Competing with the ratings-busting series finale of AMC’s acclaimed Breaking Bad, CBS’s The Good Wife proved once again that its writers are among the best in the business. In the season 5 premiere watched by nearly 9 million viewers, the drama, wit, and legal intrigue were out in full force. Along with them was a nod to the show’s religious inquiry, telling viewers that they can expect another solid season.
It was a quick scene, but in the fall opener daughter Grace Florrick (Makenzie Vega) was reconfirmed as a Christian character. When her brother Zach (Graham Phillips) enters Grace’s bedroom, he finds her sitting reading her Bible. He does not squirm or even seem to notice that she is highlighting as she reads, but instead has accepted it as a normal part of his sister’s interests and identity. Viewers are thus told that YES, Grace is still a Christian character and it’s not weird.
Over the past few seasons, The Good Wife has proven itself to be one of the most religiously nuanced and innovative shows in network broadcast. Of course that’s not necessarily a huge feat, given the dearth of non-cliché religion on network TV. The Good Wife, however, is legitimately cutting-edge.
In the second and third seasons of the Emmy award-winning network drama, the writers offered viewers a unique and rich, even if only briefly shown in some episodes, narrative inquiry into the topic of youth faith and conversion. In an arc made salient in two key episodes across the seasons (“Nine Hours” from season 2 and “Parenting Made Easy” from season 3), the likably semi-elite attorney, Alicia Florrick, played by Julianna Margulies, wrestles with her daughter Grace’s foray into religious belief.
Grace’s storyline, including a typical innocent-but-sincere youth group friend, a testing of the immediate power of prayer, and a new-cool podcasting preacher, complement her politician father’s (Chris Noth) own allegedly strategic “finding of religion” by positioning the self-identified atheist mother as a tentatively supportive but ultimately otherized spectator as the teenage daughter independently pursues her own relationship to faith. Grace even undergoes baptism without seeking approval from her family.
The meaningful trans-season subplot contains sufficient nuances that leave the moralizing trajectory unresolved, allowing viewers to engage a provocative issue without requiring them to ascribe to a single uniform perspective.
In season 5, the writers seem to be indicating a continued acknowledgement of Grace’s faith. In this first episode, Zach finds that his sister is listed as Illinois’ number four “hottest politician’s daughter,” likely paving the way for a developed “coming of age” story for the young believer. While this may lead to yet another TV plot hypersexualizing the questions of religion (such as with doctors April Kepner or Callie Torres on Grey’s Anatomy or the pedophilic priest cliché on crime dramas), the show’s unique religious voice should give viewers reason to believe that the story will develop authentically and with room to breathe.
Grace will likely wrestle with her faith this season, as any young Christian does (and as any old Christian does). Hopefully the writers will allow her to do so in a thoughtful and honest way.
Though the shot of Grace with her Bible was quick, it was there. For an episode titled “Everything is Ending,” it seems that some things are staying the same … and for the better.
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