.  Maybe he should just carry on as though nothing is wrong …

They kiss, they head to the couch.  Jennifer says, “I just want you to know that whatever happens, I love you.”  That’s not ominous or anything.

Jack kisses her again.  We can see Jen begin to panic.  Frankie’s entrance is perfectly timed, saving Jen from having to pull away, or rather, having to explain why she’s pulling away.

Frankie’s entrance is perfectly timed for Jack too.  Here is a possible explanation for why Jen is pushing him away.  Every demon from his relationship with Kayla must be screaming at him internally.  That was the last time a woman he loved put him off with feeble excuses, asked him to be understanding, to wait.  And he did wait.  He carried on as though nothing was wrong …

(I have always loved this scene.  Kayla and Steve really did carry on right under Jack’s nose, and I don’t give them a pass for that.  It’s true that whatever they did, it doesn’t justify the rape.  But then, the converse is also true:  the rape doesn’t justify what they did.)

“Frankie coming in like that … it spoiled the mood for me.” 

“I just feel funny, being here in my mom’s house with you.”

Last time, the woman he loved was making excuses because she was really in love with someone else.  Maybe history is repeating itself.

And if history can repeat itself in one way, maybe it can in another.  He says to Jen here, “I never mean to scare you, or hurt you.”   But here’s the thing:  he never meant to hurt Kayla either.  He said to Kayla, “I’ll wait.  I won’t push you.”  And that was true … until it wasn’t.

Sorry about the long-time-no-post.  I’ve been obsessively watching Boardwalk Empire on DVD (no spoilers!  I just started season 3).  Just watched the episode where they killed off Jimmy Darmody (my favorite character … of course. Another bad boy with a tragic past), and it got me thinking about television shows and change.  How do you walk the line between keeping things fresh and yet not alienating what drew people to your show in the first place?

On soaps, characters and actors can come and go more freely, plots and relationships can change more drastically, than on a sitcom, or nighttime drama, or really any other kind of show I can think of.    But at heart I think soaps tend to be very conservative, very afraid to rock the boat.  You wouldn’t see Days kill off a major, extremely popular character … what am I saying, of course they would.

But, he wouldn’t stay dead.  That’s the difference.

When James E. Reilly did the Salem Serial Killer storyline in 2003 and 2004, I wasn’t watching Days, but my mom had just retired and picked up watching it again right in the middle of the storyline.  I actually got invested in it too, just from her telling me about it.  Here was a departure from the norm, where major characters are never really in danger, where no one stays dead, where you can predict the lines the show won’t go over.  James Reilly knew what he was doing (short term, anyway).  He got a lot of people talking about the show, got some mainstream press.  I remember having a conversation with my trainer at the gym, saying “I can’t believe they killed Alice!”  Neither of us had watched the show in years.

When they got to Melaswen, I lost interest, of course.  I’m sure a lot of people did.  That’s what happens when you pull your punches.  I’ve heard since about the back story to this, that James Reilly was committed to everyone staying dead, but such was the backlash that Ken Corday lost his nerve and insisted everyone be rehired and then turned around and said it was the plan all along.  (And Frances Reid, bless her heart, came right out and said he was full of shit.)   I’m no fan of James Reilly but having okayed the storyline to begin with you can’t just say “Never mind, erase that!”  Be very careful in being bold, but if you go for it, stick with it.

Anyway, none of this has much to do with the real subject of this post, which is the end of a very lovely plot arc for Kayla:

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Actually, there is a slight connection.  If Days doesn’t get rid of major, popular characters (and it doesn’t), how do you move the story forward?  One of the problems on soaps that comes up again and again is how to make the bad guys “pay” when you can’t write them out.   You can’t send them to jail or kill them off, so what do you do?  This is a great example of how to do it.  Lawrence loses someone he loves, just like Kayla did. And maybe even more importantly, he breaks down in front of Kayla and Shane, losing his smooth, always-in-control demeanor.  That’s a perfect set-up for Kayla to realize that winning doesn’t bring Steve back. (If Lawrence were still smug and on top of everything, this wouldn’t work in the same way.)

