Ask not for whom the bell tolls

Previous Jack and Jennifer post: The man who came to dinner

If I had to pick a favorite Jack and Jennifer scene (so far), the breakup in the bell tower would have to be it. It has all the elements that I love: moody, self-hating Jack; determined, slightly naive Jennifer; hash-it-out truth telling with a dash of “push her away for her own good” cruelty—and a hefty dose of angst. Yum.

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Jack’s negative wedding fantasy, of Jennifer rejecting him at the altar, raises the stakes for what follows. It shows that for all of Jack’s self-sacrifice at pushing Jen away, it is also about protecting himself, from the day she comes to her senses and inevitably rejects him. The final image, of Jack crushing the wedding bouquet, is suggestive, and a bit chilling. It adds just the barest suggestion that Jack still has that anger and potential for violence with him—at least in his own mind. After all, what drove him to snap last time was Kayla’s rejection. If Jennifer rejected him, what would his reaction be?

Jennifer’s “counterfantasy,” if you will, sets up her attitude going into this confrontation. Her expectation is that she’s found, in Kayla’s letter to the editor about Jack, a the magic bullet that will solve the problem. She’s going to show him that Kayla does forgive him, which she thinks will allow him to forgive himself. It makes sense, but as we’ll see, it backfires in a horrible way:

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It’s not included here, but there is a wonderful setup scene that helps explain why Jack rejects the letter so definitely. Earlier, he overheard Bo and Kayla on the pier, talking about how Harper’s death, and all the talk about it, is bringing back bad memories for Kayla. (Which, ironically, puts Jack and Kayla in exactly the same place.) She told Bo, “I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it.” The letter, then, ends up making Jack feel worse: she wrote this letter not because it’s true but because she’s such a wonderful person. And he’s not far wrong, that’s what makes this work so well. Kayla is forcing herself to do this, she can’t forget what happened—but it’s because she believes sincerely it is the right thing to do, that he has changed and deserves to have that acknowledged.

When Jennifer keeps pressing the point, that leads to Jack shaking Jennifer in frustration. The staging of that moment isn’t quite as good as I would like, but the impact of it works. Jennifer’s look of fear is clearly not fear of him, but fear of what his reaction will be. And she’s right to be afraid. But when she tries to tell him that normal people get angry, that it doesn’t mean he’s going to go out and “beat people up,” I think she makes it worse. By using the euphemism, she adds fuel to Jack’s conviction that she doesn’t want to face who he is.

That leads into torrent of verbal cruelty from Jack. He belittles their whole relationship and systematically crushes every one of her illusions—illusions in his mind—their love, his redemption, their first time, and especially, the shell ring and what that meant. This scene shows Jack hurting Jen horribly, because he’s so afraid of hurting her more in the future. If he can convince her that the island and the shell ring didn’t mean anything, it will undercut a lot of the source of her faith in their relationship. And maybe he will finally be able to get her to walk away. But, I love the layer we saw before, in his wedding fantasy, that this not just about protecting her. He’s protecting himself too, from her rejection, by rejecting her first.

And, what really makes this work is that he’s not just spinning lies. There is a strong grain of truth to everything he says. When he calls what they have a dream and a romantic fantasy, that connects to the fact that he got into this relationship against his better judgment, that he could only allow himself to be with her if he didn’t think about where it was going. We’ve seen him duck and run away whenever she tried to talk about their future or put a label on their relationship, and Jennifer has seen it too. And I love that he says he’s mad at both of them, and that it’s clear that he really is angry with her. It’s like he wants to punish her in this scene for sweeping him up into this fantasy and put herself in the position where he will hurt her. I love the cruelty we see here, because it shows dark Jack in a way we haven’t seen in months—years. I like this better than the moment where he shakes her, because it’s so Jack—eloquent, snarky, cynical, but taken to the nth degree. Each cruel word lends credence to what he’s saying, that he’s a bad man and Jennifer can’t face that.

That’s perfectly illustrated in his point blank statement, “I’m a rapist”—a rebuke to Jennifer’s euphemism “beat people up” earlier. And she makes it even worse when she says again, as she’s said before, that he’s “a different person now.” She’s not wrong, exactly, but there is the implication is that since it was a different person, she thinks his past is something they shouldn’t have to worry about or even think about. It denies how much the rape is still with Jack—his guilt about it, his worry about what it means for who he is, and who he could be in the future. Her blindness to that point lends credence to everything Jack is saying, and makes him dismiss that she has a point at all. Jennifer’s response, that she doesn’t think he really believes all this, sounds feeble, and I think it’s meant to. Until Jennifer finds a way to come to terms with Jack’s past—instead of just dismissing it because he’s “different” now—they won’t be able to move forward.

Next Jack and Jennifer post: The Missing Heiress

11 thoughts on “Ask not for whom the bell tolls

  1. I really love these scenes as well, MP. I think you pretty much laid out all of the reasons they are so good. What I love most, is the way they use the subtle touches to show Jack’s real fears. His version of the fantasy wedding is perfect for that. He’s clearly afraid that Jen is going to wake up and realize he’s not the good guy she thinks he is and reject him. But even more than that, he’s afraid of what he might do if she rejects him. Will that monster be unleashed again? Could he hurt Jennifer just like he hurt Kayla?

