"The Christmas Gift"

A review by Jenni:

Well, I guess I'm celebrating Christmas in July this year!  Though out of season, I think this was a good episode for me to see this week.  It's been a bit of a troubling one so a lil "God with us" type of joy was definitely in order.

What I love about this episode:

Even though I know it's coming, it's still rather shocking to me to see Gabe as a homeless man.  Ignored, disrespected, and cast aside.  Don't get me wrong, it was jarring to see Andrew and Monica that way in prior episodes.  But this was THE Gabriel.  The Gabriel in the Bible.  The Gabriel in the litany of the saints!  The Gabriel of art and film and Christmas cards!  It really makes you think about the Christmas story in general.  The holiest can be found in the lowliest settings. 

As for Christmas...  While the references to Jesus in "Then Sings My Soul" were jarring to me, I was fine with the "God came to a manger" type of lines and recitation of the Christmas story here.  I think it's because I assume anyone who tunes in for something called "The Christmas Gift" should be prepared for that while no one could reasonably assume an episode about a taffy factory will include someone singing about Christ's blood.  I like that TBAA gave us *real* Christmas episodes and a *real* Passover episode.  There is beauty in so many religions.  It just comes down to how they're presented (graciously v. relentlessly) and I think Christmas was represented extremely well here.  It's not about presents, it's about God living among us.  And, yes, the liberation theology student in me was very psyched by their stress on God being amongst the poor.

Tess has a number of good lines in this starting with "People hold onto a lot of things not for what the thing is but for the way it makes them feel."  Is that not true or what?  Especially in the wake of a death, I think we cling to things because of who they represent.  The thing itself is secondary if not immaterial.

While the entire carjacking plot is just so sad, I do appreciate how it was written.  Around here you always hear about "good part of town" v. "bad part of town."  But the truth is people do terrible things and beautiful things in all parts of every town.  It's not as if Robert crossed a line between safe and unsafe, good and bad.  It's all much more complicated than that in reality and I'm glad TBAA made that so in their fictional world, too.

I think this is one of the better acted TBAA episodes.  Not that I think many are poorly acted.  Not at all!  But this one seems especially raw and real at parts.  When Brianna clings to her dog, sobbing, and repeating that Robert isn't coming back, it seemed so painfully real to me.  I felt the same when the cell phone breaks and LaBelle cradles it, talking about how it was the last thing Robert gave her, and how she imagines he's calling.  That behavior and those sort of painfully comforting mind games are grief as I know it.  Parts of this episode irritate me when Monica implies she knows how the grieving women feel.  She doesn't.  But the writers and actors sure seemed to know.

Brianna selling Robert's things was a bit hard to see though realistically done.  We've recently emptied out both of my grandparents' homes and it was a lil difficult seeing my deceased grandfathers' things get carried away.  Not all of it obviously.  But some.  So I can't imagine what Brianna felt letting so many of her husband's things go.  I would have wanted to wear his coat.  And she probly did, too.

Which brings me to... with all the recent foreclosures, this is another TBAA episode that doesn't seem very dated at all.

Brianna and LaBelle fighting over the blame for Robert's death might be one of the most bitter and heart-wrenching TBAA scenes not involving an angel for me.  Again, it didn't seem made up.  It seemed lived.

"God don't like ugly."  I've found that phrase intriguing since I first heard it.  Hearing Gabe say it just made it all the more appealing.

LaBelle comes to consider Robert's trumpet as something of a relic.  I had a very visceral reaction to her talking about how his lips kissed it.  I have things that aren't important to me for their material aspects but because of who touched it.  It's like I said above about Tess' quote, the things attached to those we love and lost become so much bigger than what they really are.  That's another aspect of grief that I think the TBAA folks got so right here.

"God has great plans for you.  I know that because He never forgets any of His children."  Another excellent quote from Tess to tuck away.

I am really glad that Brianna calls Monica out on really NOT knowing how she feels.  I am slightly bothered, however, that Monica doesn't assent to this but merely moves on with her revelation.  Oh well.  The revelation was important.  I do very much agree with the distinction she makes about how Robert's body is in a grave but Robert himself is with the Father.

"Nothing is forever gone from God."  A lovely quote from Tess to end this section on.  I really do like this episode.

What I didn't love about this episode:
Monica, Monica, Monica...  ::shakes head::  Don't get me wrong.  There are parts of this when she's wonderful (giving Brianna a ride, helping with her sale, etc.)  But *I* wanted to pounce on her when she told LaBelle they (meaning the angels) understood how she felt about losing her baby.  Really?!  Say "I am so sorry you are feeling this pain, what can I do?"  But do NOT say you understand.  You do not.  Every grief counseling thing I've ever read lists that as a big no-no.  Monica is not a mother.  Monica can sympathize, she can greet pain with compassion.  But understand?  No.  Not entirely.

Lingering questions:
Can't think of any.  I guess just why at times the TBAA writers seemed to totally get that the angels shouldn't say they understand or know how someone feels yet at other times seem to miss that fact?

Parts that made me feel swoony:
Okay... so I know I shouldn't be feeling much other than compassion for Brianna during Andrew's first scene but... Andrew in a uniform!  And acting so gentle...  He would be a really good, soothing cop for those times.

