Due South: s02 e16 – The Duel

Due South

With the exception of one small element, which was pleasant enough in its own way but out-of-place, this was a wholly excellent episode, centring for once on Ray Vecchio. It was also almost completely serious, with minimal comedy and that virtually restricted to the backchat between our Chicago Detective and our Canadian Mountie.

It was the kind of episode that depended on very clever scripting, less in the dialogue than in the plotting. The title tells us what to expect, a battle of wits between detective and criminal. It’s not an original notion: Detective gets criminal put away, he protests that he was framed, too clever to have made the mistake that cost him his freedom, begins a campaign of threat against the detective and everyone connected to him, meanwhile the original investigation is reviewed and it is strongly hinted that the detective may have crossed the line… Who will win the battle of wits?

If it were a film, we’d be psychologically prepared for the twist that the detective did indeed set up the ‘evidence’ but in a television series when said detective is one of the two stars, we know that Ray is going to be cleared by the end, that he is and will always have been clean. The thrill is of how it all plays out, how the criminal, here Charles Carver (Colm Feore), is seen to be on top throughout, far smarter than Vecchio, who is not only out of his depth in this battle but who confesses it, yet when it comes to the extreme crunch, comes up with the bluff that fools the crininal into tripping himself up and being exposed.

The fun is in the ingenuity. In this case, it all starts with a parole hearing after eight years imprisonment that Ray, as arresting officer, has to attend, smugly certain that it’s all a foregone conclusion. Carver is dirty. He was arrested and convicted for arson thanks to a dislodged heel that matched his shoes, found by Ray after Arson had combed the site and found nothing. Carver was convicted for arson but not just Ray suspects him of at least two murders of women he exploited and abused.

The game begins when Carver gets his parole. Feore is excellent in the part, conspicuously clever and driven by a desire for revenge against Ray for the outrage of having beaten him, as much by the fact that it will tuen out that the convicting evidence was planted, just not by Ray. He’s outwardly cool, smug, waging a slow burn campaign clued by toys sent to or left with or for Ray.

The first step is comic. Assistant States Attorney Madeline Carnes (Lisa Houle), who was present at the parole hearing to hear Vecchio call Carver a turkey is enjoying a refreshing, extended, soap-heavy soft-porn shower when a turkey leg descends to scare the shit out of her, though not to the extent that we see anything that shouldn’t be seen on network tv (this is the false step: Ms Houle spent some time oversoaping arms, shoulders, legs, all golden and naked, which appealed to weaker instincts but it was all too blatant and incongruous against the rest of the episode).

At first Vecchio thinks the campaign is against people involved with the original bust – his then-Partner Laurie Zaylor, his supervisor Will Kelly – but we know better and, when Carver delivers flowers to his sister Francesca on her birthday, ostensibly for her birthday, he twigs that it is about people connected to him.

Each time it’s a toy and Ray, with Bennie, has to figure out what the toy – a Kenwood bus, a boat called Bookem, a baby carriage – means and who it threatens. Each time they do, and no-one gets hurt. Carver taunts but evades leaving tracks, Ray grows despondent. Carver is smarter than him, he doesn’t do puzzles, not this kind of conspicuously smart kind. Meanwhile, the Internal Affairs investigation gets closerto spotlighting him as a dirty cop.

Only it wasn’t him. Benny picks up on the vital clue, the manipulation, the attitude of every suspect is guilty of something, and spots that it was a frame but by Will Kelly, but by then Carver has doped and captured him and Diefenbaker, and Ray on his own has to figure out how, and where.

And when it mattered he did it. Not just where Benny is, and how he and the wolf are going to be killed, but he has the smarts to act his part, set up a trap, play the victim in a way that leads Carver to assert his superiority and give himself away for one of those unprovable murders. Game, set and match.

As I said, it’s a familiar story shape, and the episode didn’t travel far from it, but the trick is in making it new again, in being clever enough to capture and hold attention even though experience tells us how it will end. This episode worked beautifully. And, in view of the big change coming up very shortly, it was good to see Ray Vecchio, the fall guy, taking the spotlight for once and being right from start to finish.

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