    To go off on a slight tangent, I like the implicit parallel between Kayla and Jen. Jack loved Kayla (it was a very selfish love, but I believe he did love her), but his jealousy, anger, and humiliation led him to hurt her tremendously. Now, Jack loves Jen. And yes, it’s different if for no other reason than that Jen loves him back. But, it’s also clearly a deeper, more genuine love. But, in Jack’s mind, I think that makes it even scarier and more dangerous for him – both in the fear of rejection but also in what his reaction might be. It’s an interesting twist because, normally, it’s love that cures the bad guy. But, in this case, love might be what makes the bad guy come out.

    Anyway, that tangent aside, this whole scene plays out so well. I love the way they use this to set up the fundamental conflict for Jack and Jen that carries through for months — how can they make it when Jen only sees the part of Jack that she wants to see? As long as she ignores or denies that other part of him, Jack’s fears are well-founded.

  2. This is the first time I’ve ever commented on your blog, marypickford. I’ve loved every entry and they’re so well-written, one can’t help but feel like she’s fumbling for words to try and comment. I’m so glad you’re back doing this…

    I love this scene as well and it’s so painful to watch. From the beginning of their relationship there was always the push/pull of their very different world views. Jennifer is hopeful often to a “naive” degree and Jack is realistic often to an “nihilistic” degree.

    Her need to believe people can change is threatened by Jack’s very real history of (even recent) violence.

    She also feels that since Harper was killed to save Steve, that Jack is justified in what he did. Most of the audience feels the same way – but Jack feels he’s just hurt another person he loved: the way he hurt Kayla, Jo, Steve,…

    What’s worse for him, I think is that he tried to buy into Jennifer’s black and white fantasy only to crash back down to earth by being reminded just what he has been and still is capable of. In his bitterness, he rages at himself and at her – cause he “bought it”.

  3. “In his bitterness, he rages at himself and at her – cause he “bought it”.”

    Excellent point, DanyE. It’s very similar to how Steve used to get mad at Kayla when she would get mad at him for doing something dumb. There was always a touch of “I told you that this would happen, so why are you mad at me?” to it. In both cases, the guys bought into the girls’ fantasies because they wanted to believe, even if deep down they didn’t really. And, in both cases, when the past comes back to bite them, they can’t help to be angry at the woman because she’s the one that made them believe it could work. They wouldn’t hurt like this if she had just let them stay in their shell. It’s a really fascinating (and very human) dynamic.

  4. DanyE, thanks. Never feel shy about posting a comment. I’m dying to hear from JnJ fans, to tell you the truth!🙂

    I love your point that Jennifer’s idealism approaches naivete, and Jack’s realism approaches nihilism. It’s very true of the conflicts between them, and holds out hope that if they can meet in the middle, they can both learn from each other.

    And esp, you make an excellent point about the similarities between Jack and Steve on that point, the tendency to blame Jen/Kayla when something goes wrong in the relationship. We can see it’s because the woman’s belief in them made them come out of their shell a bit (a dangerous place to be), so they feel angry that she ever had that faith at all. I agree that it’s very believable, and very human.

  5. Hello Mary. I happened to stumble upon your blog while looking at Jack and Jennifer related stuff. I watched them for the first time in the 6th grade and by then they were already well into their romance (1990-ish), but I fell in love with them, and it is due to them that I’ve been an on again off again “Days” viewer over the years. Anyway, what’s being done to Jack and Jennifer currently got me angry and wanting to watch the old times of my favorite soap couple. This brought me to the Devoted to Deveraux site where I have begun watching Jack’s story since Matthew Ashford picked up the role in 1987 (so I’m actually seeing the story more completely than I did back in my tween years, and I’m getting the Jack/Kayla/Johnson family/Harper story really for the first time, and it is wonderful and so connected to Jack’s story with Jennifer. Anyway, I am amazed at how good the writing for this soap used to be. How very attentive to character, how it used to really get into the characters’ minds in a way I don’t see on the show today. I think your commentary is wonderful. I went to look at your early commentaries though, and they are password protected. I’m wondering if I might be allowed to view them. Reading your commentaries makes me wish I could be in a book club with you.🙂

  6. Thank you, Angie.🙂 Jack’s story with the Johnson family, and Steve and Kayla, is so interesting. I agree it informs a lot of his story with Jennifer (as this scene shows so well). And it really is amazing how good the show used to be at character development (and character consistency), and giving us so many layers and nuances. It’s quite a contrast to what goes on today. Sad.

    The best way to go back and read my Jack and Jennifer commentary from the beginning is to click the “Jack and Jennifer” tag in the sidebar. That shows all my posts about them, the more recent ones first. Click “next” on the bottom of that page to go back to the older ones. You can click the Steve and Kayla tag too to go back to some of the earlier Jack stuff, before Jennifer comes into the picture.

