The brilliant yet frustrating John From Cincinnati closed out its first season last night. I say first, but it's likely the only season, as a source close to the series has told me it will not be renewed (now officially confirmed.) Much like Battlestar Galactica earlier this year, the ending is brilliantly tied to a Bob Dylan song, in this case "Series of Dreams."
The song breathtakingly backs the opening scene as John and Shaunie ride a wave in from nowhere (Cincinnati) wearing their new camouflage wet suits. It's moments like this that make the series one of the most breathtaking to witness. The song itself was originally considered for the opening credits, before they finally settled on Joe Strummer's "Johnny Appleseed." Looking at the lyrics, it's easy to see why it was almost the theme, as it has a lot of parallels to the series.
Thinking of a series of dreams
Where the time and the tempo fly
And there's no exit in any direction
'Cept the one that you can't see with your eyes
Time and tempo, that what you can't see with your eyes... you can see JFC's themes of interconnectedness and faith in the unknown. The finale itself, written by Zach Whedon (Joss Whedon's little brother!) was a perfect encapsulation of the brilliance and frustration of the series. The opening scene and both of the scenes centered on Bill were absolutely perfect. Meanwhile, story lines which were tangential to the plot like "The Chinaman" (a Deadwood sighting) seemed right out of left field.
Falling right in the middle of that is the scene with the used car salesman (another Deadwood sighting), which was meant to serve as a sort of decoder ring for previous riddles. It accomplished this question, but did so quite clumsily: is the salesman John's father, or just another conduit of his word? He tells John (referring to him as "Country") that he's putting him "off line" (which harkens back to Cass' interpretation that John is more like a machine relaying messages). The reason some of the scenes didn't work for me is more that I can almost see the greatest television series I've ever witnessed. JFC was an ambitious tightrope walk, and the fact that it wasn't always graceful shouldn't distract you from the amazing feat of it walking a mile in the air, but somehow it still does.
In all that ambition, there are still some concepts to iron out. To me, the whole thing seems like the forming of a new religion with commerce as the new church. Sponsorship, promotion, advertising... all these things are the formulas to communicate with the modern flock and Stinkweed has already cornered the market on selling its bible. John and the whole Yost clan are signed to Stinkweed, and Linc provides cover for John's father's words (and for John) by claiming all the miracles to be part of their grand promotion. JFC revisits the 9/11/14 date mentioned in John's Snug Harbor Sermon, both on the shuffleboard (was the "10 off" a knowing wink that they'd be cancelled after 10 episodes?) and as a warning to Linc. As a planet, we have just seven years (of unwritten and unaired seasons) to get it figured out before we're "toast."
To that end, the prologue at the end provides puzzling tidbits for the future. For example: "Earth puts Dickstein on retainer." Did lawyer Dickstein see his future as a crusader for Earth while he was getting blown? Another one was "Dr. Smith comes back 20 years younger from Cincinnati." What in the world was that about? Could they really make this miracle work in another season, or was Garret Dillahunt not available to shoot that day and Milch thought, "Why not blow some minds?" And finally "Mother of God, Cass/Kai": There are a few theories out there on this, but the one I clutch to is that both Cass and Kai are pregnant with Yost babies. The whole end sequence was about hinting to events in the future, and both Cass (Mitch) and Kai (Butchie) slept with a generation of Yost, so it stands to reason that they might be carrying the next in line.
Like David Chase with The Sopranos, creator David Milch doesn't have a need for tidy endings, so there are plenty of mysteries left from the series to theorize and argue over. But, just like Dylan in his song, I wasn't expecting all my questions to be answered:
Wasn't looking for any special assistance
Not going to any great extremes
I'd already gone the distance
Just thinking of a series of dreams
Too bad that the series appears to now be dead as I'll sure miss it. But if it frees up David Milch enough to finish Deadwood. For that you can put me down for a hallelujah.
1. "Johnny Appleseed" - Joe Strummer - Main title/theme song
2. "The Perfect Ending" - Harriet Street - Promos/Previously on
3. "Goin' Up The Country" - Canned Heat - Episode 101: Vietnam Joe in van
4. "Sun/Rise/Light/Flies" - Kasabian - Episode 101: Closing credits
5. "Tic" - Kava Kava - Episode 102: Shaun prepares for competition
6. "Staring at the Sun" - TV On The Radio - Episode 102: Closing credits
7. "Time To Say Goodbye" - Sarah Brightman - Episode 103: Freddie in his car outside the hospital
8. "You Light Up My Life" - Debby Boone - Episode 103: Barry recalls what happened in Room 24
9. "Boogie Chillen" - Buddy Guy - Episode 103: John says "see God Kai" and trippy montage ensues
10. "Feeling Good" - Muse - Episode 103: Closing credits
11. "Unisono" - Control Machete - Episode 104: John gets in the van with the homeys
12. "Un Di Felice, Eterea" - David Byrne - Episode 104: Vietnam Joe finds John, John signals Cass
13. "In Your Eyes" - Peter Gabriel - Episode 104: Kai reminds Butchie of their Jr Prom
14. "Over, Under, Sideways, Down" - The Yardbirds - Episode 104: Closing credits
15. "Tonights The Night" - The Shirelles - Episode 105: Butchie and Tina in diner
16. "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" - Elvis Costello - Episode 105: Closing credits
17. "And When I Die" - Laura Nyro - Episode 106: Freddie & Bill
18. "My Favorite Things" - John Coltrane - Episode 106: Closing credits
19. "Watching The Wheels" - Matisyahu - Episode 107: Closing credits
20. "Tennessee Waltz" - Patti Page - Episode 108: Barry has vision in bar
21. "When Love Comes To Town" - U2 - Episode 108: Closing credits
22. "Hold On, I'm Coming" - Sam & Dave - Episode 109: Closing credits
23. "Series of Dreams" - Bob Dylan - Episode 110: Opening scene, John & Shaun surf in
still interpreting at the music/soundtrack blog thus spake drake