'In Plain Sight' Marshals Its Quirky Strengths
There's something about Mary Shannon, played by Mary McCormack
Although the dedicated U.S. Marshal excels in guarding her charges in the Witness Protection Program (WITSEC), her interpersonal skills need work. Mary can't seem to talk to anyone without getting in some sort of strong disagreement. Although that's not necessarily surprising when she's confronting the bad guys, she's also quick to insult, crack inappropriate jokes or just plain argue in her personal relationships as well.
"The whole way through [reading the script] it felt like a part that was written for a boy," says Tony-nominated actress Mary McCormack, who appreciates her character's endearingly prickly attitude. "She's more complex, more edgy, funny, grumpy -- you rarely see girls like that. They usually have to be sort of the moral center of the show and know right from wrong."
But it's these unconventional qualities that get results where a more delicate touch would not. In Sunday's (June 1) premiere episode, Mary has the chutzpah to follow a potential suspect into the men's room where she proceeds to use soap in a creative way to intimidate him and ultimately get a much-needed lead. Mary isn't known for her cool head, and she takes out her frustrations on the poor shmucks who dare to withhold information from her.
Balancing Mary is partner Marshall Mann (Frederick Weller), whose idiosyncrasies take on a more cerebral bent -- whether it's informing Mary of the logic behind automobile nomenclature or whipping out his handy Russian or sign language skills.
"My character is a bit of an oddball, multi-faceted, complicated fellow," says Weller. "He's a trained killer who speaks a variety of languages and can repair his own chest wound from a gunshot using a plastic bottle and a straw. And he takes mambo lessons and plays Faro and Whist instead of poker."
Together they must perform a number of roles as WITSEC Marshals -- bodyguard, counselor, detective, errand boy, interrogator or muscle. And while the show has an expert to advise them for accuracy, don't expect "In Plain Sight" to reveal all of the program's secrets.
"The trick with this program, the reason it works and the reason people stay is that there's not a lot known about it," says McCormack. "Marshals take lifetime oaths to never speak about it even after they retire. They're all really serious how witnesses stay alive.
"We had a technical advisor who was government sanctioned and he was a retired Marshal," she adds. "His job was to sort of make sure we were on the right path and not doing anything wrong, but his job was also not to tell us too much. [The program] is kind of a fascinating system that works very well. They've never lost a witness, never had anyone die who hasn't broken the rules."
In the premiere, Mary and Marshall work with two types of witnesses: a Mafia informer and an innocent bookkeeper who came across the wrong information. Regardless of their backgrounds, both are in mortal danger and flee to New Mexico to begin anew, leaving behind their loved ones.
"I had assumed that WITSEC was basically turned mobsters," says Weller, "but I think our guy said that 40 percent are completely innocent people who just need protection for organized criminals. That was an eye-opener for me.
"Also, [I learned of] the extent to which the U.S. Marshals in the WITSEC program are very physically dangerous. They're supposedly the best in the world at kicking down doors and are frequently borrowed by the other branches of the U.S. Marshal Service just for that purpose, just for kind of SWAT-type situations."
The stress and secrecy of the job means that Mary and Marshall are more often together than with friends or family. It's no wonder then that the partners have a complicated relationship.
"He's in love with Mary, secretly for the most part and unrequitedly for the most part," muses Weller. "There are times when it seems like Mary reciprocates his affections, but Mary might argue otherwise.
"He is a vital source of information for Mary frequently, but sometimes he has the same flaws that that famous Spock displayed in that his intellectualism is sometimes deficient for the situation. Sometimes you need a passionate, slightly irrational go-getter like Mary. So in ways, it resembles the Spock/Kirk dynamic except if Spock were madly in love with Captain Kirk."
Besides Marshall and the witnesses, others who make demands on Mary's time include her lover Raphael (Cristian de la Fuente), a few others in law enforcement with crushes on her, a troublemaker younger sister, Brandi (Nichole Hiltz), and her alcoholic maternally challenged mother Jinx (Lesley Ann Warren). Is it any wonder that Mary is so contrary?
"In Plain Sight" debuts on USA Network on Sunday, June 1.