The show has one episode left, which HBO promises will reveal everything. I seriously doubt that will happen; the questions here are too big to be “revealed” in fifty minutes, they’re issues that the viewer has to ponder and conclude for themselves. However, for me, this episode answered the question of what the series is about, and made a lot of things clear that weren’t before. There are two central themes that form the backbone of the series, and by understanding them, you can put virtually all the elements of the series in context.
One of these concepts is the halo effect. This was first mentioned by Dwayne, when discussing how Shaun’s injury drove more traffic to Butchie’s website. It was mentioned again, reinforcing its thematic importance to what’s going on. The basic idea behind the halo effect is that what happens to one person will resonate throughout the community as a whole. It essentially posits a social network in which people are linked through a series of actions that produce an effect.
In the case of the series, John is the catalyst, and virtually everything that’s happened in the series could be seen as a consequence of what he did. The past few episodes, with their focus on John’s relation to his “father,” as well as this episode’s many religious references, imply that John is connected to God. So, one could easily interpret the series as a treatise on what would happen if God made his presence known in one person’s life, the way that initial contact echoes outward, creating believers out of some and dissenters out of others. I don’t think the show is as clear as John = Jesus, but at this point you could certainly make that equation work. John set things into motion, and even in his absence, the changes he instigated continue. He is more powerful as an idea than as a physical form, casting a shadow over this episode without actually appearing in it.
David Milch has talked a lot about the way that communities function as a single organism, with a mass consciousness that extends beyond any single person. That’s what the halo effect is all about, things that happen to others affecting us because of our social connection. This episode gives us a perfect demonstration of that concept in the sequence where Cissy is looking for Shaun. She asks Vietnam Joe if he’s seen Shaun, Joe goes to the VFW, and then others are looking for Shaun. The community moves into action to protect one of its own.
One of the things I love about the series is the way we know virtually everyone in IB. In most shows, we are limited to a few characters; here it seems like anyone we encounter becomes a recurring character. Milch is interested in looking at the way this one family impacts the world around it, and as time goes on, the ties between them grow tighter. I’ll admit that I was unclear about the purpose of the hotel guys when the show began, but now their role is clear. They are the center of the community that’s been built up around the Yosts; John has indirectly impacted their lives and helped them to become something better.