July 2, 2021

Second season of “The Chosen” features more characters, innovation, experimentation and a touch of controversy

Jonathan Roumie, who is Catholic, portrays Jesus in the challenging Sermon on the Mount scene coming soon in a season two episode of “The Chosen.” (Photo courtesy: Angel Studios)

Jonathan Roumie, who is Catholic, portrays Jesus in the challenging Sermon on the Mount scene coming soon in a season two episode of “The Chosen.” (Photo courtesy: Angel Studios)

By Ann Margaret Lewis

When I first reviewed the record-breaking, crowd-funded series “The Chosen” in the July 17, 2020, issue of The Criterion, I did not expect to write a second review. However, following the release of the sixth episode of the show’s second season, which launched on Easter Sunday this year, I decided it deserved a follow-up on how the series has progressed.

This new season starts with Jesus and the Apostles making their way into Samaria after Jesus’ encounter with Photina, the woman at the well, as told in John 4:4-42. New Apostles have joined the group, and already conflict is brewing among them.

The “Sons of Thunder,” Big James and John, have pushed for leadership roles, Matthew has still not come to terms with his own guilt as a public sinner/tax collector, and Simon Peter expresses in front of all of them his inability to forgive Matthew.

Matthew also annoys Thomas as the two have similar personalities and talents. Philip, a peacemaker, and Nathaniel (known as Bartholomew in three of the Gospels) also join the Apostles, as does Simon the Zealot. So far, only Judas Iscariot has not yet become one of the Twelve, but there are episodes yet to come.

Certain episodes of season two focus on individual Apostles as they find their way to Jesus. Others focus on group dynamics, how all are trying to find their place in Jesus’ ministry while addressing their own inadequacies. At the end of episode five, Mary Magdalene, who seemed rock solid in faith after her encounter with Christ in the show’s first episode, combats past trauma and wanders off from her new friends into apparent physical and spiritual danger.

The show is biblical fiction and is an extrapolation of what might have happened based on what is recorded in the Gospels. This means, of course, there can be controversy with interpretation. The producer, director and primary writer, Dallas Jenkins, is Protestant. Therefore, in the Catholic online world, discussions have brewed about some content in episode three, which is titled “Matthew 4:24.”

In this episode, the Apostles have a campfire discussion while Jesus heals people off camera. Mother Mary, says at one point that she feared making a mistake while she raised Jesus and that after his birth, Jesus had to be cleaned up like any other newborn. Some Catholic bloggers argue that these lines deny Mary’s sinlessness, or the pious tradition that she did not suffer the pain of birth.

However, the scene does not say she sinned, only that she feared making a mistake, and she adds that Jesus assured her she did not. Pious tradition is also not dogmatic, so one can make allowances for other views. Nevertheless, Mary says nothing of the pain she did or did not feel, only that Jesus’ birth was a natural, human one.

Meanwhile, this same episode finishes with an extremely moving scene that foreshadows Mary’s true discipleship and her presence at the foot of the cross. When Jesus returns to camp exhausted, Mary bathes his aching head and feet and helps him into bed while the Apostles, who had just been arguing, look on in shame.

There have also been several of what I’d call “accidental Catholic moments” in this second season despite the creator’s Protestant background. In episode six, for example, a Catholic viewer will see Mother Mary doing what we believe she always does for her children when she guides a wayward Mary Magdalene to Jesus to receive forgiveness in what is an emotional dramatization of the sacrament of confession. There is also a flashback scene suggestive of the Eucharist in which David receives the “bread of presence,” which was holy to the Jews at that time. Unintended as these moments were, perhaps they show a meeting place in what seems a chasm of belief between Christian faith traditions.

“The Chosen’s” second season has also been experimental in terms of production. Episode three contains a 15-minute long clip that was filmed in one shot during sunset. The camera man, carrying a heavy, mobile camera apparatus, managed to film it all in one take. The scene is beautifully done with its use of natural light and the flow of conversation among the actors.

Also coming up this season is the Sermon on the Mount, a scene in which the production gathered a crowd of 2,000 extras during the pandemic, all while abiding by Texas’ COVID-19 restrictions that required testing and social distancing when possible. The sermon scene also had to contend with the weather, as it was filmed during a cold snap in Texas, with temperatures dropping below freezing during the shoot.

Season two has also pushed boundaries in writing, in that the writers chose to accommodate a physically challenged cast member by writing his disability into his character. Jordan Walker Ross, who plays “Little James” (a.k.a. James the Lesser), was born with scoliosis and cerebral palsy, which challenged his career as an actor in terms of casting. While Dallas Jenkins did not notice his limp during his audition, upon discovering it during filming, he embraced it, formally writing it into his character. Little James is therefore someone who does not seek physical healing from Christ, struggling instead with matters of the spirit.

“The Chosen” has always prompted viewers to experiment with new technology throughout its run, but this has grown more important with this new season.

While season two will ultimately be offered on DVD as the first one was, the production company, Angel Studios (formerly VidAngel), is pushing viewers to use the phone app exclusively to stream the show to their smart televisions or TV streaming devices. This new technology is groundbreaking, if limiting to some viewers.

While Angel Studios has streamed the first five episodes to Facebook and YouTube, they are only keeping the first three episodes available on those platforms. Meanwhile, all episodes are viewable on their website.

Whatever way one chooses to view it, “The Chosen” is worth a watch. The acting performances are fantastic, and the production value is marvelous. Director Jenkins has opted to release episodes as they are completed rather than on a set schedule. “The Chosen” app sends users push notifications when new episodes release, and their team makes announcements of upcoming episodes on most social media platforms.

For more information on “The Chosen” series, visit their website at thechosen.tv.

(Ann Margaret Lewis is executive assistant in the archdiocesan Office of Communications and the author of several books. E-mail her at alewis@archindy.org.)​

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