Saving Grace – Episode 3-5 Review

A herd of cows is massacred in the middle of a deserted road, and OCPD must determine if the slaughtered cattle are connected to the murder of a Hasidic Jew who was found in their vicinity. Meanwhile, Ham has to tread carefully while dealing with his sister-in-law, who is still grieving over the untimely death of his brother, and Earl wants Grace to discover the merits of praying.

To the writers’ eternal credit, Saving Grace is a show that is far more concerned with exploring the foibles of human nature than adhering to political correctness, but judging from some of the scathing commentary I’ve read on message boards, its unflinching honesty isn’t appreciated by more conservative viewers, who often mistake realism for tastelessness. With a team renowned for their juvenile pranks and toilet humour, this episode undoubtedly had the potential to offend the Jewish community, but OCPD’s finest were remarkably reverent when dealing with the devoutly religious Hasidim… well, for the most part, anyway.

The episode opened with Grace regretfully saying her goodbyes to Gus, who looked even more forlorn than usual, but her plans to kick back and relax at Louie’s were abruptly waylaid when Earl made an impromptu appearance to tell her that Neely had awoken from her coma. Forsaking her night out to head straight to the hospital, Grace looked torn between amusement and bafflement as Neely chatted animatedly to her in a language she couldn’t understand. Her bewildered entreaty of, “Earl?” was accompanied by an expression of comical desperation, and if the persistent ringing of her cell phone was anything to go by, the mystery of Neely wasn’t the only case Grace would have to contend with during the course of the episode.

Called away from Louie’s while they were tanked up on beer, the rest of the team rapidly sobered up as they rushed to the crime scene and surveyed the carnage awaiting them. A frat boy had dialled 911 and uttered, in the immortal words of Hayley Joel Osment, “I see dead cows” – and he wasn’t kidding. Considering that they’re a bunch of carnivores who work their way through a burger or two in every episode, Grace, Rhetta, Butch and Bobby were strangely moved by the sight of the felled cattle and stood in silence, trading agonised looks. And then, all of a sudden, an obnoxious “moooooo” sounded in the background, and Ham arrived on the scene sporting a mischievous grin, promptly killing the poignant atmosphere. The balance of humour and tragedy in this show is truly masterful, but the speed with which the writers shift gears is sometimes jarring. One minute the team were casually discussing the facts of the case and Grace was answering her cell phone with a cavalier, “dead cow central,” and the next they were looking on in dismay as she was forced to pull out her gun and shoot the one cow that hadn’t yet died from its horrific injuries.

I didn’t have much hope for Grace’s diplomatic skills when she demanded that Henry take the liver temperature of the cadaver, especially given that a Rebbe (a Hasidic Rabbi) was approaching the crime scene at the time:

Henry: The Hasidics have very strict rules about touching a body.

Grace: And I have very strict rules about solving a murder.

Still, my fear that she would be shipped off for sensitivity training proved unfounded, because Grace’s interactions with the devout Hasidic community were characterised by respect and genuine curiosity. She and Ham showed admirable restraint when they donned traditional Hasidic dress to attend the synagogue and question the congregation, and they managed to refrain from laughing as their eyes met over the heads of the worshippers, who were lost in rapturous prayer. There were no facetious comments about the segregation of the sexes and, by some miracle, Grace kept her head bowed submissively in the company of the Hasidic men, which is quite an accomplishment for the little girl who used to scrawl “screw you” on the bottom of her shoes before she knelt down for Mass.

Their unassuming approach proved successful, and Grace quickly learned that the victim, Benjamin Weinstein, was a man who took his adherence to Jewish law to extremes. Upon discovering that the victim had a hostile relationship with the new inspector of a meat-packing plant in the Hasidic district – namely because the inspector was more concerned with making profit than keeping kosher – it didn’t take long for Grace to put two and two together and realise that Benjamin had culled the cattle himself. She headed to the lab to see if Rhetta could corroborate her findings and, prompted by the occasional cow-like “mmmmm” from Grace, Rhetta confirmed that there was gun residue on the victim’s hands, and the two of them did a little victory dance, blowing smoke off their imaginary pistols. With the case of the “cow killer” now solved, Grace was left to determine who murdered their trigger-happy victim.

Of course, Grace wouldn’t be Grace if she didn’t poke fun at a religion that has 613 commandments (Ham ruefully acknowledged that he has trouble adhering to ten), and I had to laugh when she came home and stuck a bowl on Gus’ head, “Shalom, Brother Gusman.”  The scene where she demonstrated her research on kosher meat was hilarious, and Butch looked on in horror as she took a scalpel to Bevo, his Longhorn mascot, severing the stuffed cow’s jugular and pulling out its wadding while Butch strained against Ham’s arm-lock, “You’re never going to come back from this, Grace.”