This also refers back to Jack and Kayla’s conversations, that “no one gets off scot free” and that violence isn’t the answer.  Jack told her “I learned that from you,” but she forgot that, she forgot her own lesson, or her own philosophy, if you will.  That’s very human — I love that we saw Kayla consumed by anger and a desire for revenge.

Steve told Kayla once that “everyone says things like that” — things like, people are good deep down, that violence doesn’t solve anything — “but you really mean it.”  That’s why this scene works so well.  It’s Kayla rediscovering her own deeply held beliefs.

I love big reveal scenes.  Don’t we all?  When the secrets are revealed, the confrontation finally happens.  Where it All Comes Out.

Soap writers, good and bad, know how much we love this.  So they make us wait.  And wait.  But, a good soap writer uses this time to do interesting things with character and plot.  Things happen — the pressure of the secret might make some other explosion happen.  Or someone jumps to the wrong conclusion, leading to multiple complications.  Or, or, or.  And then of course there are all the teasers.  It’s all going to come out! — actually, no.

Here’s a handy rule of thumb, though:  you can tell a bad soap writer by how often they go for the false reveal.  If there’s nothing else going on except the suspense of waiting for the secret to come out, it isn’t much of a story.  (I’m talking to you, James E. Reilly!)

Here is a great example of a It All Comes Out scene:

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(One of the first things that strikes me about this scene is seeing so many major players, all in one place!  Imagine the budget for this episode!)

Carly is the center of the secret(s) revealed here, and they do a really good job tying the different threads together.  For anyone who doesn’t know the basic story, Carly has been keeping three different secrets:

1. She is Katarina von Leuchner

2.  Frankie is her brother

3.  Lawrence forced her to bring Bo to this house, in exchange for Frankie’s life, who he is holding hostage.

We see all of these come out at once.  I love seeing all the different reactions. Now Jack can understand why Jennifer was so determined to pose at Katarina — it was to help her friend Carly.  And we get to see Jennifer calling Carly out for not telling her that Frankie was her brother, and that she knew Lawrence before.  Knowing this wouldn’t necessarily have changed what she did, but it’s a betrayal of how much she has done for her friend, when Carly didn’t trust her enough to tell her the full truth.

And then of course there’s Bo. I don’t have this full storyline on my DVDs, so I don’t know all the details.  But Bo has just discovered that Carly is working with Lawrence, and doesn’t know all the mitigating factors.  The way he grabs Carly and hold her hostage is yummy angst on multiple levels.  It’s a way to foster an escape, of course, but also take revenge on her for deceiving him, and also maybe a way for him to figure out how deep her relationship with Lawrence goes.

The second part of the scene above is also fantastic, where Jack finally convinces Jen to end the charade that she is Katarina.  The setup scene for this is not so great — I just don’t believe that Jen would yet again insist on maintaining the pretense and staying with Lawrence.  I know she is supposed to be protecting Frankie, and is scared of Lawrence, but it just seems bizarre for her to insist that she is Katarina, in front people who know she is not (this, of course, is pretty much what Jack says).  But, since I like the scene that follows so very much, I’ll let it pass.

Jack’s speech is pure gold.  I love his certainty that Jennifer loves him, that he has the confidence to call her out in front of all these people and say so definitely that she loves him, Jack.  After all the times we’ve seen him doubt himself and push her away, this is very, very satisfying.  And it’s a cathartic moment too when Jen finally, finally drops her pose and says she loves him.

We also saw, months back, how Jack pleaded with Steve not to die, how he needed an “honest to God hero-type” to help him rescue Jennifer.  It was obvious then that Jack didn’t think he could be that hero.  Since then, we’ve seen him slowly growing into the role, mostly because he refuses to give up.  But what I really love about this is that he still doesn’t see himself that way, he doesn’t turn into one of our alpha males (God love ‘em!) and try to threaten or intimidate Lawrence.  When Lawrence asks him what he thinks he could possibly do, he says frankly that he doesn’t know.  But, you never know what he might come up with.  He’s asking Jennifer to take a leap of faith with him, and that’s very romantic, and heroic, in its own way.

