Monday, July 09, 2007

John From Cincinnati: 'His Visit: Day Four' (1x05)

Reading some reviews, the consensus on this episode of JFC is that it’s the show’s weakest, and I’d agree with that. After carefully building a vast cast and community, we spend almost all this episode with the Yosts themselves, and despite being at the center of the series, the Yosts are pretty much uniformly the least interesting characters on the show. So, it was a bit of a step down from the greatness of the past few weeks, but there’s still enough strong stuff here to make it a worthwhile episode.

What really worked was the stuff with John and Cass, particularly the scene out on the pier. John remains enigmatic, in a really interesting way. At times he drifts into classic idiot savant, Forrest Gump kind of territory, but there’s always something edgy or odd enough to pull him back from that. When they’re walking on the pier, we see everything through an odd, grainy filter. It’s detachment from contemporary reality echoes the credits, which mix a variety of type periods together. The credits are also echoed during John’s interaction with the masked wrestler.

What really interests me about this segment is the way John is juxtaposed with a variety of religious figures. We’ve only seen him working one on one with a different character each week, out in the world, his power seems to extend over all the people in the crowd. He becomes an odd center of attention, and I’m curious to see more of him out there. It’s notable that John tells Cass that the magic behind the levitation is on the tape, but all that she filmed during the day is him.

The other really strong part of this episode was Vietnam Joe’s attempt to deal with what happened to him last week. At first, he’s skeptical, but gradually he realizes that maybe he did heal this guy, and this opens up to a myriad of interesting possibilities. He’s the first person who actually seems to be happy with John’s intervention in his life. Kai never wanted to “see God” again, Butchie was baffled by his lack of dopesickness, and Bill continues to be suspicious. However, Joe has come around and embraced what John can do. Is this the path that other characters will follow over the course of the season? That would be a logical narrative progression, but I’m guessing that things won’t be that easy.

While the stuff with the family was solid, it lacked the magic of earlier episodes. What interests me most about the show is the supernatural stuff, and the way these occurrences are responsible for building up a circle of people connected around the Yosts. Those people are very interesting, and totally unlike anything I’ve seen on other TV shows. The Yosts’ drama is a bit more traditional, particularly the soapy turns that this episode takes. That’s not to say it can’t be good, it still is, but it’s not as uniquely fascinating as the other elements of the show. Part of what hurts them is John’s distance from the family, he helped to shake things up, now they revert to the more obvious fighting of the pilot.

What’s most affecting to me in this storyline is Kai’s sadness. She thinks she finally has what she’s been wanting for so long, and the return of Shaun’s mother complicates everything. Butchie is caught in the middle, unable to act, leaving Kai alone to be mocked by her CD player. The song that was so special to her last episode is now a joke on her. It may be hitting classic TV soap territory, but the story still worked well.

I also liked the relationship between Linc and Tina. They’re both on the periphery of the family, working on a different wavelength than the other characters in the show, and as a result they’re natural allies. Tina sees Shaun as her gateway out of the world of porn, and Linc sees her as a natural ally in his battle for Shaun.

But, Cissy remains a frequently annoying character, and the drama over Shaun just felt too conventional. I felt like I’d seen this all before, and I couldn’t say that about anything else that’s been on the show. It added some layers to the characters, but I really missed the motel trio and Dr. Smith. It’s a testament to Milch that he’s created such a deep cast, I want to see them all. At least throw me some more Freddie and Bill.

So, this wasn’t the best episode of the show, but it’s still interesting and the stuff with John at the fair was as strong as anything they’ve done. I’m eager to see more of him and Cass, and am still really looking forward to next week’s episode.

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