In Plain Sight stars Mary McCormack as a U.S. Federal Marshal who helps relocate witnesses and then care for them when they fuck up, which they do eagerly and often. She is, in other words, a kind of guardian angel.
The Cleaner stars Benjamin Bratt as a ex-drug addict who comes to the rescue of people in need, and then cares for them when they fuck up, which they do eagerly and often. He is, in other words, a kind of guardian angel.
We are drawn to the idea of angelic intervention. But of course TV has too much integrity to go for celestial trumpets, fluffy wings, smiling cherubim. No, televisual angels come in street clothing and street cred. Our angels are troubled, this is meant to make them troubling, and this is meant to turn TV into art.
As I remarked in the case of the CBS failure called Hack, these shows are locked in a contradiction. They reach for credibility but finally they promise us a universe more benign. It doesn’t matter how much credibility TV puts on the screen, finally these shows are loaded with sentimentality. They mean to defy that Nietzschean (and trans-party) anxiety that God has fled the heavens, that goodness is now AWOL and that angels are finally "just in it for themselves." These shows would like to be art but they are committed to corn, a place where art cannot find purchase, and ends up being lapsarian too.
Except in the case of half of my evidence. In Plain Sight is better than the formula. I thought the best moment, so far, comes when Mary’s partner levels with her. The two of them are sitting on the floor of a busted saloon. Death and gangsters hover.
The partner tells Mary that he wants out of their partnership and Mary protests,
You’re like my only friend.
The partner says, somewhat dutifully,
You’re my only friend, too.
He pauses, and then says,
The problem is with us is, I feel like I am the keeper of this exotic animal. I spend my time either protecting you from the world or the world from you. And it’s just a lot of responsibility.
Mary says, with no trace of awareness at how smart this is, let alone how unfair,
I’m sorry, but that’s your job.
And then she kisses him passionately on the cheek.
In Plain Sight is only a handful of episodes old, but devoted viewers are beginning to understand that Mary is approaching tragic status. She is very good at what she does, but it’s now clear she’s not much good at anything else. In other words, the "exotic animal" metaphor is right on the money. The only real relationship Mary is every going to have is with her keeper. Ah, the guardian angel turns out to have a guardian angel.
And this is the theme, it turns out, in The Cleaner. Except in this case, Benjamin Bratt talks directly to God. Everything else is being disintermediated in a digital culture, why not this? (And, hey, it could be he’s a Protestant.) Holly Hunter has her own angel in Saving Grace. And he is one of those active, engaged, dropping-in-when-you-least-expect-him kind of angels.
As usual, I am not sure what we are looking at here. A couple of things strike me. First, that our appetite for angels is growing so that even our angels now get angels. Second, TV is managing to wriggle out of the sentimentality that destroyed Hack.
And these might be related. As TV gives us female characters as post-genre and post-gender as the ones performed by McCormack and Hunter, is it struggling to find away to reassure us? Angels to the rescue. It’s as if TV has found a way to say, "There, there, dear viewer, do not be alarmed by these powerful women talking the world by storm. It’s ok. They are not dangerous. Look, they have keepers."
McCracken, Grant. 2002. Hack. This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. December 02, 2002. here.