Episode Reviews (5)
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It's a finale that resolves some central questions, but leaves us with a lot to talk about in the years to come. If the end of The Sopranos tells us anything, it's that questions draw more attention than conclusions, and considering so much of the joy of the series is in its mystery, I'm glad we're left with some things to ponder.
Themes and complex ideas aside, the opening of this episode is pure filmic adrenaline, the real climax of the series and an absolutely exhilarating moment. We open in the clouds, music building, then slowly descend onto the water to reveal John and Shaun flying across the water. I really can't say enough about how incredible that moment was, the entire opening sequence was complete joy and put a huge smile on my face.
From a narrative point of view, last episode was the darkness before this wonderful dawn. It was a test of faith and the three foremost believers, Kai, Butchie and Cass, all passed the test, waiting for John and Shaun to return and being rewarded by the vindication of their faith. This obviously has some Jesus parallels, but unlike Jesus, there seems to be no limit on Shaun and John's return, their absence was not about suffering themselves, it was more about helping those around them to fully come together and work as a family and community.
Everything is restored and for the first time in a while, the whole family is reunited. Shaun says that it's time to move out of his grandparents' house, to be with Butchie and John. At the beginning of the series, Mitch and Cissy were constantly insulting Butchie for his failure to be there for Shaun. This came out most heavily after he didn't show for the surfing contest where Shaun was injured. Cissy and Mitch take it as a criticism that Shaun would want to leave, but I think it's more a reflection of Butchie's growth.
It's also significant if you view Shaun as part of the healing trinity, with John and Zippy. Butchie claimed that it was only the presence of Shaun that kept Mitch and Cissy from spiraling off the deep end. He was there to heal them, and now that work is done. The rift with his mother is healed and he can move along. Throughout, Shaun has been a healing and unifying force. We see this in his behavior with his mother, always being affectionate and opening the door for her to take a larger role in his life. The character frequently seems passive, but he is instigating a lot with Tina, and that has helped to heal her.
One of the series' essential themes, and the key to understanding this episode, is the notion that John is there to heal all the characters. They're all carrying around past sins that have crippled them, and he is the catalyst for events that will allow them to move past the pain and reinvent their lives. In this episode, Cissy finally accepts Tina, and secures her a place in Shaun's life. This helps her move beyond the guilt she felt for leaving Shaun so many years ago. It was the healing of Shaun that set this possibility in motion back in the second episode.
Concurrent with this, we've got the lengthy sequence where Linc interrogates John, and John tries his best to convey his father's message. This is where things started to get a bit confusing for me; there are elements that I can't reconcile, and may not be reconcilable with the material we've seen. After all, the show has not been canceled, and Milch has to leave something open for a second season. But, a lot of what he says here does clear things up. The first line of his speech, repeated here, "If my words are yours, can you hear my father?" clicked for me when he said it. It builds on what Butchie and Kai were talking about last week, that he repeats what we say to represent concepts he doesn't have words for. He uses our words to tell us about his father. That's a central piece of knowledge to help understand what he's doing throughout the series.
Much of this dialogue consisted of revisiting the speech, explaining some of what he said there. But, things are a bit more ambiguous when you consider what he says may actually mean other things. I'm particularly wondering about what Cass's camera means. It could obviously refer to her camera, but is there a larger significance? The way I'm seeing it now is that Cass's camera is a metatextual reference to the filming of the show. So much of the episode was shown from the perspective of her camera, and it was piped into the Internet café in a way that was technically impossible.
In the café, Dwayne and Jerri are turned into viewers of the exact same action we're watching on TV. It would make sense to use Dwayne as an audience surrogate, for the viewers who are on the Internet trying to figure out what's going on. If Cass's camera is the world of the show, then is Dwayne the fanbase surrounding it? Is the Internet big because that's where the show lives on and develops? One could easily interpret 'his visit' as a visit to us. Every week, we check in with John and these characters, existing on the fringe of their world, seeing it only through a camera, like Cass does here. She seems to have lost her own self and taken on another persona, something that would be possible once she's aware that she is creating the world around her through her camera. Notably, all of the things that John said would happen in Cass's camera in his speech, did happen on the show, in one way or another, supporting the notion that it's a metatextual reference.
If we read things that way, does it explain who John's father is? I don't think Milch is breaking the fourth wall to say that he is the 'Father' who gives John words. That would reduce John's mission to something that's only relevant in their fictional world. I think the 'Father' is God, or at least some pure essence of goodness from which all things flow. John is his messenger, speaking for him without knowing exactly what words to use. The idea of his father having a father is a question you could ask about God, and is not something that's easy to answer. If you read the scene as John being a messenger from God, then his inability to answer questions makes sense. That's not something that our words are capable of doing, it's an idea that's bigger than any of us.
