"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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
-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
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
"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
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
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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