Due South: s04 e12/13 – Call of the Wild (Parts 1 & 2)

Due South

Due South lasted four seasons thanks to the support of a loyal but small audience that sustained it long past the point when the mass-audience-addicted American networks were prepared to continue it: a familiar attitude but not a familar outcome and especially not in the 1990s. But that audience could only take it so far and, given some of the episodes in the fourth season, maybe it took it too far. Either way, there was no fifth season so the series had a finale on its hands.

‘Call of the Wild’ was originally broadcast on Canadian TV as a two hour episode. For the boxset, and I imagine the BBC over here, it was divided into two parts. In the process, two short scenes were edited out, one of which I disagree with omitting. It was a story of many short scenes, built around a spinal story that was serious enough in its conception but which was never compelling enough to take over the episode. The name of the game was send-off: not so much the wrapping up of loose ends but the satisfactory disposal of all the ongoing elements, ambitions, hopes, wishes and relationships. In short, leave nothing untouched, leave nothing to wonder about afterwards.

Did it work? I wanted it to work. I wanted to enjoy this, I wanted to be happy watching it, I wanted an ending that suited what I’ve been watching every Thursday this past fourteen months or so. I didn’t want to be disappointed. And, mostly, I wasn’t. A lot of things were sewn up in different fashions: the final episode finished by stealing the American Graffitti ending of showing you each character’s future but let’s not go into that in any detail because the futures chosen were almost universally silly. Everything got covered in one way or another. Some of it was good, some of it was very good and in one instance I’d go so far as to say tears-to-the-eyes incredibly good, and that’s why I’ve chosen the picture above. Others were, well, let’s be honest, not good. Indifferent, rather than bad, so the show gets a pass on that score.

I don’t intend to go into any great detail about the finale. There were lots of details, enough that any kind of representative summary would take nearly as long to read as to watch and watching would be better. But things started in symbolic and elegiac fashion with Fraser homesick, and led to a case involving a weapons dealer, out to sell munitions – nerve gas and a Russian submarine – to the Militia group run by Cyrus Bolt, cousin to Randall Bolt of ‘All The Queen’s Horses’ and ‘Red, White or Blue’ in season 2, played once again by Kenneth Welsh.

The dealer was Holloway Muldoon, a ruthless and highly-competent bastard, who was supposedly dead this thirty years, having fallen into a crevasse whilst being pursued by Fraser’s Dad, Bob. There was a secret about Muldoon, one that Bob Fraser had withheld from his son all his life, one that was not hard to predict but which nevertheless was central to everything: Muldoon was the killer of Caroline Fraser, Bob’s wife, Bennie’s mother.

So whilst the chase was serious, it was more importantly personal. Muldoon was one of those people, not as slimey as the mob bosses we had this season, not arrogant in their way, not so much an offence against life, but who nevertheless you could easily conclude did not deserve to live. Not that there was ever any real doubt that Bennie would do what his father had intended, tried but failed to do. Instead, he brought Muldoon in. In the process, he kept his father’s ghost, who has been lingering for four seasons because of this one case in which he had failed to get his man, from killing Muldoon. And so Bob Fraser passed into grace, holding the hand of the ghost of Caroline Fraser (a brief return visit by Martha Burns, wife of Paul Gross).

That was so much of the story that needed to be related. Along the way, Fraser made his biggest mistake, taken off guard, by recognising ‘The Bookman’, Armando Langoustini or, as you and I know him, Ray Vecchio, the real Ray, David Marciano, a year in deep cover and luxury lown in an instant. Ray’s back, the old partnership is back on track, but the new partnership, OtherRay reverting to being Stanley Kowalski, was the one that stayed the course.

The action in the second part took us to Canada, to complete the circle, out in the deep wild, the snow, the winds, the mountains, the considerable emptiness. Here was where the episode came closest to blowing it, like the second half of the two-parter that concluded season 3. The writers couldn’t quite handle two hours, there was a lot of filler, a lot of silliness. This belonged to the Canadians; Bennie, Meg Thatcher, Buck Frobisher, Constable Turnbull, Bob Fraser. This time it was the Yank who was the fish out of water. The American half of the cast were accommodated by awkward cuts to them waiting nervously in Chicago whilst RealRay, who’s been shot in the line of duty and can retire on full pension, gets it on with ADA Stella Kowalski, aka the ex-OtherRay’s wife.

Like I said, there were things that were good, things that were indifferent, but all of it was consciously not heavy-handedly making the point that it was all over, that everything was changing, that just like the end of Deep Space Nine or the breaking of the Fellowship, these people would not ever all be in the same place again.

