Lou Grant: s04 e19 – Depression


As we roll towards the end of season 4, we’re finishing on a couple of really strong stories. Both halves of the penutimate episode were glued together by our title character but were otherwise separate, but both were personal and affecting stories, well-written, full of nuance and subtle. So what if one of them was left unfinished in the show’s signature manner, this was genuinely  story whose nature would have been betrayed by a wrap-up-in-45-minutes ending.

The primary story, which provided the episode with its title, focussed upon irregular guest star Peter Hobbs, playing veteran reporter, George Driscoll, the Trib’s man on the Police beat (fourth and final appearance). It starts with Driscoll getting into a shouting match with Rossi over the timing of new information that requires Rossi to re-write his piece. Driscoll’s angry and abrasive. It looks like he’s building up to fall off the wagon again. Sure enough, next we hear of him, he’s in the hospital. But he’s behind a Do Not Disturb sign when Lou calls. No, he’s not drying out again. George Driscoll had attempted to commit suicide.

For all the man’s flaws, Lou has vast sympathy for him, as a veteran, as a fellow old reporter, as someone whose thoughts and writing he understands. Puzzled, upset, Lou starts to investigate why Driscoll might have done this.

I don’t want to recite the details. They’re carefully thought-through, they add up to the life of a bright, talented, ambitious man who didn’t get to where he ought to go, who never progressed beyond a certain point, through small flaws, psychological issues imposed by an ‘old school’ father who crippled his son by his refusal to care about him. Reverses hit harder, the future he was fit for didn’t come about. The family life that was damaged, the wife who, it is all but stated, is carrying on an affair, the bright, clever, purposeful daughter estranged. The stuff of ordinary lives that eventually becomes unbearable when you feel that you are living behind glass walls that bar you from others, this I know.

It was a story that had no ending, no promise of a bright future. The closest it came to that was a reconciliation with the daughter, Amanda, in a scene that demonstrated just how bloody good Hobbs was, lay on his side in a hospital bed, shielding himself with shame and embarrassment, to be such in front of a daughter you want never to see you like this. Hobbs said nothing, until the end, when he gave in, but in body and face he was amazing.

So it ended the only way it could, in a beginning. Could amanda’s rediscovered love for her father help rebuild him? Could a final separation from mother Elizabeth be part of the answer, an answer? Not for us to know. But we wished the poor bugger well.

Inevitably, that story overshadowed its parallel, though that too was well-presented and given near equal time. Mrs Pybchon, growing envious of friends who have time to travel abroad, decides to create a new post, that of Executive Editor, someone to create the Trib’s future, help it grow, extend itself and set its own direction. naturally, she turns to her right-hand-man, Charlie Hume… to find a candidate.

This looks like being a guy called Hank Dougherty (James Sloyan), young, bright, forward looking, impressive. But what of Charlie himself? Good old easy-going Charlie, he who smooths out all paths. Charlie is bitterly hurt at not even being thought of, and whilst he puts his energies into securing Mrs Pynchon’s wishes, encouraging and approving of Dougherty, underneath he’s the proverbial smouldering volcano.

Lou sees this. Well, everyone sees this, or at least feels the effects of Charlie’s growing temper, but only Lou knows where it’s coming from, no matter how much Charie denies anything’s wrong.

This one at least could have a more-or-less ending. Lou sits in on the final meeting with Dougherty, studies his designs. All is well, everyone approves, it looks like a done deal, but Lou provokes Charie into an outburst, abut how resentful he is at being passed over, about Dougherty’s ideas being good but the same as one’s he’s proposed before, about change has to be managed gradually, not dumped in the readers’ laps all in one go, about how he’s been doing the job for years without the title and if Mrs Pynchon doesn’t make him Executive Editor, she’ll need a new Managing Editor.

It’s splendidly splenetic, not to mention cathartic, and confusing for poor Mrs Pynchon, who probably won’t get her holidays abroad after all. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!

Good stuff for once and what promises to be a strong season finale to follow. Coming up in seven…

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