An ongoing challenge in Jack’s redemption is how to handle Kayla’s attitude towards him. As he gets further along the path of redemption, should Kayla recognize that and encourage it? Should she be neutral? Should she be the voice of “he’ll never change”?
There is a delicate balance to this, because it’s not only Kayla’s (or Jack’s) feelings that have to be taken into account, but audience reaction. Paint Kayla as too forgiving and encouraging, and it seems she is being sacrificed to “prop” Jack. Paint her as unforgiving, and you risk making her seem unfair.
Ninety percent of the time, the show gets the balance exactly right. This is partly—mostly—due to the amazing performances of Mary Beth Evans and Matt Ashford. But the writing team deserves a lot of credit too. This story arc is a lovely example of that balance. Kayla is struck by Jack’s actions at their wedding, when he saved Steve’s life by going to great lengths to stop Harper. So, she decides to invite him to dinner:
I love the opening scene. Kayla is obviously struggling between her sense of justice, which tells her that Jack has changed, and that he deserves thanks for what he did to save Steve’s life, and her emotional reaction to him. This is a perfect way to to balance the tension between the two potential extremes of Kayla’s reaction to Jack—to show Kayla embodying, and struggling with, the contradiction within herself. And what she says here about not running away from Jack is very consistent with Kayla’s character. That’s something we’ve heard her say again and again, about any difficult situation—how important it is to face it, and not run away.
Steve’s reaction to Kayla’s idea shows how far he has come, in regards to Jack and Kayla. He has finally found a balance—there’s that word again!—between loving Kayla, and loving Jack, and yet being able to leave their interactions alone as much as possible. (The fact that he will never be able to step entirely aside—the relationships are too tangled for that—is what makes the whole thing so wonderfully complicated.) The ultimate stage manager has found a way to quiet his instinct to play God, and to give Kayla the space to sort it out for herself, and support her no matter what.
But, it is still a source of conflict, and I love that. It’s just not a conflict that puts them on opposite sides. It’s more like two internal conflicts—one each. As I said above, Kayla is torn between her sense of justice and her own personal, emotional reaction to Jack. Added to that is her knowledge that Steve loves Jack and her desire for him to be able to have a relationship with him. Steve is torn between his feelings for his brother and his protectiveness of Kayla, his sense that he has put her through enough where Jack is concerned, and that she should never have to go through anything like that again.
Then, we have the invitation itself, when Steve goes to see Jack at the police station, where he is giving his statement about Harper. Folding these two scenes together is brilliant. That means that Steve overhears Jack’s emotional statement that he was protecting his brother, and it makes everything that follows a little more intense, and also a little more difficult. Matt and Stephen again show us the dance they do so well—both men trying to reach out and protect themselves at the same time.
I love Steve’s awkward attempt at casualness, in issuing the invitation. We see again his fear of being rejected by Jack. I think he mentions Kayla because he naturally wants Jack to know she’s okay with it, but also because he thinks it will make Jack more likely to accept. Wonderful layer. I don’t think Jack ever quite gets how afraid Steve is afraid of being rejected by him. But that makes sense too, given how Jack feels about Steve—especially how he is feeling right now. He is vulnerable, and a bit paranoid—paranoid that anyone being nice to him right now is motivated by pity. I think he could imagine Steve saying, “Poor Jack—what a screwed up guy he is—it just gets worse and worse, doesn’t it?—oh well, let’s invite him to dinner.” And when Steve says it is actually Kayla who issued the invitation, it makes him feel that even more. I think Jack feels he has just been issued a polite, “duty” invitation by Kayla, and the equally polite response on his part should be to refuse it. But then I love his little smile at the end, after Steve leaves. He’s laughing partly at Steve’s “out of my face!” to the reporters assembled outside, but it’s clear the invitation means something to him, no matter how he might try to dismiss it.
We see all this even more clearly when Jack talks to Jennifer about it later:
(This scene seems to have disappeared from YouTube! Will re-upload it later!)
His sarcastic comment, “There’s one thing about tragedy, it brings out the niceness in people,” sums up perfectly why he didn’t accept the invitation. But I think it’s clear from the outset that Jack wants to be talked into it—he wouldn’t have mentioned it at all if he hadn’t. When Jack vents about Jo and how she thinks she can throw enough casserole down his throat to turn him into a Johnson, I think he wants Jen to argue with him and tell him he really can be. And she does, but she doesn’t get caught up in the argument. She points out that it would mean a lot to his family for him to be there, that it would mean a lot to Jack, and that he doesn’t have to do it alone. But then she leaves it up to him, and I don’t think he was expecting that. That gets past his defenses, and we see his vulnerable, uncertain look that closes the scene. Great note to end on.
And this is all just the invitation! Next week (no really!) I’ll talk about the dinner itself.