Mother Love

Days used to do mini-story arcs, a complete story that lasted an episode or two, rather like they do in weekly nighttime dramas. In this particular arc, Jo wants to invite Jack to dinner, and enlists Steve and Kayla’s help in getting him to come.

Jo invites Jack to dinner 1

Jo invites Jack to dinner 2

I have always had mixed feelings about how the show handled Jo’s feelings for Jack. From the moment she finds out that he is her son, through everything that follows—his rape of Kayla, his treatment of Steve, his rejection of all things Johnson—Jo loves Jack, makes excuses for Jack, and attempts to reach out to Jack. For the most part, this is believable and realistic and a source of complex drama. I love the dynamic it creates when Steve breaks up with Kayla for the ailing Jack, when Jo ends up serving as the devil on Steve’s shoulder, encouraging his worst tendencies toward playing God and shoring up his flagging resolve in moments of weakness. Jo’s guilt over giving Jack up, and her own tendency to play God, make her the perfect partner in crime. No one else would serve that plot purpose so well.

I also love how her unquenchable love and loyalty to Jack allow her to be Steve’s foil when Jack and Steve become enemies. Her constant prodding of Steve to help Jack, for one reason or another, keeps Jack and Steve in one another’s orbits when they are both doing their best to avoid each other. She is often the catalyst for the wonderful scenes in this era that showcase Jack and Steve’s love/hate relationship. The scenes above are a perfect example, first because she sets up the dinner, and even more importantly, because of her hurt at Jack’s cancellation. It brings all of Steve’s protective instincts to the fore and sends him rushing over to Jack’s office at a time when Steve has been doing everything he can to cut Jack out of his life.

However, Jo’s continued loyalty to Jack in the face of how much pain he has caused Steve and Kayla, especially Kayla, sometimes comes across as unjust and callous. Jo never seems to truly comprehend the horror of what Jack did to Kayla, as here, when she says she knows “he has done some horrible things” and then quickly moves on, as if to add, “but I don’t care.” There are countless examples of this, and what hurts the most is Jo still professes to care for Kayla without feeling any apparent contradiction. Kayla, too, never seems to hold it against her.

With Steve, Jo is always playing the guilt card about Jack, laying it on thick about turning his back on his brother, while barely acknowledging the many good reasons Steve has to turn his back. Jo’s protectiveness of her son Jack never seems to extend to her son Steve—which is particularly maddening because Steve, out of her three children, is the one she hurt the most. I admit it’s fun fanwanking the possible reasons for this. One possibility is that Jack (before he turned to the dark side) was the most “whole” of all her children, the only one she didn’t have to feel guilty about, and she was eager to maintain that at all costs. Another is that Jack is a bit like the prodigal son, back after a long absence and therefore more special (though really, that should apply to Steve as well.) My personal favorite fanwank is that she sees Steve as an honorary husband/partner, a fellow co-parent to Adrienne and (especially) Jack—which means their needs come first. And since she knows Steve feels the same protectiveness and longing about Jack, that she herself does—even if those feelings are buried—she can’t help trying to call those emotions forward.


All of these are possibilities. But the truth is that the show never really fully explains why Jo treats her sons so differently, which is too bad, because it could have made great drama even better. The few moments when Steve feels a twinge of sibling rivalry or resentment toward Jack are usually poignant and wonderful. (Hm … I think I better find one and post it to YouTube.)


11 thoughts on “Mother Love

  1. Thanks for your analysis of Jo. In rewatching many of these old episodes, I have been even more impressed with how the writers dealt with her character. It added to the fascinating family dynamics of the Johnsons. To me, Jo is a wonderfully complex and contradictory person, but also one of the most realistic characters on the show. There was no doubt she loved her children, and her best-friend-type relationship with Adrienne was cute, but she often made horrible decisions as a mother. Her shades-of-grey behavior is a marked contrast to other parents who are portrayed as either perfect or evil. Jo was just messed up.
    To me, an essential part of Jo’s failings with her kids ties back to her role as a battered spouse. Remember, she stayed in that abusive relationship for YEARS after giving up her two boys and even had another child with Duke (a point that shocks Steve when he first realizes who Adrienne is). I don’t think Jo ever fully recovered from the emotional scars left by that abusive marriage. It explains a lot about her forgiveness of Jack for Kayla’s rape. As a woman who constantly made excuses for her husband’s violent behavior, it is understandable that she would excuse her son’s violent behavior. I think Kayla realized that about her mother-in-law.
    Consistent with her background, Jo never seemed to be able to view relationships in a healthy, realistic manner. She accepted male violence towards women as the norm. Then, she overly romanticized other people and relationships. She pushed for Adrienne’s romance with Justin, ignoring Steve’s very accurate concerns about the dangers of Justin’s family. She mooned after the very flawed Neil for too many years. And she idealized Jack in an unhealthy and unrealistic way. He was the one with the potential for greatness, just as a baby has the potential to be anything. Like Steve before Kayla’s rape, she never was able to separate the adult Jack from her perfect ideal of the baby she gave up who had all the potential.
    In many ways, Jo romanticized Steve as a knight in shining armor. The one who had tried to save her and then protect Adrienne. She relied on him to be a replacement dad to his siblings, but unfairly acted at times like he was so tough nothing could hurt him. Jack and Adrienne, the babies, needed coddling.
    Like I said, she was well-meaning, but messed up, which is why I find her fascinating as a soap character.

