Steve’s death is the best thing that could have happened to Jack.
I kid, I kid. But it’s true that Steve’s death forces Jack to realize how much he has been leaning on his older brother. He has counted on Steve to be the hero in the family, and without him he has to find the hero within himself. They set this up nicely by having Jack tell Jennifer he’s going back to Salem to seek Steve’s help, and then be called back instead with news of Steve’s accident. We have these scenes of Jack in the blue tunnel and then at Steve’s bedside:
I especially like the reference to how Steve has always been there for him “even when I didn’t want you to.” It’s a great way to reference their crazy history without going into too much detail.
My absolute favorite part of this scene, though, is the way Jack reminds Steve of the promise he made him in the orphanage, that he would always take care of him. The show sets up from very early on how that unkept promise (unkept because Jack was adopted) has haunted Steve. It was a part of what made him give Kayla up for Jack. Here is the scene where Steve first tells Jack about it, right after Jack has found out his true identity:
This scene is so painful (and wonderful). It’s painful twice over–to watch Steve break down and open up to the man who raped Kayla, and then to see Jack scorn and reject him on top of that. But because we understand just how much Steve loved Billy and how this promise has haunted him—in the heat of the moment of Jack finding out the truth, Steve can’t help leaping to do what he’s probably been waiting to do his entire life: apologize for failing Jack and hope to be forgiven. But Jack, of course, has so many of his own issues crashing down on him that he has no room for Steve’s. But he does see, and finally understands, the love Steve has for him—and he recoils from it. To hear now, two years later, that this moment actually made an impression on Jack, that it became incredibly meaningful to him, is wonderfully redemptive.
Also, it’s one of the first times I think Jack identifies personally with something that happened to baby Billy. Because he was just a baby, he couldn’t remember their relationship as boys the way Steve could. But here, because it connects back to something that Jack does remember vividly—Steve telling him about the promise, not the promise itself—and connects it to how he has always counted on Steve’s bedrock-like presence in his life. That early relationship was so important for Steve, and now we see it is important to Jack as well. The whole arc of Jack’s story could be viewed as Jack and Billy slowly coming together, two people becoming one person. And the sad irony is that it is happening just as he is about to lose Steve for good.