The greatest ambiguity of the episode for me is the nature of the car dealer. He speaks in the same way as John, using a lot of the same language. The implication is certainly made that this man could be John's father, which would explain why John took them there to buy the car. The other explanation, and the one that I'd argue makes more sense is the notion that John's message is spreading. Last week we heard other characters making reference to "big" and "huge" events. This could be symptomatic of a larger change, even people not directly connected to the family are speaking the way John does. During the parade sequence, the groundwork is certainly laid for an expansion of John's message, and that seems like the most fertile ground for a potential second season.
One of the things I like about the episode is the way that it brings everyone together. Earlier, I assumed that Linc and Tina would pose a threat to Shaun, but it turns out that they, and Jake Ferris, are working in his best interest, just in a different way than the others. Linc's exploitation of Butchie was the catalyst for all the Yosts' problems at the start of the show. This is something he makes explicit in his speech. I was wondering why that speech was going on so long, and it wasn't until after that I realized why. He had not faced up to being the source of so many problems; here he does, and he also hands over the company to John and the Yosts, letting them take control of their own destinies. We finally get that happy family tableau that was first glimpsed during the speech -- things aren't perfect, but they're okay.
Tracking back a bit, the entire parade sequence was a bit out of nowhere, but fits with the oddness of the show. The best part is Bill's outrage after he's arrested while trying to coordinate traffic. The parade serves as a celebration of John's message, and something of a coming out party for his agenda and the family in general. The critical thing here is the fact that Stinkweed has been turned into an engine for spreading John's message. His symbol, the line and circle man, seems to be part of something larger. It is his sigil, and through it, he can spread his agenda.
Now, this may be projection, but I feel like the next step in John's agenda is forming a kind of army to help spread his message. That's the reason he comes back in fatigues, and also why there are the constant terrorism references when discussing his mission. Cissy continually refers to him like a terrorist. It would make sense that God would send his own warrior to counter those who kill in his name, only instead of fighting with violence, he fights with love.
I think the show is largely centered around an examination of what it would be like if Jesus came to Earth today, and using that framework, it would make sense John would use a major corporation to spread his message. He converts his disciples, and by putting his logo on everything, he will help to spread the message. Last episode, we saw one stick man becoming two becoming many. That is what Stinkweed will do for John -- rather than selling the bad boy image, they will sell the ultimate good.
The one misstep of this episode was the Freddie and Palaka storyline. While I've loved the constant character additions, at this point, we really didn't need a lengthy scene with two people we hadn't seen before. The storyline took up too much time, and didn't feel as urgent or exuberant as the rest of the show. But, I do like the resolution, in which Freddie gets out of crime, inspired by the events he's witnessed over the course of the series. That fits in perfectly with the themes of the series and the journey the character has gone on over the past few episodes.
The final scene of the episode has Bill finally confronting his demons and going upstairs for the first time since his wife's death. It's a wonderful scene, no one can do monologues like Ed O'Neil on this show, and it also marks the resolution of his character arc. This great pain he's carrying around is finally on the way to being healed. His journey is similar to Barry's; they must confront a space that horrifies them, and when they finally go in there, they realize it's not so bad, and are free to move on with their lives. The return of Zippy is a wonderful moment, Bill had to prove he could do things without Zippy, and now that he's succeeded, Zippy can return.
But, there's still some major things to ponder. In the brief, 16mm-style sequence, we get another voiceover from John that's just baffling. I think the point is to give us a final blast of weird information to keep us pondering. The most odd thing is first, that Dr. Smith goes to Cincinnati and comes back twenty years younger. This raises a question about what Cincinnati is. When he returns from the water, John says that he came back from Cincinnati, and Shaun says that he only remembers what they wanted him to say. The opening sequence, and the logic of the show, suggests that Cincinnati is heaven, where John's father resides. So, it's possible that somehow Dr. Smith wound up there and came back younger. Smith was the first person to be dazzled by what happened to Shaun, and it would make sense that he would receive a special reward from John's father.
The rest of the speech is as follows: "Cissy gets knocked up. She's bigger than Leona Helmsley. Earth puts Dickstein on retainer; Daphne keeps his head straight. Jerri meets a slew of new hairlips. My father forewalls (four walls?) Barry's bar. Dr. Smith trains Dwayne and Ramon. My father freelances in Cass' camera."
I'm not sure what the significance of Cissy gets knocked up is, but Leona Helmsley was renowned for being mean, so it would make sense to associate the character. Perhaps he's saying that she has moved on and is now "bigger" than Leona, in the sense that she has more important priorities. I couldn't tell you.
"Earth puts Dickstein on retainer" would seem to relate to his mindblowing, and just blowing, experience earlier in the episode. Something happened there, which ties back to a comment John made in the pilot about the significance of the lawyer getting a blowjob. So, he has been given a new path, the universe has spoken to him and put him to work. I'm not sure what forewalls, or four walls, means in this context. It's a place where John's father seems to have a major influence, but I couldn't tell you what exactly is going on. Dr. Smith training Dwayne and Ramon would mean that both of them will work to help heal people.
