A typical day spent with my grandmother involves picking her up, slowly getting her into my car, driving her up to my Mom’s, helping her onto the couch, and then spending a few hours making sure she’s got everything she needs: finger foods, ice cubes added to her zinfandel, inclusion in the overall conversation. What I’m saying is this: my Nana doesn’t spend her typical day running around, yelling, screaming, and checking to make sure her handgun’s fully loaded in case her grandson’s porn-star mother dares try to see him.
Just one of approximately 7,652 ways in which Shaun Yost and I differ.
This week’s episode of John From Cincinnati focused primarily on Cissy Yost, matriarch of the Yost clan, a feral woman who would sooner scratch your eyes out than let you inflict any harm upon her clan. Her character on the surface is a screeching mess of a creature, at first glance unlikable on almost every level. But through tonight’s episode, as played by Rebecca De Mornay in her first chance to truly stretch her character out, Cissy showed the vulnerability and fear that forms the core of her outward hostilities. She’s above all a den mother. Course, there’s a fair amount of crack pipes and used syringes in said den, but darn it all, it’s her den, and she will defend it with everything that she’s got.
Turns out, the most prized possession is Shaun himself. Talking to Tina, Shaun’s biological mother, Butchie reveals that Tina’s leaving Shaun on Cissy’s doorstep fourteen years prior in fact saved a splintering household. At a time when tensions in the Yost family were highest (rampant infidelity, rampant drug use), Shaun’s arrival marked a point at which Cissy herself had something positive to focus her energies upon, and what we see now in Cissy is what the strain that fourteen years of overprotection has wrought upon her.
What this episode did, above all, was shatter Cissy’s illusion that she could in fact fully protect Shaun from the world. Kai’s line to Cissy as Cissy alternately chain-smoked and cried, was particularly revealing in this respect. She tells Cissy regarding Tina, "She’s outside…like every other thing you can’t hide him from." In one short, simple line, Kai cuts through Cissy’s notion that she can guarantee protection Shaun from Butchie’s fate, from rabid reporters, from the truth about his biological mother, and every other unpleasant thing she’s worked so hard to keep out of his life. She may have always known this subconsciously, but only tonight did that knowledge come to the conscious level.
While Kai was imparting wisdom (and removing firearms from an emotionally unstable household), she also quietly grieved over Butchie’s apparent allegiance to Tina. From the second she heard Tina was back in town, Kai seemed to be steeling herself emotionally, in essence allowing Butchie to leave things as a one-night stand between them. In fact, the only shot fired from the gun all episode was at Kai’s boom box. An act meant to kill their one night of togetherness in fact comically backfired, as Peter Gabriel sang out in seeming defiance of Kai’s bullet. By trying to violently erase her past, Kai merely brought it to the foreground.
The same could also be said for Vietnam Joe. In last week’s episode, he promised John that he would go to the veteran’s bar he frequents and find out who told John Joe’s secret shame about his time in the service. Brandishing his own weapon, Joe accosted the bartender Ernie in order to silence the person whom he feels is the leak that betrayed sensitive information to a stranger as a form of cruel, practical joke. (And if that sentence was difficult to read, trust me, it was even harder to understand while watching. If you look up "elliptical" in the dictionary, it gives you a few lines of this script as an example.) Turns out, not only did Ernie not leak the story, but in fact never KNEW the story in the first place.
What is intended to be a violent stand-off then turns into a confession. And when next we see Vietnam Joe, he’s on the pier, an apparently changed man. A changed man who can now suddenly catch fish. And in that scene, John officially garners another disciple. Not sure how much clearer the show could have announced this fact. In a way, I appreciated the virtual neon sign that screamed "LOOKIE HERE, I RECKON WE GOT OURSELVES A DISCIPLE," since most of the time I’m watching this show going, "Now, I’m positive this show’s in English, but I’ll be darned if I can understand a word of it."
Cass, for her part, wants desperately to be John’s next disciple, but finds herself suffering from a crisis of faith during this episode. He frustration with John stems from her desire to have him better her situation instantly, without any real effort on her own part. She’s willing to let John all but molest her if it means it will help her student loans disappear faster. (Guess she heard about John’s ATM pants.) John stifles this urge, repeating the mantra, "Work here, Cass." The "here" in question turns out to be her heart, with John promising something extraordinary will be found in the footage she took that day of a local street festival that featured. Not sure if any of the lucha libre wrestlers managed to float four feet in the air, though, so Cass might be disappointed.
Three more short thoughts concerning tonight’s episode:
1) Note to the John from Cincinnati writing staff: never, ever again construct a two person scene between Kai and Shaun. Good gravy. Watching those two get through the staccato, pause-riddled dialogue of this show is like watching dinner-theatre Pinter. It has to stop.
2) I’m not sure if the show is trying to make me want to hit Mitch Yost with a clue-by-four each time he says something somehow more self-serving than the last, but if so, mazel tov, show. You’ve done it. (And by my count, that’s the eighth time he’s left her in this series so far, and we only got through Episode 5 tonight.)
3) I will confess to being completely puzzled by just how Linc and Tina met up in the first place. Ostensibly, he hired a call girl, and Tina arrived, but both confessing to not know each other rang a bit weird, as did Linc’s sudden chest pains. All a way to get into Tina’s good graces? Will he now exploit her maternal instincts in order to get at Shaun? I confess myself puzzled but interested, if for no other reason than Linc seems to age nearly a year per day on this show, the guilt weighing on him being so heavy. He’s living the Satanic version of Popeye’s "I yam what I yam," at this point: knowing he’s the devil in this tale, but unable to change his ways.
Did you think Cissy was overprotective or simply over-the-top? Does Butchie have a clue how much he’s hurt Kai? And did you know that Peter Gabriel is bullet-proof? Discuss below!