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The Librarians's New Big Bad Is Not Bad At All

Dealing with an ancient, all-powerful Egyptian god of chaos is one thing, but the Librarians are going to have their hands full with Vanessa Williams.

Okay, so The Librarians is back, and the third-season premiere is...not good. I'd like to blame this on the stubbornly ongoing presence of my least favorite semi-regular character, Noah Wyle's Flynn Carsen, but I have to admit that he's settled down quite a bit since last season and is thus considerably less grating. So it's mostly just the usual stuff about the show that bothered me. The plot is pretty cookie-cutter, with the team racing to recover some magical MacGuffin before the bad guy does. The special effects budget looks to have grown, but it's being spent on creating more and bigger effects instead of better ones. At least a third of the cast is actively annoying at any given moment. And the allegedly triumphant scene where the team demonstrates its cohesion by extemporaneously harmonizing "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic" made me embarrassed enough to cringe clear through my sofa cushions.

There is, however, one element of the episode that clicks really well. It looks as if the Librarians will be coming up against a stereotypically shadowy government agency with an un-stereotypical name: the Department of Statistical Anomalies. But it's not DOSA's buffoons in black that made the hour worthwhile: it's their leader, a general played by Vanessa Williams.

Here's where one is all but contractually required to ask, "The Vanessa Williams or the other Vanessa Williams?" And given that this is The Librarians, that would be an eminently fair question. After all, The Flash had to make do with the other Vanessa Williams, the one from Melrose Place and...well, other stuff that you might have watched because you thought it might feature the Vanessa Williams. And The Flash is a much better show than this is. But no, The Librarians has scored the Vanessa Williams. The one from Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives and Soul Food and Shall We Dance and Eraser and Shaft. The one who had to be billed as Vanessa L. Williams for a while to avoid confusion with the other Vanessa Williams, as if such confusion wouldn't be entirely to the other Vanessa Williams's benefit. The one who appears to have simply dropped the L at this point, because nobody makes the Vanessa Williams do anything.

Pop quiz: name another former Miss America. Maybe you can come up with one other name, because she's been in the news lately. But Vanessa Williams is almost certainly the most famous Miss America ever, to the point where her crown itself has receded far into memory; it was over three decades ago, after all. While she's not an EGOT winner, her song from Pocahontas won an Academy Award and she's been nominated for the other three. She is a formidable individual.

Which makes her new character on The Librarians an excellent fit, and a more than worthy opponent for Colonel Baird. While Rebecca Romijn (Williams's former Ugly Betty colleague) hasn't quite completed the transition from ex-supermodel ingénue to believable authority figure, Williams has more than accomplished said transition and could probably loop back a few times without breaking a sweat. Plus general outranks colonel, as if we needed any more of an argument.

And, to be fair, Williams almost certainly benefited from being separate from the main action of the season premiere. As I've suggested before, The Librarians does B-plots much better than A-plots, and she was barely in this episode at all. It's probably only a matter of time before she gets sucked down toward the level of the rest of the show. Like, there are already more than enough long, pedantic speeches coming from the main cast without her having to add her own showoffy dissertation about an ancient naval battle just to accuse a witness of lying. On the other hand, however, she pulls it off as easily as if she's been on this show all along.

Typically, the Dealmaker is someone you follow anywhere, but with 66 acting credits just on IMDb, dating back to the 1980s, that would be a long-term project. But one is confident that each of those works fortunate enough to feature Williams was improved by her presence. In the case of the third season of The Librarians, that seems certain to be an understatement.

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