UPDATE:  I can’t believe I forgot to mention my favorite part of this scene!  After Lawrence makes his getaway, Kayla says angrily that the man who killed Steve is getting away , and Jack tells her, “No one gets away scot free … remember?”  It refers back to their conversation in the garden, of course.  But it is also another way to apologize, and not only for the rape.  For those months afterward, while he gleefully tormented her and Steve, he wasn’t as impervious as he seemed.  The rape changed her life — irrevocably.  Here he’s saying it changed his too.

It feels like kismet that they are doing this JJ storyline on Days, where he finds out that his dad raped Kayla, right as I am watching Jennifer’s rape storyline on my DVDs.

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Screencap NBC

I’ve actually gotten hundreds of hits on my blog over the last week, from people googling for information on this storyline.  Mostly these were some variation of “days of our lives what did jack do to kayla,” but there were a couple of gems like “after Jack raped Kayla on days of our lives, how did they turn him into a good guy?”

It’s a good question!

Anyway, we fans are always saying that we want them to use the history of the show, and I think this story is a good example of how to do it well (though I really, really miss Matt Ashford here!  He should be a part of this!)  Too often the show uses the past lazily, by having some veteran shuffle out and say “you know, this same thing happened to me once!” and then shuffle away again.  Rarely is there an attempt to emotionally engage with the past, especially in ways that affect the veteran as well as the younger player.

This story clears that hurdle easily.  It is mostly about JJ, of course, and I don’t have a problem with that.  I really liked JJ’s comment that he “doesn’t feel like a blessing right now,” followed immediately by “am I like him [Jack]?”   They are clearly using this as an opportunity to make JJ question his own character, by making him question the character of the father he’s always admired.  They also showed him on Tuesday’s show bitterly railing against his family (excepting Kayla — I appreciated that!) for keeping him in the dark and — interestingly — implicitly letting him feel that he’s the only screwup in the family.

One thing I appreciated, though, was the way we got to see Kayla at work, obviously upset, snapping at Jeannie — I mean, Teresa — after her first conversation with JJ.  Remembering the past was clearly weighing on her, and Teresa’s mention of JJ didn’t help.  I also appreciated that JJ came back to talk to her after finding out the truth.  That scene is probably my favorite of this whole arc:

(The scene starts at 9:50 )  I really like seeing Mary Beth Evans have something with some depth to play, and I think Casey Moss does well too.  I like how JJ starts off saying “I already know but I need to hear from you” then moves to the last ditch “He was just saying that to get Alamain, right?” then softens for a moment as he seems to recognize this is hard on her, then shouting “we’re not okay!” and stomping out.

I like that Kayla doesn’t go into detail about the circumstances, and certainly doesn’t excuse or justify him, but she clearly does want to convey a little bit of the complexity of it:  “I did something to hurt your dad … “

I also like that it doesn’t help, because it wouldn’t.

The other danger for the show in using the past, especially the past from 25 years ago, is the high likelihood of getting something wrong.  When Steve and Kayla came back in 2006, there were a couple of references to the past that they got wrong.  At a dinner when Steve still had amnesia, they made a big deal about how he didn’t like the fancy food that Kayla cooked for him, and he referred to himself as a “meat and potatoes” guy.  They were trying to show the distance between them, which was great, but one of the details about Steve that I always particularly liked was that he was a gourmand.  It’s similar to the fact that Kayla, of the two of them, was the sexual aggressor:  these character traits helped to mix up the stereotypes of the good girl/bad boy storyline, and make each character unique.  Another mistake I remember is when Adrienne visited Steve in the psych ward during the “crazy Steve” story, she referred to his past with Duke and Jo, and said that Duke “beat you and your baby brother Billy.”  Actually Duke only abused Jo, and that was key to the whole story.  It gave credence to Steve’s feeling that she gave up Steve because she chose Duke over him and Billy, and not that she was protecting them from Duke.  It was also an important aspect of Steve’s character that he tried to kill Duke for Jo’s sake, not his own.

You can argue that these are minor, and they are.  And if I had been confident in between times that my characters were in good hands, I think I would have brushed them off more easily.

