|The things you do right
||[Aug. 1st, 2011|12:52 pm]
There is a drawback to doing something right with your television show that almost no one else is doing, and that is that if you backslide and get that thing wrong, it's more jarring and more upsetting. This happened with Veronica Mars--you cannot have a show that is about consequences and then do the happy Hollywood clean slate out of the blue for an entire sad pathetic season. And there was an episode of Flashpoint that made me think they were screwing up in that way. The remaining episodes in the season corrected for it a bit, so I have every hope that this is not a permanent problem. But I was deeply disappointed in "The Other Lane," and I have a few other issues with Season 3.
I often refer to Flashpoint as a Fantasy of Police Non-Violence. It's a show where the cops really, truly believe in the rule of law, and where any deaths--whether caused by criminals or by Our Heroes of the Strategic Response Unit--have weight and meaning and consequence. When Our Heroes have to kill a murderer or can't stop a suicide, the show does not let the viewer look away from the dead person's family or the effects on the cops themselves. And each time an officer has to shoot someone, there is an investigation into whether it was a "clean" or "good" shooting--whether it followed rule of law. Every single time. Every once in awhile you'll hear a show's thesis statement coming out of the mouths of its characters; in the middle of S3, Wordy says, "That's why I became a cop and not a cowboy," and then later, "We gotta do this the right way." They do. This show attempts to undo the cop show watching instincts that say, "Shoot him! Shoot him already!" and put in their place the murmured, "No, no, oh please no, put the gun down, don't make him/her do it," that we would like to feel.
Except. The episode "The Other Lane." So we've already had the one I made reference to, wherein Wordy is talking to the vigilante about how much he sympathizes, how much he wishes they could just shoot the idiot criminals who have been ruining Wordy's and the vigilante's childhood neighborhood. And as justified as Wordy is, "We gotta do this the right way," have to put the criminals on trial, cannot join their ranks. And then a scant handful of episode later, there's Roy Lane. There's Roy Lane who is a suspended cop, who is explicitly not under cover, who is taking on the arms dealers by himself, who is causing a great deal of trouble for the team. And the episode endorses him. Ed tells his brother that he's proud of him for this behavior. Sam, maneuvered into shooting one of the arms dealers by Roy's bad planning, does not yell at him, does not yell at Ed for supporting him, does not show any signs of being dissatisfied with the situation. "He was gonna shoot a cop," he says, and no one points out--as they would point out in any other episode of this series--that the arms dealer in question was going to shoot a human being, and also that the situation was entirely of Roy's choosing. They don't explore how, exactly, Roy Lane is any different from the neighborhood vigilante--except that Roy is a cop and Ed's brother. And that's really unworthy of the show they've given us so far.
In the last episode, we have a very thorough return to the moral world the show has given us: the team is under attack for hesitating, for waiting too long to shoot a criminal, for Greg Parker believing that someone who has been shooting other human beings can be reached and saved from doing more and worse things. And that it is Greg's belief that is under fire is very explicit in the last episode. But the show could have had the guts here to do something really good, and it flinched a little: the resolution of the final episode didn't take as much responsibility as it should have. We don't always make the right decisions, and when you're erring on the side of X, you don't get to disavow the results of X. So yes, Greg Parker and his entire SRU team are erring on the side of not shooting civilians, of giving people a chance to put their guns down and surrender when their position is hopeless rather than taking out additional people out of spite or insanity. And that means that sometimes their decisions and their best judgment will get one of their co-workers killed--not their coworkers' hesitation or bad timing or poor marksmanship. But the very facts of the job. If it was a really great show, Greg Parker would have said yes. Yes, my approach got your ex-partner, your friend, Brian killed. And it will likely get someone else killed, not by malice or accident the way we lost Lew, but by misjudging a volatile hostage. Yes. That is what I do. I judge volatile people in situations where they have already instituted violence, and I try to get everybody out that situation okay.
Greg often says, "Nobody has to die today." That's one of the show's mantras, right up there with, "Let's keep the peace." But it's only literally true: nobody has to die in the situations they handle. Sometimes someone will choose that someone will die anyway. Sometimes this will even be the right choice. But if you're going to make a show that is a fantasy of police non-violence, you have to acknowledge that there is a down side to trying all the other options first, and if you can only justify your views if there's never a down side, you can't justify your views. They're almost there. They're so close. But they didn't quite make it this season.
(Two other things really bothered me this season: one, in the last episode, I could not believe that Greg was the only one who knew Brian. Sam is the rookie in the first episode, and the others are shown to have been with the team varying amounts of time; at the very least Greg and Ed have very much an old comfortable working relationship. And when Leah gives the team bracelets for Lew, Greg and Ed exchange a look that says, "This is nice, but at this rate we'd look like one of the ethnic groups that wears their wealth as jewelry": both of them have been through this before, and it should have been with Brian. The other thing that bothered me is more ongoing. They killed off Lew, and I liked how that was handled in terms of the death of a teammate having ongoing effects and like that. But. They killed off the one non-white team member. Then his replacement was not only non-white but another woman, and I thought they were going to do stuff with that and Jules, with switching from being the only one to not being that kind of alone/special any more. And then there was an episode where someone said, offhandedly, "Leah's got a family thing," as the reason why Ed had to come in and not leave them shorthanded. And since then? Leah? Who's Leah? Do we know a Leah? Which was bad enough in most episodes, but when they were defending multicultural Canada in the episode with the white supremacists...and not one team member was anything but white...that did not sit very well with me. I started making snide jokes about how Spike is Italian, and some of us still remember ethnic slurs for Italians, so that makes the team multicultural, right? RIGHT? Sigh. I just found that tacky.)