Saturday, April 21, 2012

Queen Badass: US Marshal, Mary Shannon

US Marshal, Mary Shannon, In Plain Sight
Baddest Badass in the whole damn town… yup, just stole a little bit of Jim Croce there.

When I think of a strong female character with layers and depth, I immediately go to Mary Shannon, portrayed by the amazing Mary McCormack. Tall, thick, as in curvy like a real woman, blonde and gorgeous. Mary is a US Marshal assigned to the WITSEC program in Albuquerque, New Mexico. WITSEC is what we more commonly refer to as ‘witness protection’.  She deals with criminals, but more often than not, innocent witnesses to crimes. The challenge for both the witnesses and the WITSEC officers lies in the adjustment period of having to give up everything and everyone they know to do the right thing. For families, this is extremely hard. In almost all cases there is turmoil, which Mary takes in stride. What is so great about her, and consequently makes her so good at her job, is that she doesn’t put up with the bullshit. Mary takes no prisoners. She’s sensitive to their concerns however, she is more concerned with keeping them safe and not dead.

Mary’s badass trademark is her snark. She is the poster child for sarcasm, dry wit and abrasive demeanor. She is not a warm fuzzy woman. If anything, she eschews feminine wiles and carries herself as one of the boys. She frequently mocks witnesses and everyone within a twenty-foot radius, most notably her best friend and partner, Marshall Mann. (Yes, I thought it was interestingly odd that his first name is Marshall, as it so happens to be his occupation. I’ll discuss him later on in the post.) Anyway, people who know her are pretty much used to her cantankerous ways. Newer, less confident people tend to give her a wide berth. Some of what she says can be down right offensive. However, she calls a spade a spade. And a good amount of the time she’s right. When it comes to witnesses, she’s always right.

The irony of Mary lies in her family and personal life. It’s a hot steaming mess. Her mother, Jinx, and her sister, Brandi, are alcoholics, in or out of recovery depending on which season. Her father left when she was seven to live life on the run because he robbed a bank only to start another family some years later with another woman. Mary got the surprise of her life when her half-sister showed up at the door to inform her of this. There is a little brother too, who Brandi befriends and subsequently goes to live with and fall off the wagon after she flees from her wedding. Needless to say, Mary did not take the news of a new family well, already having feelings of abandonment this was the icing on the cake. She also had a wonderful, sweet boyfriend, a local hot Hispanic baseball player named Raf. They were engaged for a period of time and she eventually had to tell him what the nature of her job was. He became worried, protective and hovering… none of which sat right with her. Poor Raf came to realization that Mary would never be capable of totally committing to him and had to set her free. Raf was such a loving guy that you couldn’t help but feel for him. But Mary, in her dysfunction reminds me of a wild horse. She is skittish around sentiment and rears up in fear. She abhors change. God forbid, her desk is moved or there’s a new person in the office. I liken all of her quirks and control freakishness to the fact that she is an alcoholic’s daughter. It’s textbook compensation. She is the older sibling, the one who maintains order. She is a fixer. Brandi, is the weaker one, the one who follows Jinx and needs to be taken care of. She is constantly in chaos. See the link to Adult children of alcoholics on 

 One of the most dramatic changes in Mary has been throughout Season 4. She becomes pregnant by her ex-husband who she was married to for a minute back in the day. He comes for a random visit and they bump uglies for a night. Oops, smart Mary – remember that wild horse that can’t handle a saddle analogy – is now pregnant. The show had to do it. Mary McCormack was pregnant with her third daughter. It would have been ridiculous to film around her girth and it provided a great juxtaposition and character development for the woman who could not be tamed. All throughout the season and during her pregnancy, Mary intended to give up the baby to people who wanted one and who could take care of her properly. She never want a child nor to have one grow up in the chaos that was her life. And all the while, she fought the system and continued to work while she was pregnant. Even up until the end when she was caught in the cross fire during a take down in an ambush to kill a witness. At this point, she gets the award for being colossally stupid, but she is still badass to the bone when she comes out of nowhere to shoot a bad guy down. It also marks the significance of where Mary fits in Marshall’s life as he choses to cover her with his own body instead of his girlfriend.

Now let’s address Mr. Marshall Mann…. Marshall is the sanity in Mary’s life. He is her stability and the port in her storm. He frequently calls her on her bullshit – the only one she allows to do so – and doesn’t let her get away without seeing the truth she so fastidiously avoids. She is always annoyed with his Cliff Clavin-esque tendencies toward trivial knowledge and useless information. He is extremely intelligent, sensitive and very protective of her. His devastation when she was shot at the end of season 2 was heart wrenching. His utter speechlessness and shock when she told him she was engaged, days later because she didn’t know how to tell him, was soul crushing. She let him see the ring and for some reason he put it on his pinky. And then couldn’t take it off. The symbolism in that was both hysterical and traumatically sad to watch for the remainder of the episode. It is clear that he is in love with her but understands her as that 'wild horse who will never be tamed'. He has since tried to move on with the police detective, Abigail – who Mary has a chilly, almost begrudging acceptance. Will they ever wind up together? That remains to be seen.

As I write this, there are only a few episodes left of this fantastic show. Who knows how it will end for Mary and Marshall. Personally, I’d love to see them together. I’ve shipped them from the very beginning. I completely love their nuances and their loyalty to each other. Tonight’s episode finally touches on the missing father arc. Stephen Lang of Avatar and the late Terra Nova (another show I really liked but was cancelled) plays her father. This was something that needed to be addressed and should give great insight into Mary’s character. It will be interesting to see it play out.

So, what should we take away from Mary as an example of a great female character? At face value, she’s strong, independent and doesn’t take shit from anyone. But she has layers to her personality, insecurities and fallibilities that make her imperfect. She’s not the plucky heroine; she’s not the sexy femme fatale. She is a real woman with real desires and real problems, despite the extraordinary job she does. She tries and fails. And she grows, kicking and screaming, but it happens. If I could take one thing away from her to apply to my personal life, it would be her courage of self in the face of those around her. She is true to herself and her passions and go to hell if you don’t agree. I’m getting there…

Check out this blog I found a while ago and it got me thinking. It chronicles a woman’s journey, following in Mary’s footsteps toward becoming a Real Life Badass Woman.



  1. Oh, In Plain Sight. I had an entry in my old blog about Fred Weller (who looks oddly like one of my ex-boyfriends) and the Mary-Marshall 'ship, especially that moment where Marshall has to give a toast to celebrate Mary and Raf's engagement. The way he says "I love you" to her at the end - and the "awww sweet - wait, WTF?" on her face afterwards - that just broke me.

    Looking forward to more classic TV badassery (and some movies, too) and great writing about writing!

  2. OMG, I totally forgot abou that scene! Yes, that was a 'flail on the floor' moment. Those moments between them throughout the rest of that season were so hard to watch. I felt so bad for him. Finger's crossed that their ship will sail off into the sunset. Thanks so much for commenting! :)