Jake’s voice-over tells us humans are hard-wired with impulses to share our ideas and form communities, because we’re hoping for answers and connections. “If you haven’t received a message, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been sent,” Jake intones, advising us to listen harder. I’m going to use this piece of wisdom as an excuse to crash so many fun parties. Hey, just because I never got an invite doesn’t mean the hosts didn’t mystically send the message in some symbolic and possibly number-signified way!
Like all Touch episodes, “Kite Strings” has a theme. This week that theme is mainly trapping the characters in awkward spaces in life-risking circumstances, so they can relate urgently and meaningfully to one another, and so I can have lots of moments yelling, “Use a hairpin to open that door—insert and jiggle!” or “Doesn’t one of you have a freaking cell phone to call for help?”
While Martin flees his apartment with an official-looking letter and, of course, a shiny looking red kite, we flash to Randall, the former-fireman lottery-winner near a church that says if you have questions, they’ve got answers! I hope Randall has questions about evolution and the death penalty; he looks to me like he’s in a feisty mood.
Martin arrives at the Evil State Facility, because Sunday is family day, and for once Jake can actually leave his lockdown without having to escape in wily and improbable ways. Martin’s distracted, because his letter officially declared no part of his wife’s remains could be recovered from the WTC, where she perished on 9/11. Clea encourages his impulse to bring Jake to the cemetery: “You’re acknowledging that you miss her. Jake deserves the chance to witness that.” I have issues with this. Mainly because Jake is hardwired to root out and vicariously experience all the suffering everywhere. I would think a cemetery might not be the best place for that kid to hang out.
At the cemetery, Jake runs his kite at a man standing at Sarah Bohm’s grave. Bobby knew Sarah back when he was a bike messenger, in the summer of 2001. When Jake sprints off again, Martin chases him and Bobby slips away before Martin can ask more questions. As Jake displays his Red Notebook of Cosmic Pain Awareness with 9.5 written over and over on its pages, Martin tries to convince Jake to come back to the grave site to talk to Bobby. Then he glances at his watch and realizes it’s just now 9:50. Jake lets the kite go, and Martin follows Jake tracking the kite, wondering when the hell they’re going to get to do one of his things for a change.
When Martin chases Jake across a busy street, there’s no kite in sight, but Jake pulls up short, refusing to move from the spot. Hey, they’re across the street from a check cashing place, where there’s a 9.5% rate advertised in the window. “What are you trying to tell me, Jake?” Martin pleads. Well, obviously that he has a check to cash.
Back in Baghdad, our Iraqi pal Abdul (remember, the one who almost became a bomb boy?) volunteers entertainment with his friend’s heavy metal band (with the awesome name of Deep Lightening), and himself as comedy opener.
Laura, a soldier who gave Abdul all those Chris Rock DVDs just so he could steal someone else’s act, says she’ll do everything she can to make it to Abdul’s audition for the soldiers. Clearly, disaster will strike and keep Laura from Abdul’s moment of triumph.
The next scene discovers Randall in the church, where the young minister is just the worst: losing his place in the sermon; getting scripture all wrong; and apparently encouraging congregation members to bring crappy convenience store coffee. Randall scolds him because the answers the church’s sign advertised are nothing but a crock. For whatever reason, the pastor finds that immediately endearing and suggests they hang out.
Jake trespasses into a building and its apartment 65, until the antics of some kids in the hall turn the 6 upside down to make it 95.
Of course Bobby from the cemetery lives in apartment 95. He asks them to go away. This is obviously a cue for Martin and Jake to bust in and examine Bobby’s personal items. Martin spots a picture of a cute little girl in a frame with the name “SARAH” written on it; Bobby named his daughter after Martin’s wife. Did anyone else go to the “Bobby and Sarah Bohm had a steamy summer tutoring affair!” place? *raises hand*
Back in Baghdad, Laura heads into a mission that is clearly going to end in death and tears. Sure enough, explosions burst out, snipers take out some of the soldiers, and Laura has to drag her injured comrade away from the scene.
Steven, the sad little minister made of fail, gives Randall a church tour and mentions he’s glad his pastor dad is dead and can’t “be disappointed with my lack of answers.” Ouch. The church rooms are a mess because his dad had a stroke in the middle of renovations. Meanwhile, the upheaval in the building is nothing compared to the dashing of Pastor Steve’s dreams: he gave up his plan to leave Lynchburg and follow his girlfriend to NYC. Oh, Pastor Steve. They would have eaten you alive in New York.
