Currently viewing the category: "Apocalypse Project"

folderiex(Oh. Welp. So much for my attention span. I had other plans for this rewatch, including folks watching with me, and also my thyroid is evil, and such. But never mind. Pardon the delay, and I don’t promise it won’t happen again, but I’ll try to avoid it.

Back to Jericho. Back to our friend Skeet. Back to his whiny, self-righteous family. Back to the myriad characters who are vaguely annoying, and back to the mysteriously awesome whole. And if you forget where we are, go over here and then here.)

Episode 3: “Four Horsemen”

After a “previously” montage, we open with creepy music and rain falling remorselessly down. The mysterious Hawkins is braving the fallout in the air in order to move something to somewhere. He’s got the end of the world aesthetic down, with radiation suit, gloves, and gas mask. It’s 18 hours after the bomb. He’s taking something from a Ryder truck — anyone who has overstudied Oklahoma City is creeped out by those things on principle. There’s never anything good in them.

And then we’re back in Stanley and Bonnie’s basement, where blonde schoolteacher Emily is still a bit catatonic because she was forced to shoot one of the convicts who were holding her and Bonnie hostage in the last episode. Mr. Cop Who Isn’t Jimmy says he’s never killed anyone, and he’s a cop. Jericho is definitely your tiny midwestern town. (Hell, someone like that maybe would never fire their gun on duty.) Bonnie points out that Stanley doesn’t know that the rain is radioactive. Jake calls Eric to say that the people he sealed in the salt mine last minute have been in their too long. They’re dirty and it’s claustrophobic — but only CBS claustrophobic. It would be a lot more nightmarish in real life, but what on this show wouldn’t be?

Mr. Rooney — whose job I forget — is busy terrifying the children with his anxiety attack. Heather tries to console him, but it’s clear that he’s That Guy. The one who snaps. Be it alien invasion, war, or what have you, there’s got to be a manly man who snaps.

Stanley is back and he’s soaked. Uh oh. Jake tells Bonnie not to touch him, then radios his sister in law April the doctor. She tells Stanley to drink iodine and peaches. Stanley saw tanks “hailing ass towards Denver.” Who is out there, and are they friendly? April says if Stanley throws up in the next 20 minutes he’s going to die. Which seems slightly presumptuous, to be sure about that. And the cut to commercial music gets excessive, and we cut to “Jericho” and — according to the closed captioning — “(static hissing and syncopated beeping.)” Apparently there are secret messages, because that’s actual morse code. I don’t know — my knowledge starts and ends with dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot — but I like the simplicity of the caption’s explanation.

Mr. Rooney or Reney? It’s Reney. He’s going nuts, and Gray Anderson and some dude named Shep drag him away from the townspeople. It’s creepy. Mayor Green is still hacking from flu. Jake radios and wants to find out what the tanks are about. Jake says he’s going to Goodland when the rain stops to see what’s up. Emily says she’s coming as well, to find her fiancee who was supposed to fly into Topeka. Jake does his benevolent patriarchal, ex-boyfriend thing, but then gives in.

Back in the shelter, Eric tells IRS lady she can’t smoke in the shelter. I don’t care how citified you are, or how stressed you are, duh. Eric, April, and Gail (I had to Google her name) joke together about how “the mighty Johnston Green [was] felled by the flu.” Eric’s mistress and Mimi the IRS woman stare daggers at them all.

Back in Skyler’s fancy house, there’s overly cute poppy music playing. Skyler gives Dale a stale poptart. Things are looking up. Everyone is dead, but maybe Dale can finally score this hottie. This is very important.

Ooh, finally, a little context to this terrible thing that has happened. Gail is telling Mayor Green about how they used to hide under desks when they were kids. “Yeah, duck and cover” he says sadly. “That’s the first thing I thought of when I saw that mushroom cloud — did they have enough time to hide under their desks? That’s pretty stupid, huh?” “No” Mayor Green says, and then coughs. His wife pets his head. It’s actually a great scene. Duck and cover is in the top three of Cold War cliches, but this scene and the killer acting from Pamela Reed sells itself perfectly. The Cold War tropes and fears have become real, and it makes sense that when there’s finally a moment of quiet, you might start to think about that. I only wish there were more scenes like this, where people seem to almost understand that a 60 year nightmare has finally come to life.

