Ever since his introduction, Joe has played a key role in delivering a very precious package to its intended destination---his son, Oliver. While the endgame, to some extent, remained a mystery in those earlier installments, the purpose of Joe’s presence was clear---help Oliver continue to develop into the man God intended him to be. How Joe executed this responsibility in his early appearances in the series exhibited traits completely consistent with his chosen profession.
The First Phase
In Truth Be Told, we essentially met Joe in the process of troubleshooting the delivery of earth-shattering news to Oliver, which he attempted to intercept at the point of delivery. The news of a father Oliver never knew, and the slew of revelations that resulted, initiated the complete deconstruction of Oliver’s identity, and paved the way for a new foundation upon which Oliver’s life could be built. When Oliver expressed his sense of a loss of identity, Joe reminded Oliver that he “believe[d] in something greater than being an O’Toole,” and that his identity was “the sum of all the choices that [he made] in...life” and “about being taught to be honest and fair and excellent and kind and deciding...to be those things.” Detached from the crutch of his identity for meaning and purpose, Oliver was free to build a new life upon a more solid foundation of love and faith, a reality which his father helped him step into.
After a two film absence, Joe returned in Signed, Sealed, Delivered: One In A Million. Remember that in the previous installment, Signed, Sealed, Delivered: From The Heart, Oliver struggled to connect with Shane with regard to the Valentine’s Day date he planned, which the succeeding installment revealed ultimately turned into a complete disaster. In One In A Million, Joe’s observation of Shane and Oliver’s inability to “click” opened a conversation between Joe and Oliver about the circumstances of the evening and what transpired. After listening to Oliver’s story, Joe began to troubleshoot and advise.
Of course, that past pain Joe offered as a source of Oliver’s distress and discouragement had even deeper layers, the origins of which were of critical significance to Joe, as revealed in Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Lost Without You.
The Second Phase
The events of Lost Without You caused the manner in which Joe executed his senior expediting duties to evolve in a profound way. In addition to following the formula of supporting and guiding Oliver in his own personal development, this installment had significant implications for Joe’s growth and development as well.
Despite his proficiency helping Oliver overcome specific emotional, psychological and even spiritual roadblocks, Joe harbored significant roadblocks of his own. Deeply rooted in past pain, those roadblocks possessed the ability to hinder Joe’s ability to guide his son forward unless eradicated. We can know this is the case given the lengths God went to in order to confront Joe with these wounds for the purpose of healing them, and, in the process, restoring his broken relationship with Oliver. It’s further proven in Joe’s ability to speak into Oliver’s life in a way that employed a unique mix of outright advice and subtle suggestion, which occurred in Higher Ground.
Finding Higher Ground
Joe entered Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Higher Ground with a new lease on life. The first time we met him after his wilderness encounter, he was relishing retirement. Seemingly out of the woods, in charge of vegetables at the community gardens, and even looking for love, Joe was learning to bloom where he was confidently and happily planted, and sharing that with Oliver. That happiness, however, did not distract him from his mission of supporting Oliver. In fact, in some ways it made him even more vigilant to those ends.
Joe also employed a proactive approach when it came to Shane’s absence. He was a key member of the coalition that made sure Oliver “got out a little,” a move which served to prevent Oliver from completely retracting back into his shell or falling into old mindsets and habits that had previously crippled his development. A more permanent fixture in Oliver’s everyday life, Joe also equipped Oliver with some key perspectives, which Oliver internalized and acted upon throughout the film.
Even as Joe entered a new season in his life, one which presented him many new opportunities, his mission where Oliver was concerned remained the same. What changed was the manner in which Joe guided his son post-wilderness. When Oliver faced a potential stumbling block on his path to growth, Joe combined both overt advice and subtle suggestion to facilitate his continued development. Oliver’s decision to act on the words of his father, whether directly, or indirectly, revealed how Oliver’s heart and mind were positioned to receive Joe’s wisdom and advice such that it penetrated his spirit to the point of action. At the same time, Joe’s growing reputation for navigating difficult situations and complicated relationships in an expeditious manner found him recruited by those closest to Oliver to do the same in another context.
Finding Home Again
First, it’s important to note that Joe was called on by Oliver---a first. Oliver, of course, called on him for his practical skills in carpentry. But it was Joe’s skill for bringing people together of which Shane was hoping to successfully take advantage. The initial interaction between Shane and Oliver painted a very complicated picture of the stakes involving Norman and his ability to connect with his father-in-law and vice versa. It’s immediately clear Shane eyed Joe to bridge the divide.
