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Caps via: http://cccc.1121.org/

Episode four:”Walls of Jericho”

“Five days after the bomb” and one day after the fallout, and HOLY SHIT WHAT IS THAT. Eric and Jake are watching a video at Mary’s bar, and it’s one of the creepiest images the show has ever portrayed. Everything is red and on fire and panic. It’s disturbingly vague, but suggests the worst things. Eric guesses it’s Cincinatti they’re seeing, and Mary marks a question mark on the map. So, here we are in Jericho, and nobody knows anything, but that they do know looks scary as fuck. That’s how you do end of the world stuff, people. Vagueness and nightmares are key.

1x04_0039Stanley and Bonnie roll in and Stanley stares drearily at the video. He says “makes you wonder what happened to whoever shot this.” Hawkins responds as disturbingly as possible, “I think that might have been the last thing they ever saw.” No explanation as to where the video came from, but in its unknown context, and its terrible ted tint, it does its intended job.

Mary and Eric are boring, but then Mary’s generator runs out, and the bar closes. Jake meets Heather outside and walks her home. SHE’S ACTUALLY CUTE, DAMMIT. They are cute together, and I never appreciated this upon watching previously. This fact makes me dislike concerned ex-girlfriend Emily, even if she is arguably the most competent female character. (Well, the most gun-toting.)

Heather and Jake talk about Jake’s old life in town, and they walk past the boarded up cybercafe, and discuss the health code-violating Pizza Garden. It’s nice until a man with horrible burns on his face staggers into view and asks for help. Heather goes to find some, which is Bonnie, the two remaining cops, and Stanley.

Bill the jerkcop won’t touch the radioactive dude. Neither will Jimmy! Copfail. They’re already making lines between Jericho and the outside world, but Stanley and Jake are too farmboy pure for that.

Eric and his wife are fighting at the clinc, because he was chilling with his mistress (not that wife knows that). Radioactive dude is carried in.

Capitalism, Dale, capitalism is man's greatest achievement.

Capitalism, Dale, capitalism is man’s greatest achievement.

DoubtyourcommitmenttoSparkleMotionGracie is creeping around her store in the dark. Dale startles her, but it’s good because holy shit he brought all the food from the crashed train! How did he carry it all? Plot holes? Dale is the best capitalist. The best homesteader of lost food. Gracie taught him well.

April, Eric, Mayor Green, Jake and Gail are staring at RadioactiveMan. Everyone is wondering how close the guy was to the blast. Jake and Stanley are sent to wash off any potential radiation. April and Gail worry about the preemie who needs to keep breathing. Babies.

Hey Hawkins, what are you doing in your creepy basement? Your annoying son wants something.

Jimmy and Bill talk with Mayor Green about how Gray Anderson hasn’t been heard from since last episode, how the tanks seen could be from Iran, North Korea, Al-Qaeda, or China’s invasion.

Damp Skeet Ulrich has a moment with Heather. Somethin’ for the ladies and some of the fellas, I guess. Heather has a good idea about siphoning gas from cars, and pumping gas from the underground storage tanks at the local gas station so that the hospital generators will keep going.

Bonnie is staring at RadioactiveMan, worrying about how Stanley might still be sick, and whether “this is how they die.” She says “take care of him.” Next scene, though, is Eric and Jake arguing about what can be done for the guy. Jake being the hot-head martry says they can’t let him die, but Eric being kind of a douche says they should give the guy drugs and keep him comfortable. But Jake is on it, and he’s going for Heather’s plan to get more gas.

RadioactiveMan is awake! His name is Victor, and he is here to croak out a terrifyingly cryptic message of “they’re coming.”

Jake and Heather have to talk the gas guy into letting them take the gas. “I could be fired” he says — and he pulls it off more than most actors might — and Jake says “With all due respect, who is going to fire you? It’s a different world.” As much as NOBODY on this show is ever as panicked as they should be, this guy is pulling off the “I need to do my job still because denial is better” cluelessness nicely. Heather says they’ll even leave an IOU. “They’re never coming back — the district manager — are they?” Says gas guy. No, sir. I think the gas is yours then, maybe. But whatever.

Oh hey, Hawkins is quizzing his family on their new, fake lives. Creepy. Sam the boy is messing up, and the teen girl (What is her name, God damn it?) is ranting at the bullshit quality of all this. But hey, Jimmy is here and he wants to get Hawkins, since he “was a cop in St. Louis.” (Was he, though?) Hawkins is waffling. Jimmy needs someone to “show people there is still law and order in this town.” Sort of grudgingly, Hawkins accepts.

Gracie is refusing Eric and his request to donate gas to the clinic. She’s terrible, but she’s right. She did give her whole damn store to the town. I do love that this show deals with the push and pull of individual survival versus collective, and it kind of gives credence to concerns over both.

Science problems! They’re siphoning gas, but Heather says metal is going to spark and cause a fire. Jake the martyr pushes Stanley out of the way because he likes his sibling a lot better than Jake likes his. At Gracie’s, Skyler trades a party invite for Hawkins’ teen daughter’s last of the chips. Good capitalist Skyler.

Gail is sitting by RadioactiveMan, but he’s coding because the generator is out of gas. Gail used to be a nurse, though! She’s got this, because nobody else is there. This clinic appears to have only one doctor, and it’s April. And babies are cuter than dudes with radiation burns.

