Touched By An Angel (“The Heart of the Matter”)

Season 1, Episode 6
Date of airing: November 2, 1994 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 12.9 million viewers, 9.0/14 in Households

In which Monica was more a matchmaker than an angel from Heaven, hired by a god to make life easier and more survivable for sorry humans, because the show can’t always be about troubled souls needing a new path of life before they destruct themselves on their current path. I’m a little surprised that the writers were moving away from the initial premise within six episode and decided to turn Monica into Cupid, but then again, it could be a sign of TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL always being a different show in every episode, surprising the viewers with the story ahead. The first two acts sort of felt like this could be a comedic episode, putting a little fun into the premise of an angel helping out a person, which makes me wonder what TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL would even look like if it delivered a humorous episode like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and SUPERNATURAL used to do, just to bring variety into the narrative and out a break on their ongoing storylines which were sometimes too dark and needed some lightening up. Will this show ever deliver an episode like this? Nine seasons of angelic stuff, most of the times with extended seasons of television, so there has to be at least one such episode, especially since the writers were kind of loosening up their fingers to get a bit more humor into their emotional plots. It would also make the show a lot more diverse when the writers didn’t just have to deal with the emotional plot points and could let loose every once in a while.

She also needs to return this half-eaten apple.

It was pretty clear who the story was about, but I got the feeling Monica wasn’t just responsible for Charles, but also for Robin. She changed both of their lives by playing matchmaker and it makes me ask if God sends their greatest angels down to the ground of humanity to not only save people from wasting their lives, but also finding their greatest loves, or if things like Robin and Charles’s love story are random and can come out of nowhere, while Monica is already on the case of whichever person she is helping. Because if the two were supposed to get together and save each other’s lives, I’m pretty sure there was a different angel from the love department ready to take over the job for Monica, while she is actually saving someone’s life for real. It begs the question what the mythology of the show really is and why Robin couldn’t have been helped out by a Cupid-like angel instead, or why Monica was suddenly thrusted into a different aspect of her angelic position under God. Because really, it’s pretty clear that by helping Charles, Monica also helped Robin, and Robin wasn’t even Monica’s official assignment. Maybe it’s God tricking angels into doing double duty jobs again, which could give the angels an opportunity to ask God for a raise. Doing the job of a life-saving angel and a Cupid-like angel? Yeah, Monica definitely deserved more than a week off after this.

Robin and Charles were weird characters though. Robin let loose for almost all of her life, which kind of means she didn’t have a lot of character depth. Her connection and back story to the home for orphaned kids may have saved her from becoming an obscure character in the show, but her behaviour over the course of the episode was more than weird, especially since she didn’t seem to be taking a whole lot of time to appreciate Charles as the love of her life. The same thing could be said about Charles, who took the “abuse” from Robin like it was part of his job, but in his case, the writers managed to forget all about the character depth. Okay, he had a heart problem — so what? Robin had a more “extensive” back story in comparison, and all Charles needed to do during this episode was realize his affection for the woman he just met. And let’s not forget that Charles and Robin were written as soulmates, who can only survive in this world when they are with each other, only days after they’ve met for the first time.

Angelic Hulk Mad!

The only interesting part of this episode came when Monica, Robin and Charles were dealing with some gangster biker dudes to get some money that was owed to them. Granted, the bikers with the Confederate flag were predictably evil and ready to cause trouble and violence, but the scene in the back room with Monica doing her Hulk thing of bending the rod was kind of cool, and it showed that Monica can be a superhero if she wants to (maybe she even needs to in some episodes). What a shame that TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL is not a show that will ever depict a bunch of angels facing off a bunch of evil white dudes for a fight-off, although I really have no idea and cannot remember if the show ever did something in that regard and if the angels were facing off against disciples of Hell and its main boss Lucifer by turning people towards the greater life or even towards the bad kind of life.