So let’s leave it at that, parting is such sweet sorrow, eh? The final disposition of Bennie and Stanley was not the most convincing aspect of it, and I thought that back in 1999 when I first watched it, but it was sweetened and semi-mythologised by the use, foreshadowed earlier in the episode, of the song ‘North West Passage’, about Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition to find the North West Passage. I know of one song about that loss, ‘Lord Franklin’, most notably in a version recorded by the Bothy Band for a John Peel Session but I am unfamiliar with this song, written and sung by Stan Rogers and continued through the credits and fittingly. I don’t propose to stay unfamiliar with it.

And there it is. As endings go, it was good enough. I don’t give ratings but this deserved 8 out of 10, though it wouldn’t have been that high if not for Bob Fraser’s parting. Time to look at something else, something not quite as long, indeed very short in comparison and actuality. Join me for the next four weeks somewhere beginning with a G…


Due South: s04 e10 – Say Amen

Due South

Assuming it was ever truly possible, it’s gotten past the point where I can be objective about Due South. I doubt, however, that I could have come up with a more favourable response to this episode even if I hadn’t lost all faith in the series, and I’d probably be even harsher upon it if this final season had been brilliant from the outset.

As a story, the episode never really defined itself. Fraser, Ray, Inspector Thatcher and Constable Turnbull have all been to the movies together. They see a loving young couple – he black and street-wise, she blonde and innocent – being followed by a suspicious man then attacked in the street, she dragged into a car, he roughed up. The car is traced to an evangelical Church, where she is revealed to be a miracle-worker, causing the lame to rise from their wheelchairs and walk again.

To save time, the Church is the fake you immediately assume it’s going to be, the Reverend and his wife raking it in from all directions.But the girl, Eloise, their 17 year old daughter (Elizabeth Rosen) is genuine. If there’s a scam going on, and the show never comes down to say that there is, she’s not part of it. But she’s been brought up as a miracle-worker, since she was five, completely under her parents’ control, not allowed anything remotely resembling a life of her own, and believing in herself. Now she’s met Davie (Richard Chevolleau) and the two have fallen deeply in love but her parents want him kept well away from her. Especially after he supposedly kills their senior security guard.

The fact that you don’t see this tells you he did no such thing, plus the way the episode telegraphs that Eloise is going to turn out as not the Barrow’s daughter after all, leads to the big set-up conclusion, which falls rather flat, in which it’s exposed that the Reverend Barrow and his wife kidnapped the genuinely gifted Eloise when she was five, and murdered her parents. It’s all too preictable for further comment, save that right to the end the episode hedges its bets over whether or not Eloise has a genuine talent, in a cake-and-eat-it manner that is so irritating.

That’s the story but there is another matter that I need to bring up. I know I go on about Camilla Scott, and I admit that I find the lady very attractive and would genuinely enjoy her getting more screen-time in order that I may look at her for longer. But it’s not necessarily as shallow as that. Not only is the actress a member of the cast, and appearing fourth in the credits each week, but her past appearances have demonstrated thaat the charaacter she plays is a strong, intelligent, more than capable person. It took a long time to establish Lt Welsh as a strong supporting cast member and Thatcher is his opposite number. Yet week-in,week-out throughout this season, the Inspector has either been excluded competely or been limited to a cameo role, usually a flimsy one or a demeaning one, when it’s not necessary.

It’s the same thing today. Thatcher is there at the start, part of a group wih Bennie, Ray and Turnbull (who is a joke character), and even though she’s an administrative officer, she goes along on the chase. But the moment they enter the Evangelical Church, and nowithstanding her not-that-much-previously expressed disdain for such things, she is swept up by the rapture, starts singing along and joins the Church and its choir for the rest of the episode. It’s turning her into a joke, representing her as weak-willed and silly This is not Thatcher. This is mysogynistic. Why does the show do this?

Ok, yes, it’s turned Detective Huey into a joke character too (Dewey never was anything else), and it treats Francesca Vecchio as a sex-mad simp when there’s far more to her than that. As for the Ray character, he’s all but vanished into the wallpaper by now, nothing but a minimal foil to Fraser. The sseries has all but gone.

There are three episodes left, including a two-part finale. Having enjoyed so much watching the show for so long, I can’t wait to get these over and done with.

Due South: s04 e09 – Dead Men Don’t Throw Rice

Due South

Episode 9 on the DVD, episode 5 in imdb. Now it’s over.

Oh dear.

Up to a point about three quarters of the way through, this episode was was going alright. There was a straight story going on involving pretty much exactly the same kind of gang boss as Wilson Warfield in last week’s episode, with a pretty silly B story being given the kind of negligible time that was all it deserved. It was all pretty professional, nothing out of the ordinary but serviceable watching. Every series has one or two weak stories that make up the episode count and this was a perfect example of it.

