Monday, April 1, 2013

The Bible - Episode 5 Review

Part 4

It feels very odd to be reviewing the crucifixion. It feels rather indelicate and almost blasphemous. That said, this is a production by man. It is not the actual thing. So here goes.

The episode begins in the morning, combining Peter’s betrayal with Judas’s regret (not repentance). Political drama goes on in the background, with Pilate caught between his wife and Caesar (or as Granny put it: a rock and a hard place). Mrs. Pilate’s segment is used to great effect, her grief eliciting the ironic statement from Pilate that Jesus will “be forgotten in a week.”

Roma Downey’s performance as Mary is serviceable, but like the series in general, lacking nuance or imagination. Morgado’s Jesus, however, has improved. Despite his lack of the charisma and fierceness of the “rock that makes men stumble,” he’s believable as the “man of all sorrows.” His interview with Pilate is rather odd—he stares up confusedly at the light while speaking of the truth. After more politics, Jesus is sentenced to thirty-nine lashes. While in the first few minutes, he seems more bewildered than anything, Morgado’s suffering is painful and gritty—I had been eating before, but I lost my appetite.

Regardless of the fact that Jesus would’ve looked ten times worse after thirty-nine with a cat o’ nine tails, the flogging is still heart-wrenching. I think what hit me hardest, though, is when Jesus, staggering drunkenly around the prison, is crowned with an improvised ring of thorns. He falls back amid the Romans’ laughter, slumping ridiculously against the wall. It really struck me how demeaned and crass it was, on the level of a sloppy paper crown made by a child, but with an edge of horrific brutality, reminiscent of the way Americans used to tar and feather criminals. God not only lost his life, but he lost his dignity—there was no noble condescension—he was humiliated. As Betsy Ten Boom pointed out to her sister, in the concentration camp: “He was naked.”

The route down the Via Dolorosa drags on and on and on, with Jesus stumbling at least four times. The amount of falling and interacting with the crowd is unusual. After all, in truth, it’s only mentioned that Jesus stumbled and Simon the Cyrene was appointed to help him. In The Bible, Jesus meets his mother first, telling her that “With God, all things are possible.” Second, Simon is pulled from the crowd, and oddly seems to know who Jesus is, calling him “my Lord.” They share a smile. He stumbles again, once again helped by a strangely knowing Simon. On the last stumble, an unnamed woman gives him a drink. These things aren’t particularly important, but feel unnecessary and the time could have been better spent. Also, they detract from the betrayal of his friends. “He was despised for our transgressions.” 

Once upon Golgotha, Jesus is forced to crawl to his cross. Until the end, the agony doesn’t stop. Morgado’s performance is particularly good here. At last, the earthquakes begin; the darkness covers the sun. There is silence, and it is over.

Immediately cut to three days later. The disciples are tense, angry, and despairing. Mary Magdalene’s news eventually persuades Peter and John to come to the tomb. Peter, played by Darwin Shaw, after looking over the empty clothes, is caught up in a wave of enthusiasm, crying, “He’s back!” That’s not exactly how it happened, but it’s more cinematic, and the sudden surge of the Zimmerian score perfectly captures the unbelievable joy and turning of the tables. Peter gives the first communion—that’s one of the really neat things—that sacrament is really brought to life and given the importance that evangelicals often forget (kudos, Catholicism).

Morgado’s Jesus is back to his old self—that is, rather ethereal and touching folks’ faces. Skip ahead to the Great Commission. The disciples hit the streets, with a new (but not new enough) bravery. Stephen’s martyrdom is particularly dramatic, with a crowd enticed by a zealous Paul of Tarsus (who looks remarkably like Jeremy Irons). Con O’Neill as Paul is possibly the best actor in the episode. Paul swings from rabidly chauvinistic to sincerely repentant. His scene with Ananias (Nick Moss) was wonderful; I loved when Ananias baptized the desperate Paul.

Peter, as I prophesied last week, comes into his own, leading the new church out into the world. When he was beaten by Roman soldiers, I felt more emotion than with any character so far. Similar with Paul, who was dragged away to his death, but with a quiet peace in his eyes. John (Sebastian Knapp) takes the last few scenes, weeping as Jesus appears to him, and uttering the last word in the Bible: “Amen.”

Overall, since this episode lacked time for Morgado to be lackluster, and more storylines featuring strong supporting actors, I liked this one much better. Peter and Paul stole their scenes. Hans Zimmer’s score really came into its own, and Lisa Gerrard’s wailing vocals made the crucifixion even more intense. In general, it was just As It Happened, so Christians ought to be happy. Artistically, it still lacked. 

Hopefully, The Bible’s success will give Hollywood a kick that says, “people like orthodox biblical stories.” And hopefully, next time, we’ll get somebody who can actually tell a story.

3.5 of 5 stars


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