I have no inside intelligence on whether we’ll ever see a second season of John from Cincinnati, but if we don’t, I do hope David Milch casts Ed O’Neill in whatever he does next. However baffling or maddening JFC can be, O’Neill (who starred in Milch’s sadly short-lived Big Apple) grounds the show every time he’s on screen, and that’s saying a lot for a man whose scenes consisted, this episode, of monologues about an absent parrot. O’Neill, more than any other actor on this show, has internalized its language and seems to understand Bill to his core–his blustering protectiveness and the feelings of helplessness and failure that underlie it. “I put him against a whole different weight class, they wiped him from the face of the earth,” he says, cradling Zippy’s empty cage. Somehow–and this is what this show needs to be doing–he makes it the most natural thing in the world to be mourning a parrot who may have just been Raptured.
So Sean is gone, and John is gone, and Zippy has flown the coop. And it’s nice to see–after eight days and all the resurrection and levitation and mind-reading and technically impossible video messages–someone finally asking who the hell John is. “He hears something and then his program tells him what to say back,” Cass postulates to Butchie, who reasonably asks: “Then what’s the connection to my father going up in the air and all that other f___ing sh_t?” Exactly. [Incidentally, how many letters do you have to remove from an expletive before it's not longer dirty? And what are the odds that impressionable children are reading a blog post about an inscrutable HBO drama about metaphysics?]
As before, some of the characters’ reactions to John (and if there’s been an overall problem with this show, it’s that most of the action is reaction) are more believable than others. It doesn’t seem plausible that Cissy should honestly believe that John is some sort of terrorist–a pervert or psycho maybe, but a terrorist?–except that the reaction seems to be necessary for whatever post-9/11 parallels Milch is trying to draw.
On the other hand, I somehow liked the tangential action at the motel this week, as Barry, Ramon and Doc discovered John’s symbol in a spread inside an Avon catalog. This is the sort of touch that makes me still want JFC to work, even when it doesn’t: the notion that if there were a God trying to reach us, He would do so in the margins and the periphery. It’s enough to get me through one more week, anyway, as the penultimate episode closed, appropriately, with Sam and Dave’s Hold On I’m Coming. As the previews of the finale showed, John will indeed be back. But who will he bring with him?