Then it collapsed in a combination of fantasy, idiocy and attempted mysticism that was spectacularly misjudged, turning the whole thing into an uncontrolled mess. In a way, given what they say aboout there being only a thin line between genius and madness, you could described it as an act of genius. Only not in a good way.

The episode title was a conflation of the two stories. The straight story featured gangster Tony Van Zandt (Al Waxman). Fraser and Ray, plus Federal Agents Handler (Barbara Eve Harris) and Young (Mark Wilson), are taking turns protecting State’s witness Nick Jones. Immediately after a handover, Jones gets away, goes to Van Zandt to promise he isn’t going to testify and Van Zandt confirms it by shooting him through the forehead. The story becomes a race against time to find Jones’ body and tie his death to Van Zandt, before the latter can dispose of it in the same effeicoent manner he has done nine times previously.

There’s the usual tension between agencies, exacerbated by Agent Handler being something of a control freak, and there’s a slight sag to the logic in having the two guys charged with removing Jones’ body in the first instance being as thick as pigshit, but the ingenious method of disposal is to bury the body as the lowers and concealed half of a coffin, beneath a legitimately deceased person, Van Zandt having a tame Undertaker (nicknamed ‘Digger’) in his pocket.

Unfortunately, Agent Handler’s abrasive aggression gets the Law down on the good guys, in the form of an Injunction to stop Police Harrassment so if Nick Jones’ body is to be found, something out of the ordinary has to be done…

Let’s pause there. The B story involves the lovely Francesca Vecchio, who’s receiving flowers at the station, acting a bit nervous and interrupting Fraser’s laidback interrogation of one of the pigshit boys to tell him that she’s getting married. It comes as no surprise, mainly because it wasn’t believable for a second, that it’s not true, it’s a ploy Francesca is running to try to force Fraser into confessing that he has the same feelings for her as she has for him (and no, we’re not just meaning the hots). It’s a bust, because Fraser is practically asexual and in those few instances where he becomes aware of someone as a woman, it’s not her. The ‘joke’ is that Fraser has absolutely no idea of what Francesca feels about him – you’d think he’d have noticed something when she turned up in his place at night wearing that bustier… – and their conversations are completely at cross-purposes.

The B story is interesting in one respect in that it allows Francesca a justified rant about how Fraser can be such a genius, a polymath whose breadth of knowledge is truly stunning, but not see what’s under his nose. That’s a primary component of the gag about Fraser, that he has this near overwhelming blind spot, suiting the image of the Holy Innocent (a less abrasive Sheldon Cooper), but in this context it momentarily forces us to see Fraser on a more realistic level than the comic figure, and it’s mildly uncomfortable. She does genuinely love him, and he is hurting her with his ignorance.

Ok, we’re now about two-thirds of the way through. How to get the goods on Van Zandt if you can’t legally get inside the Funeral Home to seach for Jones’ corpse? The answer is… a little far-fetched but still within the parameters of the series: Fraser will die. Of course he won’t actually die, he’ll actually go into one of those convincing self-induced comas that look like death, the way Modesty Blaise does from time to time. His ‘brother’ Ray will engage Tommy ‘Digger’ Galant’s services for laying-out and burial. Whilst left alone at night, Fraser will raise himself from the ‘dead’ and find Jones (how in Earth any of this is going to be usable as evidence against Van Zandt given that it’s practically the legal definition of ‘fruit of the poison tree’, is something that the scripter is hoping you will be too caught up in events to think about).

That’s how it’s going, but this is practically the last moment the episode even strays near to the borders of acceptability. And I’m not talking about the moment when Van Zandt and Galant decide that the doorman’s coffin (don’t ask) is the one in which to hide the corpus delictus, which is stretching the long arm of coincidence even further than Mr Fantastic. No, in context, that’s an everyday occurence.

No, the madness is twofold. A chance word by a station Sergeant who’s totally misunderstood the trial ‘dead’ run being conducted under high secrecy is overhead telling a friend that Fraser is dead. The word spreads. The entire station crowds off to the Funeral Home. Inspector Thatcher and Constable Turnbull hasten from the Consulate. Francesca abandons her wedding dress fitting and runs through the streets. Calling this embarrassing is like calling Boris Johnson a bit selfish.

Would that that were all. Because at the same time this is going on, Fraser’s spirit has left his body and started walking down a lighted corridor towards a door. Except that he’s diverted by a call to choose another door, which leads him into the Canadian backwoods, wading through the snows with his Dad, talking philosophical bollocks because the writer actually hasn’t got anything meaningful in mind (when your most ‘insightful’ line is ‘Death isn’t all it’s cracked up to be’, you know you’re out of your depth) and is spinning his wheels to fill up time until the inevitable moment when, back in the Funeral Home, Francesca’s anguished hugging of Fraser’s body has exposed Jones’ beneath, Van Zandt has a gun to her head and is demanding safe passage, and Fraser is called back.

