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The Chosen Season 4 Episode 1: Recap, Review, & Analysis

Updated: 4 days ago

The Chosen Season 4 is going to be a season full of sorrow and joy and more sorrow, and that tone is immediately set by Episode 1. If you’ve watched any of the trailers for the new season or listened to any of the cast members discuss what’s ahead, you’ve almost certainly figured out that several characters will die this season. It’s not surprising then that Season 4 begins with SPOILER ALERT the execution of John the Baptist. Below, I’ll detail what exactly happens in Season 4 Episode 1 and then go on to share my thoughts on the episode and identify the key themes. [Here are my posts on: Episode 2 and Episode 3]

Herod Antipas and Herodias in The Chosen Season 4
Herod Antipas and Herodias in The Chosen Season 4

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What Happened in The Chosen Season 4 Episode 1

Episode 1 of Season 4 contains several distinct but intertwining threads:

John the Baptist’s Origin Story (Flashbacks)

Season 4 Episode 1 begins with a flashback to Mary (young and early in her pregnancy) traveling alone to visit her older cousin, Elizabeth, in the hill country. She’s hired a couple to guide her trip no questions asked - but that doesn’t stop the two from speculating about her virginity.  The story pretty closely follows the events of Luke 1:39-45 (with exposition retelling bits of Luke 1:5-25 as well): as soon as Elizabeth hears Mary at the door, the yet-unborn John can’t wait to get started announcing Jesus by leaping in her womb; Elizabeth explains Zechariah’s encounter with his Messenger and the special calling set before her son.

The flashback to John’s origin resumes toward the end of the episode, intercut with the events leading up to John’s execution. Again, these events follow the account of Luke 1:57-79 fairly closely: after John’s birth, during his circumcision ceremony, the local Rabbi assumes that the child will be named Zechariah after his father; instead Elizabeth insists that he be called John and when Zechariah agrees (in writing), the curse silencing him is released and he is moved to prophesy the work of John.

Salome, Herodias, Herod, Joanna, and John the Baptist

Following the credits, we are introduced to a young woman, Salome, as her mother, Herodias, puts her through grueling dance training so that she can please her stepfather, Herod Antipas, with a perfect performance. 

Later, we see a stage for the performance being constructed. Joanna, introduced in Season 3 Episode 1 as a secret disciple of John the Baptist and Jesus, passes by on her way to find her cloak when she’s caught by her husband, Chuza, Herod’s household manager. There’s tension in their marriage: Joanna has stopped sleeping at home now that Chuza has openly taken on a mistress, Cassandra; Joanna’s secret visits to John the Baptist in prison have also become known to Chuza and the court. Chuza tries to smooth over the tension in anticipation of the performance.

Salome’s dance instructor discusses her progress with her mother, Herodias. We learn the reason why the performance must be perfect: if Herod is pleased, he will offer Salome anything she wants and Herodias will use this as leverage to have John executed. Meanwhile, Joanna attempts to visit John in prison again but only gets a brief glimpse of him, as he is transferred to a more accessible cell, from which he will either be freed or executed. John is not worried though: he encourages Joanna with the words of Jesus (Luke 7:22)  and declares that the way of the lord has been prepared.

That night there is a great feast and much revelry in Herod’s court - while Joanna races to Capernaum in order to warn the disciples. After Herodias has gotten Herod drunk, she signals for the performance to commence. Salome’s dancing is hypnotic and pleases Herod, earning her a boon, just as Herodias had hoped (Matthew 14:1-12).

John is then hauled to an execution room, where he will be beheaded, onto a silver wedding platter. He laughs - never having been to an actual wedding - but anticipating the Wedding Supper of the Lamb that he will soon join. This confidence is strengthened as he sees a vision of a lamb and he thanks God, just before he is decapitated.

Later that morning, Joanna arrives in Capernaum, seeking Andrew. When she finds him, she doesn’t even have to tell him what happened. The two weep, while the other disciples look on. Just as they plan to go find Jesus to tell him, Jesus arrives, his robes torn and ashes on his head, already aware of what has happened.

John, Big James, Zebedee, Jairus, and Yussif

Zebedee and his sons begin the episode preparing a shipment of special anointing oil. Along with Tamar, they bring the oil to the local synagogue, hoping to win a contract to supply its oil going forward. With both Jairus and Yussif on their side and the benefit of being local suppliers, they are able to win the contract, although Rabbi Akiva is against them, preferring tradition and precedent of practicality. 

Later, the disciples are celebrating their first successful contract when Joanna arrives with the bad news, raining on their parade.