Aaannnd, Eric’s mistress Mary the tavern wench is whining about Eric not leaving his wife. Boring, boring, boring. Go back to cold war terrors, plz.

Back in the root cellar with Stanley. He tells Jake not to let Bonnie see his lips, and that he’s feeling sick and nauseated. But the storm is over!

Eric goes outside with a geiger counter and, like, his sleeve over his face. Very high-tech. But it’s ok! Everyone in the town shelter follows. IRS Mimi touches a column and her hand gets covered in “black stuff.” Mary says “that used to be Denver.” Yeesh. Mimi’s face is a good response.

Jake is being In Charge guy, sending everyone to the medical clinic, while he goes to save the people from the claustrophobia of the salt mine. People are drilling, stand back, you Kansas rubes. Damn. Who else would it be?

Why are Eric and Jake going in first? Are there no miners, or construction workers? Do Greens have to do everything in this town? Hey, look, Jake and Heather still have way better chemistry than he does with Sad Emily.

Oops, Mr. Reney is dead. :( Heather knows this is a bad scene.

The clinic is full of people. Stanley is isolated in the children’s ward. He threw up because he drank a bunch of iodine. He wants to go back to the farm and delivers a terrible line about spider powers. Jake affectionately says “you’re still an idiot, so that’s a good sign” and I am reminded that these two also have good chemistry, and in spite of being old friends in the show, don’t really have enough moments together. (Jake, your family is terrible.)

Mimi is chasing April around being neurotic about having touched the column. She also points out that she can’t go home, because she’s from DC. Heather interrupts to ask about Mr. Reney, who has had a heart attack. Heather still smells bullshit. Gray Anderson lurking in either a sinister or guilty way isn’t helping.

Skyler and Dale are playing cards cutely and eating m&ms. The end of the world memo has not teached these teens. But oops, Skyler’s terrible friends who are even less aware that shit has gotten real in the past day come to the house to scold her for hanging out with undesirables like Dale. Good thing they’re not in this show much!

Mayor Green is trying to run things, but he’s sick, and his wife threatens to take his pants. It’s a cute exchange. Maybe Eric is the only entirely lame member of this family. Jake has a plan. People need to go out in four directions in order to get information. Gray is going one way, the dude who was with Mr. Reney is going another, Jake and Emily are going south. Gray darkly suggests they’re “the four horsemen of the apocalypse.” “Let’s hope not” says Jake.

Dudes are at Mary’s bar trying to get her sattelite dish working. But Mary is shunning Eric. It’s boring and I don’t care, until a Chinese or Korean newscaster appears out of the static on the TV. The map of the US behind him has some scary red target marks. Everyone in the bar is wide-eyed — Skeet Ulrich most of all, but that’s nothing new. After one terrifyingly clear shot, the static comes back. There’s a smattering of fearful outcries. Hawkins says that was indeed Chinese,  Mandarin to be precise — he always knows too much — and Jake asks “are they just reporting it, or are they behind it?” Is America being invaded? No one knows. They’ve lost another horseman. There’s an argument about going out and Jake says “if this country is at war, we need to know it!” (Evergreen sentiments, am I right, folks?)

Mary and Heather try to figure out what cities they saw reded out on the TV. Hawkins meets Jake (finally!) and offers to be one of the drivers, but Jake refuses him when he says he has family.

Heather asks the non-Gray Anderson guy why Mr. Rennie (it’s Rennie) is dead. Dude is looking mighty guilty. Gray Anderson interrupts. Heather keeps looking suspicious.

Jake chases down Emily who is freaking out about her fiance. She is sure he’s dead, and Jake reassures her that they don’t know. Maybe Roger’s plane landed in a cornfield. “He’s gone, and I’ve here with you. You were the one who was supposed to be dead, not him.” Emily says bitterly. Jake should go without her.

Dale comes back to the store where DoubtYourCommitmenttoSparkleMotionGracie is staring at her sadly empty shelves. Gail arrives to bring back some of the food that was in the shelters. But Gracie still hardly has any food, and what she has is going bad. Gail says they should cook it.

Stanley find Mimi crying about her radiation poisoning, and is nice because “maybe I’m a nicer person than you.” Everyone is a nicer person than IRS agents, Stanley. “You’re really sweet,” Mimi says, “and you still owe the IRS $180,000.”