That kind of mistake doesn’t happen here, at least not that I could tell.  I liked how they weaved a mention of Lawrence into the reveal.  I’m not sure I believe that Jen would keep a transcript from Lawrence’s trial laying around, and even more that JJ would know it and know exactly where it was.  But I still liked it.  It’s a great way to string out the reveal for JJ, and isolate him when he finds out the truth.  Plus it adds richness to the use of the past.  (I also take it as a personal shout out to me, given what I’m watching now!)

They did make use of a retcon, when Adrienne says that Jack grew up with every privilege, except love.  But it is a retcon dating back to 1989, so I won’t really complain on that score.  I didn’t like it back then  because it seemed a cheap, and unnecessary, way to try to gain sympathy for Jack.  Here, too, some fans may bristle at the suggestion that an unloving childhood in any way justifies committing rape, which it certainly doesn’t.  However, I think it’s believable that Adrienne would try to put things in context and try to mitigate the harshness of the news for JJ. And just like with Kayla, I’m glad it doesn’t work.

I did have to crack up a little at the line, “Jack deeply regretted his actions, until the day he died.”  Should that be the days he died?  What was it, five different times?

I never really liked how they turned Jack into a coward and bumbler.  I saw an interview with Matt Ashford once where he said he liked that Jack wasn’t a typical hero, and at the first sign of trouble would faint, or run away, or offer to stay behind with the ladies (this when the ladies were usually clamoring to go along).   I can see his point — I too like that Jack is unique — but when it slips over into slapstick it is usually too far for me.

Plus, I can never quite forget this guy:

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Sure, he tumbled off the roof in the end and needed a new kidney, but until then he was giving as good as he got.  This scene is impressive just from a staging standpoint — all that fighting up and down stairs, including Steve’s great jump/drop kick at one point.  I’m guessing that Matt and Stephen worked hard rehearsing this to make it look real.  Also, I know this scene is Very Serious and I definitely watch it as such, but somehow it is also a bit comical how Kayla keeps trailing after them getting in the way, forcing Steve to constantly stop fighting and grab her and tell her to go inside — which she never does.

At any rate, I recognize that I am attached to evil Jack partly because I am such a Steve and Kayla fan.  In order for the whole Jack/Steve/Kayla storyline to work, we have see evil Jack as a genuine threat.  I also know that the transition to “coward Jack” was, in part, a deliberate reaction to how evil he was before, to counter the memory of his bad deeds and make him acceptable as a leading man.  But sometimes I think they end up undercutting evil Jack a little too much — I want to see the the threat sometimes, to see the monster that Jack is afraid of.

But, I’ll give the show credit.  By setting up Jack as the coward-who-faints, they can turn around and surprise and delight us with a scene like this:

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This is great.  What I like particularly about it is that Jack is still Jack — the Jack we know now, anyway.  It makes sense that Jack would know how to fence, given his privileged background.  Besides, if Jack is going to be skilled at any kind of fighting, fencing is just the kind of impractical, semi-esoteric type that it would be.  And I just love the surprise of the “I’m not right-handed” moment (bonus points for referencing The Princess Bride!).  I knew Jack was left handed but it didn’t register until he said it.  Perfect.

(The fangirl in me also loves that what that gives him Jack his final impetus to win is that Lawrence taunts him about Steve!)

One criticism I’ve heard on message boards occasionally is how often soaps feature rape stories.  As one commenter put it, “Almost every major female character in Salem has been raped — that’s disgusting.”

Well, when you put it like that

But, actually, I do disagree.  It’s true that most of the ladies in Salem have been raped.  Taking the group at Jennifer’s stoned book club meeting as a representative sample, we have:

Kayla – yes

Julie – yes

Adrienne – yes

Jennifer – yes (as we’ll talk about in a moment)

Nicole – not onscreen, but her backstory includes being forced into the porn industry by her abusive father

Looks bad, doesn’t it?  But, if you think about it, each of these ladies was raped exactly once onscreen, on a show whose bread and butter is coming up with year after year of high drama and over-the-top plots.  For reasons that go beyond the scope of this blog post, rape is considered a uniquely disturbing crime, a life-altering event for its victim and its perpetrator.  (To illustrate this point, think of saying “Can you believe that all the leading men in Salem have been beat up at least once?”  It doesn’t make sense.)   However, soaps are also, at least potentially, one of the best places to take on rape as a subject.  With high drama, sure, but not merely for sensationalism, and showing long term emotional effects and a female point of view.

