Mary McCormack created one of the most fascinating female characters on TV, U.S. Marshall Mary Shannon. USA Network’s In Plain Sight completed its fifth season earlier in the year, but thanks to DVDs we can now enjoy this highly entertaining series that boasts one of the best ensemble casts anywhere on television. There’s also an advantage to watching episode after episode in one sitting. The stories follow, the tension builds, character develop. And, of course, no commercials. Just hit the pause button for bathroom breaks.
In Plain Sight is set in Albuquerque where Mary and her partner, Marshall (Frederick Weller), and their boss, Paul Ben-Victor, help to ease unfortunate individuals into witness protection. As Mary repeats at the beginning of each episode about the thousands who are relocated: “Every one of those individuals shares a unique attribute, distinguishing them from the rest of the general population, and that is, somebody wants them dead.”
We hear about witness protection and mostly think it’s for ex-Mafia members who rat out their godfathers. In Plain Sight shows that regular everyday people often end up in witness protection simply because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They witness a drug-related killing, or they find out their boss is operating an insider trading scheme. The government swoops in to keep witnesses safe. The criminals are given a choice between jail or testifying. Most choose the Witness Protection Program (WITSEC) and appearing in court.
Signing the papers is easy. What comes next is more difficult. Some people adapt better than others. Imagine giving up your name, your family (except for those who come into the program with you), your profession, all your belongings, and, as a result, all your memories of all those life experiences that helped you become the person you are today. Criminals get a second chance to go straight, turn their lives around. The innocents, particularly the children, suffer the most. Forget teenagers! Leaving behind school, friends, sports, youthful souvenirs, as well as all those names in a cellphone address book, is painful.
Mary McCormack is simply brilliant in the lead role, tough as a marshall, but vulnerable in her private life. Mary Shannon’s father, a gambler, abandoned his family when Mary was a little girl, dooming any future relationships with men. Her memories of her father often place them at race tracks and gambling parlors. Mary’s mother, played by the incredible Lesley Ann Warren, is an alcoholic, and her younger sister, Brandi (Nichole Hiltz), works her way through a series of dead-end jobs and boyfriends, one who enlists her help moving a large quantity of cocaine. The two move in with Mary, further complicating her already complicated life.
Guest stars on the series are frequent and fabulous including Allison Janney, Donnie Walhberg, Steve Weber, Tess Harper, Joe Spano, Joshua Malina, Bradley Whitford, Laura San Giacomo, Michael Badalucco, and many more.
For Mary McCormack, the show became very much a family affair. Her husband, Michael Morris, who directed episodes of Brothers and Sisters and Smash, directed several episodes of the show. Mary’s brother, William, had a recurring role as FBI Agent Robert O’Connor, and her father even had a cameo in one episode as a rabbi. Season Three’s last episode, “A Priest Walking into a Bar,” was written by one of Mary’s college friends, John Cockrell, and he named several strippers in the show after Mary’s college roommates, an inside joke that created much amusement on the set.
The writers do a marvelous job of writing snappy dialogue that Mary delivers with her zeal. One example when Mary thinks Marshall is about to invite her to an art show:
“You’r not trying to drag me to another art show are you? Last time I got cornered by some freak wearing a kilt with a tattoo inside his bottom lip that said `Yeah!’ He showed it to me twice while I was eating.”
There are touching moments, too, like when she talks about one witness, Mia, played by the excellent Laura San Giacomo (above), whose offer to testify against her Mafia family is rejected because she is dying of brain cancer.
“I can count the witnesses I’ve admired on a hand and a half, the ones I’ve liked, fewer still. When it comes to those I was truly friends with, I can’t put a number on it. I don’t need to. It was just Mia.”
By the end of the series, all the characters have evolved, and while Mary is still battling her demons, she manages to mend her family relationships, even with her estranged father. After helping so many people find new lives, Mary finally seems comfortable in her own.
Buy the five seasons of In Plain Sight on Amazon.