Jimmy Barclay is a great character. He has a unique and strong personality. And he’s pretty funny too. In his first episode, Family Vacation, his narration shapes the story and helps to make it more interesting. Jimmy’s contribution is also very valuable to the beginning of A Mission for Jimmy, which would otherwise have been an unnecessary introduction to the real story that takes place faraway from Odyssey in Nicaragua. The back and forth conversation between Jimmy and his dad is quite good and almost resembles the banter that sometimes happens between Connie and Eugene. Jimmy complains about having to wait for his dad “to finish gabbing with all [his] friends” and then exaggerates his pitiful plight of having stay for a long time after the church service every Sunday. It’s a hard life he has. He has to deal with chores in The Prodigal, Jimmy and gets put on a strict budget in A Good and Faithful Servant. And now he has to raise money for “a bunch of preachers in Africa.” His dad responds very well, rightly reminding Jimmy the importance of supporting people who do mission work. Both George and Jimmy Barclay seem perfectly natural as characters and they fit well together.
The next scene is also pretty good, but it starts off with some confusing sound effects. At first it sounds like it takes place outside at nighttime, like we’re already in the jungle. But then there are suddenly all these morning birds chirping around. And then we find out Jimmy is inside, in his room. When George asks him what he is doing, I half-expected Jimmy to answer that he is just listening to some relaxing bird sound effects. Well, wherever Jimmy is, he’s at least drawing a poster for the missionary fundraiser. There’s only one problem. He depicts the missionaries as being cooked to death by cannibals. Jimmy admits that he is trying to sensationalize what a missionary does because the other stuff, like helping struggling schools, is boring. Just like Digger Digwillow, Jimmy wants action and adventure, not the same old stuff he’s already heard. But Jimmy has never tried the Imagination Station before, so the next best thing of course is to read a book. It that’s all it was, then maybe this episode would not only make sense, but it might actually be a great story. But alas, Jimmy apparently needs to participate in the story, just like the unrealistic dream sequence Irwin Springer had in The Day Independence Came. This whole show was supposed to be about breaking Jimmy’s misconceptions. Somehow I don’t think diving into Jimmy’s imaginings is the best way to show an accurate representation of anything, much less a real representation of a missionary out in the field. If this was a controlled Imagination Station ride, it would be fine. But this is all takes place in Jimmy’s head as he drifts off to sleep.
Adding Jimmy to the events in Nicaragua makes everything all about him. This is his mission, after all. It’s his job to help save the world. It would have been great to see this show be more the people of Nicaragua and Dan Isidro’s story. Dan is by far the best part about this episode and yet his narrative gets drowned out by Jimmy’s presence. Jimmy gets most of the speaking time and very few Nicaraguans are ever named. The only ones who don’t sit passively on the sidelines waiting of the missionaries to save them are the soldiers. When Jimmy and Dan meet a regiment of soldiers blocking the road, we don’t get to hear how Dan Isidro would have acted in that situation. Instead, Jimmy saves the day. He suggests that the boy Pablo might be sick with the bubonic plague, which somehow scares the soldiers, allowing Jimmy and Dan to escape from their clutches. This may work in Jimmy’s cartoon imagination where the bad guys are all brainless and bumbling oafs, but probably not in the real world. Then their road trip is foiled by the carburetor breaking down, which Jimmy should be familiar with because it’s similar to the comical car trouble George Barclay has with the carburetor and fuel pump in the episode Family Vacation. Unfortunately, there is no hitchhiker around in the jungle to help out Dan and Jimmy.
What’s the solution to all of Dan’s problems? If you remembered the fundraiser Jimmy was supposed to be organizing at the beginning of the episode, then you already know the answer. The solution, of course, is money. Dan didn’t have enough money for medicine. He didn’t have enough money to fix his car. He didn’t have enough to save Pablo. If only Jimmy had come along to Nicaragua with an armload of cash this episode would have worked out fine. He could have simply thrown money at all the problems he saw and hoped they would go away. And you don’t need to be able to speak Spanish to do that, do you? This is obviously not the most nuanced message to put across. And for a story that is at the core supposed to be about spreading God’s Word to other people around the world, there is very little talk of God in the story. We hear about the harsh physical realities people face, but the spiritual side of the struggle is mostly absent. The people are caught between two sides in a civil war, a political struggle for control, and so the solution presented is also political. This episode would have benefited if there had been more of a balance between the need for financial and spiritual support.
The Christmas party at the end is a nice throwback to the wonderful episode Peace on Earth in which Mr. Whittaker organizes the whole community to converge on the Barclay home, bringing dinner, presents and a tree after they had been robbed of everything. Dan Isidro then drops by to join in the fundraiser, and his voice matches Jimmy’s imagination exactly. Maybe his dream about Nicaragua wasn’t so inaccurate after all. And while Jimmy was in Nicaragua in his sleep he even learned a phrase in Spanish to say to Dan when they met at Whit’s End, so I guess it was all worth it. All in all, this episode did a good job in bringing attention to missionaries and the support they need. It gets 3 out of 5 stars.