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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Culture Watch: Wire in the Blood

Monday night's episode of the gloomy British TV mystery drama Wire in the Blood, available in the United States on BBC America (Monday nights at 9:00-11:00 EST), had a very interesting religious angle. The murders seem to be the workings of a strange Christian cult that is the surviving remnants of a secret, 500-year-old sect centering on Joan of Arc. The anti-clerical imagery we have come to expect is all there: allusions to witch burnings, religious wars, pursuit of heretics, the Inquisition, obsessions about personal guilt, and the like. As the episode progresses, the activities of this religious cult force the investigators to "test not only their science and experience, but also their beliefs," as the BBC's episode description aptly puts it.

What is interesting is outcome of this test. One is braced for the typical media discussion of how religion is a major cause of wars in the world, and sure enough it comes along, explicitly, as the detectives discuss the implications of what this cult is doing.

Those who hold the view that religion is an illusion that does far more harm than good, however, are being set up for disappointment. It turns out [note: plot element revealed] that the murders are being commited by a lone fanatic, and the real motive force is not religion in itself but the fact that she suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. Religion is merely the substance to which her paranoia has attached itself. The events of the story make it quite clear that her disease is the killer, not religion.

In addition, there is a rather startling conclusion to the episode. The two main detectives are seen singing a hymn in the packed sanctuary of a lovely English church. In the wake of all the perverse imagery which made religion seem so foreign and dangerous, the scene presents quite a refreshing change. But that is not all: after the hymn, the female detective of the main pair goes to the front of the sanctuary to serve as a sponsor at the baptism of an infant. The film fades out with her repeating several lines from the baptismal liturgy, including those in which the sponsors and congregation renounce the devil and all his works.

As I have noted many different times on this site and elsewhere, the treatment of religion on American (and in this case, British) television has become much more sympathetic in recent years than most critics seem to realize.

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