It’s tempting to be cautious, given that we’re not yet quite a quarter of the way through the final season, but on the strength of four strong episodes out of five, I’m going to say that Lou Grant is back to form after a dismal Fourth season.
That’s not to say that everything about the latest episode was brilliant. There were three strands, all related to the notion in the episode title, though the third of these hardly qualified as a story, and was evidently something to keep Billie Newman from twiddling her hands throughout the episode.
The episode began with Mike Schrader (Kario Salem), a Trib photographer who isn’t Animal, balking at an assignment because it involved flying in a helicopter. This didn’t go down so well with Lou, and Art Donovan tries to advise him about how you can’t do that, can’t pick and choose assigments on whether you perceive risk of some kind.
Mike is not amenable to advice (he ain’t going nowhere) and challenges him on hypocrisy. Art, who has led a risk-averse life following a childhood under his reckless Navy father, is trying to get out from behind his desk more, and is doing a feature on California’s Mountain Search and Rescue volunteers, but has decided that his story doesn’t need him to rapelle out of a helicopter to be complete.
Art doesn’t see the contradiction then, but it gets beneath his smooth surface and, on the second assignment, he rapelles – and breaks his ankle. Unfortunately, that means he blows a major story for the Trib because he was the man near the scene and now can’t get to the scene. This does not go down well with Lou, who won’t let up when they discuss the need to test themselves.
We’ll sideslip to Billie’s meagre contribution this week, confined to the newsroom, covering for Donovan and the object of the eager, naive and bumbling attentions of junior reporter Lance Reineke (Lance Guest). Lance is training himself to become the first reporter in space, on the NASA shuttle. He bows out because of an inner ear condition. That’s the ‘C’ story, of interest only because of the puzzling moment when she tries to put him off by telling him she’s ‘seeing someone’ and not that she’s married…
But these are the back-up show. The lead story and rightly so involves Joe Rossi, but most of all it involves a return appearance from Sharon McNeill (Lynne Moody), she who was at the centre of the season 4 episode, ‘Rape’. Rossi is put on the track of a possible child pornography story by a school teacher. The source is the custodian, who wired a house for extra electric to accommodate lights and cameras. He’s black, he demands a black reporter be involved, hence Sharon. He gets Confidentiality.
He will only take Sharon to the house. To get the story from a mother who’s an ex-porn star herself and talks bland and blase about the whole, chilling thing, Sharon promises her Confidentiality. The story is brilliant, it creates a massive stir, and a large part of that stir is the urgent desire to rescue a 9 year old girl from that life. Who wouldn’t want that to happen?
But Sharon promised Confidentiality. The Trib sides with her, though Lou, Charlie, even Mrs Pynchon question Sharon’s judgement in offering that at all. The Police lean on her, but Sharon will not concede. Some heavy stuff is laid on her, kept only from being self-righteous by the seriousness of the issue. Sharon cannot find the support she needs, not even from Rossi, who is backing her to the hilt but still not offering a total, blanket approbation.
In the end, details from Sharon’s story enable the teachers to identify little Connie. The Police raid, but the house is empty, everyone moved on, out of reach, out of rescue. A hard ending.
Though Sharon now receives more open support, she’s still in distress. Rossi offers dinner, a simple dinner. It might have been many things but Lynne Moody didn’t appear again, which was a shame because she would have been a good addition to the cast. And the two episodes she starred in were strong, thoughtful and powerful.