We’ve already been canceled. What are they going to do to us?
—Carol Barbee, New York Times (13 February 2008)
Sometimes the only way to end these things is to start removing elements from the equation.
—Major Beck (Esai Morales)
Jake (Skeet Ulrich) is looking surly. Again. Following the dustup with New Bern that ended the first season of Jericho, Jake and his townsfolk are feeling slightly less than triumphant. Now, at the start of Season Two, he’s hauled in to a farmhouse dining room by the newly installed military forces from Cheyenne. Spotting the New Bern cop who tortured his brother Eric (Kenneth Mitchell), Jake is quick to attack, the grunting, grinding tussle between tribal opposites broken up by a couple of troops in helmets and desert camo fatigues. Enter Major Beck (Esai Morales). After he listens to the New Bern officer’s explanation, Beck turns to Jake. “What’s your story?”
Grrr. Jake’s story is of course, opposite. Jake’s face turns pained as he recalls Eric’s abuse and the New Bern campaign of terror. “They attacked us,” he says through gritted teeth. “Cost me my father.” With these fighting words (and reminder that Gerald McRaney is no longer with the show), Jericho begins anew. Beck lays down his law. In case Jake “didn’t get the message earlier today, I have the means to make this stick,” Beck says, the tribal nonsense is over. Jake glares some more, then follows Beck outside to be apprised of his new status: officially reprimanded.
Jericho is back. And it’s turned into Battlestar Galactica.
The basic storyline of the new, seven-episode season, ordered up after a coterie of hardcore fans deluged the CBS offices with nuts to protest the show’s cancellation last year, is the transformation of the post-apocalyptic U.S. into Iraq, circa 2008. Occupied by forces with large weapons, humvees, and a basic lack of knowledge concerning local history or commitments, the forces represent the new government of the Allied States of America. Rebuilt following the “September attacks” (“six months since the day that changed the course of human history,” according to a TV report), the A.S.A. has named an emergency president, former junior senator from Wyoming Tomarchio (George Newbern). Watching the news with Jericho’s erstwhile sheriff, Jimmy (Bob Stephenson), in the hospital, Bill (Richard Speight Jr.) sighs: “It’s the same story over and over again. What is it you think you’re gonna miss?” Jimmy wants to know why the new flag looks different from the old one, suffering pangs of nostalgia. Bill’s got a handle on the new flesh, however, long-living: TV Is the ways and means to popular support. Long feeling afraid, alone, and deprived, the reconstituted nation is a function of mass dissemination of particular information.
Jake and Eric, no surprise, are feeling distrustful. And as before, Jake is bolstered in his anxiety by Hawkins (Lennie James), super-secret agent with an expert’s grasp of useful techniques (weapons, communications, torture), now on the run from former boss Valente (Daniel Benzali), who speaks with Beck via TV monitor, to underscore his evil Big Brothery affect. Beck means well, insistently. “There will be no vigilantism in my jurisdiction,” he tells Jake more than once. “There will be no revenge killings, period.” In order to “make it stick,” he enlists Jake as sheriff, recalling his work outside Kandahar, when he’d find “the guy” to recruit as big-front ally in order to win over the community. With Jake as the newly “guy,” Beck supposes, he’ll be able to work out deals with Jericho, to “administrate” as he’s been assigned to do.
Not trusting the bigger scheme behind such administration, Hawkins (supported by his super-cool wife Darcy [April D. Parker]), still has hold of evidence against the government he used to work for, and suspects the attacks were not perpetrated by Iran and North Korea, as the news is reporting, but rather, by some nefarious types from inside the government, currently housed in Cheyenne, a much-described Mecca of electricity and running water. As Hawkins and Jake connive to find out who’s responsible for what, an old spooky buddy of Hawkins shows up, Chavez (Chris Kramer), who provides for action set pieces (, who provides for action set pieces (Jericho‘s fallback ploy, when plot trails off), but also gives Hawkins a bit of backstory.
Both men’s doubts about the A.S. agenda are confirmed almost immediately. In next week’s second episode, “Condor,” Eric and Mayor Grey Anderson (Michael Gaston) debate the merits of newly delivered textbooks that feature rewritten history, specifically, “the decline and fall of the First Republic,” celebrating aggression and decrying the fact that, as Eric observes, “We pulled out of Nam in ‘75 too early.” Oh no no no, warns Erica adamantly, this celebration of hawkishness will not do. Slightly less furious (as he has not been tortured), Grey counsels wily infiltration, an effort to engage with the panel now writing a new constitution. Again, the Green brother responses tends to be rage, but Eric, at least in this instance, agrees to stand down and let Grey see what’s what.
The revived Jericho is made like the Green brothers. Even if it continuers to lapse into the sentimental business embodied by hardworking farmer Stanley (Brad Beyer) and his independent-minded girl Mimi (Alicia Coppola) (by way of too many plinky piano scenes and circling camera kisses), at least now the stakes are more clearly defined. Mimi the accountant who loves order takes aim at the new ordering force in town, Jennings & Rall (read: Halliburton), when Trish (Emily Rose) entices Stanley to sign an illegal contract that guarantees he’ll be paying back J&R for the rest of his life. Mimi’s outrage at the company is granted a brief airing (and Trish is less insidious than she is a version of those brand-new MBAs sent to Baghdad to plan traffic patterns, her optimism and naïvete performed on her J&R blog), but it establishes J&R’s unscrupulous intentions.
Such intentions are more plainly manifest in Ravenwood, J&R’s private security contractor (read: Blackwater). As it becomes clear over the second season that Jake’s mysterious past is more complicated than “hauling supplies” overseas. His work for Ravenwood, he announces, has left a bad taste in his mouth. In this season’s third episode, “Jennings & Rall,” Jake remembers an event in Iraq that sounds a lot like the recent Blackwater “incident” that left 17 civilians dead in Baghdad. Noting that that company’s shooters were not held accountable, Jake concludes, “Ravenwood is a wholly owned subsidiary of Jennings & Rall, it’s their own private army. And anything, anything that Jennings & Rall does is judged by a different set of rules.” When Jake concludes that “These guys, they don’t answer to anybody,” Eric offer this bit of solace: “Jake, this isn’t Iraq.” Grrr. Jake knows better. “Maybe, maybe. But the rules are the same.” And so the brothers nod, as ever, grimly, redefining themselves as insurgents against the occupation that so baldly curtails their rights, leeches their resources, and considers their population expendable.
While it’s not exactly subtle to posit a post-apocalyptic U.S. as the equivalent of Iraq (or Afghanistan, as Beck’s experience reminds you), it does lay out a new grid for Jericho. Now the tribal warfare and thirst for vengeance, while still troublesome, are recontextualized. The panicky, survivalist backdrop has given way to the metaphorical strategies of old Star Treks or new Battlestars, lobbing political and cultural critiques via SF. If the allegory seems obvious, it’s hardly irrelevant.