It’s the all-flashback episode fans have been waiting for: In the Monday, November 1 hour of NBC’s what-if drama Ordinary Joe, we return to that fateful weekend in 2011 when Joe Kimbreau (James Wolk) and his best friend with benefits, Jenny (Elizabeth Lail), graduate from college. How he chooses to celebrate sets in motion the three different paths their lives could take: If he goes to the lake house with Jenny, she’ll tell him she’s pregnant.
“You get to see how Joe feels about her and how she feels about him, and it all comes pouring out of them because they have this huge journey starting together,” Lail says. In the other two timelines, they don’t have the talk and she continues the unplanned pregnancy on her own.
Here, she tells us more.
What’s going through Jenny’s mind when she finds out she’s pregnant?
Elizabeth Lail: You’ll learn there’s a lot more going on in her life: Her mother [played by Jackie Goldston] is very sick, and Jenny’s trying to graduate and go to law school. It’s just one thing on top of another. But you’ll see that from the get-go she’s like, “I’m going to have the baby regardless of what the circumstances end up being.” You get to see her deal with it in three different ways. It’s pretty devastating to watch. I mean, it’s a hard thing to go through, no matter who ends up being your support system. But it’s really sad because you get to watch her go in it alone, in contrast to with Joe. Those two images next to each other are going to be really powerful.
In the Nurse Joe timeline where he and paralegal Jenny are married and raising son Christopher (John Gluck) together, he calls her his best friend. Is that part of the conversation they need to have when she tells him she’s pregnant: Are we just friends, or is this a romantic love?
Yes, it becomes clarified, because clearly we’ve blurred lines. [Laughs] It’s that kind of young love where each person has a different idea of what’s going on, which is funny and cute. You do get to find out a little bit more about our history, which is so great.
At the end of the recent episode when Jenny was getting into the cab and heading to Atlanta for law school, Joe took off his shoestring and wrapped it around her ring finger. It was obviously a gesture that had meaning to them. Are we going to learn the significance of that in this episode?
You have a good eye. You’ll get to see its origin, and it’s a really sweet, beautiful moment.
Jenny’s relationship with her father (Jack Coleman) seems slightly different in each timeline. We’ll see more of that relationship in this episode?
Yes. What’s cool about her father is his opinion of Joe is pretty similar in all three worlds because he is the boy who impregnated his perfect daughter and ruined her life. [Laughs] You get to see that moment of him dealing with that in all this dramatic glory.
The episode is called “The Letter.” Can you tease what that refers to?
It makes me want to cry, just remembering that that’s the title. I suppose I can say…the letter is from Joe’s [late] dad.
Now I’m tearing up a little bit.
I know! My body is getting hot and I’m getting chills. It’s all coming back to me. When I was reading it, I was crying. And then when I was filming it, I was crying. Peter Hedges is a really open-hearted, beautiful writer/director, and it emanates through his work on this episode.
You’ve said before that the beauty of this show is that the grass is never greener in any of the lives; there is no right or wrong choice, just different ones. But are you hearing from people who’ve chosen sides? Like, “Nurse Joe and Jenny are the best!”
You know what’s so funny: I got into one of our Teamsters’ cars the other day to travel to set, and the driver looks at me and she goes, “Oh, Jenny, I’m mad at you. You won’t let him meet his son.” [Laughs] You don’t realize until you talk to people that everyone’s going to be rooting for someone.
Looking forward, should we be concerned about Jenny and Nurse Joe’s long-distance marriage now?
I don’t have the whole story, but I’m concerned. [Laughs] Yes, distance makes the heart grow fonder. But when you have your own life away from someone, I can see how it could easily unravel. And they’ve just come back together after 10 years of unraveling, so…
Will we get to learn more about Jenny’s marriages in the other timelines? As a viewer, we keep asking ourselves, “Am I supposed to like that guy?” We know Ray (Joe Carroll), a fellow Syracuse University alum, is raising ADA Jenny’s child as his own. Law firm partner Jenny is doing all she can to keep the fact that she had a child and gave it up for adoption a secret from her husband, Darren (Jason Burkey).
Absolutely. For me, all three Jennies are very different in the sense of what drives them because of this huge choice that she made about having this child, giving it up for adoption, or raising this child with another man in secret from the father. All these choices dictate what kind of person she’s going to be, what kind of communicator she’s going to be, what kind of love she’s willing to give and get.
In the Music Joe world, where [law firm partner Jenny] has given the child up for adoption, it’s so important to her to make sure that her life counts for something. Otherwise, what was it for? So there’s this pressure to be perfect, to be highly successful at all costs. There’s this distance between her and her husband because it’s just like, my life has to be perfect or else it unravels.
What’s really cool again about the flashback episode is that you’re going to see Ray as well. In the [ADA Jenny] world, because she has this huge lie underneath, there’s this real need to fight for justice and truth. But, of course, when Joe comes in the mix, I think she’s just drawn to him like a moth to a flame. And even though she has this agreement with her husband, who she loves and who did this incredibly loving thing by raising her child as his own, she has this history with Joe that’s undeniable. So we get to see it all play out.
Ordinary Joe, Mondays, 10/9c, NBC