Mark Millar, who wrote the Kick-Ass and Kingsman comics, also wrote one called American Jesus, about a regular boy who turns out to be the Messiah. That one is set in the modern US but the new Netflix adaptation, The Chosen One, has been relocated to Mexico to superb effect. I haven’t read the comic so I can’t say how it compares, but the new setting seems much more fitting, as Millar admits: in Mexico, ‘a faith-based storyline about Jesus and the Antichrist would have ten times the power of my original Chicago suburb.
I’d love to take the credit,’ he says, but miraculously it was Netflix itself that switched the setting. Millar points out that the foreign language shows produced by Netflix are far-and-away beyond the US-based ones. Perhaps they’re not afraid to take risks because their potential market is so much smaller. When foreign-language shows do well, their success is an unexpected bonus to Netflix.
Baja California is the perfect place for the new Christ to appear—and he does so in the body of a ‘gringo’ called Jodie (played by Bobby Luhnow). Jodie is a regular boy, (albeit a little quiet and mysterious), with a close-knit group of friends and a hard-working single mum. He uses an old can-and-string communication line to chat to his girlfriend Magda and the two of them and their friends pass the time sunbathing on rocks and lounging in a filthy camper van. That camper van becomes the headquarters of the miracle worker, the stage where Jodie and his friends orchestrate elaborate acts of God to swindle the locals for money.
Except it’s not a swindle, much to Jodie’s surprise. A friend called Wagner comes up with a plan for Jodie to use chemicals to turn bottled water into wine, which he duly pulls off. Some locals are ecstatic and some are deeply suspicious, even offended. But later, the water turns to wine by itself—or was it an actual act of God?
The show is brilliant at depicting a community riven by the clash of doubt and faith. The pastor and Sarah, Jodie’s mother, and even Jodie himself are slow to acknowledge that Jodie is the son of God. But the locals believe it, no problem. Tuka, Jodie’s tiny friend of Aztec descent, is Jodie’s first apostle. Ancient Mexican rituals and the Roman Catholic church mix surprisingly well, as Tuka and his family demonstrate, and The Chosen One shows the range and diversity of Mexico’s religious traditions. Episode three depicts a Catholic mass, a Yaqui traditional fire dance, and an almost-evangelical sermon given by the local pastor—all within the tiny town of Santa Rosalía.
An early episode shows a flashback to Jodie’s birth and the narrow escape his mother Sarah made from an American hospital, where mysterious officials seemed determined to nab her baby. She’s on the run and, twelve years later, she still keepings making her teenage son practice emergency escape plans at the drop of a hat. What is she running from? Jodie starts to think she’s been lying to him his whole life, which she has in a way. He’s been taking medication to keep an unknown and dangerous illness at bay, but when he stops taking the meds he realises his visions and blackouts bring divine messages—and powers.
Word spreads of the water-to-wine incident, and soon Jodie is approached by mobs of locals looking for a miracle. Freed from the medication, Jodie’s gifts make a blind boy see, a deaf man hear, and even bring a comatose truck driver back to life. About the truck driver—he’s the father of the schoolyard bully, an angry lad who whips out a knife at break time. When Jodie brings his father back from the almost-dead, the bully is grudgingly grateful but still suspicious. His suspicions are justified when it becomes clear that his father is not really his father, but a kind of zombie-shell version of him. Perhaps raising the dead is Jodie’s limit.
Jodie’s multiplying miracles are transforming the town. The evangelical pastor sets to work building him a temple, with a cross planted by the front door of the camper van. The friend group erect a throne from discarded scrap metal. But Jodie’s mother is not happy. Their falling out results in Jodie taking up the mantle of Messiah. When his mother Sarah next sees her son, he is sat on a throne before throngs of worshippers clamouring for a miracle. You can understand her concern. Soon the throngs turn their adoration on her—the virgin womb, the mother of God. She is frightened, and furious to receive such adulation, but they’re not wrong.
Dianna Agron (who played a cheerleader in Glee) brings a wonderful contradiction to Jodie’s mother, a regular woman who is essentially the Virgin Mary incarnate. But she is very human and she also doubts her son’s divinity. Mostly she’s just scared for him.
Some wonderful parts of the show depict Jodie among his rag-tag friends, tiny Tuka, Wagner the miracle-mastermind, Magda (aka Magdalen) and Hipólito, who’s also in love with Magda. The comparison with the kids from Stranger Things is inevitable, and valid—but Jodie’s crew are hopeful, not gloomy. I suppose they have reason to hope—they’re the disciples of the Second Coming. But really they’re just poor kids in a poor town where miracles start to happen.
The final shot of the fourth episode is a lovely adaptation of the fishing story. In episode one it’s established that Tuka’s uncle and the wider community have been devastated by the dwindling fish population. Three episodes later as Tuka and Jodie are out in a boat, Tuka playfully pushes Jodie into the water. Jodie laughs then floats, basking in the sunlight, and suddenly the water all around him is teeming with fish. Jodie returns to Santa Rosalía, riding a donkey and bearing piles and piles of fish.
The miracles are coming thick and fast but eventually, surely, Jodie will meet Jesus’s fate. But perhaps that’s for a later season—there are two more books in the series. I really want to see how it all plays out.