Reflecting on The Chosen Season 3 & Anticipating Season 4: What Worked & What to Fix
Updated: 6 days ago
It's been a couple weeks since the release of The Chosen Season 3 Finale (Episodes 7 & 8) and it feels like a good time to reflect on the current state of the series.
Externally, The Chosen has never been in a better place. The number of loyal fans has skyrocketed over the past few months, such that even secular publications are beginning to take notice of the show's wild success. Although the "I am the Law of Moses" controversy may have created some bad PR, I suspect that it ultimately ended up benefiting the show. The saying "There's no such thing as bad publicity" applies. When you try to tell people not to watch something, the effect is usually the opposite of your intent: instead of making people less interested, you end up piquing their curiosity and encouraging them to watch. Since the whole controversy was pretty baseless, I doubt that critics had success persuading people who were already open to The Chosen. Most of those who bought into the controversy seem to have been closed off to the idea of an expansive Bible adaptation like The Chosen to begin with. All that to say, Season 3 of The Chosen appears to have brought nothing but momentum, precisely at the moment in which the show seems to be hitting its stride.
And it's hard to deny that The Chosen is hitting its stride from the perspective of the show's internal quality and consistency. I may have had some issues with The Chosen Season 3 Finale - which I'll dig into more below and for which I'll offer some solutions. Still, Episode 7 and Episode 8 of Season 3 of The Chosen were a big swing and so it's not surprising that not everything was perfect. On the whole, Season 3 of The Chosen was remarkably entertaining, engaging, and emotionally moving. Moreover, it showed significant signs of growth when compared to Season 2. For a show that was launched outside of the studio system and hasn't had the benefit of all the resources that mainstream shows have, consistent improvement season by season is a substantial achievement and bodes well for the future.
However, if The Chosen is going to maintain a trajectory of continual growth and improvement, the show needs to continue to receive constructive criticism. Too often, devoted fans and reactionary critics of the show alike err in treating a show like The Chosen as a static entity. Instead of pinpointing specific ways that the show can improve, they pronounce fixed judgments on the quality of the show that are either overly-broad or based in speculation about the motives that went into making The Chosen.
As I regularly have to remind people in the comments, we can't know what's going on in the heart of Dallas Jenkins and whether he's the self-promoting heretic that critics accuse him of being or a devoted servant of God as fans maintain. Even if we could know Dallas' heart, it shouldn't really affect our interpretation of the show. The Chosen isn't the product of a single man after all; it's the work of hundreds of collaborators, each with their own motives and purposes. More importantly, we need to remember that greedy, self-promoting people can produce beautiful works (just look at Hollywood), just as devoted, godly people can produce mediocre works (just look at all the bad Christian art that's out there). The quality of an artistic work isn't always a reflection of the quality of the heart that went into it. That's why motives are a matter for God's judgment; for limited humans like us it's far more productive to judge what we can see, that is, the show itself. We can't change hearts, but by offering specific feedback about what's working and what isn't, we can change future seasons of the show. After all, whether Dallas and the other creators are driven by devotion or other motives, they can still use our feedback to improve the show.
With all of that as a preamble, let's turn now to reflecting on Season 3 of The Chosen. In particular, I'd like to highlight some of the aspects of Season 3 that worked well as well as some areas of the show that need fixing.
The Chosen Season 3: What Worked
Season 3 of The Chosen improved upon Season 2 in several notable ways:
A More Unified, Character-Driven Plot
Whereas the plot of Season 2 lacked a clear direction and felt disjointed, the plot of Season 3 had much more focus and unity. In Episode 1 of Season 3 set up the growing interest in/demand for Jesus' ministry that flowed out of the Sermon on the Mount. In Episode 2, Jesus set plans in motion to meet that interest/demand by commissioning the Apostles to spread the word and asking Mary Magdalene and Tamar to develop a sustainable financial engine. Episodes 1 and 2 also gave us the first hints of how the increasing demands of ministry would create tension between the disciples' calling and their personal/family life. The remainder of Season 3 flowed out of the plans set in motion during Episode 2 and the personal tensions that it introduced.
Instead of focusing on "miracle-of-the-week" stories, Season 3 kept its focus on its central characters. When miracles happened, they were used primarily as set pieces for character development.
Season 3 of The Chosen did a great job of slowly revealing information over the course of the season in several storylines (e.g. regarding Gaius' family situation, Eden, and the Zealot pursuit of Simon Z).
Strong Characters and Acting
Season 3 did a great job of utilizing underused characters like Little James, Yussif, Tamar, Zebedee, Shula, Barnaby, and Simon the Zealot in some interesting ways.
