In the beginning there was nothing… nothing too religious in the world of TV shows. The main characters were obviously good American Christians, but we took that for granted. It was understood, it was obvious.
But in the 90s something happened. Twin Peaks introduced to the regular viewer an abstract way of thinking about life beyond death, gods and their relationship with nature. We discovered the Bob’s identity but, who was he really? A demon? A supernatural force? What did those forests hide? Twin Peaks exploded like a bomb full of questions that nobody had asked before.
Another important precedent was the beloved Dana Scully from The X-Files. Being Catholic wasn’t just part of her background, it was a crucial part of her personality that affected every case she worked in. Her believes and her scientific side hold a continuous struggle, to the point religion became something debatable, a new approach to her internal demons.
Then, some years later, the series finale of Lost was released. The abstraction of the evilness from Twin Peaks became a keystone in Lost‘s puzzle. That church ornamented with symbols from religions all over the world tried to tell us something: religion won’t be again just a part of a character, now it can also put a close to a series, preach the final words of a TV phenomenon like Lost. And, perhaps, it was too soon for the viewers.
Lost‘s promise was true: nowadays more and more TV shows seem to be discussing the divine. Twin Peaks and The X-Files are still a big influence in over their serial heirs, as we will see now, but, as every other narrative in contemporary television, this issue is getting more complex by the day.
The serial killer in True Detective… was he not a personification of an abstract evil? Like Bob, he was a door through which we could explore the infinite mysteries of the forces of nature. But he’s more than that, he’s also a social issue, a son of a marginal space. Bob now has a mother, a job, a life, and a green (I wish I could forget that fact) house.
The glorious second season of The Americans gave us another way of looking to religion. Catholicism suddenly became an important part of the Jenning’s daughter, so they had to deal with their own feelings about that. Here Jesus became someone with more authority than them, a new leader, and that was unacceptable (“You respect Jesus, but not us?!”). God was also a ridiculous promise of redemption and salvation, and in the cruel world in which they fight forgiveness is an illusion and god, of course, a lie.
But for this humble blogger the most complex and interesting statement about religion is now in the jewel of Sundance Channel, Rectify. Daniel, after spending so many years in jail, is lost the outside world, in nature and even in his old house. Tawney, his Christian (step)sister-in-law, sees nature as god’s manifestation, and so, she feels really close to it. Their special friendship becomes a key tool for Daniel integration’s, while for her is a way to prove her love to god. But, is there any difference between being in love with that person and loving Jesus through him? and, can all his anger, fears and traumas become part of nature, part of god?
This is not going to stop, and new shows like The Leftovers are the next step. Here the main mystery is already connected with religion: 2% of the world’s population disappears in a sort of Rapture. What happened? Were they chosen by god to go to heaven as many believe? Could there be a scientific explanation? Religions rises as the main theme.
Decades ago you could find god in your TV but it was an empty carcass, pure context. Now god (who is more the glory of nature than and ancient and omnipotent being) is within the characters and place on television. The gates of spirituality are finally open and we are all invited to discuss about our believes.
The Homecoming Queen.