Follow TV Tropes


Series / The Sentinel

Go To

"In all tribal cultures, every village had a sentinel. Now, a sentinel is chosen because of a genetic advantage — a sensory awareness that can be developed beyond normal humans. Your time spent in Peru has got to be connected with what's happening to you now. I've got hundreds of documented cases of one or two hyperactive senses but not one single subject with all five. You could be the real thing."
Blair Sandburg

The Sentinel aired in the mid- to late 1990s on UPN. A cross between a Cop Show and Sci-Fi, it followed the life of Detective Jim Ellison and his civilian partner, Blair Sandburg.

Ellison, the sentinel, has five heightened senses and a genetic predisposition to protect his tribe - in this case, the city of Cascade, Washington. Blair is an anthropologist who specialises in ancient cultures, specifically the mythic tribal watchmen of old, and has a predisposition to attract every psycho to set foot in Cascade. Blair acts as Jim's guide, teaching to use his senses and act like a half way nice guy. Jim acts unofficially as Blair's 'blessed protector' by keeping Blair from getting killed by the various psychos he attracts.

Not to be confused with The Sentinel (1977) with Cristina Raines or The Sentinel (2006) movie starring Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland.

The Sentinel provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Jim's father, William, wasn't physically abusive, but he was manipulative and tended to think Jim was "strange" because of his Sentinel abilities. Having to compete with one's brother for season tickets or an overseas vacation really doesn't help the family dynamic, and his constant harangues over Jim "seeing things" is why Jim suppressed his enhanced senses until he was an adult - and why a psychic cop is so dismissive of Sandburg's countercultural lifestyle and research.
  • Aesop: The third season had a tendency to get this way. The episode "Poaching" came dangerously close to being Anvilicious.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Blair gets not one, but three: "Chief" (by Jim), "Sandy" (by Megan), and "Hairboy" (by Rafe and Henri).
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: For a psychic cop with an invisible spirit animal, Jim really doesn't like to hear about all the weird stuff Sandburg believes in.
  • Berserk Button: Blair does not tolerate cheating, plagiarism, or you messing with his students. He jumped out of a helicopter after the last guy to do all three of those things, just to make sure the guy got to see the inside of a prison cell.
    • Jim does not tolerate people hurting members of his tribe. And God help you if you hurt Blair. Lash ended up with six or so bullet holes in him.
  • Blessed with Suck: At least half the episodes have Jim getting hit by the side effects of superhuman senses: in an early episode, he gets impacted earwax flushed out, only to find that his hearing acclimated to it, resulting in him hearing every background noise for several miles. He spends several days with white noise generators in his ears until he acclimates to that in order to avoid being driven insane. Also, his body reacts badly to synthetic compounds; he can't use most over-the-counter medication without getting sick, and is thus repeatedly subjected to Blair's homeopathic remedies - which do work well on him, but tend to incite teasing from his fellow officers, especially when one such remedy turns out to contain trace amounts of peyote.
  • Bound and Gagged: In "Cypher", Blair is kidnapped right out of the loft, chained first to a floor and later a dentist chair, and gagged with a yellow scarf.
  • Buddy Cop Show: Jim and Blair's developing friendship is a major factor in early episodes, and their relationship problems provides drama in later seasons. An interesting example considering half of the partnership isn't even a cop, he's an anthropology student.
  • Busman's Holiday: Any and every time any of the main characters leave Cascade for any reason.
  • Cartwright Curse: The women Jim likes to date seem to end up dead a lot. Most are bad guys so it works out in the end.
  • Chase Scene: Car chases, usually, but "Brother's Keeper" has Jim chasing the suspect on horseback.
  • Cigar Chomper: Simon. Par for the course, as he's Da Chief. "Brother's Keeper" reveals that he and a couple other Cascade Police officers are in a cigar club.
  • City of Adventure: Cascade, oh so very much Cascade.
    Jim: (upon discovering that Blair has become embroiled in a hostage situation just by getting on an elevator) Is it me, or is Cascade the most dangerous city in America?
  • Coincidence Magnet: Blair. If there is a psycho trying to blow up a bus, bring down down a trapped elevator with explosives, or poison a small town for nefarious reasons, then Blair will be on that bus, be in that elevator, or have drunk that poison. Only one of the three examples can be considered a direct result of Blair's work with Jim. Also he rented a warehouse apartment next to a drug lab that blew up. Jim wasted no time in asking Blair how he'd managed to miss that.
    • One has to wonder how he survived long enough to meet Jim. Of course, Jim's sentinel powers may have required someone to act as bait/damsel-in-distress to activate his guardian instincts.
  • Cowboy Cop: Jim was this in a big way early in his career until he ended up with Jack Pendergast as his partner. By the beginning of the series he's described by his co-workers as a lone wolf and a Jerkass. Then Blair comes along and mellows him... sorta.
    • He's a lot more by-the-book in the series proper, to the point that him setting up an illegal wiretap in one episode is depicted as going way too far to try and catch the perp.
  • CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: Averted. Jim fails to revive Blair with CPR, which makes sense since Blair's heart had stopped. The panther/wolf merger though, which made less sense, succeeded.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Jim's senses are awe-inspiring, but he sees them as a burden because they inherently separate him from others. One episode leads him to repeatedly curse them when he identifies an IRA hitman from a mile away in the dark, only for a slick lawyer to point that out and accuse him of lying because, A). the hitman was seen in public on the other side of town at the time of the killing, and B). no human being could have seen anything from that distance. Turns out the hitman was secretly twins.
  • Da Chief: Captain Simon Banks. He knows about Jim's abilities and is continually having to explain away Jim's eccentricities to his superiors along with why Blair's still hanging around when his observer's pass expired years ago. As fitting with the stereotype, he smokes cigars, wears suspenders and a shoulder holster, and always has the Mayor up his ass.
  • Deadly Closing Credits: Season Three finale. The fans had to wait a year and a half to find out if Blair would live
  • Distaff Counterpart: An episode with Jeri Ryan as a woman who also gains hyper-senses. Turned out she was also an Evil Counterpart. Cassie Welles is a female version of Blair before he figured out that listening to Jim would keep him alive longer.
  • Evil Counterpart: Alex Barnes.
  • Forced Prize Fight: A prison warden has prisoners fight each other at night. Anyone who knows is either part of the scheme or knows that they will be killed if they tell others.
  • Girl of the Week: Many, many episodes; usually each of the two guys get the girl every other week. Invariably, they never get brought up again.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Lash for awhile in "Cypher" until Blair turns it around on him.
  • Heroic Bastard: Blair's mother has never told him who his father is, and may not even know. Though he likes to think it could be Timothy Leary.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Jim and Blair live together from episode three through the finale. Though some fans take issue with the heterosexual part.
  • Hippie Parents: Blair's mother Naomi.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: Blair's job is essentially to help Jim learn to master his abilities. This role becomes more nominal in later episodes, though he still has to provide Jim with advice every now and then.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Jim, even after he accepts his abilities help people, never stops bitching about how he's Blessed with Suck.
  • I Know Mortal Kombat: Discussed. In one episode, Jim tries to learn how to fake a Texan accent by watching reruns of Bonanza. Blair points out how ridiculous this idea is, considering that most of the actors in the show were using fake accents.
  • Improvised Weapon: Blair really doesn't like guns. Instead he uses doors, vending machines, fire hoses, and anything else he can get his hands on when stuff hits the fan.
  • Internal Affairs: Sheila Irwin. Apparently Jim was an ass to her when she was still in the Major Crimes unit. Two years later she's investigating him for the murder of his old partner and the theft of over $500,000 in ransom money. Guess how the rest of this story goes.
    • In her defense, he did purchase his classy studio apartment soon after the murder - it was his collected special ops back-pay for when he was presumed lost in Peru. Of course, that's Classified Information, meaning he can't talk about it, leaving him stuck with a suspicious windfall.
  • James Bondage: Blair. Every other episode he gets kidnapped, tied up, or held hostage.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ellison doesn't play well with others, which might explain his divorce and apparent lack of friends when the show starts. But he became a cop to protect the people of his city, so he's a decent guy at heart. He mellows out considerably as his friendship with Blair develops. Flashbacks show that he was a full-on Jerkass as a rookie detective.
  • Knight Templar Big Brother: Jim is extremely protective of certain individuals, including Danny Choi and Blair Sandburg. Danny Choi got killed. Guess what happened to the guy(s) that killed him.
    • In a way. Jim's entire purpose as a Sentinel is to be this for the city of Cascade.
  • Logical Weakness: When surprised or trying to focus on too many senses at once, Jim would occasionally zone out due to sensory overload. Snapping him out of it is one of Blair's designated functions.
    • On a more indirect level, Ellison learns quickly that while he can use his senses to figure out things that normal people can't, he still needs to find evidence that will pass muster in a court of law.
  • Magical Native American: Incacha, a Peruvian shaman Jim met during his final military tour, gave him his initial Sentinel training in return for protecting their tribe from guerrillas. He later seeks Jim out in Cascade to save the tribe from an oil company, and dies there. He appears several times in Jim and Blair's visions to assist them further.
  • The Mole: In "Cypher" someone keeps leaking information about the case to the press. Simon suspects Blair and Blair suspects his girlfriend. It turns out to be the killer, disguised as the shrink who had been treating him - who is on-site working with the police.
  • Motor Mouth: Blair, especially when he's excited or dropping an Info Dump.
  • Mushroom Samba: After Blair eats the pizza in "Blind Man's Bluff."
