Because of Joan of Arcadia VIII

Posted by Webster 
I’ve fallen behind in my series of posts on the TV series that for two years, 2003–2005, reminded me again and again why, after 40 years in the wilderness, I was meant to be a Catholic. Even though I wouldn’t become a Catholic until 2008. In a catch-up frenzy, here are brief summaries and quick thoughts about three episodes in the middle of season one.

Season 1, episode 12, “Jump” Rocky, the little boy Joan took care of in a previous episode, dies; a dream in which Rocky turns into Adam makes Joan fear that Adam might commit suicide in grief over his mom’s suicide. Meanwhile, Will (Dad) wrestles with a job change; Luke and Grace work on a science fair project; the paralyzed Kevin begins to contemplate what a love life with co-worker Rebecca might be like; and Helen (Mom) waits on the sidelines, only to land the best scene of all, when she reads Adam his mom’s suicide note.

As always, the encounters with God in this episode offer something to chew on. After Rocky’s funeral, Joan runs into God in the form of a creepy old man. Joan is understandably angry at God for taking Rocky away. And understandably miffed when God gives her a truism to explain the greatest mystery: “Death is a dividing line.

Joan: I don’t need God to tell me that death is a dividing line. Everybody knows that. What we don’t know is what it divides us from. 
God: One of the necessary mysteries . . .
Joan: Oh, come on! God, try me! Give me a hint!
God: I leave hints all over the place. I’m all about hints. Like Adam appearing in your dream. 
Joan: Well, maybe you could give me a quick look into the big picture, then maybe I could be good at this.
God: As you wish, Joan.

Whereupon, in a cacaphony of voices and a blinding flash, Joan apparently gets a look at “the big picture.” She wakes up in a daze, babbling, and the only hint of the magnitude of what she saw comes in her next encounter with God, now a doctor hunched over a vending machine. Joan calls hints “all that I can handle without falling over.” Which suggests to me that the vision of life after death, of the total divine plan, is far too stunning for our little human minds to encompass. Which is why God can only communicate to us in hints.

In this scene God talks about the “ripples” we all leave behind after we die. Rocky’s ripples were good; Adam’s mom’s ripples, not so good. Which leads to the suicide note. Adam was afraid the note would blame him for his mother’s death. Instead—

Dearest boy, my Adam: I dreamed a dream, you and I facing each other in a tiny yellow boat on green water under blue sky—me and my son and the yellow boat. And we laugh and the boat rocks and the ripples spread from boat to pond to sea to sky, and nothing can stop them, nothing ever will. When you think of me, Adam, know that in a world of pain, you were and always will be my joy. Love, Mom

It’s one of the most beautiful scenes in the whole series, beautifully read by Mary Steenburgen as Helen, and it leads finally to a reconciliation between Joan and Adam.

Season 1, episode 13, “Recreation” I’m going to make my job easier here, this Saturday in Advent, by saying simply that I think this is one of the weakest episodes in the series. I didn’t say it’s not entertaining. But the message—despite God playing on the word recreation, as in re-creation, as in starting anew, as in big deal—seems to boil down to a worthy but wimpy “Just say no” (to drugs and alcohol). Though not necessarily to violence.

This episode has two major plots: (1) Will and Helen go away for a spa weekend, with hilarious scenes between Will and some obnoxious men at the spa, ending in a fistfight and knock-out for Will. (2) With the “parentals” away, the kids play, throwing a party at the Girardi home. Why? Why does Joan do most things? Because God tells her to.

The upshot of throwing the party, and of the party getting out of hand, is that Lt. Williams (Will’s lady colleague) is drawn away from a stakeout at a meth lab to handle the noise complaint from the party; as a result, her life is probably saved when the meth lab explodes. The point made is made better many other times in the series. Still, it’s a good point: If we do God’s will (throw a party), there will be positive consequences (Lt. Williams lives), even if the consequences aren’t direct, even if they don’t involve us.

Or as Bob was saying at men’s group this morning: Guys going to Adoration daily can have far-reaching consequences for others, in ways the guys don’t even suspect.