And, yes, he looks especially lovely at the wake sans tie.  I appreciate that he apologized to LaBelle for her car being followed.  There's no pride behind it, just heartfelt regret that she was made to feel even lower at a bad time.  It doesn't matter to Andrew that he had no part in that.  She deserved an apology and he gave it.

I do like the looks of him back lit by Christmas lights.  Aww.  And he seems so happy there with Gabe at the table.  Sometimes I think Andrew needed another guy around more.

When Andrew chimed in with his bit of the Christmas story, I got a mental flash of him reading it to a bunch of kids around a tree.  I am hopeless.

Random thoughts:
Music: "Away in the Manger" is heard a few times.  Robert plays it on his trumpet, it's heard on the radio at the pawn shop, and, finally, Gabe plays it on the trumpet.  "O Come Let Us Adore Him" can be heard at the soup kitchen.  Donna Summer's "(I Long To Feel The) Christmas Spirit" can be heard as Monica and Brianna drive to LaBelle's home.  There's a second carol heard later at the soup line but I couldn't make it out over Tess and LaBelle speaking.  Finally, you hear "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" there, as well.

As with "Then Sings My Soul" when Keb' Mo' sings "Hand It Over," it was almost like the TBAA people wanted to bring attention to the fact that they were recasting the same actors.  Ossie Davis (Gabe) also played Erasmus and Suzanne Douglas (Brianna) played Erasmus' daughter.  So seeing them together really made it hard to forget that.  However, I think they did so well in these parts that I can see past that.

I would not cut it in this family!  The first Christmas carol doesn't come until Thanksgiving?!?  I pull those CDs out as soon as I put my Halloween ones away!  No stockings til Christmas Eve?!?  Those suckers go up as soon as the turkeys come down.  Basically first week of October through January 6th is one long holiday decorating season to me!

I've thought for a long time that Mr. Davis would have made a good God.  It was nice seeing he and his wife, Ruby Dee, act together.  I love that they had such a lengthy marriage.

Scenes Hallmark cut:
-There's a brief bit cut off the end of the sale scene after the trumpet argument.  Brianna sits down on the porch steps and says she'll just get a place to stay.  THC cuts to commercial there.  The CBS version goes on to have Brianna say "It's just a crummy, little place in Western Groves."  (Or whatever the name of the subdivision was, that's what it sounded like to me.)  Then she pets Mercury.  End scene and...

-THC cut an entire scene directly after that which begins with Brianna and Mercury laying on a motel bed.  Brianna is clutching the trumpet.  Mercury whines.  The scene dissolving to LaBelle in her rocking chair, gazing at the cell phone in her hands as Tess watches over her.  It then dissolves back to the hotel.  Brianna raises the trumpet to her lips and kisses the mouthpiece and begins to sob.  Monica watches over her.  Then CBS went to commercial and...

-The show returns with Brianna still at the motel.  She's asleep but is awoken by a fight in the next room over.  The motel keeper pounds on her door and tells Brianna no dogs are allowed.  She calls attention to the fight next door but he's fixated on the dog issue and refuses to let her stay out the night.  That's when we get to Brianna and Mercury out walking and found by Monica.

-Sigh...  Right before Monica and Brianna show up at the soup kitchen, there's a scene of Andrew and Gabe.  The former appears to be closing the place down.  Gabe's seated, eating.  Andrew tells him, pointedly, that all that's left to do is put the chairs on the table.  Gabe says Andrew can feel free to do that but *he's* not going any where while there's still sweet potato pie to eat.  They laugh.  Even a saint can't get respect from THC...

Further on down the road...
Well, it's nearly Easter so a kinda odd time to be watching a Christmas episode.  But we have (yet another) snow storm apparently headed my way.  So... I guess it works.  This is somewhat less exciting than watching other episodes, though, cause I did just watch it right before Christmas.  Oh well. 

Oh right!  I was excited to watch this episode cause, with no offense to the actor, I was really underwhelmed by Gabriel in the most recent episode of The Bible.  Too Roman-y and human-y for my tastes.  I like Ossie Davis' Gabriel much better.

"God didn't come to the rich man's home.  He came to the manger."  I love that Tess quote.  It's got a nice sorta liberation theology (not the extreme brand) vibe to it.

I would be so mortified to discover I'd been a you-know-what to Archangel Gabriel.  I think my Catholic guilt would implode.

Really I just like that this episode showed Gabriel as still very much present and dirt-under-the-fingernails involved in life on earth.  While he'd certainly deserve it, Gabriel retiring entirely to the realms of glory seems a sad fate for us.  I like thinking he might be around.  One thing I'm not sure about (and maybe I just missed it)... for how long had Gabe been popping up in St. Louis? 

Okay weird...  I think the DVD replaces a standard carol with some song about celebrating that I certainly don't recognize.  I coulda sworn that in the original, a highly recognizable carol was being played while the whole cell phone debacle plays out.  Huh.  But I don't know why a carol would need to be taken out.  I thought most all of them were public domain.

Okay, Tess' "til the last trumpet sounds" comment really wouldn't comfort me.  I believe in the Final Judgment, of course, but I believe we're awake and together in the meantime. 

Between this and the Nativity portion of The Bible... it does seem a lil like Christmas.  But I want the spring... 

Another thing I like is that Andrew didn't seem to think anything of joshing Gabriel about not helping put chairs up.  That tells me Andrew knew Gabe would be cool with it.  Must be an easygoing guy.  :-)

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