Interrogating suspects also proved highly amusing. One of the workers at the meat-packing plant saw Benjamin standing in the middle of the road, “singing and pointing and shooting” and made a hasty retreat, figuring that it wasn’t prudent to be in the presence of a man who had clearly lost his marbles. When asked what Benjamin appeared to be singing about, the bemused suspect said that he was chanting an ode to the newly-elected President, “Barack… Barack…”  I nearly choked on my supper.

Ham had a few misapprehensions of his own:

Tovi: “My son – he’s four – cut off his pais.”

Ham: “Oh my God, is he OK?”

Tovi: “Of course. It’ll grow back.”

Ham: “OK, what did he cut off?”

Everyone assumed that the Torah found in the victim’s vicinity belonged to him, but when another holy book was found near the crime scene with Benjamin’s name written on the inside front cover, Grace realised that the murderer left one of his most precious possessions behind and suddenly became suspicious of the Rebbe’s insistence on having the Torah taken out of evidence and returned to him so it could be buried with the victim. After procuring everyone’s phone records and running a check on the congregation’s vehicles, Grace and Ham discovered that the Rebbe had broken the sacred tenet of resting on the Sabbath by taking a phone call from Tovi, the owner of the meat-packing plant, who was seeking guidance after being told by the aforementioned worker that Benjamin was destroying his livestock.

In a poignant interrogation, Grace initially abandoned all pretence of deference, and looked the Rebbe square in the eyes, relaying what she believed to have happened on the night of Benjamin’s death. The Rebbe arrived at the scene to try and pacify his crazed neighbour, but Benjamin refused to listen to reason, so the Rebbe was forced to try and wrestle the gun from his grasp. The gun discharged, and Benjamin was killed, but the Rebbe never intended for any harm to befall him. Grace’s take-no-crap attitude quickly faded when she saw how tormented the Rebbe was by his actions, and she ducked her head and closed her eyes, almost as if she was praying for him – which would’ve been the highlight of Earl’s career, given that the Angel was on a crusade to persuade Grace to pray in this episode.

Earl’s messages were subtle at first. With the aid of a tape recorder and a Portuguese translator, Rhetta deciphered Neely’s incomprehensible rambling. It turned out that she was – you guessed it – praying.

Grace: To God?

Rhetta: No, to Barry Switzer.

However, when Grace failed to make the connection and attribute Neely’s miraculous recovery to the power of prayer, Earl went for the anvil and whisked her off to the Room of Miracles in Brazil for a lesson in the art of praying. According to Earl, people are entitled to scream and cuss and question, as long as they’re addressing God at the time. One of the most appealing qualities about Grace is that she doesn’t take anything Earl says as a pre-given and she asks the questions that us sceptics contend with everyday:

Grace: Prayers in here may be important, but, you know, “please let me score a touchdown, please let me find a parking place” – what about that crap?

Earl: You don’t think God can handle the big and small?

Grace: Some dope prays for the light to turn green; same time a family’s praying for their sick child. Light turns green, baby dies, why doesn’t he save the baby?

Earl: I don’t know. God makes the decisions, not our desires.

Grace: Really? God makes the decisions?

Earl: Yes.

Grace: So, OK… God decides to kill six million Jews, machete a million Africans…

Earl: God decided to give y’all a choice. The people who gassed six million Jews or macheted one million Africans made that call.

Grace: But God’s The Decider. He could’ve stopped them.

Earl: He can do anything he wants. He could’ve created each one of you to worship him, but what would be the fun in that? He wants you to come to him on your own. To pray because you want to.

Grace: But why would I pray for someone who stands by and does nothing when he could do everything?

Earl: Is that what you want? If God did everything, then what would you do?

Grace: Dance… and laugh. Same things I’ve always done.

Earl: Dancing’s always been one of my favourite prayers.

God must be having a whole heap of fun with Grace, because she refused to concede the point, until Earl eventually resorted to “pulling back the veil so I could hear the whole world praying,” an experience she later described to an enthralled Rhetta as, “holy, sorrowful, and glorious.” 

Let’s just hope Grace doesn’t have an epiphany anytime soon because, considering that she hasn’t had a one-night-stand since the beginning of the season and I don’t recall her taking so much as a sip of alcohol for the duration of this episode, you can’t help but wonder whether Grace really is on her way to becoming a reformed woman. I just hope the transition continues to be a gradual process and doesn’t involve a complete overhaul of her bad-ass persona – although I don’t think we have to start worrying just yet. When Ham’s sister-in-law descended into a blind rage because Grace was unwittingly wearing her dead husband’s T-shirt, Grace promptly took it off, handed it to her, and proceeded to walk around the office in her tiny black bra. Atta girl.

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