The best thing about soaps for fans is this: they carry with them a multi-layered history spanning back years and years. Through the miracle of YouTube and other video hosting sites, fans are able to relive and discover past storylines and see the history of their beloved favorites as it was originally developed, sometimes decades ago. Just like with football, primetime series and hobbyists, soaps have their fandoms, and viewers can obsess, nitpick, and craft theories about every moment of a character’s rich history.
Inversely, the worst thing about soaps for a show-runner is, you guessed it: they carry with them a multi-layered history spanning back years and years. When you’re dealing with an 8-season primetime television show, keeping up with its canon can be dicey enough. But when you’re dealing with a show that has been on the air through literally generations of families, tracking a character’s history becomes a game of thrones. Making sense of contradictions becomes a study of which writer/exec/other-impacting-influence was in charge at any given moment and the lens through which THEY viewed that character. It can be a nightmare for a new writer trying to keep a character consistent at his or her base when dealing with decades of stories piled behind them. And sometimes it’s simply easier to ignore the past and stamp on a new vision.
Which is why I’d like to give props to the writers at Days of Our Lives for the recent handling of Jack Deveraux’s unsavory past.
First, some history. Jack came onto the scene in Salem in 1987. A spoiler for the budding romance between Steve Johnson (Stephen Nichols) and Kayla Brady (Mary Beth Evans), Jack was, at first, a relatively spoiled but harmless guy with a sense of entitlement brought about by his upbringing in a rich family. As with most supercouple interlopers, his deeds eventually turned sinister when he first married and then eventually raped Kayla when she tried to leave him. Complicating the situation even more was the hidden revelation that Steve was actually Jack’s biological brother.
After true love won out and Jack was out of the picture with Kayla, DAYS was left with a relatively untouchable, rather toxic character portrayed by the incredibly talented and charismatic Matthew Ashford. With DAYS unwilling to part with the actor, Jack floundered around Salem committing nefarious deeds until chemistry gold was struck with virginal do-gooder, Jennifer Rose Horton (Melissa Reeves). Jack’s turnaround into someone worthy of Jennifer’s (and his brother’s) love was truly one of the most compelling and slow-burning redemption stories in soaps at the time (and arguably, since). Jack has popped in and out of Salem multiple times since then, usually leaving the canvas “dead,” but his actions have never reached a tenth of the level of villainy they did during his original run.
Caught up on the ancient history? Great. Let’s talk about now.
Jack is back on the scene with a full-fledged case of soaptastic amnesia, and I wondered how DAYS would handle his complicated relationship with Kayla. Rape is not something that ever goes away from a character’s history, no matter how slowly and expertly-handled a redemption is done (see also: Roger
Thorpe, Guiding Light). And DAYS has a spotty record with how the rape has been acknowledged in the past. With Kayla permanently tied to Jack’s brother, it’s not a question of whether or not these two characters will interact; it’s a question of when. Throughout the years, Ashford and Evans have made Kayla and Jack’s scenes together a master class in acting; even when nothing is scripted, the actors bring that complicated history back with glances filled with awkwardness, slight fear, recognition and apology. The writers? Well, they have, with the notable exception of Jack’s son JJ (Casey Moss) finding out about his past, made Kayla whitewash the history there a little too often for my taste.
So how would the DAYS writers address this topic in today’s #MeToo era? At first, I was dismayed to hear Kayla telling her brother Roman (Josh Taylor) that Jack was a “different person” than before. He’s not, you know. He’s still the man who raped Kayla, and he will always be that man. Jack’s shady past as a villain is as much a part of his tapestry as his life with Jennifer and his career as a reporter. But to my delight, when Jack and Kayla came face to face, the writers didn’t rely solely on the conversation between Kayla and Roman. Jack noticed Kayla’s discomfort with him, asked about it, and Kayla outright told Jack about their past. She didn’t hesitate or hedge to use the word “rape,” and while she did tell him that he tried to make up for what he had done by becoming a better person, she didn’t say anything to invalidate her pain over what happened.
In the end, the writers scored two points with this shot. Another benefit to not ignoring this difficult, but necessary, conversation is that it ties neatly into the image Eve (Kassie DePaiva) is trying to draw for Jack as being a baaaaaaaaad man who never fit into the clean-cut family man role that Jennifer “forced” on him. As well as avoiding some rug-sweeping of an unsavory part of the character’s past, the writers at DAYS have taken this element and folded it neatly into a current, pertinent story point that has impact on the character’s current state of mind and actions. Kudos to Ron Carlivati, Sheri Anderson, Ryan Quan and team for not sidestepping a hard-to-discuss element of Jack’s past.