Another installment in that ongoing love story: Steve and Jack.
As always, every conversation between these two is a potentially explosive minefield, and it’s a testament to how much they both want this relationship that they keep persisting in trying to have it.
Way back during the Marina story, I speculated that Jack couldn’t move on from his troubled past until he could somehow make things right for Steve and Kayla. I think there is something similar operating here: Jack can’t move forward with Jennifer unless he somehow gets big brother’s approval. His awkwardness is very endearing as he stumblingly says “Jennifer and I got close on the island … ” (Steve’s suspicious “how close?” is wonderfully big brother-y.)
Then when Jack defensively backtracks a little (in the face of Steve’s gruffness, I think), and says “I tried to stop it, to put the brakes on … because of before,” just like that, one of those mine fields is tripped. Stephen shows Steve’s visceral reaction with his sharp line reading of “You don’t have to bring that up now, do you?” while abruptly moving away, as if he has to put space between him and Jack at that moment. The fact that Jack actually does find a way to go on after that shows both how their relationship has changed, and how much Jack needs to tell Steve about this. Jack’s slight smile as he tries to tell Steve about Jennifer tells Steve more than the words he says. Then when he trails off and just softly says “Steve”—it’s an implicit plea, and a lovely moment of vulnerability.
When Steve tells Jack to sit next to him, Jack does so, looking like he’s at the principal’s office. Then Steve’s version of his love story with Kayla is a nice parallel for Jack’s dilemma now (though I have to laugh at his “before you knew it, we were together.” I don’t remember it being quite that simple, hee!). His “I don’t know, maybe you and Jennifer can have something” is extremely tepid, but it’s what Jack needs, and it reveals that this is difficult for Steve too. I’m glad that Steve hasn’t turned into Jack’s cheerleader quite yet. That makes it all the more meaningful when afterward, he invites Jack to stay and hands over the baby.
I love that final exchange, when Jack offers to leave. I think Jack is partly trying to get away for his own sake (too much intensity), but also trying to be considerate of Steve: here he comes and brings up all these bad memories, and then asks for something from Steve that might not have been that easy to give. I think, having gotten what he came for, he feels he shouldn’t stick around and burden Steve with his presence. Steve’s response, in that context, is perfect, calling him “uncle Jack” and saying “after all, she is your niece.” He is implicitly telling Jack that he wants not just to make peace with the past, but to have an ongoing relationship in the future. It’s what he told Stephanie at the beginning of the scene: that nothing is more important than family. It’s perfectly played by Stephen—he makes Steve sound gruff, almost annoyed, as he asks Jack to say. That works to smooth over the intensity of the moment, but is also a mark of Steve’s continued guardedness with Jack. But, we know that Jack has taken Steve’s real meaning: left alone with the baby, he gets a reverent look on his face and gently kisses the top of her head.