Crossing Jordan: The Complexities of Jordan Cavanaugh

Jordan Cavanaugh in Macy's office in Crossing Jordan

Like everyone else, I was looking for shows to watch throughout 2020. One of the shows I got into was Crossing Jordan. I was quickly hooked, particularly on the story of lead character, Jordan Cavanaugh. Played by Jill Hennessy, Jordan was, and remains, a character unlike any other I’ve watched. Her storyline was compelling, and her character was complex. I’m hoping for a revival. Though that hasn’t happened, the cast did recently reunite virtually.

Jordan with her hand extended, mouth open, and Lily to her right with her mouth open in Crossing Jordan

It takes the other characters, and audiences themselves, some time to get to know the real Jordan. Her character developed significantly over the six years she was on the air. The reason why she was the way she was became clearer as time went on, and she managed to heal a few hurts along the way. She was bold and direct; she once kissed Woody’s girlfriend, and then Woody, to prove a point. She didn’t really seem to hold grudges, even against Woody’s girlfriend, Lu (Leslie Bibb), though Lu had been convinced Jordan was a murderer and was set on arresting her at one point.

The show wasn’t always serious; it had some humorous storylines, like the time Lily (Kathryn Hahn) and Jordan chased after someone who had stolen a corpse. The show dealt with several serious subjects that made for heartbreaking episodes, but with lighter storylines and Jordan’s sarcastic tendencies, the show provided a balance.

Meeting Jordan Cavanaugh and Her Relationship With Garret

Of all the places to start, Jordan was in an anger management class in the very first episode. Initially, I wasn’t sure what to make of her character—was she always so abrasive? I recall thinking that it was a risky choice on the part of the writers, though as I kept watching, I understood. She was more than what she let people see on the surface; there was a world of anger and hurt buried inside her, but there was also a genuine kindness, too.

Jordan clearly has a temper; she’s feisty even in anger management. She’s unapologetic for the reason why she ended up there—that being that she kicked her boss between the legs. Luckily for her, she’s offered her old job back in Boston, so she boards a plane and flies across the country from Los Angeles to start over. Imagine the strain in the workplace had she stayed in LA!

Garret and Jordan sitting beside each other in a crashed plane in Crossing Jordan

She’s certainly not afraid to step on people’s toes, even if it’s her boss, Garret Macy (Miguel Ferrer). One of my favorite episodes between them is a flashback to when they first met. Jordan was working in a hospital, trying to realize her dream of becoming a cardiovascular surgeon. Macy suspected the doctor that Jordan was working with had messed up the surgery, and he pursued Jordan, wanting the truth from her. She was reluctant to turn in her boss, and when she finally did, her worst fears came true when she was fired and the doctor assured her that she would be blacklisted, unable to realize her dream.

The other noteworthy aspect of that particular episode is Jordan’s mental health. After being fired and essentially barred from her dream career, Jordan swallowed too many pills and downed them with alcohol. Her father rushed her to the hospital, and the same doctor that fired her saved her life. However, I thought the incident was a major insight into Jordan’s mental health. One of the things that is gradually revealed in the series is the death of Jordan’s mother, Emily, and Emily’s mental state prior to her death. Jordan had a recurring dream about a particular incident she witnessed, and until she finally looked beyond where her dream usually came to an end, she couldn’t remember what actually happened. That being that her mother was trying to hurt herself.

It’s an awful event to witness, especially for a child to see their mother that way. Emily had her struggles, and in some ways, I think those passed on to Jordan. She struggled in her own manner, and I think the incident in which Jordan nearly died was one of those instances. It seemed both accidental and intentional, as though she knew what she was doing somewhere deep down and didn’t care, but at the same time, she just wanted the pain to stop temporarily. My interpretation of that was that Jordan had just had her whole world taken away from her, and she didn’t know what to do with it, or how to process it. Life as she knew it was over. Yet, when she later woke up, she was regretful of what had happened—she still wanted to live.

Jordan with her hand up and Macy beside her in Crossing Jordan

Garret also came through for her, just as he always does throughout the series. He offered her a position at the medical examiner’s office, and it gave Jordan a renewed purpose, a new strength. She even rejected the offer to get her old job back to take Garret’s offer. She’d worked hard to pursue her dream, but sometimes dreams change, and when Jordan felt lost, Garret offered directions. Their relationship was special; they saved each other more than once, and the emotional moment shared between them in the series’ finale emphasizes that.

Jordan’s Family History

One of the interesting aspects of Jordan’s relationship with her father is their “game.” It began when Jordan was little, and she and her father Max (Ken Howard) would reenact whatever crime he was looking into, with one playing the victim and the other playing the criminal. Now, exposing a child to gory crimes is pretty dysfunctional, but Jordan doesn’t view it that way. It was her way of connecting with her father, especially after her mother was murdered. Perhaps by reenacting other people’s crimes, the two found it easier to avoid the crime that had taken place in their own lives.

She and her father are very close, and she previously expressed how terrified she was to find him as a suspect in her mother’s murder. She didn’t blame him—she just wanted to be with him, and the entire event naturally scarred her as a child. Still, there are some dysfunctional elements between them that go beyond their “game.” Max doesn’t always tell Jordan everything, whether it be the results of his tests or the fact that she has an older half-brother. Jordan was already sick of not knowing who murdered her mother; more secrets was the last thing she ever needed. Plus, the two kind of fell out of one another’s lives, their relationship suffering, especially since Max wasn’t around in the later seasons. In several ways, Garret was Jordan’s father figure; he was certainly better for Jordan.

In addition, Evelyn, Max’s girlfriend, certainly strained their relationship. Evelyn was trying to help Max, but she failed to acknowledge a history he had with Jordan, including their “game,” and it caused some fights and hardship none of them needed.

