Monday, July 23, 2007

"Are we happy, Wonderboy?": John from Cincinnati

So what if Shaun has been the Christ figure all along?

I mean, yes, I briefly considered this after the second episode when he was the one resurrected (by a parrot, you'll recall). But, by and large, I've lost all of this in the John from Cincinnati as Christ speculation. But what if John from Cincinnati is more of a John the Baptist figure after all -- here to tell us all that a little child shall lead us and all that. If you'll recall, in the New Testament, Jesus was initially seen as just a follower and rip-off of John the Baptist (OK, I'm paraphrasing and speculating here, but you'll notice that Jesus is referred to as John's cousin more often than not until he really takes off on his own). Now, there are a lot of holes in this theory (not the least of which is that speculating about this show still feels kind of irreverent), but I'm going to jump onto it -- for this week at least. I don't know exactly what Shaun's message to the world is (and John certainly seems to claim God as his father), but some of the other pieces fit.

This was the second episode in a row that didn't feature Mitch, and it was also John-less for a long period. Pretty much anything would have felt like a comedown after last week's mesmerizing piece of television perfection, but the extended examination of Linc's status within his company and whether or not his job was in danger just didn't interest me. I think this had a lot to do with a few more new characters being shoehorned into the plot line and the very prosaic nature of that plot line. Maybe this is all leading somewhere to Linc having some sort of epiphany, but he still feels very much like the character most wrapped up in earthly concerns at this moment.

That said, I liked how John's absence forced the other characters to come together and continue to solidify their ad hoc community. Most of this had to do with Palaka's mystery illness, which was largely uninvolving in and of itself but was interesting as a way to bring the characters together and, once again, give Dr. Smith something to do (I'm down with whatever David Milch cooks up to keep Garret Dillahunt around). But as the season wears on, I get the sense that the grand overarching plot so many of the show's critics (and even its champions) seem to want just doesn't exist. Instead, the show is sneakily about how a messenger of God brings together a large number of wounded, damaged people and makes them whole again -- not because he fixes their problems or even because He fixes their problems but because they fix each other. That's what a community is for, after all.

Also, isn't that the ending of Magnolia, minus the frogs? I kind of hope not.

So while the central plots of this series continue to disappoint, I'm bewitched by the stuff happening on the sidelines. That final montage where John (sometimes silently) visited all of the people of Imperial Beach and looked in on them in their moments of near-healing was powerful stuff, especially when he commiserated with Cissy about how there was more misery in the world (but, again, we're still alive). I particularly liked everything with Shaun, who went from tears to being someone who held his family together this week. And his scene with Bill (where the two talked about overcoming loss) was beautifully written and performed.

The problem many see with John from Cincy is that the show doesn't work in the sense we understand TV to work. There are well-developed themes and interesting characters, but they're not tied into anything approaching a coherent over-plot. We want to have some incentive to tune in week after week, and the series seems unwilling to give us that. But what it does offer us is something approaching a meditation. It's not perfect by any means, but the series is a long stretch of sermons, not about how God can help us, but about how we can help each other.

Or maybe Shaun's Jesus. I mean, I don't know here. Help me out!


Ty Keenan said...

"The problem many see with John from Cincy is that the show doesn't work in the sense we understand TV to work. There are well-developed themes and interesting characters, but they're not tied into anything approaching a coherent over-plot."

I think this is basically right. Think about it this way: usual television plots work either linearly, with moments piling up (with the occasional offshoots, of course), or like a child's drawing of the sun, with lines moving away from (or into, depending on how you look at it) one particular moment.

John from Cincinnati looks sorta like a spirograph. The individual lines intersect fairly often, but they never all share the same point at any time. Even when a majority are close together, there are a bunch doing completely unrelated things. But they all do their thing around a center (often hollow, like John). I sorta labored to make that half-work, but it makes some sense.

If I'm gonna run with the spirograph, I guess Mitch is some stray line, which seems interesting considering the patriarch of such an esteemed surfing family would logically take on a huge role.

I'm in love with the show, but I think it would be worth it just to see these actors do their thing every week. Dayton Callie is doing things with Freddie that Charlie Utter never allowed him to do. Luke Perry's spin on Cy Tolliver's really doing it for me (and before we make fun of Perry, let us remember that Powers Boothe was in Red Dawn). When she's not yelling, de Mornay's pretty excellent, too. Austin Nichols is making me tolerate what should be the most annoying character in the history of television. Emily Rose is well cast if only for her perfect-fit face. Etc.

I still think that it needs to get cancelled if it ensures the Deadwood movies, but I'd be a lot more conflicted about that then I thought I'd be even just a few weeks ago.

Carrie said...

Are you dissing Magnolia? Do I need to get my boxing gloves out? I somewhat inexplicably love that film.

I think you might be onto something about John not necessarily being Jesus, but someone who is sent to bring these people together so they can fix themselves. I think the line from the speech last week about "My father runs the MegaMillions" is a big tipoff to that, as it says that God made Barry win the MegaMillions to buy the hotel that has become the meeting place and place of atonement for so many of the characters, and ultimately the place where Barry will hopefully be able to forgive Butchie for what happened to him in Room 24.

As for John talking about God as his "Father" he could definitely be talking about it in the larger sense, like how God is a Father to all of us, rather than in the literal sense.

I am enjoying most of this show so much, but I can't quite get a handle on the Linc storyline. I really honestly just don't understand it, and it's taking away from my enjoyment of the show as a whole.

Also: Mark Paul? CUT YOUR HAIR.

Anonymous said...

I have put Linc in the position of the devil....seems to work.