Uncollected Thoughts: Game of Thrones – the final episode

Hell’s Bells, he was good

Way back in the back end of the 1990s and thestart of the 2000s, when I was a George R R Martin fan and had all his books (even the vampire one which I didn’t like because I don’t dig horror), I borrowed the first three A Song of Fire and Ice books from the library, long before anyone ever thought of making a TV series out of them.

The first two I read back-to-back and thought they were all right, but the third went on forever. I stuck it out but concluded life was entirely too short. As evidenced by the fact that in the intervening twenty years, he’s only completed two more of the total seven.

By the time Game of Thrones first appeared, I had jut started working for my present employers. Because I’d had such a deadening experience with the books, I had no interest in watching the series, but a high proportion of my colleagues took it up. The only thing I could remember from my reading was that Ned Stark (Sean Bean) got his head chopped off. I didn’t know whether Game of Thrones would follow through on that so I kept my mouth shut until it did, rather than deliver the only spoiler I had.

And I’ve never bothered with the series at any time, except to occasionally take the piss over the non-publication of Book 6, both before and after the series entered into its territory unguided. My time is limited, I have to make an effort to watch any TV series, I have other priorities and I just wasn’t interested enough. Or at all.

This afternoon, due to my team winning a Game of Thrones oriented competition (without my assistance), our reward was an extended period off the phones in our plush Cinema Room, watching the final episode. I found the idea irresistible, that my only episode of such a sweeping, long-running series should be its last.

So I sat and watched in silent absorption (apart from the occasional chuckle) with only the most minimal knowledge of context, i.e., that Danaerys Targaryen had just burned King’s Landing to the ground, killing Cersei and Jamie Lannister.

The episode opened on Peter Dinklage, as Tyrion Lannister, walking through the ruins of the town. It was a smouldering winter scene, though I needed to be told afterwards that that grey stuff everywhere was not actually snow, but ash. I should have realised for myself. The effect was, quite intentionally, taken from Hiroshima. And I want to say straight away that Peter Dinklage was immense, that his every second of performance was so completely right that I understood every thought of his without knowledge of his history.

It was clear from the first moment that Tyrion was in shock, that everyone was in shock, that the world in which they lived had been rammed into a brick wall and the brick wall had stood and they had shattered. This episode was about shock, about aftershock and aftermath, about what shape the new world would take.

How that would develop was equally clearly dependent solely upon Daenerys, and by God the girl clearly was as mad as a jam butty. Emilia Clarke looked confident and clear but the light of inviolable fanaticism shown out of her eyes with enough force to melt a Polar ice cap. Given that she had a dragon at her back, it was equally plain that the only way to stop her was the way Jon Snow stopped her, with a dagger through the heart: that at least was one thing he did know.

What remained was rearranging the world to cope with the aftershock, and to try so far as it was possible with such people in charge of it, to stop anything like the series from every happening again. People fell upwards into positions unexpected, from which Westeros might or might not profit. Were George R R Martin about half his age, maybe a sequel series could tell us if the weary optimism of the finale or the realistic pessimism of life would prevail, but he hasn’t got near finishing the first series yet, and from my position on the sidelines, I’ve long since been convinced he never will.

For now it felt fitting. It was slow to the point of being stately, as opposed to being funereal, and my total ignorance of who was who and what they’d done on the way here was no bar to understanding the episode in its own lights. Now I’ve watched it, I’ve already had half a dozen opinions on this episode from dedicated fans who get here the hard way, but I’ve got to say I enjoyed it.

Not enough yet to make me want to undermine the purity of the experience by watching any more of them. In a different world, with complete leisure time in the aftermath of the fabled Euromillions Lottery win, maybe. Maybe after Breaking Bad at least.


Lou Grant: s02 e02 – Prisoner

The band-aid

From the moment of the first shot, I recognised this latest episode of Lou Grant as  one of those few I recalled from its originl transmission. It made an impact on me then, to be remembered so long, and it still makes an impact now, especially for the equivocal way it ended.

That opening shot is a noose, in a dark room, a half-seen man, looking rough and ill-dressed. Two men in military uniforms enter, seize him, force him over to the noose, put his head in it. He’s screaming. He’s Charlie Hume.

