Sunday, May 7, 2017

"JERICHO" RETROSPECT: (1.14) "Heart of Winter"

"JERICHO" RETROSPECT: (1.14) "Heart of Winter"

The previous episode, (1.13) "Black Jack" focused on the town's need to find a way to stay warm during the winter. This need led Jake Green and three other people on a road trip to the Black Jack fairgrounds, which served as newly formed trading post for those living around Kansas and Nebraska. In this next episode, (1.14) "Heart of Winter", found Jericho's citizens searching for more food via various hunting trips. 

I must admit that I was a little surprised by this sudden need for more food, considering that the town had received extra food not only from an abandoned freight train discovered by Dale Turner in (1.03) "Four Horsemen" and the supply sent by the Chinese government in (1.10) "Red Flag". So . . . what happened to the food? It is possible that Jericho's citizens had unwisely consumed the food discovered by Dale. Following Gray Anderson's election as mayor in (1.11) "Vox Populi", he had quickly distributed the food from the Chinese without any regard to saving a supply of it for future use. There is a third factor to consider - namely Jericho's recent population growth, due to the arrival of refugees in "Vox Populi". All of these factors led to Jericho in the middle of a food crisis in this episode.

Various hunting teams have been scouring the countryside for game to kill, including Johnston and Eric Green. Upon their return to Jericho, the former expressed both surprise and dismay at the lack of game in the area. Jake and his best friend, Stanley Richmond decided to conduct their own hunting trip further outside of town. The latter also insisted that his new love, former I.R.S. Agent Mimi Clark, accompany them so that she would learn a few survival tips in case something happens to him. However, the trip proved to be more than any of them had anticipated. 

The trio first came upon a trail of refugees who had died from hypothermia on the trail. Both Jake and Stanley surmised from the items they were carrying that the refugees probably came from both North and South Dakota. While continuing their hunting trip, the trio encountered a bigger problem when a black Silverado truck ran them off the road and caused Stanley's truck to flip over. Although Mimi recovered from the crash without a scratch, Jake woke up with his legs pinned underneath the truck and Stanley found himself with a broken ankle. The men from the Silvarado truck managed to steal their coats, guns and supplies before Jake is able to get hold of his own pistol. After the marauders left, Jake and Stanley instructed Mimi to walk back to Jericho for help - despite the threat of an approaching snowstorm.

Meanwhile, Robert Hawkins and his former lover/C.I.A. colleague, Sarah Mason decided to search for the leader of their conspiracy - the "old man" - and kill him before he can kill the remaining members of their group. Unbeknownst to Robert, Sarah had been recruited by "the old man" to find Robert's package - the bomb he had taken instead of detonating it - and kill him. Although Robert trusted Sarah, his wife Darcy did not and advised her husband to keep an eye on their guest. Although Robert and Sarah failed to find the conspiracy's leader, the latter managed to kill the assassin who had been murdering the conspiracy's members on behalf of "the old man". Apparently, Sarah had her own agenda.

After my latest viewing of "Heart of Winter", I realized that it was one of those episodes that I had underestimated during my first viewing. It will never be one of my favorite episodes of the series, but it turned out to be a lot better than I remembered. Perhaps when I first saw this episode, I had focused most of my attention on the subplot featuring Robert Hawkins and Sarah Mason. Although this subplot ended up having major consequences on the series' narrative, what occurred in this particular episode only seemed mildly interesting to me, due to their inability to achieve their goal. Or should I say . . . Robert's goal? The episode eventually reveal that Sarah was actually working with "the old man" in setting up Robert to be killed. Only that last scene featuring Sarah's murder of her leader's personal assassin made me realize that she has her own plans regarding both Robert and his "package".

I did come away with a few thoughts regarding this particular subplot after viewing this episode. It finally occurred to me that Sarah may have deliberately made her way to Jericho in order to get close to Robert on the orders of "the old man". Neither he or his assassin could reach Robert alone, while the latter resided within Jericho - especially since the latter spent a good deal of time interacting with the town's other citizens during a series of crisis. Perhaps I am wrong after all. Who knows?