Season 1, episode 14, “State of Grace” This episode features hilarious scenes with Friedman, Luke’s buddy and unofficial sex counselor. Friedman tells Luke to give up his crush on Grace (“You’re always throwing yourself against the one gate that’s locked”) and to go after Glynnis. (“Did you see the look Glynnis gave you in Chem today? That’s a look you usually have to download.”) Meanwhile, Will investigates a brutal attack on a (Protestant, Harvard Divinity School) priest who may have been having improper relations with a young man; the high school art teacher quits, which will lead to Helen taking the job in a subsequent episode; Rebecca invites Kevin to dinner at her place; and God tells Joan to join the debate team.

For her first debate, Joan is paired with Scott, a boy with a terrible stammer, and the two have to defend tighter security at Arcadia High School, which of course leads Grace to accuse Joan of “giving voice” to fascist ideas. (Gotta love Grace, don’t you? The photo is Becky Wahlstrom, the actress who plays Grace, in a very un-Gracelike moment.) It turns out that while Scott has trouble speaking, he has no trouble doing the research.

Joan: You have so many great ideas in here and so many impressive big words. I mean, it would take two guys to lift these words, they’re so big. Look, all you have to do is find your voice, Scott. Just let the world know what great thoughts you have. 
Scott: My voice?
Joan: Yeah, listen, if Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, James Earl Jones, and Carly Simon can all cure stuttering, so can you.
Scott: Who’s Carly Simon?
Joan: I don’t know, but James Earl Jones is Darth Vader. That is so freaky.

Through his experience with Joan, Scott realizes that while debating may not be his personal charism, he does have a talent for writing. In that way, Joan helps him “find his voice.” Joan thinks she has completed her mission and decides to quit debate too. Butcher God tells her that she’s not finished, that he told her to join the debate team so that she could debate, leading to an interesting discussion of belief vs. truth.

God: So you think believing something to be true makes it true?
Joan: Well, if believing in things was wrong, that would put you out of business pretty fast, wouldn’t it?
God: I don’t exist because people believe in me. I simply exist, whether they believe in me or not. Hanging onto beliefs, that’s not truth. Open your mind, Joan. Read [the research that] Scott gave you. Be a part of that debate tomorrow.

When Grace taunts her past tolerance during the debate, Joan finally finds her own voice, speaking out in favor of gun control, partly with a very heartfelt defense of her father’s work with guns. Then having delivered her argument, she runs from the room. When God catches up with her, Joan tells him that by forcing her to debate, God cost her a friend, Grace. “Do you know the meaning of grace?” God asks Joan. “It’s a touch of truth that lets you see the world in a new way. It’s a gift that can be felt only when you’re open enough to accept it.” The scene ends with God walking away and Grace—evidently moved by Joan’s passionate argument—approaching to apologize.

Oh, and Kevin backs out of his date with Rebecca (to be continued), Luke kisses Glynnis kisses Luke, Will discovers that the priest was innocent of child-molestation, and Helen applies for the art teacher’s job. Until next time . . .

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  • LOL…However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"-1 Corinthians 2:9

