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'Jericho': Who saw that coming?

March 5, 2008 |  8:20 am

Man, those "Jericho" producers really have guts, don't they?

Last season they killed off sweet old grocery store owner Gracie Leigh, the pregnant April Green (whose husband was cheating on her!) and—in a season finale shocker—ex-mayor, Green family patriarch and all-around American hero Johnston Green.

Plus, the very unsympathetic Sarah Mason was blown away not by her badass ex-lover Robert Hawkins, but by Hawkins' teenage daughter Allison. (By the way, wouldn't it be nice to see Allison again this season?)

You might expect these sorts of morally ambiguous developments on cable, where characters and plot twists written in shades of gray are accepted and embraced. But on CBS?

Yes, non-believers, this is the kind of stuff that makes "Jericho" unique.

And then, last night ...

Well, let's save the spoilers for after the jump (and the CBS promo department):

Bonnie_95194_d0576_250 THEY KILLED BONNIE!

Sweet, lovely, noble, deaf Bonnie Richmond. The one who took care of her charmingly oafish brother Stanley both before and after the nuclear bombs forever changed their town and country—all the while lovingly letting him think he was taking care of her.

Bonnie, who was just about to set off on her own for the first time.

Bonnie, who was understandably weary of her brother's growing attachment to uptight IRS agent Mimi Clark only to be won over (like the audience) by Mimi's newfound humanity.

And how tragic was it that Bonnie went out a victim of Mimi's admirable desire to do the right thing?

Of course Mimi is now in critical condition herself, but we know she'll be OK. The producers are gutsy, but they're not crazy.

Bonnie's unfortunate end comes right at the midpoint of the show's abbreviated second season. There were exactly three episodes before this and there are exactly three left to go.

We all know the ratings so far have been mediocre (and frankly, when CBS sees a story like this, it can't help the chances of a middling Nielsen performer like "Jericho"), but it's episodes like this week's that inspire fans so passionate they can bring a show back from the dead.

And let's get one thing straight. The important thing here is not that Bonnie's death was shocking. "24" has shown us how cliché the "surprise" death can become. "Jericho" is reminding us that killing a sympathetic character can increase not just the narrative suspense level but also the audience's emotional attachment to the characters left behind.

We feel their pain, we fear for their safety, and we want to tune in every week to see what happens next.

This sort of bold choice flies in the face of everything we're told network executives demand of their showrunners. And that's what makes a sturdy little action drama like "Jericho" all the more thrilling.

However long it may last.

--Geoff Berkshire

(Photo courtesy CBS)