Thomas and Ramah

Ramah returns to Capernaum as the disciples are busy preparing the shipment of oil. Shula and Barnaby offer to serve as chaperones so that Thomas and Ramah can spend some time together. Once they’re alone, Ramah reports that Kaphni is still unwilling to bless the marriage. Fortunately, she’s done some research and discovered a way for them to get married regardless. Jewish law allows for a man and woman to be married if a father abandons his daughter or under other special circumstances. Ramah argues that her decision to follow Jesus meets the requirements. All they need to do is get a couple of witnesses (John for Thomas, and Jesus for Ramah) and make vows, with a special object of value functioning akin to a modern wedding ring. They announce this good news to the disciples just before the news of John’s death arrives.

Judas and Simon Z

Judas and Simon Z chat as they wash their clothes. Judas had always paid people to do his laundry for him, but has quickly run out of cash. He’s frustrated at having to do mundane things and argues that the disciples should be maximizing their time and focusing on teaching instead of being distracted by such menial work. Simon Z disagrees, pointing out that they must be able to relate to the rest of Jesus’ followers, most of whom spend their time during mundane work. Judas pushes back that they could easily find the funding if they just took freewill offerings from those who had means, but Simon Z counters that Jesus wants to show generosity. Judas doesn’t know how Jesus ever hopes to amass a following as the Messiah unless he has funds, but Simon is content to trust in Jesus’ wisdom.

Judas and Simon Z in The Chosen Season 4 Episode 1
Judas and Simon Z in The Chosen Season 4 Episode 1

Review of The Chosen Season 4 Episode 1

Episode 1 of Season 4 was a strong start to the new season. A few aspects of the episode that I enjoyed most:

  • The production quality of the show continues to grow, season by season. The sets, costume design, special effects, and editing were all superb. This should serve as a rebuke to those who whined about the production quality of Season 1: outside of the mainstream Hollywood system, it’s unrealistic to expect a show to start out with Hollywood-level sets, costumes, etc. But that doesn’t mean that a show like The Chosen can’t improve over time, as it gains popularity and financial resources.

  • The main cast of The Chosen has always been pretty strong, but the bit players haven’t always been so great - even in Season 3. That seems to be changing in Season 4. I was impressed by the performance quality of even minor characters like the dance instructor.

  • Bookending the story of John’s death with flashbacks to his origin story was effective, both thematically and emotionally.

  • The pacing of the episode was excellent. There wasn’t a moment when I felt disengaged as a viewer.

  • Over the past few months, I’ve been analyzing the themes and theology of The Chosen Season 1. By Season 4, the show has become far more sophisticated in the way that it develops its themes and ideas.

  • I wasn’t shy about criticizing the olive oil plot line in Season 3. Episode 1 of Season 4 did a much better job of weaving it in organically so that it didn’t feel like a distraction and instead helped illuminate the other more important plots.

  • In dramatic writing, there’s a longstanding tradition of using comic relief when telling heavy, horrifying stories. In part, this is merely a reflection of human nature: gallows humor is a common experience. But these moments of levity are also useful because they provide an emotional contrast that actually makes the heavy moments even more impactful.  The death of John is one of the most horrific events in the show so far. The show did a terrific job of balancing the gravity of the event with touches of levity (John’s jokes) and peace (his vision).

  • I typically enjoy it when shows give us glimpses of authentic male friendship. The scene between Judas and Simon Z scratched that itch for me - while obviously setting up Judas’ fall later this season.

  • Salome’s dancing was fascinating. Perhaps the choreography has roots in actual ancient dancing, but what many of her movements made me think of, as a modern viewer, were the types of unnatural contortions that we see in cinematic depictions of characters who are either undead or demonically-possessed. In my head, I had kind of always thought of Herod Antipas as a perv who got aroused by his daughter in law doing a belly dance, but the route that the show took was both visually compelling and thematically evocative.

  • I like the complicated marital situation between Joanna and Chuza. I don’t know how much they plan to do with it, but it’s a nice touch of realism (reflective of the time).

I don’t have many criticisms of Episode 1:

  • The show spent quite a bit of time with Salome, and yet I left unsure of her motivations and mindset. I would have liked to have had a scene between her and her mother, Herodias.

  • This isn’t a criticism of this episode so much as it is of big-picture planning: I don’t get why Ramah was put on a bus for most of Season 3, then left in limbo at the end of the Season 3, and then brought back so nonchalantly at the very start of Season 4. The way that she’s been moved around has felt a little haphazard and arbitrary.

Key Themes of The Chosen Season 4 Episode 1

Like I said in my review, The Chosen has grown increasingly sophisticated and subtle in the way that it addresses themes and ideas. 

