Season 1, Episode 4
Date of airing: October 19, 1994 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 12.4 million viewers, 9.0/14 in Households
And it has happened. After four episodes I was already shedding a few tears because of the emotional drama of the plot. I knew it would happen eventually, because I remember crying sometimes when I watched the show as it aired on German television, but I was not expecting to open up the flood gates after only four episodes. Here I was, thinking that the first season of the show would still try to find itself, would figure out how to connect the angelic storytelling with the social work premise, but I guess the writers knew from the beginning what to make of the show. And after four hours I find myself crying during the final AA meeting, right at the moment Sydney was talking about how she was glad to be born and her mother Elizabeth stood up to recognize her daughter’s existence as well. Talk about a family reunion after the house literally burned down just before.
This episode might prove that TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL loved the case work more than it did its angelic and religious premise. Alcoholism is a cruel disease among the human population, so depicting it as the central point of conflict in this episode made it seem more like a story about helping people in need than being a religious show. I would almost go so far to say that TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL partially defined what EARLY EDITION and JUDGING AMY were going to be, while TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL and JUDGING AMY were essentially the birth parents to JOAN OF ARCADIA, which means there is some synergy between all of these shows and their social work premise. Monica was put in Elizabeth’s case not because she needed something angelic to do, but because she needed to put the effort into helping Elizabeth without her angelic powers. That’s why she came with Sydney and Beth first, as well as Anita. That was the first effort to help Elizabeth realize her disease, and if it had worked out back then, Monica wouldn’t eve have needed her angelic powers to save Beth from a fiery death, let alone having to reveal herself to Elizabeth at the end (I’m not even sure that is always necessary within the episode’s narrative).
But the story really worked in this episode, and could have been a wake-up for a viewer who may have had experience with alcoholism, or had a family member with the disease. In a way this episode delivered a perfect and proper depiction of alcoholism and what alcoholics go through when being confronted with it. Elizabeth was kind of hiding her drinking, keeping it low-key, and almost making you think that she did not have a problem at all. She offered her granddaughter some of her “ice tea,” and while it was obvious from here on that she had a bit of a problem with the booze, a bystander who has only met Elizabeth for the first time would not be bothered thinking badly about it. Which is what alcoholics do in their primes: keeping their disease a secret to anyone. The fact that Sydney knew from the start was because of her own bout as an alcoholic (which by the way was a great “twist” when Elizabeth went to her first AA meeting on her own). But other than that you won’t know that someone is an alcoholic until the house burns down, and most of the times it’s too late by this point already.
I am still wondering though how Monica is allowed to act in any circumstance and what she is allowed to do as an angel. She didn’t know about Elizabeth’s disease, which I can accept as a plot device to have Monica meet the woman first before meeting the alcohol (there was a good idea from Tess behind that), but I fear that case workers and social workers are always behind and unable to help their clients when they don’t know all the facts (then again, social workers would not have gotten Elizabeth as a client when she was still sober). Secondly, she went into the house to save Beth from a fiery death and I have no idea if that conflicted with the angel of death, who may or may not have been in this episode. The previous episode had Monica prevent a woman from committing suicide, but the angel of death was already waiting to be handed the case. This episode had a child almost dying and once more Monica was able to save a life. I guess it’s one of those rules of the show now, and angels are allowed to interfere in the lives of humans this drastically, but I’m not sure if that is a good rule. It makes things a little too convenient for the story, when Monica is constantly allowed to change the fates of the people she is helping. And yes, that is why she is walking on earth to begin with, but messing with death also?