Joan of Arc dwelt in obscurity in a tiny French village for her first 17 years before going out in a blaze of glory, literally. I have a feeling that my weekly posts on her modern-day successor, “Joan of Arcadia,” are following the same pattern. Based on comments and other available metrics, my enthusiasm for this teen melodrama canceled by CBS four years ago is not widely shared. But just wait! By the time I’m done (at least twenty Fridays from now), the entire Catholic, nay Christian world will be chanting for the series’s return.
Season 1, episode 4, “Just Say No”—When last we left our heroine, a middling student at Arcadia (MD) High School, she was building a boat under orders from God. At the end of the episode, we understood God’s purpose. The boat became a link between Joan’s recently paralyzed brother, Kevin, and their father, Will Girardi. At the beginning of the next episode, “Just Say No,” Joan finds a middle-aged lady (God) putting up a sign for a yard sale on Saturday at . . . Joan’s house! Guess what God wants Joan to do?
Things get complicated when our heroine falls for Clay, a self-absorbed guy who mans the high school radio station and asks if Joan wants to “hang out” on Saturday. His advances feel slightly creepy, especially when the subplot involves Will, as chief of police, investigating a rape case. But Joan is smitten, and when a vending machine repairman (God, of course) reminds Joan of the yard sale, she says she wants to have a social life. “Romantic love!” God says. “I’m proud of that, some of my best work.” Joan is miffed: “This guy likes me and you want to talk about the mysteries of the universe!” God: “Sure, but aren’t you busy on Saturday?”
Rape becomes the central theme of the episode when Joan begins going through the basement and finds dark paintings by her mother. It turns out, as Helen and Will discuss privately, that Helen was raped as a young woman and these painting express her distress. Will urges her to tell Joan, for her protection. No, Mom says, “This is my call!”
Joan listens to God and holds the yard sale, but Clay comes by anyway to flirt with her and, it turns out, to steal Dad’s chief’s badge. When Joan learns about this, she demands the badge back and gives up her crush on Clay. On the bus home, a man reading a newspaper (God, aren’t you catching on yet?) tells Joan, “You should be nicer to your mother.”
Joan: Is this about those paintings?
God: Where do you think that comes from in a person?
Joan: What happened to her? Is that why she’s so weird about me dating? How bad was it?
God: It was evil, and I don’t throw that word around. This is my stop. (God gets up to exit bus)
Joan: You can’t leave! God! God!
Back home, Will tells Helen he has been working on a rape case.
Helen: I know.
Will: How do you know?
Helen: Because whenever you’re working on a rape case, you get very quiet, and you grind your teeth in your sleep. We’ve talked about this before. You can’t fix what happened to me, no matter how many rapists you put away.
Will (down on his knees): I need you to tell Joan. I don’t know why, but I really need it, Helen. Maybe because I’m afraid of her not knowing how close it is to her, all of the time. Please do this for me!
As the final music rises, Mom looks at Dad, then slowly walks upstairs to Joan’s room. She knocks and says, “I have something to tell you.”
Joan says, “I know.”