  • goodalice19

    "Jump" is one of the best in the JoA TV series. This may be the only episode that God does not give Joan a job/mission. That alone gives this show an added depth. Webster has pointed out to us the different stories within this episode: Joan struggles with the child (Rocky's) death and is also still trying to repair her relationship with Adam after destroying his art project; Luke and Grace compete in the school science fair; Will is out of a job consequential to big-time whistle blowing; and Kevin feels an attraction to his boss, but is silently at a loss about how a paraplegic takes things to the next level should they ever begin dating.I want to bring out that although JoA is simply the greatest show ever brought to TV, and addresses important questions, it is also hilarious, and shows how humor must be one of God's graces to us in helping us cope with what life throws at us. The music and production values of JoA soar. Below I will give some examples.At Rocky's graveside funeral the priest (Episcopal?) asks if anyone would like to say something. Joan comes forward. She asks the priest if she should begin by saying, "We are gathered here today…", and the priests tells her "I covered that already". She then introduces herself as Rocky's babysitter and proceeds to say, "Rocky was a real wierdo. I mean he was so morbid". (Priest looks shocked.) How Rocky knew thousands of ways people could die, and would statistically predict Joan's day of death. Joan asks if the priest was aware that Elvis died on the toilet, which Rocky had pointed out to Joan the statistical probability for such. Joan continues about how he made her laugh, and she did think it was funny. (Sylvia, Rocky's Mom, is laughing too, and nodding that Rocky said and did all these things). It was funny, Joan says, until today, and then she begins to cry. The flabbergasted priest asks if anyone else would like to speak, and then one second later says, "No? Thank God" and concludes. Rocky appears to Joan in the cemetery in a black (burial?) suit, waves to her and runs off.After the service, Joan goes into the church to try to make sense of Rocky's death. God appears, looking like an undertaker, and Joan asks for a hint of life's meaning but passes out when given just a two second flash of the mystery. Joan's mother, Helen, finds Joan on the floor of the church, she chides Joan for not eating breakfast, and as they leave the church we hear Helen tell Joan that she should eat bran. Note: The word "hint" comes into play again in Kevin's story. Bear, his basketball mentor, tells Kevin that he can give him some hints on how paraplegics can be intimate. The next morning Joan comes downstairs where Helen is fixing breakfast. Joan states, "I am not eating bran, it makes me gassy". Will, Joan's father, looks at both of them perplexed, but just nods and starts to leave the house, and finds Adam at the door. Will exits. This is the beautiful part where Helen, acting as a sort of substitute mother to Adam, reads the suicide note that she had written to him (but he had never had the courage to read). Everything was perfect in this scene. It took place in the kitchen of the Girardi home. This kitchen has brilliant blue and yellow tile throughout. There is green artwork behind Helen as she reads the letter. The background music is "Across the Universe". I get all choked up watching this scene. It brings it all home for Adam, and his and Joan's relationship is repaired.To be continued…

  • goodalice19

    "Jump" Part 2The final scene is the science fair at Arcadia High. Joan, Adam, Helen are among the spectators. Luke and Grace have ended up pulling an "all nighter" to try to present some kind of project (Plan B, a rail gun) after Luke's initial idea (Plan A, Heisenberg's gamma ray experiments and finding more equations for it) was kiboshed due to Luke's computer being confiscated by the FBI as part of an counter investigation after of Will after his whistle blowing. Some may think that this scene is over the top, and it was, but it was fabulous. This science fair was nothing like the dorky ones put on in my high school (circa late 1960s). Ms. Lischak, the science teacher is there encouraging and exhorting the students to go further. There was a Van de Graaf generator on display with a girl touching the dome and her hair standing on end, there is a huge dinosaur, and some kind of air pressure container with a beach ball suspended in the air above it. Then there was Friedman and Glynis'project consisting of huge tank of water. Glynis presses a button and bubbles appear in the water, then Friedman sets off an air horn and the water bubbles light up. Very nice. However, the teacher says to them, "You can do better, consider the radiant flux in quantifying your emmittance." Glynis asks Luke, "Is she allowed to talk like that to high school boys?" You see why I love this show. Luke and Grace step up to present their rail gun which they could not test prior to this due to there only being energy for one blast. Grace hits the switch, but the meter does nothing. The judges are unimpressed, and Ms. L. looks sympathetic. Then the needle on the meter lurches to the right and the rail gun begins to travel slowly towards the water tank! Luke, terrified, yells out "get down"!! Ms. L. does a slow motion run to push Glynis out of harm's way (Friedman had already gotten himself out of the way). The gun goes off and the water tank explodes. This sets off a chain of events where the dinosaur is knocked over and falls on a scale, which launches a huge basket of feathers into the air. The music in this scene is great. Grace smiles, even serious Luke smiles. Joan and Adam are covered in feathers and laughing, andt for once they are on the same page, emotionally, and they kiss.

  • Webster Bull

    I've found my Platonic soul mate, someone who loves JoA maybe even more than I do! God bless you, Goodalice. You give me reason to go on (at least, go on writing about JoA!). Comment all you want. I will read every blessed word! (Frank thinks I'm just wacky . . . )