    The password protected posts aren’t real posts, just my notes to myself on the storyline so I could keep things straight as I watch. I stopped posting those here when I realized it was causing some confusion for people, but my old ones are still here.

    Sorry about that, and thanks again!

  7. I’m a long-time Steve and Kayla fan, and I remember the days when I hated Jack Deveraux. I was around when the character was introduced and to me, he was nothing but an annoying interloper put between MY favorite couple. And boy, did he annoy me! The guy wouldn’t SEE that Kayla loved Steve! She told him she loved Steve, and he KNEW it, but he couldn’t accept it. His attitude seemed to be, how could she choose Steve, when she could have HIM?

    And then, when he raped her? Heck, I was never gonna forgive that guy! I hated the very sight of him!

    I hated him for a long time, and when his redemption story started, I thought it was all some LIE…some trick to gain revenge on Steve and Kayla. Some game Jack was playing.

    Time passed, and I watched. I viewed his actions with suspicion, much like Steve and Kayla did. I didn’t trust him as far as I could throw him.

    There came a day, though, when I did believe that Jack meant what he said. That he truly sought to make amends to those he’d hurt. I started to root for him. I came to hope that Kayla could forgive him. Could she do it? I couldn’t blame her if she never did, but I hoped she could. For her sake, and even for Jack’s. I guess I’d come a long way, LOL!

    I really respected the way Jennifer dealt with the whole thing too. She never trivialized what Jack did. She never sought to convince Kayla to forgive Jack. As much as she cared about Jack at that time, she never EVER downplayed Kayla’s feelings. She was like me, I thought…Hoping that Kayla could get past it, for Kayla’s own sake, and for Jack’s.

    I frequently get disappointed about the writing for current Days. It’s so clear that the writers write for the moment, and they don’t care about who the characters ARE, or what they’d do or wouldn’t do. If a character you know and love is going to do something you’d consider out of character, there has to be a real and believeable explantion for why. Otherwise, it’s not worth it.

    But I hang in there, and love the characters, if not the writing.

    And in spite of everything, I’ll always love Days for giving me my favorites in the first place, and for the wonderful stories I can still watch today, thanks to the magic of DVD and the internet.

  8. Kris, I know just what you mean. Matt Ashford faced an uphill battle with me too. I hated recasts back then, and I had really liked the first Jack. I hated the second Jack, and by the time the third Jack came around and the rape happened, I hated the character (I admitted that Matt Ashford played a good villain, though). But time passed and he started to win me over and I started to root for him. Now he is one of my favorite characters.

    I love the way you put it, that you couldn’t blame Kayla if she couldn’t forgive Jack, but you hoped for her sake, as well as Jack’s, that she could. The show did a really good job keeping the balance between the two characters so we could understand how both of them felt. And Mary Beth and Matt play so well off of one another.

    Thanks for commenting!

  9. Kris and Mary, it’s so interesting to get your perspectives, as you’re Steve and Kayla fans who originally saw Jack come in as a basic interloper in a suit to a villain to a guy you started to root for. Jack and Jennifer were well into their romance when I started watching (I’ve since gone back and watched Jack’s story from when MA picked up the role though). What is so wonderful about the handling of Jack is that you never feel like they just threw a new character at you, even though he looked like Jack and they stilled called him Jack. He was always Jack. His evolution came about so believably without Jack having to stop being Jack.

    On a slightly different topic, I’ve been thinking about Harper’s picture in Jack’s office and how it being there provides insight into Jack. Did Jack hang it there because it was his little defiant way of declaring that he still loved Harper as the man who raised him, despite Harper’s sins? Was it a way to remind himself that he was Harper’s son, a bit of self flagellation intended to snap him back to reality if he started getting lofty notions about himself? All of the above, I think. Jack, what a wonderful character. I can imagine things Jack might say or do in a given situation because he is so fleshed out.

    Kris, you pegged the problem with the current writing. I can’t understand where the characters are coming from anymore. I can tell you I don’t see Jack Deveraux choosing to go on a walkabout. I do like to imagine him coming back to Salem and the sort of things he might say though. I think he would, in his snarky way, thank Dr. Jonas for going for his wife and not his daughter.

  10. Angie—yup, Matt Ashford had his work cut out for him winning me over. It wasn’t just that he was an obstacle and then a villain, either. I actually really, really liked Jack #1 as a foil for Steve. Also, he really resembled Stephen Nichols, a nice bonus. My friend I was watching with then guessed that Jack would turn out to be Billy, and we had a lot of angsty fun anticipating that reveal. I was so angry at the recast, and by the time they gave me a third Jack, I was not in the mood to give him a chance. But, MA was just so good that I did grow to “love to hate” him as a villain, and then I grew to root for him, much in the way Kris describes.

    I love your points about Harper’s picture. They made good use of that prop. I think at first it was an act of defiance—I’m still a Deveraux, no matter what you say. He bought the Spectator when he was still pretty villainous. And then later I think it was a reminder to himself of that monster he thinks always lurked inside him. I remember a really good scene where Jen is breaking down Jack’s defenses and he’s softening … and then he glances at the picture and pushes her away again. I love when they use props in multiple ways.

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