Jo’s 50th birthday party is one of my favorite mini-storylines from this time period—maybe ever. It’s that good!
I’ve uploaded the whole arc to YouTube. These are the setup scenes:
Basically, Steve and Kayla decide to throw a surprise party for Jo, and Steve elects not to invite Jack. Jack finds out, and feels left out and angry. He comes across Earl, Duke Johnson’s twin brother, and mistakenly thinks he’s just some guy who has a grudge against Steve. He hopes to embarrass Steve by crashing the party with this guy in tow.
(For those who don’t know, Duke Johnson was Jo’s abusive husband, who raped his daughter Adrienne and was shot and killed by her.)
Now, we get everyone’s reactions:
This is perfect soap. One guy brings another guy to a party, that’s it. And yet it is high drama, so many threads of past and present, all intertwining. Jo is shocked; Steve and Adrienne look like they’ve seen a ghost. Adrienne begins to flash back to being raped by Duke, Jo introduces Earl, and Jack finds out that this is his blood uncle of the father he’s never seen. Adrienne’s shriek as she remembers shooting Duke is the perfect climax to the scene, bringing home the horror of what is happening here. After Earl leaves, the whole family centers their anger on Jack. There’s an implicit connection being drawn between Jack and Earl (Duke) in this sequence. Jack has brought Duke to life. What does that say about Jack?
After all the times Jo has favored Jack over Steve, it’s very satisfying to see her get angry here. When Jack says he didn’t know who Earl was, Jo snaps that he knew he was here to cause problems. And I love the way she explicitly takes Steve’s side when she says this is Steve’s house and Jack needs to leave. The fact that Jo is blaming him is a bigger wake-up call for Jack than anything Steve could say. I love that the shock of it all has ripped down Jack’s defenses. He seems to know that no justification is possible. He apologizes to Adrienne without equivocating, he says “I blew it” to Steve, and even when he is explaining himself, he comes across as completely open and honest rather than as someone making excuses. This low, low point for Jack may actually represent a step forward.
I love that it is Jen who inspires Jack to apologize to Jo. This is a perfect way to show their deepening relationship without pushing it too hard. She notices he’s upset, and then she challenges him by asking if there’s anything he can do to fix what he did, instead of feeling sorry for himself. And there is. The scene with Jo and Jack is really lovely. Jack has been pushing Jo away for so long, rejecting overture after overture from her, and here the shoe is finally on the other foot. I love Jo’s skepticism about whether Jack would have come to the party if he had been invited. Matt Ashford packs a lot into his response, the simple line, “Yeah, I would’ve come.” Jack is so obviously sincere, which is wonderful, but there’s a sadness there that suggests an awareness that his constant rejections of her have had an effect.
This arc is great for Steve and Kayla, too. When we see Steve looking in the mirror, asking Jo about Earl, he’s obviously thinking of his own middle name, and his old fears of turning into his father. The Steve and Kayla scene, after everyone leaves, is perfect. I love that we see Steve’s anger on behalf of his family, and then Kayla talking him down and concentrating on him, and what he’s feeling. Watching Steve be able to talk about it all is a mark of how far he’s come since Duke was alive. Back then Steve was so bottled up, and all these wounds were being ripped open for the first time. Now, he’s upset, yes, but he can talk about it freely with Kayla. Then, when Steve vows to make sure that Earl doesn’t hurt anyone in his family, it reminds us that Steve tried twice to kill his father and failed both times. He’s always been haunted by his failure to protect his mother and sister. Maybe this will represent a third chance.
All this is a perfect example of using history—what we’re always asking Days to do!—in a real, meaningful, and very present way. It brings together Adrienne’s rape, Kayla’s rape, Jack’s adoption, Steve and Kayla’s relationship, Jack and Steve’s mutual distrust, and Steve’s fears of turning into Duke. It foreshadows Jack’s fears of the same thing, and introduces “Duke” to Jack in a way that just hearing about him never could do. It touches on how Jo is always making excuses for Jack, on Jack’s budding relationship with Jen, and is an important step in Jack’s redemption. You can’t ask for more from a mini-storyline than that.