Tuesday, July 17, 2007

John From Cincy: My father's word, my mother's hand, my God what just happened?

Spoilers for episode six of "John From Cincinnati" coming up just as soon as I play a few bars of "Yakety Sax"...

I am confused. I am baffled. I am enthralled. I am still confused.

What. The hell. Was that? And why did I love it so much?

Okay, so the first two-thirds of the episode were fairly conventional -- by "John From Cincinnati" standards, anyhow. John brings together Bill with Vietnam Joe, and channels the ghost of Bill's late wife Lois. (Bill also draws the line between John and his parrots, not only in how John's speech just mimics others, but in how both John and Zippy have healing powers.) Dr. Smith takes Palaka to get his hand fixed. Cissy arranges for Shaun and Tina to have a proper meeting, and while contemplating suicide is greeted by an apparition of John, who talks her out of it while revealing The Big Secret that explains so much of the Butchie/Cissy dynamic (while high on acid, she sexually abused him at age 13). Attorney Dickstein helps Ramon clean up the motel, then takes his fiancee out for lunch (where he's waited on by Trixie The Whore!). All in all, a mix of the powerful (with Rebecca DeMornay vastly improved from a week ago), the silly and the slightly confusing.

But then... I'm not even sure where to begin. I have rarely been as riveted to my television as I was for the nearly seven minutes that comprised John's sermon at the Snug Harbor -- and yet I'll be damned if I can understand half of it. It just shows you the power of words, how when used correctly they can move you without having to make some kind of linear sense. (Images, too, as I'm not sure I'll be able to get the shot of John walking out of Room 24 -- the scene of Cunningham's greatest nightmare -- with the greying body.)

So let me start by reproducing, courtesy of "John" writer Steve Hawk, the full text of John's sermon, and then I'll attempt to make some very small sense of it before opening up the field to you:
"If my words are yours, can you hear my Father? Can Bill know my Father, keeping his eye on me? Can I bone Kai and Butchie know my Father instead?

"My Father's shy doing his business. Kai helps my Father dump out. Bill takes a shot. Shaunie is much improved.

"Joe is a Doubting Thomas. Joe will save Not-Aleman. Joe will bring his buddies home. This is how Freddy relaxes. Cup-o'joe, and Winchell's variety dozen.

"Mitch catches a good wave. Mitch wipes out. Mitch wipes out Cissy. Cissy shows Butchie how to do that. Cissy wipes Butchie out. Butchie hurts Barry's head. Mister Rollins comes in Barry's face. My Father runs the Mega-Millions.

"Fur is big. Mud is big. The stick is big. The word is big. Fire is huge. The wheel is huge. The line and circle are big. On the wall, the line and circle are huge. On the wall, the man at the wall makes a man from the circle and line. The man at the wall makes a Word on the wall from the circle and line. The Word on the wall hears my Father.

"The zeroes and ones make the Word in Cass's camera. In the Word on the wall that hears my-Father-in-Cass's-camera, the good one Mitch catches doesn't wipe Cissy out. In the-Word-that-hears-my-Father, Cissy shows Butchie something else. In-my-Father's-Word, Cissy shows Butchie in Shaun. In-my-Father's-Word, Tina raises Shaun at lunch. In Cass's-camera, Butchie lays the court out for Barry, and Mister Rollins watches, and he doesn't come on Barry's face. In Cass's-camera, Butchie knows Kai kept the faith. In-my-Father's-Word, the Wave lifts them up.

"In Cass's camera, Bill doesn't bump his head on the stairs. In Cass's-camera, as long as he's being stupid, Bill gives Lois a kiss.

"In His-Word-in-Cass's-camera, the Internet is big. Nine-Eleven is big, but not every towel-head is eradicated. In His-Word, We are coming Nine-Eleven-Fourteen.

"In my-Father's-Word, Bill sees how Freddy relaxes. In Cass's-camera, Ramon wants to know who's hungry, in the courtyard and Room Forty-Five.

"In my-Father's-Word-to-come-in-Cass's-camera, Doctor Smith calls Ocean Properties. In Cass's-camera-to-come, my Father stares Not Aleman down, and Freddy sees Bill much-improved.

