Whit starts off this episode by quoting from the poem “The Spider and the Fly” by Mary Howitt. He uses part of the first line, “‘Will you step into my parlor?’ said the spider to the fly.” In the poem the cunning spider is trying to lure a fly into its den so it can eat it. The spider eventually succeeds by flattering the fly with compliments. The poem ends with these four lines: “And now, dear little children, who may this story read, To idle, silly, flattering words, I pray you ne’er give heed; Unto an evil counselor close heart, and ear, and eye, And take a lesson from this tale of the Spider and the Fly.” Now, the word “parlor” in the poem stands out. Whit’s End is first and foremost an ice cream parlor, so does that mean Whit is the spider trying to lure in flies to entrap? Not at all, actually. He’s quite the opposite. By mentioning the poem, Whit is drawing our attention to the deception of “evil counselor[s].” The image of a person telling you to step right up into their shop brings to my mind some kind of dishonest carnival worker. They’re very showy on the outside but deceptive on the inside. And so it’s quite obvious to me that Whit is not referring to himself, but he is referencing the anti-Whit, the nemesis, Dr. Blackgaard himself. This episode takes place before The Battle and so Blackgaard’s Castle, the showy video arcade, is still up and running. And kids like Lucy Cunningham-Schultz are being lured in with lies and flattery. Meanwhile, across town Whit is not sitting idly by but is working diligently for the side God’s truth. And immediately after this subtle reference to Dr. Blackgaard, who should show up but Nicholas Adamsworth himself, the boy who Richard Maxwell ensnared in a web of deception at the college.
But after that brilliant connection to Blackgaard, which may or may not have been intentional, the episode goes downhill from there. I like the idea of bringing back the character of Nicholas soon after his first appearance, but not like this. After that amazing first trip in the Imagination Station with Digger Digwillow, the sequel with Nicholas falls flat. First of all, the setup seems contrived. Nicholas has run away from Eugene and is now hiding from him because Nicholas wronged him by destroying his computer program. And of course the first place Nicholas goes to hide from Eugene is Whit’s End, where Eugene works. That isn’t very logical. It’s worse than the plot Eugene comes up with in the episode Train Ride. But we have to go along with it just because it’s trying to mirror a biblical story. Now it helps the story’s credibility a little that Nicholas has already been established as an orphan and has few people to turn to. But I still find it hard to believe that after all Eugene went through to help Nicholas, and almost getting expelled in the process, that Nicholas would think Eugene wouldn’t be capable of showing him a little compassion.
Dramatizing the story of Onesimus in the Imagination Station is an ambitious undertaking. And it has to rely heavily on its characters because there is so little material to work with from the Bible. You need a strong cast and a well-researched script. But, unfortunately, the actor playing Onesimus is not up to the task. When he first appears and tells Nicholas repeatedly to “run,” it’s totally unconvincing and I’m surprised Nicholas even goes along with him. I also don’t understand Onesimus’ motivation for getting Nicholas to join him in his escape. A kid is just going to slow him down. Maybe he was planning on using him as a diversion later on. The action scenes probably would have been exciting if they hadn’t been ruined by Onesimus’ poor narration of them. He screams as they are about to crash into the fountain but his scream sounds weak and unpersuasive. And his complaints about a sprained ankle are just annoying. He is arrogant and rude to both Epaphrus and Paul, two characters who both happen to be played by stronger actors than him. If the roles of Epaphrus and Onesimus had been flipped, this would have been a nicer episode to listen to.
Onesimus says, “Freedom comes at a price.” This sounds exactly like the title of the first episode in Album 6, The Price of Freedom. Except Onesimus’ definition of that price is flawed. He uses it justify stealing not only from his master but taking a random horse off the streets of Rome from a stranger. I was glad when Paul arrived. When Paul steps on the scene his presence takes over, putting Onesimus in his place. It is a powerful moment when Paul agrees to pay all of Onesimus’ debts, and brings up memories of Les Miserables, as well as countless stories of forgiveness from the Bible. In response to Paul’s compassion, Onesimus can only be in shock and say very little, which is a good thing. His subsequent conversion to Christianity fits well into the story, although I wish the episode spent a little more time on his transition to Paul’s point of view rather than skipping right to it.
The ending came too soon for this story. Onesimus is baptized and as Nicholas celebrates the adventure suddenly ends. Nothing is explained about Paul’s letter to Philemon, which is probably a bad idea considering it is the source material for the episode. Whit simply says some scholars think Philemon freed Onesimus when he returned home. I was at least expecting Paul to say something about everyone being equal in Christ and perhaps quote Galatians 3:28, which says “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The issue of Onesimus’ slavery is not fully addressed. For an episode called A Prisoner of Christ, I was expecting the phrase “prisoner of Christ” to be talked about. But as far as I can tell it wasn’t even mentioned, much less explained. Nor was there any explanation for Paul’s house arrest. With all those missing pieces, this episode can only get 2 out of 5 stars.