Review – The Chosen: Season 2

GUG_TC2_1

Overview

Directing Dallas Jenkins

Producing Derral Eves, Matthew Faraci, Dallas Jenkins, Ryan Swanson, Chad Gundersen, Justin Tolley

Writing Dallas Jenkins, Ryan Swanson, and Tyler Thompson

Starring Jonathan Roumie, Erick Avari, Shahar Isaac, Noah James, Paras Patel, Elizabeth Tabish, Nick Shakoour, Lara Silva

Genre Drama

Platforms The Chosen App

Release Date April 4, 2021 - July 11, 2021

The Chosen has remained one of the most discussed and beloved works of Christian art to come out of the last couple of years. Season 1’s popularization last year was met by widespread embrace and incredible fan reactions, and that reaction has only gotten stronger with season 2 now that the show has accumulated over 200 million views online. I was fairly skeptical of the series overall as someone who is very harshly critical of modern Christian art. That said, I am very invested at this point and am eager to see how it develops over its series run.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: The series follows the ministry of Jesus Christ, and depicts miracles, demonic possession, and Jewish cultural practices like the Sabbath and teaching of the Old Testament.

Violence: A demon-possessed man attacks and attempts to strangle another man. There are infrequent depictions of blood, beatings, and attempted stabbings.

Language/Crude Humor: None.

Sexual Content: Characters are flustered in the presence of the opposite sex; two characters reference having crushes on Mary Magdelene.

Drug/Alcohol Use: Characters drink wine at dinner, a subplot in the show deals with relapsing into alcoholism.

Other Negative Themes: None.

Positive Themes: Themes of redemption, trust, and self-confidence.

Review

When we left off at the end of Season 1 of The Chosen, there was still a lot of Christ’s story that needed to be told. The show was only just scratching the surface of his ministry and barely getting us beyond his early miracles at the wedding. The show’s creator Dallas Jenkins has promised the series will conclude after a seven-season run, which means the events of the four gospels are going to have to be littered throughout the remaining seasons now that the first two have wrapped.

Season 2 starts just as Christ and the first few apostles were leaving for Samaria and ends just at the beginning of his famous Sermon on the Mount speech that has gone on to be one of the centerpieces of his ministry. Throughout the season, the show addresses multiple major events in the life of Christ, from a retelling of the parable of the lost sheep to depicting Christ casting out the demon Legion from a possessed man. As with most of the first season, the show is mostly cut from whole cloth. The show is dramatizing events and character backstories that aren’t directly addressed or explained in the New Testament but doing so for the purpose of building up the events of the gospels in a human and relatable way.

Bickering Among the Apostles

In my review of the season premiere, I talked about how the series was slowly starting to pivot into the early stages of Christ’s ministry. Season 2 goes much harder into that by starting to explore just how people are reacting to the first news of this mysterious man walking throughout the Roman wilderness claiming he is the messiah. Following that first episode where the characters were speaking to the Samaritans, the series darts around Israel as Christ begins laying the foundation for his work.

Episode 3 brings probably my favorite episode of the season in its story surrounding the apostles as they reflect on their ministry and relationships to one another. What’s interesting, though, is the episode holds off showing Jesus almost the entire time while the apostles entertain themselves at their camp, eating dinner and talking about Christ. In a lot of ways, I think this episode captures the heart of the show. It really lets all of the perspectives, motivations, and character drama flow naturally while these characters are laid back just trying to figure out what is going on with their lives and what the significance of Jesus’ mission truly is.

Two things quickly become clear: They don’t understand why Jesus is the way he is and they haven’t worked through their resentments toward one another.

This is especially true of Matthew. Several of the apostles, including Thomas and Simon Peter, still have massive amounts of resentment built up against Matthew because he worked as a tax collector. Because of this, they view him as an ethnic traitor and beyond forgiveness. The hostility builds to the point where it almost sparks a brawl just before a weary and bruised Christ limps past them towards his tent, whereupon he’s tended to by Mary. The apostles mutually agree to put down their resentments for the moment, although more drama emerges later in the season.

The questioning of Christ’s appearance is also something that becomes a repeated theme later on in the season. At one point, the disciples muse over portions of the prophecy in the Book of Zackariah, such as how and why a Jewish Messiah would come into the world. They discuss numerous strange contradictions and unexpected ways in which the man they’ve been traveling with doesn’t seem to match the prophecized warrior king who was supposed to bring about the deliverance of the Jewish people.

Just from a writing and character perspective, this episode best epitomizes what makes The Chosen interesting. It’s filling in vague details about the ministry of Christ but fleshing out the apostles with individual characters and building those characters off of neat historical details that tie into the setting and themes.

Simon the Zealot

I take it back! Episode 4 is the best episode of the entire season, and maybe the best episode of the entire show so far!

After a dialogue-free opening that introduces us to the childhood, radicalization, and training of the apostle Simon, we see him as an adult working for a mysterious organization known as the Zealots. They’re a hidden militia of militaristic Jews working behind the scenes to assassinate Roman leaders and free Israel from foreign occupation. Simon is specifically tasked with the assassination of a prominent magistrate in Jerusalem, but immediately gets noticed by a Roman agent named Atticus who has made it his mission to stalk the magistrate and humiliate the would-be assassin in his moment of triumph.