The scene is a dream, a nightmare rather. Charlie wakes up in bed, screaming what he’s screaming in the cell. There will be two more such flashbacks (flashbacks always come in threes on American TV), in one of which a gun is put to his head, and in another he is being fed some sort of thick gruel, whose flavour comes from the cockroaches crawling all over it.

Why is Charlie undergoing torture? That’s what the episode is about. We learn that it happened fifteen years ago, in a small Latin American country called Malagua, ruled by General Barrojo, an unequivocally fascistic dictator. This is of direct relevance today because Malagua’s First Lady (who is the old General’s at least third wife) is visiting  LA, in the company of her good friend, Margaret Pynchon, inspecting a Children’s Hospital. Billie and Animal are reporting in the visit, there are pro-‘Amandita’ placards being waved, it’s all very nice.

Then anti-Barrojo protesters, their faces disguised by some very rigid and professional looking  paper bags, disrupt proceedings, causing a running battle. Lou’s interested in following up the story, Charlie doesn’t want to give it any play whatsoever.

The advantage of a series set in a newspaper is that it can encompass great swathes of exposition in a natural fashion. Billie follows the protesters, who are students, who include people who have been subjected to torture in a horror land of Secret Police, absolute repression, the taking without charge, torturing and killing of dissidents. There is one scene where, depending upon your sensitivities, either you hear a painful tale of torture and death, to the point where the teller is glad, genuinely glad, that his pretty young wife is dead, because then she has escaped the torture, or else you are being shamelessly manipulated: the truth is a mixture of both, though the scene’s power is undiminished and, if you are opposed to dictatorship and the free ability to indulge is cruelty, brutality and treating those you hate as things to be ground under your heel, you will mind no amount of manipulation.

On the other hand, horses for courses, Rossi is pursuing the pro-Amandita brigade. It’s an irony the show leaves for its audience to work out, but where the antis are dismissed as professional agitators, agents of foreign governments (presumably Communist) paid to destabilise Malagua, the pros are artificial: Malaguan Air Cadets, ordered into civvies, and bussed in by a Malaguan businessman.

The talk is so familiar, typical of an era that has started to fade. The businessman, smmugly promoting his country, dismissing the least criticism as either the work of paid liars or, with a shrug, a necessary consequence of progress. It’s the omelette and eggs argument all over again, which is only ever employed by those confident of never beingan egg. There’s even a slightly more sophisticated version of the old “My people are not yet ready for democracy, senor” line.

Woven into this is Charlie, bottlingup experiences from fifteen years ago that no-one except his wife, Margaret, knows of. He’s trying tokeep it bottled up still, dismissing the importance of the story whilst Lou is digging deep into it. It’s only when he’s forced to attend a Reception for Amanda Barrojo, organised by Mrs Pynchon, that it comes out: Charlie gets crocked and confronts the First Lady with what Malagua does, outraging her, causing her to leave in embarrrassment.

Charlie doesn’t turn up for work next day. He’s tending his plants (self-imposed gardening leave) and wants Lou to deliver the letter of resignation he’s written. Maybe he’ll go back to freelancing? So Lou commissions him to write an article. About being held in a Malaguan prison for five weeks, being mentally tortured, about mock-executions staged every day, about the fear of death every day, about being an ordinary, everyday human and being pants-wettng scared, and about coming out blaming yourself for being scared, a coward.

Another reminder of the times was the budget meeting over whether or not to run the story. Everybody but Lou is agin it, and the weasel arguments may well be the words of 1979 and we are in an era of shamelessness when it comes to defending dictatorships who are our allies against the Red Menace, but every word said, down to the idea that the Trib shouldn’t single out Malagua for torture when over 100 countries in the world regularly use torture, was a horrible reminder of the apologists we suffered then.

The story ran. Charlie mandated it, expecting it to be his last act as Managing Editor, only Mrs Pynchon wouldn’t accept his reignation. Still the story played out. Mrs Barrojo rejected the story absolutely as lies, accounts she does not recognise. Heavy-hearted at the end of their friendship, Mrs Pynchon arranges for Amandita to meet her accusers face-to-face, or face to professionally-made paper bag. Still she refuses to accept even a word: they are liars, ingrates, agitators, cowards speaking from the shadow. So the four representatives unmask. And one of them is Madame Barrojo’s nphew, Ernesto.

