Poor Jack. He’s been trying to help Steve for months and months, and all he gets in return is grief and suspicion:
This scene catches us up on all the reasons Steve has to be suspicious of Jack: that he thought Jack and Marina were working together, that he asked Jack to help him look for Isabella and then never heard from him about it again. He suspects that Jack is hiding her (which, in fact, he is, but it’s because he’s trying to protect her). Since Steve has never met Isabella, it makes sense that he assumes she is a lot like Marina. (I love when Jack says, in her defense, that “you of all people should know how different two siblings can be.”) All this very nicely sets up our sympathy for Jack, since he’s being wrongfully accused, without making us feel that Steve is being unfair.
Matt Ashford does something subtle in Jack’s scenes with Steve, that I really love. He plays Jack as always tense and defensive in the face of Steve’s hostility, which makes him talk faster and stumble over his words. He gives the impression that faced with Steve’s skepticism, he can’t quite believe he’s changed, either. This all adds up to making Jack sound shifty and insincere, which in turn makes it less likely that Steve will change his mind about him.
Here, Jack’s word-stumbling ends up making him say something really unfortunate, when Steve says emotionally that he can’t understand how Jack can let Kayla suffer for Isabella’s sake. Jack responds to that emotion by immediately protesting that he’d “never make Kayla suffer.” Whoops. That, of course, goes over like a lead balloon. Stephen Nichols’s reaction shot is perfect, as is Jack’s line, “It’s always going to be there, isn’t it?” Then Matt says the next line, “I’m trying to change,” so faintly, and it carries no conviction. This all conveys Jack’s near-hopelessness about ever changing Steve’s mind or being able to make up for what he’s done. (And, it makes it all the more impressive that he does indeed, keep trying.)
Steve does leave the door open a crack, when he says that if Jack wants to help, he knows what to do. This just twists the knife, though, making Jack’s situation all the more poignant. We’d love to see Jack able to take advantage of this opening, but he can’t because of his loyalty to Isabella.
But, a few episodes later, things take a turn. Roman shows Steve a picture of the Toscano family, including Isabella, hanging out with Victor. This seems to confirm Steve’s suspicions that Isabella is in cahoots with Victor, and that maybe Jack is too since he’s protecting her. Determined to get the full story, he calls Jack on the phone and tells him to come over.
I love the moment when Steve asks Jack why he would want to tell him the truth, and Jack blurts out that he’s family and he cares about him. I love Stephen’s look at that, the narrowed eyes and the twisting smile, like, “What’s your game?”
Then Isabella decides to make her appearance, because she wants to defend Jack from Steve’s conviction of his guilt. And it works, but not in the way she expects. The revelation that she has some kind of relationship with Victor (she won’t elaborate on exactly what it is) serves to increase Jack’s suspicions of her, which ironically puts him on the same position as Steve. This is beautifully shown when Jack asks Isabella why Victor would tell her where Kayla is—what is her relationship with him? She responds, “Does it matter?” Then Jack says he thinks it does, and Steve pipes in, “I think it does too.” Steve and Jack look at each other, each registering somewhere deep down the strangeness of being on the same side. It’s a wonderful moment.
There are a lot of great subtleties in these scenes, but nothing compares to the wonderful moment at the end. Isabella comes back with her clue that Kayla might be on a yacht disguised as a freighter. Steve gets ready to follow up, telling Jack to call Roman and get him over to serve as backup. But Roman isn’t home, and Jack sees his opportunity and says to let him help. As Jack is making his case, he asks Steve, “Why do you call me little brother?” I love this line, it’s a way for Jack to get at the underlying bond that he knows, or at least suspects, that Steve still feels. And Stephen does a great vulnerable look before Steve says “to get your goat” (showing that’s not the only reason). Jack doesn’t question that, but keeps pressing, pointing out that Roman isn’t available.
Steve gets a sour, skeptical look on his face as he thinks about all this. Then he grabs Jack by the tie with a semi-threatening look—like, I can’t believe I’m doing this and you better not screw it up—then slaps him on the chest, saying, “Let’s rock and roll, Billy Jack.” Wow! Jack scurries out after him, knowing he’s being given a priceless opportunity.
This is a fragile truce, born out of necessity, with no guarantees that it will last beyond the present crisis. But it’s a step.
I’ve said before that one of my favorite things about soaps is when they take a fantastical situation and follow through on it with dead-serious emotional realism. This is an example of an adjunct to that, when the crackpot soap plot itself creates emotional situations that otherwise would not happen. Steve’s trust in Jack, and Jack and Steve’s relationship, have been so damaged, that it’s only in the crucible of an elaborate crisis—involving kidnapping, keys to missing fortunes, mental institution escapees, and mysterious women from the past—that they could ever get the opportunity to reconnect. Extraordinary situations create extraordinary reactions. Hurray for crackpot plots.