He sits up in his coffin. Turnbull faints first, rapidly followed by Francesca, depriving Van Zandt of his hostage, then Thatcher (Camilla Scott may be onscreen but she hasn’t been given one word of dialogue), followed by everybody in the room bar Ray, Walsh and the two Agents. They fall en masse, in an unbroken wave.

So that’s the A story wrapped up. Despite the probable exclusion of all the evidence, Van Zandt’s going down. So we end on the B story. Someone’s here to visit Francesca. It’s her fiance. In gentle words, she breaks things off. In equally gentle words, with sub-titles, he speaks to her in German, completely lacking a single word of English (don’t think about it, the writer didn’t), demonstrating that he has no idea whatsoever of what she’s on about. Even before we see for ourselves, it’s obvious from the way the camera avoids his face that the guy is Paul Gross.

I don’t think you really want me to summarise this episode, do you?

Due South: s04 e08 – Good for the Soul

Due South

Episode 8 on the DVD, episode 8 in imdb. Still not over.

The Due South that turned up this week was the one that turned up last week: a serious story, treated seriously, with a touch of ultimately fulfilled naive optimism that befitted it also being a Xmas episode, and one in which the comedy was restricted to small, closely-defined pockets, basically the B story, which was that it was a Xmas episode.

The story title was an intimation of the long-expressed Christian belief, give in full in the episode, that ‘Confession is…’ The open set Fraser and Ray in a mall, buying Xmas presents, where they become witnesses to a well-dressed, burly, bearded, middle-aged man screaming at a waiter who’s accidentally dropped something on his suit. When Fraser tries to get him to apologise for his rude behaviour, the man, Wilson ‘Willie’ Warfield (Alan Scarfe), roars at him then backhands the waiter viciously across the face. Fraser carries out a Citizen’s Arrest for assault. The kick is that Warfield is a Mob boss.

The system naturally operates and, just as naturally, RCMP Constable Benton Fraser is unable to reconcile the societal position that sustains a tyrannical, vicious, unrepentant Mob Boss in his practical immunity from the Law with his conviction that Laws and Justice must prevail. Warfield is a cocky bastard with much to be cocky about. He runs his show ruthlessly, refusing to recognise anything that purports to stop him doing whatever the hell he wants to do at any time, proclaiming that the hardest man wins, and the Police and the DA’s office (a penultimate appearance from Anne-Marie Loder as Stella Kowalski) accept this as the way of things. They resent it, but they go along with it.

Not so Fraser. The episode pitches him against Warfield in a completely one-sided campaign. Interestingly, this isn’t just a David-vs-Goliath story, where we know that David will win and the interest lies in watching to see if the writer comes up with a believable way of ignoring overwhelming odds, but it’s also a character examination. Fraser is honest and committed to the ideals of Justice he has been brought up upon and which he enacts – it’s the whole point of his character after all – but how real is he? What is the point where unbending commitment becomes obsession? Is Fraser’s single-minded pursuit of what he believes to be right selfless or selfish in an imperfect world? In a way he’s like Rorscharch in Watchmen: Never Compromise.

No matter the cost to others – frightened witnesses who fear terminal reprisals, a Police station at risk of being sued for Harrassment – Fraser pursues Warfield monomaniacally. It’s the Irresistable Force versus the Immovable Object, except that Fraser is not Irresistable. He’s one lone citizen without legal authority, attempting to get a major Mobster to confess to a penny ante assault. He hasn’t a chance. Though can you hear the echo of Al Capone?

In the end, as we should have anticipated, Fraser’s weakness and Warfield’s strength are the key to the resolution. Fraser can’t do anything except stand there in his uniform outside Warfield’s club, exerting a moral pressure that Warfield’s entire character tells us will never work. Instead, Warfield’s strength, and his pride in never backing down, never climbing down, never being beaten, causes him to exercise that strength by having Fraser tricked into an alley and be beaten badly by a bunch of thugs. Badly enough to cause Fraser to question his self-righteous certainty, until he is checked in his doubts.

First this comes from his Dad, Gordon Pinsent appearing at last after several weeks, who agrees with him that he’s obsessive. But he’s right. Then it’s the Police, Ray, Walsh, Huey and Dewey, shamed at last at what Fraser has suffered because they failed to back him up, failed to believe in their jobs and settled for the imperfect world. They raid the club, find all sorts of infractions. Warfield roars at the challenge, they van be back next night, or at other operations. He wants them killed, but his closest associates refuse. Facing no alternative, and with the most sarcasm he can muster, Warfield gives Fraser what he wants: he confesses to hitting the waiter.