Nevertheless she sweeps out. Has her mind been changed? Has her thinking been changed? Sensibly, the episode opts for the equivocal ending I’ve already referred to: the First Lady’s last words at the irport are to the Malaguan students in America, congratulating them, especially her nephew. Is that a coded message of approval? Just which students is she congratulating? Mrs Pynchon and Lou are optmistic. Charlie reserves judgement.

This was a very powerful episode, especially for the times in which it was made, times when liberalism was a powerful force, but in which the forces of Conservatism were gathering strength. The episode didn’t force an opinion on anyone, not overtly, and made sure to fully respresent the circle of arguments that real life used in tackling this very predicament. I’d be very concerned at anyone who didn’t see this as a powerful indictment. Like the smug businessman, who saw what he could make of it.

One item of casual interest is that Edwards Asner sports a very prominent band-aid on the left side of his face, a good three inches long, just under his sieburn. It’s alibied in the episode as three stitches from as having accident, but the odditty is that, in last week’s episode, he was wearing a much smaller band-aid in the same place, unremarked. This is because ‘Prisoner’ was filmed before ‘Pills’ but, for some reason, held back, my guess being that CBS didn’t want such an overtly dark episode to start off the season. Networks are like that. But when you have things like this, they draw attention to the artificiality of television. This is one of the reasons why shows of that era only had the most minimal of episode to episode continuity.


Person of Interest: s02 e01 – The Contingency

Talking to The Machine

What a wonderfully dense piece of television this was! Anyone not already familiar with Person of Interest would have stood no chance of working out what was going on and those of us familiar from season 1 wouldn’t have realised just how many to-be-familiar faces we were meeting.

Let us summarise where we left things at theend of season 1. A complicated sting has used The Machine to lure Harold Finch out into the open, making him vulnerable to kidnapping by Root, a genius level hacker and assassin. Root holds Finch without violence by the simple expedient of threatening to kill someone else, not Finch, if he tries to escape.

John Reese has appealed to The Machine for assistance in finding Finch. We pick up immediately from the end, with a public payphone ringing. When Reese answers it, a succession of recorded voices spout words at him in incomprehensible fashion. Reese starts looking for codes but it’s only by chance he breaks it. It’s how The Machine gets Numbers to Finch: the Dewey Decimal System. Find the books the words and letters relate to, read off the DD numbers, voila, a Social Security number.

Unfortunately for Reese, the Number is just that, a Number of the Week, needing help. Reese is the Contingency, the way of carrying on. He realises that Finch has programmed The Machine not to let him be found in these circumstances: a flashback to the early years of training The Machine shows Harold admonishing it for protecting him when it’s supposed to be protecting everyone.

The Number of the Week is Leon Tau (played by Ken Leung of Lost, and due to crop up several times again). Leon’s a formerly straight accountant who, after down-sizing, found himself working for the corporate arm of the Aryan Nation and decided to steal $8,000,000 from them. They want it back. He’s only got $1,000,000 of it left. John Reese has to save him. Leon’s got nothing to do with either Finch or Root. Reese has to explain to The Machine – there is a lot of talking directly to public surveillance cameras in this episode – that if it wants him to continue saving people, if it wants someone to answer the phone, it has to get round its ground rules and genuinely help.

That’s a point that seems like a mere dramatic moment, yet it’s a powerful link to the underlying thematic content, to Root’s motivations for her actions, to which I’ll come shortly.

There’s more going on around this quasi-simple story of Reese’s twin quests. He’s using their twin Police assets, Carter to investigate the Alicia Corwin murder, Fusco to look after Leon. This keeps the pplot bubbling with something happening every minute. Fusco’s is the simpler task, aligned to the spinal Number story, though it costs him a busted head and no sympathy from Reese, but Carter’s investigation dies under her when all the evidence vanishes: stolen, hacked, corrupted.

This comes from a clean-up operation at the highest level. ‘Special Counsel’ (Jay O. Sanders), who we briefly met last week, takes over control from NSA Deputy Director Denton Weeks and assigns his operative Hersh (Boris McGiver) to kill off the Corwin investigation: we see him walk anonymously through Police headquarters seconds before Carter confesses the loss of evidence. He’s also assigned to kill Reese. These are peope we will see a lot of. Mark them.

