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hollyhuntersavinggrace.jpgI’ve been obsessively catching up on the first season of TNT’s “Saving Grace” just in time for its two-part, two-night finale. I figured it would combine one of my latest, favorite TV trends–the crime procedure starring the brilliant female heroine with the killer instincts (a la Brenda Lee Johnson from “The Closer” and Temperance Brennan from “Bones”)—with my other favorite thing: faith.
“Saving Grace” doesn’t disappoint. Thanks to a gritty ensemble cast, but especially the witty yet vulnerable Rhetta Rodriguez (Laura San Giacomo), each episode is filled with moments that captivate, make you laugh, and at times, take your breath away. But it’s Holly Hunter’s pitch-perfect acting as Grace Hanadarko makes the show.
And unlike my other favorite series, “Saving Grace” has another kind of mystery to be solved, which forms the driving arch of the season: why has Earl, Grace’s guardian angel, come into her life? What exactly stands so firmly between Grace and God?


Part 1 of the season finale, “Is There a Scarlet Letter On My Breast,” not only forces Grace to face up to her less than shiny past in the bedroom (which she does fearlessly), but also her Catholic past and her nephew Clay’s Catholic present and future. Clay is about to be confirmed, and Grace is his Godmother. She has responsibilities for his Confirmation, which she spends a good deal of time trying to weasel out of. It’s the parade of nuns that show up a the police station—all of whom Rhetta knows well, and greets with hugs and the kind of reverence you’d expect from a girl still in Catholic school—that twist Grace’s arm in their own special nun-way, ensuring that she will be at Clay’s confirmation not only with bells on but with treats for his feel confirmees.
Throughout the series, faith and all things faith-related are never simple, always layered and complex, and always respectful—and this episode was no exception. Amid the parade of nuns is not only humor, and the funny stereotypes that any former Catholic school girl could recognize as Grace and Rhetta are confronted by each nun, but also a reverence that makes the humor in the situation genuinely enjoyable, never going over the line to disrespect.
And Earl may speak in clichés (the one thing that really drives my eyes roll about the show—though, happily, they’ve really toned down the angel wing-flapping to mainly sounds not visuals since the first few episodes, which I really struggle to abide), but belief, faith, a relationship with God never comes easy for any of the show’s characters. “Saving Grace” is filled with questions, doubts, the desire to believe, the hard reality of why some days, or even some years, God feels so far away that it’s easy to stop believing God is even there.
Which brings me to part two of the finale, which aired last night. This episode shines a whole new light on what’s going on with Grace and her faith. There is quite a big reveal—and I didn’t see it coming.
The fact that Grace comes from a deeply Catholic family is really the focus of the season finale. Part 1 sets up Grace’s resistance to not only all things faith, belief, and God-related (despite Earl always showing up, her guardian angel), but particularly all things Catholic. Part 2 not only unearths Grace’s enormous Catholic family (seven brothers and sisters! One a priest), bringing them to her house for a party, but solves at least a bit of the mystery of “Why Earl?”
Is it cliché that it turns out that Grace was abused by a priest from the time she was 9 years old? Is this supposed to explain why she throws her body at any guy who gives her a sideways glance at a bar now as an adult?
I have to admit, I was thrown for a loop with this reveal. I didn’t want the show to go there.
But then I wondered something far more interesting about how this all might fit in with Grace’s faith struggles and Earl’s, at times, maddening presence (both for Grace and certainly for me as a viewer). Is it possible, that God feels guilty for God’s Church, one of God’s priests, destroying a young girl’s innocence? Depriving her of the faith she might have had as a teenager and now as an adult? Is this show not so much about Grace becoming a believer and finding faith?
Is it possible that it’s God who wants redemption in Grace’s eyes, not the reverse? After a lot thinking after last night’s intense episode, I’ve started to think that it’s God who suffers Grace’s loss, who wants to make up for mistakes begun long ago.
And that’s what makes “Saving Grace” such a good show. I’ll be back next season.

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