It’s taken five seasons, and possibly the entire run of the series, for Purdy’s past to take center stage. So was it worth the wait? Purdy has been a central figure in Johnny’s life for a very long time, and there has always been a great deal of tension. Purdy’s personality has been fairly complicated, especially in terms of the intersection of his faith and his ambition and greed. Where did all that begin, and will he and Johnny ever find common ground and peace between them?
In terms of how Purdy’s story was crafted, I think this is a past that makes sense. It might have been a bit much to make his name an alias, hiding some former identity, but it does fit the idea of a man who combines the best and worst of humanity. And his past jumps back and forth between the two extremes. Purdy uses his faith to fuel his greed, yet in the end, he has the potential to perform a selfless act of contrition.
So I liked where they went with Purdy, and the producers put a lot of money and effort into rendering it large on the screen. John Adams did a great job with the direction, and his casting choices were also top notch. And for the most part, I thought the cast chemistry was a lot stronger than it has been of late. Only one thing was bothering me throughout the episode, and it’s something that has been bothering me since the fourth season: David Ogden Stiers.
Looking back on earlier seasons, I felt his performance as Purdy was a lot more subtle. Over time, I think it has become a lot more strained, a lot less nuanced. A lot of his scenes have been rather ham-fisted this season (the end of the premiere, for example), and while it was a bit better in this episode, I still found that his line delivery took me out of the story on occasion. I’ll be gracious and attribute it to Stiers’ advancing age and the overall slip in the chemistry of the cast, but some of the scenes didn’t work for me because of that.
Also, I wonder if this wasn’t a plot point that would have had more impact within a larger context. The previous episode didn’t do a perfect job of it, but the stand-alone elements had consequences on the larger stage of the Johnny/Stilson battle. This episode could have been a turning point for Purdy, following up on “Forbidden Fruit” and the possibility of working against Janus. If this episode had provided Johnny a reason to sympathize with Purdy, or at least come to peace with him, then it could have also led to Purdy deciding to make amends by helping deal with Stilson. Just a few lines, a little context, and the episode could have been that much better.
(As a sidenote: I also have a podcast associated with my various reviews called “Dispatches from Tuzenor”. Recent episodes have highlighted “The Dead Zone”, so it might be something of interest . Go to http://entil2001.libsyn.com if you want to listen!)