A man is driving along a dark road, muttering “Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” As the police cars close in behind him, the camera focuses on a plastic container marked “Biohazard” in the man’s hand. A silver crucifix dangles from the bottle’s neck. The man intones, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” before chucking the container out the window.
Sounds like a TV show with some religious significance, no? And did I mention that this pilot episode of the new CBS crime-solving show Eleventh Hour is titled “Resurrection”? The thing is, none of this overt Christian symbolism is integral to the plot. It’s thrown in as decoration, for no apparent reason other than that the show deals with bioethics, and the creators thought bioethics ought to have some connection to religion, if only to slightly imbalanced security guards who go around spewing pre-Vatican II Latin.
It’s not as if I should expect spiritual depth from a show produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, but why throw in the religious symbolism if it serves no real function? The pilot episode deals with human cloning, and “Resurrection” turns out to refer to a grieving father’s attempts to replace his dead son through growing a cloned version of that son inside surrogate mothers’ wombs. Unfortunately, the cloning process is botched, resulting in 19 dead embryos. This leads us to the oh-so-profound observation, “Playing God has its downsides.”
Eleventh Hour is a remake of a short-lived (four episodes) British show starring Patrick Stewart, and I have to wonder if the original was as trite. It’s ironic that the one reason I’m interested in watching the American show is because British actor Rufus Sewell stars, sporting an American accent to rival Hugh Laurie’s on House. I’ve never watched CSI or any of the procedural shows Eleventh Hour seems to be aping, but I am fairly familiar with another apparent influence: The X-Files.
Unlike X-Files, Eleventh Hour doesn’t really deal with supernatural phenomena: Sewell’s character Dr. Jacob Hood is a biophysicist, not a paranormal expert. His FBI-employed, hard-voiced, crisp-black-suit-attired female companion has little to contribute to the mystery-solving: she’s simply there to play bodyguard to the brains of the operation. The show wrenches a little humor out of her exasperation with Hood’s absent-minded ineptness at keeping himself safe, but we don’t see the intellectual sparks fly as we once did with Mulder and Scully.
The X-Files also brought in spiritual themes by rooting them in the characters, taking a particularly interesting step by making Scully, who was skeptical about the paranormal, a religious believer. (Incidentally, Scully’s character fits with a trend seen in a recent study called “What Americans Really Believe,” which showed that devout Christians are much less likely to believe in the paranormal and pseudoscience than those who never attend worship. Not that this was the point of X-Files . . . I really just wanted an excuse to mention the study.) If Eleventh Hour can develop interesting characters, maybe there’s hope for it.
In the meantime, I’ll probably keep watching it because, well, I will watch anything with Rufus Sewell in it. I’ve seen many a worse movie because of him (The Legend of Zorro, anyone?). But I’m interested in your thoughts on the more general question: what makes Christian symbolism work well in a movie or TV show? Any ideas for how shows like Eleventh Hour could incorporate it more meaningfully?