"You will not note my-Father's-Word, nor remember Cass's-camera, but you will not forget what we did here."
So, some very preliminary, very obvious thoughts:
  • If there was any doubt that John was Jesus, all the references to "my Father" (not to mention the separate "My Father's birthday is the same as mine") should lay them to rest.
  • If his Father's Word is theological power, then what is Cass's camera? Science? If the 0's and 1's translate the Father's Word, does that mean that science is just another extension of God? And what does that mean for the different versions of events as seen through the Word versus the camera?
  • There were several 9/11-related signs during John and Cass's field trip last week, and here he talks of a future 9/11, seven years from now.
  • The Father runs the Mega-Millions, and therefore sent the lottery-winning vision to Cunningham, who used it to buy the motel, which in turn is being transformed into the meeting place for all of John's acolytes.
  • Is Mister Rollins the dead of Room 24, or a man Cunningham will encounter in the future?
Most importantly, what the hell did they do there that John didn't want them to forget? Why has he gathered them all here? What is John's plan? What is the camera supposed to film? Why does Linc need back in the game? What is Milch's plan? And can he possibly reveal it all -- or even any of it -- with only four episodes to go?

Faith is about belief without tangible proof, and this series is one giant leap of faith. It won't give up its secrets to me any speedier than Room 24 will give up its dead, it's so baffling that I can barely believe that it's allowed to exist, and yet now I'm filled with fervor and the need to see it to its conclusion. Wow. I wish I could explain this better, but that was something.

What did everybody else think? Do you take Vietnam Joe's last line -- "Well, this was time well spent." -- straight or ironically?


Anonymous said...

I just got finished watching the episode and immediately checked your blog to see if you posted your thoughts.

For the first time in this show, I can honestly say I enjoyed an episode. The rest I watched merely out of curiosity and summer dregs of entertainment. But this episode finally felt like there is definitely something behind this show.

I'm extremely confused about what happened to Cunningham in that motel room (before the show began). Did I miss it due to my slow catching on of Milch-speak or was it never fully revealed?

theblankscreen said...

Welcome to the fold brother... *S*

From episode one I have not being able to rationalize precisely how the show works. I've tried and I've failed... which is a bit of a worry as I'm a writer...

But week after week I am there and week after week I grow more convinced we are seeing something magical here


Anonymous said...

I am reminded of the repeated exchange from "2001- Space Odyssey":

(Something along the lines of) "It's Happening"

"What's Happening?"

"Something wonderful."

I am compelled and mystified; and I thank John for your blog at times like this, Alan.

Toby O'B said...

I'm looking for meaning and symbolism in just about everything that happens in this show. So I'm wondering if that triangular patch of land at the Snug Harbor that was "stringed-off" has any special significance. It was treated almost as sacred ground during the sermon.....

Anonymous said...

Ummm, what? Big Love keeps getting better and better (last night's episode was terrific) and no mention of it, but you keep spending your time on this convoluted crap. Well now that you've apparently given up on Rescue Me and Entourage, maybe you can spend some time on Big Love.

Anonymous said...

Talk about the power of words, Alan. Now I guess I gotta go back and watch episodes 2-whatever, thanks to this blog.

Ben said...

What. The hell. Was that? And why did I love it so much?

This precisely sums up my feeling about this show since the start.

Anonymous said...

I lost track of it just past the start of the sermon, but damn if I could have been more captivated. It felt almost as if I was seeing the second coming of Jesus. The little bits of comedy were good, but I also loved the speech by John to Sissy.

Big Love is great, but I just love the uniqueness of JFC.

Anonymous said...

As for your question about whether Joe's "time well spent" comment was straight or ironic? I think it was straight, as just before it, Bill stated he felt as if he had played his harp. I think Milch was showing us that each person somehow was touched by John's vision. What they do with it now is what we hopefully will find out.
Also, Alan, is it me, or do you feel there is a similarity between the Cissy and Al Swearengen characters? Cissy, even in her emotional tantrums, reminds me of some of the conversations Al used to have with others, or with the chief's head that he kept around with him to have his discussions with. Finally, how fun is it to see a new Deadwood actor pop up each week?

John said...

I found it truly fascinating, although my wife is less into unpacking mystical monologues and apparitions. "Is this some crazy Christian show?" she said at the end. It certainly is seeming more and more overtly Christian, and it's certainly by many measures crazy, but I think it's remarkable, unusual, highly entertaining television.

It seems clear to me that Mr. Rollins sexually abused Barry in Room 24, and that Mr. Rollins is long dead. Maybe he died in the room, maybe not, but clearly he lives on there in Barry's damaged psyche.

I thought John's intervention with Cissy was remarkable, and a great change from his usual semiretarded behavior. The big reveal was creepy, of course, but what Butchie kept blurting out to Tina disturbed me even more. I'm black, but that kind of thing doesn't usually get to me; this time it did.

It's starting to seem like this visit of John's is meant to lay the groundwork for the real Second Coming, which we've helpfully been told happens Sept. 11, 2014. Start planning now!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Rollins had a bullet hole in his forehead, no?