It’s the slightly unbelievable and improbably instant collapse of the house of cards. Warfield has confessed to a crime in front of a bunch of cops. He’s thrown away his invulnerability in one instant. He’s arrested, he’s in the cells, he’s admitted it, and suddenly, inside and outside his organisation, people are talking, singing even. The Immovable Object Moved, and he fell from that state which is not grace but which is power and was gone. Fittingly. Fraserr was vindicated.

Like I said, the comedy was mostly restricted to the B story (I am choosing to ignore Constable Turnbull’s little country music interjection), which was it being Xmas, Francesca putting up decorations and the business of Secret Santa, which was pleasant and none of it OTT. There was the singing, in isolation, of Silent Night, the dreadful cliche overcome by the purity and concentration of the unaccompanied singer’s sincerity, and a moment of earned pathos, as Fraser reminisced about old Xmases in Canada, of a kind barely recognisable (Arctic Tern instead of Turkey) and the unspoken regret, foreshadowed by Bob Fraser who admitted to having shared too few such occasions with his wife and son, at his Dad not being there. And lastly the sentiment of a hitherto undiscovered Secret Santa present under the tree for our Mountie: a framed photo of his family. Sweet and touching and, if manipulative, happily so.

So, yes, two good ones in a row, not what I expected this close to the end, and for that very welcome. Not long now.

Due South: s04 e07 – Mountie Sings The Blues

Due South

Episode 7 on the DVD, episode 7 in imdb. Not over yet.

It just goes to show that you cannot be too dogmatic too soon. I withdraw none of my comments about last week’s episode but the plain fact is that this episode, the midpoint of the final series, was perfectly good, by reason of staying mostly straight on a serious story. Indeed, it went very low on the comedy between Fraser and Vecchio (and further muddied the continuity waters by having its sole reference to Ray’s surname as being ‘Vecchio’), insead confining those elements to the less visible cast, Detectives Huey and Dewey, Francesca Vecchio and recurring character Constable Turnbull.

The story centred upon Tracey Jenkins, a Canadian singer, the ‘Queen of Country’, played by Michelle Wright, a real-life country singer and quite a decent one too, speaking as someone with only a limited interest in that kind of music. Jenkins is in Chicago to play a rare club date as opposed to massive halls but she’s received death threats, which is where the Canadian Consulate, Constables Fraser and Turnbull (a real country music fanatic) and, briefly but welcomely, Inspector Thatcher, come in (my obsession with Camilla Scott continues unabated and it’s really nice to see her hair growing out properly again).

And as Jenkins arrives at her gig, a shot rings out from the rooftop opposite, flinging her to the ground, though she’s quickly revealed to be Officer McCafferty (Susan Hamman, again) substituting for her. So the question is, who wants Tracey Jenkins dead?

There are, of course, a choice of suspects. In the lead is obsessive fan, superstalker and ultranerd Carver Dunn (Don Lett), though the furthest he goes is extortion and perversion: he’s blackmailing Jenkins’ Head of Security Earl, an ex-Memphis cop with graft in his past, to snag him personal souvenirs, like Jenkins’ black silk stockings (Dunn is disappointed that he didn’t get what he asked for, her underpants).

Or there’s dodgy husband Dwight, a bit of a drunk, a bit of a sleazeball, pretty clearly screwing around, but he wrote her first big hit and he is part of the team. At one point, Jenkins gives everyone the slip to visit certain lawyers, claiming to Fraser that she’s divorcing Dwight, though he and we later learn they don’t do anything so sordid as divorce and are instead big, high-power Entertainment lawyers. This will be the key to the resolution, since Tracey is planning a change of manager, from the dedicated but small-time George (Michael Hogan) who’s guided her career from its very beginnings, possibly even having burned down his own club for the insurance monies that financed her first album. He’s behind the death threat in a confused manner, not wanting her to leave him but not intending to kill her because he loves her and always has.

In the meantime, we get the inevitable music scenes. Paul Gross is a respectable singer so, when Tracey’s having difficulty with rehearsing a song with the backing singer – blonde, short-skirted, introduced by Dwight, you get the picture – Fraser ends up singing the backing part in both the studio and the concert, as well as suggesting raising the key a minor third, which is welcomed by Tracey’s long-term guitarist, Muddy Johnson (Ronnie Hawkins, yes, the Ronnie Hawkins, whose one-time backing band The Hawks left him to become The Band).

