My wife and I finished watching “Bad Sisters” on Apple TV this past weekend.
What’s the show about? Well, seeing as the premise is about a group of sisters trying to murder their brother-in-law, I’d say the title provides some insight.
The brother-in-law in question — a miserable man by the name of John Paul Williams played by Claes Bang — is literally the worst. He’s unkind, abusive, manipulative and just plain nasty. I don’t condone murder, but it was pretty easy to dislike this guy. My wife and I remarked time and again throughout the season’s ten episodes how there didn’t seem to be a single redeeming quality to be found in the man.
The show is fantastic and funny and hits on some pretty poignant themes: family, love, abuse, loss, commitment, sacrifice and more. It does so in a comedic, at times irreverent, way while still inviting some deep reflection.
After all, how does a person become so unlikeable?
There’s a scene in the penultimate episode of the season that I think speaks to this question. At the very least, it made my wife and I perk up our ears, sit up straight.
John Paul is visited in his cabin in the Wicklow Mountains by a neighbor, Roger Muldoon (Michael Smiley). The visit is unexpected on multiple levels. For one, John Paul had falsely accused Roger of a heinous crime. The accusation had sent Roger to prison, left his home vandalized and his reputation in tatters.
And why? Because John Paul was a possessive, jealous man who didn’t like his wife having friends outside the home. Because John Paul was a man who liked playing around with the lives of others. John Paul knew Roger was no threat, knew the accusations were baseless.
Yet, Roger goes to that cabin in the woods not to berate John Paul but to forgive him. He couldn’t bear carrying all that anger around. He had to do something with it.
What does John Paul say in response?
“People like you don’t get to forgive people like me. Forgiveness flows down.”
It’s a stunning line of dialogue. Of course, it speaks to his character, his own inability to accept forgiveness for his many wrongs, his own inability to forgive himself, to even see himself and others as human.
But that line of dialogue is worth reflecting on in our own lives, too. The contempt and dismissal so palpable in those words are pure poison. And it’s a poison that can just as easily infect our own days, our own families, our own communities — if we’re not alert and awake to its threat.
Do we place barriers and parameters around our forgiveness like some perverse game of chutes and ladders? Or, do we allow the compassion that God so desperately desires for our lives and the lives of every single person to grow wild, to flourish and blossom and bear good fruits?
This week, even if you haven’t watched “Bad Sisters,” I invite you to sit with that line of dialogue. Let it get under your skin. Because that outlook on life should upset us all. The refusal to give and receive forgiveness is a refusal to recognize the fact that we’re all redeemed and redeemable, a refusal to see in one another the humanity that images God’s very self.
There’s no place for such hate and contempt. Best to leave it — and learn from it — in a fictional world than let it bleed further into our own.
Eric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, U.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, the World of Myth Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian. Sign up for his Substack “Story Scraps” here.