Is there any chance at all we'll get to see a second season of this show?

Anonymous said...

Here's a theory I've been kicking around for a couple days: The episode starts with Cass looking at the mess of footage she shot and trying to find a story out of it. What if John's speech was actually her editing process. The things he said, certainly seemed bigger than anything he had said previously, though it was comprised of all of those previous statements he had been repeating since the series began.

Milch seems quite intent on tearing down the narrative with this series (Steve Hawk references this very thing in his post on HBO.com), so what if the show wasn't about god of God at all but instead about the origin of story.

Honestly, I don't know how I'd feel if that was the case, but it certainly seems plausible (especially if this ends up being the only season).

Anonymous said...

That was truly amazing, I couldn't even bring myself to talk about it with my roommate when it was over. As for Vietnam Joe, I am sure he meant it ironically referring to the stakeout, but it sure was serious to me. Don't forget that as he is saying it, the camera pans down to the headlight as it comes on. The symbolism of a light coming on is clearly not an accident.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm just slow and bone-headed but I watch this show thinking: what the hell does all of this have to do with surfing?

nope said...

I really didn't like last weeks episode but this one was perfect. The whole monologue was great.

The part about Mitch wiping out Cissy shows the chain of events leading up to the present. While the same events captured in Cass's camera show things how they should have been.

The whole 'Fur is big. Mud is big' is recollecting human evolution. The line and circle on the wall represents writing which leads to his father's words. The 1s and 0s in Cass's camera will also carry his father's words somehow.

Mister Rollins definitely abused Cunningham in room 24. Interestingly it seems that happened because of something Butchie did to him: "Butchie hurts Barry's head."

Hopefully the rest of the season will be as compelling as this episode was.

Austin said...

What an episode! However, the obvious Jesus choice may need to wait...you need to read up on what a "Monad" is and what "Monadology" is, considering it's both John's credited last name and a Gottfried Leibniz. You can get the basics at wikipedia or google them for more of an understanding

Kevin O'Rourke said...

I have baffled by this show. But enjoyed it, as much for the Milchspeak as for the miracles.

Last night, I think, I got it. John's monologue was amazing. He spiritually brought all those folks to the Snug Harbor (safe haven) and tried to explain his new ministry to them. The gospel of JFC will not be written but videoed on digital video.

The "Fur is big" section was pure genious. The foot writing he's been doing since the first or second episode is drawing as stick figure man. Circles and lines. THe circles and lines on the cave wall was God speaking to man. The binary code in Cass's camera is circles and lines.
Cass' camera is metaphorically God's eye. It does not judge it just sees and records.

Before the "Fur is big" section, John lays out all of the major past life altering events that have been haunting the characters and leading to their downfall. And the he says, as far as God is concerned. All can be forgiven and all can be righted. It isn't that those events didn't happen, but other actions somehow compensate, or rather round-out their negative effects.
He then talks about the future with the coming of 9/11/14. He also allows Bill and Freddy to see how they are not so different and how working together they can make beatiful metaphoric music.

Lastly he prophocizes about the future. Dr. Smith and Freddy and Bill.

As for Vietnam Joe's "waste of time" line. It was straight. He was not in the Snug Harbor. He was in the van. He did not make an appearance during John's Monolgue. He is mentioned at the begining but he isn't brought to the safe harbor by John like everyone else is.

There is much more here. The Yost family (including Tina) photo, near the end.

The "Linc Stark needs to get back in the game" line seems to read that he needs to go back to being the good person he used to be, and not the sleazy promoter he's become. And last week's heart issues were to get his attention.

Anonymous said...

The interesting thing about this show, is that it is the first to truely utilize the technology that has changed entertainment, and has been largely overlooked. Notice how the website in the cafe is on the screen exactly as it appears on the web www.yostclan.com

Linc's Stinkweed website changes every Sunday, and the show is written to TAKE ADVANTAGE of a Tivo or DVR. I find myself stopping, re-winding, replaying and reviewing the show over and over, to the point I watch little else for a few days afterwards.

Then, planting things like websites and such into the show makes me seek further information. Like the show, it just keeps unwinding..

I've given up on trying to figure out what's going on, I'm just enjoying a Sunday drive to who knows where.

Interesting how your opinion of the show has changed since your first post. This is riviting television, and excellent use of the technology that distracts many people AWAY from television as we knew it.

Anonymous said...

the only thing I can add to this commentary is that I actually sat down and rewatched the first episode and Link's first statement was "trust the devil you know." His job could be the antagonist to John

Anonymous said...

