The man who came to dinner

Previous Jack and Jennifer post: The Invitation

Bring on the green noodle casserole!

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The moment when Jack arrives is so well played by all the actors. We see Jo and Adrienne so eager to see Jack, and Steve teasing them about it and trying to play it cool—both for his own sake and for Jack’s, I think, to take the pressure off. We see Jack is very keyed-up and nervous too, by the way he’s having Jennifer fix his tie as the door opens. Steve then needles Jack about his supposed “busy schedule,” a dig at his refusal earlier, but it’s in a teasing, big brother-ish way, a way to keep everything casual. And then the moment when Kayla walks quickly out, in a vivid contrast to the others, which casts a momentary chill over the scene. It reminds us of what’s at stake here, how there are no easy answers.

Then, a wonderful scene for Jo and Jack. The way Jo is looking at him so emotionally I think leads well into Jack’s little tirade about “what are you sorry for?”—he sees how big her expectations are. It makes sense that he works himself up and then kind of melts and gives her that hug—he sees the love and the expectations. I always both hate it and love it whenever Jo calls him “Billy,” as she does here. It demonstrates what Jack told Jennifer earlier—Jo wants him to be a Johnson. But it’s more than that, she wants him to be “Billy,” the long lost son. I think Jack is justified in feeling ambivalent about that, because in a way, that means Jack Deveraux isn’t enough for her. This is a lovely way to make Jack’s conflict with Jo different from Steve’s, because for all that Steve was only five when Jo gave him up, he didn’t become a different person, with different parents, the way Jack did. Steve always had much more reason to be angry at Jo for what she did in the past and how he suffered for it, but Jack has more reason to be ambivalent about how Jo treats him now, today.

I like the Adrienne and Jack scene too, and it’s a great use of history that Adrienne mentions the way she shot Duke and the parallel with what Jack just went through with Harper. She doesn’t press it too hard, just saying she can’t pretend to know how he’s feeling, but that she could probably come closer than anyone else. That lets Jack open up just a little, when he says that he needs time to get over it too—and I love the hint of hope in that statement, that he thinks it’s even possible to get over. To me, though, this suffers from being just a tad too simplistic. “I got over it and so will you,” when you’re talking about killing your own father, just makes it all sound a little bit easy, and also neglects the big differences in the two relationships. But, it is still a good scene (I never feel we get enough Jack and Adrienne), and a wonderful use of history.

Lastly, I love Steve’s look as they all go into dinner. I think he’s marveling at his dream coming true, his brother being part of the family, something that he never thought could happen. Steve isn’t immune to the same fantasy that Jo has—baby Billy back at last.

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I love the moment when Kayla decides to sit next to Jack. Mary Beth shows how much Kayla is forcing herself to do this, but trying to sound casual about it at the same time. Jack’s vulnerable look in reaction is wonderful, glancing at her and glancing away, it’s like he can’t bear to look at her, it’s so painful to think of how he hurt her and see her trying to overcome her discomfort—thinking how he doesn’t deserve it, but also wanting it so much.

The “holding hands round the dinner table moment” is something I mostly love but also hate, a little. I hate that Jo obviously doesn’t think for a moment about the fact that Kayla is sitting next to Jack. But, I can’t say it’s out of character, and in fact is very much in character—she has never really gotten why Kayla would be uncomfortable around Jack. But I wish that had been balanced by a shot of someone, probably Steve, looking concerned and conflicted when he realizes this means Kayla has to hold Jack’s hand. Stephen could have shown that perfectly, I think. But, it’s hard to quibble when Mary Beth and Matt play the moment so beautifully—a touch a fear in Kayla’s face, but then taking his hand anyway. And Jack again showing how he doesn’t feel he deserves this, but wanting it so much. And then the overhead shot of all of them holding hands, closing out the episode. Lovely.

Next Jack and Jennifer post: Ask not for whom the bell tolls

3 thoughts on “The man who came to dinner

  1. Wow, another great blog, mary pickford🙂. This was such a powerful scene, the Johnson children, their mother and significant others all sitting together at one table, at last. That last overhead shot was excellent. Those were the days.

  2. I think I could write a book about all the different emotions and pieces of storylines that are touched on in this scene. There are pieces of this that go back to the day Steve told Kayla about his baby brother Billy being taken away from him in the orphanage – four years before this scene airs. It’s a through-line that is so amazing.

    I love how Steve seems to find a middle ground between Jo’s enthusiasm and Kayla’s reluctance. He doesn’t want to make this bigger than it is, but at the same time it’s a dream come true for him. SN plays it beautifully.

    The Jack/Jo scene is also great. Like you, I both love and hate that she calls him Billy. It’s very much in-character, but I always hate it for Jack. I don’t think Jo ever realizes that her inability to see past her baby Billy actually stunts her relationship with Jack a bit. It makes it harder for him to really accept her because he’s not sure she really accepts him.

    But, the best part of the whole thing is really MBE and MA. I love that they have Kayla leaving the room when Jack first arrives and allow Kayla to show her discomfort and how much she is forcing herself to accept this. It’s so critical to making this whole thing work. If they just have Kayla be all welcoming and happy, then it becomes just another “propping” moment.

    But, by allowing her to show that discomfort and having that moment of fear and hesitance at the dinner table, it all becomes something real and something earned, not given. And MA shows that by showing how much Jack is aware of the effort Kayla is making and being caught between not wanting to make things harder for her, but also wanting her acceptance/forgiveness/whatever so much.

    That last moment at the dinner table could have been so hokey and feel so wrong if just a few little things had changed. But, they did it exactly right, even to the point of using Jo’s standard oblivious to kind of force the hand-holding moment with Jack and Kayla. With anybody else, that would feel forced, but Jo has ALWAYS been pretty oblivious to Kayla’s feelings about Jack. It’s just who she is because she can only very rarely see past Billy enough to see Jack.

    It’s hard to believe that a storyline that started with a standard interloper showing up in March of 1987 (or so) carries over for more than 3 years and provides so many amazing emotional moments (and it doesn’t end with this scene by any stretch). The show wasn’t perfect back then and by 1990 it was already declining from the heights for a few years prior. But, it still knew how to do some things right and this whole scene proves it.

  3. Thanks, love the soaps.🙂

    Great points, esp. It’s the balance of all the competing elements that makes this so good. Soaps sometimes (and nowadays, pretty much all the time) make everything all one thing, or all another. This is an example of juggling many different threads (if that’s not mixing my metaphors too much!), from both the past and present, and making something very layered and complex. And yet it all comes together too, in a wonderful moment of unity. Great stuff.

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