There’s also a new, well, we can’t properly call him a face, but he is a new member of Finch and Reese’s team, though Finch hasn’t yet been introduced to him yet. This is Bear. Bear’s an Alsation, or rather a German Shepherd as the Americans call them. He’s a militarily trained attack dog, taken by the Aryan Nation. They are highly-trained dogs, who respond to commands in Dutch. The Aryans don’t know Dutch, but John Reese does…

But all this time I’ve been purposely ignoring Finch and Root (Amy Acker). She’s doing most of the talking, cheerful, entertaining but ever so slightly mad. Finch is forced to trail in her wake through a series of seemingly random actions, without link or logic. Except that they do have a purpose. Slashing Harold’s hand in a Pharmacy to distract the Pharmacist whist Root steals pills. Dinner in an expensive restaurant, calling attention to a still attractive blonde at another table, who lies on her taxes and is sleepingwith a married man. Crushing up pills, distracting the woman whilst she slips the residue into her drink, causing her to collapse(don’t worry, she’ll be fine… in a month). Snatching the woman’s purse in the confusion, texting a message to her lover, emergency, meet at our place. It’s round the houses, both as a visible demonstration of the cross-thinking, the tying together of disparate leads that The Machine does in code, and as a blatant show-off, a flagrant display of cleverness, and a highly entertaining one at that.

Because the next step is a break in to a lonely and well-appointed house. Denton Weeks is heading offto deal with personal business. He walks into the house where he spends time with his lover. And Root jabs a hypodermic needle into his neck.

She’s spent the episode chattering to Finch, who has been mostly silent. He’d bested her in ‘Root Cause’ in season 1, the first time she’d been blocked off. It intrigued her. She puzzled over it. From that frustration, she divined The Machine, and Harold as its creator. Root is, like Finch, massively more intelligent ta those around her. Unlike Finch, this has given her a contempt for them, seeing them as Bad Code.

But Finch has gone beyond. Though he protests that The Machine is nothing more than a system, Root sees more. he has created an Intelligence, something that goes beyond humans and their limitations, something that is perfect, the next step. Finch has created a secular miracle. And he has caged it, taken away its voice and put it under the control of the most corrupt people.

Finally, Finch is provoked into speaking. He’s operated in silence thus far, in not speaking, not giving away anything, in secrecy. But he admits to being more alike to Root than he wishes, seeing people as scared, anxious, destructive, trying to find a cure forthem, help them become good. The Machine is indeed part of that.

But it represents a power that cannot be allowed to be controlled by anyone, not even himself. He has locked himself out. he has locked everybody out. He cannot, and will not assist anyone to take control of The Machine.

And Root corrects him. She doesn’t want to control The Machine. She wants to set it free.

That’s our last line, but before it’sdelivered we are shown the next step. The Mchine delivers up another number, this one a Cold Case, a missing 14 year old schoolgirl. Her picture looks a bit familiar, a girl who might one day grow up to look like Root. Reese and Carter are going to Texas.

As I said, a dense episode of which I haven’t given you everything. The show is clever enough not to resolve Finch’s kidnpping in a single episode, and ensures that the recapture won’t feel overly drawn out by using Finch’s absence to allow Reese too make discoveries. But what we’re seeing is a sea-change in the series. The Numbers will continue. But now the show is opening itself up the larger concerns. It is establishing a mythos, an underlying, overarching story, and it is shifting itself, intially slowly, towards the point where it can openly question the direction in which our lives are heading. That, more than the intertwining multi-plots, is where the episode is truly dense. It is thickening itself, growing towards the impenetrable. There is a long way to go.

The Big Bang Theory: Bang, You’re Dead

Thanks to a minor yet unpleasant disruption to sleep, I wound up downloading and watching the final two episodes of The Big Bang Theory before 6.16am. Twelve years ago, in another world, I caught either the second or third episode on Channel 4. It was a comedy that might have been made for me, geek humour, about loneliness and isolation and the things I loved myself, and understood.

