Redemption 101

Previous Jack and Jennifer post: So it begins

Picture this: you’ve got a popular new villain, played by a handsome, charismatic, capable actor. He’s got potential as a leading man, but there’s a problem. He’s not just a villain, he’s a rapist. And the woman he raped was one of the most popular leading ladies on the show.

What to do? Well, if you’re a writer on 2000’s Days, you lurch the character from outright villainy to Father of the Year with nary a stop in between, and hope the viewers just forget about that whole “psychotic rapist” thing.

On the other hand, if you’re smart, you might do something like this:

Jack is stabbed

Here’s the setup: Diana has recently gotten the goods on Jack by interviewing a former associate of his. Jack retaliates by blackmailing the man to keep him quiet, but the man stabs him instead. The wounded Jack makes his way to riverfront Emergency Center.

Jack tries to tell Kayla that the stabbing was just a random robbery, and I love how Kayla immediately clues in that that isn’t true: “knowing you, you probably deserved it.” I love the physical awkwardness that Matt Ashford and Mary Beth Evans display in this scene. Kayla has a hard time making herself touch him, and Jack is keenly aware of that fact.

That awkwardness leads perfectly into Jack’s attempt to thank Kayla, and his flash of anger when she is having none of it. She correctly points out that what he wants is to whitewash the past. But Jack has the perfect line, when she says she doesn’t understand him: “Kayla, you never even tried.” It encapsulates how Jack feels about Kayla and their marriage—and it’s also perfectly true. It doesn’t necessarily create sympathy for Jack, but seeing his point of view is the first step in that direction.

We get another peek at Jack’s perspective when he says that it would have been better for both of them if she could have loved him. Everything went wrong for him because she didn’t love him back. This is true, as far as it goes (Kayla could just as easily say, “It would have been better for both of us if you hadn’t loved me.”), but he’s only thinking of himself. That’s why I love Kayla’s response, “Not for me.” There is also the implication that Kayla wouldn’t trade anything if it meant she wouldn’t have Steve. If she had loved Jack, she wouldn’t have been raped or gone through all of the crap Jack put her through, but she wouldn’t love Steve and that’s just not worth it to her. Sigh.

And then, after venturing into Jack’s point of view and sowing the seeds of sympathy for the audience, the show snaps us back to reality with Kayla’s line that people get rejected every day but they don’t do what he did. It puts it all back in perspective. This scene is so important for us to see how Jack feels about Kayla and their marriage, and for us to see him have some regret. But, it’s equally important in showing that Kayla is still angry and has a right to be angry. When Jack is reaching out saying he doesn’t know how to be better, she says flatly, “It’s your problem, Jack.” For Kayla to say that, who can see good in everyone, is a mark of how hurt she is and how much Jack has to make up for. I love that the show comes down on her side in the end, even with all the gray that is introduced in this scene.

As a bonus, the coda at the end with Steve sows a seed for Steve and Jack’s eventual reconciliation. When Kayla tells him Jack was just there, he is angry and dismissive, but all that changes when he hears that Jack was stabbed. All those feelings he’s tried to suppress come rushing back. Kayla sees it too, and she clearly has mixed feelings about it. She means it when she tells him it’s okay he cares about his brother, but that doesn’t mean she’s happy about it. There’s a conflict there between what Kayla wants to feel—that it is okay for Steve to care about Jack—and how she really feels. Mary Beth Evans plays it perfectly.

Next Jack and Jennifer post: Cub reporter

13 thoughts on “Redemption 101

  1. maryp, these scenes make me smile and weep at the same time. Smile at how great this all was, and weep because no show seems to be able to do anything like this any more.

    And your analysis is so great.

    Thanks for taking us back down this wonderful, grey, path.

  2. The thing I loved about this conversation with Jack and Kayla is that they actually talk about what happened. Maybe not in specific detail, but it’s there. Jack refers to how he felt, yet acknowledges it’s not an excuse. And, by bringing it back to Kayla’s hurt and anger, it’s clear that we’re not expected to just instantly forgive Jack. We’ve got a window into his emotions now, but he’s not getting a free pass.

    My best guess is this conversation takes place approximately a year after the rape and it’s the first time since the immediate aftermath where Jack expresses any kind of remorse. It’s an important first step but only the first step.

  3. It makes me smile and weep, too, Zara. Of course not everything back then was this terrific (like the Adrienne/Justin/Emilio triangle, where Justin tries to kill Emilio), but it was more consistent overall.

    esp, I think allowing the audience to see Jack’s point of view, but also allowing us to hold onto our anger, is really the key. It avoids the dreading “propping” problem. We get both sides of the coin—a bit of empathy for Jack, but also the satisfaction of seeing Kayla call him out and deny him the forgiveness he wants.

  4. Goodness . . . presenting more than one side of a story? Not telling me how to feel? Not excusing or whitewashing or disposing of a conflict in three scenes or less, but simply stating and explaining and letting a story unfold over time in a manner that lets all the expected emotions to be explored? Wouldn’t that be an interesting change of pace these days.

    I’m not one of those who thinks Everything Was Better Back Then, but some things certainly were.

