Days used to introduce short-term incidental characters, homeless street kids and abused wives, plucked straight out of Dickens. They served as a catalyst for our heroes, someone to help or protect and argue about how best to do it. Frankie and Max were introduced for Steve and Kayla in this way, and Sally and baby Hannah for Jack and Jennifer. Here the social worker arrives to take Hannah away from Sally:
What makes this scene special is the director’s awareness that the scene is not really about Sally, but about how Jack and Jennifer react to Sally. Matt Ashford and Melissa Reeves do a fabulous job in the way they keep looking at each other, not Sally, as Sally is giving up her baby. It shows Jack and Jennifer sharing an emotional moment and introduces a certain intimacy between them.
Then, afterwards, the show steps back from that intimacy—in the classic step forward/step back supercouple dance—by having Jen take her anger out on Jack. Jack’s defenses coming back up, and though he expresses sympathy, it comes off much colder than the nonverbal reactions he had in the doorway. But without that earlier moment, we wouldn’t know that Jack is covering up here.
It plants a seed of awareness of Jack’s softer side—for us the viewers, and of course for Jen as well. Going forward from here, Jen is much more likely to try to dig deeper when she sees Jack acting cold or heartless, because she knows that isn’t all there is to him—she saw it. And because she’s the only one who sees it, it sets up the romantic story where she believes in him when no one else does.
This simple exchange of looks, that adds so much to the scene, is the kind of added touch that we rarely see nowadays. Does show just not shoot these reactions anymore, or are today’s actors not good enough to add them? Or maybe, knowing their story could turn on a dime, they are reluctant to telegraph any subtext that might be undercut next week. In that environment, the better actors just give up, and the lesser actors are less inclined to try to stretch.