Illuminations
Page 2 of 14

November Five
by Jonathan Woods

"And if ever thou art sojourning in any city, inquire not simply where the Lord's house is—for the sects of the profane also attempt to call their own dens, houses of the Lord—nor merely where the church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the peculiar name of the holy body the mother of us all." — St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 347)

St. John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, distinguished himself by recognizing Christ as Savior upon first sight. John baptized Jesus as "the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Such a proclamation was, according to Matthew, greeted by a voice from the heavens that stated, "This is my beloved son." For all his efforts, John was beheaded. He is the patron saint of candle makers, health spas, road workers, leather and wood trades, and Jordan.

Mark St John runs a successful advertising company—providing powerful campaign strategy for political candidates while sprucing up their images. His most recent success was getting Michael Dyter elected MP of South East Anglia, an office he held for one and a half seconds: Dyter had the sad misfortune of being shot in the face by a sniper. St John, not missing a beat, holds a private conference in his office between two opposing party officials who want to protect the government from scandal. In this office rests a decorative ornament that is most intriguing. Amidst several upright transparent pipes sits a crystal mask of an anonymous face—the only clue to the identity is the word "image" printed several times nearby. But is this merely decorative? Could it be, in fact, a scale model to some hostile, technologically overrun society that murders its citizens when they turn 30? Or is it a witty commentary on the vacuity of commercialized publicity? It could be the altar to a Pagan Deity, or maybe even the death mask of a hairless John the Baptist himself, symbolically decapitated with respect to history and good PR.

Unlike St. John, St John gets to bear witness to the resurrection of his respective martyr figure. There are, however, a few conditions to this "spiritual" moment: St John helped engineer the martyr's fake death. Their bond is based on the vaguest notions of faith, which is mocked all the same. This martyr, more transparent than crystal, opts to kill his servant for convenience.

Nevertheless, to commemorate this sudden departure of St John, there will be a Pagan bonfire. Dyter has elected to set off his nuclear warhead after all, and in the House of Commons, no less!

"November Five" is an episode about masks. St John wears his figuratively by adorning his office with a literally transparent visage; perhaps this mask is his true face, while he is merely the functionary running about doing unseemly tasks. John Steed wears a couple: he plays both the charming political backer and the rogue wearing a celebration mask outside Mrs. Gale's front door. Mrs. Gale, in turn, wears the mask of aspiring politician. Arthur Dove and his wife wear the masks of conventional domesticity. And Dyter—his mask is the most unique: the suggestion of a concave absence of any face at all. Under the veil of having his head shot through, this schemer sets to reenact the machinations of Guy Fawkes, but perhaps with a lot less genuine Catholic zeal than his predecessor did.

Zealots get sloppy. I think this often happens because they are so certain of their moral superiority, they feel protected by a higher power. Steed's cavalier attitude comes from his proprietary sense of what is cricket as well as his backing by the government, thereby freeing him of the need to uphold any inconvenient charade at all. We all know that he will stop these villains in the end. His opponents, however, seem to feel protected by something grander. Why else would they reveal to Mrs. Gale that their gymnasium houses such unsavory characters? No patron saint of health spas will protect this gang from the hell unleashed by Cathy.

Guy Fawkes wanted to bomb the House of Commons because England was not Catholic. His modern day equivalents don't really have their religious motives straight. In fact, the idea of any cause at all is lost to the Paganism of impulsiveness. This St John wants to escape to an exotic island, not herald the Savior. How high-minded is man when his glorious ambitions are to be metered out with vicious slaughter? Perhaps this is why the ambitious efforts of Fawkes have translated over time into a carnival of masks.

Illustrations Copyright 2001 Jonathan Woods. All Rights Reserved.
Reproduction in any form is strictly prohibited.

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This website Copyright 1996-2017 David K. Smith. All Rights Reserved.
Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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