Shep is writing a letter before he leaves on his four horsemen mission. Uh oh.

Mayor Green thanks Gray for going, then asks what happened to Mr. Rennie. Gray Anderson says “poor planning” killed Rennie. Gray Anderson is both petty and political and kind of right, because those fallout shelters were NOT maintained. Mayor Green has a point when he throws Gray against a wall in his office, however, and says that the people in town need both of them to not be petty dickheads.

Heather gets Shep’s letter, and it basically says that it was his fault about Rennie, and that he was too scared to call a doctor. This dude is a plot device, but still I feel bad.

The cops and Eric are charting the progress of the men. Shep’s radio is cracking up and he says “tell my family I’m sorry.” Obviously, Gray hears it on his own route, but denies it, which is the worst thing he’s done so far.

Jake pulls over. An entire plane is in the road, but with emergency slides inflated (so that could be worse). In the background, another plane is in worse shape. Those of us afraid of flying now feel slightly sick.

Back in town, everybody is cooking the meat that will soon go bad. But Gail has some corn, which is not going to go bad, so that’s stupid. Jake comes back to town with the black box from the plane. He says the planes are empty. Mayor Green remembers to kick two random little girls out the room, which makes sense. The confused pilot chatter is unsettling, and then it’s clear — one of them sees the mushroom cloud over Denver. Another saw another cloud near Texas. Jake explains to the other people that the pilots are fucked because there’s no air traffic control.  Hawkins offers creepily “there’s ten thousands planes with nowhere to land. That’s about a million people in the air.” Yeesh. And it gets worse with the emergency landing. The room looks freaked out while they listen, and I don’t blame them, but dammit, shit is way worse than this, people. MUSHROOM CLOUDS HAPPENED.

Jake is on the case, though. He rewinds again and again, and calls Emily. Oh hello, her fiance’s plane set down in a field. “He’s alive” he says nicely. Emily is sort of annoying, but I am still happy for her.

Hawkins is doing creepy stuff in the basement. His wife mentions the “cook all the meat before it spoils” town party. “It sounded like Sam Cooke from here, but it could be Kenny Rogers” she says, and they laugh together. “Oh Lord” says Hawkins. Because white people in the midwest, ya’ll. Darcy says “the children would like to go” to the party, but Hawkins puts his foot down, they’re not ready with their fake back stories. Darcy gives in, and the moment is spoiled by TOO MUCH MYSTERY.

And the party to set to another, worse pop song. This show had an addiction. Dale passes by Skyler and her cool friends playing cards. Dale goes to hang by Gracie, who is unpleasant, but his devotion to her is kind of interesting. She says she’s glad there was enough food for everyone, but “a thank you would have been nice.” You’re right, Gracie. Your devotion to property rights is inspiring.

IRS Mimi stares at Stanley and is charmed by his goofiness. Bonnie knows this is bullshit. Mary flirts with some other dude, and Eric ignores his wife who is trying to tell him about the hospital. Heather and Jake sit together, and talk about Emily, who Jake says he owed. When Heather says “I’d say this makes you even” he says “not even close.” SUCH MYSTERY. And yet I still care a lot more about Jake and Heather. Stick with your lost fiancee, Emily.

Mayor Green is watching the party dourly and says “It might be a long time before we see Jericho like this again.” Yerp. And ya’ll shouldn’t be eating stuff like corn that won’t spoil tomorrow.

Bad, generic upbeat pop-rock song plays and plays. Terrible.

HAWKINS IS MOVING SOMETHING HEAVY AND CYLINDRICAL IN HIS BASEMENT. He’s putting up a new wall. Shit. Such a mysterious guy.

Shot of empty town square with tables and grills invites the question, why are those lights still on? Do you people think you have generator gasoline to spare?

Eric wakes up next to Mary and he has to go and I don’t care.

ANOTHER song plays as Dale the burgeoning business-teen FINDS THE SUPPLY TRAIN OUTSIDE TOWN! It crashed. Good job, Dale. I will allow this up-tempo tune because Dale has found all that Dinty Moore stew.