  2. Melarus, fascinating analysis.

    I love your assessment of her view of Steve, that she saw him as a knight in shining armor who was so tough nothing could hurt him. It ties into my theory that she saw him as an honorary husband and helps to at least partially explain her seeming callousness. It’s hard, though, to reconcile that sometimes on screen, when we see Jo see Steve in pain.

    I hadn’t thought about Jo’s excusing Jack’s violence toward Kayla being a parallel with excusing Duke’s violence toward her—and I love how you bring in her attitude towards Justin as well. It’s a compelling theory, and I wish it had been explored a bit more on screen. I love subtext, but sometimes it’s nice to see these things in supertext. 🙂

    I definitely agree that Jo is a very interesting character. Like you say, it’s interesting that she is neither the saintly soap mom type, nor the scheming villainess type.

  3. I read somewhere that children in abusive families often take on the role of parent towards the abused mother or towards younger siblings. That’s the way Steve was written — he tried to take care of his mother by killing his father. And although she understand why he did it, on some level, she also didn’t understand it. I think on some unconscious level, she blamed him for what he had done. She hurt him the most because he knew he had been abandoned so she had to believe in this tough, adult-like Steve who could take care of himself and his siblings — like he was the other parent. She didn’t stop Duke’s abuse so she was complicit in it to some degree. She chose him over her son. And Billy was her sweet baby — the one without sin. He’s the one she tried to get back — not Steve. And she continued to choose others over Steve, particularly Jack. Because if Steve really needed her, then what she did was even more unforgivable.

    Isn’t it interesting how many layers there were in the old storylines? I really love the character-based problems with long, complicated solutions that took a while to work out. There’s a lot of action in soaps, but soaps really don’t do action very well. What soaps do well is these kinds of stories.

    On a side note, welcome back! I hope you had a lovely time on vacation.

  4. I’ve always loved the Jack/Jo/Steve relationship with all it’s flaws and hurts and layers. I think that a large part of the difference in how Jo treats Jack and Steve lies in the simple fact that, in Jo’s eyes, Jack was the one she hadn’t damaged. He was adopted by (she thought) a good family and had every advantage. And, she fought so hard to keep his life so perfect.

    The collaboration between Jo and Steve when Steve pushes Kayla to Jack is interesting. Jo’s against it at first, but doesn’t want to betray her son so she just keeps trying to convince him not to sacrifice his happiness to try and save Jack. But, once the decision is made and Kayla grows closer to Jack, Jo becomes Steve’s chief cheerleader in what he is doing. I always used to think it’s because she was really buying into the “Kayla’s love saves Jack” theory, but now I think it was more that Steve had already made his decision and she wanted to protect Jack and his perfect life.

    This comes up again when she finds out that Steve and Kayla have reunited. All she’s really worried about is how it will affect Jack. I’m probably not explaining it well, but I think she has this fantasy of Jack’s life and is willing to sacrifice just about anybody and anything to keep that fantasy intact.

    And I love the idea that Jo can forgive Jack so easily for what he did to Kayla because of her history as a battered spouse. I always intuitively thought it would be the opposite (she’d have more sympathy for Kayla), but I can see how Jo’s history would definitely make her more likely to whitewash Jack’s sins.

  5. Loved reading everyone’s thoughts!!!

    Matt and Stephen had such a good chemistry…both allowed the viewer access to all the tension between the two brothers. It only makes me wish Matt and Stephen could once again have a storyline.

    Thanks for posting both clips…

    Sherry S.

  6. Flaco, I love your theory that Jo always saw Steve as tough and adult-like because she had to for her own peace of mind—if she ever allowed a crack in her belief in his resilience, the whole house of cards would come tumbling down.