All that said, though, I’m not generally a fan of the rape story.  I also don’t think the show should try to do them these days, because it doesn’t have the attention span for it.  I thought Stephanie’s rape by Ford Decker wasn’t too bad, as a story. But EJ’s rape of Sami? … need I say more?

So, now (in 1990), it’s Jennifer’s turn.  For those who don’t know, Jennifer is forced into marrying Lawrence as “Katarina” and is raped by him on their wedding night.  I guess we all know why they gave Jen this story.  It’s not because of anything that happens in Alamania.  Everything there would work just as well if there were no rape, and she were just posing as Lawrence’s wife to keep everyone safe.  In fact, it would work better, because Jennifer waits an absurdly long time before she gives up her pose as Katarina.  She even meets all the Salemites as Katarina and insists that she’s happily married to Lawrence, until it becomes ridiculous.  Here’s a hint, Days writers:  if you’re going to make someone insist on staying with her rapist after the calvary arrives, you have to give her a damn good reason.

So they gave her the story because of Jack.  And in principle, I’m not opposed to that.  One thing I love about soaps is how emotional issues are raised and resolved through plot.  How does Jack deal with his past as a rapist when the woman he loves is raped?  Does it raise old ghosts and old guilt?  Can Jennifer look at Jack the same way when she knows, on a much deeper, primal level, exactly how Jack made Kayla suffer?  You can imagine the writers in the writing room rubbing their hands with glee, and to some degree I share that.  If it’s almost too perfect, even down to the exact scenario (marital rape when the woman is in love with someone else), well, that’s soap operas.

Some of these issues do come up, and they are thorny and complex and interesting (and I will give full credit as we go along).  But even some of these are raised, only to be dropped, and then raised again later … there is a choppiness to the whole presentation of this story.  And some issues are sidestepped, or ignored altogether.

I have to say, the biggest thing missing from this story is Jen.  I know that sounds strange.  I like Melissa Reeves a lot.  I do.  But she and this story are not really a good match.  Not because it is drama rather than comedy  — she does well, really well, in dramatic scenes with Jack.  Take the “I believe in you” scene as a fine example.  I’ve thought about this a lot, and if she has a limitation as an actress, it’s this:  she is excellent at playing what’s on the page, but if it’s not on the page, she doesn’t play it.  Go back to my example from above, how Jen chooses to stay with Lawrence after the crew from Salem arrive.   Why would she do this?  It’s not explained.  Missy could have shown us, though, in her body language, that Jen was so terrified of Lawrence after the rape, that she couldn’t take a chance on escape unless it was 100% guaranteed to work.  Plus, I just think there should be a marked difference in how Jen acts around Lawrence, after the rape, and Missy doesn’t play one, unless the scene explicitly calls for it.  She’s wary of him, yes, but she was wary of him before.

There are holes in the story from Jennifer’s side, and I don’t think Missy tries to fill in those holes.  I don’t want to exaggerate, we do see some of Jen’s point of view.  We see her dealing with the trauma of the rape.  Back in Salem, she goes to some group rape counseling sessions (pretending to be “on a story,” but still).  She has bad dreams and flashbacks of the rape.  She eventually confides in some people.  She has confrontations with Lawrence.  But what we don’t see — and this is the story’s biggest flaw — is if Jen sees Jack differently now, and if she does, exactly what the difference is.  It’s so screamingly obvious that this should be an issue that it becomes the elephant in the room.  I’m even not talking about anything as crude as “I can’t be with you now that I know how horrible rape is.”   Something more like “I know you won’t be able to deal with this and I can’t deal with you not being able to deal with it.”

There are scenes that where I can fanwank it in read it as subtext, like this one:

This can be read simply, as Jen just having a wish fulfillment dream of marrying the man she really loves, and the horror of reality intruding.  But it could also be read as her subconsciously seeing Lawrence in Jack.  I think Matt Ashford’s performance in the dream helps this interpretation:  he’s a tiny bit wooden — even as he says all the right things, the things a loving bridegroom would say — that lends a slightly sinister note, especially juxtaposed with Lawrence’s smoothness.

