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.
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:
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.