January 20, 2023

Third season, “The Chosen”: personal trauma, artistry, sympathetic antagonists

In season three of “The Chosen,” Jesus sends the Apostles out two-by-two. (Photo courtesy of TheChosen.tv)

In season three of “The Chosen,” Jesus sends the Apostles out two-by-two. (Photo courtesy of TheChosen.tv)

By Ann Margaret Lewis

Now in its third season, “The Chosen”— the first multi-season show on the life of Christ—has continued momentum, picking up new characters and presenting stories that are poignant and powerful.

Directed by evangelical film director Dallas Jenkins, the theme of this season is “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). Throughout this season, we see people carrying heavy physical and spiritual burdens that are diminished or put into focus with Christ’s involvement.

The first two episodes of season three premiered in theaters in mid-November of last year, then were later released episode-by-episode via online streaming beginning on Dec. 11 and continuing each Sunday through January, finishing with episode six on Jan. 15.

The first two episodes of season three were deeply personal, one addressing little James (or James the Lesser) and his physical infirmity. Jordan Walker who plays this character has cerebral palsy which affects his walking ability. When he, as James, asks Jesus why he has not yet healed him, Jesus’s reply is said to him and to all of those who live with chronic illness without cure—that patient suffering, even while praising God, is a message that he trusts little James to share, just as Job had.

Without realizing it, Protestant director and creator Jenkins comes close in this scene to the Catholic concept of redemptive suffering. But even without getting to that point, the scene is well-done and speaks to the heart of those who live with chronic pain or disease.

The focus on suffering and heavy burdens leads to episodes with content one might consider “gritty.” This includes the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage (Mk 5:25-34) in episode five, and in another episode the loss of a character’s unborn child to miscarriage. With the latter topic, Jenkins added a notification that viewer discretion was advised for younger viewers. The reality that first-century medicine was not up to the standards of today is painfully clear in these episodes, but the emotional toll it takes on both women involved is just as relevant today as it was then.

The new characters introduced this season are more antagonistic in nature. Judas Iscariot is introduced in the first episode, and we find him unnervingly sympathetic. He’s a genuinely sweet young man who is eager to contribute and be a part of Christ’s movement. But we see already the flaws he has that will lead to his ultimate downfall.

We also witness Christ sending the Apostles out two-by-two to preach news of the kingdom of God, and Judas is a part of this mission. He performs miracles in Christ’s name, just as the others do. This fact is a reminder that even those called by Christ can fall.

Also introduced is Pontius Pilate, who is surprisingly played by a young actor named Andrew James Allen. Allen was cast because, as Jenkins says, he delivered Pilate’s lines in his audition in a way that, despite his age, caught the essence of the character.

While he did not seem to fit the type for Pilate, his audition performance inspired Jenkins to re-examine why Pilate initially shoved Jesus’ sentence off to Herod and washed his hands of the whole decision in Jesus’ death. Jenkins said in an after-show segment to episode six that he and his writers were setting Pilate up to be someone who “wasn’t necessarily built for or ready for a leadership level of this magnitude.” It shows him as a man over his head, giving this antagonist a novel and almost sympathetic interpretation.

Jenkins also provides glimpses of what is to come in Christ’s future. In episode six, we see a dream sequence of the Garden of Gethsemane with Satan as a giant albino python. Claudia, Pilate’s wife, awakens from this dream to the screams of men dying on crosses in the outer courtyard of the governor’s home. So even this early in the series (the series is planned to run for seven seasons), viewers are being introduced to Christ’s future passion and death.

Again, this series is biblical fiction, which proposes what might have happened in the lives of those surrounding Christ during the Lord’s earthly ministry. Viewers are encouraged to read Scripture itself to see what is really there, and to understand that, like all religious art, it is presented to point one to Christ himself as he truly is.

Throughout this show’s seasons, the artistry in filming has been praiseworthy, a fact that continues in season three.

Jenkins and his crew found a location in Texas to build a permanent set which is magnificent in its detail. Further, directing choices are well made. There is an opening sequence showing the Apostles on the two-by-two mission driving out demons, preaching the kingdom and healing the sick and lame. This sequence, meant to bring us up to speed on what has occurred since the previous episode, is presented only with musical score and in black and white, and the effect is powerful.

The final two episodes will be the “wow” moment of the season, which is the feeding of the 5,000 in which thousands of extras are once again gathered at the set for the scene.

This scene is one of the principal reasons why episodes seven and eight of season three of “The Chosen” will be released in theaters through Fathom Events (fathomevents.com) on Feb. 2-3 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. both days. This delay gives new viewers a chance to catch up on the series to this point. Seasons one and two are available on Amazon Prime, season one is available on Netflix, and all episodes are available online at thechosen.tv or through “The Chosen” app found on Google Play or Apple iStore.

After its theatrical release on Feb. 2-3, episode seven will be streamed and released on the app and website on Feb. 5,

with episode eight following closely behind during that week to avoid Super Bowl Sunday. You can find all information on these releases at thechosen.tv.

(Ann Margaret Lewis is executive assistant to the director of communications for the archdiocesan Office of Communications.)

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