And, after they get back to Salem, Jen keeps the rape a secret from Jack.  The mere fact that she doesn’t confide in him could be read, like I said above, as her not trusting him to be able to support her.  In fact I was more than happy to read it in exactly this way, and there is some support for it.  But then there are scenes that flatly contradict it, too, that are difficult to fanwank away.  Obviously, I’ll talk about this more as we get to those scenes.  Overall, though, I think the show chickened out a little.  I think they loved the idea of Jack doubting himself, but they pulled their punches when it came to Jennifer doubting him.

A fantastic scene:

First, a little background:  Shane has been in cool, professional work mode through this whole endeavor, pursuing the ISA’s priorities and insisting that everyone else do the same.  Jack has just gotten into an argument with Shane about how he wants to focus on rescuing Jennifer, and Kayla wants to show him she sympathizes and understands his point of view. And Jack’s emotionalism (in contrast to Shane’s coolness) gives space to Kayla to confide in him too, her continued pain from losing Steve and her desire for revenge.

Even so, Mary Beth Evans always plays a slight physical discomfort when she is around Jack, and we see it here as well.  Then when he tells her, “Violence is not the answer … I learned that from you,” that discomfort turns into shock.  It’s a bit of a betrayal, on his part, of the fragile peace they have found,  to refer to the rape even obliquely.   And we see the pain is still there as she turns away and says they really don’t need to talk about this.

But Jack presses on.  I love how Jack refers to the chances he’s gotten, and how he “hasn’t always deserved them.”  That’s a great reference to all the chances Steve gave him, when he was the opposite of deserving.  And it ties what he says here about how he always thought there would be time to talk to Steve — about the rape.  This is really interesting because we did see Jack, a couple of times, come close to referring to the rape when he was talking to Steve, but Steve always shut him down.  And as a fan I don’t think I would have wanted to see it either — it’s not Steve’s place to understand or forgive.  But I can still sympathize with Jack’s sense of loss that now he will never be able to.  His big brother who gave him chance after chance isn’t around to give him any more chances.

But Kayla is still here.  And what makes this scene work beautifully is that Steve’s death (and their current uncertain situation) may have been what sparks this conversation, but it is really about Jack and Kayla, not Steve.  And what he does is apologize, which is wonderful and necessary, but he also finally, fully acknowledges what he did — rape.  This is important because at the time Jack always denied it, and trying to force his acknowledgment was one of the reasons Kayla decided to press charges.  But then he used the fact that he was “only” convicted of assault to claim that his version was vindicated.  All of this is why I particularly like what he says here:  “it’s just like you said in court.”  He’s telling her, finally, not only that he is sorry but that she was right.

His line that they “could have been friends,” is interesting, and I think goes along with how this is about the two of them, and not their relationship  as it relates to Steve.  First of all, it calls all the way back to the way they were friends, back when they met in Hawaii, back when Jack first came to town (I’ll also take it as a shout-out to my man Joseph Adams, the forgotten Jack!)   But even later, after their marriage fell apart,  he could have chosen a path that would have honored the feelings he had for her, and that maybe, maybe could have preserved their friendship.  (Jack’s feelings for Jennifer have helped him realize this too—he sees now how selfish his love for Kayla was, now that he knows what a more unselfish love is.)

This relates to another layer I see in this.  I think Jack might be cautioning Kayla not to make the mistake he did, not to let her love for Steve turn into the justification to do something ugly.  Seeking revenge against Lawrence is not on the same level as raping the woman you claim to love, of course.  But there is a similarity, in the desire to lash out, in your pain and rage, when you lose the person you love.

I also like that Kayla apologizes.  This could be read as just “I’m sorry you did what you did, too,” but I think she is referring also to what came before that — the lies, the affair.  She’s sorry for hurting him too.  That makes this a wonderfully healing moment, for both of them.

And then, lastly, a very nice touch by Mary Beth Evans:  after Jack leaves, she looks up for a moment, a glance at the heavens.  It’s a way to bring Steve back into all this.  She’s clearly thinking, “Did you see that, Steve?”

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