Saturday, April 8, 2017

"JERICHO" RETROSPECT: (1.13) "Black Jack"

"JERICHO" RETROSPECT: (1.13) "Black Jack"

This next episode of "JERICHO" began with a topic, which had been the hallmark of the series' earlier episodes - namely another town crisis. In (1.13) "Black Jack", newly elected Mayor Gray Anderson and other town officials become aware that numerous citizens are either suffering or dying from hypothermia, due to low power and gas supply. The town engineer suggests that Jericho should convert to wind power and create new windmills. However, the lacks the parts like a regulating governor for even one mill. One of the newly arrived refugees - Emily Sullivan's fiance, Roger Hammond - reveals that a fairgrounds in southern Nebraska called Black Jack has been the site of a trading post and a place to gather information from around the country. Gray asks for volunteers to go to Black Jack and use the town's salt supply to trade for parts needed for new windmills. In the end, four people go - Jake Green, his father Johnston Green, science teacher Heather Lisinski and young Dale Turner. Johnston volunteers due to curiosity about the world outside Jericho. Heather volunteers because she feels she is the only one who can recognize a regulating governor and Dale volunteers in order to barter new items for the store he had inherited from Gracie Lee.

Upon their arrival at Black Jack, the four travelers discover that the camp is guarded by heavily armed men, who are willing to retaliate violently against anyone who causes trouble. They also discover that other countries throughout the world have been sending supplies to the United States. And thanks to the fairground's bulletin boards, they learn a good deal of information about the outside world, including the fact that the country has been divided into six Federal regions, with many people are trying to stake claims to the presidency. Jake, Heather, Johnston and Dale also meet citizens from the neighboring town of New Bern; Heather's original hometown. The quartet learn that New Bern had an ugly encounter with John Goetz and his band of Ravenwood mercenaries after Jericho had driven off the latter in a previous episode, (1.09) "Crossroads". Heather's New Bern acquaintances prove to be a godsend when Dale endangers them all with an act of theft.

"Black Jack" featured other story arcs. Tension rises in the Hawkins household when Robert Hawkins allows one of the new refugees, his former C.I.A. colleague Sarah Mason, to stay at his home. Darcy Hawkins immediately senses that Robert and Sarah were former lovers. She not only develops an instant dislike toward the other woman, but also begins to suspect that the latter might be a threat to the Hawkins family. Darcy's instinct proves to be accurate. While Robert plots with Sarah to permanently deal with the leader of the conspiracy behind the September bombs - their employer, Sarah schemes with "the old man" to use the Hawkins family to coerce Robert in giving up the bomb in his possession. And finally, Gail Green has a confrontation with Mary Bailey over the latter's affair with Eric Green. Their confrontation leads to Mary's revelation that her own mother cuckolded her father with another man before abandoning the Bailey family. 

I would not regard "Black Jack" as one of my favorite episodes. There is nothing really wrong about it, if I must be brutally honest. For the first time since the series' seventh episode, (1.07) "Long Live the Mayor", Jericho citizens and the series' viewers get an idea of what is going on outside of the town. And judging from Jonathan E. Steinberg and Dan Stolz's screenplay, matters have grown exceedingly grim - not only for Jericho, but also the country. This sense of a growing post-apocalyptic world had been featured in episodes like "Long Live the Mayor" and (1.08) "Rogue River". But the Black Jack Fairgrounds setting and the bulletin boards in this episode, along with Sarah Mason's plot against the Hawkins family and Roger Drummond's recollection of how a light led him to the safety of a refugee camp in Nebraska really drove home how grim the country had become. 

More importantly, the narrative for "Black Jack" served as a starting point for the grimmer plot arcs that played out for the rest of Season One and Season Two. The four Jericho travelers' encounter with citizens from New Bern and the deal created between the two groups served as a major continuation of a story line that began in episodes like "Rogue River" and "Crossroads". This deal consisted of New Bern providing windmills for Jericho in exchange for much needed salt. Also included in the bargain is for Heather to return to her hometown and construct governors for the windmills. Sarah Mason's dealings with Robert and the Hawkins family is another story line that will continue in a major way - probably a lot bigger than the one between Jericho and New Bern. More importantly, an important piece of information on one of Black Jack's bulletin boards - a name, actually - will play a major, major role in the series' future narrative in Season Two and beyond.

Considering how "Black Jack" played a major role in the series' narrative, why is it not a big favorite of mine? I honestly do not know. Perhaps it felt more like a source of information and a narrative device than a story with any real emotional connection to me. One is bound to point out the confrontation between Gail Green and Mary Bailey, Darcy Hawkins' hostility toward her family's new house guest or Roger Hammond's recollection of finding a refugee camp as story arcs with real emotional connection. Perhaps. These story arcs, although rather interesting, simply fail to personally click for me. The screenwriters even added a moment between Jake Green and Heather Lisinski, in which the latter brought up the brief kiss they had shared near the end of "Long Live the Mayor". But considering that I have never really sensed any romantic chemistry between Jake and Heather, I only felt relief when they finally dropped the topic of the kiss.

The performances in "Black Jack" were top notch, as usual. The episode benefited from some excellent performances from Skeet Ulrich, Lennie James, Sprague Grayden, Siena Goines, Ashley Scott, Candace Bailey, Michael Gaston and Dustin Seavey. But for me, the best performances came from Gerald McRaney and Erik Knudsen, who created an interesting mentor/protege chemistry between Johnston Green and Dale Turner; Pamela Reed and Clare Carey, who were fantastic as the two women in Eric Green's life at odds with each other; and April Parker, who was superb conveying Darcy Hawkins' anger at the intrusion of Sarah Mason in the lives of the Hawkins' family.

In the end, "Black Jack" proved to be a very interesting episode. I did not exactly find it emotionally compelling, but I must admit that it conveyed a strong image of the grim world beyond Jericho, following the September attacks. More importantly, it set the stage for uglier turn of events for the rest of Season One and Season Two for "JERICHO".

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