And as might have been expected, when Indy finally comes home, it doesn’t go as smoothly as one might have hoped. In fact, at the start, it almost doesn’t go at all. Indy walks in and Henry hardly even greets him, let alone hug him or show any sort of elation at his return. Instead, Indy comes in, and Henry is at his desk in his office, as per usual, and hardly looks up to greet his son before giving him firm instructions as to when dinner will be served and sending him off to put away his things. As a master of repressed emotion, Henry is still punishing his son for abandoning him and causing him such worry over the past three years, but rather than address these issues directly, instead he acts as if he’s hardly fazed by having his son home from war, alive and healthy. The sad thing is, of course, that Indy doesn’t know this. All he sees is his dad’s cold exterior, and one can’t blame him for not feeling kindly towards Henry, Sr., thinking him as heartless, even as one almost wishes to be able to reach into the screen and shake some sense into Senior.
The major tragedy of their relationship is this lack of communication, and while Indy was surely wrong to leave the way he did in the first place, he at least now does eventually try to talk to his dad but his dad won’t hear of it. Henry wants to recreate life exactly as it was before Indy left. He wants Indy to move back in and be the good, obsequious son who does what he’s told, unquestioningly. We have watched Indy grow up a great deal over the course of the series, and suddenly it’s as if he’s been thrown into a time warp, going from being a highly respected soldier and spy to suddenly having to kowtow to his dad again, like a young teenager.
This all comes to a head when the two men have a difference of opinion over what should have been done at the peace treaty talks in Paris. Henry, Sr.’s opinion is steeped in ancient history and tradition. He believes that restoring the status quo was the only thing that could have been done, whereas Indy disagrees with him. Senior can speak all he likes about the history he teaches in his stuffy classroom, but Junior was actually there, on the battlefield, in the jungles, behind enemy lines, at the Peace conference. He knows that the world is changing and that his dad is ignoring it. And yet Senior dismisses his words just as he did when Indy was a younger man, sitting at that dinner table, expressing a conflicting opinion with his, or when he was even younger still on their trip together and they wound up lost and naked due to his father’s stubborn refusal to ever be wrong. What’s so compelling about the scene is that we’re watching an argument that has been steadily building throughout Indy’s entire life finally spill out. Furthermore, of course, as previously mentioned, the father’s position is also indicative/symbolic of his stranglehold on the past.
Henry Sr. is then contrasted with other relationships is Indy’s life–easier relationships such as those between him and Paul Robeson, a famous African American actor/singer, who, at this point in his life, is still a young man about to graduate from college as valedictorian, and who Indy was friends with as a boy. Just as with earlier friendships we saw in his childhood, Indy, unlike most people of his era, is completely color-blind when it comes to forging friendships. He is ahead of his time, seeing no significant difference between the two of them, and later coming to his friend’s defense when racists accost them in Central Park. Indy’s attitude towards him, along with Robeson’s optimistic valedictory speech speak to the coming of a new world that will start to be realized many decades later, during the Civil Rights Era.
Meanwhile, Indy is also dating Amy Wharton, a wealthy young woman who he met on the ship back to America. Her mother has a very rigid idea as to what sort of man her daughter will spend time with and eventually marry, and Indy doesn’t meet that narrow definition, being broke, as well as potential “damaged goods” due to the war he just fought in (never mind the shallowness of not considering someone who fought for your country to be good enough for your daughter). Amy, however, has no interest in marrying a rich man and settling down nor in listening to her mother. She wants to spend time with Indy, and she wants to go to Vassar to be a doctor, not a nurse. Also, after being slightly fazed to learn that Indy’s friend, Paul, is a “Negro,” she swiftly acclimates and is completely willing to learn new things. Like Indy and Paul, she looks towards the future of where America will eventually be. She also refuses to change her plans for Indy or allow him to change them for her. She knows that their lives are on different paths, and that a long-distance relationship won’t be feasible, and tells him that. And given that he’s grown up a great deal since proposing to Vicky Prentiss, he understands.
In this episode, Indy also becomes the lab assistant to Robert Goddard, who in history would later go on to invent the first-ever rocket fueled by liquid. Indy helps him with some of his early experiments in this regard, Goddard opening Indy’s eyes up to the idea of space travel not as science-fiction or far-fetched fantasy but as an actual possibility–one that Goddard, who eventually died in 1945, would not live to see, but Indy eventually will. We know this, because the “old Indy” framing stories that originally opened and closed most of the episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (but which were eliminated for The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones home video cuts), Indy was still alive in the modern day, then the early 90s. Indy’s experiences here are the most extreme example of him facing the changing world, and eagerly embracing its future advances, all of which galvanizes Indy to stand firm with his decision to go to the University of Chicago.
And, in many ways, it is the healthy decision. As much as one might want Indy and his dad to work things out between each other, Henry Sr. is not willing to bend. It’s heartbreaking to watch because you can tell that on some level, he wants to but is too proud. You can see the pain in his eyes when Indy tells him about how that time he hugged him after they climbed to the top of the mountain together was the only time he really felt like he had a dad, and yet Henry won’t yield now. At the same time, he wants to basically encase Indy’s younger days in amber. He wants him to continue living with him and to follow in his footsteps, despite the absolutely stultifying atmosphere in that house. Indy has to leave. Interestingly, however, his fate will eventually be to follow in his dad’s footsteps and teach at Princeton University, although by that point, his dad will have moved on. It won’t be until many years later, during the events of Last Crusade, that they will finally come to bond again.
At the very least, they do end up parting on as good terms as they possibly could in this situation. They don’t say goodbye to each other actively arguing. Instead, Henry, Sr. simply represses all of his anger, as he did in the past and shuts down. The saddest, most ironic part of it all is that Henry, Sr. actually approaches Indy and hugs him moments before Indy tells him the truth–that he is leaving for Chicago, right then and there–which ends up completely closing Henry, Sr. off to him all over again. The disappointment flashes across his face for an instant, and the distance returns. He wants his son to stay and wants to be a good father to him, but has absolutely no idea how, just as Indy doesn’t quite know how to be his son. It’s a sad situation, but one that, at the very least, will be addressed in the future. They will make peace with one another and even learn to enjoy one another’s company, as they did on that one excursion together years ago. It will, however, take a long time to get to there…
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