Jake rushes into the clinic with gas. Hawkins’ daughter shows up at Skyler’s. RadioactiveMan is back from being dead for two minutes. Eric rushes in to say he got gas, but oops, April doesn’t care, because Jake got the clinic some gas by risking explosions!, and Eric got it by asking people politely. Boring. So boring. Your husband is boring.

Men not listening to a woman about science.

Men not listening to a woman about science.

Skyler’s horrible, too horrible to be believed friend is mocking Skyler and Dale’s burgeoning romance. Bitchy girl, both their parents are probably dead. Popularity just doesn’t mean what it once did, okay? Skyler still says “just go home” to Dale. Kids, the world got nuked. Stop.

Victor is flailing in bed, and Jakes asks him who is coming. “They…need help” says Victor. “Twenty from Denver.” They’re at a lake with a dock. And “they” have Victor’s daughter.

Skyler defending her property rights in the face of law enforcement oppression.

Skyler defending her property rights in the face of law enforcement oppression.

Jimmy comes to Skyler’s house to shut down her party and to ask how much gas she is using. She says it’s her gas and generator. And…it is. She’s still dumb, though. Hawkins arrives and sends his daughter home.

The cops did something useful and have Victor’s wallet. Hawkins totally recognizes him, but won’t say anything because Mystery.

The cops want to wake up Victor, but April says no way because of his pain. Mary and Emily watch the scary red video again and talk about it. “What if they all come here” Mary asks. They’re not gonna. They’re dead. Scary Hawkins knows this. Mary and Eric talk about something. I fall asleep. Has an end of the world affair ever been less interesting?

Back to the clinic. I forget why the cops think that the missing Shep was killed by Victor, but there is another fight over waking him up when he’s covered in radiation burns. “He’s going to die anyway, but he could save some people’s lives” says Hawkins. He also wants to “do this himself” which isn’t suspicious at all. April is pissed. Eric grabs her arm like an asshole and says “We need information. He could be a murderer” “And that gives you the power to do anything you want?” his wife asks in rage. “Yes” says Eric. And I have never liked April more for hating her husband right now.

1x04_1408Jake is interrogating Victor about the people in trouble. Hawkins sends him away to get morphine, and then he morphs into Mysterious Sinister Hawkins. “We said family only, hmm? Why? Why did you go back to Denver?” He says scarily. “I couldn’t let them die” says Victor. “Now we’re a man down” says Hawkins. “Someone flipped…there’s a traitor.” says Victor. “Do you know who it was?” asks Hawkins. Victor’s heart rate is going up. Oh, his skull is gross and pink. Annnd Victor is dead. And Hawkins is what? A foreign agent? Because Lennie James is secretly (dun dun dun) BRITISH?!

“We had to do it” says Eric. April stares more daggers. You go, girl.

Back at the store, Gracie tells Dale he’s worth ten of Skyler. The implication is it’s a class thing, I think. Dale isn’t just unpopular, but poor. Somehow I missed this before, because I am an idiot.

Oh, Hawkins might be evil, but he’s being nice to his daughter. He’s telling her she can’t just go to parties, because that puts them all in danger.  Being creepy-quiet-nice-but-menacing, Hawkins adds “And if you pull something like this again, girl, you have no idea how scared you’ll be.” And then he kisses her head. Cringe.

Jake the do-gooder has gone to Mary’s bar to ask for volunteers, and turns off the TV which is repeating the scary footage. He’s…excessive. He learned from his Pa. And pragmatically, he might be wrong. But he means well. And nobody really gets how bad things are in their weird bubble. After a silence, Jake starts to give up, then Mary says she’ll donate gas, and Emily will come along! Good. Ladies with the feelings for the people outside of town. And now more people will help. Posers.

A group drives in cop cars, then crosses the hill, and it seems okay, but the people are all lying dead in the grass. They’ve died of radiation poisoning, as Mayor Green notes in scene that switches back and forth between the meadow and church.

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This town cannot do anything without me.

People with missing or dead family stand. And they “stand because we know that every life matters….The battle ahead is not just for our survival, it’s for our humanity.” You’re not wrong, Mayor. But it’s awkward because the town has sort of been in denial until now. Maybe they get it finally.

In his speech, Mayor Green hits the implied Testament/Rod Serling message right on the nose, and it’s also the message of the episode — along with “us versus them” questions which are helpfully voiced out loud by the dumb-ass deputies. Still, following that idealistic path is going to be harder and hard for people as the situation gets more dire, just as it would be in real life.

Outside church, Emily kisses Jake on the cheek and says he’s a good man for trying to help someone he didn’t know. He smiles goofily. Oh, Skeet. Sometimes your acting is weird. And your bug eyes don’t help when that happens.

Hawkins is in his basement writing creepy messages. There’s a traitor. “The rally point is no longer secure.” And then in whiplash mood, he goes talk to his son, and starts to quiz him about his fake background. Sam gets it right. “Who loves you more than anyone else in the world?” Hawkins then asks. “You” says Sam. “And who is always going to take care of you?” “Mommy.” Welp. You’re not wrong, kid. And yet, there is a lot more to discover about dear old dad.

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.