One thing that can be very difficult, over the long haul of a supercouple story, is keeping the power balanced between the two characters. That is particularly true in a “push her away” type story like the Jack and Jennifer (or Steve and Kayla) story. The show has to be careful that the woman is not a complete doormat, someone willing to put up with anything and keep coming back for more. At the same time we have to see that the man’s repeated attempts to push her away have some cost—we have to see that it hurts.
The show had a way of playing around with this power balance, shifting one way, then shifting the other way. Just when you think “Wow, Jennifer has been putting up with a lot of crap lately,” boom, something happens to shift the power back. It’s part of the whole supercouple dance, this shifting back and forth. (Needless to say, these kinds of subtleties are completely beyond Days’ writing team today.)
Here’s a good example of a “poor Jen” scene:
Jen assumes she can come in and tell Jack she got a job offer from another paper (actually, two offers) at a higher salary, and he will match it. Her confidence is not unwarranted—she’s always known that Jack respects her professionally and thinks she’s a good reporter. But, Jack sees an opportunity to let Jen move on and get a fresh start. He encourages to her take the other offer. Naturally, she is hurt by this, and it all adds up to shifting power away from Jen. It’s not what he does—pushing her away is what Jack does, after all—it’s how he does it, acting so convincingly that he couldn’t care less. The mask doesn’t slip at all. And he sees that she’s hurt, but she can’t see what he’s feeling at all.
We can guess that Jack isn’t as indifferent as he appears. But, the show very wisely lets us the viewers actually see it, by giving him a scene with Jo afterward. First we see a nice affirmation of Jack’s professional admiration for Jen, when Jo (in typical Jo fashion) tries to give him credit for Jen’s Ferraro award. He says very definitely that Jen won on her own merits. Then, when she hears about the firing, Jo expresses her (which is also our) outrage at Jack, and we can see from his reaction that this is hurting him. And he tells Jo that this way Jen can make a fresh start and move on.
But Jen doesn’t know this, and she is left to try to make a decision now, about staying or going. More money, more responsibility, her own office … the choice seems clear. There’s a tiny wrinkle in that if she leaves she won’t finish her college degree (her internship at the Spectator is for college credit), but this seems minor compared to everything else. There is really only one thing to explain Jen’s reluctance: her feelings for Jack. And the way this is set up it seems the height of doormat-ness for Jen to stay, to hang around guy who is trying to kick her out the door.
But then there’s a twist:
The power starts to shift back right from the outset of this scene, because Jen has gone out to a party with her friends and family to celebrate her award, and we see Jack’s jealousy as he asks her about it. Then, he goes further when he oh-so-casually asks her what she’s decided, and we see how much he is dying to know. I love that Jen is very far, emotionally, from the earlier scenes, when her hurt was so close to the surface. Here she’s steaming mad and isn’t giving anything away. As Jack waits to hear her decision, she calmly hands him his pen (“Binky’s pedicures,” hee!).
Then, in the next scene, Jen announces she’s staying by ripping up her article and saying she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of leaving. It’s such an unexpected resolution to the arc, and that makes it rather wonderful. Also, it brings up a thread that runs through all of these scenes, that Jack was trying to get rid of her for reasons that had nothing to do with work. He was trying to make her decisions for her—“for her own good,” of course—and she’s telling him she isn’t going to be his little chess piece. And just like that, she turns it around so that leaving would be the “weaker” choice, because it would be playing right into Jack’s manipulations. (I also really like Jack’s involuntary smile at hearing the news, like “I tried to do the right thing, but she isn’t letting me so it’s out of my hands.”)
Emilio’s presence here also helps. Poor Emilio! He’s about to be run over by the Supercouple Love Train. But he is used very well here. Jack tries to be all smirky about him, and even though we know it’s a mask for his jealousy, it’s still a potent weapon against Mr. Sincerity. But Jen turns that around too: she doesn’t get defensive, and she doesn’t rise to the bait. She knows just what is behind Jack’s sarcasm, and she calls him on it: he’s not happy for her, as he claims. Then she goes a step further: Emilio can tell someone how he feels, while Jack is too much of a coward. Zing. And now the power has evened out nicely. Nicely done, Days.