Earl: of Duke

Previous Jack and Jennifer post: Complications

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:

Jo’s birthday party 1

Jo’s birthday party 2

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:

Jo’s birthday party 3

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.

Jo’s birthday party 4

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.

Next Jack and Jennifer post: Emilio returns

13 thoughts on “Earl: of Duke

  1. This was a great arc, a fine example of drama created by character and history more than plot. You’re right about it being a low point for Jack. Although it was partly a mistake, bringing Earl to the party was one of the worst things Jack ever did, a 5 minute visit that undermined years of emotional progress for the Johnsons. Steve’s line “You’re not gonna break my family” summed up the effects so well.

    This is a family that had been horribly broken by Duke’s abuse. Steve, Adrienne, and Jo had worked so hard to overcome all of that and rebuild their family (minus Billy Jack). This party was supposed to be a high point of that rebuilding, signified by the framed photographs the kids gave to Jo. Then Jack walks in with this guy and rips the scab right off.

    I wish you would have included the follow-up scenes with Adrienne and Justin back at the penthouse. They are really heartbreaking in showing how much seeing Earl brought back the pain and shame of her rape. It also illustrates Justin’s best quality, in that he was always understanding and supportive of her healing process from this abusive past. That look Adrienne gave to Jack and her quiet “How could you?” spoke volumes.

    This arc is so important to Jack’s redemption story in a couple of ways. First, it’s significant that he did this because he was hurt at being excluded from the party. It was the first time he indicated any remorse at being left out of the family. But it’s also significant that Jack was the only Johnson who never actually experienced Duke’s abuse firsthand. The other three members of the family shared a common experience of pain he never fully appreciated. I think the bond between the three was stronger in the end because of their shared healing process in overcoming that past. Jack never really “got it” until this moment. I think this was the first time he fully appreciated all the suffering that the rest of his family had been through and how much they had overcome. I think it gave him a better appreciation of how special these people were and how much he was missing by not being a part of this family. Jack needed a little taste of the “Duke effect” before he could grow up and really become a Johnson.

  2. I think this was a “got it” moment for Jack regarding Duke as well. I think seeing the reactions of Steve, Jo, and especially Adrienne really drove home just how much damage Duke did. And, as MP said, it made Duke a real person for Jack for the first time.

    But, I think this was a turning point for Jack not so much because he “got it” about Duke, but because he knew he went way too far this time. He was hurt, so he did what he always does when he’s hurt, he lashed out. But, this time his actions hurt people who didn’t deserve to be hurt — primarily Jo and Adrienne. And I think Jo’s anger and rejection drives this home to Jack. She’s right, she had never turned him away before, no matter what he did. And, as thanks, he ruined her birthday party.

    It’s a really good moment for Jack to watch him own his mistake and make no excuses. And, it’s even better to watch Jen prompt him to take a positive step instead of just feeling sorry for himself. I always feel that from this point on, Jack is truly changing for the better.

  3. Sorry about not including the Justin/Adrienne scenes, Melaraus. I agree that they are really good—Judi Evans is great—but they were so long and involved I made an executive decision to leave them out.

    I agree that Duke haunted everyone in this family, and this arc really brings that out. They do a nice job paving the way, too—with some scenes also not included here!—with Kayla working on a photo collage for Jo. A picture of Duke gets mixed in with the others and that makes Steve and Kayla talk about him a little bit. Then they show “Duke” on the phone without telling us that it’s Earl, and this being Days we start thinking he really is coming back!

    esp, I like how Jack doesn’t make excuses, too, that seems to be the biggest step forward for him. It would be easy for him to keep telling himself, “I didn’t know, so they can’t blame me for this.” He is still making excuses for the rape—at least sometimes—so it would fit right in with that. But here he realizes that, intentionally or not, he really hurt these people and he owes it to Jo at least to apologize. And I love that it’s on Jen’s suggestion.

  4. I actually put together some youtube videos detailing Jack’s journey from someone who was damaged, bitter, anger, resentful and vengeful into the man who eventually stood up and asserted that he had in fact committed rape (while on the witness stand at Lawrence Alamain’s trial).

    My id on youtube is jackjenfan and the videos (7 of them) are entitled “Jack Deveraux’s journey”

  5. Thanks for commenting, jackjenfan! I will certainly check out your YouTube videos. I might wait awhile, though, because I’m enjoying watching Jack go through his transformation on my DVDs. I love the way the show draws it out and lets us see all the different steps on the way. I’ll definitely keep blogging about Jack’s redemption as I go along.

  6. Ohhh!!! I missed this synopsis…Mary you do such a wondeful job of rehashing these old storylines…if only we could get a storyline half as good…I don’t think there was a story that I couldn’t become involved in back in the 80’s. They all held my attention.

  7. Thank you, Sherry! I love doing these posts on old storylines. Sometimes I wonder if I’m being a little bit crazy to be thinking and analyzing so much about a 20 year old soap, but I like doing it.

  8. I’ve worried about that, too, about myself but I’ve decided it’s okay. People watch 20 year old football games and they know who’s won. If you enjoy it and it’s not hurting anyone, it’s fine. I spend a lot of time deciding how to arrange living room furniture I can’t afford to buy, It’s stupid, but I’m not hurting anyone.

    I love reading your posts and everyone’s responses. And the thing is, you’re making something good out of your obsession. You’re not just mooning over the romance, you’re looking at the structure and the acting decisions and how they impact and improve the storyline. That’s a good way to think about anything. And there really are huge qualitative differences between the 80’s Days and current Days. What would be crazy would be to mindlessly watch the current Days and pretend you’re looking at something good. Enjoy the past.

  9. Thank you, Flaco, for making me feel better about my obsession. It’s definitely an outlet for the English major in me.

    Keeping this blog really forces me to think about what I’m seeing, and I too love all the insights in the comments (like yours!).

  10. i just got to this storyline on my DVDs. What’s great is the way the Jack-Jennifer-Hannah story sort of dovetails into the Jo’s birthday story, so Jack’s hurt at what happens when the social worker rejects him as unfit is added to his hurt at being left out of the Johnson family party. It doesn’t excuse him striking back so childishly, but it makes it more understandable in the same way Steve’s past emotional wounds explained a lot of his behavior.

  11. I love the way they give Jack two motivations to do what he does at the party. First, his hurt and being excluded, and second, the rape coming back to haunt him. But this time his lashing out has unintended consequences, especially to Jo. It’s just a great sequence, where Jack is doing something bad, but he pays for it promptly, and his motivations are explained. Seeing those motivations, plus the fact that everyone blames him, gains him a little sympathy from us.

  12. The past few years, I’ve been having a harder and harder time having suspension of disbelief. Its the worst! It can ruin drama and story for the viewer. In my case, I wasn’t able to get past the fact that this is one actor playing both Duke and the brother. It was clever bringing the actor back though. Sadly, he passed away some time ago.
    Somehow though, it works OK when Charles Shaunessy did it.

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