Jennifer’s turn

Previous Jack and Jennifer post: Apology

One criticism I’ve heard on message boards occasionally is how often soaps feature rape stories.  As one commenter put it, “Almost every major female character in Salem has been raped — that’s disgusting.”

Well, when you put it like that

But, actually, I do disagree.  It’s true that most of the ladies in Salem have been raped.  Taking the group at Jennifer’s stoned book club meeting as a representative sample, we have:

Kayla – yes

Julie – yes

Adrienne – yes

Jennifer – yes (as we’ll talk about in a moment)

Nicole – not onscreen, but her backstory includes being forced into the porn industry by her abusive father

Looks bad, doesn’t it?  But, if you think about it, each of these ladies was raped exactly once onscreen, on a show whose bread and butter is coming up with year after year of high drama and over-the-top plots.  For reasons that go beyond the scope of this blog post, rape is considered a uniquely disturbing crime, a life-altering event for its victim and its perpetrator.  (To illustrate this point, think of saying “Can you believe that all the leading men in Salem have been beat up at least once?”  It doesn’t make sense.)   However, soaps are also, at least potentially, one of the best places to take on rape as a subject.  With high drama, sure, but not merely for sensationalism, and showing long term emotional effects and a female point of view.

All that said, though, I’m not generally a fan of the rape story.  I also don’t think the show should try to do them these days, because it doesn’t have the attention span for it.  I thought Stephanie’s rape by Ford Decker wasn’t too bad, as a story. But EJ’s rape of Sami? … need I say more?

So, now (in 1990), it’s Jennifer’s turn.  For those who don’t know, Jennifer is forced into marrying Lawrence as “Katarina” and is raped by him on their wedding night.  I guess we all know why they gave Jen this story.  It’s not because of anything that happens in Alamania.  Everything there would work just as well if there were no rape, and she were just posing as Lawrence’s wife to keep everyone safe.  In fact, it would work better, because Jennifer waits an absurdly long time before she gives up her pose as Katarina.  She even meets all the Salemites as Katarina and insists that she’s happily married to Lawrence, until it becomes ridiculous.  Here’s a hint, Days writers:  if you’re going to make someone insist on staying with her rapist after the calvary arrives, you have to give her a damn good reason.

So they gave her the story because of Jack.  And in principle, I’m not opposed to that.  One thing I love about soaps is how emotional issues are raised and resolved through plot.  How does Jack deal with his past as a rapist when the woman he loves is raped?  Does it raise old ghosts and old guilt?  Can Jennifer look at Jack the same way when she knows, on a much deeper, primal level, exactly how Jack made Kayla suffer?  You can imagine the writers in the writing room rubbing their hands with glee, and to some degree I share that.  If it’s almost too perfect, even down to the exact scenario (marital rape when the woman is in love with someone else), well, that’s soap operas.

Some of these issues do come up, and they are thorny and complex and interesting (and I will give full credit as we go along).  But even some of these are raised, only to be dropped, and then raised again later … there is a choppiness to the whole presentation of this story.  And some issues are sidestepped, or ignored altogether.

I have to say, the biggest thing missing from this story is Jen.  I know that sounds strange.  I like Melissa Reeves a lot.  I do.  But she and this story are not really a good match.  Not because it is drama rather than comedy  — she does well, really well, in dramatic scenes with Jack.  Take the “I believe in you” scene as a fine example.  I’ve thought about this a lot, and if she has a limitation as an actress, it’s this:  she is excellent at playing what’s on the page, but if it’s not on the page, she doesn’t play it.  Go back to my example from above, how Jen chooses to stay with Lawrence after the crew from Salem arrive.   Why would she do this?  It’s not explained.  Missy could have shown us, though, in her body language, that Jen was so terrified of Lawrence after the rape, that she couldn’t take a chance on escape unless it was 100% guaranteed to work.  Plus, I just think there should be a marked difference in how Jen acts around Lawrence, after the rape, and Missy doesn’t play one, unless the scene explicitly calls for it.  She’s wary of him, yes, but she was wary of him before.