I liked the way there's a lingering awareness of the sermon in all the characters immediately after. John's final line is a paraphrasing of the final line of the Gettysburg Address, which results in Freddy and Palaka starting up a conversation about Abe Lincoln. Butchie and Kai suddenly decide to look for John. Bill thinks he's been playing the harmonica.

Anonymous said...


www.yostclan.com has some interesting content (flash puzzles and video, etc.)

The photo gallery has a picture puzzle that activates some more content if you want to get started. I'm still trying to figure it out; its pretty funky if you're into that kind of thing.

Philip said...

Quite honestly, I'm still blown away three days later. I have no idea what I watched but couldn't stop watching it. It's just so cryptic that I want to lose interest and turn away, but I can't.

The soliloquies drive me crazy. I thought in Deadwood the speeches were convoluted in word because it was a period piece, but sometimes these are just as hard to follow.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this blog and all the comments that follow! I'll be checking back weekly, :)

Anonymous said...

"I've given up on trying to figure out what's going on, I'm just enjoying a Sunday drive to who knows where."

Isn't that the truth. After the 4th episode, I went back and watched 1-3 and saw so much I'd missed the first time. I can't wait to go back and watch it all again having seen it all.

I can't remember a time when something produced for this medium so captivated my thoughts. I'm riveted to the point of distraction. I also love the multi-channel aspects (yostclam.com), which will continue to intrigue after the new episodes end (please, just don't let that be all there ever is).

I'm also wondering about the "triangular patch of land" that I *think* is to be a shuffleboard court and laugh more each time I see Cissy cuss as she steps over it. Last night, re-watching Episode 6, I got chills at the very end as the camera panned away from the van as it started and ended the episode focused on the headlamp as the light came on.

Anonymous said...

i thought the 9 11 14 comment refered this this:http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john%209:11-14;&version=31; because of all the references about mud throughout the episode. i feel like john is here to open the eyes of the yosts and their screwed up community/

Anonymous said...

Or, check out Matthew 9:11-14:

11When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"

12On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

14Then John's disciples came and asked him, "How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?"

Anonymous said...

Monad: Defined by Wikipedia-

Monad (symbol), For many others, including Pythagoras, Parmenides, Xenophanes, Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus, Monad was a term for God or the first being, or the totality of all beings.
Monad (Gnosticism), the most primal aspect of God in Gnosticism.

Ted Kerwin said...

No idea if this is true, Alan can you advise if HBO has already picked John up for a second season? Internet rumors indicate the actors have been put on hold for next season.

Anonymous said...

Tonight, after watching this episode, i am able to let Deadwood be what it was.

Something bigger is at work here.

As a painter, i know that we paint in layers on a canvas. I know also that we paint paintings as layers on a bigger canvass. Each layer is added to the top but only enhances and is enhanced by the layers before (and likewise to come).

And all serve for the greater picture.

Like the hologram, each part contains all the information for the whole.

Deadwood was a necessary layer. But we are witnessing what could end up becoming the greatest thing HBO (or TV) has ever aired.

(I wanted to also add a small note to acknowledge the brilliance in casting some of the key roles here... besides the players from Deadwood who continue to join us. The use of non actors, also being brilliant... But the use of actors who were once stars for a moment: Dylan, Al Bundy, sex symbol DeMornay, Baby in the corner... all adding to the concept)

bagopotatochips said...

I like a lot of what has been said and it has helped to clear up some things for me. If I could add some more thoughts:

I definitely think that 9:11:14 is not a reference to a future event but something else, perhaps a biblical passage. A google of simply "9:11:14" leads to the following:

"How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?"

All of this may be a tremendous reach, but I find the "purge your conscience from dead works" line particularly meaningful as many of the characters have some past event they are trying to overcome.

John states a cryptic line for the preview of the next episode "Shawn will be leaving soon" sort of adds a last supper element to the dream/vision sequence of this episode.

Tina seems to be pretty obviously a magdalene archtype. Cissy's anger at Tina for what she did to Shawn is pretty obviously a projection of Cissy's anger at herself for what she did to Butchy.

Anonymous said...

How to watch a Milch show:

Watch it once with a normal attention level.

Watch it again with an intense attention level.

Watch it a third time with the closed-captioning on. It really helps.

Anonymous said...

John is just an avatar. The entire drama unfolding at Imperial Beach is a fucked-up virtual reality scenario inside a computer, and John's Father is the computer.

Anonymous said...

check out some comments above(Austin, Greg of Indy). One-time reference to john's last name "Monad." While Milch & friends might be toying with the idea of a Holy Trinity, there is definitely a reference to gnosticism at work here. Think reflective & reflexive rather than pro-active....