Touched By An Angel (“Cassie’s Choice”)

Season 1, Episode 5
Date of airing: October 26, 1994 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 12.0 million viewers, 8.6/13 in Households

For the second episode in a row, I was about to open my tear ducts again, because the scene between Cassie and her mother at the end was sweet and heartbreaking. It proved that there will never be friction between the two women, even after this difficult time they have been going through separately, and it showed that Cassie has been raised right by her mother, who may or may not have been a single mother and would also have had to go through her teenage daughter’s pregnancy alone (since there was never a father in the game, I assume it was just the two of them). I also almost opened up the flood gates when Cassie had her final moment with her daughter, lying her in her crib and playing the flute, giving Cassie the bestest of opportunities to say goodbye to her daughter. And let’s not forget that I also had a few problems getting AMERICAN PIE out of my head and the story of band camp, where she stuck a flute up her vagina. Alyson Hannigan was typecast for just a second here, and it does make me wonder if she had a few jokes about the flute during production of the teen sex comedy, considering the last time her character was playing the flute, she also had to cry a lot.

Even angels are fighting about a convertible.

So, this was an episode about teenage pregnancy, eh? Consider me surprised that it never even went down that road and instead came straight to the point where Cassie had to give up the baby for adoption, yet decided that she would like to be a mother herself. First of all, is this considered kidnapping? Since she had already given up her baby daughter (or else the adoptive parents would not have had the opportunity to hold her and keep her for themselves), running away with her would mean in legal terms that Cassie became a kidnapper. Secondly, was no one super worried about the fact that Cassie may keep the baby girl for herself after taking her from the hospital? The writers seemed to have chosen to neglect that story and stay with Cassie and Monica on their little trip, but I would have loved to see what the situation back home was like, and how the adoptive parents were going mad and crazy and sad over the fact that they may have lost their daughter, not unlike Cassie’s mother thought she lost her daughter. I don’t quite know if it was a good idea to keep the story focused on Cassie all throughout the hour, because it the episode does miss the emotional angle from the points of view of the adoptive parents, but at least it gave Cassie a chance to ask herself all those questions — can she be a good mother to her daughter? Can she live life as a single mother without failing her daughter, while also growing as a person herself? Besides that, I was loving the moment when Monica finally became Cassie’s angel and told her what her baby daughter will become in the future (of course, Monica neglected to tell Cassie whom her daughter is falling in love with — it could have been other girls).

This episode tried to be a little funny at times, which was not such a shady idea at all. Tess’s insecurities and trust issues about giving away her car to the always optimistic and euphoric Monica was one such good plot that could be part of the show more often, but another thing I laughed about was regarding the flute. Cassie pawned it to pay the rent for the hotel room, and later Monica gave the flute back to Cassie, telling Tess that she made a deal with the pawn shop owner. It made me realize that Monica is such a great angel, she does not steal the flute from the pawn shop (as in, having it magically disappear from there and magically appear in her hands during the scene with Cassie in the woods). She is making a deal with the pawn shop owner, just so the viewers don’t confuse Monica with a thief, which may shine a bad light on her angelic purposes. I’m pretty sure that was a rule in the writers room, never to be broken by any of the writers of the show, but in this particular case I found it amusing that Monica had to mention the deal with the pawn shop owner, just so no one thinks she ripped him off.

The young mother is ready to step foot into her life.

One final note about Alyson Hannigan: She was fantastic in this episode. She made me remember that TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL must be filled with guest spots for what are today’s A list television stars. Hannigan is essentially the first guest star of the show whom I would consider an A lister of television, and I can’t wait to find out how many more and which made the trip to this show, making me cry in the process. But yeah, the only question I would love to ask her is what she thought of her AMERICAN PIE character in 1998 and 1999, as she remembered that she one held a flute in her hands in 1994.

Touched By An Angel (“Fallen Angel”)

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 intervention is quite personal for these people.

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.

Getting out of the burning house is much more important than saving the grandkid still trapped inside.

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?

