Eight episodes into a ten-episode season (or, more likely, series, as I can't imagine HBO bringing this show back), I should be prepared by now for the digressions, the halting pace, the stories that come out of nowhere (and then quickly go back there) and all the other narrative oddities of Milch's latest work. Yet I keep expecting something more than (or different from) what the show is offering -- maybe because each episode offers a moment or three that suggests something grander, if not more coherent, than what we're generally getting.
Take Bill's interrogation of John. Milch has written a few thousand of them in his life. The episode's director, Jesse Bochco (son of Steven and one of the in-house directors in the final years of "NYPD Blue") has been behind the camera for a few dozen, at least. Yet somehow this felt completely new, and riveting. Of course, it featured elements you don't often see in an interrogation scene: a mentally-unstable cop who communicated telepathically with birds, a suspect who only mirrors what other people say, who maybe Jesus, and who can stab himself repeatedly in the gut and draw blood without injuring himself.
It's a hell of a scene. Bill's terrified of John and what he represents, John wants to help Bill but, as happens throughout the episode, he can't find the words to explain his meaning, and stabbing himself seems like the only way to drive home the point that he's not some kidnapper or child-molester or whatever human brand of evil everyone suspects him of being. Throughout the show, people have been unsure how to react to John and his miracles. Here, even as Butchie lists them one by one, everyone's too panicked by the "Shaun will soon be gone" message to believe there could be a higher power at work; instead, they compare him to a terrorist like Bin Laden (who himself claims to be doing the work of his god).
And what does "Shaun will soon be gone" mean, anyway? Maybe this has all been in service of making Cissy sign with the now benevolent Linc, and Shaun will be "gone" on the surfing circuit, I don't know. But I have a sinking feeling we're not going to find out nearly enough in the course of the next two episodes, not when we keep stopping for weird digressions like Barry and his teddy bear.
Some random thoughts on a random episode:
- Callback to the Sermon: "The internet is big," just like mud, fur and the stick.
- I was pretty sure that was Milch's voice on the intercom taunting Barry, and Steve Hawk's insider report at HBO.com confirms it.
- I've noted in the last few episodes that Keala Kennelly's gotten much better as an actress, but she's not so good with the monologuing.
- Unexpected levity: Butchie's "If this is an intervention, I'm clean."
- Luis Guzman has been underused, but he had a bunch of funny moments here, including Ramon's "Go, Barry, get your vision, get your number, go, go, go, Barry!" chant, his reference to Barry's man-purse, his monologue at the shuffleboard court ("Alert! Alert! Diving in! Latino verging on luck!"), and, especially, his explanation of where John came from. ("Cincinnati?")
- I'm still having a hard time reconciling Jennifer Grey as Dickstein's fiancee with the Jennifer Grey of the '80s, or even the Jennifer Grey of "It's Like, You Know..." If it wasn't for the voice, I'd refuse to believe it.