What was The Chosen Season 1 about?
- The Chosen Season 1 begins with an episode that is essentially a long, slow build toward a personal encounter with Jesus.
- The primary protagonists of The Chosen Season 1 are Mary, Simon, Matthew, and Nicodemus. The character arc of each of these protagonists reaches its dramatic peak at point when he/she encounters Jesus (This is why Mary Magdalene’s story peaks early and then fades into the background, whereas the arcs of Matthew and Nicodemus build gradually over the course of the entire season until finally peaking in Episode 7).
- The Chosen Season 1 ends with another episode-long build up to a personal encounter with Jesus (Normally it would be unusual to introduce a brand new character and conflict in the final episode of a season, but by doing so The Chosen Season reinforces the centrality of encountering Jesus).
The “personal encounter with Jesus” story arc takes just a few basic forms in Season 1 of The Chosen:
- Rescue (Mary, Simon, Photina, the Leper, the Paralytic & friends, Eden’s mother): The character’s long-term struggle comes to a breaking point; suddenly, Jesus shows up out of nowhere and has a personal, miraculous encounter that rescues the character from his/her struggle. The character is eager to follow Jesus and spread news of him to others.
- Disruption (Nicodemus, Matthew, Thomas, Ramah): The character’s life shows signs of emptiness, but superficially he/she seems to be doing pretty well; suddenly, the character discovers Jesus’ work (from a distance) and it turns the character’s worldview upside down. The character encounters Jesus and is challenged to leave behind the parts of his/her old life that are going well in order to follow Jesus, with variable results.
- Invitation (James & John & Family, the Children, Eden): This is a less prominent and well-defined arc than the previous two, but essentially it’s a less dramatic form of the “rescue” arc. The character doesn’t really need to be rescued, nor does Jesus need to disrupt the character’s worldview in a serious way. The character is drawn to Jesus with little serious conflict and invited to participate in his ministry in some form or other.
- Opposition (Shmuel & the Pharisees, Quintus, indirectly): The character encounters Jesus doing something that challenges his power and worldview and responds with opposition and anger.
Of course, by abstracting all the encounters with Jesus in The Chosen Season 1 into types like I have, it flattens things out. In practice, these types take on a wide variety of forms depending on the nature of the character and his/her predicament, as well as the pacing of the character’s story arc. Regardless, I hope identifying these different forms of Jesus-encounters helps put a spotlight on how central the personal encounter is to Season 1 of The Chosen.
What has changed in The Chosen Season 2?
Having identified the “personal encounter with Jesus” as the primary story arc of The Chosen Season 1, we can now observe how The Chosen Season 2 has deviated from that pattern. These deviations can give us a cue to what The Chosen Season 2 is really all about.
Superficially, one could potentially watch episode 1 and episode 2 of The Chosen Season 2 and conclude that personal encounters are still the focus. After all, we still see this type of story arc showing up in significant ways in the first two episodes:
- Rescue: Jesus encounters the man with the broken cart, the crippled Samaritan Bandit, and Nathanael.
- Disruption: Jesus encounters Ramah’s father (? – could be opposition, it’s a difficult call)
Having noted these encounters, however, it should become immediately apparent that this list does hardly any justice to the plots of episodes 1 & 2. Both episodes are jammed pack with content that can’t really be fit into the “personal encounters with Jesus” paradigm from Season 1 of The Chosen. Moreover, the personal encounters with Jesus that are depicted are not multi-episode story arcs like we saw in The Chosen Season 1; they’re “miracle-of-the-week” arcs that serve as a backdrop for the more central story arcs. This reality becomes even more apparent in Episode 3, in which all of the personal encounters with Jesus happen off screen in the background of the actual plot of the episode.
So, what is The Chosen Season 2 about?
So, if The Chosen Season 2 isn’t as interested in personal encounters with Jesus as Season 1 was, what is it interested in? Episode 3 of Season 2 is the clearest indicator. Since all the encounters with Jesus in Episode 3 happen in the background, what’s left? Our focus is left solely on the struggle of the disciples to come together as a community while learning how to follow Jesus together, in spite of their differences and their conflicting bids for power. Looking back on episodes 1 & 2, we see this same thread has indeed taken prominence over personal encounters since the very beginning of Season 2. Consider the case of the Samaritan Bandit from Episode 1. The Chosen isn’t nearly as interested in him as a character as it would have been in Season 1. Rather, the meal with the Samaritan Bandit is an opportunity for John and Big James to have their anti-Samaritan bias rebuked by Jesus’ radically gracious embrace and also for the brothers to witness Jesus’ divine power demonstrated from afar.