A Little Help From A Friend
What I love about Shane and Joe’s initial interaction in the DLO, and the interactions that followed, is how well they exhibited Joe’s seamless ability to apply the highly skilled nature of his expediting talents to someone other than his son.
Consider for a second that Joe entered the DLO with the intention of fixing up the newly discovered space. Before he even had a chance to see it, Shane approached him with a series of statements that barely qualified as cliff notes, yet conveyed the entire problem with which Shane tasked Joe with solving in as discreet a manner as possible.
Despite lacking further context, Joe entered expediting mode. Joe started to address the issue directly, clearly intending to endorse Norman and Rita as a match, but quickly abandoned that avenue seemingly distracted by Bill’s t-shirt. It seemed at first as if Joe was hit with a sudden bout of ADHD, but, in fact, it was a strategic shift in Joe’s approach. Instead of trying to assert his connection to Norman and endorse his character, Joe began to forge a direct connection to Bill through their shared experience---the Jimmy Hendrix concert. The fact Joe and Bill were both in the front row made Joe “practically family” in Sunny’s eyes. Joe embraced this connection, and, upon discovering Bill’s own carpentry skills, invited him and Sunny to help clean up the space he was originally called on to address. The long hours working on a joint project, plus the “flower power sing-along hour” helped Joe build a rapport with Bill.
Home Again introduced Joe’s ability to use his expediting skills to advantageously position himself to speak into a situation when the time was right. In this case, Shane identified the issue--the lack of understanding between Bill and Norman--- and enlisted Joe to help resolve it. In order to achieve that goal, Joe took a reverse approach in that he built a rapport with Bill instead of adding to the chorus of people singing Norman’s praises. That rapport---built upon a generational connection, a shared love of music and carpentry skills---qualified and positioned Joe to speak into the situation only after Bill was confronted directly by Rita with his skewed perspective. It was at that point Joe was able to complete his mission by confirming Bill’s self-realized need to embrace the reality in front of him.
This finessed manifestation of Joe’s expediting skills were a key component of helping Oliver embrace a similarly self-realized conclusion in Signed, Sealed, Delivered: To The Altar.
Love In Reverse
By understanding the way Joe’s capacity to expedite evolved over the course of the series, and consider that alongside his growing relationship with Oliver, we gain a vocabulary for the events of To The Altar. To The Altar was perhaps Joe’s greatest achievement in terms of expediting Oliver’s decision-making process in a subtle, but powerful, manner, while exhibiting all the classic hallmarks of the process, even as the nature of its execution evolved once more when applied to Oliver’s situation.
As per usual, Joe was called on for a practical purpose---to help Oliver who was “hopelessly lost somewhere in the twentieth century” and in dire need of an “intervention.” While it appeared he was lost only in reference to planning Norman’s bachelor party, it wasn’t long before Joe caught onto something perhaps much more pressing:
While at first Joe might have attributed Oliver’s lack of ability to plan a proper bachelor party to the fact he never had one, it’s the brief sequence during which Oliver blatantly ignored Shane that caught Joe’s undivided attention. He might have thought getting the party off without a hitch meant he had done his part---Joe did, after all, manage to assist Shane in getting Norman’s surprise party together in a matter of days. In truth, the real work for which Joe was uniquely suited was only getting started.
Addressing The Issue
It’s one thing to witness a potential issue, and quite another to address it directly. Not only did Joe do so, he also employed a unique strategy:
By posing this question, Joe reminded Oliver to consider why he chose to get into a relationship with Shane in the first place. Consider for a second Oliver’s relationship road map from Signed, Sealed, Delivered: The Road Less Traveled. You wouldn’t think it had any bearing on this moment except for the fact that one facet of it entailed, “...with patience and determination, [two] start to become one.” Two becoming one is another phrase to describe marriage. In The Road Less Traveled, Oliver’s relationship with Shane evolved from a season of being "in a relationship" to being exclusively "boyfriend" and "girlfriend." Seeing Shane in the wedding dress clearly forced Oliver’s mind to some destination beyond where he currently found himself in his relationship with Shane, the one which his relationship road map vaguely defined as “two becom[ing] one.” Seeing as we learned earlier that Oliver did not propose to Holly, nor did he have a wedding, it’s not unreasonable to assume he was once more out of his depth and unsure what he was moving towards or how to get there. As such, it was Joe’s job to move Oliver explicitly to the destination which he was struggling to travel (marriage), and be sure Oliver hit the “I love you,” and proposal, along the way.
How Joe chose to do that had POstables everywhere shaking their heads and assuming Joe was suggesting that Oliver should break up with Shane, or, at the very least, guiding him in the wrong direction. In fact, he was doing the exact opposite.
