The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones 3.05: “Mystery of the Blues”

Currently, I’ve been rewatching and blogging on The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, continuing last week with the nineteenth chapter, “Winds of Change”. Before proceeding with the next chapter, here are a few things you should know, if you haven’t read the earlier post:

  • You might have noticed that I referred to this show as The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones instead of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and this is why: When the show originally aired, it was called The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and would bounce week-to-week from stories of Young Indy as a 10-year-old to stories of him from the ages of 18 to his early 20s. After it was canceled, Lucas decided to recut all of the episodes into 22 90-minute-long films intended for home video, and retitled it The Adventures of… All of the stories were now placed into chronological order. In some cases, this even meant reediting pieces of certain episodes into other episodes.
  • While seeing the story in chronological order is worthwhile, the decision to divide them into 90-minute installments can feel strange if you don’t realize that each “episode” is really made up of two distinct episodes. You have to just remind yourself that they weren’t originally meant to be viewed in this format and instead think of them as separate entities.
  • If you want to rewatch along with me, the series is on Netflix!

3.05: “Mystery of the Blues”

Original airdate: March 13, 1993

[Note #1: Although this episode is composed of two distinct stories, it originally aired on TV as a single, two-hour episode.]

[Note #2For some reason, this episode is missing on Netflix streaming, so I had to rent the physical DVD to watch.]

This is one of those Young Indiana Jones episodes that has some genuinely excellent elements and moments, but doesn’t really hold together. Even the title, “Mystery of the Blues” comes from a very minor thread that feels shoehorned in with the express purpose of rudimentarily tying two very disconnected stories together. Also, the episode is bookended by sequences of Harrison Ford as an older Indiana Jones in 1950, which, while cool from a geek perspective, is also completely unnecessary from a narrative standpoint. From a production POV, it was clearly meant as an attempt to boost the show’s sinking ratings, but given how short his scenes are and how only mildly interested Ford seems to be in them, it really doesn’t help matters, particularly given that there aren’t any classically Indy action antics until nearly the end of the 90 minutes.

Additionally, the episode is a bit shaky from a character motivation perspective. On the one hand, the history is handled very well. Indy, while at school in Chicago, starts hanging out at jazz clubs and eventually befriends and is taught by legendary jazz musician and composer, Sidney Bechet (played by the brilliant Jeffrey Wright), and it proves an excellent opportunity not only to explore black/white race relations in this era–as in all previous episodes, Indy doesn’t have a prejudiced bone in his body, particularly when it comes to friendships, to the point that it almost surprises him whenever the discrimination of the white people around him in regards to who he hangs out with rears its ugly head; in this respect, his parents raised him very well, particularly in bringing him along with them to meet other cultures at a young age–but to delve into the history and meaning of jazz (he even meets Louis Armstrong!). The sequences in which Bechet gradually teaches Indy how to play jazz on his soprano sax are terrific, as well as a great callback to Indy playing the instrument in earlier episodes. I love how Indy is quite confident on the sax–and compared to the stuffy white people at the club, even plays jazz really well early on–until he plays for Bechet and realizes how far he has to go.

The problem, however, is that Indy is depicted as being so obsessed with jazz that he seems to be ignoring his schoolwork all together. It almost seems like the music is his true passion and his archeology courses are just the thing he’s making himself do in order to get a degree, and while we know from the war episodes–particularly the espionage episodes–as well as where his life will eventually go, as seen in the films, that Indy longs for this life of adventure and historical exploration, you’d almost think from watching these stories that he’d be more satisfied just jamming with his friends. Now, there is quite a difference between being an adventurer archeologist and being stuck in stuffy classrooms in boring lectures, and I think the episode also makes a particularly good point in one scene in which Indy relates to another former soldier in the war about how odd it is to be back at school now, amongst kids his age, most of whom didn’t have any of the dark life experiences he had on the front and beyond, and additionally I understand that schoolwork wouldn’t make for the most riveting storytelling, but I wish there could have been a way to convey that he actually does want to be there.

Because it isn’t just about the adventure for Indy. In the films, bespectacled “Professor Henry Jones” might be his Clark Kentish secret identity of sorts but he’s also extremely passionate and knowledgeable about history. Speaking of Superman, it reminds me a bit of how, on the show, Smallville, Clark never seemed the slightest bit interested in journalism. It’s not quite that bad, as there are plenty of other episodes that do lay the groundwork well for Indy, but it just would’ve been nice if, in the only episode about his education in Chicago, he actually seemed to be on that path and not desperately trying to avoid it.

But again, there is some great stuff here. I love that Indy’s nerdy, killjoy roommate turns out to be Elliot Ness, famous not only for being one of Chicago’s top Prohibition enforcers but the man who was largely responsible for bringing down Al Capone. It’s fitting, then, that the second half of the episode features Indy, Ernest Hemingway(!!), in a surprise return appearance, and him, joining forces to investigate a Mafia hit at the restaurant where Indy works. And, hey look, there’s Jane Krakowski as the young, hot new wife of the murdered man! What I like most about this plot is that it culminates in Indy and his friends sneaking into a Mafia-run warehouse at night, leading to a big shoot-’em-up action sequence when they’re discovered, which is a nice echo of Indy’s pulpy adventure with Nancy all the way back in high school, which is one of the things that got him set on his road in life in the first place.

As for the poorly shoehorned “mystery of the blues,” although Indy becomes an excellent jazz player in the first half, Bechet tells Indy he’s not ready to play the blues, which, he cryptically says, are an entirely different thing, but somehow the experience of investigating the Mafia mystery finally gets Indy to a mental place where he’s capable of playing them beautifully at the end. Which is a little strange. You’d think, if anything, his time at war would have been more useful in priming him to play the blues than a gangland murder mystery that doesn’t really have much personal significance for him. Shrug.

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Previous:  “Winds of Change”

Next: “Scandal of the 1920s”


Purchase The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, Volume 3: The Years of Change on DVD

Author: Robert Berg

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