The episode’s sub-title tells you all you need to know about where this week’s episode is going to spend it’s time. Frank Capra directed great American feelgood films, and not in the way the term’s usually used today. Feelgood was the little man, the pure, idealistic common man, standing up for what is right, in the face of the overwhelming force of the rich, the powerful and the indifferent to what is right, and fair, and just. If you’re not thinking of It’s a Wonderful Life by now, whyever not?
But it’s not that classic that the episode is mentally streaming this week, but Capra’s Mr Smith Goes To Washington, also starring Jimmy Stewart, and if you know that film you know what to expect as the episode’s climax. But, as I have often made this point when discussing the difference between Forties films and those of later years, don’t expect to be taken in the way Capra took us in, and takes us in still.
Let me set out the situation. Firstly, despite his character’s death last week, Daniel Kash’s name remains in the credits, but all the supporting Cast are offscreen this weelk, and the only link to last week is Ray Vecchio on the lookout for another green 1972 Buick and mentioning that the last one got blown up. Benton Fraser is leading a clean out at his slum of an apartment building: the Landlord, Mr Potter (and if you know It’s a Wonderful Life…) is selling it to John Taylor, a rich developer, and Fraser, who thinks Taylor will be a better, kinder, more caring landlord, is leading his neighbours in some very vigorous sprucing up.
Fraser, who shows himself to be very insightful in terms of analysing crime situations, is otherwise almost impossibly naive – and interesting combination – and has got it completely wrong. Via the sleazy, rat-like Building Supervisor Dennis (Dominic Cuzzocrea), Taylor serves notice to increase the rent by $1,000 per month. All above board and legal. The fact that no-one can afford this is immaterial. Taylor has bought four tenements on this block. He intends to buy up six blocks, raze them and build condominums. Social gentrification. Very Nineties.
Of course, you can’t raze buildings if there are people living in them so first there are the eviction notices then those wonderful little tricks landlords play, like shutting off the heat, the water, the electric and moving in a trio of thugs to terrorise anyone who hasn’t yet left. It’s all legal. I mean, it isn’t, obviously, especially the last bit but whilst it’s not a legal principle, Might makes Right is way too often a legal fact.
Fraser’s in the middle of this. He’s gotten his neighbours into this and he sees it as his obligation on that all-important moral level to get them out of it. Just because the odds are insuperable…
This is where the story goes slightly off the rails. In order to garner publicity, Fraser turns to journalist McKenzie King (Maria Bello, later to star in both E.R. and NCIS). Both he and Ray refer to her as if they have had previous dealings with her that have, what else, prejudiced her against Fraser, and besides the character is named after the Canadian Prime Minister during the Second World War (though that one was a bloke). Except that imdb reveals this to be her only appearance in the series, so it confused for a long time over why she was put forward as having appeared previously in an episode that I temporarily couldn’t recall.
Anyway. Things come to a double head when the three thugs cut the elevator cable whilst a woman and her young daughter are in the car. It’s a brilliant sequence, as the ancient machinery breaks down bit by bit in a convincing matter, ratchetting up the danger, whilst Fraser struggles to get both the girl and her mother – and finally himself – out before the car drops to the basement and the death of anyone still in it.
It’s a turning point, though we don’t have that telegraphed. The next stage is the Mr Smith Goes To Wahington bit, where Fraser, as a last resort, pleads for justice and fairness before a clearly indifferent City Council who have been greased by Taylor and, when refused so much as an answer, starts a filibuster. Thank you, kindly, indeed, Mr Capra.
Of course he wins. We haven’t watched 30 episodes of Due South by now without knowing that’s what will happen. And Fraser does indeed win over the Council to his side, implausible as that is, by telling the story of how his grandmother saved the children of an Inuitvillage from death in a fire, and sustained serious burns herself, because she insisted upon holding to the idea of doing what was right. But this is 1995, not 1940, and no-one believes such things can ever happen, not any more.
No, the real saving grace is Dennis, the sleazebag. Who saw the lift incident and experienced a Road to Damascus moment. Who comes before the City Council having ‘found’ a Lease, his Lease, granted him by Mr Potter, 10 years, no rent increases, four years unexpired. It provides the City Council with grounds, other than the goodness of their hearts, to revoke all Taylor’s permits, until further notice, thus enabling the tenants to return. Awww!
Ms King goes on her way, for no easily discernible reason except perhaps for the fact that Taylor owns her newspaper, telling Fraser not to come near her again, which he didn’t, which was a shame because, although her part wasn’t that well defined, she brought enough vigour to it for me to like her. Fraser’s neighbours rally round to help clear up his apartment which got smashed during the fight with the thugs.
But we ended on something that had absolutely no connection to the story, and which stood out like the proverbial sore thumb for having nothing to do with anything. Ray’s looking at replacing the Buick and goes to his cousin Al’s motor shop. A dark-haired woman called Angie pops in, needing her car fixing. She and Ray seem awkward with each other, though she’s the more relaxed. Ray doesn’t want to talk about her but, when she’s seen again, fleetingly, tells Fraser that she’s his ex-wife (and she’s played by Katayoun Amini, better known as Katayoun Marciano, David Marciano’s real life wife).
The episode ends on a flashback to Ray and Angie sitting in Ray’s first Buick, not-arguing about his blowing their savings on it. What it’s all about is impossible to tell. It’s true to life in that odd encounters with old fruends and lovers do occasionally happen and they usually have no bearing on what you’re doing at the time, but it’s not true to professional primetime television series. Katayoun Amini does appear once more, in this series, but not for several weeks so it’s not as if this is a case of foreshadowing – which is not one of Due South‘s bag of tricks to begin with.
Nevertheless, and having due regard to the sugariness with which any tribute to Capra is necessarily invested, I did enjoy the episode without considering it great in any way, except the elevator sequence. And I did like Ms McKenzie King.