The Chosen (Season 1, Ep 2): Shabbat

Hi. Welcome to my recap and reaction to The Chosen, the crowd-funded, first ever multi-season TV series about the life of Jesus and his disciples. You can find my prior posts about the show HERE.

THE QUICK AND CLEAN SUMMARY:

Mary Magdalene is seen by one of the Pharisees who attended her exorcism attempt, and he reports that she is now healed. Nicodemus visits her and she tells him someone else is responsible for her healing and that she is preparing to host Shabbat dinner. During her Shabbat dinner, Jesus and two of his students arrive for a surprise visit.

Matthew visits with the local Roman Praetor, Quintus, to tell him that he does not believe Simon will follow through on his end of the tax bargain Quintus made with him. Simon, meanwhile, misses Shabbat dinner and meets with Roman soldiers in preparation of turning in Jewish merchant vessels which are avoiding taxation by fishing on Shabbat.

THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:

The episode opens with a boy, who has just observed a new star in the sky, asking his mother about the meaning of Shabbat. After his mother explains the day’s purpose, he notices the star again and this time his mother sees it too.

City of Capernaum, A.D. 26

Mary Magdalene, now free of demon possession, is gathered with other women and she is recruited to help with braiding someone’s hair. As she does this, one of the Pharisees who was present during the failed exorcism, attempted by Nicodemus, walks by and sees from a distance that she is now healed. He turns and goes quickly to report this news.

Matthew waits with Gaius to meet with Quintus. Before the meeting, Gaius, who seems to like Matthew, expresses a deep concern for the fact that the meeting is taking place at all, asking the tax collector if he has any idea who he is dealing with. Matthew defends his reasoning for requesting the meeting, which then leads Gaius to tell him that as he does not want to carry his corpse out, he will wait outside for Matthew’s replacement. He sternly wishes him good luck before going.

Before Gaius can leave, Quintus arrives and asks why he should not have them both killed, but he gives Matthew the opportunity to answer first. Matthew – who seems to be completely oblivious to his danger – reports that he was recently approached by a man who was very delinquent in his tax payments. Quintus is disinterested in the story and asks Matthew to get to the point.

Matthew: Did you hire a man to spy on Jewish merchant vessels fishing on Shabbat to avoid taxation?

Quintus: Yes. Simon.

Quintus tells Matthew that Simon’s debts are forgiven. Gaius clearly wants to take this news and leave, but Matthew continues to question Quintus and asks if this also includes the debts of Simon’s brother. Quintus again tells him yes. Quintus tells them goodbye, Gaius thanks him for his time, but Matthew insists on telling him before going that he does not find Simon to be reliable. He shares with Quintus, who seems to be in disbelief that Matthew is still speaking to him, that past inquiry revealed that Simon spends an inordinate amount of time on games of chance and that he personally doubts Simon has real connections to the merchant class, based on his financial status.

Matthew: In spite of his current intentions, I do not believe you have an accurate understanding of what he can deliver.

Gaius immediately kneels and apologizes for this dishonor, prepared to fall on his sword. One of Quintus’s guards suddenly approaches, draws a sword, and tells Matthew to say his last prayer. Quintus tells him to stay his hand and asks Matthew, tensely, if he is saying that he made a bad deal. Matthew tells him yes. Abruptly Quintus begins to laugh, in almost a giggle, and asks where Matthew came from. He explains that his brothers throughout the Empire look for brave men to spare and recruit, but he says the Empire’s power prohibits those efforts because sane men do not stand up to the Roman Empire. Matthew defensively replies that he is sane and Quintus agrees, but adds that it is a different kind of sanity.

Quintus gets more details from Matthew about why Simon is unlikely to fulfill his obligations and Quintus responds by saying that it might then not surprise Matthew to learn that Simon has not yet fulfilled his obligations. He asks Matthew his name, and when Matthew answers, he responds that he may yet have need of Matthew’s keen powers of observation. He dismisses him and says that he will be in touch. Gaius, relieved to be alive, pulls him out of Quintus’s tent.

Simon is at an establishment buying drinks for, and gambling with, merchant vessel sailors as Andrew looks on sullenly from a distance. Simon approaches Andrew who asks why he is happy. He points out that his brother is buying drinks for the merchants and compares it to fattening lambs before a slaughter. Simon tells Andrew that there is nothing wrong with enjoying a temporary reprieve from financial doom. Andrew is still unhappy, so Simon leans toward his brother and says that he does not like any of this, but he says that these merchants are not his family whereas he and Eden are.

As Nicodemus writes, he is approached and startled by an excited Shmuel, who tells him that the judges of the Sanhedrin have sent for him, including the Av Beit Din himself. Nicodemus is startled and asks what happened.

When Nicodemus meets the Av Beit Din, the other man tells him that they are considering a formal inquiry. Nicodemus asks what the charges are, and the other man, very surprised that Nicodemus does not know more, tells him that a miracle has occurred. He then tells Nicodemus that the woman in the Red Quarter, to whom he offered exorcism rites, is now redeemed.