    It always used to rile me up when Jo played the mom-card on Steve, saying things like, “I am your mother and I know you,” because it always seemed that when he really needed her to be a mom, she always let him down. But it’s a really interesting aspect of their relationship, one that Steve participates in. He formed a relationship with Jo but hardly ever did he ask for mothering, which makes the moments when he does very powerful. Also, it gives an extra weight to those moments when we see Kayla mothering Steve, like the moment when he breaks down on her shoulder during the Adrienne storyline.

    esp, I absolutely love Jo’s role in the Steve/Kayla/Jack triangle. I love how Jo starts out as the voice of reason and then slowly turns to the dark side. Then she’s almost more committed to Jack and Kayla than Steve is. I love the tension that creates between Jo and Steve, how they are partners in crime, in a way, because they have no one to confide it but each other—and yet Jo is often watching Steve and worrying, waiting for Steve to break down. Then when the affair starts, suddenly they are on different sides even though Jo doesn’t know it yet.

    And Sherry, Matt and Stephen are so great together. What a shame they hardly had any scenes together when SN and MBE first came back.

  7. Nice analysis of the Steve/Jo dynamic. Another thing that struck me was how Steve usually called Jo by her first name. He only called her “Momma” during moments of vulnerability. It was somehow a continuing reminder that she was never fully the mother he needed her to be.

  8. Wonderful insights. I especially love the idea that Jo was blind to Kayla’s pain because of the parallels with her own situation. She could be almost callous toward Kayla at times — I’m thinking particularly about when Steve wanted to move in with Kayla after the rape, and Jo was dead set against it because it wouldn’t be proper. It’s an angle that I hadn’t really considered before, that beyond the initial shock of learning her son was a rapist, there wasn’t anything extraordinary to Jo about the situation. It was of her world. It says a lot about Steve’s humanity that he could continue to react from a naive place at that point, even after all of his life experience.

    This is not a character point, but just a sidenote to the commentary on Jo seeing Steve as more of a partner/co-parent than a son — there was only a six or seven year age difference between Joy Garrett and Stephen Nichols. I remember a comment from JG in an interview that she did feel maternal towards Judi Evans, but not toward SN, as they were so close in age. Probably just a helpful fluke that the offscreen dynamic fed into the story, but interesting casting nonetheless.

  9. I had no idea that Joy Garrett was only 6 or 7 years older than SN. How funny. I was always happy they cast Joy Garrett as Steve’s mom because she was so blue collar looking and also so motherly looking, instead of a older-hottie type like Lauren Koslow.

    Jo could definitely be callous about Kayla—your example of Jo fussing about the proprieties after Kayla’s rape is a perfect example. There’s another scene I’m thinking of when Jack didn’t know he was Billy yet, when Jack goes to see Jo in the hospital (maybe during Jo’s breast cancer story?). Jo makes it clear to Jack that she still wants to be his friend even though he’s been terrorizing Steve and Kayla about the community center, and she has a line about Kayla that I wish I could remember. It’s a really mild reference to the rape, and I think it supports the theory that she was so inured to violence that she was incapable of seeing it as being that big a deal.

    Melarus, I loved how Steve alternated between “Jo” and “Mama,” and that he continued to do so long after they had made peace. The moment when he first sees her again, when he corrects himself (from “Mama” to “Jo”) is very powerful.

    It’s funny how Jo has that scene with Jack—not long before the scene I posted above—when she pleads with Jack to call her “Mama.” But she never made the same plea to Steve.

  10. Long time stalker… first time poster.

    Loved the insights. What I should say is that I loved the keen insights. Very keen.

    In real life, Joy Garrett was two weeks short of being exactly six years older than Steven Nichols. But here’s the interesting part, (or to me it is ;-).

    Real Life: SN was born in Feb. 1951. JG was born in Mar. 1945.

    The characters: Steve was born in 1955, as seen on his tombstone. If you will remember, he and Kayla gave Jo a 50th birthday party when they first moved in the mansion (Summer of 1989). That would have made her character as being born in 1939. Even though it was never mentioned on the show, as far as I know, that would have made Jo sixteen years old when she gave birth to Steve. Young, but not unheard of. And, considering all that was discussed, her young age could play into the fact that she looked at Steve as more of a co-parent than she did a son. That would have made her somewhere 21 years old when she gave birth to Jack, and more maternal.

    Keep up the fascinating insights. They make wonderful reading!

  11. Thank you, Wawame! Thanks for commenting. I’ve seen you on the S&K boards, and at Sony.

    I never put that together about their ages, and I’m sure it was unintentional by the writers, but it does add something. It adds to the reason why Jo wouldn’t leave Duke, since she was practically a child when she married him. And also, like you say, why Jo wouldn’t be as motherly towards Steve—it’s rather like Lorelai and Rory on the Gilmore Girls.

    What would have been an interesting plot point is if Jo and Duke had gotten married only because she was pregnant with Steve. Then there could almost an element of blame for Steve on Jo’s part—on a subtextual level—in trapping her in that marriage. Could have been great.

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