There’s a tired old cliche about life in the old dog yet, but tired as it is it was the first thing that came tomind about the penultimate episode of Lou Grant. The show’s been on a deteriorating spiral for weeks on end, which shows in the standard of stories, with cancellation now 47 minutes away, but it raised its head this week, looked us defiantly in the way and said Remember Us This Way, which I’m very glad to do.
‘Victims’ started out in an unpromising manner, deadline approaching on the City Desk, Lou and Rossi arguing about whether a story’s ready yet, a party of journalim students being shown around and Charlie handing over his ticket for LA vs Boston to Lou. Then it jumped into deep water.
Lou is mugged in the parking lot, two guys in ski-masks, his watch and wallet stolen. Then he’s shot in the stomach. Paramedics called, two cops attend. Then they get a call to a nearby liquor store, robbery in progess, two guys in ski-masks. The patrolmen get over there. The robbers come out and the cops have the drop on them. They shout freeze, one guy ignores it, fires at the cops. Officer Vinny DeMayo fires back, twice. The guy looks surprised, a wonderful expression, as if it’s unbelievable that someone he shoots at might shoot at him, them falls on his face, dead.
There was very little crossoveer between the two stories, althiough they were clearly linked. Rossi tried to interview DeMayo (Steve Marachuk) but was rebuffed first only to be let in later, by which time DeMayo and his story had gone much further on, but that was it. The episode moved back and forth between Lou in hospital, the shot requiring an operation which revealed more extensive damage than first believed, and through a long, slow, carefully observed recuperation, until he was ready to return.
Apart from the joke of everybody buying him the new Halberstam book (David Halberstam, a highly regarded writer of high journalism books, I once read his The Best and the Brightest, a study of how the finest minds in the Kennedy Administration nevertheless managed to get America involved in Vietnam), Lou’s recovery arc, and how much had been taken out of him, was taken seriously, and ended with him close enough to recovery to be ready to come back. It also showed how wall the Trib could manage without him, not that they wanted to, with Donovan as acting Editor and Billie as his Assistant.
But Lou’s story was the easy half of the episode, which was not to demean it. Vinny DeMayo’s story was something different. We saw the shooting, we knew his conduct was correct, that the shooting was wholly justified, indeed unimpeachable. And we saw the pressure that started to weigh on him from the moment he got back. The paperwork, the exhaustive questioning by Homicide,the attempts by his Sergeant, Stapler (Barry Primus) and Captain, Shackley (Bruce Kirby) to take a break, get his head together, understand his experience, and DeMayo’s automatic cop resistance to anything considered as weakness, he felt fine, he did nothing wrong, he can carry on.
Of course you can’t. DeMayo found out that, no matter how ‘right’ it was, killing someone sticks to you. you can’t just wash your hands of it and act like everything’ normal. And it’s not just the external pressure, the lawsuit by the dead robber’s widow for $2,000,000, the removal from patrol to administration (‘a new challenge’). It’s what’s inside your own head, it’s who’s inside your own head, it’s the way you get to feel that noboy around you, no matter how much they love you or you love them, understands what it’s like. And they can’t understand what it’s like: nobody can,unless they’ve killed someone.
Marachuk was immense, a brilliant performance as DeMayo deteriorated, mentally. In the end, finally talking about it, finally explaining himself – as much to himself as to Rossi – started to lance the poison of keeping it all in, being the strong, tough, brave, righteous cop. DeMayo sought help from Stapler, admitted he was thinking aout eating his gun. It was a start.
Whether he’d make it, you didn’t know. The episode was tough-minded eough to leave it at that. You knew Lou’s arc would end in recovery (though I do wonder if this episode might have fed into a non-existant Sixth Season), but you didn’t know about DeMayo. It was much better that way.
And then there was one left.