Beauty And The Priest: Father Jack and his tortured soul.

From the moment that Jack Callahan, previously ‘John Doe’ regained his memory and knew he was a man of the cloth, viewers recognised that it spelt trouble ahead for him and would-be lover Paige. The official Neighbours line is that no-one guessed that Jack, played superbly by the excellent Andrew Morley, was a Catholic Priest, but I’m afraid it’s not strictly true! I nailed it, albeit just one day before the reveal. And I wasn’t alone, because I had a Twitter conversation about it. Andrew was included in that Twitter thread, so he knows that I (and a few others) worked it out! Nevertheless, I think it’s one of the best revelations in the show for some while.

Jack was initially known as Jon Doe, the guy with no memory, who had somehow been caught up in the boiler explosion at the hotel. Viewers fast became irritated by Paige’s obsession with this tall dark-haired stranger. Some felt, quite reasonably, that Paige might be using him as a rebound romance, after her non-wedding drama with former boyfriend Mark Brennan. Paige is an impetuous creature, who tends to rush into situations without thinking them through. She pushed and pushed to persuade ‘John’ into a relationship when he repeatedly and painstakingly explained that he couldn’t date her when he wasn’t even sure who he really was. Paige, however, wasn’t about to give up. Her headstrong personality served to compel her to push even harder, and she flatly refused to listen to family and friends’ words of caution.

When ‘John’ was finally about to give in to his physical attraction to Paige – accompanied by apparently genuine love – we knew something big was about to happen. He’d told her on several occasions that he had a feeling being with her was somehow ‘wrong’. Was he gay, we wondered at first? Surely that would be too obvious. Did he have a girlfriend already? Seemingly not. We’d already seen one woman turn up and claim to be his partner, only to find the writers had led us on a wild goose chase. The poor woman was emotionally unstable following the tragic death of her actual boyfriend. What else could stand in Paige’s way? John’s potential involvement in the tampering of the boiler? Whilst viewers may have been bored by Paige’s pursuit of John, they were now very curious about his identity. Neighbours chat groups on social media were full of it, and fans were loving the intrigue.

Paige had often said she ‘just knew’ John was a good man, and not someone who would do harm to others. He wasn’t convinced, as his counselling sessions had given him odd flashbacks of being in the boiler room. Thankfully though, he was finally absolved of any wrong-doing. He was apparently heterosexual, so what could stop him from jumping into bed with a beautiful single girl like Paige? The lightbulb moment for me was in the scene where Paige randomly suggested that he speak to someone from the church. This had to be it! John still hadn’t remembered everything at that point, but nevertheless decided to go ahead and spend the night with Paige. He concluded that he might not fully regain his memory, so he had to build his life anew. We saw Paige prepare for the ‘big night’ – setting the scene for a romantic meal and post-dinner delight. Then came the moment when ‘John’ discovered the final piece of the jigsaw. No matter how annoyed I felt with Paige for her relentless pressure, I did feel a little sorry for her when she was summoned to the police station after John remembered the events leading up to the explosion. And, the truth about his profession. Neighbours drama at its very best. Kudos to the writers, the production team and cast.

Suddenly, when John became Jack Callahan in that instant, the story turned into one of forbidden love, a modern-day soap-land Thorn Birds scenario. Father Jack seemed all the more appealing than plain old John Doe. A good, wholesome man of God who, by the fact of his Catholicism and vow of celibacy, is unavailable. Thus far. We might have known that Paige wasn’t going to give up easily, and as it stands, viewers are divided between those wanting to see Father Jack remain in the priesthood, and those who’d like him give up his dog-collar for the love of a woman. Many people have remarked that perhaps he could convert from Catholicism to another branch of Christianity where celibacy is not a requirement. He’d then get to carry on serving his God and love Paige at the same time. Whilst this sounds very straightforward, I’m not sure that it actually is. The saga, therefore, continues. Paige initially made a half-hearted attempt to keep her distance from Jack, and has been doing the ‘friends with benefits’ thing with Tyler Brennan. Rather unfortunately, sleeping with Tyler has hurt her half-sister Piper. Piper blotted her own copybook by acting immaturely and going behind her parents’ backs in seeing Tyler in the first place. Tyler’s torn between the girl he wants and the girl who has made herself available. In short, it’s a bit of a mess, and a typical Neighbours mess, to boot!