Jesus and the apostles also happen to be in town while all of this is happening, and he quickly senses a means by which he ought to intercede in the event and stop Simon from dying a brutal death in the act of murdering a Roman in cold blood. As it happens, Simon’s brother Jesse is a crippled man at the Pool of Bethesda who has lived a miserable life as a beggar trying to seek a miracle from pagan Gods.

Without totally spoiling what happens, Christ conspires to use the salvation of Jesse as a means to disarm and deradicalize Simon with the goal of drawing him into his circle of apostles. It is, without a doubt, my favorite episode of the series thus far and goes farthest out of its way to rewrite a classical set of Christian stories in a way that shows God’s serendipity, forgiveness, and love to break hatred and damnation. It also serves as one of the strongest character introductions of the series as Simon joins the apostles in the following episodes and remains a frequent voice throughout the rest of the season.

Audience Controversies

Episode 5 was very controversial among some of the show’s fanbase. The episode more or less picks up where the previous episode ended but starts to branch out into larger narratives dealing with character beats that many found questionable. Some of the audience’s issues were pretty minor. There’s a scene between Jesus and John the Baptist that takes place prior to his imprisonment that’s apocryphal, but one of the best bits of writing in the show.

Interestingly, the dialog in this scene injects the possible idea that John the Baptist might’ve been in error late in his ministry by choosing to aggressively confront politicians rather than focusing on his ministry. The show vaguely alludes to this.

Not surprisingly, the biggest controversy of the season comes in the two-episode Mary Magdalene subplot about her falling back into despair and alcoholism. It’s not bad, but it approaches the issue of relapsing into sin in a way that feels rushed and likely ahistorical. As the episode depicts, Magdalene sneaks into Jerusalem one night to indulge her gambling and drinking habits after several traumatic experiences which she fears she can’t take directly to Jesus to address. Initially, I had assumed she likely relapses into prostitution as well since the episode treats her like she’s committed a massive moral transgression without speaking of exactly what she did. According to the series creator Jenkins, the show goes out of its way not to portray her as a prostitute. As he says, her character’s backstory is that she was assaulted by a Roman soldier and her possession/alcoholism was a result of trauma.

Regardless, She ends up being carried home to the camp where she tearfully admits her sins to Christ and admits she doesn’t think she can live up to what he asks of her. He mercifully forgives her sins and the two hug. It’s a good message about God’s patience for our sinful natures but feels disingenuous. Most depictions of Magdalene don’t do stories like this because her redemption is already powerful enough to be a central storytelling event. I don’t blame the writers for trying to address this story and it seems Jenkins is very defensive about the importance of this story. It comes across as narratively cheap in execution.

Sermon on the Mount

The other complaint fans have with the season has been the consistent agonizing of Christ as he prepares his sermon on the mount. In episode 5, we see Christ pacing back and forth while working on an early draft of what is clearly meant to become his most famous sermon, spoken to multitudes very early in his ministry. Some fans have been fairly critical of the fact the series shows Christ agonizing over how to write the speech that will become one of the highlights of his time on earth. Of course, the Bible is very vague about how Christ came up with the speech. It’s not clear if it was divinely inspired on the spot and spontaneous, or something Christ would’ve had to think through for long periods of time. The show ultimately airs on the latter side to emphasize his humanity.

Regardless, ending the season with the sermon on the mount is a wonderful crescendo. The Chosen is usually at its best when it’s focusing on the inner lives of the apostles, but when the high points of Christ’s ministry come to fruition it’s quite wonderful to watch play out with this cast of actors watching it happen. Most of the time, the entire cast reacts with astonishment the ways viewers potentially would.

Mild spoiler…but sadly, the scene cuts just as Christ is about to give the sermon. However, the framing and editing here do a good job of highlighting what is happening. This show is about how the people involved with the ministry helped Jesus of Nazareth accomplish what he did. As much as I would’ve enjoyed the season ending on the words of the sermon, I can understand why the showrunners chose to minimize one of the most well-known speeches in human history in favor of exploring how it came out.

Conclusion

I won’t say my initial concerns with Season 1 have been fully addressed, but I will say The Chosen is becoming more muscular and confident. The production design looks better, the actors are more comfortable with their roles, and the characters we see getting fleshed out are becoming smarter and more self-aware of their roles and statuses. There are still weird hanging narrative threats such as Christ’s character arc about overcoming self-doubt that seems to remain unclear, but I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt. Jenkins has five more seasons to fully work out what it is he wants this show to say about Christ and the apostles, and I’m willing to let him have that chance to say something unique and original – so long as he keeps developing his voice and improving the quality of the show.

The Bottom Line

 

The Chosen Season 2 shows signs of improvement and growth from the first season. If you haven't checked it out yet, it's well worth looking into now since it's free to view online.

 

8.2

Posted in , , ,

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

Leave a Reply