What’s the Plan?

Previous Jack and Jennifer post: Kayla and Jack

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:

Jack helps Kayla 3

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:

Jack visits Isabella at Bayview

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.

Next Jack and Jennifer post: Fun and Games

9 thoughts on “What’s the Plan?

  1. As I’ve mentioned before, when this was all going on in real time, I was completely puzzled. I couldn’t believe that they were going to put Jen with Emilio (but then I’d think of Pete…) I actually started taking an informal poll among teenage girls I knew at the time, thinking maybe Emilio had some appeal that I didn’t see. So I think you’re seeing things the way they were. They weren’t sure what to do with Jack and Jen and she was very young for him. The whole Isabella thing was also confusing. I remember being very frustrated.

    I also think sometimes writers just get it wrong. They did it with S&K. They’d just move things along too fast or slow things down as a build up to sweeps. My current approach is to just gloss over those moments. Since I’m watching on DVD, I can just fast forward through anything that seems misplaced.

    And then there’s the whole surprise chemistry thing. They hire an actor to play a certain kind of character and the actor is too big for that part. So the writers are scrambling to create some leeway for themselves. That’s certainly what happened with Stephen Nichols. I’m watching the pre-Kayla stuff right now. When he first came on, they didn’t think they were introducing their next big hero. Obviously, looking at the radically different casting decisions, the show wasn’t sure what to do with Jack. By the time Matthew Ashford had the part, he was slated to rape Kayla. That’s a tough thing to bring a character back from. But MA made Jack a character worth redeeming. And they worked hard at his redemption. But I don’t think they really planned on redeeming him through the love of the young, virginal Jennifer. I think that was the result of accidental chemistry and even then, they weren’t sure about whether it would work.

  2. I think there were a whole lot of contingency plans going on during this time. I’ve felt like they hinted at Marina/Jack and Isabella/Jack at various points. I’ve also felt like they were thisclose to just going with Jen/Emilio at times.

    The really great thing is that, through all the potential pairings, nothing feels forced or whiplashing. There are a few scenes here and there that do seem a little out of place, but in the context of the full story and everything going on, it’s pretty minimal. So, it’s a credit to the writers that they kept so many options open without really losing anything in the process.

    Overall, I feel like the show decided to try Jack and Jennifer pretty early (like by the Baby Hannah storyline), but then decided they really wanted to do it right and backed off a bit. They brought back Emilio for Jen and let Jack get involved in the Marina stuff to (more or less) complete his redemptive path and resolve things with Steve and especially Kayla, so that they could move forward from there.

    But, as you say, they were hedging their bets and were willing to continue the chem testing just in case something even better came along. It’s definitely an interesting journey.

  3. This whole scenario of possible pairings is an awesome example of how a good team of writers can develope quality relationships over time while still leaving things open enough to grow organically and not making all characters involved seem wishy-washy. Too often you see characters today being chem-tested all over the board in a way that essentially makes them look like fickle (pardon the terminology) whores and mansluts.

  4. RileyKay, you said exactly what I wanted to say, but so much better. The chem-testing we so often see today is obvious chem-testing because it’s often the only reason those two characters would be sharing a scene together. I’m all for different character interactions, but they should make sense within a story and then those interactions should make sense as well. They used to be pretty careful about that, but not so much these days.

  5. I LIKED JEN AND EMILIO!!!! I left them off my bitterness list!!!

    When did I get to the point where I so easily admitted to this? Oh, my shame masked my desire for them like Emilio’s mullet masked the back of his neck.

  6. Well, Tripp you probably were a teenage girl back then (or even younger) so you would be the mysterious demographic they were appealing to. I knew you were out there. It’s brave of you to come forward. Though MP has a soft spot for Emilio.

  7. Yes, I take back all the bad things I used to say about Emilio (well, most of them).

    At any rate, I agree that despite not committing to any couple for quite a number of months, all this was pretty seamless. Nowadays the show seems to think it’s keeping its options open when a character says they’re in love with one character one week, another character the next week, and sleeping with a third character. Then mix them up and start again.

    I really liked when the show had a male/female pairing spark, and they used it to create a new friendship rather than a new couple—like Jack and Isabella. They did the same for Steve and Hope.

  8. I always believed that a major factor in the switch from a more-or-less equal triangle to outright romance for Jack & Jennifer was the switch of head writers from Anne Howard Bailey to Richard J. Allen and Anne Schoettle. Allen and Schoettle obviously were more committed to promoting Jack and Jennifer than Bailey, and there’s a clear shift late in ’89 where Jennifer’s feelings for Jack become much more explicit. I remember one scene, the day after Christmas, between Jennifer and Emilio where Emilio asks Jennifer flat out how she feels about him and she gives him the “…can’t we be friends?” line. They argue a bit about Jen’s feelings for Jack, and later Jennifer briefy encounters Jack at the community center (where Emilio is getting an award for his work on the gang problem). Jennifer’s eyes “light up” when Jack showsup (says the frizzy one) which leads to another argument in which Emilio says they can’t be friends due to her feelings for Jack. The episode ends with Jennifer standing outside the community center saying, “I’m sorry Emilio, but you’re not the one I love”–implying that Jennifer at that point knows she loves someone else.

    There’s a definite change in the vibe between Jennifer and Emilio at that point which her final line drives home – this is no longer a triangle. The next day has Jennifer finding Jack at Steve’s house while Isabella is hiding in the secret room. Jack shoos Jennifer (who wants to help) off, and when Isabella comes out she starts remarking how Jack cares about Jenn and how he’s protecting her and can’t stop talking about her — so the possibility of a Jack/Isabella pairing seems out of the picture as well.

    The capper is a scene later in the same episode where Jennifer returns to the loft and finds Jack and a group of painters to throw Victor off Isabella’s scent. This leads to Jack grabbing Jennifer and kissing her to shut her up as Vic comes in. Jennifer is a lot less defensive than in the scene described above and keeps touching her lips to show that the kiss effected her.

    I can’t speak to when precisely Schoettle and Allen took over the head writer reigns, but I could feel a shift in direction in these scenes. We get emphasis on J&J, other characters remarking on their feelings for each other, and a playful kiss. At this point, to me at least, it was supercoupledom or bust.

  9. That is very, very interesting, GnuHopper. The dialogue you describe with Jen and Emilio is exactly the type of clue I’ve been looking for, as I’ve been trying to figure out what the writers’ intentions are. I’ll be able to see the Christmas episodes very soon on my DVDs, so I’ll get to see them for myself.

    You made me curious about the headwriter change, and according to Wikipedia Bailey was credited as HW until January 19, 1990. But as I know from the JER/Hogan Sheffer changeover, sometimes the credited HW is already gone by the time their scripts/stories run out. That means that some of their plans might have been tweaked by the incoming team.

    Anyway, thanks for your comments! I love getting the “long view” perspective that only someone who knows the whole story (which I don’t, I’m discovering this as I go along) can provide.

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