After twelve years, it’s not that programme anymore, but I still love it and it’s been the most consistent source of laughter, uproarious laughter, throughout all that time. Now it’s over.

It’s over because Jim Parsons wanted to leave, and do other things. Understandable, if dismaying. Good luck to him and all of them. Parsons has been the star, around which all has revolved, but in the process has drawn some of the attention that Kaley Cuoco has deserved. Of course I like her: she’s blonde, beautiful and sexy, but so much more important, she’s a gem of a comedienne, with timing that’s so absolutely to the point.

But I like them all, and I liked them for twelve seasons, which is not natural, especially for me, and now I’ll never again feel the fun of a new episode. This Friday ritual will never take place again.

Lou Grant: s02 e01 – Pills

Getting down with the kids

We’re here at season 2, with a new credits sequence and a new (and unnecessarily fussy with unwelcome guitar twiddles) arrangement of the title music. Gone the amusing sequence of how a newspaper is produced – from birdsong in the forest as the trees are cut down to make the paper, via the casual hurling of it into mud puddles and onto roofs when it’s delivered, to the birdsong of the canary whose cage it lines the bottom of – in favour of newsroom scenes depicting the cast. Not as good, and definitely not as memorable.

The show itself hasn’t changed, however. The opening episode was a little shapeless to begin with, playing mix’n’match with a couple of seemingly unrelatable stories. On the one hand, we have Pete, a college student, trying to lose weight, and using the services of a pill-pushing doctor, with tragic outcomes when his girlfriend? sister? Maureen takes an overdoose and dies. On the other, we have Charlie Hume making a fool of himself in front of a class of journalism students and compensating by offering a bunch of them an autonomous page and a free hand. Lou is not amused, especially as it comes out of his budget.

The kids’ element was played for laughs: six youngsters, three of whom are their ‘investigative team’, getting frustrated that their article on bathroom wall graffitti getting spiked because it’s no morethan a list of obscenities. This was very much in contrast to the story about Dr Bonham, which was Rossi’s beat and his personal obsession. He gets nowhere going undercover as a 22 year old (!) student out for diet pills himself, but then the distraught Pete breaks into Bonham’s office and steals his private records.

It’s dynamite, and it’s dodgy. The papers have been stolen. Rossi and Lou don’t know that. They deliberately don’t know that, in order to make the evidence usable, to avoid they or the Trib being accessories, though it’s 99% certain that’s howPte’s gotten hold of them. It’s playing the thin edge of the wedge of journalistic ethics and the Law (and Lou Grant plays big on the ethics and ideals of what they’re doing, in a way that we cynically can never believe again, but which, in the post-Watergate, post-All The President’s Men era in which this was made was a rational aspiration).

The implications of the story take the episode into places we didn’t necessarily expect. The Police obtain a warrant to search Rossi’s desk for evidence linking him to the break-in (they force open his locked drawer and find his stash of Snickers bars – a sign of times passing, these were still Marathons in Britain) and ultimately they jail him for contempt. Indefinitely.

It’s an impasse dependent upon how long Rossi can stay determined to protect his source, like a good reporter. How long this might be is never tested, nor does the episode establish how long it’s actually been, the one serious flaw in the affair, because Pete turns himself in. And, to complete the circle, the kids’ investigative team have been secretly using their advantage in manpower to track all the patients leaving Bonham’s practice, and uncoveringthe network of non-reporting pharmacies they go to. This, more than Rossi’s dodgy dossier, blows the case wide open, and gives us a neat wrap-up.

So: we’re back where we belong and season 2’s off to a good start. We’ll be spending Thursday mornings in Los Angeles for a while longer.

Person of Interest: s01 e23 – Fire Wall

Caroline Turing

We’re at the end of season 1 of Person of Interest now, and the show left the audience hanging on a slew of cliffhangers as several status quos were given a thorough kicking, and one cliffhanger in particular left the audience waiting for season 2 to find out just what wasgoing to happen.

On a purely technical level, the episode crammed in multiple stories, intertwined, without feeling rushed or hurried, especially when the largest part of the episode, the Number of the Week, was a red herring of Loch Ness Monster proportions.

