At the end of every episode, an artificially bubbly woman named Chris sums up the events, declares the Official Moral and explains why it’s totally Biblical, even if the connections to the verses quoted are rather tenuous. I don’t often talk about Chris’s summaries because they rarely add anything. When I do mention her, it’s usually because the episode left a tiny window of think-for-yourself complexity open, and she stepped in to slam it shut. And that’s Chris in a nutshell; her only role is to make the official moral transparently clear, which is redundant when the episode properly illustrated it and reductive when not.
I should add, this was my opinion long before I was an atheist. Little Christian me thought she was annoying, everyone I knew thought she was annoying, and I’ve even had current right-wing Christian AIO fans read these reviews and criticize everything but my feelings on Chris.
But honestly, seeing how Chris summarizes the moral is key to understanding a problem with AIO; they are so desperate to invoke Biblical authority that they sometimes undercut their own points.
This episode opens with Whit announcing that he is leaving for a conference, and Connie and Eugene are going to be running Whit’s End for a weekend on their own. Connie in particular is nervous about being on her own, but Whit reassures her that he has left a note with instructions, as well as contact information if they have any questions. His final piece of advice is to just do their best to do what he would do.
The next morning, Connie comes in wearing a grandpa sweater. She’s decided it will help her get into that Mr. Whitaker mentality, thereby establishing that, for the duration of the episode, she will be dumb enough to confuse role models with method acting. She finds Eugene puzzling over two sets of paint cans. They were delivered by a man who knew Whit wanted them but couldn’t remember whether he had ordered light blue or ivory. He doesn’t call Whit for clarification because plot. Anyway, Eugene recalls that Whit said something about wanting to paint the Bible room, and deduces that Whit would prefer ivory. He resolves to get the job done before Whit returns, as a surprise.
Later that day, Jack and Lucy come in, disappointed to find the Bible room is closed for painting. Lucy had mentioned the time Jacob wrestled an angel and won, and Jack doesn’t believe that’s actually in the Bible. They could only think of two ways to resolve this debate; go find Whit, or go to a special room Bible themed room for answers. It’s not like either of them have an actual book to look it up in.
Okay, what’s really going on is that they love Whit’s stories, and they now have an excuse to ask him for one. And who can blame them? He has all the advantages of background music and individualized voice actors for all his characters. Anyway, in the spirit of running the store just like Whit would, Connie decides to give the story a go.
Spoiler alert; she’s not a naturally gifted storyteller. As she starts and restarts the story about six times, Jack and Lucy mumble their apologies and bolt.
A bit later, Connie is called into the Bible room by another kid, who ignored the wet paint signs because she just couldn’t resist all the Bible themed activities. Specifically, she wanted to play with the Talking Mirror. That’s the one that, if you say a Bible verse to it, it will answer with chapter and verse, and vice versa. And it can also… yeah, no, that’s all it can do. What irresistable fun.
The mirror is acting up, repeating “For God so loved the world that he gave-” over and over again in increasingly creepy voices. Connie tries to turn it off, but it only starts talking faster, louder, and creepier. Naturally, she gets spooked, starts hitting anything that might possibly stop it, and finally it does shut off. Because she broke it.
That evening she finds Jimmy Barclay moping. Connie gets him to open up about what’s wrong. A kid at school falsely accused him of stealing a ruler, and the two of them ended up fighting and getting sent to the principal’s office. He really doesn’t want to tell his Dad, and he wishes Whit was around to advise him. Connie says she doesn’t think he has to tell his parents. He’s sorry, and he’s already been punished once. He hardly needs to get in trouble a second time, especially over something that wasn’t really his fault. This cheers Jimmy up immensely, and he heads home.
The next morning, Mr. Barclay comes by to have a talk with Connie. And to be honest, he handles the situation perfectly. He tells Connie that he values her as a family friend, and he knows she didn’t mean to give bad advice, but he and Jimmy are going through a rough time. Jimmy is going through some pre-adolescent changes, and it’s very important to Mr. Barclay that, even at this stage, Jimmy remains able to talk about things he’s going through, even if he’s afraid he might get into trouble. Somebody close to the family advising Jimmy to keep secrets? Really not helping.
There’s some times when I think AIO doesn’t handle parent/child relationships well, or mentor/mentee boundaries, but this isn’t one of those cases. It isn’t spelled out, but you get a strong sense that Mr. Barclay gets that the relationship goes both ways; that he has to be fair in his judgment for Jimmy to trust him. What we see of him in other episodes reinforces that. They also did a really good job picking a conflict where Connie could be clearly in the wrong, but you can also kind of see her logic. I have nothing snarky to say about this whole bit.
