Jericho S1S13/14: Black Jack/Heart of Winter

by thethreepennyguignol

Things are getting cold in Jericho.

And I’m not just talking the changing seasons, though that’s a major part of things in this particular double-header. In fact, it was watching these episodes, Black Jack and Heart of Winter, that reminded me just how much I enjoy how important the actual passage of time in this show: most TV shows have a Christmas episode, probably a Halloween special, maybe some Valentine’s day hand-waving, but few really commit to involving the changing seasons and shift of backdrop in the way that Jericho does.

It not only gives the narrative a really solid sense of momentum, with the very literal changes happening around the town and the county as a whole and the shifting priorities that come with it, but grounds the show in real life in a way that little other apocalypse drama can really pull off. One of the reasons this show has endured as well as it has – and, make no mistake, I really think that it’s still a solid series to stand up to any more recent post-end-of-the-world story – is because of details like this that go a long way to giving it a sense of reality amongst the utter un-reality of the situation at hand.

Anyway! Aside from me just being happy that Jericho has seasons (Jesus, it’s like the Sims Four expansion packs all over again), I’ve got a lot of time for these episodes. The first, which establishes the incoming Winter and helps put some colour back to Jake and Heather’s relationship, is more of a practical scene-setter to help establish some of the major conflicts we’ve got coming down the line – particularly Robert Hawkins and his newest apparent-ally, the re-appeared Sarah, an ex-lover and ex-colleague who has rolled up out of the blue with the apparent intent to take him and that big ol’ nuke he’s hiding in his basement (if you know what I mean) down for good.

But it’s the second episode, Heart of Winter, that’s really where the good meaty stuff is this week. Jake, Stanley, and Mimi, the bickering polyam throuple of my dreams, take off into the frigid wilderness to try and dig up some fresh supplies. On the road, they’re attacked by another group, who crash their car and leave the three of them stranded in the frosty outskirts of Jericho.

Put characters with history in a life-or-death situation, and you’ve instantly got a compelling storyline. This might be Skeet Ulrich’s best performance of the season so far, as Jake, trapped under the flipped truck, is left fighting for his life against hypothermia with only Stanely to keep him alive after Mimi is sent off for help. These two have always been one of my favourite pairings in the show at large, and this episode really isn’t afraid to lean into that deep affection that remains between them, despite Jake’s abandonment of Stanley and Jericho at large a few years before. I really appreciate stories that aren’t afraid to show real love between men, platonic or otherwise, and Heart of Winter is really a small, self-contained, vaguely hypothermic love story as Jake tries to make amends to the very representation of what he left behind all those years ago.

And, eventually, to his father, too. Jake and Johnson Green have never had the easiest relationship on the show, but Jericho once again draws out some interesting parallels between them as Johnson tries to keep a hypothermic Jake from dying in his arms. Both men were traumatized by their respective experiences in the military, and it takes this potentially fatal frigid Jericho night to even get them close to talking about it. The small moment they share together at the end of the episode, where Jake asks his father to forget about what he confessed to him about his time in Iraq and his father tells him that he won’t because it’s something that needs to be spoken to, is a reminder that Jericho is at it’s very best when it’s a show about human connection, not just big, post-apocalyptic drama. Things might be cold outside right now, but there’s a warmth in Heart of Winter that feels earned. This has almost nothing to do with the nuclear Armageddon that’s happening elsewhere, and honestly, sometimes, the show needs to close in on something a little smaller and more intricate.

That said, we’re getting into the drama next time, as Sarah takes things up a notch in the hunt for Robert’s underground nuke bunker, and Emily’s fiance may or may not be starting a post-apocalypse survivor cult a la John Locke in Lost. But for now, we’re talking small-scale, and for me – it’s the best the show can do.

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(header image via TV Guide)