As is the norm for Neighbours, they managed to bring some humour to the whole situation regarding Jack’s new status. And typically, Sheila provided a comic moment when declaring ‘Oh God’ before she heard the revelation. By then, others already knew, and she wasn’t best pleased not to be first to spread the word. But she was thrilled to realise that she’d been landlady to a man of faith. If Father Jack had lodged with her for much longer, he’d probably be spoilt rotten with Sheila’s culinary delights, and his girth would have expanded rapidly! Then there was the moment Paige just ‘accidentally’ appeared poolside in a bikini. Jack tried not to gawp. But failed. Taking a nervous backwards walk, he managed to crash into the patio chairs in his haste.

Since making the decision to be married to God, Jack has been busily running a group project for disadvantaged and homeless people. Suddenly Paige has taken a keen interest in volunteering for the centre and, now, in religion, by joining a Bible Study class. Recently, we saw her smiling and chatting as she handed out free food and coffee to the homeless at a pop up kiosk, appropriate background music setting the scene. Not exactly the same Paige who snaps and snarls at the customer’s in Harold’s, then. Quite the Mother Theresa overnight! Did Lauren really have the Bible on her bookshelf prior to this Paige-getting-God thing? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an actual bookshelf in her house, let alone any reading material. I also don’t think viewers buy into Paige’s transformation from flirtatious tease to Miss Goody-Two-Shoes. She’s still hung up on Jack, and it isn’t his crucifix she’s interested in. I might be overly cynical, and maybe the girl is really deeply in love, but at times, it feels as if the more Paige is told she can’t have something/someone, the more she’ll pursue it. As in her latest plan to become a professional boxer. Er, okay Paige, but it’s only a short while ago that you were excited about your university course. Remember that?

It would be no surprise if Jack and Paige were somehow to end up together. I wouldn’t bet against it being what the writers have planned all along – similarly to the way they brought Lauren and Brad together. I’m currently enjoying this tale of struggle and angst for Jack and Paige. Jack isn’t dealing with the situation well, either. He hasn’t exactly pushed Paige away, but rather, encouraged her curiosity about his beliefs. Whilst he might tell himself (and God) that it’s his duty to spread the teachings of the Good Book when required, there has to be an element of self-interest going on. He even admitted as much to Paige from his own confessional box. Paige might similarly convince herself that she is really interested in Jack’s religious convictions but we all know that, had Jack been a married physics professor, she’d have been at the front of the class in her skimpiest crop-top vowing to be enthused by Einstein.

Even putting aside Jack’s strong religious faith, I can’t help but have my doubts whether Jack and Paige would really make a good couple. Some viewers have recently remarked that Jack and Amy seem to have a better rapport. However, that may just be because neither has any romantic feelings towards the other, and so their connection is platonic and uncomplicated. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Paige isn’t entirely happy about seeing them with their heads together. Jack felt duty-bound to stick around Erinsborough after the elderly priest, Father Vincent, died. Before his death, Father Vincent told Jack he wanted him to take over the parish. Is this Jack’s true calling? Moments of doubt are not, apparently, that unusual. Jack is still young, and he seems especially suited to a rôle as some form of youth worker. He’s shown us already that he isn’t perfect – getting wasted on a night out and fearing that he may have hit Tyler in a jealous rage probably wasn’t the best idea if you’re behind a pulpit the following Sunday!

So, will we see another twist to this story, and furthermore, if Jack leaves the Catholic church for Paige, is it the right decision? I actually like him as Father Jack, and if I’m totally honest, I’m not sure I want to see the two of them get together. If things turned sour, or even just dull, would Jack start to resent Paige because of what he’d given up for her? How much do the two actually have in common? Does Paige acknowledge the enormity of such a decision for Jack? That said, there’s a lot more women than Paige who would love to tempt Jack away from God and get him hot under the dog-collar! Andrew, keep on doing what you’re doing – the queue for confession stretches long and wide, you may be in there some time!

© Carol Ann Wood
August 2016


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