'John From Cincinnati': Making movies, making moves
Prophecies are tricky things. They are at once accessible and inscrutable: the words in and of themselves register, but the meaning behind those words is often elusive. This dichotomy was at the heart of tonight's episode of John From Cincinnati, in which the words "Shaun will soon be gone" formed the backbone that held up the hour-long episode.
As to the prophecy in question, first uttered by the titular character at the end of last week's episode, later posted through unknown means to Butchie's website (apparently, neither John nor God know about YouTube): it served largely to illuminate character by showing each individuals' reaction to the statement. The meaning behind the vague statement was derived from each person's personal perspective of Shaun. On one hand, it served to splinter several relationships (Kai quitting her job being the most glaring example). On the other hand, John's web message served to unite various parties in Imperial Beach on Shaun's behalf, forging links that previously were tenuous at best, antagonistic at worst.
None of these new relationships surprised or delighted more than that between Bill Jacks and Steady Freddie Lopez. This unlikely partnership started a few weeks back, thanks to Zippy conveying to Bill that he should form a friendship with Freddie. Yes, Zippy is Bill's bird, but that's the kind of show John from Cincinnati is. This link was furthered during John's fever-dream sermon two episodes ago, during which Bill and Freddie played, for all intents and purposes, a psychic duet on harmonica and saxophone. (Again, that's the kind of show John from Cincinnati is.) The two have united in opposition to John, whom they feel is a threat to little Shaun Yost. Freddie cements he and Bill's new partnership by saying, "Whatever he is, he's gotta come through the both of us." The tacit agreement by Bill sent shivers down my spine.
Shivers also went down my spine earlier in the show for a different reason: in the very same room in which Freddie and Bill seal their pact (the abandoned bar of the Snug Harbor Hotel), everyone's favorite hotel owner Barry Cunningham had his own type of vision. After first reimagining the run-down bar as a theatre, he soon heard voices in the jukebox: voices echoing the shame inflicted upon him in his past concerning his sexual orientation. Following this were words from his past directly from his own lips: in a similar tone and timbre as the voice on jukebox, Barry snarled, "Oh, and Frank: a Roy Rogers for my young friend." (Could this voice belong to Mr. Rollins, rotting corpse of Room 24?)
Also in this vision was Shaun Yost himself, paraphrasing John's premonition, telling Barry he'll soon be gone. In fact, a lot of the episode derived from characters receiving subliminal/subconscious messages as well as John's web posting. John would be the first to tell you that both are entwined, since both come from the word of his Father. Those words are "big," just as the internet is "big," and in fact may be so big as to overwhelm the mind. And this ties back into the whole tricky nature of prophecy: the surface of things is often the least correct. When everyone took "gone" to mean "dead," they did not hear the words of John's Father. When they had dreams and visions, however, they did hear the word of John's Father.
The logic (or theology, really, is what it boils down to) of this show stems from the fact that humankind, as it stands now, is too self-absorbed, too critical, too muddled, and too overloaded to hear these important words. The only way for them to get through is by John disarming their expectations and reawakening long dormant parts of their brain. Just as the ocean is a refuge for the surfers on this show, John is a refuge for the inhabitants of Imperial Beach. He's a shock to the system, allowing greater access to the words of his Father. Problem is, John is only slightly ahead of the game: his Father doesn't allow him to be privy to the entire message all at once: thus, the nearly daily trips to the radio tower to download the latest edition. (Let's put this another way: in the world of John From Cincinnati, God has a podcast, the only current subscriber is John, and he checks in daily at the iStation to sync up to the latest installment.)
John's frustration with this lack of knowledge came forth in two scenes tonight. While being interrogated by Bill Jacks at the Snug Harbor Hotel, John's inability to do anything except engage in "parrot talk" (Bill's phrase) frustrates him to the point that he stabs himself multiple times in the chest. Bill tried to tend to his wounds, only to find no puncture wounds at all. I thought maybe we'd see a shot of Bill poking John's wound, a la Doubting Thomas, but no, the show decided to make John not only the messenger of God, but also Wolverine from the X-Men. Interesting choice.
In the second scene, John found himself once again on the end of a tongue lashing, with Cass angry at John for helping make the video that had Cissy and the rest so worried about Shaun's whereabouts. Cass didn't remember making the tape, because John theology dictates, "We don't remember my Father's words." The thing is, though, that while people don't remember the words, specifically, they do feel the effect of them, however subtle. It's as if the words themselves transform these people on a chemical level: it's a microscopic yet unmistakable difference they can sense if not articulate.
This lack of articulation is mirrored in John's language. His "parrot talk" only stands out because he hasn't adopting the very human technique of filling the spaces of silence with useless phrases, subterfuge, or the everyday white noise of conversation. His parrot talk stands out all the more for its paucity of use: his economy of language reflects both an economy of purpose and an implicit understanding that more words will not necessarily lead to more meaning. When Cass asks John, "Does your Father mean well?" his lack of reply could simply be lack of knowing the answer, but more than likely serves to show the futility of the question Cass presents: no answer would have truly satisfied her.
All in all, this was an episode in which the payoff to the prophecy ("Shaun will soon be gone" = "Shaun will soon go to SeaWorld") was less important than the connections the prophecy formed between the various inhabitants of Imperial Beach. It also served to show some strain on people's inherent belief in John himself. After getting what could only be described as the most generous free ride in the history of histories (c'mon, why has no one thought of committing this savant?), John is finally getting out and out questioned about his purpose. His ability to make them hear both his own words and the words of his Father will be increasingly important from this moment on.
Do you think John's prophecy is still in play, or did a trip to SeaWorld end this particular crisis? What will the long-term affect of Kai's absence in Shaun's life be? And who else besides me wants to see a spin-off series in which Steady Freddie and Bill Jacks drive up and down the California coast, solving mysteries?