Frequently, the most terrifying part of an apocalypse movie or show is any snatches of news that leak through the haze of confusion and fear that comes after, say, a nuclear attack. The key is to tell the audience and the main characters a little (Jericho) but not too little (How I Live Now) about what’s going on in the outside world. Sometimes a flash of something is more terrifying than seeing the whole thing. Or at least more disturbing. The Day After makes you queasy, Testament makes you cry. Pick your poison (sorry, they’re both fallout).

Knowing this, and knowing about the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast — regardless of the myth of the mass panic, it’s a damned good broadcast! Especially the straight ersatz news parts! — it is no surprise that a nuclear war plot makes a fine radio play. I found The Last Broadcast thanks to Youtube algorithms which know me all too well.

We interrupt this broadcast” and sudden, dead air has been used in all sorts of scary things since 1938, and it still works. None of us have ever heard or seen a program interrupted by news of nuclear war or alien invasion, and let’s hope we never will. But we’ve seen enough bad, big news that the aesthetic still chills. There seem to be quite a few TV movies, most from the ’80s and 90s, which use this framing as well. I may dive into them next.

It’s the ’80s, and the Soviet Union has invaded West Germany and has invaded our regularly scheduled ’50s throwback hour on an Ontario radio station. The news gets worse from there, and if the static seems slightly fake, the accents suspiciously Canadian except the one news person who clearly fell out of the ’40s, and nobody can say “nuclear” correctly, it’s still an eerie and disturbing hour and a quarter. It helped that I listened while drowsy, with eyes closed, thereby enhancing the surreal feeling (especially when I got up and was still in my boyfriend’s parents’ killingly normal apartment).

The play is amateur, but impressive for all that. The only information I could find about its origins was that it was made and voiced by Canadian students. Not sure if it’s highschool, or college, but I definitely didn’t do anything this much scary fun in either. (I know I didn’t go to highschool, shut up).

tumblr_n4vjuhP4qn1rtynt1o1_1280“I was reading in the paper the other day about those birds who are trying to split the atom, the nub being that they haven’t the foggiest as to what will happen if they do. It may be all right. On the other hand, it may not be all right. And pretty silly a chap would feel, no doubt, if, having split the atom, he suddenly found the house going up in smoke and himself torn limb from limb.”

–Bertie Wooster, Right Ho, Jeeves (1934)

One of the best books ever. I suggest the audiobook — and I never suggest the audiobook — read by Jonathan Cecil. Once you hear that a few times, you’ll be able to summon all the voices in your head at will. Then move on to the rest of P.G. Wodehouse.

 

folderiexEpisode 2: “Fallout”

Oh, right, fallout. That thing we forgot about in the first episode. The thing that makes nukes more than just aesthetically terrifying clouds in the distance.

This is a tight, fearful episode. A storm is coming from Denver, and not knowing what kind of bomb went off, the people of Jericho are terrified of what those clouds may bring down upon them. Emily is still outside of town, clueless as to what has happened. She meets the two escaped criminals (oh yeah, that happened) who are impersonating deputies, and who have killed the sheriff and kidnapped Deputy Jimmy and Deputy Occasionally-Mean Guy.

I hate when apocalyptic fiction goes straight to “oooh, rogues are on the loose because society has broken down!” if only because a nuke is a lot more interesting than a dude with a teardrop tattoo. However, Emily versus the fake cops works better than it might. It’s drawn out tension, which is enhanced when she brings the men to the Richman ranch (girl, cops do not have mustaches like that — but it’s a neck tattoo peeking out that gives it away) and has to communicate with Bonnie in subtle signing that this is a problem. Plus, we have two relatively competent ladies here, which is nice.

This episode does signal two obligatory difficulties for our characters in a nuke setting. Cons on the loose, and the invisible peril of fallout. But though we don’t know everything about the show yet, we do already know that this isn’t Testament. This is a CBS show. It’s going to be about network TV-level of grim survival, not about slowly wasting away. And, you know, a tv show needs characters.

In short, though the episode is well done, and though people might die, this episode doesn’t give you an apocalyptic stomach ache. Just a little anxiety, and a touch of claustrophobia as the townspeople race to get their shelters ready, and Bonnie and Emily try to casually outwit the cons.

