For the last four years, my wife and I have lived within two miles of a large Naval Air Station. With most of our current friends in the Navy, then, we’ve had front row seats to the displacement and uncertainty that come with regular deployments and frequent moves. It’s not an easy life, and I have great respect for those accept it for their country, but I'm not sure I could do it myself. Perhaps that’s why I’ve become a fan of Army Wives, even though it plays on a channel (Lifetime) which I’ve never previously found interesting. Now in its second season (you can watch full episodes here), the show is a bit uneven, but it offers an engaging and sympathetic picture of military life. Following five army families struggling to live and love in a time of war, it explores all the usual relationship tensions you’d expect in a modern drama, but it retains a natural and lighthearted tone. Though it can get overly-sentimental at times, it's usually thoughtful (without being overly political) and includes a strong cast of genuinely likable characters, imperfect though they are (spoiler warning).
The first season included everything from adult friendship and teenage love, to unplanned pregnancy and adultery. It ended with various relationships in flux, three husbands leaving on a hasty deployment, and four of the “wives” trapped in their favorite bar where a disgruntled soldier, strapped with explosives, has come to confront his own unfaithful wife (a minor character, not one of the five). Picking up in the aftermath of this bombing, the second season has continued to explore the tensions and uncertainties in the lives of these five families as they try to find their way back to some semblance of normalcy. To tell the truth, the season premier was a bit awkward, by only revealing what happened at the bar slowly through flashbacks, but the three episodes since then have offered more interesting plot-lines, all of which emphasize the importance of love:
For instance, the youngest of the five wives (Roxy LeBlanc) selflessly invites the bar owner--a cantankerous woman named Betty (a civilian) who was already dying of cancer when her busines and home were destroyed--to stay with her while her husband is on deployment. A Lieutenant Colonel (Joan Burton) decides not to abort her unplanned (and decidedly inconvenient) pregnancy, choosing to forgive her husband Roland for cheating on her (he was deeply sorry) and working to restore their marriage. But perhaps the most interesting has been the story of Claudia Joy, whose teenage daughter was killed in the bombing. By the third episode of the season, called “The Messenger,” she is losing touch with everyone she loves. Standing outside her church where she has arrived late, she suddenly meets a mysterious elderly man named Henry, who is “visiting” the area. Unsure she wants to enter, Claudia Joy urges him to go in without her, but he replies “Going inside is not that important anyway; God’s out here too.” When she responds skeptically, he offers his condolences for her loss and wishes her a nice day, and she leaves without entering the church.
But he keeps turning up, that evening when she is sitting on her porch, the next morning when she is getting the mail, on her “date” with Roxy’s five year old son (who has a school-boy crush on her, and seems to be the only other person who can see Henry). Each time he draws the conversation around to her need for love: “Love is an amazing thing,” he says, “Can’t see it, can’t touch it, can’t smell it. Yet it’s there with us from the day we’re born.” Finally he turns up in her living room while she’s watching a movie late at night (hiding from her family, to whom she can't bear to speak):
The episode doesn't tell us who Henry really is (we later see him wave goodbye and then climb into a taxi), but in the end Claudia Joy takes his advice and begins the difficult process of opening up to her husband and (remaining) daughter, finding comfort and healing in their love and mutual grief. As I said, the show gets a bit overly-sentimental at times, but I do like this scene, not only because it explicitly brings up the question of God’s goodness in the face of tragedy (though, let's face it, “it was her time” really isn’t much of an answer), but also because it affirms that knowing “why?” may be less important than recognizing the essential role of love in our lives. In exploring how such love looks in a group of flawed and broken military families, Army Wives is in fact a refreshingly uplifting television show, and a welcome break from the reruns and game shows the major networks are running this summer.
Henry: Can we watch a comedy for a change? I need to laugh.
Claudia Joy: You’re not real; I’m not talking to you. Go away!
Henry : I told you, when you don’t want me here, I’ll leave.
Claudia Joy: I’m tired of these cryptic little sayings you use.
Henry: You’re angry.
Claudia Joy: Damn right, I’m angry. I wanted more, I wanted to see her graduate college. I wanted to help her buy a wedding dress. I wanted to hold her babies in my arms.
Henry: And you blame God.
Claudia Joy: Where was he, huh? You tell me that! Where the hell was God when my daughter was murdered?
Henry: Protecting Roland, and Denise, and you!
Claudia Joy gets up to leave the room.
Henry: It was Amanda’s time, nothing was gonna change that.
But Claudia Joy isn’t convinced. Turning away she mutters: No.
Henry: Death is a part of life. You can’t have one without the other.
Claudia Joy: It was too soon.
Henry: We all have our time, and it always comes. Until then, love is the best thing going. And there seems to be a lot of that around here. You just have to let it in.