‘Saving Grace’ wraps up its first season on a heavenly note

TNT’s Saving Grace is back after a bit of a hiatus to wrap up its first season tonight and tomorrow with the last of its new episodes, and they’re good stuff. This has been one of the best new shows of the year: it’s smart stuff that trusts you can keep up with its dense drama and thorny themes. And it’s going out on a high note of ramped-up drama — we learn some illuminating stuff about Grace’s past in the finale, “Tacos, Tulips, Duck and Spices,” which will debut on Tuesday, December 18, and a bit more, maybe, about just what God wants with Grace in the first place.
I took a peek at the series when it premiered back in July and liked it, mostly for Grace herself: Holly Hunter’s hard-drinking, punch-throwing, sleeping-around-prone Oklahoma City cop was a refreshing blast of toughness and a new high-water mark for how American television depicts the lives of women, which are so much more complicated and diverse than TV ever really hints at. Hunter has just been nominated for a Golden Globe for her complex performance here of a woman teetering between falling apart completely and getting her life together at last, and it’d be a mistake to bet against her.

A second season of 15 episodes was ordered last summer, presumably to air in Summer 2008, but that’s likely now contingent on how long the writers’ strike lasts. But if you’re just discovering the series now, you could do worse than to take a look at these four wrapup episodes of Season 1, the first two of which are available to watch at the show’s official site. (Though only if you’re using Windows. TNT needs to work a bit on its concept of offering full-length episodes online.) In “It’s Better When I Can See You,” the crash of a school bus and a day of deadly tornadoes coincide in a way that rocks Grace’s sense of justice; in “This Is Way Too Normal for You,” Grace contends with a crime seemingly committed by a man too mentally retarded to have pulled it off, as well as with a potential new beau in a rational-minded atheist.

Concepts of faith and evil and justice in a universe in which God surely exists — for Grace is visited by the angel Earl (Leon Rippy) on a regular basis, a good ol’ boy of a guardian — are the regular fodder here, and even genuine atheists like myself can enjoy its philosophical ponderings on the level of well-done fantasy. You don’t have to be one of the faithful to love Grace, and in fact, many of the heady notions about faith and reason and what a deity might want from us are likely to be more eye-opening to believers than to doubters, for whom thinking about religion in the abstract is nothing new.

I’ve long since gotten over my initial negative reaction to the premise: Grace is an “atheist” who isn’t really an atheist. It’s not that she doesn’t believe, she just hates God — which is hardly the case with most atheists, who simply do not believe at all. I don’t need to believe in Sauron to appreciate the genuine truths of The Lord of the Rings, and I don’t need to believe in the Biblical God to appreciate how kick-ass cool Saving Grace is.

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