Back in Jericho, there’s a great scene where the cops have grabbed every single book about nuclear anything from the library, and one is Our Friend the Atom (“some friend” notes Gray Anderson bitterly). Hawkins again knows a little too much about what do in case of nuclear fallout — or he’s read this manual I keep almost buying because of its perfect balance of creepy and cheesy graphic design — but his explanation is only “I was a cop in St. Louis, and after 9/11 we got up to speed.”

The town’s shelter doesn’t have a working air filter, and Gray Anderson will definitely be using that in his weird macho war with Mayor Green. For once, he may have a point. Actually he has one a lot, but he’s still annoying.

Towns people are taking stuff from Gracie’s store, but she stops Skyler from grabbing a diet soda (asserting her property rights, while still accepting that emergency food is being taken! Gracie is also kind of the town gossip and sort of unpleasant, but she’s not a villain, and Dale has a serious loyalty to her. All of this is interesting to me.) This leads to Dale and Skyler bonding in her sealed up house. Dale slept on Gracie’ store floor the night before, because he clearly has nowhere else to go now that he hasn’t got a mom. Skyler may not have a mom anymore either, and a sad conversation about that as the fallout-drenched rain falls brings the nerd and the mean girl closer together.

This is the first episode where Jake being in charge is assumed. Basically, this town cannot function without male Green leadership. No wonder Gray Anderson is tired of it. Hawkins is told to fix the HAM radio, and finds secret messages, then says he can’t get the thing working. Much mystery. All the mystery. We see Hawkins’ family for the first time, as they huddle together in the basement. They are not entirely likable, but they are intriguing. There is clearly tension between the son, the daughter, the wife, and Hawkins. Hawkins’ wife Darcy tells him “you always know something” and he says not to ask questions. What does he know? Is he a terrorist? Law enforcement? CIA? NSA?

Most of the scenes of people packing up bags with 90 minutes to spare are good. And the scenes of other townsfolk sealing up their houses is deliberately very early War on Terror. It’s definitely less excessive than the 9/11isms in the 2005 War of the Worlds, but it brings back mentions of how to be safe from a dirty bomb or chemical attack, if you’re the right age.

Eric — the insufferable junior version of his father — has to lecture a bar full of douchebags to go to shelter so they don’t die of radiation sickness. Good thing he has a flaw, which is his affair with the uninteresting Mary, who owns the bar. Eric’s wife isn’t interesting either.

(Somehow I hate a lot of these characters when I stop to think about, but I keep on watching. Actually, Jake may be an asshole who disappeared for five years, but I don’t blame him.

Basically, everyone is annoying except for Jake and Bonnie, and usually Heather and Stanley, but I feel like I need to apologize for finding Skeet Ulrich slightly attractive.)

Finally, realizing there just isn’t enough shelter for everyone in town, Jake decides to put people into the salt mines just in time. He, however, has heard Emily using the police radio to call for help. Which annoys me, because girl, you know nukes have happened. You’re not helpless, and are in fact quite savvy in your standoff with the cons. So you do have the capacity to realize that if Denver has been nuked, police don’t give a shit about your personal peril. Really, this is all just so Jake can come and save the day. One of the cons grabs Bonnie, Jake shoots the other con. Emily shoots the one who has Bonnie, and then she stands catatonic, so that Jake must hustle her into the Richman’s storm cellar. Unfortunately for this plot and later ones, Jake has much better chemistry with the painfully peppy brunette Heather than he ever will with sad Emily.  I mean, they flirt while in peril and it almost works.

Instead, we get Jake saying he wanted to keep Emily safe, but she says she’s “never safe when you’re around.” So, to reiterate, both Jake and Hawkins are mysterious people. And Emily is a school teacher, so that means she can shoot people, but then feel awful about it. This is — and Heather’s random technical skills — is the extent of female competence on the show. We’ll get to that, once it becomes truly tedious. So far, things are just fast-paced and stressful on the show. And that’s working very well.

The final scene — pop song propelled yet again — shows townspeople in the shelters, and then Hawkins putting pins into various cities. It sure looks like the nukes hit more than just Denver and Atlanta. (Oops, Pittsburgh was one. Pittsburgh AND Philly? Musicians can’t handle visiting both, how can nukes?)

downloadSpoilers ahead.

Oh my God, Raymond Briggs, The Snowman was traumatic enough.

