Jericho Finally Becomes Must-See

Much as I love to rag on bad movies and bad TV, I love it when I'm wrong, too. It seems I was merely too impatient with regards to Jericho when I complained about it back in October -- almost as soon as I posted my litany of problems with the show, the show suddenly started dealing with precisely the kinds of things I thought it should be dealing with. Like getting its characters more worried about the collapse of civilization instead of just the collapse of their love lives.

And last week's half-season premiere (which Jace previewed just before it aired) really ramped up the apocalyptic drama, rewinding to just before the attacks to give us an unexpected insider's view of the multiple nukings and who may be behind them. Ho boy: as if the specter of terrorism with a foreign origin wasn't frightening enough, it seemed last week as if we might be looking more at an Operation Northwoods, a modern version of the secret 1960s plan to stage terrorist attacks on American soil for political reasons.

Or could it be even worse than that? Last night's episode, which revealed that there are six men who've declared themselves president of the United States, have set up six different new capitals, and may be heading toward armed conflict, suggests that perhaps the joint attacks were an attempt to incite civil war ... with "military contractor" (read: Blackwater-style mercenary army) Ravenwood at its core. We've seen that Skeet Ulrich was somehow tied up with them, and that perhaps FBI Guy was undercover in Ravenwood, and so the hints that their stories would be colliding at some point suddenly make a whole lot more sense.

This kind of interpersonal drama is much more intriguing than who's cheating on whom and who's got a secret crush on whom. (If you can tie that kind of thing up in the mystery -- like with FBI Guy's partner/lover showing up in Jericho with a big bad agenda of her own -- so much the better, of course.) How people deal with a world in which "thieves will be strung up" is no idle threat is the stuff I want to see ... and particularly with last night's episode, the characters seem to have started realizing how dangerous this new world is, and that things are not going to go back to the way they were. People are dying from the cold, thanks to the fuel and power shortage. That's bad, but far worse is how basic human decency is breaking down, in ways you might expect ("nice" girls are suddenly getting treated like sexual commodities) and ways you might not: chains on bunk beds in a dorm at the impromptu marketplace Skeet and Co. journey to for trade hint at a new use for slaves and slavery, maybe?

Man, am I glad I got my TiVo. The newsboards at that marketplace in last night's episode were well worth a slo-mo look, and added to the sudden, entertaining chill emananting from Jericho. "Northwest power grid beyond repair"? Yikes.

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MaryAnn Johanson

author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride

minder of FlickFilosopher.com