Anyway, now that Connie’s failures have fulfilled the rule of three, she goes to Eugene in a state of absolute misery. She thinks she has let Whit down by failing to step in and be him. Eugene points out that Whit didn’t want her to be him, but be like him. She’s a different person, so of course she can never handle things exactly he would, but only apply a sort of Whit-ish-ness to her regular behaviors. This is sort of vague, but it does help her. She ditches the sweater and gets back to work.
When Whit returns, he’s a bit puzzled. See, he left them a note. Remember the note? Yeah, apparently it contained both instructions on how to shut down the mirror if it started acting up, and mention that they might get a delivery of blue and ivory paint… both of which would be used for the shed out back.
Seriously. They forgot the note. The clearly written, placed in plain sight, right fucking there list. Because this is a Metaphor for Christians forgetting to read the Bible or something.
And now Chris’s summary begins. Now, she already talked for the first two minutes at the beginning of this. There was a skit with a professional impersonator who is actually pretty bad at imitating people, and it seemed to be setting up something. The actual episode was pretty short; there’s only 22 minutes to this episode, and Chris is going to take another two and a half to make her point. Hopefully, given that the whole episode has bent over to set up this talk, and that Chris’s parts are taking up roughly a fifth of the episode, I’d expect they have something really good in store.
After explicitly saying that Connie’s story is a parable, and giving several examples of parables in the Bible, Chris finally gets to the Official Moral.
“You see, a parable is simply a lesson wrapped up in a story. Whether Connie realized it or not, her adventure today was a parable about imitating Jesus.”
Okay, like most of AIO’s audience, I learned words like “parable” at approximately childbirth. There’s certain words that are key to an uber-Christian upbringing; parable, grace, lamb, heaven, hell, blood, sin… but I digress.
“Like the apostle Paul wrote in First Corinthians Eleven One, ‘Be imitators of me, just as I also imitate Christ.’ But imitating Jesus isn’t pretending to be him. It’s just like Connie learned today. Being Whit and being like Whit are two different things.”
This also seems fairly basic. But maybe you have some more particular applications?
“She wore a sweater like his and tried to talk like he did and even tried to fix things like he did. And she wound up making a mess. Whit didn’t mean to try to be him. He just wanted her to do the things he wanted her to do.”
Yes, I know. I was there. I heard the entire episode. What does that actually correspond to, in religious terms?
“Sometimes we make the same mistake when we read in the Bible to be like Jesus. We think we’re supposed to be identical copies of Jesus, and when we fail, we get discouraged.”
What do you mean by identical? Do you mean “as good and kind as?” Or “a carpenter’s son born of a virgin and crucified at 33?” Because one of those things you absolutely should aim to do, and the other one is literally impossible. Is there a third option I’m missing?
“But guess what? God didn’t make us to be identical copies of Jesus, or anyone else. He made us to be unique with different talents and personalities. And we are!”
Wait, first it sounded like this was going to be about being flawed, but now it sounds like it’s about being an individual. Could you clarify?
“In Philippians Chapter two verse five, it says, to have this mind in yourselves, which is like Christ Jesus. Or, have an attitude like Jesus did.”
Ok, still pretty vague, as everyone has their own idea of what Jesus’ attitude was and it tends to correspond pretty closely to their political beliefs.
“We can’t be Jesus, but we can be like Jesus, as we let God work through us and change us. Imitating Jesus is a lifelong process that happens as we study his word, the Bible. Kind of the same as the letter Whit left for Connie and Eugene.”
Again, I heard the episode.
“We also become more like Jesus through talking to him through prayer, just like Whit told Connie to call him if she had any questions.”
And you still have yet to explain what being “like Jesus” actually means. That is, beyond “not being him,” which I already had covered.
“And we can be like Jesus when we obey him, by doing the things he has taught us to do. In fact, there isn’t anything greater in this life for us to do than to learn to be like Jesus.”
Well, I’m glad we’ve got that established. Still don’t have the faintest idea what you think being like Jesus means, or why you think kids are genuinely confused about the difference between being something and being like something. But hey, at least you kept talking about this for two minutes and thirty seconds (seriously, I timed it).
Best Part: Mr. Barclay’s handling of the situation with Jimmy. He’s honestly a lovely character. I can’t wait for some of the Barclay family centric episodes.
Worst Part: Given that I spent half this article ranting about it, I think it’s got to go to Chris’ neverending summary.
Story Rating: This is another case where there’s the bones of a good story, but the execution is horribly shoddy. C-
Moral Rating: What even is the moral here? You know, if I was assigned to write a persuasive essay where I failed to even make it clear what I was arguing for, I would probably get a failing grade. So on that rationale, I’m actually going to give this an F.