Nobody can accuse executive producer Martha Williamson of shying away from tough topics in her new Hallmark Channel series “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” That was especially true for last night’s episode, entitled “Dark of Night,” which included story elements about a child conceived during a rape, the quest for revenge, and the possibility of redemption for a hardened criminal.
On the verge of death following an accident, Melissa Wheeler writes a letter to her husband Michael explaining that he’s not the biological father of their daughter Abby, who was also critically injured in the same accident. Melissa reveals that she was raped a few days before their wedding 12 years ago, but said nothing about it and didn’t report it to the police. As wounded as she was by the attack, she believed that suppressing the truth was the better option because it would otherwise knock the happy future she had planned off track. In addition, her attacker, Carl Brackner, was caught and convicted for another attack shortly thereafter, so at least she knew he couldn’t prey on other women anymore.
Melissa’s determination to keep her rape a secret was challenged when she discovered she was pregnant as a result. She decided to keep the baby, knowing that Michael would be a loving father and that she would love this child as well regardless of its parentage. Specifically, she says, “It doesn’t matter who your father is; it matters who your father will be.”
Still, she keeps the rape a secret from Michael. He doesn’t discover that he’s not Abby’s father until he tries to donate blood to her after her accident and learns he’s not a match. Believing that Melissa had an affair before their wedding, he storms out of her hospital room furious. Melissa writes him the letter with the truth before she eventually dies.
Through a series of events that would probably only happen on TV, the letter is lost for 10 years before coming into the possession of the show’s heroes: the employees of the Dead Letter Office – Oliver (Eric Mabius), Shane (Kristin Booth), Rita (Crystal Lowe) and Norman (Geoff Gustafson).
They get the letter to Michael, who is overwhelmed by the news all these years later – and by the guilt he had falsely assigned to his wife in his heart. Determined to exact revenge on Brackner, whose parole hearing is coming up, Michael plans to kill him in the courthouse, even though it means he himself will either be killed or locked up for life.
Happy endings on Hallmark Channel shows are not unique, and all the characters here ultimately make the right choices. That even extends to Brackner, the rapist, who is initially unrepentant when confronted by Michael. Yet the tiniest sliver of his soul that’s still open to a love greater than himself leads him toward a shred of redemption.
Though some might see this story element as contrived, I suspect it was based on the letters Williamson received when she wrote and executive produced “Touched By an Angel.” As she told me during our interview, “We got a letter from a gentleman who was in prison and said that he and his fellow inmates would watch the show every Sunday night because it was the only time all week they ever heard the words, ‘You are loved.’”
The lesson: an openness to love makes redemption possible for even the worst offenders.
That openness to love – the opportunities to choose a higher love in challenging circumstances – ground the story throughout – from Melissa’s choice to keep her baby, to Michael’s choice to abandon revenge, to Brackner’s choice to perform the most selfless action of his life.
Some might see the ending as a little pat and the characters’ moral development as too quick, but that’s what happens when you’re dealing with a one-hour format which only amounts to 40 minutes of storytelling time when you account for commercials.
The episode hit all the right and necessary notes though and, as Williamson said on her Twitter account, reflects the Scripture verse Romans 8:28, “God makes all things work together for good.”
Overall, Williamson did a good job with some sensitive topics, while also including some poignant moments for her four core characters. She should be commended for it.