“Back in the game, Mitch Yost.” –John Monad (Austin Nichols)
Here is the revelation: John Monad and Shaun Yost (Greyson Fletcher)—missing for all of a purgatorial day—surfing in unison across the Imperial Beach horizon, a picture-perfect, per the accompanying Bob Dylan song, “Series of Dreams”. The return of the monad and his young prodigy in the final installment of John from Cincinnati’s first season (“His Visit: Day Nine”) sends a similarly unifying shockwave through IB—whether aware of it or not, all are now joined in singular principle and purpose, even if the only explicit example of this, at first, is the prophesied blow job that rocks Meyer Dickstein’s (Willie Garson) world.
Revelation takes many forms, and creator David Milch (in collaboration with writer Zack Whedon and director Dan Minahan) chooses a more subdued and implicative tack in closing out this particular chapter of the John from Cincinnati narrative. John and Shaun’s return is intoxicating, miraculous, but it cannot exist, independent of itself, in the world of mortals. It must be given context and explanation—in effect, the event and all that it implies must be shrouded in conspiratorial silence (the surfwear company Stinkweed here acting as guise) so that its continued existence is assured. With the threat of the unfeeling, unthinking mob removed, this seemingly divine chain of events can proceed on an unencumbered course. Or as former Stinkweed CEO Linc Stark (Luke Perry) explains to a still-levitating Mitch Yost (Bruce Greenwood), “It lays down cover… for whatever’s going on, as long as it’s going on.”
Far from a simplistic, anti-business diatribe, the assimilation of the Yost family into the Stinkweed corporate structure plays as Milch’s own meta-textual observation, and not just on the plight of the artist. How, indeed, does any single individual speak personal truth against a perceived hegemony? This is one example out of many of John from Cincinnati’s resolute self-awareness—the series is simultaneously narrative and comment on same, as exemplified, in this installment, by the frequent point-of-view shots from the camera of filmmaker Cass (Emily Rose). “Without Cass’ camera big and huge won’t mean dick,” says John to Linc, both seemingly unaware that Cass is filming them and that their conversation is somehow being viewed on a computer in the café run by Jerri (Paula Malcomson) and Dwayne (Matt Maher). So it goes: The individual requires the soulful tools of expression; from there, the faithful shall gather and bear witness. But as with Saint Veronica’s veil, on which was supposedly imprinted the face of a Calvary-bound Christ, no one person will ever see exactly the same thing.
These many differing viewpoints can lead one, inexorably, to a damning crisis of perception, which is why Barry Cunningham’s (Matt Winston) mid-episode observation to Ramon Gaviota (Luis Guzmán) cuts so deeply to the matter’s heart. “I choose to believe they played nicely,” he says of the two stuffed-bear companions he continually carries around with him. “And I choose to do so still. Even in their proximity to the flame.” Choice is the key concept here. We may all be, as John frequently states, “frail vessels”, but the prisons we find ourselves in are, more often than not, of our own devising. Such is the case with elder surf-statesman Mitch Yost, whose frequent levitations are here revealed to be an outward expression of his own inner turmoil. The literal interpretation applies: despite his so-called “spiritual discipline,” Mitch sees his problems as above and beyond everyone else’s. In an episode of many sublime moments, perhaps the most beautifully understated is the image of Butchie (Brian Van Holt) and Shaun pulling the elder Yost down to earth, tears in his eyes as John smiles and states, definitively, “Back in the game, Mitch Yost.”
An impromptu, beachside gathering—where Linc unveils a new line of divinely gifted, monad-figure surfwear and publicly turns control of Stinkweed over to his second-in-command Jake Ferris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar)—seals the deal, and status quo is apparently achieved. But what of the sure-to-be consequential, once-removed negotiations between Hawaii-based drug dealer Steady Freddy Lopez (Dayton Callie) and his quietly intimidating “Chinaman” boss (Keone Young)? What of the used car dealer (Peter Jason)—speaking in between-the-lines allusions and riddles—who seems to hold some fatherly sway over John? What of the entirely absent Dr. Michael Smith (Garret Dillahunt) who, as John’s closing narration implies, is, was, or will soon be off on his own spiritual quest? Frayed narrative threads all, each holding signs of development and promise that, in this uncertain present moment, may never reach fruition.
And so we are given, through John (this divine entity as kino-eye), a seemingly haphazard glimpse of things to come. Of character arcs and actions collapsed into a prophetic haze of home-movie asides (the fourth-wall breached once and for all) and near-subliminal acts of god (an exploding supernova transposed onto a moment of tender sexuality), all scored to the frenetic rhythms of Little Richard’s cover of “Long Tall Sally.” But before this frenzied climax reaches its apex (in a twelve-second ellipsis that recalls, in its aural/visual interplay, the revivifying final image of Jacques Rivette’s Out 1), narrative interruptus ... followed immediately by a quiet scene of Bill Jacks (Ed O’Neill) ascending to the room he promised to never again enter, the space housing the deathbed of his late wife Lois. Bill talks to the ether, narrating the events of the past few days in brief (a special aside reserved for his lost bird Zippy), then says, in what comes off as more than just a personal lament, “Where do you start/stop. Every event and incident. Oh, if she could have only seen this! Wouldn’t she have laughed to have seen that?” Remorse threatens to overwhelm. Regret, it would seem, for everything left unaccomplished. But Bill rights himself. “I love you my Lo,” he finishes, “and hold you tight.” And the universe responds, finally, in avian kind.
Keith Uhlich is co-editor of The House Next Door and a contributor to various print and online publications.