In a lot of ways, The Chosen’s shift from focusing on personal encounters to focusing on community and discipleship was inevitable, both from a structural standpoint and based on the Gospel material that The Chosen is adapting. By the end of The Chosen Season 1, all of our main protagonists had already gone through their entire personal-encounter-with-Jesus arc. If The Chosen had sought to keep that type of story arc at the center of Season 2, it would have meant functionally sidelining all of the main characters from Season 1 in order to develop a new crop of characters. Alternatively, The Chosen could have focused exclusively on “miracle-of-the-week” episodes but this would have come at the expense of developing serialized season-long arcs, which is one of The Chosen’s core aspirations.
Setting structure aside, as a faithful adaptation of the Gospels, The Chosen simply couldn’t have maintained an exclusive focus on personal encounters. In the Gospels, just as we are seeing in The Chosen Season 2, large portions of the narrative are focused on the disciples coming together (or not) under Jesus’ leadership. When personal encounters do show up in the Gospels, they are often set pieces for Jesus to teach his disciples. All this is to say, the changes from Season 1 to Season 2 of The Chosen make perfect sense, both structurally and in order to mirror the Gospels themselves.
While The Chosen Season 1 certainly had person vs. person conflicts, these ultimately served the internal person vs. self conflicts which were underlying the central personal-encounter story arc. Since The Chosen Season 2 is focused more on community than on personal encounters, the person vs. person conflicts are more central, while the person vs. self conflicts have begun to play more of a supporting role. With that in mind, an important part of understanding what The Chosen Season 2 is about is to recognize the group politics at play among the disciples:
- Simon and Andrew are in contention with John and Big James for leadership of the group and the opportunity to set Jesus’ agenda.
- One “battleground” in the contention between Simon/Andrew and John/Big James is the treatment of Matthew. Simon (and, in a more moderate way, Andrew) despises Matthew, while John and Big James seem to want to be more welcoming.
- Matthew’s treatment is also an occasion for Philip to step in and offer support, although Philip doesn’t seem to have much interest in getting involved in the inner-group politics of the disciples.
- Matthew also bonds with Mary Magdalene and Ramah as “outsiders,” since they’re the members of the group who haven’t had significant synagogue training. Now they’re trying to learn Torah together.
- Mary Magdalene exerts an informal kind of leadership in the group. While she doesn’t seem to be in contention for leading the group, her opinions seem to be well-respected by everyone else.
These are some of the major fault lines among the disciples during the first half of The Chosen Season 2. We’re almost halfway through the season, so it seems pretty clear that these fault lines will play a major role in the climax and turning point of the The Chosen Season 2. What isn’t yet clear is whether we’ll see a clearer over-arching conflict develop. These are all relatively small interpersonal conflicts. I would expect something bigger than mere political infighting to hold the later half of The Chosen Season 2 together, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
How does Episode 4 fit into The Chosen Season 2?
In the post above, I examined episodes 1-3 of The Chosen Season 2 and predicted that The Chosen was moving away from a focus on personal encounters with Jesus in order to focus instead on the struggle of Jesus’ disciple to come together as a community following Jesus, in spite of their various differences and competing ambitions and desires. Episode 4 of The Chosen Season 2 would seem to challenge that prediction, since it is very clearly centered around developing the invalid at the Bethesda Pool and Simon the Zealot in order to set up the invalid’s personal encounter with Jesus. We get scenes of the disciples building a booth for the Feast of Tabernacles and a little ribbing of Matthew for his eccentricity and for his ignorance of Jewish custom. The majority of the episode’s conflict, however, centers around the two brothers – with Shmuel’s return as a Pharisaical voice opposing Jesus featuring as a C-plot.
All of this being said, I’m not yet ready to withdraw my prediction that the arc of The Chosen Season 2 as a whole will still revolve around conflict among the disciples as they seek to come together as a community. While the disciples may play a relatively small role in the episode, it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the disciples Jesus intentionally chooses to bring with him when he goes to heal the invalid at Bethesda are the main players in conflict this season: Matthew, Simon (Peter), and James. The first few episodes of The Chosen Season 2 built up the conflict for power and influence between Simon and James, and one of the key centers of their conflict was the treatment of Matthew, with Simon favoring Matthew’s exclusion because of his past as a tax collector and James favoring more leniency. We know that Simon the Zealot will eventually be counted among the twelve. Given his Zealot background, it seems likely that he will side with Simon (Peter) in hatred of Matthew for being a Roman sympathizer, which could bring the conflict about Matthew’s place among the disciples to a boiling point. For now we’ll have to wait and see.