Wednesday, July 04, 2007

John From Cincinnati: 'His Visit: Day Three' (1x04)

With its fourth episode, John From Cincinnati continues to do something that now show since Twin Peaks has succeeded in doing, and that’s create a really odd, but totally believable set of characters, a world that you the viewer can enter into when you watch the show. It’s a world with its own rules, rules we’re still not quite clear on, but more than the rules, it’s a feeling. What’s so wonderful about watching the show is the sense of touching some kind of mystical presence, being privy to something outside the ordinary. Ultimately, isn’t that what’s art is about, to take us out of our everyday lives and show us something more?

Last week, I said that this episode would give us a better idea what the show’s structure would be like on a weekly basis. Using this episode as the template, it would seem that the story centers on the Yosts, they are the most significant players in the cosmic drama, but the show is actually concerned with looking at the way a community joins together around this family. In each episode, we’ve seen new characters gather at the motel and just be together. First, it was Ramon and Dickstein, joined by Barry. Now, Freddie and Palaka have set up shop there, joined by Bill at the end of the episode. Cass and Vietnam Joe are also mysteriously drawn in, as well as Dr. Smith.

I feel like John’s purpose during “His Visit” is to help set the Yosts back on the right path, and part of that is building up this vast support network around them. Clearly Shaun and Mitch have access to some kind of larger power, and it’s likely John’s mission to help bring that out, to actualize their full potential. Most of what John has done in the last few episodes is to help bridge the gaps between people, to look beneath surface interactions and find the essential connectedness at the base of humanity. Clearly, the “See God” line is very important, and it’s notable that when he says this what people see is not some higher power, rather it’s other people, going through the same things that they are suffering from. The implication is that seeing God is seeing yourself in others, the oneness of all things.

This is all instigated by John’s disappearance and the subsequent assault on him. He deliberately provokes this assault as a way of letting Vietnam Joe relive a moment in his past when he failed to save a fallen comrade. Here, he says that there’s nothing he can do, but John shows that there actually is. Joe thinks that the whole thing is a practical joke, that someone has gone to these lengths to reenact his greatest failure as a way of taunting him. However, what’s actually happening is John is trying to show Joe that he needn’t consider himself a failure. He may have lost one comrade, but live goes on and there are opportunities to save others.

Joe was caught up in his own guilt, much like Cass was, and I’d argue that’s why the two of them were connected by the vision. Both felt trapped by the idea that they had to be someone they didn’t want to, Joe the guilt ridden vet, and Cass the pawn of Linc. She was using Mitch, and feeling increasingly guilty about it, but it’s not until she sees John’s vision that she recognizes there’s something else she could be. John seems to be moving through the characters’ lives, helping one an episode. First, he helped Butchie get off drugs and turn his life around. Last week, he showed Kai something larger and opened her up to get together with Butchie, someone she’s clearly been in love with for years. Here he saves Joe, and it looks like next episode he’s going to show Cass how to be something other than a pawn of others. We already see that things are working when she walks away from Linc in the hotel, even as he tries to control her with worldly concerns, like money and security.

Amidst all this larger mystical stuff, we’ve also got some nice quirky world building. Dr. Smith has resigned from the hospital and now is set to become a disciple of John, seeking an understanding of what it is that healed Shaun. It’s an interesting comment on medical practice that he has to resign because Shaun was cured, society just isn’t equipped to deal with a miracle. I’m guessing that Dr. Smith will wind up joining the motel crew, Ramon already mentioned that there might be an opening for a staff physician. They recognize that this is a guy without direction, and it would be a kind gesture to offer him a place to say.

It’s interesting that they chose a motel to be the base for all these characters to gather. Such a place is by its nature transient, guests come and go, but instead of drifting on, these people have stopped and begun to call it home. I go back to Deadwood, and the way the various characters all just seem to have stopped on their journey and chosen to camp rather than move on. This is how worlds are built.

Bill’s soliloquies are really interesting, a Shakespearean departure from television norms. He eventually comes to the realization that he needs to stay out in the world, drifting off into his personal world of grief will only lead to insanity. He may appear annoyed on the surface, but nothing makes him happier than when Butchie and Kai come to ask him help in the search. He eventually decides that his place is keeping an eye on the family, and since Freddie might be a threat, he decides to join him. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of comic gold in this pairing, throw in Palaka and you’ve got quite a team.

Also well done was the stuff with Kai and Butchie. We’ve seen her as mostly an aggressive, self confident character so far. Here, she lets her guard down, strips off the public persona and shows him a more sensitive part of herself. Playing the song, she retreats back to a place she was years ago, when she was in love with him, and finally gets to fulfill the dream she had then. It’s a wonderful scene, and I hope the return of Shaun’s mother doesn’t make things too soap opera for them.

I’ve been reading a lot about Milch’s writing process, and its reliance on improvisation and development in the moment. That’s very evident as you watch the show, characters come on and seem to take on a life of their own. There’s certainly something to be said for a Babylon 5 style exact plan, but I love the notion that Milch didn’t know exactly where things were going, but chose to just let the story guide itself. It allows for wonderfully real moments, and a sense of organic evolution. It doesn’t feel like the characters are inserted in contrived ways, they come to the show, the show doesn’t come to them. I love watching this show evolve, it hits that exact same spot as Twin Peaks, simultaneously presenting a vast cosmic mystery and just real, quirky moments of everyday life. I’ve got some minor issues, like John’s healing potentially becoming a deus ex machina, but I’m confident that Milch and co. will guide the show well and keep things as strong as they are now.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

an excellent synopsis! Can't wait for the next episode.