Jericho and I have had a love-hate relationship since the show began. When the fall finale aired last November, I was forcing myself to return week after week in spite of my growing frustration. Yes, the story of life in a small town after nukes destroyed most of America's major cities was the best idea for a show since Lost. A heavy focus on dull relationships and only slight forward momentum, however, were not living up to the premise.
"The Day Before" takes steps to change that. The episode begins 36 hours before the bombs go off and fills in gaps that I've been hoping they would fill in for months. We learn about Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich), the prodigal son of Jericho's mayor, and his mysterious dealings with the private defense contractor Ravenwood. We learn about Robert Hawkins (Lennie James) and his association with the bomb plot.
We also learn about Mayor Green's attempt to quit public life, Jake's former flame Emily and her pre-bomb relationship with her fiance, and the Mayor's other son's rocky marriage. Normally I would complain about those three things, but the episode's focus remains solidly fixed on Jake and Hawkins.
There are noticeable absences in this episode as well. Missing are the grocery store lady and her stock boy. Along with that is the absence of the stock boy's upper-class crush. Mayor Green's opponent in the election is alluded to but never on screen, and Emily's father is nowhere to be found. It seems to have taken a cue from Lost, shedding some characters when they aren't needed instead of forcing them into every episode.
A moment near the end involving the return of Emily's fiance from weeks of wandering the plains almost made me think the show was headed in the wrong direction again. It still could be. Fortunately, I'm confident that Hawkins' story, which takes a major turn in the final moments, will make for great TV.
I'd like to say more than simply calling it great TV, but the revelations and surprises are what make this episode as strong as it is. All I can say is that I hope that Hawkins' story evolves with the momentum it has in this episode. The conspiracy behind the bombs must stay at the forefront in order to make the show something more than a provincial soap opera.
The characters are still important. This episode acknowledges that and does something about it by avoiding the gimmicky plotlines. In exchange we get legitimate character development, a first for the series. Most importantly, though, Jericho no longer seems to be running in place with plot-wise, character-wise or otherwise. Instead, "The Day Before" propels the show to the level I have long wished it would attain.