The House (2002) - James A. Contner
Easily the strongest episode of the first season and a surprisingly mature and intelligent episode for this early in the show's run. Johnny begins to be haunted by visions in his own home and eventually comes to believe that, while he's been told his mother died of natural causes during his coma, this may not be the entire truth. David Ogden Stiers, always reliable, has been mostly on the fringes as the enigmatic Reverend Purdy, a televangelist who is also the executor of Johnny's estate thanks to his mother's will, but this episode allows him to really come to the forefront and show us all the conflicting sides of the character, who will, as the show progresses, become the show's best character. A scene near the climax of the episode where Purdy finally reveals the truth to Johnny is just beautifully acted by Stiers and a scene that follows hard on that, when Johnny finally realizes that his visions of his mother have actually been trying to alert him to something totally different than he thought, is just incredible. Hall absolutely slays the wrenching scene and the emotional power of the moment is a high water mark for the series until . . . well into the second season, I'd say. Great episode of television; absolutely perfect.
Enemy Mind (2002) - Jon Cassar
And the best episode of the first season is immediately followed by . . . one of the weakest episodes of the first season. The high concept driving this episode is the question of what happens when a psychic gets blasted with high powered street drugs during a police raid he's assisting with? How does a mind so profoundly altered as Johnny Smith's react to mind altering substances? The answers are "not much" and "in no interesting way." Pretty bland episode; really entirely wasted in my opinion. Probably my second least favorite of the first season and probably my third or fourth least favorite of the first three seasons.
Netherworld (2002) - Robert Lieberman
The series' first attempt at a Twilight Zone episode. Johnny Smith wakes up one morning to find that he never had a car accident, never went into a coma, has no visions and is married to Sarah, the woman he lost during the five years he was comatose. Everything is perfect in Johnny Smith's life suddenly; what about the coma and his psychic abilities? Some sort of strange nightmare that he's just woken from? Or is something more pernicious and deadly happening here? This is familiar ground to anyone who watches television or movies, but Lieberman does a good job at capturing the off-kilter reality that Johnny finds himself in. As he struggles to understand what's happening, he's faced with the age old choice: would the world be a better place if he had everything he wanted or not? And, in the end, if he could have the choice again, would he choose the visions, the ability to save lives, even at the expense of the coma and his tragic state of existence? Hall elevates the episode by really giving a very good performance. He's torn between his desire to stay in this strange alternate reality in which he's truly happy or return to the reality in which he's tormented, but also a savior and helper to those in need. It's at this point that the show really begins to wrestle with what made the novel so compelling, which is Johnny Smith's absolutely tragic state of life, the sort of absolute suffering that Johnny Smith faces because God or Destiny or what have you has put the finger on him and pulled him out of the life he would have chosen in order to be the figure of fate that he has become. I think all of us have those moments when we wonder 'what if' and 'why me;' the power of King's novel was to tap into those two emotions, wrap them together and ramp them up, until Johnny Smith's suffering stands in for the way that all of us suffer loss and disappointment as we live this life and his destiny stands in for the way in which we are able to still find redemption through that suffering. The show takes a while to really warm up to this, but they start flirting with those ideas here and the episode is incredibly entertaining and gripping.
The Siege (2002) - Michael Shapiro
Johnny gets involved in a hostage situation during a bank robbery; he thinks his visions should be able to help him find a way out, but everytime he tries something, his visions change only in the path they take to get to an ending he can't escape, an ending where he is killed. The idea of the episode is a good one; I dig the fatalistic bent of the episode where Johnny is able to keep influencing events, but somehow never enough to actually save his own life. But the best thing about this one is the performance of Stephen Miller, a Canadian actor, as the gunman. It's a shocking, sympathetic performance and as he finds the humanity in the bank robber, a good man pushed to desperate actions, the episode connects on a human level. It's Miller you'll remember when this episode is over and not Hall.
Here There Be Monsters (2002) - Michael Robison
Johnny and his sidekick/physical therapist Bruce are passing through a small town that has just experienced the brutal and as yet unsolved murder of a couple of young children. Johnny decides he needs to use his psychic abilities to help, but this small town is in no mood for shenanigans and before he knows it, Johnny's made himself the prime suspect. This is a pretty silly episode, but Hall sells a few moments as best he can. And this is the first episode since The House that Stiers as Purdy has a large part. Since The House ended with us feeling incredibly sympathetic toward Purdy, it’s no shock that this episode features him acting, deliciously, amoral and unlikable again. This guy just elevates every episode he’s in.