When Oliver connected his inability to look Shane in the eye with his shift in how he perceived her, Joe, having fallen in love and proposed himself, must have identified with Oliver. At this juncture, Joe knew Oliver so well that Oliver didn’t even really have to express what was on his heart for his father to intuit his intentions and unexpressed desire, even if Oliver had yet to fully comprehend them himself. As a result, additional context was unnecessary. After the party, Joe got right to work guiding Oliver to his intended destination, and he did so by pressing a very particular pressure point.
When Joe suggested it was “time for [Oliver] to face the music and admit that [he and Shane] were two different people and [he] didn’t see that changing,” Joe forced Oliver to consider whether those differences were beneficial or some kind of hindrance to their ability to continue in the relationship. Once more, Oliver was likely reminded that their differences are complementary and challenge each other to be better. Oliver replied he didn’t see that reality changing. Interestingly, Joe was interrupted before he had the chance to pose a question to Oliver based on that reality. But we know that, despite the interruption, Joe wasn’t done with the subject.
The next morning, Joe asked Oliver point blank what he “decide[d] about Shane.” At that point Joe had already posed the two most important questions to Oliver, ones which forced him to once more be reminded of what his world looked like without Shane, and the pain and strife he suffered in light of it. But just to make sure Oliver made the right decision, Joe said this:
“It only hurts for a moment, son. Just rip the band-aid off and say what you’ve gotta say.”
If there was one thing Oliver needed to do, one risk Oliver needed to take, it was to give his whole heart to Shane. Though Joe lacked context, he had a clear view of Oliver’s heart, and used that to re-route Oliver---who had wandered around “preoccupied” for probably a few weeks---back onto his relationship road map in less than twenty-four hours.
The Long Game
Joe probably didn’t know the full extent of what he was able to achieve with Oliver with the few questions he posed to his son by the time the wedding rolled around. What Joe was on track to do, however, was unmistakable:
Besides that tie (and possibly the ring), there was one more subtle thing which Joe had already supplied Oliver. You might not have realized it, but when Joe and Oliver recounted the ugly green tie tradition for Shane several days before, it was those exact words, derived from Randall Bartlett O'Toole, that Oliver ultimately used to propose. Once again, not only did Joe guide Oliver to the “answer” he had spent weeks looking for, he provided Oliver the tools to take the next step.
Perhaps my favorite part of all this was the fact that Joe had exercised vision by having an ugly green tie waiting in the glove compartment to begin with. Joe was well aware that, at some point, Oliver was going to find himself in the position of wanting to propose. It was only when Joe perceived the right conditions and, more importantly, was invited into the situation, that he came alongside Oliver. And Joe only came alongside to help guide Oliver in the direction he was already trying to go.
He never sang Shane's praises, despite the fact he was the first person to tell Shane and Oliver he "loved [them] both" and congratulate them on the engagement. It's easy to forget that Joe might have had his own desire to make Shane part of the family---she had done a lot to help bring Joe and Oliver together, and, as we've seen time and again, Joe had done his best to facilitate Shane's relationship with Oliver over time as well.
From the very beginning, Joseph O’Toole’s primary role was to expedite the process of Oliver developing into a man able to move beyond his past pain and into a future of complete freedom. Joe fulfilled this role by identifying areas of struggle or conflict, either by foresight or as a direct witness, which had the potential to hinder Oliver’s ability to evolve and grow at various stages. After undergoing his own divine delivery, Joe's ability to influence and guide his son evolved in a profound way. When Oliver faced a potential stumbling block on his path to growth post-wilderness, Joe combined both overt advice and subtle suggestion to facilitate his continued development. With a deeper understanding of his son's heart and mind, and thanks to his more consistent presence in Oliver's life, Joe developed more effective strategies to re-direct Oliver in difficult seasons, or when the path forward was unclear.
The clearest, and most important, instance of this occurred in To The Altar. Oliver's "contemplative" state alerted Joe to a possible situation in which he might be required to stage an "intervention." The nature of that intervention, in pursuit of helping Oliver clarify his desire to move foward towards marriage, resulted in a clever case of reverse psychology on Joe's part. By indirectly causing Oliver to reflect on life without Shane, he subsequently caused Oliver to realize he couldn't be without her. The result, of course, propelled Oliver all the way out of the pain of his past, and all the way "to the altar."
Reviewing The Process,
P.S. Due to copyright issues, some of the Youtube videos above were blocked in Canada---my apologies. Hopefully you were able to gain context from your knowledge of the series and the accompanying text!