04 April 2010

The Ghost-Grey Cat Presents: (6) Journey to Jerusalem

Episode 518:  Journey to Jerusalem
First aired:  14 September 1976
Author:  Sam Dann

Play the teaser
You still do not accept Jerusalem?  It is not a place on a map!  It exists in the heart, the soul.
     Mme. Solanos to Elwood Joris
Happy Easter, y'all.  This year's Blog Against Theocracy is live for the weekend, and I had originally thought to post something over there.  Heaven knows that there's plenty to blog about.  For example, the thought of replacing Thomas Jefferson with Phyllis Schlafly in textbooks is so offensive, it barely merits the response, " 'Seriously?'."  The lolcatty "Srsly?" would be more appropriate if the stakes for U.S. education weren't so high.

It's the much wider range of possible topics that ultimately sunk that full-blown blog post.  My attempts to choose a subject sent me in too many different directions.  As I was still making up my mind, coincidence put "Journey to Jerusalem" on my iTunes playlist.  It occurred to me that this would be a good episode to review on Easter Weekend.

Like quite a few RMT episodes, Episode 518 carries a strong Abrahamic undercurrent.  That larger group of episodes consists of three subgroups: (1) a pair of inspirational stories so awful, they wouldn't make the cut on Unshackled; (2) straight crime dramas in which characters attribute their fates to Godly intervention; and (3) horror stories pitting ordinary people against Satan, demons, dybbuks and/or other forces of Hell.  A few of these episodes derive from Jewish legend, while others occur in Christian settings, but none specifically mentions Jesus Christ.

"Journey to Jerusalem" belongs to the larger category, but not any of the subcategories.  Instead of demons or divine intervention, it concentrates on Jerusalem, and its meaning two the two main characters.  As becomes apparent during the course of the plot, Jerusalem is far more than a holy city to them.

The main character is Elwood Joris (Vincent Gardenia, in his only RMT appearance), a self-made billionaire whose rags-to-riches life has left him lonely and even a bit paranoid.  Now in middle age, he is discovering that his riches cannot buy back the things he sacrificed to make them.  Joris especially wants his youth back, but no one is selling.

Enter Madame Solanos (Joan Shea).  At first glance, she is merely a dark-haired, dark-eyed crank.  Newly evicted on her landlord's suspicion that she is also a con artist, she has appealed to Joris for help.  Her pleas go ignored until, at the end of Act I, she threatens to blackmail Joris's receptionist.  Once she does meet with him, Mme. Solanos demands that Joris help her, and tells him what she has done to those who oppose her.

Although Joris judges her threat and her power to both be credible, he resists.  In fact, he threatens to use his connections to jail Mme. Solanos.  But persistence, and an eloquent appeal to his better angels, convice him that she can acutally help him regain his youth.  They join forces, finally -- but to what end?

It's not clear exactly who or what Mme. Solanos is.  She regards Jerusalem not just as a city, but as "the spirit of justice."  She wants to help others find Jerusalem, especially Joris.  Gifted with supernatural powers, she also regards herself as an instrument of God.  But if that's true, why does she care about helping Joris, but not anyone else?  Why use her powers to blackmail his receptionist, or bring grievous harm to two of his associates?  So far as we can tell, the only things that distinguish Joris are his material wealth and his loneliness.  Whatever she is, Mme. Solanos is certainly no angel.

As for Joris:  why does he want his youth back?  Is it just regret, or does he fear for his soul?  For some reason, a famous phrase comes to mind, one that appears in three Gospels of the New Testament.  I'll just quote the one from the Gospel of Mark, in which he is advising a rich young man who wants to reach Heaven:
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.  (Mark 10: 25)
According to Mark, Jesus made this declaration at a stop on a journey to Jerusalem -- just before he again predicted his death and resurrection to his twelve apostles.

Back to this story, though.  RMT generally didn't believe in multi-part stories -- its five exceptions were all week-long epics -- but this almost felt like Part 1 of a two-part episode.  It works very well as is, but its ambition certainly left it open to a two-hour plot.  Either way, it's one of the more challenging episodes in the series.

Grade:  93/100.  "Journey to Jerusalem" was one carefully selected title for an ambitious story.

No comments: