Spoilers for episode seven of "John From Cincinnati" coming up just as soon as I order some fries at the Peach Pit...
So after last week's episode left me equal parts baffled and enthralled, this week brings an episode that was more coherent but less engrossing. I'm not saying Milch has lost all the goodwill he built with John's sermon, but I feel like I've stopped seeing the magic again because all I can notice is the magician trying too many tricks at once.
We're seven episodes down, three to go, and I have no idea what, if anything, this is all building towards. Instead of getting back in the game, as John admonished in the very first scene of the series, Mitch Yost has gone AWOL from the last two episodes (and the previews didn't make next week look like a Mitch-fest). Linc spent the first five episodes cooking up some kind of unexplained scam involving Cass (then Tina) and the Yost family, has a change of heart thanks to John and then spends an entire episode ranting about business models and playing a game of digital recorder double-cross with Mark-Paul Gosselaar. (That casting, by the way, I suspect is less of a meta-commentary on '90s teen shows than it is that Gosselaar starred in the final years of "NYPD Blue" and got on well with "John" producer Mark Tinker and was no doubt available quickly when Milch dreamed up the character at the last minute.) Palaka gets yet another pointless mystery ailment, which is largely an excuse to keep Dr. Smith on-stage, which in turn is an excuse for Cissy to worry about the hospital throwing him under the bus -- which is only a problem if the Yosts decide to sue someone, no? I don't get it.
Are there brilliant isolated moments? Absolutely: the look in Bill's eyes when he looks up his spiral stairway to Heaven, Shaun rubbing the back of his dad's head, Dickstein making a stick figure in the wet cement (a callback to "the line and the circle" from the sermon), virtually any scene involving Kai (for someone who got dumped on so much in the early episodes, Keala Kennelly has really proven herself as a worthy addition to the Milch repertory company), and the first real surfing action since the second episode (since the pilot, really, since Shaun's competition was an afterthought).
But the episode was so lacking in an overall through-line that I can't even get too mad at the HBO promo people for inserting John's "Shaun will soon be gone" -- the episode's climax, and major foreshadowing for what's to come -- into the ads for this episode. What the hell else were they going to put there? Linc yelling at Wonderboy? (Who?) Cunningham reveling in his new calling as a candy-striper?
Last week made me feel like I was floating a little, just like Mitch; this week made me feel like I was disappointingly back on terra firma, just like John in his wetsuit when he looked down at his bare feet atop the raised ground.
What did everybody else think?