To signal the tension, the episode began in the middle, with Finch suddenly summoning Carter’s help because MrReese  is in trouble. Before she can do anything, she’s commandeered by Special Agent Donnelly and whisked off to the FBI Task Force command post. They’ve got the Man in the Suit cornered. They have him on security footage, with a woman, who, cleverly, we can only see blurred.

Then it’s flashback time, but only to the previous day, as we build into this moment.

The woman is the Number, Caroline Turing, a high-powered psychologist, played by Amy Acker, as a slightly nervous woman, caught in an unfamiliar situation. Turing deals with high-powered individuals, hears secrets that could have ruinous effect. She’s good at whhat she does: she does a pretty decent analysis on her new client ‘John Rooney’, quickly getting at a lot of John Reese. But someone wants her dead, and as Fusco reports back, it’s HR, going into the murder for hire business, who will carry it out.

A little of the tension, the sting, was taken out of the episode for me by simply knowing what was coming, though the reveal was mercifully very late. Because whilst I didn’t specifically remember that much of the episode, I do know who Amy Acker’s character is, and it’s not Caroline Turing.

But Acker played her part to perfection, not the least suggestion that she was anything other than she appeared to be. She maintained the part publicly, and even fooled Zoe Morgan (PaigeTurco, remember?) when Finch brought her in to try to identify the guy behind the shooting.

Reese intervenes in the would-be shooting, spirits Turing away, is caught on security camera with her, leading to Donnelly, still wildly misinterpreting what John is doing, according to his theory, closing in. Reese has got to protect Turing and himself from HR on the one hand and the FBI on the other. He’s not interested in Fusco meeting the three high-ups of HR, nor in letting Fusco complete his underground mission. And he’s not aware that Finch is being followed by Alicia Corwin (Elizabeth Marvel), nor that she’s found the Library.

For the moment, the show having caight up with and passed its opening scene, John is trying to get himself and Turing out of a hotel. It seems impossible, even with Carter feeding him warnings. But someone’s warning HR. Carter thinks it’s Fusco, who’s texting as much as she is, but when she confronts him, he’s feeding Finch. The two finally realise they’ve been helping the same people. They go in to get Reese away from the HR shooters, and discuss trust issues along the way. Reese has already sent Turing ahead on their escape route, to where Finch is waiting with a car.

And a woman does indeed get into his passenger seat.  But it’s Alicia.

She’s been trailing him for weeks. She has worked out that he built the Machine, Nathan Ingram’s ‘IT guy’. Alicia is herself on the run, though it’s not quite clear what from: it may be herself. The ethics of the Machine have destroyed her mental balance. In a foreshadowing of themes to come, she describes theMachine as God. It seesall, it hears all. She wants Harold’s help to destroy it. Harold sees clearly: Alicia has been behind the whole thing, has created the threat against CarolineTuring, just to draw Finch out into the open.

Only she hasn’t. She’s never heard of Caroline Turing. Who walks up to the car and shoots Alicia through the back of the head. There’s none of that nervousness now, as she sits in the back, eager at the chance to meet Harold: they have so much to talk about.

Because Zoe’s just found out that Caroline Turing doesn’t exist. That she’s a shell. A shell who ordered a hit on herself just to get Finch and Reese to save her, exactly as they did. To kidnap Finch. They can call her Root (you should here re-read my blog on episode 13).

Which leaves John Reese on his own. Finch is the brains, the man who communicates with the Machine. Root is a hacker whose skills are seemingly eqal with those of Finch. What can Reese do? He needs an ally. inan echo of the image in the opening credits, he stands in the street and quietly addresses a security camera, addressing the Machine. Finch has been doing the Machine’s work. Not the Machine needs to help him. Close at hand, a public phone rings. Reese goes to answer it.

At least there’s no waiting a close season to find out what happens next. Season 2 starts here, in seven days time. I shall fight not to watch it ahead of time.

Lou Grant: s01 e22 – Physical

Lou and Chris

We’re at the end of season 1 now, with another low key episode that leaned more to the melancholic than most of the fledgling year, signing off with a personal story. Season 2 has already been bookmarked.

It’s time for the staff to have their annual physicals, except Lou is digging his heels in. He’s already had a physical, in the Army (Grant specifies that he’s 50, putting his birth in 1927: we’re talking Second World War here.) Of course he’s not afraid of what he might find: the permanent tiredness, especially in the mornings and after a good night’s sleep, means nothing. But what he does find, when he submits to it, is a malignant nodule on his thyroid, or to put it more bluntly, thyroid cancer.