The Pharisee who saw her at the hairdresser then reports to Nicodemus that he saw her himself and that there can be no doubt of her redemption. The Av Beit Din tells Nicodemus that they want to send word of this to Jerusalem at once and that Nicodemus himself said that the depth of her demonic oppression meant that the woman was beyond human aid. Nicodemus asks permission to investigate the sighting of this woman, himself, before the formal inquiry is conducted. When asked why he wants to do this, he explains that just as the exorcism took a while to take hold, its hold now may be tenuous. He says it may come as a shock to her to be poured over by learned judges. He suggests that his own face will at least be familiar to her. The other man agrees but requests that Nicodemus be efficient because news of this kind grows legs.

That night, Simon and Andrew are spying on the merchant vessels and speculating as to which ship will sail on Shabbat. Andrew continues to complain to Simon about what they are doing, and tells his older brother that the men on those vessels are brothers.

Simon: So what? It’s my fault that a dumb kid does not know better?
Andrew: I keep waiting for you to tell me that this is all part of a plan to double-cross the Romans!
Simon: Andrew. There is a crew out there and that crew is taking food out of Eden’s mouth. They’re going to take our boat next, and maybe our lives.

Nicodemus returns home. His wife comments that he is not teaching today and he replies that he has research to do. She tells him not to take too long because their guests will be arriving early. She then reminds him that some of his colleagues have been waiting weeks for the Teacher of Teachers to lead Shabbat.

In the market, Gaius the Centurion guard of Matthew sees another Roman soldier being shoved by a Jew. He approaches and uses the hilt of his sword to knock the Jew unconscious and then tells the soldier, Marcus, that only one language keeps their peace and that he needs to learn to speak it. He finds Matthew in his tax collection booth, cleaning himself off as someone has thrown something disgusting and unnamed at him. Gaius tells him to go home and to clean himself, but Matthew says his father did not raise him to shirk responsibility. Gaius comments that his father raised him right and that he must have Roman blood.

Matthew: We don’t speak.
Gaius: Jews are odd.

Gaius asks him how this can be and Matthew replies that his father now says he has no son. Gaius just watches him quietly after.

Mary returns to the hairdresser with Shabbat candles. The other woman says she would not have guessed Mary would host Shabbat and Mary admits she has not done so in a long while and that she is not certain that she remembers how to do it. The other women give her some advise and encourage her to get going so that she has time to complete preparations. As she steps out onto the street, she runs into Nicodemus. He expresses shock and when she quietly tries to walk away, he asks her not to be frightened and reminds her that he ministered to her. When he calls her Lilith, she tells him that she does not answer to that name, and then she tells him she is called Mary.

She again tries to excuse herself to go make preparations, and he says, kindly, that he is a Pharisee visiting from Jerusalem and that he believes she experienced a miracle. When she asks if he is really a Pharisee, he shows her, and she immediately covers her hair. He smiles and tells her that he is not here to enforce Jewish law. She asks how he knows who she is and he is surprised that she does not remember him. She tells him she remembers nothing and that it is all a blur. She tells him she cannot go back into that and he, again quite kindly, expresses agreement, but tells her that she is clearly healed. He asks her how it happened and how long after his visit it was that she began to feel better. She replies that it was nothing he did, but that it was someone else.

Mary: He called me Mary. He said I am his. I am redeemed.
Nicodemus: And it was so?
[Mary nods]
Nicodemus: Who did this?
Mary: I don’t know his name, and even if I did, I could not tell you.
Nicodemus: And why not?
Mary: His time for men to know has not yet come.

Nicodemus is stunned by this and asks what the man looks like or if he is a member of the Sanhedrin. She is quiet and he asks if she would at least know him if she saw him again. She tells him that she was one way, and now she is completely different, and the thing that happened in between was him. She says she will know him for the rest of her life. She then excuses herself to go and prepare for Shabbat dinner. Nicodemus is stunned and joyous that she is so mended as to be hosting Shabbat dinner. They depart from each other.

Simon wakes up the following day, well after morning has ended, and greets Eden who is preparing dinner. She is upset with him, and points out both the lateness of the hour he is waking up, and the fact that she knows he has not taken a catch to market in days. She says she does not understand what is happening and says that his hours are upside down, he is not catching fish, and his face is frozen in worry. She tells him not to tell her nothing is happening and he answers by saying that they are in a challenging season right now. He tells her that he will get caught up tonight and she asks what he means.

Eden: You need to work on Shabbat?
Simon: It’s a special circumstance. I can’t get into it right now. Andrew will be here as normal and I’ll just be gone for a few hours.
Eden: [sarcastically] Oh, well, would you like me to give you a Shabbat plate to take with you?

He asks her to trust him and he promises that he has got this. She responds that he answers to God, not her, but adds that next time he will answer to them both.