The chipper, addled senior citizens of Briggs’ short 1982 comic are aggressively out of touch. Jim Bloggs is cheerful and convinced that the government will save them from impending war, even if he has enough sense to take the prospect seriously. His worrywart wife Hilda thinks there’s time to reprimand her husband for swearing, and for messing up the house. There isn’t.

The preparation is careful and deliberate. Jim follows civil defense instructions to the letter. Except that he carefully builds an inner, fallout-proof sanctum in their house, but then fails to remember that they were supposed to stay inside it for 14 days.

What first appears to be goofy, can-do, learned it from the blitz spirit becomes sort of hamfisted and impossibly oblivious in time. Nobody could actually be this stupid, right?

However, after long, overly detailed build-up, the moment the bomb drops is amazing and nauseating, which is no small feat for a comic. The art is flawless. Pastoral home lived in by two round-faced seniors turns into grim and grimmer. Any aesthetic echos of The Snowman makes both comics much worse.

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Yet, they’re both so dumb. Impossibly dumb, unless they are really simple folk. Yet, one can more easily imagine simple folk not trying as hard as Jim and Hilda do to survive. It’s like they almost would have made it, but no, they never had a chance.

The reader knows. We know Jim and Hilda are sick long before they do. We know that the smell of roasted meat in the air isn’t barbecue. The chipper cluelessness of both of them is too much to believe or stand. And that’s the genius of it. The condemnation of doing your bit, the sympathy towards and gentle mocking of people who trust the government to not leave them in the post-apocalyptic lurch. Who assume that if you have the right checklist, nuclear war will be nothing but a bit of a bump in the road. We’ll tighten our belts and ration food for a time, but then we’ll be fine. Not so. Not so.

The end is so on the nose, it’s practically WarGames. You know, “strange game…the only way to win is not to play” as it applies to global thermonuclear war. It’s not hard to figure out the meaning of Hilda and Jim passing away from radiation sickness, while Jim quietly recites “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” He doesn’t know why that bit of stirring, stern, sincere poetry comes to mind. But we do.

folderiexIn which I bravely begin to rewatch the 2006-2008 cult, yet also CBS TV show Jericho, so as to always have Tuesday Apocalypse fodder in the weeks to come. The show stars Skeet Ulrich, Lennie James, and other luminaries, but don’t hold the Skeet part against it. Also, there is going to eventually be libertarian subtext, but you have got to be patient.

Episode 1: “Pilot”

Jericho begins with a Killers song, which might be the dealbreaker for some of you folks. But it’s one of the catchier ones. And, as we follow Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) driving from San Diego to home in Jericho, Kansas, the band’s semi-nonsensical lyrics hint at the plot to come. “When there’s nowhere else to run/Is there room for one more son?…the cold hearted boy I used to be/ I got soul/but I’m not a soldier.” Angst! Prodigal son! It works! It’s the mid aughts!

And technically, actually, the show begins with its eerie, minimal theme music, and the sound of morse code. That’s the show for you. Forever warring between legitimately unnerving and “emotions must be propelled by pop songs.”

Jake pulls into town, and meets several of our main characters before he makes it to the old family home in order to claim his inheritance. There’s the goofy farmer Stanley Richman (Brad Beyer) and his stern sister Bonnie (Shoshannah Stern), who is deaf. There’s the frustrating and blonde Emily (Ashley Scott) who is The Ex. Jake gives a different answer each person who asks where he has been for the past five years. We know he’s either a pathological liar, or he’s ashamed of something. There’s also the moderately annoying IRS agent, who is auditing the Richman farm, but she isn’t much of a character yet.

Jake’s mom is Leslie Knope’s mom, though much less bad-ass in this role. His dad is Raymond Tusk on House of Cards. His bearded brother Eric (Kenneth Mitchell) is married to the local doctor, but having an affair with the local tavern owner. Oh, and Johnston Green — the dad — is also the mayor of town, and has been for 100 billion years.

We also meet Dale (Erik Knudsen), employed at the town busybody Gracie’s store (she is starting to doubt your commitment to sparklemotion).  And we see his crush, mean girl Skyler, who will soften later. We meet the cops, the most prominent being Jimmy (the goofy one) and the other guy (the douchey one). And we meet new in town Robert Hawkins, who just drips with mystery.

