Due South: s04 e05 – The Ladies Man

Due South

Episode 5 on the DVD, episode 3 in imdb. Shrug squared.

You’ll have to be patient with me today as, more than usual, this post will be a working out of my response to this episode. On the one hand, ‘The Ladies Man’ was a strong, serious and in places very emotional story, in which certain beats were predictable, but played very clever with its climax, setting up a clear and obvious villain but springing the real culprit upon us with deftness and skill. On the other hand, I have all but lost faith in Due South as a series, now it’s in its final season, and there were elements to this episode that put me off it irreversibly before it got to the really good bits. Especially the incredibly powerful close. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.

For the most part, the episode avoided levity. Such as there was was confined mostly to the open. We began with a glimpse of a headline about someone named Beth Botrelle being executed in two days time, before Fraser and Ray have their walk interrupted by a street incident that is written to set-up the closng line in which Ray, having responded violently to a man who’s threatened his life, is told by Fraser that he’s no killer, drawing the reply: ‘Oh yeah, well in two days I will have.’

It’s a good line to take into the credits, though it exposed the structuring of the open a bit too blatantly, at least to my increasingly cynical eyes. But the story it led into was very serious and the episode was right to avoid eccentricity after that (it could have stood losing the season 4 meme of having Fraser describe why he’s in Chicago in the first place, which we get every week now and had twice here, as if the writer forgot they’d already done it early on).

The person Ray’s guilty about is the aforementioned Beth Botrelle (Dixie Seatle). Eight years ago, she was Ray’s first big case as a rookie, in effect the foundation of his career. Ray was first responder to a call that took him to the Botrelle household where he found the body of Detective Jake Botrelle, and Beth, his wife who had previously publicly threatened to kill him over his philandering, cowering in the shower. Beth was convicted. The station is rejoicing at her imminent execution by lethal injection, she being a cop-killer. Dewey is being rankly offensive about the whole thing because that’s his thing, the utter jerk.

But Ray is disturbed about the whole thing. We’re left to infer that this is his first collar that’s going to lead to the death penalty and that’s what’s preying on his mind. Did he get it right? Initially, it’s more of a general malaise than any conviction that something was wrong, until he visits Beth in prison and she tells him she did it. Ray realises that she’s lying to him, to make him feel better and, with only 48 hours in which to act, and with everyone but Fraser against him, re-opens the investigation.

Of course there’s more to it. The show set up two plausible suspects, Sam Franklin (Bill McDonald), the Detective on the case, and DA with ambitions to become Governor Robert Bedford (Art Hindle). It leaned heavily towards the DA, suggesting that Botrelle was killed because he had been sleeping with Bedford’s wife (no evidence offered, just a plausible possibility), putting up Franklin as an early lightning rod for the experienced audiences’ anticipations, and then pulled Franklin out as the real villain, suppressing the evidence that Botrelle had actually committed suicide on Bedford threatening to expose him for taking kickbacks. A neatly worked out plot.

But that is merely what happened. Where the episode went on to be important was in the stakes, and in particular the hell in which Beth Botrelle had been incarcerated for eight years. Convicted, wrongly, of murdering her husband. Sentenced to death. The object of hatred, loathing and the peculiar nastiness of people like Dewey. Four times taken to the death chamber, four times reprieved, cat and mouse like, temporarily. The episode didn’t have to do much more than show us this in order for us to feel the implacable horror. Seatle was brilliant in the role, conveying the drained-out emotion of the victim without the least histrionics, though the show dipped towards that, somewhat, in cross-cutting between the showdown with Bedford and Franklin and Botrelle being strapped to the gurney, the hypodermic ready and the clock ticking.

But it went above and beyond in the close. Beth Botrelle, freed, her life handed back to her, wants Ray to show her what he found that night eight years ago, Jake’s body, the piece of paper, where he found her. In a strange but human way it releases her, even as she absolves Ray of everything that happened. It’s a transfixing moment, and the episode ends with Ray returning silently to his car, where Fraser awaits, and starting to sob.

Reading what I’ve written thus far annoys me over my lack of receptiveness during the watching of this episode. I simply didn’t respond as I should have. It’s true that there were certain flaws which, given my growing cynicism about this final series, i should have been able to acknowledge as merely flaws, not totally distancing reactions, given that only one of them was substantial.

To put things very briefly, the plot was sloppy in never explaining what Beth Botrelle was doing in the house and why she was in the shower. For another, in turning Franklin into its rabbit out of the hat, it was never made clear whether this completely exonerated Bedford – which would have been the smart twist, to have had him innocent all along and merely genuinely zealous for justice – or whether he and Franklin were partners.

But the biggest flaw was Detective Ray Vecchio, or rather Detective Staley Raymond Kowalski. Let us not forget that, since the beginning of season 3, the preise is that actual Detective Vecchio is in deep undercover within the Mafia and that, in order to protect his identity, Detective Kowalski has stepped into his life, taking his name, playing his role, a fact acknowledged but never discussed by those directly aware of the substitution. That factor was strictly maintained throughout season 3, and has been adverted to this season, but it’s been allowed to drift very much into the background.

The moment this episode flashed back to eight years previously, I began to worry about it. Ray wasn’t Vecchio then, he was Kowalski. It was a matter of public record that’s who he was. Beth Botrelle knew his real name, and her lawyer had to. Both Franklin and Bedford addressed Ray as Kowalski. It trashed the idea of continuity, and there was no mention of the fictional situation. So is Ray now Kowalski again? What about Vecchio? In imdb capsule summaries of episodes later in this season I notice that the character is named as Stanley. The reality of the series is suddenly ripped up on a fundamental level, and there was no way around it. So many people outside the inner loyal circle know the truth. Logic demands that RealRay’s body appear very shortly because, FFS, the situation draws attention to itself and practical signals that something is being covered up. Even comic books operate on better logic than this.

So, very much a mixed response to this episode. Ultimately, it would have worked far better as a standalone, a ninety minute movie with space to deal with the shortcuts, beholden to no existing continuity. But that’s not what it was. I wish I was better disposed to this final season than I already am, and that’s before we get to the silly stuff.

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