Coincidentally, Randall’s originally from Lynchburg. He’s put off calling his family, just like he’s put off figuring what to do with his ginormous lottery winnings. After glancing at the blueprints, Randall immediately understands the renovations Steve’s father wanted, because “my old man was in the construction business.” Huh, there’s no money for restoration and expansion. Huh, Randall will have a Noah’s Ark-load of cash once he claims his winnings. Gee, do you think you two crazy boys can work something out here?
While explaining how Sarah tutored him in math so he could get his GED and get a promotion to dispatcher (to keep himself safe to care for his son, as Sarah encouraged him), Bobby gets a bit shirty with Martin about neglecting his wife. “Where I’m from, a woman stops wearing her wedding ring, that means something!” he yells, accusing Martin that “maybe if you weren’t in Bolivia all the time” he’d have known about the shaky state of his marriage. “I was in the Balkans, not Bolivia!” Martin retorts, because that detail is so pivotal to Bobby’s accusations of abandonment.
Okay, so maybe Martin was an absentee husband. And father. And wasn’t precisely clear about what B-place he was traipsing around whilst off doing his highfalutin reporter business. “How could I possibly know those damn buildings were going to come down?” Martin asks, sounding defeated. “I did,” Bobby says ominously.
Okay, so Bobby was nearby when the plane hit the first tower. Though he realized everyone should have gotten out of the building, he froze up and did nothing. “I’m so sorry,” he cries to Martin, as his wife enters and understandably wants to know what the hell is going on. Jake picks this moment as an absolutely perfect time to gallop down the hall and lock himself in a room.
Randall confesses to Steve his shame at leaving Sarah Bohm because he wanted to save himself. Steve coaxes him to check out the basement so Randall can perhaps buy a clue that he’s supposed to foot the renovation of this church. Uh oh, they roll down the stairs, and somehow Pastor Steve has locked them in. They’re trapped down in that basement—trapped, I tell you! Never mind there seems to be a busy little town square right outside—scream all you want, Steve and Randall; you’re miles away from where anyone can hear you!
Laura, herself injured and doing her best to keep the soldier she’s carrying moving through the desert, tells him about a friend of hers who always said, “You can get anywhere you want, one footstep at a time. And you and I are going to prove him right.” Duly inspired, they stumble-hop-stagger along toward certain death.
In Baghdad, Deep Lightening taps into an outside electrical line (nice) and needs information on the maximum feed for their amplifier. So Abdul contacts King-Roadie.com to ask for an expert opinion. “King-Roadie.com has just officially gone global!” the guy who owns the site shrieks in excitement to his girlfriend. Honey, you can shriek all you want at her when you get some freaking international advertisers.
Abdul’s friend manages to impress upon him his “impression” of Chris Rock is pretty much ripping off Chris Rock’s act. Not so fun to be called a parrot, is it, Abdul? At least Deep Lightening writes all of their own songs! In case it is not already clear to you, Deep Lightening is badass.
As Laura’s company searches for her and the other injured soldier who escaped the melee, we zip on back to Bobby’s apartment, where Bobby’s wife has juuuust now found out that Bobby named their daughter after that female math tutor he never told her about. Way to keep significant and possibly infidelity-obscuring secrets, Bobby.
Martin finally gets into the locked room where Jake is skulking just as Jake hauls himself out onto the fire escape and locks the window behind him. Nimble like a Capuchin monkey, Jake is! “I know you wanted me to come here, but we’re not helping anybody. So please, just get back inside,” Martin begs him. Jake immediately scales up the fire escape ladder, closer to his kite that’s inexplicably caught right outside Bobby’s apartment.
King Roadie finally locates his manual for Deep Lightening’s particular amplifier, and starts to message them, “Do not on any account turn the feed past 50 volts.” Whoops, Jake’s wrassling with his kite string outside—because OF COURSE King Roadie lives right next door to Bobby—and yanks the satellite dish there, and King Roadie temporarily loses his connection.
“You don’t want me to come get you,” Martin realizes, finally cottoning on that Jake wants Bobby to save his hide.
Cue the hilarious pratfall of King Roadie’s long-suffering girlfriend, and King Roadie diving into the wreck of his amplifier manuals to save her. Jake’s kite string yanking nudges the dish back into position, and King Roadie’s message gets sent with a mistake, implying Deep Lightening can turn the feed up to 950 volts instead of 50. ROCK ON! \M/
As Jake reaches for the kite and falls, Bobby catches him. “You wanted to repay your debt to Sarah, and you just did,” Martin tells Bobby. Which is awfully tidy. It sure was nice of Jake to put himself in harm’s way and almost crack his head open just so Bobby could feel better.
