Jericho and the American Nightmare

Not unlike the new version of “Battlestar Galactica”, “Jericho” found its inspiration in the attacks of 9/11 and the ensuing War of Terror. Unlike it, “Jericho” struggled with its ratings and barely arrived to the second season. Even that was only made possible by the extensive on-line campaign started by the fans of the show. This didn’t ensure the success of the show, but it at least gave writers a chance to wrap up the story somewhat. This is all too bad, cause “Jericho” was a fascinating show to watch: a horror version of post-WTC USA with all of its conspiracy theories taken up to the umpteenth level.

Today is the last ordinary day.

Today is the last ordinary day.

One morning, citizens of Jericho, Kansas are startled by sight of atomic mushrooms blossoming all over the horizon. Before the EMP weaponry throws the town into Dark Ages, the only news people see on their TVs is a mute clip of people running in panic followed by short announcement by Chinese news anchorman sitting in front of the large map of USA with dozens of nuclear explosions marked on it. Luckily for the citizens of “Jericho”, they mostly avoid the nuclear fallout. Luckily for the audience, this is only the start of their troubles. Very soon Jericho is left without gasoline, electricity, medicines and other supplies. In exchange, they get paranoia – Who attacked the USA? Is there an invasion coming? –and mercenaries “maintaining order” by robbing and killing civilians.

But there is a person in Jericho who actually knows what’s going on. Black Ops operative Robert Hawkins (Lennie James) was employed by the military-industrial complex to set up one of the 25 nuclear bombs that were supposed to bring Federal government on its knees. Instead, he escaped with his family to the closest location outside the range of fallout and hid the bomb. It’s up to him and the other main character, Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) – a local guy who just returned after being a pilot and a mercenary in Afghanistan – to try and save Jericho from destruction and expose the biggest conspiracy in the history of USA.

Compared with the old fears about the WW3, Jericho’s Apocalypse is almost a cozy one: there are no mutants, monsters, nuclear wastelands nor punk bandits on motorcycles. The true horror of “Jericho” lies in small details reminding us just how interconnected and fragile modern society is. Dirty water causes cholera among the populace. Winter cold kills many who have nothing to warm themselves with. Economy degenerates down to barter. Foreign airplanes throw supplies that get thrown away in fear of being deliberately contaminated with disease. Apparently, there is still a world out there, but is it a friendly one?

What I also enjoyed while watching “Jericho” was the way heroism of the characters doesn’t always come from ultra-competent heroes (although the Black Ops guy surely counts in that category) but from the common men and women of the town who actually risk to get themselves killed, making their courage and sacrifice far more impressive and convincing. With this being a Tv series, we know we can expect some kind of happy end, but that’s not the point: it’s the way the characters arrive to it that truly counts as a source of suspense. And when you combine that with the extreme circumstances of the life in Jericho where morality and law are stretched out to the breaking point… Well, you get a pretty decent –at least for TV – study of human nature, not unlike the one in “Galactica”.

So, I leave you know with the people of Jericho: cold, miserable and forced upon the war with the neighbourhood town. Here, once again, worst part gets averted with the timely arrival of the new government and it’s army, restored with the help of certain military-industrial complex. Luckily for the audience, this is only the start of their troubles.