Jairus, Pilate, and Pilate's wife were all interesting added characters.
Season 3 demanded a lot of the cast of The Chosen, but I can't think of a single recurring actor/actress that failed to deliver on a consistent basis.
Season 3 explored a number of interesting questions that the Bible itself doesn't address: if Simon Z left the Zealots, how did other members of the order react? How exactly did women like Mary Magdalene provide finances for the ministry of Jesus? How would the increasing interest in Jesus' ministry have affected a city like Capernaum? How would an Apostle like Simon Peter have balanced ministry and family life? Exploring unanswered questions like these is one of the real values of an expansive adaptation like The Chosen.
Thematically, Season 3 of The Chosen delved into some much more complicated waters: what would it have been like for Jesus to suffer the loss of his adoptive father? What are the dangers of granting so much spiritual power to Apostles who still have much to learn? Why does Jesus heal strangers while allowing some of his most faithful servants to suffer chronic issues or sudden heartbreaks? What would it be like for someone to watch one person get healed, knowing that their loss was beyond healing? What does it look like to wrestle with God in the midst of our sorrow and anger? These were not easy topics to broach and The Chosen should be praised for wading into some treacherous waters and engaging with these complex questions in thoughtful ways.
Other Odds and Ends
Season 3 of The Chosen clearly benefitted from the new studio/production facility that was recently built. The world of The Chosen feels much more expansive now that the show is able to use bigger sets or at least use green screen to create the impression of bigger sets.
There's now a clear pattern of making Episode 3 of each season a self-contained bottle episode - and these episodes (Jesus & the kids in Season 1, the disciples camping in Season 2, and Jesus in Nazareth in Season 3) continue to be some of the best episodes of The Chosen so far. Giving us a window into Jesus' life growing up was a great way to help us connect with him more deeply.
The show needs to keep Jesus' eventual fate at the forefront of our minds, even though we've got several seasons until the crucifixion. The premonition of Pilate's wife combined with Pilate's introduction served as a useful mechanism in that regard.
The Chosen Season 3: What Needed Fixing
The Chosen Season 3 was not perfect. As I've reflected more on some of the criticisms I leveled at The Chosen Season 3 Finale, it's become clear to me that many of these issues had more to do with the season as a whole than with Episode 7 or Episode 8 in particular.
Low Stakes & Weak Villains
There's a reason why so many movies and TV shows revolve life and death situations or the fate of the world. High stakes give stories a sense of urgency and keep us in suspense. We need to know that the outcome of a story will really matter - otherwise, why should we care? But simply telling the audience about a life or death threat is not enough - the old writer's adage, "Show, Don't Tell" is particularly important when it comes to establishing the stakes for a story. This is where The Chosen has struggled. We're often told about threats or dangers: we're told that Jesus' ministry needs finances to keep going, we're told that the people in the Tent City are struggling, we're told that Quintus has been reprimanded for being too forceful, we're told that the Decapolis is ripping itself apart - but we're shown very little if any visual evidence of these things, which is ultimately what really matters in a visual adaptation.
Another common technique that movies and TV shows use to create a sense of urgency and suspense is to set a clear deadline for when things need to happen and to check back regularly on how much time is left. The classic example of this is when there's a ticking clock on a bomb - we know that the heroes must disarm/get rid of it before the clock runs out and so every time we're reminded of how much time is left, our sense of suspense and urgency is heightened. By contrast, consider the storyline involving the women and Zebedee trying to establish finances for the ministry. There's no clear sense of when they need to get the money by - indeed, by the end of Season 3, it's not even clear whether they've achieved their goal. I realize that their story is really more of a prop for character development, but raising the stakes for their story would ultimately create more engaging drama between the characters.
The most powerful source of tension and suspense in a story is a strong, effective villain. What makes villains like Darth Vader, the Ring Wraiths, or the Joker so crucial for stories is that they get things done and therefore keep the heroes (and the audience) on their toes. By contrast, the main villains of The Chosen - Shmuel and Quintus - have achieved very very little over the course of three seasons. While they may give off ominous vibes and make threatening statements, they never seem to get much done. Now, I realize that this is in part because The Chosen has to play the long game when it comes to Jesus' ministry - his crucifixion and death won't come for another two or three seasons. But the plans of the villains don't have to be focused solely on Jesus. I was really hoping we'd see Quintus actually do something about the Tent City in Season 3 - or do something to Gaius, who clearly disobeyed Quintus' orders in Episode 6. Instead, nothing came of Quintus' ominous words. Likewise, Shmuel seems to constantly be scurrying around and getting nothing done. If The Chosen wants us to take its villains seriously, instead of relying on bad vibes and threatening words, the show needs to give its villains a clear plan and let them achieve actual victories along the way.
