The Season Two return of Saving Grace fleshes out the moral code of good cops. These are shit-kicking, hard-living, badass cops, flawed but honorable. In the first three of six new episodes, we see the ties that bind the Oklahoma City PD detective squad together tested from without and within. Mining drama from the struggles of Detective Grace Hanadarko (the explosive Holly Hunter) and her posse, the episodes compellingly examine what it takes to uphold justice in a broken world.
The series mixes a familiar detective procedural structure with psychosexual drama, featuring large doses of metaphysical questioning for good measure. It makes for a savory stew. New ingredients include a new temporary partner for Grace, the somewhat inscrutable Abby (Christina Ricci), as well as the return of her old partner Ham (Kenneth Johnson) and ex-lover Butch (Bailey Chase) and the impending return of Butch’s old partner Bobby (Gregory Cruz), who has been so deeply undercover in drug land that he may not be able to regain his own identity.
As before, the “big picture” plotlines are often the least convincing, mostly because the trippy angel talk is tough to pull off. Embodying enigmatic answers to the primary questions — “Is there a God and if there is, why would he let bad things happen to good people?” — the hangdog angel Earl (Leon Rippy) follows Grace from case to case. He also shows up when she’s recovering from yet another night of drinking and casual sex — rituals she takes up regularly to drown out her pain (as we’ve learned, she has endured childhood sexual abuse, a sister who died in the Oklahoma City bombing, and a job that brings her face to face with killers on a daily basis). Earl tends to look sad and repeat that the Larger Truths will reveal themselves in their own time. He also makes Grace hangover cures from around the world.
On the upside, Earl embodies forgiveness and uncertainty in a way that renders human frailty desire for faith palpable. He drawls to Grace that he’s “on this river too,” so don’t expect him to have all the answers. Death row inmate Leon Cooley (Bokeem Woodbine) has lost all faith and is asking to move up his own execution. Earl promises that it will become clear why Grace and Cooley are linked together in some way.
The idea of a larger design works well as a narrative technique, as the episodes gradually reveal coincidences, parallels, and links in poignant ways. When one episode (“Do You Believe in Second Chances,” airing 9 March) starts with Grace, Ham, and Butch at a bar celebrating news of an execution by filling plastic needle syringes with booze, forensics whiz Rhetta (Laura San Giacomo) looks at them with regret. We later realize that she’s not only opposed to the death penalty, but is also desperately trying to save a different man, Cooley, who is half innocent and half guilty, from the same fate. In “Take Me Somewhere, Earl,” airing 16 March, Rhetta and Johnny go so far as to try to convince a hostile Cooley that they could attempt to get him clemency.
Grace’s “design” is less large. As she explains to Abby in “The Heart of a Cop” (airing 2 March), the OCPD job is “like a family.” With a steely grin, Grace says you must have “the heart of a cop” in order to succeed in her department. This means Abby must be able to commit wholly, and not “blink” as she does during a bank shootout. The squad, Grace points out, is rock solid in the face of any personal trials or professional tribulations, and willing to put their lives on the line to protect the innocent and uphold justice.
Abby is a single mom and a younger woman who looks to Grace as a role model, someone who can show her how to navigate a good ol’ boy dominated workplace. As she watches Grace “talk back” to domineering men, often through good-humored joking, she starts to emulate her. When Grace makes it clear that Abby has to be available at all hours of the night for investigations, Abby has to arrange for a sitter. And when Abby cries over a domestic situation while at work, Grace has no patience. Her irritation at Abby’s stereotypically girly behaviors and inability to be “one of the guys” because she has to care for her kid speaks to real tensions about gender role expectations and women’s struggles to excel in male-dominated fields.
In tonight’s episode, the squad tracks a serial killer who targets blonde women who have breast implants. The killer’s violent misogyny is gory, here laid alongside a colleague’s more banal misogyny. The show also compares responses to such basic constraints: while Grace’s sister Paige (Jessica Tuck) responds fearfully to news of the killer, asking to stay with Grace while her husband is out of town, Grace is typically pissed off and aggressive. This reduction of their positions to stereotypes (cowering housewife and tough professional) is less than satisfying. Still, it appears to be Grace’s mission to defend women against the men in their lives: in “Do You Believe in Second Chances,” she protects a prostitute struggling to survive as well as a waitress who suffers sexual harassment from her male boss.
Grace wages these battles even while she experiences her own fears and doubts. She marshals a spirit of play and of camaraderie in the face of intense pressures, life and death situations, and the sense that her very soul is on the line (Earl serving as a persistent, if melodramatic, reminder). As she pranks her colleagues, hugs her dog, and holds onto her friends and family, she is sometimes loving and sometimes puckish. Facing weekly existential crises, she keeps herself grounded.