I Honor the Body
I just got off the phone with a male reporter who found her annoying. [Laughs] And I laughed because I said to him, “You know what, only men say that.” I never once had a female have that reaction to the character, and I find that very interesting because I think it’s gender-oriented.
Megan Hunt (Dana Delany), medical examiner, arrives at a crime scene. She ducks under the black-and-yellow tape, and approaches the body, a young woman pulled out of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. The victim has suffered blunt force trauma to the back of her head and she’s wearing shorts and a jogging bra. Megan wears a red raincoat.
As she leans over the corpse, two detectives show up, Bud (John Carroll Lynch) and Sam (Sonja Sohn). He sniffs, “I’ve heard all about Dr. Hunt. This must be our lucky day.” She agrees with him, then lists her observations thus far, including the fact that the victim was killed on the other side of the river, because “she got some sun this morning.” Bud remains skeptical: “You haven’t caught the murderer yet?” Megan assures him she will, then adds, “Don’t believe everything you’ve heard about me. The truth is much worse.”
And so Body of Proof begins. Yet another medical-mystery-forensics drama set in a large American city, it establishes early that Megan has good reason to be crusty and arrogant. An erstwhile “brilliant neurosurgeon,” she’s been working with the coroner’s office for the past six months, where her boss (Jeri Ryan) informs her that she “had a lot of phone calls about you before I hired you.” Yes,
She’s resentful and feels guilty too: like pretty much every crusty and arrogant doctor-cop-lawyer in such shows, she’s had a recent trauma. Hers is a condition her doctor calls “chronic and undiagnosable,” the result of a car accident, itself the result, more or less directly, of her workaholic temperament (a flashback illustrates this decidedly tedious cause and effect). Since the accident, four years ago, she explains to nosy assistant Peter (Nic Bishop), she’s lost her career (specifically, a patient died on the operating table and yes, she feels very, very bad about it) as well as her preteen daughter (her angry husband has sole custody).
Megan’s mad about all this. She’s also determined, as she puts it rather poetically, to discover how her cases have come to be. “The answers are all here because that’s what we do,” she says, standing over the jogger’s corpse, laid out on an autopsy table. The camera pushes in slowly, as you notice her hair is hanging loose over a body she’s supposed to keep as clean as possible. “I honor the body for what it tells me about Angela Swanson’s life and how that life came to an end. The body is the proof. It will tell you everything you need to know, if you just have the patience to look.”
Such lofty pronouncements tend to make their speakers sound silly, especially when they’re supposed to be instructing crass counterparts (here, the detectives, saved from utter banality because they’re played by the excellent Lynch and Sohn) or laying out rationales for potentially troubling behavior. Megan is compassionate, not only driven, and While the cops are sloggy cogs in a machine, Megan’s speech delineates (or rather, gestures toward, in trivializing TV-speak) her utterly predictable nobler aspirations, her dedication to finding justice for voiceless victims.
The jogger (also a lawyer) merits Megan’s special fierce attention—and frames her much discussed emotional and professional dispositions—because she’s a little like her. That is, Megan discovers, the woman was driven and friendless, until she suffered an accident, and suddenly discovered her better self, caring for her parents and interested in the moral aspects of legal cases, rather than only how they might help her make partner. Megan needs some prodding from Peter to see the parallels, but Delany makes clear the depth of her anguish in the several scenes where her shine wet with not-quite-cried tears.
Megan notes the unfairness of the judgment passed on her ambition, complaining that her many hours at work make her a bad mom, while the same behavior on the part of her ex makes him a “good provider.” Still, her path—to become more nurturing and vulnerable and generous, like a good mom, is all too familiar. Like House, she has young acolytes and complimentary colleagues. Like the MEs in CSI, she works in pop-music montages, featuring close-ups of body parts and dissolves and slow pans to suggest long hours.
While it’s soothing to imagine that MEs might have the time and energy for such dedication to single cases, and that science—or even some measure of ingenuity and street smarts—might solve cases within hours and days, the CSI effect is too often undercut by underfunding and overwork. Her boss worries that she’s ordering too many expensive tests, but like everyone else, soon nods with approval: Megan’s always right, eventually.