A Step Forward

Previous Jack and Jennifer post: I dreamed a dream

Poor Jack. He’s been trying to help Steve for months and months, and all he gets in return is grief and suspicion:

Jack, Steve talk about Isabella

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.

Steve meets Isabella 1

Steve meets Isabella 2

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.

Next Jack and Jennifer post: The Key Kiss

8 thoughts on “A Step Forward

  1. I think the first hint of solidarity comes at about 2:45 of this clip. It’s right before the scene break and Isabella is protesting her honesty. She turns to Jack and says, “You believe me, don’t you?” At this point, though, Jack has already started to shut down with Isabella. The picture has done a lot of damage to his whole view of her. What does he do when he’s not sure of things? He looks right over her head to big brother Steve. Scene fade.

    One little thing that always bugged me about this storyline was the continued allusions to a Victor and Isabella affair. Of course we know now that Isabella wound up being Victor’s daughter, but we didn’t know that then. Heck, Victor and Isabella themselves didn’t even know, so it makes all the protestations of, “I just can’t talk about it!” all the squickier. In fact, they never really explained just why things were so emotional between those two before the paternity reveal; just some vague references to him loving her because she was Loretta’s. I want to know why the heck Victor had “Ernesto’s Daughter” hidden away on a yacht disguised as a freighter! Or maybe I don’t …

  2. I love that look Jack gives Steve, RileyKay. You bring up a great point, another thing I love about these scenes: the big brother/little brother vibe to them. When Jack and Isabella are fiddling with their transmitters Steve is looking on in disbelief. Then after Isabella goes I love the “scolding big brother” look Steve gives Jack, and Jack looks back at him nervously like he’s been caught. “I can explain, Dad!” Hee.

    You’re so right about the squickiness of Isabella and Victor. All I can think is that they wanted to up the surprise of the paternity reveal by making us think that they were once in a relationship—but make it all so vague that they are not truly committing to anything. But I don’t think it works. Aside from the squickiness factor, which is bad enough, it just doesn’t make any sense!

  3. I love the way they use this storyline to showcase the dynamics of the Jack/Steve relationship. The first part of the storyline dealt primarily with Jack and Kayla’s relationship because I think the writers knew that until they addressed that issue, they could never deal with Jack and Steve’s issues — at least not without it feeling like some kind of betrayal of Kayla.

    So, they very smartly had Jack helping Kayla primarily. We saw him take responsibility for his actions, continue to try and help in the face of rejection and suspicion, and ultimately reach a tentative equilibrium with Kayla. Then the writers could turn to Steve and Jack. I love how they have Steve so resistant to any idea that Jack has or can change. It took so long for Steve to finally give up on his baby brother that it makes sense that it would be that much harder to get any of that belief back.

    I also love that Jack accepts that suspicion because he knows he’s earned it. He almost never gets defensive, just resigned. Yet, he doesn’t let it stop him either. And SN plays those little moments when Jack gets to him so well. It’s a flinch or a pause that shows that, deep down, he still has those feelings for his little brother. It’s really well played by both SN and MA. And all of the twists and turns in this storyline allow that relationship to take some tentative steps forward in a way that might never have happened otherwise.

    Oh, and I totally agree on the squickiness of the Victor/Isabella innuendo. I know they wanted to keep the real reveal under wraps, but that wasn’t the best way to go about it.

  4. Could we please classify a “follow through with dead-serious emotional realism” as a forgotten virtue of soap writers?

    P.S. I’m still reading.

  5. I like the fact that Jack goes from hating his brother and everything he stands for to using him as his role-model and someone to lean on. It’s a subtle change, but important. I think Jo, in all her well-meaning but sometimes counter-productive mothering, is to thank for that particular transition. Jack had already formed a pretty close bond with Jo before he found out about his identity, and Steve’s love and protectiveness with Jo gave them their first real common ground.

    Jack, at this point, is still working on figuring himself out and is a bit unsure of his actions sometimes. He’s finally come to grips with what he did to Kayla and realizes that he can never truly make up for it, but he at least has to try. However, he’s been “Bad Billy Jack” for so long that he’s still working the kinks out. He doesn’t quite trust himself yet to make the right decisions, so he needs someone to look to for guidance. Who does he turn to but the very man he’s trying so desperately to help.

    The fact that these two brothers could come from such a dark place to where they finally ended up is a truly wonderful journey.

  6. Thank you, rameau!🙂

    I love the way you break it down, RileyKay. It’s a very interesting journey for Jack, a bit different (but linked) from his actual redemption story. How he went from sneering at Steve to looking to him for guidance.

    Esp, I think you are absolutely right that the show was more free to pursue the Jack and Steve relationship after Kayla and Jack had already made a tentative step forward. And I love how they also used that to add to the tension between Steve and Kayla when they were having problems. It all fits together so well.

  7. It’s too bad they don’t write things in soaps the way it used to be. I look at Steve and Kayla’s last run and it wasn’t the story ideas that were bad but the execution and the writing. The little things get skipped and history gets ignored to fit the plot. Watching these things you see the difference. A good story should write itself and go with the natural flow instead of shocking or doing things uncharacter like. It’s not the same anymore.

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