Returning for its final nine episodes, Saving Grace revs up its religious plotline, but it’s a hard sell. The fourth season premiere, airing 29 March, opens with Grace Hanadarko (Holly Hunter) becoming a worldwide phenomenon as an “angel cop.” She jumps off a building in order to save a suicidal drug addict: though they both hit the ground at 65 miles an hour, both walk away.
Caught on camera, the rescue rapidly becomes a viral video. Scores of viewers who think they’ve seen a miracle; someone sells her clothes and locks of her hair on eBay. A woman in the cop bar wants to compare miracles with Grace, whipping out a coffee-stained napkin that looks like the Star of David. People want her to pray for their sick children. When the addict tries to explain what happened, she claims that Grace is the sign she sought from God. Grace, for her part, continues to keep Earl (Leon Rippy) a secret, as she has all series, worried both that people won’t believe her and that if they do, it will be for the “wrong reasons.”
Everything in this satire of media hysteria becomes blandly symbolic. This includes the falling “grace” and the series’ repeated trope, “dog as God,” which pops back up here as a lame subplot about dog-fighting, or, what Ham (Kenneth Johnson) describes as a case about a “dog as a weapon.” It also introduces a clumsy clash of religious titans.
More significantly, it changes the shape of the series. It’s no longer a drama about a wild child who questions her faith only to have her own angel nudge her towards redemption. Neither is it a story about how the Oklahoma City bombing affected survivors, including Grace’s big Catholic family, still struggling to cope with her sister’s death in the explosion. Instead, it’s turned into an exploration of religious faith broadly conceived, as Grace’s miracle becomes a global phenomenon, one that raises questions regarding angels and their counterparts (not yet fully defined), and forces of light and forces of darkness.
As the story’s dimensions expand, Earl’s power decreases. He hits up a buddy angel for a favor, because he wants to see “the Book of Grace” to read how it ends. His pal produces a Grace book, but Earl can’t bear to read the ending. He’s drawn to Grace because, as he tells his peer, “She churns me up. There’s no other way to say it, she just churns me up.” He’s going to watch the story play out along with the audience. But he ominously declares that “darkness” and bad people will show up to see about “the miracle downtown.”
The season premiere thus sets the stage for a major showdown, with Grace as the central chess piece. Her own changing outlook on her faith in God is set alongside the saga of her soul’s status. It “means something” because each soul “means something,” in the show’s rhetoric. Though the series is building towards a revelation of Grace’s destiny, she’s become less important in the wake of all these other forces aligning around her.
On the dark side of those larger forces, a mysterious writer (Gordon MacDonald) appears in town, announcing, “Bad shit always chases good shit.” Even as Grace is pulled into his orbit, we can see he’s trouble — from the “dark beer” he drinks to the lies he tells her. When Rhetta (Laura San Giacomo) warns, “An ill wind is blowing across Oklahoma City,” Grace can only see her own seeming benefit. This guy, she exclaims, is “writing a book. I’m going to be a chapter.” That is, instead of a TV series star.