Album 7 holds the record for the most individual Christmas episodes. The Visitors is the third one on the album and manages to look at the holiday from yet another perspective. In The Reluctant Rival, Jenny figures things out on her own and decides to act in a self-sacrificial way. Monty’s Christmas features Connie and Monty having an important discussion about compassion and understanding. The Visitors has the entire Barclay family tackle those same themes of sacrifice and giving. But it’s the first Christmas show never to feature the voice of John Avery Whittaker. Yes, Whit is mentioned, but he doesn’t get any airtime. Instead the focus is almost entirely on the Barclays, which is very appropriate considering their self-absorbed attitude in this episode. They do their best to isolate themselves from the outside world but those Odyssey writers make sure to keep them on their toes. The introduction of the mysterious visitors in the back shed is not totally realistic and is a very blatant way of shaking up the Barclays’ routine, but it does fit nicely with the holiday. It’s almost like a parable or a modern-retelling of the Christmas story. Having a narrator wouldn’t have been out of place. Plus this episode takes the opportunity to build on the Barclays’ last Christmas episode, Peace on Earth, showing how the family has learned from its past experiences.
It’s all about the presents in the Barclay household. But then again most people are excited to open presents at Christmas time, so you can’t really fault them for that. But do they go too far? Just like in the episode Peace on Earth, the Barclays walk a fine line between innocently enjoying the gifts they’ve been given and turning the Christmas season into a holiday of consumerism. Jimmy, for instance, temporarily turns into Irwin Springer and starts shouting the phrase “Oh, wow!” after he opens one of his presents. Then Mary Barclay enthusiastically promises they are going to have “the best Christmas dinner ever.” They are certainly in high spirits. But their frivolity is cut short by two things. First, George crashes Jimmy’s remote control car. I don’t blame Jimmy for being hesitant to allow his dad to drive his car. If you’ve heard the episode Family Vacation, you know George’s knowledge of cars is comically low. The second disturbance is the appearance of a baby boy wrapped in a cloth in the Barclays’ back shed. Interestingly, the parallels to the Christmas story should be very obvious to the audience but are not immediately noticed by the Barclay family. Maybe their focus isn’t on Christ after all.
It seems you don’t need to go all the way out to Foster Creek to find people who are in need. Even the town of Odyssey, like the little town of Bethlehem, has people desperate to take shelter on a cold night. The married couple the Barclays take in are named Chris and Elizabeth and their baby is called Zechariah. The names in themselves should be clues to the Barclays that these are some special people. The name Chris is pretty obvious—it’s so similar to Christ. But the names Elizabeth and Zechariah aren’t immediately obvious unless you know the Bible. At the beginning of the book of Luke, God promises a child to a married couple named Elizabeth and Zechariah. The child becomes John the Baptist and prepares the way for the coming of Jesus. Similarly, this first couple visiting the Barclays’ prepares the way for the second one to be accepted into their home. But since it isn’t meant to be an exact parallel to the Bible, the names don’t match up perfectly. The baby in the episode is named Zechariah, for instance, instead of the father. This helps to provide some needed distance between the episode and the Bible story.
Mary and George soon start to think that the couple they have invited into their home is kind of strange—and they would be right. For one thing, Elizabeth and Chris speak in very vague terms. When asked where they come from, they say from “far away” and that they’re going back. Why did they come to Odyssey? No explanation. On the other hand, the Barclay parents don’t seem to make a huge effort to get to know them either. Their attitude of suspicion isn’t exactly conducive to relationship development. Then this episode does something brilliant—it skips ahead. In the next scene we find out that the visitors are no longer at the Barclays’ house. Just like that and they’re gone. It was that easy. We learn that Whit takes the couple and their child back to his house, but none of this is heard. (Like I said before, Whit’s voice never appears.) Besides, the Barclay family isn’t really interested in dealing with these strange visitors, so why should we? Such an abrupt scene transition is very effective in demonstrating how callous the Barclays are being. It’s a quick and easy fix to get rid of those unwanted people. As long as they being helped by someone else, it’s better that they’re out of sight and out of mind.
The search for the missing visitors reminds me of the parable of lost coin, in which a woman turns her house upside in order to find a single coin, and the parable of lost sheep, in which a shepherd leaves his flock of ninety-nine to go out looking for just one sheep. It’s a picture of God’s grace to search after people who are lost. God uses flawed humans to do his work, and the Barclays fit that description. During the search Mary Barclay offers some really valuable insight into the situation. She talks about how they’re still thinking about themselves and wanting to ease their guilty consciences instead of being truly selfless. George Barclay’s contribution to this scene is to make a heartfelt prayer to God. He says, “Show us the way, Father,” which reminds me of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, in which George Bailey prays and repeatedly asks God to “show me the way.” And then something miraculous happens, a little like the angelic activity in that movie. The Barclays spot their visitors and chase them down an alley, only to see them vanish into thin air. I get the impression that the new family they find hiding in the stairwell had been there for some time and probably weren’t the same people the Barclays saw running by. And if that’s the case, what’s the explanation for the sudden disappearance of the original visitors? This episode keeps it vague without giving a clear answer, probably a smart idea, and instead points to the fact that God simply led the Barclays towards people in need of help. Some of the events in the story are difficult to imagine, such as the introduction of the visitors in the Barclay’s shed, their disappearance from Whit’s house and then their disappearance from the alley, and the subsequent introduction of another set of visitors who almost exactly resemble the first group. Nevertheless, this episode does a great job bringing elements from the original Christmas story into a modern setting and putting the Barclays through another important lesson related to giving and self-sacrifice. It gets 4 out of 5 stars.