We did it! We did it! We— Hey, where’d it go?
On May 16th, 2007, with Constantino on the move and the citizens of a certain Kansas farm town fighting for their lives, CBS announced that its nuclear holocaust drama Jericho had been cancelled. Clearly underestimating the debilitating (or at least mildly annoying) Nerd Wrath of the Internet, the network was inundated with pecans, walnuts, pistachios, and twenty tons (tons!) of other assorted legumes, in an historic attempt to tell them “You’re all stupid jerks and we hate you for axing one of the best shows on TV.”
They got the message. In June, 2007, just one month later, CBS did an unheard of 180º spin and ordered a seven-episode second season of Jericho for broadcast in January 2008. By March 25th, however, it was once again proclaimed dead and replaced, rather embarrassingly, by 48 Hours Mystery and the up-and-coming Psych rip-off, The Mentalist.
At least in between The Great Peanut Bombardment of Twenty-Ought-Seven and “Did A Hollywood Actress’s Secret Love Diary Lead To Her Murder?”, we got to see one hell of a season of television. When last we left Jericho, war had erupted between our heroes and the neighboring town of New Bern. New Bern doesn’t have the soil for farming or food production but is highly industrialized, which means their people are starving and desperate and well-armed enough to try and do something about it. The first skirmishes at the end of Season One found Jericho victorious but came at the cost of mayor Johnston Green (Gerald McRaney), who was shot and killed in action.
Season Two picks up at the start of the next battle, where Johnston’s sons, Jake and Eric (Skeet Ulrich and Kenneth Mitchell), head Jericho’s militia (The Rangers) and refuse to cede ground to the invading New Bern army. Bullets fly, boys become men, and men become heroes until the war is canceled for budget reasons and everything having to do with it is just relegated to flashbacks. The new government, based out of Cheyenne, Wyoming, has dispatched Major Edward Beck (Esai Morales) and the tenth mountain division to Jericho to keep the peace.
Although I shamefacedly admit to missing Season One of Jericho when it was actually on the air, I can agree that it had some of the best writing on TV, on par with Heroes, Lost, or Battlestar Galactica. Season Two is only the tiniest step down from this, mostly due to working in the confined space of seven episodes and the challenge of making Jericho a ratings contender. Following the New Bern War, the plot mostly deals with the rapid militarization of the town under Cheyenne’s new Allied States of America and how its citizens begin to chafe under their freaky new flag. Eric and The Rangers take to the alleys, the backrooms, and the basements of town to organize a resistance while Jake plays nice with the army and agrees to become the new town sheriff. With civil liberties shrinking, “centers of resistance” increasing, and little elements like Beck’s frustrating search for elusive nuclear weapons, the parallel they draw becomes obvious but gets bonus points for the clever way it sneaks up on you.
Running alongside Jake’s ‘Jericho-as-Iraq’ story is the search of CIA agent Robert Hawkins, who is covertly working to uncover the truth about the bombings and bring the perpetrators to justice. He reconnects with a surviving member of his old undercover team and begins to get mysterious phone calls from “John Smith” who reveals important bits of information that tie the September attacks to the Cheyenne government and ubercorporation Jennings & Rall. It’s a good story that could have been great if it wasn’t pushed directly to the frontlines of the show. Like the character of Hawkins himself, uncovering the bomb plot necessitates a slow burn, a deliberate pace where evidence can be gathered in secret and the pieces maneuvered into place before allowing our protagonists to lunge towards checkmate. Squashed into seven episodes, it still works on its most basic level but feels more than a little forced.
The touchy-feely bits that not everybody appreciated during Season One are largely absent during Season Two, and characters like Eric Green, who seemed primed to become the moral center of the show, suffer pretty heavily as a result. The cast’s primary new addition, Major Beck, is handled very well, however, and his struggle between following his orders and listening to the increasing evidence against Cheyenne is a compelling one. It’s also interesting to watch the disintegration of the town in the absence of real leadership. I often heard Jericho criticized for solving all of its problems with a speech by Gerald McRaney, but Season Two helps put in perspective exactly what happens when you don’t have someone to tell you what you need to hear.
Despite most of them getting the short shrift plotwise, the writers obviously worked hard to give all the residents of Jericho their due. Dale Turner and Skylar Stevens, the teenagers who now run the local convenience store, continue their rise as major traders on the black market. Heather Lisinski, the elementary school teacher, becomes a government liaison for Beck between Jericho and New Bern. Recovering alcoholic Dr. Kenchy Dhuwalia has taken up residence in Jericho’s medical center. Beefcake farmer Stanley Richmond and hottie accountant Mimi Clark finally decide to tie the knot. Most of their parts have been greatly reduced and everyone’s plotline becomes rerouted to intersect directly with either Jake’s or Hawkins’ story, but, given the constraints of each episode, it’s really great that they managed to get almost everyone back together and my heart always did a little leap whenever someone would walk back onscreen again for the first time.
Also returning this season to inspire our hatred is the scumbagtastic John Goetz (played by D.B. Sweeney, completing his inevitable transformation from hockey player to ice skater to morally bankrupt soldier of fortune). Goetz, head of the contract mercenary group Ravenwood, has been assigned by the Cheyenne government to help Beck with the day-to-day enforcement of the laws, distribution and regulation of supplies, and basically the overall oppression of the people. For every modicum of humanity and respect that Beck gives the people of Jericho, Goetz is standing right behind him ready to dole out any ruthless or cruel treatment that he can justify. He’s a deliciously evil foil, having completely gone over to the dark side and sold his soul to the highest bidder long ago.
Knowing that their future was tenuous, the producers of Jericho wisely shot two endings for episode seven, Tyrants and Patriots. The ending that CBS chose to air (the series finale) is acceptable, tying up most of the loose ends and ensuring that, if the program were to end there, it would have some semblance of a real ending instead of just a last episode. The ending that never saw the light of day (the season finale) is, of course, the ending that the fans wanted to see and is included on the second season DVD alongside its counterpart. Both versions of finale are jammed tight with plot strands and character resolution, and neither flows particularly well as a result, but each works in it’s own way and does a reasonable job of achieving it’s intended goal. I throw no blame for any missteps on the cast, crew, or producers of Jericho, of course — they had a lot to wrap up and not a lot of time to accomplish it — but it’s a shame that we’ll never get to see a more cohesive ending to such an excellently-realized concept.