Having realized his beloved grandfather is dead, Jake decides to leave town sans inheritance. (I was never quite sure why people didn’t tell him in earlier scenes. I suppose when he tells Stanley and Emily he’s there to visit, they must think Jake just means visit the old man’s grave. But only TV cuts justify the jump from family home to grandfather’s grave.)

And then our build-up begins. TV, radio, and cell phones go out. The music is horror-delicate and menacing. Deputy Jimmy’s son is the first one to see the mushroom cloud. He’s playing hide and seek with his sister, and has climbed onto the roof, and we see his back to the camera as he stares aghast. His little sister, whining a little, says “no fun, Woody, you have to hide better.” Here the show has the sense to show a little kid first in dumbfounded horror, then in tears. You don’t need to know your Cold War history intimately to know that you should weep if you see a mushroom cloud.

On the highway, Jake sees the cloud with his wide, Skeet Ulrich eyes and crashes into another car full of similarly distracted people. A woman named Heather (Sprague Grayden) — who will immediately begin dancing the line between endearing and annoyingly cute Mary Sue for the rest of the series — sees the cloud while we only see the reflection in the school bus window. She is on a field trip with a bunch of pipsqueaks who will soon need protecting. At the Richman ranch, Bonnie stares transfixed from her porch, until her brothers pulls her away.

It’s all fantastic. All beautifully shot. It’s restrained, but palpable sickness. Something unimaginable has happened, but it has happened far enough away that everyone is physically fine, making it all the more surreal.

The rest of the plot involves the town freaking out a bit, trying to get organized. We see a power struggle between Mayor Green and a guy named Gray Anderson. Hawkins (Lennie James) knows a lot about preparing for something like this, which might be a little odd.

And basically, Jake has to hobble away from his own car wreck, and go save the school bus that has crashed due to acute “holy shit, a nuke-itis.” He apocalypse-cute-meets Heather, and saves all the children, and even performs a tracheotomy on one. He returns to town to find a curtly proud father, and a very relieved mother. He has truly returned home now.

In the mean time, poor teenage Dale has come home to a terrifying message left on his answer machine. His mother, seemingly vacationing with her gross boyfriend, had called to check in, but the message cuts off with “oh my God! What is that?” It’s clear wherever she is has been hit by a nuke as well. A scene where Dale listens to the message over and over again in the dark is correctly awful. So is the moment where Dale comes to a neighborhood meeting with the news, and needs to clarify that his mother was not in Denver, but Atlanta. We now know that two bombs have gone off.

The safety of Jericho is too safe. The brief panic is too CBS primetime, though at least the townspeople have their moment of it. Nobody — arguably since Threads and The Day After in the 1980s — really has the guts to portray pissing yourself levels of terror, or catatonic horror in response to nuclear strikes. And I think that’s how a lot of people would react. Even the heroes should have a moment of dumbfounded stillness. That’s why I love the pilot to The Walking Dead, and the first half of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. In these stories, even the strong patriarch needs a moment to express, than rise above, his bafflement and fear. Unfortunately, slightly tiresome patriarch Mayor Johnston Green isn’t given quite enough of that moment here. And his wife’s dread-cry of “Oh, Johnston” isn’t quite nuke-horror. It’s more like the dog got hit by a car level of upset. One can argue that there’s good eye acting (see the extras in Titanic as the stern sinks, for a perfect example) here, but it’s still a bit too subtle for my taste.

On the other hand, Jericho is supposed to be in a sweet spot. Everyone is safe, and until starvation or fallout, or other end of the world threats some a-knocking, perhaps a dazed sort of disconnect is believable. This is only the first day.

We have had too many inspirational speeches (though one that fails) from the mayor and from his rival Gray Anderson, and too much TV logic, but we also have two mysterious men, family drama, and moderately interesting side characters in a small town dealing with the unimaginable. Not bad.

Though the woman who plays the one that got away from Jake is one of the weakest actresses on the show — and their chemistry has never been there, ever — her final scenes in the pilot are good. Her character Emily has missed it all. She was driving to pick up her fiance in Wichita, and only when birds begin falling from the sky at dusk does she realize something is terribly wrong. The final scene leans too heavily on a moody pop song, just like the opening scenes did, but the camera pulling back on bird armageddon is a good capper for the episode.