As A.D. episodes 5 and 6 roll through, there finally seems to be some progression in the overall story. Other characters finally seem to be realizing their roles in the grander story, which is a refreshing change.
Episode 5 concluded the assassin story. While the overall direction was satisfactory and dramatic enough, its relevance to the greater story still feels a bit tangential. It was effective, but given how dragged and rushed other stories have been, I'm torn on how I feel about how much focus it drew.
This was also the episode where Stephen stepped into a more prominent role and ultimately became the first saint martyred after the death of Christ. I can't say I particularly care for his characterization, with his personality being a bit bullish and overeager. But I suppose it's also a realistic contrast to the often over-sanitization of Biblical figures in motion pictures. Showing an early saint who is still allowed to come off as human isn't necessarily a bad thing, and it never detracts from his obvious righteousness, thus making his execution appropriately effective.
Naturally, based on Biblical accounts, his execution also brings the long-awaited arrival of Saul of Tarsus. Given that Saul/Paul is one of the most prominent figures in the post-Gospel narrative, I am surprised it took nearly half the series to get to him. Episode 6 is when he begins to really interact with the others, and his confrontation with Peter at the apostle's camp is a dramatic showdown filled with passionate debate. We know that Peter and Paul had their clashes even after Paul's conversion, and this was a good groundwork for setting up an effective dynamic between the two.
Saul's cruelty is certainly believable without being too campy or over-the-top. There's a good sense that he actually believes in what he's doing as much as the apostles do, even though we know he's ultimately walking in the dark (spoiler alert: the Road to Damascus will fix this).
Unfortunately, I can't say my concerns about the muddled theology of Christ have been eased. While there's plenty of rhetoric and some generic "we are the Church" lip service, there's still ultimately an almost distracting "let's be careful not to too clearly define anything" approach that I think is keeping the series from fulfilling potential. Without a more clearly defined theology, the willingness to die for Christ loses a lot of its story effectiveness.
Some of the Caiaphas plotline is still proving to be mildly intriguing, but distracting. Episode 6 finds an attempt to oust Caiaphas as high priest, with an effective scene of Pilate cheating a coin toss to keep Caiaphas as high priest. The "frenemy" conflict between the two holds a lot of merit, but sometimes it seems to slow the overall plot down. And adding in both men's wives and underlings doesn't exactly grease the wheels. Perhaps the show would've been better off focusing only on the two men here and limiting the political threads. I think it's a perfect example of a good idea weakened by too much of itself.
A.D. still manages to be considerably more entertaining than your average show, providing some theological merit on top of the entertainment value. The show is coming together some as it finds itself some more. Unfortunately, the narrative still feels so restrained. Even now that we're at the halfway point, it feels like there's still so much ground left to cover to deliver a satisfying story arc. Hopefully the second half will dive into what works for the show and step out of some of the things that do not.
J.J. Francesco is an aspiring fiction writer who enjoys Christian rock, good movies and TV, good food, and good company.