Remember last season when we knew so little about what was going on beyond the borders of Jericho?

It turns out we were better off not knowing.

What appears to be the return of civilization and normalcy in Season Two, continues in actuality to be the precursor for a very dark future for America. As the latest stop on the national tour of Cheyenne's President Tomarchio (code named "Condor", biggest bird in the West - also endangered, last I heard), Jericho's military presence is quickly supplemented by an invasion of Secret Service and government agents. In fact, Stanley and Mimi are so - fortunate as to have the President give a nationally televised address from the front porch of their home. At the same time, Jennings & Rall is constructing a permanent headquarters in downtown Jericho. Dare we call it a boomtown? (Considering the explosive situation, perhaps "boom" isn't the right word.)

Cheyenne brings more change than just a new president, however. First comes copies of the new history textbook to be used in schools, which refers to the new government as the "Second American Republic" and claims that the bombings were the result of sixty years of America's political and moral decline. Then comes reporter Alex Utley, a jaded Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist from California who confirms that Cheyenne has forced the media to suppress reports that the mysterious Hudson River Virus (HRV) briefly referred to in Episode One has jumped the "blue line", the Mississippi River dividing the Cheyenne and Columbus governments. In the wake of this, the news that Cheyenne is holding a Third Constitutional Convention becomes that much more alarming. What will be the first to go? First Amendment? Fourth? Although the First Amendment may not be worth much any longer when the government murders Utley after Jake clues him into the conspiracy.

Despite the sudden burst of attention, Hawkins and Chavez see the opportunity buried within. Darcy swipes a secure walkie-talkie, and as agents scour the town for it, Hawkins breaks into Cheyenne's mobile command center and begins downloading computer files relating to the investigation into the bombings. The plan is for Chavez to get this information to connections in Texas, in order to expose the Cheyenne conspiracy and prevent the powerful Lone Star State from allying with Cheyenne. Hawkins is successful, but narrowly avoids capture only because Chavez sacrifices himself. Chavez is able to get passwords to Hawkins via Jake before he's shipped to a high-security military prison, and then escapes from his military escort en route. Meanwhile Hawkins finds proof of what we already knew - Cheyenne lied, and the bombs were made not in North Korea or Iran, but in the former Soviet Union. (His research also uncovers a mysterious "Project Boxcar". I don't like that. Boxcars make me think of people being transported to concentration camps.)

Ignorant of all this, Tomarchio makes a grand speech and introduces the country's new name, the "Allied States of America". He also nominates Mayor Gray as a delegate to the upcoming Convention.

Eric accuses Gray of drinking the Kool-Aid when obviously something is rotten in Denmark, but Gray appoints him Mayor in his place and claims that he'll be asking tough questions and seeking the truth while he's gone. Meanwhile, Valente decides that Major Beck is wearing too many hats, and sends a "private contractor" who knows the area to take over administrative duties, leaving Beck to focus on finding Sarah Mason. That can mean only one thing - the return of Goetz (D.B. Sweeney), the Ravenwood pillager responsible for the slaughters in Rogue River and New Bern.

Jericho and New Bern may have finally found someone they can hate more than each other.

Personal Observations

1. Once again, early claims that CBS was trying to "youthen" its cast aren't backed up by the facts. For the second straight week, most of Jericho's youngest cast members are nowhere to be seen. Episode Two does mark the return of Stanley's sister Bonnie, though, who makes a connection with Trish, J&R manager and sign language expert.

2. Speaking of Stanley, for the second week in a row Stanley and Mimi is the couple getting the most screen time. Wedding plans cause heartache for Mimi, who doesn't expect to have many people on her side of the aisle because she doesn't know if her family is alive or where they are. Bonnie turns to Trish for help, but not even J&R can confirm anything. Fortunately Mimi can take solace in the fact that Stanley and Bonnie are her "family". With Jake preoccupied with the town's troubles, and Hawkins trying to expose the conspiracy, Stanley and Mimi are staking a claim to the show's romance.

3. Last year, one focal point of the show was the interactions between strong characters Jake and Hawkins, as they evolved from antagonists to allies. This season, with the arrival of the equally strong Major Beck, I'm assuming that the inevitable series of interactions between Beck and Hawkins, the man he doesn't realize he's searching for, are going to be just as powerful.

4. Real-world irony of Beck (Esai Morales) taking orders from Valente (Daniel Benzali) - years ago on ABC's "NYPD Blue", Benzali played a defense attorney who represented the man tried for attempting to murder Morales' Lt. Rodriguez.

5. Speaking of Valente, as his involvement in the bombings became clear last season, one thing that bothered me was his motive. What did he hope to gain by nuking wide swaths of his own country? The emergence of the Allied States of America, which has all the makings of becoming a fascist military dictatorship, is providing me the answer. It may be that Valente was one part of a wider conspiracy of people who were willing to do what it took to remake America into what they wanted it to be.

6. Previews indicate that Dale returns in Episode Three, and that the HRV continues to play a larger role. And oh yeah, folks aren't happy about Ravenwood's Return.

7. I wonder just how extensive of a parallel the writers will continue to draw between Cheyenne and the Bush Administration. As I've mentioned before, Ravenwood and J&R are clearly fictional versions of Blackwater USA and Halliburton. And Cheyenne declared war on two members of the "axis of evil", Iran and North Korea. I'm thinking the writers aren't big fans of the Patriot Act either.

Politics aside, Jericho continues to be dominated by its talented cast and a tense, disturbing story arc. It can only get better.