But I must admit that I found the episode's major subplot a bit more interesting. And I did so for a few reasons. Jake, Stanley and Mimi's discovery of the dead refugees and their encounter with the road scavengers really drove home the point on how dangerous the country had become in the months following the September attacks. It made me realize how lucky those refugees who had arrived at Jericho with Roger Hammond two episodes ago had been. As for poor Mimi - I could understood the terror she must have felt, while being forced to return to Jericho for help . . . by herself.

Due to the scavengers' attack, Jake found his legs pinned underneath Stanley's truck and suffering from a nearly severe case of hypothermia. Fortunately for both, Mimi managed to encounter Johnston and Gail Green, who had grown worried about the hunting party. While Gail drove Mimi and Stanley back to Jericho, Johnston remained with a barely coherent Jake. While the latter eased in and out of consciousness, he made a startling confession. During his time as a military contractor in Iraq for Jennings & Rall, Jake had killed an innocent Iraqi girl in the heat of battle. Following his return to Jericho, Jake asked Johnston to forget what he had confessed, but the latter refused to do so. While Jake sobbed with grief and regret, Johnston made it clear that as a Vietnam War veteran, he realized what war can do to anyone caught up in combat. 

Did Jake's confession led me to lower my opinion of him? Not really. His efforts to protect Jericho and his reaction to the wrecked car that he and his brother Eric Green had spotted in (1.08) "Rogue River" reflected a ruthless pragmatism that I have always suspected he possessed. And that same ruthlessness had also been expressed in a negative way during those brief years as a criminal with Emily's father, Jonah Prowse; reared its ugly head when he killed that girl in Iraq. And yet . . . my opinion of Jake did not sink when he finally confessed to his father. Why? Based upon his reaction, it seemed pretty obvious that he felt a great deal of guilt . . . shame, actually, over that girl's death. Not even Johnston's words that combat can drive just about anyone to terrible acts could alleviate his guilt. And I am glad for it told me that Jake had matured a great deal during those five years he had been away. He knew how to take responsibility for his actions. I could not say the same for a good number of other fictional protagonists - including those from shows like "CHARMED""24" and "POLDARK".

As for the performances featured in "Heart of Winter", I must admit that I was very impressed. Well . . . with the exception of Kenneth Mitchell. Although the actor, who portrayed Eric Green, made a brief appearance, he barely said a word in the episode. However, I did enjoy some very competent performances from Lennie James as Robert Hawkins, Pamela Reed as Gail Green, Ashley Scott as Emily Sullivan, Brad Beyer as Stanley Richmond, and Christopher Wiehl as Roger Hammond. But there were performances that really impressed me. One came from April D. Parker, whom I believe did a great job in conveying Darcy Hawkins' suspicion and dislike of Sarah Mason. Speaking of the latter, Siena Goins gave an enigmatic and slightly sinister portryal of the character. I really enjoyed Alicia Coppola's performance as the usually sardonic Mimi Clark, who really found herself outside her comfort box in this particular episode. Gerald McRaney was outstanding as a compassionate Johnston Green, who must have been both shocked and saddened by Jake's confession. But for me, the best performance came from leading man Skeet Ulrich. The latter did a superb job in conveying Jake's emotional journey in this episode. Thanks to his skillful performance, audiences not only saw another look at his hardcore survivor skills, but also saw how his physical situation led him to finally face the ugliness of his past as a military contractor.

What else can I say about "Heart of Winter"? It has never been one of my top favorite "JERICHO" episodes. But this latest viewing of the episode finally led me to appreciate it a lot more than I did when I first saw it, thanks to an intelligent screenplay and direction from both Nancy Won and Steve Gomer, respectively. But it was Skeet Ulrich's harrowing performance as a very haunted Jake Green that made this episode memorable for me.

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