And we have a growing attraction between Tracey and Bennie that ultimately can never be, onscreen because another woman comes first with him (Queen Elizabeth II) and offscreen because there are still six episodes left.

As I said, the plot part of the episode was played straight and all the better for it, cliched though it was, and indeed Ray Vecchio was virtually in the background through, all the attention being for Fraser. The comedy was largely divorced from this, which was again for the best (it might have been even better if the Decree Absolute had been obtained first). This consisted of three elements. First, Huey and Dewey turn out to be country music buffs, leading them to decide to write a hit country song which occupies their attention for most of the rest of the show. Second, Francesca does not like country music and bets them $50 that there is a country music song about a donkey. For this she enlists the aid of Turnbull who, third, turns out to have developed romantic feelings towards Francesca, whose initial shudder looked like being overcome by his producing a spectacular italian lunch for her in the station canteen and serenading her with Willie Nelson’s ‘Always on my Mind’, which Francesca as literal… Who knows, maybe it is.

So, vastly superior to the last episode. Next up is the final disc of the box-set, which I can now approach with greater optimism than I would have owned to if you had approached me this time last Thursday. But which Due South will turn up this time next week?

Due South: s04 e06 – Mojo Rising

Due South

Episode 6 on the DVD, episode 4 in imdb. Just…Shrug.

There are not much more than a handful of Due South episodes left but already there are too many. I have completely lost faith in the series, even more so than in the final half season of Lou Grant. My expectations are not memrely minimal but non-existant.

Which is a tremendous shame given how much I enjoyed earlier seasons, but it’s the eternal problem with ostensible drama series that rely upon an exaggerated comic reality: sooner or later, the comic element becomes strained, becomes that much more exaggerated that it loses touch with, and balance to the reality that the show needs to maintain if the dramatic aspect is to be maintained.

‘Mojo Rising’ could be an education in that decline. The series’ open is now formulstic: Fraser and Ray are arguing over something in their usual cross-purpose of attitudes when they stumble across a crime or seeming crime. This time, Fraser is driving Ray’s Dad’s car, far too slowly because he’s obeying the speed limit, there are a couple of wasted minutes spinning this situation out until Fraser spots two men in an alley holding up another guy, but when he and Ray intervene they turn out to be Federal Immigration Agents, and the guy gets away in Ray’s Dad’s car. The fuss just irritated me. I have lost faith in the crosstalk, and to lose faith in the crosstalk, to see it as contrived to fit the show’s theme rather than a natural outcome of the two stars’ different personalities, is deadly.

The story on its pragmatic level was about a seemingly decent businessman, Jasper Gutman (just one letter removed from a certain classic film), played by Maury Chaykin, previously the supposed superspy Pyke in s03 e08, whoseactually running an illegal garment sweat shop using illegal immigrants, hence the Federal interest. But the episode was about Voodoo, or more correctly Voudan, as Fraser insisted upon referring to it. I have no idea to what extent beyond the superficial that the episode represented it accurately but, as someone who was born when Voodoo was a spooky mystery and nothing but a evil threat, the show definitely displayed a cultural sensitivity to its status as a religion, at least so far as it featured the native practitioners.

Unfortunately, this being Due South, the white cast had to be portrayed as morons. The suspect, Jerome Lafarette (Von Coulter), was acting as informant to the Feds until he led them into a trap. He’s a viudun priest. Once he’s arrested and brought to the station, his female equivalent, Mama Lulla (Salome Bey) leads a colourful, dancing, chanting contingent to place a curse on the station. Francesca Vecchio (Ramona Milano dressed for once in a very unflattering floor-length skirt) takes it seriouslly and there is all sorts of stupid slapstick based around this and her ludicrous attempts to lift it.

This left Fraser, accompanied by a Ray only concerned to get his Dad’s car back, gallantly hacking his way through this undergrowth to complete the story and redeem Lafarette, whose daughter had been kidnapped to coerce him. The undergrowth included such things as the cliche of Lafarette dying in custody and coming back to life, not as a zombie but of course acting like one initially, Diefenbaker’s loyalties being divided beween Fraser and Lafarette and Ray lying to his Dad over where the car is. And no Camilla Scott not Gordon Pinsent, yet again. I hope they were not only being paid when the show found a niche for them, they’re cast, not guest stars now.

And then there’s Ray, and his openly acknowledged Dad. Is Ray ‘Vecchio’ or Kowalski? Does the show care amy more? Losing sight of such an important element of the set-up is abominable.

A bust. A total bust. Evidence of a show that has died on its feet and is going through the motions. Is acting like a zombie, if you can stand that particular irony. There are seven episodes left though that includes a two-parter. Having started, I will finish. But I have no pleasurable anticipation left, which is deeply disappointing.

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.

