If we were to distill John from Cincinnati to a single image, to a single visual trope, it would be the one that kicked off the series’s fourth episode, “His Visit, Day Three.” John Monad (Austin Nichols) stands before the skeletal circular structure that first figured in a brief aside during episode two. Now as then, he looks at the structure knowingly, but the really telling details come from the camerawork. When John is in close-up, the distance between him and the structure is increased, rendered in Citizen Kane-like deep focus; when John is in long shot, the distance between the two objects is suddenly collapsed, so that the structure effectively dwarfs its observer.
Attentive hearts ’n’ minds will recall that this is a direct rhyme with a sequence from John’s pilot episode, wherein surf-family patriarch Mitch Yost (Bruce Greenwood) levitates in front of a derelict stadium, same flattening of visual space. In each case, the character in question bears witness to a miraculous event, though if John is indeed a divine instrument, then his vision is simultaneously historical, of its moment, and anticipatory—to the monad, time, as we grasp it, knows no bounds. The scene’s implication comes clear: the many are gathering and the circle will soon be complete.
Completion, however, does not necessarily mean forcing the end. Perusing his morning paper, shell-shocked former lawman Bill Jacks (Ed O’Neill) bemoans the reporters’ bandying about of the word “miracle” to describe the unexplained resurrection—with Bill’s unwitting aid—of the seemingly neck-broken young surfer Shaun Yost (Greyson Fletcher). “This fills me with misgivings,” he explains to his avian confidant Zippy. “This can only attract new types of shit-heel into that boy’s life, which wasn’t short of shit-heels before.” One hilarious duct-tape mishap later (“May this pain come to Clinton for disgracing the Oval Office.”) and Bill launches into an extended remembrance of his deceased wife Lois, who many years earlier had encouraged Bill to take it easy on Shaun’s delinquent father Butchie (Brian Van Holt). How is it, he wonders, that the Yost family keeps appearing in his life, with him in the perpetual role of benefactor?
It’s a query only a few steps removed from Mitch’s pontification to the reluctant con artist Cass (Emily Rose) who, on the orders of her employer Linc Stark (Luke Perry), has enticed the eldest Yost to her hotel room. “You feel, over the years,” he says to her, “that maybe something about you is special. And you assume that the thing that’s special has to do with what you’re good at.” Suffused in that statement is the threat of revelation, of the truth baring itself so completely that it brings the receiver to their knees, with no promise of full-standing recovery. Cass experiences her own moment of revelation later in the episode when she hallucinates John lying bloodied and beaten in a field, a vision that happens to coincide with and replicate the actual experience of illegal-alien ferryman Vietnam Joe (Jim Beaver).
Joe comes upon the monad as Cass visualizes him—seemingly near-death (the result of a botched murder-robbery). It’s clear that this tableau morts reminds Joe of events long past—it dredges up immense feelings of horror and guilt. “I’m sorry I can’t help,” he says weakly while driving John to the hospital. John kindly asks Joe to pull over; then he places Joe’s hand on his chest. “You can help,” John says. And in an instant, he is healed. Much like Kai’s (Keala Kennelly) “Boogie Chillen”-scored vision in the episode prior, Joe’s moment of connection with the monad leaves him discombobulated and livid (a very human reaction, this involuntary rejection of the revelatory), and upon arriving at what is now clearly the series’s apostolic gathering place (the Snug Harbor Motel) he almost comes to blows with John. But John’s gaze, childlike and mysterious, deters him. As Mitch says a few scenes earlier, “He looks at me like he knows something about me that I haven’t even known myself.”
One of the few people willing to give John the benefit of the doubt is Dr. Michael Smith (Garret Dillahunt), who resigns from the hospital where he treated Shaun in order, so he says to the establishment’s paranoid lawyer (Stephen “Fuckin’ Yankton’s rejoined us” Tobolowsky), to fend off any possible malpractice suits. In truth, Shaun’s recovery has shaken him to his core, and he is now one of the few people willing to take the miraculous signs around him on exploratory faith. Dr. Smith’s encounter with a rosebush-trimming Avon lady—like Cissy Yost’s (Rebecca De Mornay) jailhouse exchange, in the series’s pilot episode, with a distraught female cellmate—may or may not have something to do with the big picture scenario he’s only beginning to grasp, but, for the moment, no action, no coincidence must be considered meaningless.
Bill Jacks comes to the same realization at episode’s end, taking it upon himself to call upon ever-watchful drug dealer Steady Freddy Lopez (Dayton Callie). “My bird Zippy conveyed to me, despite the obvious dissimilarities between us, we become friends,” he offers by way of explanation, and Freddy—despite some colorfully stated hesitation—implicitly accepts. In the purview of series creator David Milch, humanity’s communal instinct trumps our isolationist tendencies. We are no one but ourselves, but we are still part of a larger body, of a larger purpose that, on this mortal coil, we can scarcely hope to recognize and contemplate. We each might find comfort in the arms of another (as Butchie and Kai do, this day, to the intimate strains of Peter Gabriel) or we might be lost souls like the meek motel owner Barry Cunningham (Matt Winston), whose outward pleasantries do a piss-poor job of covering up his pain. But our end is always the same: the space between things flattens; perspective and distance collapse; the center, so the poet said, cannot hold. For all and for nothing, for better and for worse, we become one.
Keith Uhlich is managing editor of The House Next Door and a contributor to various print and online publications.