Jericho S1E20: One If By Land
“How many people have to die before you don’t care anymore?” Eric Green asks his brother, Jake, in the first five minutes of this episode of Jericho. And it’s a question that, arguably, defines the rest of the story that unfolds this particular week.
Because Jericho as an entire show takes place against the backdrop of almost unfathomably huge death and loss. The nuclear apocalypse that puts the show in motion wipes out millions of people, but of course, we never get to see them – the most we see of that loss is a mushroom cloud looming on the horizon, a phone message, a few pieces of lingering grief. For the residents of Jericho, life has been about surviving, not coming to terms with the unbelievable enormity of the event that they, by pure chance, survived.
But, as things start to Kick The Fuck Off between Jericho and neighbouring town New Bern, a lot of violence has suddenly become a very, very present thing in the lives of people who never had to survive it before. Eric is the one hit hardest by this, in the stuff that we see this week, at least – he’s utterly traumatized by the loss of his ex-wife April a few episodes ago, as well as having to see his friend Heather die (or DID she) at the hands of the New Bern authorities. That’s not even touching on the own violence meted out against him personally as they try to shake information about of the newly-incarcerated Green brothers. I think it’s so important to show the human impact of this kind of trauma, and Kenneth Mitchell has this way of communicating it without having to rend his clothes or rip out his hair; Eric has been completely broken by what he’s been through, detached from reality in a way that is not going to be easy to fix, even after he makes it out of New Bern alive.
On the other side of this, of course, we have Robert Hawkins. There’s a scene this week where characters, in the midst of a violent heist, discuss what they were doing before the nuclear disaster; everyone else compares notes on dissertation theses and truck customization, but Robert? Robert was still doing this. In the post-apocalyptic world, Robert has thrived (at least professionally), and part of that is, as this episode implies, because he has finally gotten to the point where killing people really doesn’t matter anymore. He is laser-focused on the goal at hand, and it just so happens that his goal is rescuing the people we’re meant to care about. If it wasn’t, though? The show leaves that questioned juicily unanswered, as Hawkins takes out a stack of New Bern men with little concern, even as other members of his team balk at pulling the trigger.
In the middle of these two is Jake: he’s something who we know has seen immense amounts of violence and death in his previous life, he’s still shaken at what he has to go through this week. There’s a neat detail when Eric is being tortured a few rooms away, where Jake covers up a single ear, the one nearest to his brother, to block out the noise of his distress without completely hiding from it – speaks to how torn Jake is between the violence he has committed in the past, what he is capable of doing in the future, and how much he hopes he’ll never have to do it again. With a showdown on the horizon, it’s an interesting precedent for Jericho to set. Our three leading men – arguably Hawkins, Jake, and Eric – are either end and a middle point of a scale relating to capability to commit violence. Playing with what they have to do to survive sews some very interesting potential coming in to the last couple of episodes.
Something else I’d like to touch on here is a plot that I feel never really got the chance to bloom because of Jericho’s cut-off, and one that I would have loved to see unfold fully. Erik Knudsen’s Dale has been pottering away at the back of most of these last few episodes, his control over the central store allowing him a significant amount of power and influence that someone of his age isn’t exactly qualified to hold. Though mostly coming from morally justifiable places, Dale has been inching towards a place where he is more willing to exert his power, status, and control over the citizens of Jericho; I wonder if this was building towards some kind of later villain arc for Dale, and frankly, I really hope that it was. After everything he’s been through and the power thrust upon him in the aftermath, plus his own acts of violence that have marked some significant plot moments for his character, if you look at his arc through the lens of the first act of a heel-turn, it’s so much more compelling.
There are smaller scenes this week that start to tie everything together – Gail starts to build a bridge with Mary, in her inimitably Gail way (slightly cold, somehow very warm at the same time). Apropos of nothing, but I had to mention it, there’s a scene where Johnston angrily confronts someone in his signature hat, and as he gets up in their face, the brim of it just prods their forehead, something that is, undeniably, immensely hilarious. But mainly, this week is setting up our characters for what comes next – as well as exploring just how they might react to the incoming conflicts. Violence might have started on the horizon for Jericho, but it’s well and truly here, and there’s no way for our main cast to avoid it any longer.