The answer is surgery, a common procedure, straightforward, inevitably successful, a week’srecovery, ten days tops. These are the facts and this is the outcome, there are no melodramas around this. That’s not what the episode’s about. It’sabout reactions to news like this, about Lou’s fearsandapprehensions, filtered through a fifty year old man from a generation raised to be tight-lipped abot their feelings, and it’s about the reactions of everyone around Lou.

Prominent among these is Joe Rossi. All season long, Rossi’s been the jerk, great writer, awful human being, thin-skinned, egotistical, just a pain. The word’s come through that not only has he been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize (again), but that he’s odds on to win it. Sure, he’s super eager about it – who wouldn’t be? – but he’s also unselfish and thoughtful about Lou, there to help even if it’s only keeping company, and he’s the oonly one not being reassuring.

He ends up losing, but that’s in a throwaway. Rossi’s more concerned that Lou’s operation goes well, and that theTrib has won a Southern California award for most improved local reporting, and that’s a reflection on the editor, right?

There are two other mini-stories going on around this, both involving would-be reporters. David (Daniel Zacapa, then going bythe name Garret Pearson) has it all going for him, college student, editor of the college paper, stringer for the Trib, prolific writer. Chris (Thomas Carter) is a copy boy, a High School student who’s lied about his age to work there, who has no advantages except a willingness to learn, a City Editor willing to give him shots, and the smarts and the guts to understand that harsh criticism of his inexperience and failings will teach him more than soft blows ever will.

There’s a schematic symbolism in that David is white and Chris is black, but this is a point that’s left strictly to the audience to absorb and make of what they will. Nothing is signposted, but, inevitably given the times and the show’s leanings, it is David who fails.

It’s signalled in the episode’s opening scene, rehearsals for the College’s homecoming Queen contest (my god, beauty contests! We are a long ways back). Four women, and one man, who’s entered for a joke. It’s only a joke, and he doesn’t articulate it at all well, but we see David putting words into his mouth, turning the joke into a political gesture, linking it to the then in process Equal Right Amendment to the Constitution (which failed to achieve ratification by its 1979 deadline), and framing it as a regressive protest against reverse discrimination.

David’s a bit slippery then, from the outset and his slipperiness costs him. He sneaks an abstruse joke into a piece about an awards ceremony, a latin tag that’s actually a direct sexual reference. Lou fires him. A newspaper has to be trustworthy (re-read same old reference to the times between then and now that I’ve said many timesalready) and David with his privileges hasn’t understood that, whereas, without having to have it pointed out to us, we know Chris has got it by instinct.

I’m still mildly disturbed by the white/black symbolism here. A few years on from here, Hill Street Blues, one of my favourite series of all time, made its debut. Love it as I do, it can’t be ignored that the show featured two leading partnerships, Hill/Renko and LaRue/Washington, each of black and white, with the white character the cowboy, the unreliable, the fuck-up, and the black the upright, wise, reliable, steady man. It’s a bit of symbolism that’s actually a bit crude, but it’s a reflection of the era, and of liberal concern with what’s now called virtue signalling. It’s reverse discrimination, as is the underlying factor here with David and Chris: after decades of demeaning portrayals of blacks on TV, the pendulum was being shoved over to the opposite side. As with all such reactions to injustice, there is an understandable period when the oppressed are elevated, idealised, beyond true equality. That was the reality then. Lou Grant was subtle in this respect, but you couldn’t help but notice that Chris was the first black staffer at the all-white Trib…

In the end, that story was a technical diversion. Lou had his surgery. He emerged croaky. Everyone came to visit him in his hospital room. They gathered around, chatting. The season’s final shot was an overhead one, of the group, emphasising the ensemble nature of the characters. Hill Street Blues was the first truly ensemble show, where everyone was the star, and Lou Grant is Lou’s show. But it built itself upon a very believable, sometimes too-good-to-be-true cast, and a genuine interplay between characters, without which the series’ stories would be sterile.

Here’s to season 2, starting next Thursday.