There are holes in the story from Jennifer’s side, and I don’t think Missy tries to fill in those holes.  I don’t want to exaggerate, we do see some of Jen’s point of view.  We see her dealing with the trauma of the rape.  Back in Salem, she goes to some group rape counseling sessions (pretending to be “on a story,” but still).  She has bad dreams and flashbacks of the rape.  She eventually confides in some people.  She has confrontations with Lawrence.  But what we don’t see — and this is the story’s biggest flaw — is if Jen sees Jack differently now, and if she does, exactly what the difference is.  It’s so screamingly obvious that this should be an issue that it becomes the elephant in the room.  I’m even not talking about anything as crude as “I can’t be with you now that I know how horrible rape is.”   Something more like “I know you won’t be able to deal with this and I can’t deal with you not being able to deal with it.”

There are scenes that where I can fanwank it in read it as subtext, like this one:

Morning after

This can be read simply, as Jen just having a wish fulfillment dream of marrying the man she really loves, and the horror of reality intruding.  But it could also be read as her subconsciously seeing Lawrence in Jack.  I think Matt Ashford’s performance in the dream helps this interpretation:  he’s a tiny bit wooden — even as he says all the right things, the things a loving bridegroom would say — that lends a slightly sinister note, especially juxtaposed with Lawrence’s smoothness.

And, after they get back to Salem, Jen keeps the rape a secret from Jack.  The mere fact that she doesn’t confide in him could be read, like I said above, as her not trusting him to be able to support her.  In fact I was more than happy to read it in exactly this way, and there is some support for it.  But then there are scenes that flatly contradict it, too, that are difficult to fanwank away.  Obviously, I’ll talk about this more as we get to those scenes.  Overall, though, I think the show chickened out a little.  I think they loved the idea of Jack doubting himself, but they pulled their punches when it came to Jennifer doubting him.

Next Jack and Jennifer post: Swordfight


18 thoughts on “Jennifer’s turn

  1. *waves in big circles*

    Did you know I came back to Days when Nick came back? Well here I am.

    Loved the book club, and Kayla was my favorite.

    Ahem, back to your blog. Interesting you should mention all the rape on daytime after Days just unveiled it’s first male rape story with Nick. I was enjoying everything until recently when…follow up to Nick’s revelation has not been covered. Now that he’s verbally admitted his assault and tried to atone for his actions, we haven’t seen anything related to that. Very disappointing.

    You know, I forgot about the shock that Jennifer was raped by Lawrence and not telling Jack about it. It’s also important to note how many rapists are redeemed on daytime. My favorite redemption was Jake on Another World only because years later when his rape of Marley was long forgotten, occasionally they would bring up “rapers anonymous” meetings (or some other support group he belonged to). I appreciated that it was something he continued to seek help on and to keep from ever happening again.

    Anyway, lovely to see your blog again.

    • Hi Tripp! You know, I’ve been meaning to email you ever since I heard Nick was back. I got to see some of “dark Nick” and loved what Blake did with it. I would love to catch up on the whole storyline, though! Are there “Nick clips” anywhere? 🙂

      My mom let me know about Nick’s rape and I hope it isn’t just going to be forgotten now that it’s been brought up. Like I said above, I’m not sure I trust Days today to do a good rape story.

  2. This is really going to surprise you, but I agree 100%. 🙂 I think Missy Reeves is a good actress in a lot of ways, but she sucks at subtext. One of the biggest reasons that Jennifer’s rape storyline feels like it is all (or at least mostly) about Jack is because MR never plays the subtext needed so that the rape is remembered every time she’s onscreen in the aftermath. I know comparisons aren’t exactly fair, but watch MBE in the post-rape storyline – it’s there in her face, her eyes, and her voice in every scene for months. And even after the wrap-up (Jack’s hearing) it’s there in every scene between Jack and Kayla for years. MR plays the trauma in scenes where the script clearly calls for it, but then it disappears for days at a time and that definitely hurts the story.

    And I also 100% agree that the show pulls its punches with Jen and Jack in regards to the rape. They wanted the storyline to show how Jack had changed and how he would deal with being on the other side of that story. But they wanted in the form of a “supercouple” story and, therefore, Jen could never really doubt Jack. She could doubt his ability to handle it (he’d blame himself, etc.) but she could never doubt his essential character, could never doubt herself in loving a man who had committed the crime she had now suffered, and could never wonder whether he might actually blame her the way he had blamed Kayla. And in pulling those punches, the show missed an opportunity to go deep into characters the way only a good soap opera can. And I will never not regret their cowardice in telling the story.

