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Chesapeake Shores: ‘Forest Through the Trees’

Written by Ann Hamilton

Directed by Anne Wheeler

“I was going to talk to him last night but it was late and I didn’t want to barricade my door.”

For a show that focuses on romance and family, Chesapeake Shores doesn’t handle romance and family issues with any great degree of aplomb. Yet when it comes to depicting a character’s military service, the psychological wounds caused by that service, the difficulty of adjusting to civilian life, and the unrelenting uneasiness of survivor’s guilt, CS does a wonderful job. These are not easy issues. And they are certainly not easy issues to weave into a generally upbeat and heartwarming ensemble piece with any degree of finesse. Surprisingly, however, it is in depicting just these topics where this series excels. Every segment that deals with these problems stands out. The writing shows sensitivity, the acting is always on point, and the directing is never heavy-handed nor facile. Perhaps this indicates that CS should treat the family stuff and the romance more like it does the trauma, especially as the romances slip further into mediocrity and the family dramas lose any sense of urgency whatsoever. If real families only had this much tension, the entire psychotherapy business would go bankrupt. That being said, one romance this week does fall off the cliff and crash onto the rocks. Mostly, despite the O’Brien clan’s best efforts at mucking up perfectly promising starts to relationships, this turns into a highly smoochy episode.

As always, a Chesapeake week begins at breakfast. No wonder everyone in this family always ends up at Sally’s restaurant at some point for either breakfast, brunch, or lunch; some big issue always arises which causes the entire family to flee the kitchen. This week, Connor gets to break the happy news to his Dad that he quit his prestigious job at the law firm after only a month. Connor asks for a little advice: he’s in the uncomfortable position of having figured out where he doesn’t belong, without even a clue as to where he does belong. Unfortunately, Mick has nothing to give him, saddened as he is by news that an old friend recently died. Connor receives a little unexpected help from his Uncle Thomas to fill that gap. Though we knew that Uncle Thomas worked for environmental causes, it wasn’t made clear before this episode that Thomas is also an attorney. He applauds Connor’s choice to leave the law firm and encourages him to find work that feeds his soul and doesn’t just buy groceries. He offers Connor a short assignment doing some research. The work gives Connor something to do and also allows him to see what other kinds of options exist for his career. It turns out that Connor likes working for the public good and possesses a flair for approaching it with creativity and energy. Recall that Connor’s crush also works on environmental issues. Surely a hint as to future directions must lie in that oh so subtle coincidence.

Trace and Abby go camping! Desperate for some together time, Trace and Abby get away from work, family, and cell phones in the Canadian wilderness just over the Maryland border where Abby seems like the world’s most unlikely camper. So of course she dresses for the great outdoors in plaid shirts, big woolly sweaters, and believe it or not, pigtails. At one point she even dons one of those fishing vests with all the pockets. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s always best to overdress the part! Actually, Abby’s sartorial excess attempt’s to hide actress Meghan Ory’s pregnancy as it becomes more visible. I hope that I’m not giving away private news but the camera work doesn’t really hide her condition. Congratulations and best wishes!

The rest of the O’Brien siblings do their best to fend off potential happiness by using all their many respective neuroses to complicate their budding relationships. Jess decides to pretend that last week’s big kiss didn’t happen. She’s afraid that she will mess up anything they have together. Meanwhile, Bree tries to pretend that she doesn’t have a thing for Simon, because she’s afraid that she will mess up anything they have together. This culminates in an outdoor meal where Bree and Simon and Jess and David compete in a Saddest Relationship Contest with a piece of cheesecake as the winning prize. Not surprisingly (this is Hallmark), Jess and David end up in a lip lock. Not surprisingly (this is Hallmark), Bree and Simon end up in a lip lock too. Let the pairing off begin!

Kevin and Sarah, the foxy Philly firefighter, managed to stop dodging and weaving long enough that they too end up in a lip lock. Theirs, however, does not lead in the same direction as the other’s. It turns out that Sarah’s hot and cold behavior stems from heartbreak. Sarah’s husband was a Marine. He died. She acts tough hoping that that will defeat her pain. It doesn’t.

Both Kevin and Sarah have been irreparably wounded by loss. Sarah just can’t face trying again with someone else. Kevin understands. His best friend died in Afghanistan, but Kevin made it home alive. Kevin explains to his father that just before their vehicle hit an IED, Kevin switched seats with his friend, because the friend wanted to ride shotgun. Kevin feels like he should have been the one to die. He does not understand the pure chance of it all. He feels out of place and out of sync. Both Kevin and Sarah lost a piece of themselves when their loved ones passed away, and that lost piece can’t be replaced with a new romance and they both know it. It’s surprising to watch Hallmark doing such a mediocre job with something that is the basis of its brand: romance. And at the same time do such a wonderful job with the much more difficult and meatier issues surrounding the price of military service. Whoever’s in charge of production should take note of this. If the rest of the show was as good as this small piece about Kevin this would truly be an excellent series.

Though Mick fell down when it came to advising Connor about his future career moves, he does say something profound about Kevin’s survivor’s guilt. He tells Kevin that maybe the living bear a responsibility to live for the ones who have died. Though such a thing is easier said than done, it’s a kind thing and maybe even a helpful thing to say to someone struggling with the happenstances of life and death.

Trace and Abby spend an idyllic 24 hours out in nature including slow dancing in the forest under the moon. Even on Hallmark, though, the course of true love occasionally encounters some snags. Upon their return to Chesapeake Shores, Trace and Abby discover that the video of Trace’s latest single is receiving hundreds of thousands of views. This seems like good news, but it also means almost certain separation for this couple. The greater Trace’s popularity grows, the more time he will have to spend away from Chesapeake Shores touring and promoting the music. Though this show seems to be built around this relationship, hints that they may not stay together keep cropping up. Abby remains insecure about their future even though Trace continually reassures her. Perhaps, though they would like to stay together, their love cannot survive the difference in their lifestyles. With only two episodes left this season it seems likely that the question of their fate will remain hanging. Everyone likes a happy ending – in fact Hallmark’s audiences demand it – but Hallmark would do well to examine the pieces of this show that work well and use that wisdom to improve the storylines that fall a little flat. I’d watch that.

 

GRADE: B

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Amy Anna was raised by wolves. She spends all her time eating and watching movies while lying on the couch . Her animal totem is the velociraptor.

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