First, apologies for my long absence. My mother came for a two week visit (during which I watched current Days with her), and then right after she left we all went to California for a visit with my mother in law! So, in keeping with the mother theme, I’m going to start my series on Steve’s death by talking about Jo Johnson.
First, a quick note on the Blue Tunnel of Death. (For those who don’t know, after Steve’s accident he ends up in the hospital in a coma. We see Kayla, and then other members of the family, one by one, talking to Steve in a swirling blue tunnel, trying to talk him back from “going toward the light”—from dying.) I’m generally not a fan of Days when it goes supernatural. I don’t care for Angel Steve, and I don’t care for this either. Many of the things they do with all the characters talking to Steve in the tunnel, they could do in classic “coma bedside” scenes (which we also see). It also unfortunately seems to create the impression that Steve wants to die, because all this arguing against it forces Steve to take the other side. But, there are a couple of benefits to the blue tunnel, and one is that we get to see Steve reacting to the specific things his family says to him, and that turns out to be very important in some cases.
This is especially the case when Jo takes her turn in the blue tunnel. One of Jo’s key traits is her tendency toward self sacrifice, especially on behalf of her children. But, in Steve’s case, her sacrifices have always ended up hurting him in some horrible way. It all goes back to that seminal moment in Steve’s life, when she gave him up for adoption at the age of five, after he tried to kill her abusive husband. From Jo’s point of view, she was sacrificing herself, because she knew she was always Duke’s real target. If she stayed around to be Duke’s punching bag, Steve and Billy would be safe from him. But there is more to being safe than being physically removed from danger, and the consequences of Jo’s sacrifice were borne by Steve as much as by Jo. And that thread has run through their adult relationship as well.
If Jo’s first instinct with any problem is to sacrifice herself, her second has usually been to ask Steve to do so. Putting aside the the perfect storm of circumstance, character, motives and cross-motives that led Jo and Steve to be each others’ enablers in the sacrifice of Kayla for Jack, a simpler example will suffice. Before Jack knew he really was, Jack was hot on the trail of a “Billy Johnson,” who he knew nothing about other than he was somehow connected to something Steve wished to conceal. In order to keep Jack from finding out the truth, Jo thought nothing of asking Steve to fly down to California and break into the orphanage there and steal the adoption records. Kayla at this point was struggling to recover from being attacked by Harper and adjust to her possibly permanent deafness—but hey Steve, why don’t you leave your injured wife and go commit a crime for the man who raped her and is actively working to destroy you? All this, keep in mind, not to save Jack’s life or anything like that, but merely to prevent him from finding out something that might hurt his feelings. Cost/benefit analysis is not Jo’s strong suit.
Given all this history, Jo’s offer in the blue tunnel to go in Steve’s place—to die so that he can live—is both perfectly Jo and perfectly unprecedented. It’s Jo being a mother in the way that she best knows how, but this time, it’s on Steve’s behalf. And in order for us to be able to savor this moment, we need to see Steve’s reaction to it. And Stephen, of course, plays it perfectly, showing how moved Steve is by her offer. I love the slightly wry twist to “you’d really do that, wouldn’t you?” Then, when he goes on to say that his biggest regret he never got to tell her how he felt about her, at first glance it’s hard to know what he means. After all, he’s told her he loves her and they have a good relationship now. But, crucially, it’s always been a relationship of equals, and it’s not just Jo that this dynamic springs from. Steve, as an adult, has determinedly tried to avoid taking anything from her, from counting on her for anything, from being dependent on her. After all, look what happened the last time. But here, at this moment, they are closer to mother and son than they have been since he was five years old.