Set Ups & Pay Offs
The beginning and ending of a show are immensely important. The problems that the end of a show need focuses on need to be set up in the beginning, and everything set up in the beginning needs to have some sort of pay off by the end. If a show sets a problem up in the beginning and then never does anything with it, it will feel like a random distraction and audiences will question why the problem was introduced to begin with. On the other hand, if the end of a show focuses on a problem that wasn't set up earlier, the audience will feel like it came out of nowhere and it'll be hard for them to care. This was one of my most significant complaints about The Chosen Season 3 Finale. While the Simon/Eden problem was set up and developed over the course of the season, there was very little set up for the situation in the Decapolis. That's why the show is forced to give us so much exposition about the situation and the stakes instead of showing us - because the problem came out of nowhere. On the other hand, the situation in Tent City was set up as a major problem at the beginning of the season, and yet nothing came of it. All the build up about what Quintus would do went nowhere.
The Gaius plot line also suffered from a lack of payoff. The problem with Gaius' child/servant was set up in the very beginning of the season (i.e. when Atticus perceives that Gaius has problems at home), but in Episode 8 the storyline gets dropped and we're not given a resolution. I know some people have pushed back by saying the show was holding the healing of Gaius' child back in order to string things along but if the show wasn't ready to deliver a resolution, it shouldn't have introduced the problem - or it should have ended the season with a sudden complication that raised the stakes or complexity of the conflict.
The fate of John the Baptist is another example. Again, if the show wasn't ready to kill him off, that's fine. But then it should have either not made the problem of his imprisonment such a central feature of the season, or it should have given us a new wrinkle that would raise the stakes or tension going into Season 4.
The situation with Ramah is yet another example. From the perspective of writing, I can't imagine why the show would set up the question of Thomas' marriage proposal and send her out to her father's house and then do nothing with it. (I can imagine non-writing reasons - e.g., that the Ramah actress wasn't available to shoot very much and had to be temporarily written out of the show).
On the other hand, Matthew's story in Episode 7 is another example of a problem out of nowhere. There was a lot about the story I enjoyed and it would have worked fine early in the season. But stuffing it into the Season Finale without any prior set up was a strange choice. It would have made a lot more sense if the show had given Matthew a story that involved his parents, given how their reunion as a family was set up in Episodes 1 & 2.
Suggestions for The Chosen Season 4 & Beyond
Based on the issues I've identified with The Chosen Season 3, I have a few ideas for how the creators can improve The Chosen Season 4:
Give one or more of the villains (Quintus, Shmuel, or Nashan) a clear goal/plan at the beginning of Season 4.
Over the course of Season 4, allow the villains to make actual progress toward their goals in a way that poses significant danger to the disciples, their families, the Tent City, etc.
In order to heighten the stakes, kill off at least one character in addition to John the Baptist (who obviously needs to die). There are plenty of named characters who could get killed without doing violence to the biblical account: Matthew's parents, Eden's brothers, Zebedee, Ramah, Tamar, Jairus, Kafni, Judas' sister, or Leander all present themselves as potential victims. I'm not saying they all need to go, but an unexpected death will really amplify the sense of danger that the show has been trying to cultivate. In addition to raising the stakes, killing one of these minor characters could also help the show trim a superfluous plot line, keeping our focus on the characters and events that matter most.
In addition to killing characters, the show should allow the villains to make the lives of characters uncomfortable in other tangible ways. For example, the Gospels indicate that even before the crucifixion the followers of Jesus were getting expelled from their synagogues and communities (John 9:22). If the parents of the disciples (e.g. Matthew's parents or Zebedee) got expelled from their synagogue, it would be a source of real drama. There's also no biblical reason why Quintus couldn't expel the inhabitants of the Tent City, perhaps even violently. It would create a crisis that would feel much closer to home than the Decapolis situation and it could also put Gaius into a very uncomfortable position, which is exactly what you want to do to keep the audience engaged.
Build the season backwards. Figure out all the major events that you want to have in the Season 4 Finale (e.g. the Transfiguration) and then plant the seeds of those events in Episodes 1 & 2. Make sure that all the storylines you set up in Episodes 1 & 2 come to a fitting conclusion or complication by Episode 7 or 8.
