Guardian angels and powerful women

In_plain_sight 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,  The_cleanerand 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

4 thoughts on “Guardian angels and powerful women

  1. peter spear

    I’ve been strolling by these benjamin bratt bus posters all week with the question of curiosity hanging in my head. i immediately thought of Michael Clayton, but wasn’t aware that Bratt’s character actually has a “higher connection.”

    I think the imagery on the poster is particularly fascinating. It reminds me of one way of thinking about the Iron Man movie – that the masculine protagonist first saves himself in the poster. he is his own enemy and redemption.the potential gender reads on the relationships in each are interesting in this way as well – as powerful as mccormack’s character is, there is still the implied kept-ness. and Bratt’s character is alone with his own limp past and a conversation with god.

    it is kind of a forensics of conscience, isn’t it?

  2. Ryan Moede

    Beyond the angelic theme, it seems that folks are resonating these characters who are literal human manifestations of hope and redemption.

  3. steve cunningham

    Grant – I think the fact that our angels now need angels themselves is very telling. There is some part of our culture that craves something “real”. Something that gives us the stuff that reality tv promised to deliver, but failed to. We need proof that even superheros (like Will Smith’s Hancock) and angels have fatal flaws, just like the rest of us. There’s nothing more real than seeing somebody’s life fall apart on A&E’s Intervention, and seeing a superhero battle the same types of addiction that we do.

    In an almost backdoor way, they are creating shows that allow us to see more of ourselves in angels and superheroes than we ever could in superman or batman. We all love a good fantasy flick every once in awhile, but we also want to believe that there are times we too can leap tall buildings in a single bound.

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