Grace, Holly Hunter’s bourbon-swigging, chain-smoking, pill-popping Oklahoma City police detective who absolutely refuses to be saved, is “someone who loves the people around her more than she loves herself.” So says her lab-rat best friend Rhetta (Laura San Giacomo), and this is true enough, part of the time. The rest of the time, as Grace in the middle of some awful weather explains to a miscreant responsible for the death of three schoolchildren in a bus crash, “Me or the tornado, shithead—take your pick!”
Over the course of Saving Grace’s first season this past summer, we learned that our title character has horrific childhood issues that account for her self-destructive behavior and anarchic sex life. We will find out this month, in the last of four bonus episodes, exactly what those issues are. I can’t see that her revelation brings her closer to God, except to want to shoot Him, but she is brought close enough to our heart that she breaks it.
I said here in July that Saving Grace, in trying to unriddle the mean-street murders of motel managers and call girls dressed up as flight attendants, was sufficiently engaging as a police procedural with noir pretensions to warrant a watch in spite of its trifling with the transcendent, so imperfectly embodied in the seedy angel Earl (Leon Rippy) sent down by the Big Guy to clean up Grace’s wanton act. As the season finale approaches, I haven’t changed my mind but am more annoyed by the visitation. Although Earl plays his seraphic role for Dennis Hopper laughs, and in these December episodes there are fewer teleportations to such exotic locales as the Grand Canyon or ancient Athens, the meta-whimsies seem deliberate distractions from the mystifications of crime, the magic of Hunter’s Grace, and the loony-bin camaraderie of a precinct house of practical jokers. I am less interested in the fact that one of Grace’s many brothers will prove to be a Roman Catholic priest, or that one of her grandfathers turns out to have been a Native American shaman, or that the death-row inmate who dreams the same dreams as Grace will suddenly convert to Islam, than I am in who signed off on that defective school-bus axle, and the identity of the adults using disabled children to commit robberies with cartoon guns, and why Hunter’s all-too-perfect sister Paige is the target of an elderly stalker.
But I am not your executive producer. Nancy Miller—of The Profiler, The Closer, and Any Day Now—is. When she and her show abandoned us in August, we were left to think about the odd assortment of objects angel Earl was always leaving behind for Grace to decipher, like hints or talismans or bread crumbs or maybe just something the cat dragged in. What were we to make of the symbolic serial deposits of blood drops, feathers, dust, saliva, shamrocks, tattoos, tacos, tulips, ducks, and effigies of the elephant-god Ganesha, not to mention a Hound of Heaven? Find out Monday night, December 17, when Grace and Rhetta end up wrestling for car keys and their sanity in a godforsaken Oklahoma desert. The truth—about childhood, churches, and retirement homes; about family and fugue states; about the past that keeps on happening—is revealed as if decoded from a Freudian dream, the hieroglyphic Phaistos disk or the Tabula Smaragdina of the medieval alchemists. It still seems to me that routine police work would have discovered the same bad news, without the heavy eschatological baggage. Nevertheless, it is a dazzling hour and a shattering scene. The only miracle Saving Grace has ever required is Holly Hunter rampant on the small screen, with a badge, a grin, a gun, and a grudge.