Touched By An Angel (“Tough Love”)

Season 1, Episode 3
Date of airing: October 12, 1994 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 12.9 million viewers, 9.4/14 in Households

This episode is something of a miracle. It is 1994, and a spiritual show about God, Christianity and spirituality that could have come out of Marianne Williamson’s book on love she decided to release while running for the Democratic nomination to be president, and the central back story deals with a woman who was a call girl and made money by having sex. An unmarried black young woman is the focal point of a story about prostitution in this television show from the mid 1990s. Okay, maybe I now know why African-American actors were used for this premise, but that would make TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL an unconsciously racist show and I haven’t watched that many episodes yet to know whether or not the writers decided to be spiritual in favor of being inclusive. It’s actually going to be an interesting thing to watch out for while I’m watching the show, because religious people tend to follow the tropes and cliches of their religion and like people that are not of their race a little less than themselves. Then again, I have no idea about religion and all I know about it is what I read on my Twitter timeline.

Say hello to your new Senator.

The episode was solid. While I liked that Monica is starting to learn something about herself while dealing with humanity for the first time through these cases (hasn’t she been dealing with humanity while working for Search & Rescue?), there was something odd about Angela being the only one dealing with her own problem and past, and how it quickly spiralled out to be a life-ending deal for her. It’s like Angela never figured out to tell Carter the truth about her past, and before her secret as a call girl is out and destroys Carter’s chances to become a United States Senator, she would rather kill herself and make life even more difficult for her husband. That makes Angela a tragic figure in Carter’s life, which makes this episode essentially about Carter and his run for office. Angela decided to keep quiet because of Carter and Angela decided to kill herself because she could not face Carter — it makes me wonder how this episode was written in the writers room and why no one realized that Angela was completely under the spell of two men that were far above her in importance and size, almost directing her life to the death. If Angela wasn’t ready to tell Carter the truth, then something else must have been wrong with their marriage, because otherwise this entire situation didn’t need Monica’s intervention. Yet the script did not think about depicting the troubled side of Angela and Carter’s marriage.

Besides that, who is such an idiot and blackmails Angela over her job as a call girl? Marshall must not have been the brightest of white men in this world, and it almost looks like Angela was his only call girl in his life as a pimp, making me wonder how Angela got into the business in the first place and whether she and Marshall sort of accidentally got into the call girl business after the first guys left the money on the nightstand. Besides the script not going into why Angela’s marriage to Carter was troubled for her to never have found the courage to talk to him, the script also decided to not go into Marshall’s motives of blackmailing Angela. Why did he need the money so much, and what was he spending it all, considering he seemed like a solid man to make something out of his life? Was he just a random white male villain too lazy to get a job and instead pressure a woman into giving him money, or else? I can only hope that TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL won’t portray villains like that for the entirety of its nine-year run, because at one point the portrayal of white male chauvinism and villainy is going to be ridiculous, especially when they further showcase that the women in this show don’t have any say in their lives, when they happened to be deeply involved in a man’s life.

This sign is kind of weird.

I’m almost thankful that Angela was portrayed as a kindergarten teacher as well, because it she would not have, it would have meant she was only here to make the men either look good in front of the camera (like Carter), or rich (like Marshall), all while getting dropped in the pool of depression that leads straight into the open sea, where suicide is apparently the best and quickest option to come by. By the way, the premise of suicide has also not been handled quite well — for a show about spirituality, one might think that there would be more of an inspirational message for life and against self-inflicted death. In addition to that, I find it weird that Monica was allowed to intervene in this situation and give Angela visions of the near future, showing her how the world started to crumble after her death. Wasn’t Angela’s death “fated?” Why is the third episode of the show depicting for a second time Monica’s involvement in a person’s death? Is suicide handled a little differently than terminal illnesses, and therefore can be “cancelled” if the decision is made to do so? I think TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL has to establish a few spiritual rules before it continues on…

Touched By An Angel (“Show Me the Way Home”)

Season 1, Episode 2
Date of airing: September 28, 1994 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 12.7 million viewers, 9.3/14 in Households

It only took two episodes for Monica to be assigned a case in which the person she is supposed to help has already met her years before. I guess God has no problems doing that kind of administrating for their angels, because maybe it’s a little weird that humanity would know angels exist as a fact, when it’s much more helpful for humanity to learn of angels when they really need that fact. Then again, if humanity wouldn’t be believing in angels in this series universe, then I guess there is no series, as every character in this show would be flabbergasted by the realization that something supernatural is going on, and that will definitely be confusing to many of the people Monica is assigned to.

