John From Cincinnati Revisited

Four episodes and three days of storytime in, and I think I’m warming to John From Cincinnati. It remains a low-key, unflashy, methodical affair; although the fantastic events surrounding John are driving the story, they never dominate it, and the style throughout is determinedly naturalistic. Episode four is the day after Shaun Yost got his neck broken by a bad wave, then ended up walking out of hospital a few hours later without a scratch on him. The press, of course, got wind of the story, and staked out the Yost homestead; meanwhile, John told Kai to “see God”, which resulted in a grainy vision sequence that strongly implied that John has a kind of omniscience. Today, the papers are running “Miracle Boy” headlines, Dr. Smith (who treated Shaun) has resigned to save his hospital a wrongful diagnosis lawsuit, but is convinced there’s something more going on, Mitch Yost (sent into a philosophical tailspin by the combined effect of Shaun’s accident and recovery, and his own floating) has shacked up with Cass, Kai is wondering what John did to her, and John himself has been picked up by some Mexican gangsters. They stab him and leave him for dead a few minutes into the episode.

John is in some ways the best thing about John From Cincinnati, despite having almost no identity or agency of his own. He’s not even on-screen that much, but whenever he is there’s a dissonance about his presence, like he’s wandered in from the wrong story. This despite the fact that there’s nothing overtly magical or spiritual about him, and in fact (religious overtones notwithstanding) he acts more like an alien than an angel (although there’s no reason why an angel shouldn’t be treated as an alien). Alternatively, he behaves almost exactly like Alice, or some other algorithm imperfectly imitating humanity. His dialogue consists entirely of (a) phrases he’s heard other people use or variations thereon (“I’ve got my eye on you!”), (b) things he’s been told to say, often imperfectly (“I don’t know Butchie instead”), and (c) cliches and platitudes (“Tomorrow is another day”). He doesn’t appear to have caused any miracles through conscious intent, and it’s not even clear whether he could: he doesn’t seem to be able to heal his own stab wounds, for example, although he can enable other people to heal him.

It’s at times frustrating that none of the characters seem to be trying very hard to find out anything about John. Every so often, someone will ask him what he means, get a typically cryptic answer, and let the issue drop. To be fair, however, this is because they have their own issues to attend to, many of which have been caused directly or indirectly by John’s presence: and, satisfyingly, John is not a show that wastes much time on characters denying or ignoring or panicking about experiencing a miracle. Instead, almost without exception, they trust their senses, and try to integrate what they’ve experienced into their self-image and their understanding of the world. Mitch is wondering what his floating means, Kai is trying to decode her vision, Dr Smith is investigating Shaun, Butchie is getting suspicious about the fact that he’s gone three days without drugs but isn’t going through withdrawal. All those are eventually paths that will lead back to John, if the press don’t get there first, which means the characters will get around to asking the interesting questions, even if I doubt whether they’ll get any clear-cut answers. Or as John might put it: some things we’ll know, and some things we won’t.

3 thoughts on “John From Cincinnati Revisited

  1. Excellent article and right-on perspective. What an oasis in a massive amount of lazy criticism. Thanks for having an open mind, proactive thoughts and optimism for new paths in prime-time television!!

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