Matthew leaves his home on the evening of Shabbat to spy on Simon. He watches through the window of his home but is not very circumspect.

Nicodemus hosts Shabbat dinner, but is so lost in thought that his wife asks what is on his mind. He is looking at a tapestry and asks if she knows the significance of it. She simply asks him to tell her, and then he gives a brief history lesson on the Maccabees Revolt. She smiles warmly at him, when he is done, and tells him that he is as smart as he is handsome. After recounting a tale of suppressed worship, he asks aloud who is suppressing their people now and he suggests aloud that he knows the answer. She looks at the tapestry, says it is beautiful, an asks if the artist should have made it less so and to what purpose. He smiles at her and tells her that she is as wise as she is beautiful. Their talk is interrupted by the arrival of Shmuel and his wife. As they take their seats, Nicodemus begins speaking to the gathered guests.

Mary is hosting Shabbat as people begin to arrive. Soon, Barnaby and then a woman named Shula arrive. A moment later, tow men she does not know, James and Thaddeus, arrive. They tell her that they were told this would be a good place to come. She is surprised and flustered but invites them inside. She tells them that she does not know what she is doing and asks that they tell her if she is not doing something she should, or if she is doing something wrong. They tell her that they see food, so it is a victory. One of the guests asks about the extra seat at the table and Mary nervously says that it is for Elijah and asks if that is right. She is told that this is only during Passover and she laughs and says that when Passover comes she will have a head start on preparations. She begins to read and Barnaby comments on her ability to do so, which causes Shula – who is blind – to announce that she reads better than Barnaby. Mary smiles and shares that her father taught her. Just then someone knocks on the door. Barnaby comments that Mary is very popular. Shula suggests it might be a Pharisee who wants to shut them down for letting Barnaby attend. Mary opens the door and finds Jesus there. They greet each other and her stunned quiet lasts so long that Jesus asks if she minds if he comes inside. That brings her back to herself and she shows him inside.

James and Thaddeus stand and greet Jesus and Mary asks Jesus if he knows them. He tells her that they are his students and he asks if they have been polite. Mary is still shocked and Shula speaks up to say that her guest can take a seat and Mary says yes. Jesus sits in the seat that Mary had set aside for Elijah. Mary explains to her other guests that Jesus is the man she told them about who helped her. Mary apologizes and says she does not actually know Jesus’s name.

Jesus: I am Jesus… of Nazareth.
Barnaby: Apparently something good *can* come from Nazareth!

Jesus tells Mary that he is honored to be here and asks her to begin. She says that now that he is here, she could not, and asks him to do it, but Jesus tells her that since it is her home, he would love for her to do it.

Mary begins to read from her notes. As we hear Mary narrate her reading, we see scenes from the other Shabbat dinners featured in the episode.

Later, we see Simon with a group of Roman soldiers on the shore of the sea.

REACTION:

This was good and it really benefited from a shorter run time than the pilot episode. I’m not sure that there was an additional 20 minutes of story here to tell and the show did not try to stretch what they had longer than necessary.

The remarkable Elizabeth Tabish is just as great as a redeemed Mary Magdalene as she was remarkable as the demonically oppressed “Lilith.” It is almost hard to believe this is the same woman we met in the previous episode. Her encounter with Nicodemus is my favorite moment from this episode and as much as her transformation is fun to see, his reaction to it is even better in my opinion. Erick Avari gives Nicodemus an almost childlike kindness and curiosity, intermixed with a grandfatherly authority and affection. The combination makes his Nicodemus really compelling on screen.

My second favorite scene in the episode is Matthew’s meeting with Quintus. Paras Patel’s Matthew is played as though Matthew is on the Autism spectrum. If you had told me that plan, without my having seen the execution, I would have advised against it. However, now that I have seen it, I will attest that I think it worked. It provides (possibly) an explanation for his choice to become a tax collector in the first place. It will also (possibly) serve to make him sympathetic to some characters and disliked by others. Gaius – for example – clearly cares for Matthew in an almost fatherly way and Matthew’s spectrum disorder probably plays a role in that. I really enjoyed the interpretation of Quintus by Brandon Potter, who gives us a Roman leader who acts almost like a 1st century version of Lex Luthor – sometimes a source of great fear, and sometimes a man who is bored of the world and thus amused by the unexpected. After an episode, I have adjusted to the Romans having American accents and I don’t find that it bothers me anymore.

We still have not spent much time yet with Jesus. As with episode 1, he only has a few lines of dialogue at the end of the episode. Jonathan Roumie though just has… presence. He is the right combination of warmth and gravitas for the character. He fills the scenes he is in without saying or doing much – so far at least.

I am not very invested in the Simon / tax debt storyline just yet but as that is becoming a bigger focus, I suspect I will get there soon.

On the whole, the second installment of this show was very good. I’m looking forward to Episode 3.

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