The Rev. Rob Courtney & Mtr. Liz Embler Beazley
Fr. Rob & Mtr. Liz are clergy at St. Paul's
We are screening the first season of The Chosen during this Season after the Epiphany. On Jan. 4 a group of us gathered to watch the first episode. Lots of people have been telling us about this series for a while now, and what better way to become acquainted with it than to watch as a church community.
**SPOILER WARNING** There are spoilers below, so if you'd rather avoid them until you can watch the show yourself come back later!
Want to keep going? Alright then. You were warned!
For our part, we both enjoyed the first episode! Some of the participants found it a little confusing, but that seems to be for a couple of reasons: 1) some of it comes down to an unfamiliarity with the gospel stories--which is okay! That's part of the reason we're watching this. We want, ultimately, for it to help direct us to the Bible. 2) First (sometimes second or third as well) episodes of TV shows can be confusing. There was one person present who has already streamed the entire series, and another who had seen the first three episodes. Both of them talked about their second viewings being more meaningful because they already knew where the story is going. I (Fr. Rob) always try to give TV shows at least 2 episodes, maybe 3, before bailing. Most TV shows need an episode or two of setup before hitting their stride. We get the feeling that's what's happening here.
Overall, we really appreciated the production value. It's well-directed, and deals very appropriately with some heavy themes. Mary Magdalene is depicted as struggling with real trauma, and some of the traumatic circumstances of her life are implied without in any way being graphic, which actually increases the narrative's power. The episode depicts the city of Capernaum as a rather desperate place, and the viewer gets the feeling that this place and its people are truly in need of saving, not unlike our own modern world. One gripe we had is in the costuming and casting of the Roman soldiers. Their helmets seem like they are flopping around on the soldiers heads, and the actors all seem to have British accents. The Jewish, Middle Eastern characters seemed a little more authentic compared to the soldiers.
While most of the characters themselves are biblically based, this first episode is a broad, speculative exploration of what these people may have been like. While much of what we learn about them is for dramatic effect, it does put real flesh on gospel characters who can seem flat on the page. We really liked Simon (Peter) and Andrew in particular. Mary Magdalene is also a highlight, but there is one aspect of her character that is decidedly unbiblical. Mary is portrayed as a prostitute which is nowhere in scripture. It is a tradition of the Church, but it is not biblical. All that the Bible says about her struggles is in Luke 8:2 where we learn that Jesus cast out seven demons from her. The tradition of her as a prostitute began in the 6th century when Pope Gregory the Great conflated Mary with other gospel characters. While The Chosen's portrayal of Mary has a lot to offer that is positive, it's disappointing that the writers decided to stick with this false and damaging tradition about her. They could have achieved the same effect of showing her as a woman who'd experienced great trauma in her life, a woman who was victimized, a woman who wrestled with her demons, without the false prostitution angle.
During our discussion several of us noted the interesting portrayal of Nicodemus, whom we only know from the Gospel of John. We see Nicodemus as a respected teacher and leader, yet also a man struggling with some doubts and insecurities, who is searching for greater spiritual depth than his role seems to offer him. This tracks very well with the Nicodemus of the gospel whom John portrays as coming to Jesus "by night" because he doesn't want others to see him meeting with Jesus (see John 3). We were curious to see how his character will continue to develop.
The characters we meet seem as desperate as the city they live in. They're all lost. They're all damaged, all searching. It's not until the end of this episode that we finally meet Jesus as he encounters Mary, calls her by name, and only then does she respond (see John 10:27). This also foreshadows John's famous resurrection scene with Mary (see John 20:16).
We mentioned that some of our viewers found the show confusing at first, others responded very positively. Here is what some of them said:
"It was like having scripture show up."
"Surreal. Spooky. But powerful!"
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and let's have a conversation! Next Wednesday we'll be back for episode 2. Maybe you can join us! Learn more about our Wednesdays at Church (W@tCh) program here. Hope to see you!