Due South: s04 e04 – Odds

Due South

Episode 4 on the DVD, episode 6 in imdb. Shrug.

We’ve already had a nadir in Due South, and nadirs are absolutes, so we can’t have another one, but if we could have two or, god forbid, more, this would be a nadir. A poor plot, tricked out with innumerable complications to try to present a mystery, that amounted only to padding, based on a poor characterisation of RCMP Constable Benton Fraser.

Fraser is the stoic, the unfailingly innocent but wise figure, above all earthly things, including sex. So the series every now and then toys with that image by tossing someone into his path who might attract his attention, whilst being at least partly dodgy so that there’s no chance of any even semi-permanent liaison. We’ve had that before and here it is again, a repeat that adds nothing new to the mixture.

The episode started with a confusing open that required the equivalent of an ‘as you know’ once the credits passed to orient the viewer. Chicago PD are staking out an illegal gambling operation to catch professional poker player Denny Scarpa, aka ‘Lady Shoes’ (because she buys them), played by the beautiful, smooth Stephanie Romanov. Who’d previously appeared in Homicide: Life on the Street, not that I recognised her. The game is interrupted when a ski-masked man blows a hole in the wall and steals the pot, escaping from Fraser and Ray Vecchio. He’s actually working for Scarpa.

Straightway, story logic goes out the window. Given Scarpa was winning anyway, there was literally no point in she and Joey doing that, and it was stupid. It set the tone.

The Police have got Scarpa. Up pop two FBI Agents, played as twin idiots of very low intelligence. They want Scarpa to play an already planned poker game that has attracted underground figure Alex Farah back into the country, solely to play a grudge match against Scarpa. What we don’t know until the end, but which Fraser, of course, suspects, is that the game is a grudge match in another sense. The last time Farah played poker, before leaving the country, a man got killed: Scarpa’s younger brother who she looked out for. She’s drawing Farah here so that Joey can kill him for her, though Fraser prevents that from happening.

In between the episode just goes through a bunch of convolutions over Scarpa. Ray is naturally suspicious of her and is right to be so because she’s an odds-calculator, keeping her true motives to herself, playing straight with no-one. And Fraser is naturally trusting, amplified this time by the fact he is attracted to her (Camilla Scott is permitted a cameo this week, in evening dress, drunk from an evening out with the Spanish Consul and dropping into the Consulate, where Scarpa is dressed from head-to-toe in Fraser’s red longjohns because she’s going to sleep there: Thatcher drops in just to show off that she’s drunk and is probably going to fuck the brains out of her date but remains totally unaware of Scarpa’s existence, diminishing the point of this cameo beyond notice).

But it’s padding. It doesn’t hang together as a story with a coherent plot progressing in any kind of logical fashion. This is further exemplified by having Fraser jar his back in the open and struggle with it when the plot can think of nothing pertinent to do, or Francesca enlisting Lt. Walsh’s advice about applying to the Police Academy but for the fact her head is a strange shape and she can’t wear hats. The FBI pair are a joke but they’re meant to be: they’re just not funny enough to have bothered.

Needless to say, the episode climaxes with the great poker game, high-powered gamblers from all over the country plus Fraser, who’s learned the game overnight, can’t stop talking like Fraser whilst playing and of course wins all the money. Yes, this is a comedy, yes it’s basically slightly surreal, but no, that’s fucking stupid.

You can’t have two nadirs, but you can have a nadir with a cousin that looks like a twin brother, and this was a cousin of an episode. Bring back Due South!

Due South: s04 e03 – A Likely Story

Due South

The intention behind these posts about television series, or anything else for that matter, is to try to look at things objectively, from a subjective viewpoint: I choose to write about something like Due South because I enjoy it, and am interested in the first instance in analysing why. With very few exceptions, I don’t go around choosing things because I hate them, though that can lead to some very enjoyable snarking, as anyone who read my responses to Salamander, and some of the lesser Skandi series, will recall, I hope with pleasure.

But the subjective viewpoint is inherently flawed, as is the case today. I confess to having struggled to follow the story in this week’s episode – another instance of confusion as to where it stands in the series as a whole, being episode 3 on the DVD but episode 9 according to imdb – but whether that was because a rather convoluted plot was made insufficiently clear or whether it’s because I have a cold that’s spread to my head and am not thinking as clearly as usual is a mattter for debate.

It’s like the days I was watch/blogging Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: some episodes got a bad rap because I wasn’t in my best mind.