What does it look like to prepare the way for the Messiah?

The flashbacks in the intro and conclusion of the episode help highlight the driving purpose of John the Baptist: to prepare the way of the Lord and guide the feet of God’s people into the way of peace. We see this has been John’s passion since before he was even born - and remains his passion to the moment of his death, as he thanks God for the joy of serving the Lamb of God.

You might think that being executed would hinder John from fulfilling his purpose, but you’d be wrong. By intercutting Zechariah’s prophecy about John’s calling with the events of his death, the show makes it clear that death is the culmination of the calling that John has had since (before) birth. John also hints at this idea as he is being readied for execution, when he declares to Joanna that the way of the Lord is prepared. In other words, death won’t prevent him from preparing the way - it will actually bring his preparations to completion. Just as Jesus followed John’s path in life and ministry, so too will Jesus follow John’s path into suffering and an unjust execution. John is preparing Jesus for what lies ahead - and the news of John’s death will also help prepare the disciples for the death of their master.

But John isn’t the only one thinking about how to prepare the way for Jesus. In his conversation with Simon Z, we see that Judas also has a vision of how to prepare the way for Jesus - and he is animated by a very different spirit. Judas is concerned with practicality - maximizing the efficiency and financial stability of Jesus’ ministry by freeing the disciples up from unnecessary labor so that they can focus on spreading the teaching of Jesus (btw, I was struck by how much Judas’ words echo some of the thoughts and ideas I’ve heard bandied about in the modern ministry world). To a person focused on efficiency and practicality, a sacrificial death like that of John’s seems like a waste. And I imagine that as Judas recognizes the gap between his own perspective and that of Jesus (and John), he’ll begin taking steps down the dark path that ends in him trading the life of Jesus for thirty silver coins.

The Mingling of Joy and Sorrow

Christian films and shows are often criticized for being pollyannaish and unwilling to deal with the dark realities of life. On the other hand, modern prestige television too often seems to relish in darkness and depravity. Real life is neither a Hallmark card nor a hellhole. Each day - sometimes in the very same moment - we are met by success and defeat, joy and sorrow, hope and despair. 

Jesus mourns in The Chosen Season 4 Episode 1
Jesus mourns in The Chosen Season 4 Episode 1

Episode 1 of Season 4 is designed to bring this truth home. Half of the story is on a positive trajectory, culminating in two causes of celebration: the new oil contract and the pre-betrothal of Thomas and Ramah. And yet precisely at the moment when the disciples are celebrating the good news, Joanna arrives to deliver the bad news, which is the culmination of the other half of the story. The heights of joy and the depths of sorrow - all within a few moments.

The intercutting of John’s circumcision and his death has a similar effect but speaks more broadly. Life itself is an admixture of birth and death, hopeful beginning beginnings and dark endings. And in John’s death itself has both elements - the gruesomeness of a cruel execution contrasted with lighthearted joking and visions of peace. 

To follow Jesus is to accept our vulnerability and the joys and sorrows of life. By contrast, the way of the world, represented by Herod and Chuza, is to use power and wealth surround ourselves with empty pleasures and to demand perfection and false smiles from those beneath us (e.g. Joanna, Salome).

The Kingdoms of the World vs. The Kingdom of Jesus

Episode 1 of Season 4 brings the kingdom of Herod Antipas into stark relief with the kingdom of Jesus. The court of Herod is ruled by proud and oppressive resentment (like that of Herodias) or self-centered pleasure-seeking (like that of Herod and Chuza). By contrast, we see that the kingdom of Jesus is characterized by levity and self-sacrifice (like that of John the Baptist) and hard work and lowliness (like that of Zebedee and sons as well as Simon Z). 

Zebedee, James, and John at work in The Chosen Season 4 Episode 1
Zebedee, James, and John at work in The Chosen Season 4 Episode 1

What were your thoughts about the new episode? Have any points of agreement or pushback, with either my review or my analysis? Feel free to post your thoughts below!


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 1-4, 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 4

The Chosen Season 3

Adapting Biblical Characters Series

Artist Interviews (The Bible Artist Podcast)

Exploring The Chosen with Youth or Small Group [Discussion Guides]

Season 4

Season 3

Season 2

Season 1


The Chosen Controversies Series

How to Discuss The Chosen - and Why

Themes & Theology of The Chosen [Exclusive for BMC Members]

Season 4

Season 1


Mailbag Q&R

The Chosen Thematic Viewing Guides

Beyond The Chosen

Other Bible Adaptations

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