  • Must State If You're a Cop: Played with in the episode where Jim pretends to be a convict. His bunk mate asks if he's a cop, and Jim clearly has every intention of lying, until the bunk mate reveals that he's hoping the answer is yes.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Played with. While Jim (or more often, Blair) figure out new things he can do with his senses every once in a while (especially in the earlier episodes), they're always something to do with the fact that his normal five senses are hyper-acute, and are generally at least somewhat logical extensions of things he already knew how to do.
  • The Nicknamer: Ellison. The biggest example is his calling Blair "Chief," but he has an almost Sawyer-like tendency to call someone by a nickname rather than bothering to remember their actual name.
  • The Not-Love Interest: Blair to Jim. Most of the roles typically filled by the girlfriend of the protagonist are filled by him, from being Jim's emotional ballast to constantly getting in trouble and needing to be rescued by Jim.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: While Blair isn't a kid, he is the youngest member of the main cast, and not a cop, so he tends to get this treatment. In one episode which takes place during a basketball game, Blair is trying to warn Simon that Jim is in trouble while Simon is busy issuing orders. Every time Blair tries to interrupt, Simon yells "Not now, Sandburg!" When Blair finally does manage to tell him, Simon blows up on Blair again, telling Blair to tell him right away next time. The look of exasperation on Blair's face is priceless.
  • The Other Rain Forest: The show is set in the fictional city of Cascade, in Washington (presumably in the Cascade mountain range). Unsurprisingly, it rains a lot on the show.
  • Protectorate: Ellison uses his heightened Sentinel senses to better serve and protect the city of Cascade.
  • Quieting the Unquiet Dead: In "The Waiting Room", Jim turns out to be capable of seeing ghosts. In this case, the ghost of a woman who was murdered 45 years ago. The heroes put her to rest by solving the murder, for all the good it does after all this time.
  • Really Gets Around: Blair. But not as much as some fans would like.
    • Jim's no slouch, either. Especially in the first season, it feels like Jim and Blair play Rock–Paper–Scissors offscreen to determine which one of them will get the girl each episode.
  • Remembered I Could Fly: Jim's Sentinel powers originally activated in Peru, but he forgot about them when he was rescued, buried under post-traumatic stress. They come back to him when a stakeout he's on forces him into isolation for days at a time, which triggers residual memories of his time in Peru.
    • In the third season, it's revealed that he actually had his abilities in childhood, but repressed them then after witnessing a murder - or more precisely, because his father harangued him for "lying" about witnessing it;
    William Ellison: Now you got to stop pretending or people are going to think you're a freak! You understand? Huh? Is that what you want? For people to think there's something wrong with you?
  • Say My Name: It's rare that an episode passes without Simon shouting "ELLISON!" and/or Jim muttering "Sandburg" in an exasperated voice at least once.
  • Scary Black Man: Simon qualifies. Just ask anyone in Major Crimes, or someone who messed with his son, Darryl.
  • Secret-Keeper: Blair and Simon. The fact that Blair is trying to keep Jim's secret while simultaneously writing his dissertation on it creates certain obvious problems, and in the series finale Blair sacrifices his academic career to protect the secret. But, the storyline for the finale relied on implausible events.
  • Serial Killer: David Lash from "Cypher", one of the show's most memorable villains.
  • Smells Sexy: In one episode, Jim falls hard for a woman who turns out to be a jewel thief, to the point of obsession. Blair guesses that Jim's super smell is reacting strongly to her pheromones. In Real Life, the jury is still out on whether humans have pheromones (though the evidence leans towards no). But hey, Blair's an anthropologist, not a biologist.
  • Strawman News Media: Type 4. Reporters simply broadcast rumors without doing any research. In the last episode the media reports on Jim's super-senses based solely on the previews from Blair's research doctorate.
  • Super-Senses: The whole damn premise of the show. The show's tagline was "Five super senses. One super cop."
  • Uncanceled: After the season three cliffhanger, thank god. (Feelings about the following half-season are mixed, but nobody wanted the show to end with Blair drowned in a fountain.)
  • Vigilante Man: Jim skirts this a couple times. When his favorite informant/little brother figure is killed, Jim uses some questionable methods, including an illegal wire tap, to try in bring the guy(s) down.
    • The in-universe outrage that this provokes is kind of funny in retrospect.
  • Weirdness Magnet: Jim. Since the activation of his Sentinel abilities, he's been contacted by a ghost, sent on vision quests, and pestered by a frickin' spirit panther.
    • Justified to some degree: when Jim asks Simon why he has to deal with every weirdo that wanders into town, Simon says he always assigned Jim the challenging cases because he thought he liked them.
    • As mentioned in other places on this page, Blair attracts as much, if not more.
  • Working with the Ex: Jim's ex-wife worked in the department with him during the first season. She got Put on a Bus before long, though. Somewhat unusually for this trope, Jim and Carolyn got along well together, with their snarky comments toward each other sounding more like friendly ribbing than actual malice. They even went out to dinner on occasion, with no strings attached, having decided they were Better as Friends.