Monday, November 23, 2009

The Well

Season Two starts off with a great episode, this one tackling the heavy subject of blacks in the Old West. In “The Well,” Cain is passing through an area affected by drought when he gets hold of some bad water and becomes ill. He’s rescued by Daniel Brown (George Spell) and taken to the Brown family homestead, where he is sheltered and nursed. There he meets Caleb Brown (Hal Williams), the head of the house, a former slave who has become bitter and isolated as a result of his upbringing in captivity.

While he heals, Cain befriends Daniel, who is hopeful where his father is mistrustful, eager to extend himself into the lives of the nearby townsfolk where Caleb is walled off. It’s a difference between two generations; the son has not known the pain of the father. Daniel wants to contribute to the humanity around him, Caleb is reluctant.

So the story is of Cain, as usual more catalyst than protagonist, showing the Shaolin way to the Brown family. Naturally, there are some nasty characters around to complicate things, especially the town deputy, Mitch (Tim McIntire).

What’s wonderful about this episode is its use of symbolism and structure. It uses as its visual theme seeing and clarity. Cain is on the outside, looking into the Browns’ situation and trying to understand. The Browns are on the inside, looking out and refusing to get involved. Deputy Mitch sees a black man that needs to keep his place and a “Chinaman” guilty of a crime he did not commit (a sub plot I pass over here). What results is avoidance, pursuit, deceit, violence – until Cain can liberate everyone from their visual inability.

Reinforcing the theme are great visual film cues (I tried to find some on YouTube and have not yet succeeded). In the episode’s beginning, when Cain takes in the bad water, the camera shows us his warped, hallucinatory landscape. When he befriends Daniel, one of the gifts he proffers is a magnifying glass. The flashback is of young Cain in the temple trying to figure out why, when he dips a stick into the water, it appears to bend. It takes a blind master, Po, to point him to the right direction. “What you see are reflections. Look closer.” Another flashback finds Cain puzzled at a fly caught in a spider web – he does not know who to feel sympathy for, spider or fly, the latter a doomed prisoner, the former a prisoner of his own web spinning. In the present, Cain wonders – which is Caleb Brown, spider or fly? He wonders, am I seeing the Browns for what they are, or some kind of reflection they give off?

“Kung Fu” was quite capable of being literary at times, as this episode demonstrates. Look also for Jim Davis as Sheriff Grogan, Mitch’s boss, a great western lawman character. Hal Williams is a veteran actor you might recognize as, among other things, Officer Smitty from "Sanford and Son!" (Image courtesy of Hal Williams' web site.) IMDB is here. Four out of four yin yangs.

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Blogger Capcom said...

Nice! :-)

6:34 PM  

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