Woody and Jordan sitting next to each other on a plane with Garret looking at them from over the seat in Crossing Jordan

Learning about her mother’s mental illness later in life scars Jordan as well. She avoids sleep, and she almost seems to embrace her mother for a moment, donning her sunglasses, and also reads the horrifying thoughts her mother wrote in her journal. Later, though, she confesses that she’s afraid she’ll end up like her. Jordan’s afraid of history repeating itself. No one is perfect, and everyone has their struggles—but what Jordan learns is that she is not her mother. She is not destined for the same fate, and she certainly handles things differently.

Still, her mother’s death haunts her. It’s probably part of the reason why Jordan has a tendency to run when things get out of her control. It’s the driving force behind why Jordan contains so much passion for solving crimes. She solves the crimes that she can, while the one crime she wishes to solve the most weighs heavily upon her shoulders. She wants answers, and she’s not afraid to cross others or break the rules to give other people the answers she never received. She genuinely cares, and she’ll put herself in danger to do it. Take for instance the episode, “Under the Weather.” Though she was sick, she was dedicated to the case, and she even wound up trapped in an abandoned mine. Her actions saved the lives of the young boys trapped there, and she is the one to ensure they all survive. She’s a fighter, and refuses to be taken down by flu or by impossible circumstances. She makes the impossible possible.

Jordan holding something and looking down while in her apartment in Crossing Jordan

To some degree, her obsession is concerning as she can risk too much at times, but at the same time, it’s admirable. Few people care as much as Jordan does, and it shows that her anger and frustration is really out of empathy, even love. She feels for the people she helps, and she herself probably feels a certain amount of peace.

Jordan thinks and acts more like a cop than a medical examiner—likely due to her father’s influence, given he was a former cop. The way she makes a living is gory, but she manages to compartmentalize it somehow. The horror will get to her from time to time, but she still shows up for work, putting in overtime more often than not. She’s rare, and it’s because of the way she grew up. She wants to save people, she wants to bring them peace, and she doesn’t want anyone else to suffer the way she had to.

Jordan’s Relationships

She and Woody (Jerry O’Connell) started as friends, though it became clear that Woody wanted more. Jordan as well, but not to the same extent. Jordan doesn’t really commit to relationships—she was nervous when an old boyfriend from LA was prepared to stay in Boston with her. It likely has something to do with her past—her parents struggled, especially given her mother’s mental illness, and it ended badly with Emily’s death. Jordan’s family was broken after that, and she had a hard time trusting others to not hurt her the same way.

I always thought things took too long to heat up between Woody and Jordan. Woody did wait a long time, hoping she would change her mind. She doesn’t take a chance or a risk in her personal life in that regard; she’ll take all kinds of risks in her professional life, but she’s the complete opposite outside of work. That tells me that her life means more to her than her work, and that any big changes in her personal life scare her, so she doesn’t risk complications there as a result.

Jordan and Woody standing awkwardly in an elevator in Crossing Jordan

She finally admitted that she loved Woody when she thought they were going to die in the series finale, but I wish something would’ve happened between them that ensured a serious relationship long before that. She did confess her feelings for him when he was shot in a previous season, but believing she did so out of pity, Woody angrily turned her down. Later, they slept together, but neither of them did anything about that, either. It’s always when death is apparent that Jordan dares to tell Woody how she feels—living scares her, and that’s why she feels more comfortable saying something when mortality is at hand.

Part of me wonders if she should’ve ended up with Danny McCoy (Josh Duhamel) of Las VegasCrossing Jordan and Las Vegas shared a few crossover episodes throughout the years, and he and Jordan had a chemistry that could’ve gone somewhere—in some ways, I thought they clicked better than Jordan and Woody. It wasn’t meant to be, but it’s one of those what if questions that lingers on my mind.


I love Jordan Cavanaugh. Jill Hennessy made her real—the kind of character that doesn’t fade from audience’s minds. The show has been off the air for 14 years now, but I like to imagine that, if the characters were revisited today, Jordan would have found a happy ending with Woody, and maybe she’d be running the medical examiner’s office by now. After all, as the series went on, Jordan did learn to better her temper, and became friendlier and more outgoing as time went on. Garret probably would’ve passed the reigns to her at some point; he was her “bestest girlfriend,” and they shared a love for one another. Plus, they weren’t afraid to call each other out for their crap.

Jordan looking serious while looking up in Crossing Jordan

Jordan had layers; each layer reveals something different about her. She’s both an open book and a keeper of secrets. She’s beautifully raw and human; she makes mistakes and she struggles. In the final season, she even found herself dealing with a tumor in her brain. While she feared the outcome of surgery, she had her friends rallying around her—it showed how far she’d come since the beginning of the series, and it showed how much she was loved. She’s been through a lot in her life, but she always gets up and fights. That’s who she is. She’ll fight for herself, and she’ll fight for everything and everyone else, whether they allow it or not.

She’s a hero, but she’d never take the title. She just does what’s right, even if it’s hard, and even if it may negatively affect her own life. She knows she’ll make it through, because she’s not alone, and because she’s stronger than whatever is trying to break her.

Written by Kacie Lillejord

Kacie is a freelance writer versed in various forms. She loves pop culture, screenwriting, novels, and poetry. She has previously written for The Daily Wildcat, Harness Magazine, Cultured Vultures, and Screen Rant, with 25YL being her newest writing venture.

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  1. Great essay. I recently got into watching Crossing Jordan on Roku. I watched most of the show when it originally aired. Though I admit I got more out of it binge watching. I love the complexities of the character and I Henessey does a phenomenal job bring her to life. I too wish they would do revival like they did with Gilmore Girls and other shows. I think it would do well.

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