It should be no surprise that I enjoyed this week's episode of The Dead Zone as much as I did considering that it was from the pen of Michael Taylor, who also wrote one of DS9's finest hours with "The Visitor." Taylor just seems to have a way of finding the middle ground, packing genuine emotion into situations that could easily become standard, over the top cliches and full of angsty melodrama.
I liked the parallel structure of this–about two men who have lost sons. In each case, the men involved–Richard Lewis's shock jock Johnny Jericho and our hero, Johnny Smith–lost their sons due to a series of circumstances beyond their control. I also liked that Johnny's visions didn't necessarily point to the real tragedy in Jericho's life at first. Instead, we were slowly allowed to get to know the character and understand there was some inner pain there that was driving him to alienate people–whether it be on the radio or his ex-wife. We see this in full force as he tries to push Johnny away and even takes Johnny's vision as a prediction of the future and tries to fulfill it for Johnny. I will admit that when we had the sequence where it appears that Jericho has jumped to do his death, I fully bought into the idea that, finally, we'd seen Johnny's abilities give him a vision that he was truly unable to stop from becoming a reality. Since the beginning of the show, I've been intrigued by the notion that maybe Johnny could or should fail to make things better by taking action on his visions and the consequences of that to him. (We get some of that with the Stillson plotline where it seems as though no matter what Johnny does short term to derail Stillson, we keep coming back to the vision of armageddon unleashed. Can Johnny stop this future? I guess we'll have to wait and see).
But the real centerpiece of this episode was the final scene with Johnny, Walt and Sarah all telling J.J. that Johnny is really his biological father. This was a scene that could have been over the top and melodramatic but yet was hit all the right notes. Again, I got back to Taylor's early success with "The Visitor" and the final scenes where an old Jake Sisko tells his father of the decision to end his own life in order to save his father in the past. (Probably one of the bigger lump-in-your-throat moments in all of the Star Trek canon) The final scene where J.J. refuses to believe what he's been told and then comes back to ask Johnny what he should call him was extremely well done. As much as Anthony Michael Hall's performance in this episode was off at times (the teaser where he went to the radio station just seemed oddly out of character for some reason), he really redeemed himself with the final scene.
Also, special kudos need to go to the underappreciated Chris Bruno as Walt. Every week, Bruno is given the thankless role of being the third leg of a triangle and someone that we should root against. Yet, the writers and Bruno have walked a fine line of developing Walt into more than just the third leg of the triangle. It's hard to really dislike him or root against him because he's a good man, trying to do what is right in an almost impossible situation. Some of the scenes between he and Sarah showed this as they try to discuss the root of the problem between them–Johnny Smith. What I like with the show is that, just like in real life, there are no easy answers to these difficult questions.