  5. Paxton, what I think was consistently Better Back Then was the structuring of the stories. There were certainly stories—or couples, or whatever—that didn’t work, but they usually didn’t compound the problem by abandoning the story halfway through or abruptly pushing a new pairing.

  6. Hi! I’m a long-time fan of yours, but this is my first time to add a comment. Its one that I’ve been thinking about for awhile. One great thing with this storyline (and others) is that it highlights another consistent aspect of old Steve’s nature, which is his seemingly endless ability to forgive people he loves, even when they do terrible things. We saw him learn to forgive Bo for putting out his eye, to forgive Jo for abandoning him and staying with Duke, and forgive Jack for hurting Kayla. In none of these cases did he just say, “Okay, forget about it” or hold a grudge forever over a minor slight (as seems to happen now). These were serious, life-changing betrayals. The audience got to watch both Steve and the other person slowly work through the issues and the pain to rebuild a new relationship. In each case it was also clear that while Steve was hurt and angry, he also missed having a relationship with the other person (best friend, mother, brother). Hope helped him work through his issues with Bo and Kayla helped him work through his feelings about Jo. It was nice to see the roles reversed a bit in the Jack redemption storyline, with Steve being the first one to take a step towards forgiveness before Kayla was ready to do so. Yet, as you will see coming up, Steve respects that Kayla’s viewpoint is different from his, as he will tell Jack much later when Jack asks Steve if Kayla will ever be able to forgive him. By that point, it was a perfect reflection of Steve and Kayla’s mature relationship, yet truly consistent with the characters. Well done.

  7. Thanks, Melaraus, and thanks for commenting! I think you make an excellent observation. One of Steve’s most appealing qualities—and what I think drew Kayla to him—is that willingness to go to the absolute limit for those that he loved. Even if he wasn’t particularly getting along with that person, when it came down to it he was willing to lay down his life. Going to jail for Adrienne, trying to kill Duke (twice), rescuing Bo at the warehouse, and of course—argh—giving up Kayla to save Jack’s life.

    I’ll be really interested to see how Steve’s forgiveness of Jack plays out. One thing I like about the part I’m watching now (and it really starts with this scene), is Kayla is the one who sets Steve on the path, telling him that if he wants to form a relationship with his brother, it’s okay. Even though she hasn’t forgiven Jack herself, she is willing to try to put her own feelings aside. And I love that we can see how hard it is for her.

  8. It was the writers’ willingness to allow complexity that made Days great back then. I was often really angry at Steve for wanting to forgive Jack, but it was based on a well established part of his nature. He was a person who loved deeply, even when he wanted to hate someone (like Bo or Britta) or wasn’t sure he could trust his feelings about (like Kayla). He could be so hostile and mean, but when he changed his mind, he would do anything for someone.

    Jack was also allowed to be a complicated character. I think there were points, during the unspeakable Jack 2 phase, when they weren’t as committed to redeeming Jack as a character, but Matthew Ashford made it possible. I’ve been rewatching old Days with my daughter and her reaction to Jack has been very interesting. She feels that he’s done terrible things, but she can’t help but feel sorry for him in his confusion and frustration. That’s good writing.

  9. They really did a good job showing Jack’s point of view, and creating some sympathy/empathy for the character when he was causing problems for a very popular couple.

    I think you can really see how Matt Ashford brought so much more to the role, even when the writing was not much better than it was for Jack #2. When he was first cast he was still pretty much in obstacle mode, not much depth there. But MA elevated the material, and I think Days spotted that potential and made the character more complex.

  10. That’s actually one of the interesting things about soaps — they hire an actor for a temporary role or a small part and then the actor shows such promise that the writers get intrigued and start writing for that character. I think Luke on GH, Steve on Days and Jesse on AMC were those kinds of characters. Probably Jack became an important character because of MA. To me, those kinds of characters are often the most interesting because they develop gradually as opposed to a character created to perform a certain function like being someone’s love interest. It’s nice to see an actor inhabit and create a role.

  11. I agree, Flaco. Jack is a perfect example. I’m particularly interested in him because I know the Steve and Kayla story so well, and Jack was recast three times in a short span. I can see the effect of the casting and the writing very clearly. I really liked Jack #1 for what the character was at the time, but there’s no question Matt Ashford was able to bring so much more complexity to the role. And it’s very gratifying to see how quickly Days jumped on that and gave him more and more to work with.

  12. I just got to these scenes in my Steve & Kayla watching. (Things go slowly because I have to find a time when my daughter and I can watch them together.) I was really amazed by this storyline. It didn’t have any of the elements of a classic soap story — no star-crossed lovers, no big romantic scenes, no adventure. It was just characters — Steve, Kayla, Jack, Jo — trying to work out deep and complicated feelings. It was really enjoyable and well done. You could see them struggling to get it right and failing over and over again.

  13. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The Steve/Kayla/Jack storyline, stretching over years, was one of the best storylines of all time. I love that they were able to keep up the complexity after Steve and Kayla were married. It created some internal conflict for them as an established couple — always a bit of a Holy Grail.

    I’m going pretty slowly through the DVDs myself (though without today’s Days to watch anymore I might be able to speed up a little). I’m really savoring this part, and I’m not in a big hurry to get to Daniel Lucas.🙂

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