It was Sheri Anderson who popularized the Days hero who was a little rough around the edges. She was probably inspired by the success of the blue collar Roman Brady (not to mention anti-hero Luke Spencer over on GH), after decades of professional men like Don Craig, Bill Horton, and Neil Curtis. She introduced Bo Brady, Pete Jannings, and Steve Johnson during her tenure on the show.
Sometimes, as a foil for our anti-hero and to give him some competition, the show would introduce a more conventionally handsome man—a guy in a suit. He was rich, classy, sophisticated, and usually ready to propose. I think Larry Welch, for Bo and Hope, represents the ultimate example of this type. And Jack, when he was first introduced as Steve’s rival for Kayla, was also of this type. The guy in the suit represented security and a conventional marriage. Our anti-hero represented difficulty and danger, but also excitement and true love. (The subtext also wasn’t hard to figure out: good sex vs. boring sex.)
The competition between Emilio and Jack appears, on the surface, to be the same kind of situation. We’ve got the rough around the edges guy who is always strutting around without a shirt, a former gang member with a sweet side. He is clearly cut from the same cloth as Bo, Steve, and especially Pete Jannings. And, as his rival, we have the rich, older, professional man who usually wears a suit.
The show was very aware of this contrast, and in this series of scenes decided to have some fun with it. Here’s the setup: Jack and Jen have bonded a little over Jack winning a newspaper award. She is touched to see that the award means something to him, especially after he talks about how the award belongs to everyone at the paper. So she decides to invite Jack over for dinner with her grandparents:
I love the supercouple step forward/step back dance of all this. When Jen shows up to ask Jack out to dinner, Jack starts talking about his award. When he cynically dismisses it as meaningless, she smiles at first because she knows that’s not how he really feels. But then when he persists, she gets mad, makes a snide remark about his suit, and says she’s just wasting her time with him. Jack’s slightly wistful expression, even as he agrees with her, perfectly shows how he really feels underneath his cynical bluster. That leads nicely into the scenes that follow, as Jen helps Emilio pick out a suit for the dinner (she asked him instead of Jack), and Jack picks out his new look:
The music, and the back and forth cutting between the two men and their new outfits, make this a lot of fun. I love the soapiness of Emilio’s insecurity making him emulate Jack at the same time Jack’s insecurity is making him emulate Emilio. Emilio and Jen are really cute looking at the clothes, and they have a tender moment when Jen is fixing Emilio’s hair (good luck with that, Jen!). I think they do a nice job not making the rooting couple too obvious.
Jack’s leather jacket, complete with chains, is beyond silly, but his self-deprecation makes these scenes work. I particularly like how he’s flexing his pecs in the mirror, because it’s an implicit reference to Emilio’s amazing pecs.
Then, when Jack comes by decked out in his new outfit, with a big bunch of flowers, he sees Jen and Emilio all dressed up for dinner with her grandparents. Jack is the odd man out once again. He covers, badly, by saying he’s on his way to a costume party. Of course, his costume is “a florist who’s into leather.” Hee.
Jen’s amusement, and her look as she watches him go, show how much Jen is softening towards Jack.
The closing scene is a perfect capper to all this. Jack gives the flowers to a homeless woman, and when she tells him he’s nice, Jack mutters “nice guys finish last.” This signals that Jack is pulling back from any direct competition with Emilio.
But more that that, there is a wonderful subtext to this. Jack’s comment ties right back to something he said when he was at his worst, after the rape. He told Steve that nice guys are losers and he was never going to lose again. This connects Jack’s current behavior back to when he was “the guy in the suit” for Kayla and Steve. One thing I’ve always regretted about the Kayla’s rape (as good drama as it was) is that it prevented the show from fully exploring Steve and Kayla’s guilt over what they did to Jack. But here, we can see that damage play out in a different way. Jack’s insecurity and bumbling with Jennifer—behavior he never exhibited with Kayla—is partly a result of his humiliation at Kayla’s (and Steve’s) hands. We can see how being in competition with Emilio would make Jack feel like history was repeating himself, and he was going to lose to the tough, lower class guy all over again.
But, this time, things will be different. I think it’s a testament to Matthew Ashford that this time, when the tough guy went up against the guy in the suit—the guy in the suit won.