The idea of his father freelancing in Cass's camera is an interesting one. If we continue the metatextual reading, it's arguable that his father could be appearing in various guises throughout the series. That would reinforce the idea of the car salesman as John's father. What is definitely clear is the fact that God is present in various moments of the characters' lives. That what Dr. Smith and Barry referred to last week, his 'freelancing' is what helped them to get the clinic and bar going, the "hallelujah chorus" that Smith referred to.
And what of Mitch's levitation? I read online that it's meant to be a metaphor for his distance from his family. It certainly works on that level; John made him to levitate to show how he's losing touch, and at first, he wants them to leave, not pull him down. But, eventually Butchie and Shaun do, and the family is healed. I love the moment where they're all united cracking on the guy who yelled at Tina a few episodes ago. I also love the fact that he returned, further tying the community together.
One more lingering enigma is the Chemist. He seems to be in touch with what's going on, and when he stares out at the stadium thing, he knows that's where the message is coming from. He's the only one with the perspective to recognize what's right in front of them all.
And at last, we come to the initially baffling final moment, a shot of Cass and John's narration: "Mother of God CassKai." Now, this is a tough one. John has equated Cass and Kai previously, as has Cass herself. I would argue that the reason he calls them the mother of God is that they are the first two women to follow his teaching. So, they will birth his God out into the world. We previously saw them equated during the end of last week's episode, where they're both watching Butchie out in the water, waiting for Shaun. They each have had contact with John and each have "seen God." They are the people John confides in, and are best able to understand him. Each grow frustrated by him at some point, but ultimately are in awe of his abilities.
This episode shows John taking the first step in spreading his mission to a larger world. He has saved the Yosts, and they shall be his representatives, but the ones who had faith in him from the beginning were Butchie, Shaun, Cass, and Kai. They are the core, and that is the reason that CassKai is the mother of God. That said, why is this the end of the show? We've spent so much time talking about John's father, it would be logical to address the mother. Both have seen God, via John, so they shall carry him out into the world. He showed no one else that vision, they are special. And, it is through Cass's camera that his word is spread out to us, the audience of viewers parallel to their universe.
From here, John will spread his message, and if there were another season, I'd imagine that will be the focus. After all, we are all one larger organism, and more people need to realize that. When they saw God, it was other people, so why not save the entire universe?
Will there be another season? Nope. This is the end, it went out on a fantastic note, and I feel satisfied with the ending. All the major plot and character threads are resolved, but the door is open for more.moreless
While much is still left quite cryptic, you are presented with much more direct information that confirms theories and allows you to make your own conclusions.
Season and series finale! I'm relieved and not surprised in the least that this show was canceled. Although I must give HBO credit for letting the whole season air unlike some other network stations that pull shows even when they have un-aired episodes *cough* Fox * cough*. The only reason I kept watching this show is to see what exactly it is about. The previews promised answer and for the most part it did deliver.
While much is still left quite cryptic, you are presented with much more direct information that confirms theories and allows you to make your own conclusions. As was known, this show has been about the healing of people's lives and building families. The episode opens up with Shawn and John arriving on surf boards witnessed by Butchie, Kai, and Cas. Those three are the ones who chose to have faith in John. When Shawn is questioned about where he was, he points up at the sky and says Cincinnati. He also has no real recollection about what happened and says he only remembers what "they" want him to say. Where was he exactly? We'll never know for sure but heaven or some other holy place is obvious conclusion. At the end of the episode, we finally see everyone come to terms with their situation and start on the road to recovery. The ending also has rather wild and potentially controversial implications of what the future seasons would have been about. All the strange events that happened in this show early on, like Mitch levitating, Shawn breaking his neck and fully recovering, and Kai "seeing god" appear to be all symbolic events that portray their role in this group of people. Mitch was losing touch with his family and feeling distant, Kai is the outside observer that kept the Yost family together, and Shawn is the focal point that connects everyone. And it was these unexplained odd events that got me to watch this show. Now that I have my answers, I'm uncertain what I think about series. While I can see what was trying to be done here, I feel it would have been served better with a more engaging environment. There was no sugar coating here for you to enjoy while it went about its philosophical journey. It was a bold move that did not pan out especially in a time where many people don't have the attention span to devote to such a heavy serial series. It's a heavy art piece that's well, wasted on me. -- DMo
John and Shaunie return and the family is reunited.
Well, John and Shaun return from overseas and the family is reunited. The opening sequence in particular was beautifully shot.
This episode provides some answers to the questions posed in earlier episodes. It also leaves some questions unanswered for a possible second season, though I'm unsure as to how likely such a second season is.