Don't worry about covering every character. Nothing against the actors, but no one really cares about Thad, and Nathanael is only modestly more interesting. The cast of the show is quite large, and so the show really needs keep focused on the characters that matter. When a scene demands an unspecified Apostle or disciple, The Chosen should assign the role it a main character (Simon Peter, Matthew, or Mary Magalene) or a second tier characters (Tamar, Simon Z, John, Judas), unless there's a specific need for a third tier disciple (e.g., the Little James scene). In doing so, The Chosen can ensure that it maintains a narrower focus. When a show runs for multiple seasons, its cast tends to grow and what often happens is that the multiplication of characters leads to storylines that feel like unnecessary distractions from the main plot. Hopefully, The Chosen can avoid this danger.
Don't get distracted or worried by all the controversy. Haters will hate. Like I noted above, the more they tell people to not watch, the more people will. And once people watch, they'll recognize that The Chosen has done a great job balancing biblical fidelity with creativity and the demands of adaptation. Don't listen to the loudest and angriest voices - listen to those of us who support the show and have constructive, thoughtful feedback.
Bonus Pitch: The Adventures of Abigail and Joshua
Hey, creators of The Chosen! This isn't a problem that needs fixing but it is an opportunity you could take advantage of. Obviously most episodes of The Chosen itself are a little intense for younger viewers. Want to expand your audience while providing some real value to your fanbase? I think a series of animated shorts (6-10 minutes) centered around the kids that Jesus taught in Season 1 Episode 3 (Abigail and Joshua) would be a really interesting way to introduce younger viewers to The Chosen brand, while providing something that's in real demand: engaging, theologically-sound Christian content for younger viewers. Think The Chosen meets Bluey.
Here's my log line: As the growth of the Jesus movement causes disruption in Capernaum, two of Jesus' youngest disciples must learn how to live out their faith in the face of frightening bullies, harsh Pharisees, and world that's in desperate need of salvation.
What would be particularly cool is if the shorts could be weaved into the background of the events of the previous few seasons, providing interesting easter eggs for adult viewers (a large part of the success of a show like Bluey is that it engages adults as well as kids). For example, we could see how the water crisis affected Abigail and Joshua's families or we could see them serving kids in the Tent City. I also love the idea that there have been situations depicted in The Chosen in which the kids were secretly responsible for saving the day, even though the adult disciples weren't aware of their presence or involvement.
That's it for today's reflections on Season 3 of The Chosen and my suggestions for Season 4. Agree or disagree? Have other suggestions? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below or reach out by email.
A New Resource for Studying The Chosen
If you're like me, watching The Chosen is about more than entertainment. Bible movies & shows like The Chosen provide us with fresh eyes to see the significance of the Bible and the beauty of the Gospel. That's why I'm excited to share with you a new resource that I've created to help you study biblical adaptations & reflect on how they apply to everyday life. Come and See is a devotional journal designed specifically for studying Bible movies and shows like The Chosen. It includes sections for you to take notes on each episode's plot, your favorite quotes, personal connections, questions, and, of course, Scripture references. Whether you're studying on your own or with your small group or ministry, Come and See is a perfect resource to help you dig deeper into The Chosen.
FYI: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Click here for my affiliation policy.
If you liked this post, you might want to check out some of my other posts on The Chosen and Bible adaptation. I have Bible studies/discussion guides for each episode of The Chosen Seasons 1-3, blogs exploring how The Chosen adapts key biblical figures, and articles exploring the controversial nature of adaptation. I hope you enjoy them!
The Chosen Season 3
Reflecting on The Chosen Season 3 & Anticipating Season 4: What Worked & What to Fix
The Chosen Season 3 Episode 1 & Episode 2: Reaction and Analysis
The Chosen Season 3 Episodes 7 & 8: Recap, Review, & Analysis
The Chosen Season 3 Episodes 1 & 2: Questions to Discuss Before the Premiere
Adapting Biblical Characters Series
Thomas & Ramah in The Chosen & Scripture ***Season 3***
Yussif, Jairus, & Shmuel in The Chosen ***Season 3***
Quintus, Gaius, Atticus, and the Romans in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Little James in The Chosen & Scripture ***Season 3***
Pontius Pilate & his Wife in The Chosen ***Season 3***
Judas in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Matthew in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Simon and Andrew in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Exploring The Chosen with Youth or Small Group [Discussion Guides]
Episode 1 Guide: Homecoming
Episode 2 Guide: Two by Two
Episode 3 Guide: Physician, Heal Thyself
Episode 4 Guide: Clean Part 1
Episode 5 Guide: Clean Part 2
Episode 6 Guide: Intensity in Tent City
Episode 7 Guide: Ears to Hear
Episode 8 Guide: The Feeding of the 5,000