NOTABLE LINES OF DIALOGUE:
"God is doing what he always does. He's working through fallen men and women to accomplish his purposes. It's been that way from the beginning." - Stephen
At the beginning of the relaunch, I expected Odyssey to be amazing as usual and have the same standard of quality and entertainment that it usually has. So when Album 51 came out, I was left feeling disappointed. And so I set my sights on Album 52: there's a mystery with a clock tower, plus there's a Christmas show...what could go wrong? And although there were improvements, I was still left feeling disappointed. Next, I looked to Album 53: there's another conspiracy in Odyssey; this could be the new Novacom! Once again, disappointed. I learned to lower my expectations and acknowledge that Odyssey was going into a newer, younger direction, one that I might not necessarily like, but needed to accept. And yet, Album 54 built on Album 53 with more compelling stories, and Album 55 built from Album 54 with even better performances and stories and lessons. So how did I feel when I heard the first two-parter of 56?
Wow. Just, wow. Where to begin? I enjoyed seeing the new Imagination Station in action again (and we heard it today in Great Expectations, the ep that follows this one) and understood why it was created. The new "door" idea creates potential for many new story ideas for future episodes, and the story device works very well for today's ep. Matthew is a great choice to be in this adventure; he, Barrett, and Olivia are the most thoughtful kids in Odyssey in different ways.
Now, I love hearing Bible stories come to life on Odyssey, from The Imagination Station (Album 5: Daring Deeds, Sinister Schemes) to O.T. Action News. But normally, I already know how the story's gonna end, and it's just nice to hear the Odyssey team tell it. The Perfect Church pulls something off masterfully: it manages to take scripture (Acts 1:8 - 8:3) and create a narrative that tells the story and yet makes you wonder how McCusker/Younger (the writers of the episode) are going to tell it.
The performances that made up the story were top-notch. Andre Stojka does his best performance as Whit to date (and continues to be more Whit every album) and Eugene's computerized bits of information were helpful and helped drive the episode forward for more fresh listeners. It was great hearing Carolyn Hennesy again (voice of Ellen Shepard), and she makes a terrific Saphira in her scene (and we already know she's great at doing those kind of voices as she did in The Big Deal [Album 35: The Big Picture]). Georgia Dolenz has a stronger appearance here than in The Labyrinth, and plays wide-eyed and thoughtful well. The episode is packed with a who's who of AIO character actors, from Keith Ferguson, Matt Hurwitz, Fred Tatasciore (who after a 16 episode run of playing villainous characters has made a 3 ep run of heroes following A Penny Saved), J.B. Blanc, and Saige Spinney. All we needed was Corey Burton (who by the way, needs to return to Odyssey, but that's another article)!
John Campbell's score for this episode was amazing. It felt true to the time period, yet slightly melancholic, which captured the essence of the episode completely. Sound design was terrific at recreating the world of Acts and making the "door" switches seamless and sleek. The dialogue was fantastic and moved the story along, while McCusker/Younger kept the story engaging the whole way through.
However, the most powerful scene was when Jim Cummings as Stephen testified to the high court with his defense. The fact that it was taken literally from the Bible, along with Cumming's commanding performance, made me begin to tear up. Now, I don't cry very often at media, unless some element of the form moves me (See: Clara). His acting is powerful, intense, and speaks to us today. In fact, the whole episode speaks to us today. The church today is not perfect as well. The episode shows us how God uses all of us with our flaws for his purpose. We have our flaws, and we have our disagreements, and yet, God still calls us to fellowship, worship, and preach together. This can be hard, as I know well, but it's an important lesson for us to learn today. The whole episode feels very human, as often we think of the people of the Bible as superheroes, but God uses all kinds of people for his plan, from prostitutes to corrupt tax collectors to murderers (Saul!).
Paul McCusker and Marshal Younger have crafted an episode that deserves to be up there with the best of the best in Odyssey. The story is engaging, well-told, fresh, moving, and relevant; with powerful performances, dialogue, and sound. The theme is beautiful, with wonderful harmonies, and a score that captures the episode completely. I give this episode a 97/100, or an
Best Episode - Paul McCusker (Producer: Dave Arnold, Co-Writer: Marshal Younger))
Best Sound Design - GAP Digital (Todd Busteed)
Best Line of Dialogue - "To suffer for Jesus is a honor. But what if something worse happens? That would be glory." - Stephen and Matthew
Best Scene - Stephen testifying in court
Best Script - Paul McCusker, Marshal Younger
Best Actor - Jim Cummings
Best Minor Character (Guest Actress) - Carolyn Hennesy (Saphira)
Best Score - John Campbell