As A.D. rolled into its second half, it continued to juggle some things that work amazingly well for it, while the things that plagued it in the first half seem to escalate.
Saul of Tarsus. Emmet J. Scanlon is a believable and charismatic presence on the show (and definitely giving me Kevin Sorbo vibes while he's at it). As episode seven begins with a scene of Communion interspliced with Saul's escalating persecution, it felt like the show finally found its groove.
And indeed, the plot of Saul's crusade against Christians has been the show's strength in these latest episodes. Presented believably and intellectually, Saul comes off as a compelling character even before his transformation on the road to Damascus. That event is portrayed in a necessarily epic scene in episode 8.
Now that Saul is Paul and as on fire for Christ as he was against Him at the start of the episode, some great scenes surely await us. His conflict with Peter is definitely something to look forward to. The scenes they've shared together have had much needed natural tension. They play well off each other, providing a balance between respect and adversarial.
Saul/Paul is one the greatest figures in the New Testament post-Ascension. I'm surprised a show called A.D. essentially went almost half its life without him. Given the strength of his presence, he definitely should've arrived earlier and been a more central focus after his arrival.
What's Not/What Needs Work:
They take an already bloated cast and toss in a good 5 or 6 new "characters" all at once. I understand there are historical and Biblical boxes they might want to check, but these scenes feel superfluous and come off as an attempt to be even more Game of Thrones rather than actually enhancing the established narrative (especially the addition of Caligula).
There is also the odd amount of focus they give to a Samaritan sorcerer who interacts with Phillip. He's been present for two episodes now, and there doesn't really seem to be any point to it at all yet. There's been a definite arc to his character, but he seemingly came out of nowhere and hasn't really done much of note since.
With so many characters treading water, why are we focusing so much on new characters who aren't really adding anything to the show? It's getting to the point where the actual apostles are hardly focused on at all. When they are, it seems like the repetitive cycle of "should we leave"/"we can't leave"/"let's preach some more." The same themes get repeated without actually giving us anything new.
I think the early Church is ripe with strong narratives and figures. Saul is evidence of this, and the apostles' journey should definitely be much more in focus. Pilate and Caiaphas made interesting political adversaries, but even they seem to have been cast aside to grovel at the feet of new big bad guys. The writers seem to be haphazardly assembling history into a weekly show without much regard to the strength of the overall narrative.
As a result, the show still feels like it never really gets anywhere. Add to that the very generic feel of the theology of these apostles, and I'm not left with much to hang a hat on.
I respect what A.D. is doing. The performances are still mostly strong and compelling, and isolated, many of the scenes work well enough. The direction captures the right feel of each scene, be it tense, creepy or stirring. Saul is a commanding presence, as he should be. The show is definitely more alive when he's onscreen.
But at the end of each episode, I feel like the show has only really dug itself deeper into a hole of overindulgence. There are too many figures the show tries to focus on, and many, like Pilate's wife, don't really merit such a prominent role. The show still seems to be in search of what exactly it wants to be.
The political and early Church threads both hold compelling potential, but I think both are stunting each other. Many acclaimed series have demonstrated that large casts can be handled with grace and allow each character development room. A.D. can't seem to achieve that balance and only compounds the problem by adding more unneeded characters into the mix. A.D. has all the ingredients for a grand television event. I can only hope it pulls itself together in time for the grand finale.
J.J. Francesco is an aspiring fiction writer who enjoys Christian rock, good movies and TV, good food, and good company.