One thing that has fascinated me as I’ve been watching the early Jack and Jennifer story is trying to figure out when the show decided they were the rooting couple. To be honest, I keep getting faked out. I actually thought it back as early as the baby Hannah storyline—they had some surprisingly emotional scenes and some very typically “J&J” banter-type scenes, all the way back then. Then Emilio came back and that triangle started, and the show seemed to be carefully keeping its options open. Whenever I decided, “okay, now it’s clear …” something would happen to make me think they weren’t quite there yet.
But, despite all this back and forth, I actually think the show has pretty much decided to commit to Jack and Jennifer by the time the Marina story rolls around. I think the writers were starting to make a plan for them—in the future. But before implementing it, they wanted to lay some groundwork, and in doing so seem to be backing off from the pairing. They wanted use Jack in the Marina storyline, which takes him away from Jen—but it also earns him some redemption with Steve and especially Kayla. I think this is an important step before they bring him into leading man (well, anti-hero) status. And in the meantime they bring Jen closer to Emilio.
Through all this spinning off into different storylines, however, the show never forgets to remind us of how these people feel about each other. Jack’s carefully concealed jealousy of Emilio is a consistent theme, as is Emilio’s not-so-carefully-concealed jealousy of Jack. Jen clearly has feelings for both men, but her feelings for Jack are usually presented as the more angstful, suppressed, soapy type. But the Emilio/Jen scenes are given just enough credibility (from what I’ve seen, my DVDs don’t have as many Jen/Emilio scenes if Jack isn’t in them too) so that Emilio isn’t in obviously Pure Obstacle mode yet.
I give credit to the show for making all this pretty seamless. But, there is one Jack and Jen scene that seems to stick out like a sore thumb. This takes place as Jack is just starting to try to help Kayla, and she is still distrustful and wary. It is also right before Jen makes things official with Emilio (in fact, it’s suggested that what happens here is part of the reason she does so). Take a look:
The first half of this scene is really terrific. Jack has just been told by Kayla that she doesn’t think he can ever change, and he’s feeling bitter and hostile. Jen becomes a handy target for that hostility. Jen sees from his attitude that things didn’t go well with Kayla, so she changes the subject, saying she wants to do a series of positive stories on the barrio where Emilio lives. Jack easily switches his hostility to this new subject, and mocks Jen for thinking Emilio could ever change (nice echo of what Kayla just told him) and belittles her desire to do the story—pointing our that she never even would have heard of the barrio if it weren’t for Emilio.
I love that Jen doesn’t back down in the face of all this, and instead counters that actually, she would have, because she would have read about it in the Spectator—and she’d know all the bad things about it and none of the good things. I love Jack’s little smile as he recognizes that as a good point.
Then things take a very strange turn. Jen tries to get him to come with her to the barrio to do research and when he refuses, she accuses him of being jealous and pushing her away. It’s not in the above clip, but earlier the very same day Jen had a conversation with Emilio where she accused him of being jealous. This almost makes it seem she’s playing them off each other, which I doubt is the intention. Then, they argue back and forth for awhile, and Jack says, “I’ll show you pushy,” and grabs her and kisses her! I was so shocked that I was sitting there for the rest of the scene with my mouth hanging open.
It’s possible that the intention of all this is to show Jack scaring himself a little bit into overreacting, thinking that he’s as capable as ever of losing control and attacking a woman. This would provide a solid reason for him to back off from Jen even more than he has already. But Jack almost seems too in control afterwards, so I don’t think that’s what Matt Ashford was going for. I really like the way Missy Reeves plays Jen’s reaction; she seems a little hurt and overwhelmed when she asks if he kissed her to prove a point, and then when she says she doesn’t understand him after he leaves.
In a way I also like the terrible awkwardness of this, how a kiss, which you would think would bring them together (at least for a moment of connection) actually shows how far apart they are. And, later, in a scene with Emilio, Jen is obviously thinking of this when she says that Jack would just play games with her if she got involved with him. But, overall, I think this moment feels out of place. My honest opinion is that the show did this because they wanted to have something semi-dramatic before they backed off from Jack and Jen for awhile. It’s a way to explain Jen turning to Emilio, and, more importantly, a way to signal to the Jack and Jen fans (who I imagine were already starting to accumulate) that Jack and Jen aren’t over—even though after this they have precious little screen time together for a significant period of time.
That’s not to say TPTB weren’t still hedging their bets. At the same time we see Jack earning his redemption with Steve and Kayla, he’s also sharing scenes with a new female character, Isabella, Marina’s sister. There is some pretty obvious chem testing going on here:
Roses, meaningful glances, and a bit of heart to heart (when Jack confides that he knows what it’s like to want to be closer to a sibling)—and this only their second meeting! I really like how Jack is able to relax with Isabella and play a more conventional leading man—he gets to play hero when he rescues her from a sanitarium, and in general treats her more tenderly than he does Jen. This allows us to see Jack’s softer side (and provides a solid basis for Jen’s later jealousy). But—again playing both sides—it also slyly implies that Jack’s continued defensiveness with Jen, even while he softens with Isabella, means that he feels more for Jen. I do think TPTB were possibily toying with the idea of keeping Jen with Emilio and putting Jack with Isabella. But, even if they do go for Plan A—Jack and Jen—these scenes aren’t wasted. They can use Isabella in their story, to give Jen a possible rival, and as a way of introducing Isabella onto the canvas. It’s win/win.