Angels have a favorite pastime, too.

The story was solid enough. Two episodes into the show and the writers already went into America’s favorite pastime, which may or may not have trapped some potential viewers to the show, as baseball stories are quite easy to write, a little harder to execute, and fun to watch. The episode also made me realize that the cast could have had a lot of fun shooting the show, since Roma Downey and Della Reese’s characters were always put in a different setting. Monica basically was a babysitter in the previous episode and now she was an assistant coach to a high school baseball team. Who knows if she will coach a few more teams during the run of the show, or if she is going to do some of her case work like Sam Beckett was travelling through time in QUANTUM LEAP. It must be fun for an actor to shoot a show like this, since no episode is going to be the same as the one that came before — the scripts and story vary, the character is always a little different, and the excitement to play the role over nine years never ebbed and flowed. Maybe this is a reason why anthology-like shows with a minimal amount of main cast members tend to hold on as the years go by. Maybe it’s a reason why Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles played demon and monster hunters for a decade and a half, never losing interest in performing.

Earl could have been a more serious character in this episode, or at least one whose characterization wasn’t all over the place. He seemed like a great coach at first, but then he turned into a douche as a coach, only for the viewers to find out that he is about to die. Things didn’t get a whole lot easier when Peter said that he couldn’t play without Coach, even though the two pretty much had a huge confrontation just the day before, making me think that Earl was someone with more of an angry side to him. I never had any idea whether Peter loved his Coach like a father or if he hated him like an abuser in the family. The ending obviously made the case for Peter’s love towards Coach, but that still leaves the question open whether or not Peter saw a father figure in Earl, and if Earl saw a son in Peter that he never had. Also, consider me surprised that an angel can make a deal of sorts with the angel of death to keep someone alive for another day, just to advance someone else’s life. Delaying Earl’s death was kind of not really for Earl himself, and only helped Peter with his future, which begs the question if Monica saw something more in this particular case, and if she realized that Earl was’t the only one who needed her help. Is it one of those moments when Monica needed to break a few rules to deliver her message of peace and love and acceptance and happiness?

It’s time to give the lucky bat to an upcoming star in the sport.

Meanwhile, if the writers were able to find any way to include Tess in the stories, I hope they did it after only a few episodes, because as of now she is sort of just Monica’s supervisor, maybe friend, and sometimes even a consolidator for him, in case Monica needs some guidance, too. At least Tess was more involved in this episode than she was in the previous one, even if she only tended bar for a few scenes and was able to put Monica under her wing.

Touched By An Angel (“The Southbound Bus”)

Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: September 21, 1994 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 13.7 million viewers, 9.8/15 in Households

During my travels through JOAN OF ARCADIA, I mentioned TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL (and GHOST WHISPERER) a few times, and how each show is a successor of the one that came before, with JOAN OF ARCADIA having replaced TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL, and GHOST WHISPERER having replaced JOAN OF ARCADIA. And while I am not at all a religious person, I figured I could still make the effort and watch the show I managed to catch every once in a while on German television, when I was home from school early enough, because it aired weekdays at 3 in the afternoon. When I was lucky to catch an episode from one of the later seasons, I came to shed a tear during a few scenes here and there and I realized that TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL is actually a solid show. Even my mother managed to catch an episode every once in a while and noted the emotional affect the show had on her, and for some reason this has always been a factoid about my life that I remembered. After I started watching JOAN OF ARCADIA, I figured I could also watch TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL, since I can’t even remember the few episodes I have watched, and going through nine seasons of a television show barely anyone remembers in this day and age could probably be fun.

