SPOILER ALERT: Do not read further until you’ve looked for the Word in the Video.
So, it turns out John has his own words after all. And as is so often the case with quiet types, once he gets a head of steam and starts monologuing, it turns out you can’t shut the guy up. If there had been any doubt about the Jesus parallels up until now, John pretty much dispelled them, what with all the “my father” and “the word” talk and the exhuming of the dead from tombs (in this case, Room 24). I’m not saying John is literally Jesus–my guess is still that that’s a bit too literal for Milch–but an avatar’s an avatar. The Sermon on the Motel was clearly the centerpiece of this episode, so let’s look at that (apologies for any transcription errors):
* “Mitch wipes out. Mitch wipes out Cissy. Cissy shows Butchie how to do that. Cissy wipes Butchie out. Butchie hurts Barry’s head. Mr. Rollins comes in Barry’s face. My father runs the Megamillions.” John lays out the chain of causality and hurt that have affected the Yosts and those around them, including Cissy’s original, acid-induced, incestual sin that has soured her for years. I’m still not sure that I buy it, or the notion that she would become a “ballbuster” as some type of self-punishment, but it does at least gives her character a kind of grounding and rationale that she’d been missing.
* “On the wall, the line and circle are huge. On the wall, the man at the wall makes a man from the circle and line…” This, presumably, refers back to the pattern that John scratched out in the parking lot’s dust for Sean in the pilot episode: the Logos that describes John’s (and his “father’s”) purpose, and which is inscribed in the 0’s and 1’s of Cass’s camera.
* “In his word in Cass’s camera, the Internet is big. 9/11 is big, but not every towelhead is eradicated. In his word, we are coming, 9/11/14!” By my rough math, that suggests a timeline of five or six HBO seasons, at a rate of one every 12 to 18 months, no? Optimistic, anyway.
* “Bill will not note, nor long remember, playing his f—– harp.” The Gettysburg Address, referencing Freddy’s Lincoln reference. Is John here to free the enslaved, if only by acting on their subconsciouses?
* “My father is a genius on science.” Now if John could only tell us what Dad thinks of this whole Intelligent Design business.
Will you laugh at me if I said this is my favorite episode yet? I’m not going to pretend to have made sense of it beginning to end, not at one viewing, but it’s a richer, more purposeful kind of not-making-sense than we’ve seen from the show to date.
Up to this point, John has been a reactor–a “human parrot” in Bill’s words, and I’m ashamed that I never made that literal connection between John and Zippy until now. Now he is becoming an actor, an instigator: reformulating the words of others into his own syntax, provoking Cissy in the language of a radio ad (“Our offer is: keep going!”) and connecting with Bill by channeling the voice of his dead wife.
The problem with JFC up until now, for me, has not been that it’s weird and hard to understand: I’m willing to suspend the need for understanding if I have faith the show is taking me somewhere. What the show was missing was a sense of drive, purpose and motion, which it may just be starting to develop now that the title character is starting to flew his metaphysical muscles. (This may be the first JFC review I’ve felt compelled to put a spoiler alert on.) With John taking on an active role, the show’s rhetorical flights (“Act now, Cissy! Baptize that f___in’ pistol!”) have purpose and the funny exchanges–between John and Bill, Bill and Freddy, the Doc and the Ice Cream Man–seem finally to connect with something larger.
I’m not sure it needed to take this long, but if you go by the timeline of the New Testament, Jesus spent a long time before gathering apostles, demonstrating acts and cramming a lot of activity into the last part of his life. We have four episodes left: we’ll see if this JC has a strong Act III left in him too. For now, I’m inclined to agree with Vietnam Joe: this was time well-spent, or at least better spent.