    • I think it’s partly that the character of Jack is such a unique creation, a mix of comedy and verbal wordplay on one side, and a dark history, self-loathing, and personal demons on the other. That combination plays to Matt Ashford’s strengths but it’s a unique combination that not a lot of actors are going to have. Matt is really good at showing darkness and demons lurking beneath the surface so we are always ready for them to come out. That’s what I want from MR in this storyline, a sense of continuity for Jen so we see the demons, for her, of dealing with this and with Jack. The writing should have helped her out more, I’m not excusing them. But we do get tantalizing references in some scenes, that are good but end up feeling choppy and disjointed without the overall continuity there. I’m left kind of trying to guess what Jen is feeling about Jack, especially regarding keeping the rape a secret. There’s a scene with Frankie (after the rape slap) when he challenges her on how she views Jack’s past and she says something like “Okay maybe it does make a difference …” But we haven’t seen that at all up to that point, in MR’s performance (and we don’t see it afterward either, in either her performance or in the writing). It is all a little frustrating.

      But I don’t want to exaggerate, there is a lot of good stuff that I look forward to writing about. It just could have been so, so much more.

  3. Yeah, I don’t want to sound like I don’t like a lot of things about the story. But, in a way it almost makes it worse. They did a lot of things so well that it makes the things they didn’t stand out even more. Especially when they tease us with little moments that almost go there, but then stop. It’s the kid who gets an A- and you can’t help but be a little disappointed because you can see how a little effort would have gotten him or her an A+. 😉

    But, it is a good story that hits on a lot of wonderful beats and brings out the self loathing, cynical Jack that I do love best.

  4. Hi,
    I am happily enjoying your blog again! I had never really watched the Jennifer rape story, as I didn’t really watch much after Steve “died”, so this is totally new for me and I agree with all of your insights.

    • Thank you, blpmich! I am glad to be back. 🙂

      I didn’t see this the first time around either — I actually stopped watching before Steve died, though I was off and on for quite awhile. So it’s fun to discover all of this.

  5. As much as I devour this story and lick my chops, I think you’re spot on about what it’s lacking. Yes, it could and should have been more. I do think you’re right about Melissa Reeves and her subtext issues. I think back to the disappointment so many Jack and Jennifer fans felt with how Jack’s last return was played, and of course the awful writing was the main issue, but Melissa Reeves’ lack of playing subtext was also a blow. When Jennifer’s emotion over Jack was in the script, as with the cabin scene, Reeves brought it, but she never brought it when it wasn’t explicitly there.

    I also don’t fault the show for doing this rape story for Jennifer. Seriously, how could they pass up all that potential drama? And they do tap into some fabulous drama, but yeah, it could have been more if they’d allowed it to be as much about Jennifer as about Jack. There are times they go there; I am thinking of Jennifer’s discomfort with Jack on their getaway right before the slap that was heard around the world, and there’s that moment when she tries to hug him and she can’t quite pull if off, but overall, the story is about whether Jack can deal with staying with Jennifer more than about whether Jennifer can deal with staying with him. It could have played both sides. Yeah, they couldn’t pass up the story, but they were too afraid to fully play it, which is a shame.

    • P.S. In both of the instances I mentioned above, the purpose is so that Jack can react to Jennifer’s discomfort. And it’s not that I don’t want to see Jack react. Of course I do. If I had a character like Jack to play with, I’d milk him as much as possible. But Jennifer’s voice in the whole thing is somehow too small.

      • Sorry, me again. I look at what I’ve written, and I see that when I regret the story not giving more to Jennifer, I’m still looking at it being about Jennifer with regard to Jack. Hey, that’s tempting, juicy stuff, but the story is mainly lacking for Jennifer in that there isn’t enough of her just dealing with the rape itself, which is maybe what you were getting at.