The soldier searching for Laura refuses orders to return to base, vowing to find her. Nearby, Laura and her companion stumble and fall onto their backs. Just then Deep Lightening rips into their song with 950 volts, blowing out the electricity of all of Baghdad as near as I can make out. The overload sends out a shower of sparks from the electrical pole conveniently placed just behind Laura. “I got a visual!” searching soldier calls out as the electrical pole goes off like a whirring pyrotechnics stage display, and once again, METAL HAS SAVED THE DAY!
When Steve apologizes for the mess he’s created, Randall says, “I played my numbers; they reset my karma. That’s why I’m here.” “I envy you,” Pastor Steve says. “You received a sign through your numbers…you know who received signs in the Bible?” Gee, let’s think. “Prophets, holy people, leaders! You know who didn’t receive signs?” Um. Is this a trick question? “Everyone else who doesn’t get mentioned in the bible!” Capably deduced, my dear Pastor Steve!
Jake stalks back through the apartment with his kite, while Martin offers an apology to Bobby’s wife who somehow isn’t steaming about all these shenanigans. “You asked about a number, 9.5,” Bobby tells him. September 5, 2001 was his last tutoring session with Sarah. She had another appointment so she was late. “He [Jake] looks like her. You notice that?” “Every single day,” Martin answers, and leaves.
Pastor Steve and Randall are suddenly saved when a young man hears them and runs to their rescue. “Pastor, something’s happened in Iraq,” the man rushes to say. Of course Laura is Pastor Steve’s ex-girlfriend who went to New York, and he was the one who told her about getting anywhere one step at a time.
Hang on, Steve tells Laura once he has her on the phone, because he’s going to rush to Iraq and leave his ministry—because it seems Randall is going to take over? A straight-shooting former fireman who left the big city returns to his home town ready to minister to a needy flock? What is this, a CW show?
Abdul learns Laura won’t see his audition, because she’s been flown out by medevac. He looks supremely annoyed in the way only teenagers do in this sort of situation: “What, she’s probably going to die? But she promised she’d be there!”
A soldier says something completely dickish about Iraqis. Abdul says, “Let me break it down for you, brother. Iraqis have been here since Mesopotamia. We started this party 9,000 years ago—we’ve been around almost as long as the Simpsons.” The soldiers give him the job on this bit alone.
Listen, I support the idea this character must find a brand of humor that comes out of a place of anger, not only because that’s the place where lots of excellent stand-up material comes from, but because he’s uniquely positioned as an aspiring comic in occupied and ravaged territory to cast that harsh, humorous light on his circumstances. But damn it all, his stilted Simpson’s joke just isn’t that funny.
Clea smiles at Martin returning Jake to the Evil State Facility as Jake’s voice-over tells us nothing can compare to or act the same as the human voice. “We will always hear that singer,” in the midst of an orchestra, because the human voice resonates differently from anything else in the world.
Cut to Bobby and his family looking ecstatically happy in their apartment—so there was no fallout whatsoever from that “you named your daughter after some other woman and never told me!” thing? Huh. King Roadie and his girlfriend are happy because his site got one hit. Yay? Steven arrives at Laura’s bedside, because he took the Magic Plane of Insta-Arrival to Iraq. And Randall has apparently claimed his lottery prize so he can, surprise, surprise, buy the church and set up shop as Lynchburg’s resident prophet.
Martin heads home to go through his wife’s old appointment book in their apartment, so he can figure out why she was late to her tutoring session with Bobby. Gosh. Not to interrupt this moment with harsh reality, but how on earth did that appointment book make it out of her WTC office?
Anyway, Sarah Bohm had scheduled a 9AM drop off for September 5, 2011 day at “TB”, which Martin identifies as a jewelry store. Sarah didn’t take off her ring because she was having second thoughts about the marriage; she was arranging to have the ring engraved with “1+1=3”.
“That’s what she used to say when our son was born,” Martin murmurs to the jeweler, shaken. “Jake made us a family.” “Do you want this ring?” the woman at the jeweler says, because somehow it’s unclear to her that Martin is going to sleep with the ring curled inside his fist every night, squeezing it and holding on to this tiny piece of his dead wife to get him through his days ever after. Well, it seems only fair he gets a small token to get him through all the coming days of chasing after his son on more journeys of ridding the world of mystical pain.