I especiallly loved Linc's speech and his attempts to make sense of John. I also welcomed the return of Zippy, if only in the last few minutes of the episode.
I'm still confused about the exact importance of Cass' camera but I'm impressed wth how many storylines came up again and some were actually wrapped up.moreless
The End is Here...
I thought this episode was both interesting and confusing in the normal John way. It starts by showing us that Shawn is safe and John is still as werid as ever. Then addressing some of the issues the characters have been dealing with all season. Bill finally makes it up those stairs, Cissy finally realizes she has to let Shawn go, Butchie becomes a father, Tina a mother, Linc admits to helping to destroy the Yost family, Mitch will surf again in public, and Freddy quits selling drugs. I think it was interesting to see how these people come to discover what they needed to do and how they went about doing it. I really enjoyed the dealership scene and plan on rewatching to see if I can figure out everything the dealer is talking about. There are still some parts I am confused on, for example why Kai is mother, but that is what I liked about this show as a whole... It wasn't straight forwarded or easy to understand but made you think. Very few shows today do that. I hope to see a second season!!moreless
The series finale shows us that no matter how wounded we are we can be healed, redeemed and reconnected with our fellow man and with our "Father"
I believe the reason why people liked this episode but "can't really say why", is because this episode spoke to our heart---not to our mind. This episode was about redemption and connection and love. In the opener we see Kai snuggling with Butchie. They have renewed their love from many years ago and Butchie is almost whole again. Meyer's girlfriend is performing oral sex--which surprises Meyer. Remember how cold and stand-offish her character was when it was first introduced? Well now she engages in an act of intimacy which she could never have done before--"a life changing event for Meyer"--as we later learn. Enter John and Sean. Not only is Sean OK---he is wonderful as he and John beautifully surf in tandem to the wonderful music by Bob Dylan. Link and Tina are also together in bed, as he gives a thumbs up that everything is OK. Butch reaches out to touch Sean's hair in another act of connection---he is becoming a father--and Sean smiles at Butchie acknowledging the connection. Sean and his mother share a hug--another redemption--another connection. Just as Butchie is becoming the father he never was, Tina is becoming the Mother she never was. Sean, who has shown no sense of self throughout the series asks Cissy (his Grandmother) for a peanut butter and Jelly sandwich---Instead of the tuna that she always makes him (and never asked him how he liked it to be made--as we found out in an earlier episode). Link begins to understand the word of the Father as conveyed to him through John. In an epiphany Link says to John "You use my words, and if I listen right I can hear your Father" Link , too is redeemed through this epiphany. Butchie is even able to reconnect with Tina and disniss his anger towards her. In another act of selfhood, Sean tells his grandparents (who also seem to have reached a reconnection of sorts) that he wishes to move out to live with his Dad and John. Sean realizes that his Dad (Butchie) is now almost healed thus the wish to re-establish the connection even more strongly. Sean is able to express his love to his grandparents and in a third act of selfhood states he is going to leave (jump over the fence) rather than just stay and watch them bicker as he had done in previous episodes.
Meanwhile John bestows healing words upon Butchie as he openly ackowledges the effect that Cissy's molestation of Butchie had on Cissy. It forced her to become "the worst ball buster known to man --so no one would be around her and she wouldn't have to be afraid she would do something like that again --thats how ashamed of herself she was" This horrible act served to wound and estrange both Butchie AND Cissy. Butchie, having been wounded, hurt Barry who, in a vulnerable state ,was molested by Mr Rollins. To which John then adds--"we are all frail vessels". In other words we are all easily wounded and we all use poor judgement and we all can be forgiven and redeemed.
Sean doesn't know where he went with John but he is alright with that. He knows he had fun, rode "good waves"--he has become very John-like in his discussion with Butchie. Buchie again connects with Sean by reaching out for his hand. Of course there are miracles throughout the episode. Mitch Yost continues to levitate. The man and woman at the restaurant are able to see what is unfolding through their computer although it is "technically impossible" we are told.
Barry confides to Ramon that he was finally able to sleep through a night without the terrible self deprecating thoughts running through his head. Barry also, is healing. Freddie demonstrates his redemption/healing by easing himself out of the drug dealing business.
Stinkweed which once tore the Yost family apart now helps to put them back together. As John says "Stinkweed lays down cover for my father".
Even Bill, who is not at the Stinkweed parade ,talks to the love of his life---his long dead Lois. He laments her loss. and the loss of Skippy, and much to his amazement Skippy re-appears allowing Bill to be re-connected.
At the fadeout, we see Kai finally surfing and having fun. Something we had not seen through the entire first season. Kai is finally able to lay down the heavy burden of being the glue to keep the Yost family together now that they are healing and becoming redeemed--so too is she redeemed and healed.moreless