  6. I think it’s a little of both. I mean, when I watched this more recently, they do give Jennifer quite a bit in regard to dealing with the rape itself – more than I remembered. But, MR’s difficulty with subtext is an issue there as well. When it was a scene where Jen was clearly supposed to be dealing with the rape, then she did it well. But in other scenes around the same time, it was like nothing had happened. And I’m not saying a rape victim must always be traumatized, but there does need to be a throughline in a story like this.

    But my bigger issue is that they don’t do as much they need to do in terms of Jennifer’s rape making her look at Jack differently. The reactions you speak of are good, but without more, it’s easy to dismiss them as more about Jen reacting to potential intimacy, not to Jack in relation to his history. And, to me, without those conflicts and issues to be explored, the rape becomes too much about how Jack will deal with it then how Jen reconciles what happened to her with what Jack did. Jack’s history was always going to be a part of this story and that’s fine. But the story would have been more balanced if it was about the impact of his history on both of them, not just him.

    And, as MP said above, there are little tiny moments that hit on some of this. But it’s not enough for me to balance out the focus on Jack and how he’ll deal with this.

  7. Angie — thanks for your comments! I think the scenes you describe are genuinely really good ones and while they are (as Erica says) primarily about Jen’s fear of intimacy rather than anything in particular to do with Jack, they are some of the best, most balanced ones in this story. One scene I think is particularly good, is one where they are kissing on the couch, planning to have sex, in the loft and Jen says something like “Whatever happens, Jack, remember I love you.” Um, that’s not ominous or anything. Frankie ends up interrupting them at the crucial moment.

    I’ll probably do a post on that scene, so maybe I shouldn’t talk about it too much now. 🙂 The reason I like it particularly is that it feels very balanced from each side. Jen trying to convince herself she’s fine and can go through with this, and yet obviously struggling. Jack, clueless but trying to be supportive and loving, and we’re cringing about what will happen as the scene goes on. Even though I love the “rape slap” scene for a lot of reasons, the actual slap feels contrived — they seem to set it up so it is just a reaction and nothing really to do with Jack. So it is all about his reaction to the slap and not why she would slap him to begin with. And I love his reaction, don’t get me wrong. But it feels lopsided.

    And Erica, I totally agree with what you said. 🙂 I do want more about Jen, but I mean her reacting not just to the rape in general (we do get that), but to Jack, Jack’s past, and fear of what his reaction will do to her. That’s still about Jack, true, but it’s how she feels about him, not “this will hurt him too much!” I also feel like this is the perfect explanation for her decision to keep the rape a secret, but we don’t see it.

    • Yes, yes, yes. Having Jack’s history and Jen’s issues with that history is the very best reason they could have given for Jen keeping the rape a secret. I mean, her shame about is a reason, but that’s where they really failed to mine the gold that was there. That’s where we could have seen just a little doubt from Jen that maybe Jack would blame her – after all, he blamed Kayla. Maybe Jack wouldn’t support her, thinking that she “deserved it” in some way. Obviously, it would not be in character if Jen truly believed those things, but there should have been at least a little (even if irrational) doubt or concern. She can’t tell him because he couldn’t deal with it and/or wouldn’t support her fully and she can’t deal with that.

      Instead we had the “it would hurt him too much” excuse which is just too generic for the goldmine of history that is waiting out there. I mean, that touches on his history because it is implied that it would hurt him too much because of what he did to Kayla. But that makes Jack almost a victim, when the focus should be on Jen. She’s the victim and her concern should be about what it would do to her if Jack can’t deal with it – not what it will do to him.

  8. Yup to both of you ladies. It could have been better. Wish it had been. And yet. It was so good. I can’t imagine modern DAYS making me care like I cared about this story, even with this story wimping out on being played to its potential.

  9. As much as disliked, Jack the bad guy, I ended up really liking the character as portrayed by MA. I hate what Days has and is doing to the memory of Jack currently. (also hate what they have done to Steve) I don’t have any faith that they can do justice to the Kayla/Jack rape storyline in relation to JJ finding out about it. The only part I look forward to is seeing MBE and Judy E having a chance to give it a true sense of depth and frame of reference, as they are the only ones around who were involved with Jack, at the time. Jennifer was in a teen SL. I will not hold my breath for quality with the current regime.

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