Young woman searching for a fantastic depiction of female empowerment need look no further than Sanctuary, the green-screen project of the SyFy Channel and brainchild of “the queen of science fiction,” Amanda Tapping. While male characters are tremendous too, and in no short supply (in the first episode, we are introduced to the brainy Will Zimmerman, the geeky and often sarcastic Henry, and even the villainous John Druitt) the series really focuses on and revolves around its leading lady, Helen Magnus.
Five minutes after meeting her, my dad said, “That’s my kind of woman.”
Mine, too. Any girl in high heels who knows how to handle a semi-automatic is perfect in my book. Helen is the greatest female character to come to television in a long time. Make a list of impressive qualities and she is likely to boast all of them. Independent and strong-willed, Helen is a single mom with a headstrong daughter who handles some of the most dangerous creatures in the world. From werewolves to mermaids, she uses her vast resources to capture, study, and offer sanctuary to “abnormals” in need of shelter, protection, and isolation. Her intention is not only for the preservation of these creatures but also to prevent humans from being harmed by them.
Our introduction to Helen is in a darkened ally as Will hastens after a boy he believes may be responsible for the murder of three people. In hot pursuit, Helen literally runs into him and leaves him sprawled unconscious on the pavement, but then returns in the pouring rain to introduce herself. She has been watching Will. She knows his powers of intuition are ill-used and ignored on the police force, and she wants to invite him into her world – of the strange, the abnormal, and the miraculous. Will is skeptical (does this woman really have Bigfoot as her butler??), but willing to offer her the chance to show him a world he could not have fathomed even existed.
The pilot is our first glimpse into these characters and their lives but also a magnificent reflection of our willingness to experience the wonders of the world around us. These creatures – mermaids, bigfoot, dragons, and the occasional furry nubbin – may not exist in our reality, but it makes for a fun and memorable premise centered around a principle of truth: that there is much we do not know about our existence, and much we have to learn. In some respects, Will’s life changes the moment Helen hands him her business card. He could have chucked it in the trash and forgotten about it, but he decides to phone her. He then chooses to go with her – not only to tour the Sanctuary, but to suspend his disbelief and listen to what she has to say. When he sees the wonders of her world, he accepts them even though they defy all reason and soon discovers he has a place among them, and is meant to be there. No one in this place is “normal.” (Most of them are even more unusual than he first believes.) Bigfoot is obvious, but there are stories behind Helen, Ashley, and Henry as well. Even Will is not entirely “normal.”
It reminds me of Christianity on the whole. We are a group of “misfits,” wondering where and how to put our talents to use, until someone comes along and hands us a business card. When we choose to go with them, to fathom the concept of God, to believe in the unbelievable, we are approaching our destiny. Our lives forever change. Once we have seen the monsters in our world, we can no longer remain ignorant. It becomes our job to protect others, to learn more about these things, and at last we discover a sense of self-fulfillment. In some ways, we start out our journey like Will, innocent and naïve of where it will take us, and wind up like Helen, stretching out our hand to others who are searching for the truth. Will has been searching for answers since childhood, since he saw something horrific drag his mother off into the darkness. He only learns later that Helen was there, that he was in her arms after it happened, that this motherly figure has watched over him ever since. She is an enigma to him, but also an inspiration.
His journey began with seeking the truth. If you search for it, you will find it.
Sometimes it might even turn up wearing a pair of high heels.