Monica’s new job has her traveling with the bus more often.

The premiere of this show made it quite clear what TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL wants to be: People with a huge pack of jerky emotions are in peril and need help, and because this show doesn’t have social workers unlike JUDGING AMY, which CBS would put on the air five years later, or a teenager like Joan Girardi, who would enter the fray of television to replace Monica and Tess’s adventure of the week, angels have to be the ones to help, because what could be more interesting than angels guiding helpless people to the right path of life, as it seems to be their job? Obviously, viewers had interest in the premise, which is why CBS kept it for sixteen straight years and turned it into three individual shows, completely separated from each other. And while it is an interesting premise, it’s not like it has been the major driving point of the opening hour of this show. Monica may have tried her best to reunite David with his mother and Nick with his runaway wife, but she failed and made mistakes a few times on the way, almost guaranteeing that Monica is not the perfect angel and that mistakes from her point of view are part of the storytelling — which is refreshing, because it establishes that angels aren’t almighty in this show and that they can be humanized in every direction, even if it’s just for the sake of the story. In this particular episode, Monica’s mistakes humanized her as an angel, because caring for David was her first gig as a case worker, showcasing that she is new at this job and has to learn the ropes before becoming a standout performer for the boss upstairs. I wouldn’t mind if Monica keeps doing mistakes as the series progresses, just so the angels of this show continue to be portrayed in a more humane fashion and never become anything more than undercover case workers on the ground and not supernatural soldiers against the evil led by the boss downstairs, although TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL being a nine-year long show, chances are this story will get picked up at one point — when you have God in your show pulling the strings behind the curtain, the Devil can’t be far.

The story of the episode itself wasn’t that spectacular. A mother loses her infant daughter and can’t cope with life any longer, so she runs away and leaves behind her husband and son. This kind of episodic premise seems to be made for a show like TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL, but having to see it more than 200 times over the course of the show could get tiring very quickly, which is why I hope the writers had something different in mind with each episode they tackled. As a sorta-anthology show, repeating the premise is not a crime of television, but it definitely won’t help getting you new viewers and potentially bigger commercial prices you can ask advertisers for. For this episode alone, letting Monica deal with this rather low-key family situation was good. All she needed to do was take care of David, so that he can work on his emotions about his mother walking out on him. Although you are allowed to ask yourself why Monica was given this case, when she was reprimanded by Tess for going against the “plan” and job by abandoning the kid and his father and instead look for the mother. Granted, maybe God gave Monica the case, because God knew that she would go to great lengths to reunite Christine with her family and that was always the mission God intended for Monica. Unfortunately though, if God continues to “play” with their angels like this, it would make for a lesser interesting show, as sometimes it could turn out to be more interesting if Monica gets an idea that makes the situation better than anyone else could have anticipated.

I this series universe, hitchhiking won’t lead to you getting murdered.

I liked the twist halfway through, when Ruth Ann was revealed to just be a fugitive on the run from the FBI, instead of being David’s mother, proving that Monica not only reunites families, but also makes mistakes. She already made one at the beginning of the story, when she didn’t know that David was lying about his mother’s death and needed input from death angel Adam to realize her faux-pas, but essentially forcing Ruth Ann onto the streets again could be considered a major screw-up. I know this was Monica’s first case, but God upstairs probably side-eyed their newest hire for the job after that mistake, even if you could think that Monica’s involvement in Ruth Ann’s life was also to put her on a new path, which may or may not be the path to redemption. By the way, is there a chance for Ruth Ann to return as a character, and for Monica to fix her mistake and save Ruth Ann from a potentially dramatic fate?

Finally, I have to mention a few words about Monica’s Irish accent. I watched the show with a German dubbing before, and German dubbing actors don’t do accents except the accent is part of the story. I have never seen anything with Roma Downey before, so I was quite surprised to hear her strong Irish accent in this episode. And I was quite surprised that I immediately fell in love with it. Is Monica considered an Irish angel now?