Written By: noname
As I finished listening to this episode, I couldn’t help but take a look back: can you believe that we have reached the end of what has technically been the longest story arc in AIO history? Sure, we had the Blackgaard story arc, which spanned from “Recollections” all the way to “Blackgaard’s Revenge” (a whopping 407 episodes), but the Leonard Meltsner arc has beaten that record, despite its much smaller number of episodes. Starting from “Last in a Long Line,” which originally aired in 1991, we didn’t hear anything about Leonard since then until “Prisoners of Fear” in October 2005. Now that the storyline has concluded with the final part of “A New Era,” the arc has spanned a grand total of 465 episodes.
I suppose it would be helpful to look back and provide some context about the arc itself before discussing anything specifically pertaining to “A New Era.” Leonard’s story has been filled with twists galore. First, we find out that Leonard is actually alive – after all these years of listening to the show and believing that he was dead! Then, we discover that he is being pursued by a ruthless archeologist. Finally, “The Top Floor” provides the conclusion to that particular aspect of the storyline and establishes Everett (who was also thought to be dead) as a real, living character. Whew!
I can still remember when comparisons arose among fans between Everett’s “resurrection” and the similar situation with Mitch that took place all the way back in “The Unraveling.” So why all the fuss? I suppose the twists were similar, but I certainly didn’t feel the same listening to either episode, because the characters were developed differently. When “The Unraveling” aired, Mitch’s character had already been developed significantly. I can’t say the same about Everett. We mourned with Connie after Mitch was supposedly murdered. Finding out that Mitch was alive was an unpleasant surprise after being taken on such an emotional roller coaster with Connie. On the other hand, we just met Everett in “The Top Floor.” We heard only one or two references to him in previous episodes. Maybe it’s just me, but the “resurrection” twist in that episode seemed much easier to swallow because we didn’t really know Everett the same way we knew Mitch. The writers pulled it off well.
Now, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with this week’s episode. Sadly, the tables have been turned. “A New Era” concludes Leonard’s journey to Christianity, and although it was a great episode, I can’t honestly say that I was completely blown away. The differences in character development – in this case, with salvation episodes – are very evident, just as they were with the resurrection episodes. Unfortunately, this episode turned out to be a bit of a letdown, mostly because Leonard is different as a character than the others that we have seen come to Christ, such as Connie and Eugene. Both of them were characters that were on the show for a significant amount of time before they were saved, which made that special moment all the more powerful. Leonard, on the other hand, has appeared in only ten episodes – a fraction of which were about his struggle with Christianity. I hope I’m not the only one feeling this way, but it almost felt like the writers were simply using this episode as a way to conveniently wrap up Leonard’s storyline and move on. And although it did a good job fulfilling that purpose, the moments at the end were simply not done justice considering the tiny amount of character development Leonard has been given.
The other problem I had with the episode was its length. In a recent interview with Nathan Hoobler and Marshal Younger (I believe it was the official podcast), one of them said that this episode was originally a two-parter that was later adapted to a three-parter. Along with “The Other Side of the Glass,” I would be completely fine hearing this episode as a two-part show. The pacing was just way too slow, especially considering all the anticipation built up around this episode over the summer. It worked a bit better with a faster-paced show such as the one mentioned above, but this one just dragged.
I’ve been mentioning so many negative aspects of this show. I don’t mean to sound so critical, but I suppose it was my high expectations that were gradually built up over the summer. This episode did have many memorable highlights. First were the interactions between the characters. I loved hearing the characters talk to each other so naturally – it felt so real. So often, many recent AIO episodes have been reduced to function. Sometimes, it feels like every bit of dialogue is simply meant to move the plot along – that touch of realism that permeated conversations in the older shows just isn’t there these days. But this episode pulled it off wonderfully. We hear a reunion with Leonard, Eugene, and Katrina in the airport. We hear Eugene and Katrina conversing in their home. That scene was one of my favorites (what exactly is Eugene’s favorite prime number anyway? :)), not only because we get to hear Eugene and Katrina as a married couple, but also because it didn’t end the second episode on a high cliffhanger. We didn’t need to hear another big twist. It simply ended with a relaxed conversation, dialogue about other people in Odyssey such as Marvin, Trent, and, of course, “Waaaaaaankel Automotives!” Awesome stuff.
Speaking of memorable scenes, I enjoyed the “Lost”-style flashbacks. I was surprised to find that some fans found this episode “soap-opera-ish,” but I actually enjoyed hearing the interactions between Leonard and Thelma. These scenes demonstrate Phil Proctor’s versatility as an actor and have wonderful contextual dialogue – such as Leonard rejoicing over his “Archeologist of the Year” award before entering his argument with Thelma. Those lines at the beginning of that scene may not have moved the plot, but they make the actual argument all that much more powerful after hearing such happy moments beforehand. The inclusion of the “tail end” of the conversation heard back in the first part was a nice touch too (although I was able to figure out what Leonard and Thelma were arguing about since Part 1). And did anyone catch the subtle but fun reference to the “diet by electricity”?
The other reservation from fans was the absence of Everett. Although I wasn’t too thrilled with having Everett missing for this show, I was actually glad by the time Part 3 was over. We already heard his voice as young Eugene in this episode, and it would’ve been way too confusing to hear him playing another character. Besides, Everett was only a supporting character in “The Top Floor.” This has been Leonard’s storyline (of which Everett’s role in the aforementioned episode was a small part), and including Everett in this episode would’ve just been detracting. Also, as fun as it would've been to hear Everett interacting with others in Odyssey...we've got way too many kid storylines to wrap up (Kelley, Grady, Mandy) before introducing another kid character.
Some fans also objected to what seemed to be “dumbing down” of Katrina’s dialogue. It didn’t sound as “intellectual” as the Katrina we have known throughout the years. But I thought it was okay – after all, we have known Katrina long enough to see her character grow and mature. It’s not unreasonable to conclude that she has loosened up a bit over the last several years. Besides, we know that Katrina and Eugene are still intellectuals at heart, but they have grown a more loving and caring spirit through their relationships with Christ and others. Eugene isn’t flaunting his knowledge around Connie or attempting to impress Katrina anymore, and Katrina’s priorities have changed significantly since we first heard her on the show.
All in all, “A New Era” was a good episode, but definitely not one that I would listen to over and over again. The pacing was off, but the dialogue was enjoyable to hear. The only qualm I would have in that department was Whit (whose lines pretty much amounted to “are you sure that’s the right thing to do?”). Other than that, I did enjoy it…but I don’t think this did justice the moments leading up to Leonard’s salvation, especially after hearing his discussions with Eugene about Christianity in “The Top Floor.” But maybe with Leonard and Everett out of the way, we can go back to normal life in Odyssey…as normal as it ever gets there. :) I’m really looking forward to this season.
(8 out of 10)