The episode did itself no immediate favours by opening with a bit of self-conscious Due South eccentricity, Fraser and Ray enjoying a campfire out in the wilds, Fraser telling a spooky campfire story, but they’re actually in a corner of the Park, which Ray points out. This will be repeated in the close, only Ray will be the one pretending its the wilds and Fraser the pragmatic. Either way, it was the set-up to introduce pretzel cart seller Franco Tucci, an elderly Italian with a sick wife he is devoted to, who works from sun-up to past sun-down. And who, within a minute, is shot down and killed.

This was the murder that drove the episode. Who wanted to kill such a harmless old man, with a distraught sweetheart of a widow? The episode introduced two strands. Up front, we had Mrs Tucci’s devoted live-in nurse, Luann Russell (Francie Swift, picture above) who was an absolute knock-out of a woman. Ray falls for her instantly. Fraser, being effectively sexless, remains objective. Given that the late Mr Tucci turns out to have been worth $1.7 million, as a member of his household being paid over the odds for a job she seemed to be carrying out happily and effectively, she became an obvious potential subject, and the episode flirted throughout with building her up as a shady character, whose interest in Ray could be interpreted as trying to use her appeal to smokescreen him.

The way it was done was so much a set-up that it was better than six to five that Luann would turn out to be innocent, which she did. What was interesting was that it was Ray who at first started piling on all the possibilties that she was the baddy, but displacing these onto Fraser and defending her to him. Very clever, in retrospect. Of course, as the plot developed, he comes to the conclusion that she is guilty, only she’s not, and thus he blows his chance with her in no uncertain manner.

The other strand was where my debilitation got me lost. Just how had a pretzel seller raised a $1.7 million fortune (perhaps he saved it?) Tucci was Italian. So too was Francesca Vecchio, complaining cultural stereotyping, but Tucci’s route took him past a notorious Mob headquarters and several ‘well-respected’ men attended his funeral. Unless I missed it, which can’t be ruled out, the source of Tucci’s wealth was never established. You were left to draw your own inferences.

One of which was that Tucci’s will left everything to Frankie Jr., with whom the old man had quarrelled twenty years before, leading to the pair losing contact. Except that Frankie turns up just in time to take the funeral (there was a Dalziel & Pascoe story/adaptation that featured exactly the same situation and that guy was a fake too). The thing was that Frankie Jr. had changed his name to Sammy Frank, gone into the mob business and supposedly been killed two years previously by an assassin hired by a rival family. Who was suddenly wanted for having taken the money and filed a false report to his employers.

What it ended up was that the assassin had killed Frankie Jr. This Frankie Jr. we were seeing here was the less-than-ethical Private Eye hired by someone I couldn’t make out – Luann made the most sense but I can’t say it was her without going back and watching the whole thing again – to prove Frankie Jr. was dead. Who had spotted his own resemblance to Frankie Jr. and set out to scam his way to the money.

So it was. On another day I’d have been more open to the story’s twists and turns but not right now. All I was truly fit for was observing that Francie Swift was a stunningly beautiful woman, in respect of which the picture above does her no fair representation. Which made up, a little, for my weekly complaint about insufficient Camilla Scott, i.e., none, yet again.

Normal service will be resumed next Thursday, with luck.

Due South: s04 e02 – Easy Money

Due South

The above image comes from the penultimate shot of this episode. The boy is Benton Fraser, aged 12, run away from home to hunt and shoot a caribou because every other 12 year old boy he knows has been allowed to and his grandparents won’t let him. The man is called Quinn, a native guide and tracker, who has saved young Fraser from falling off a cliff and, despite being opposed to killing without need, has guided the youngster here to help him learn if he is capable of it. We are about to find out.

But before then we’ve followed a story, a strong, serious story set in present-day Chicago, that at least for one week refutes my concerns about the fourth season, because it’s damned near as good as anything Due South has ever done. Not perfect (here is where I bring out my weekly complaint about not enough Camilla Scott, on this occasion nothing at all), and there were two specific points where the episode could have done much better, but very satisfying.

This was achieved by having the story be serious, and approached seriously on each of the levels it occupied, saving the comedic elements for mostly naturalistic character beats. Ray was Ray, Fraser was Fraser, Wlash was Walsh. Only Francesca Vecchio, getting a little bit frustrated at the Lieutenant’s complete lack of basic politeness towards her, and Constable Turnbull being a dumball were given licence for more, and his turn was one of the two points in the episode when something much better was needed.

The spinal story was a gang of two pulling high-visibility, violent and dangerous attacks on jewellers. The extended open began peacefully and semi-comically with a neatly designed McGuffin to bring the much older Quinn (Gordon Tootoosis) to Chicago, attempting to prevent the building of a dam that will flood his valley, destroy his home and habitat and, essentially, bury his whole life and history under a hundred foot of water. The threat cleverly echoes the scheme that set everything in motion by Bob Fraser being killed to prevent an identical but crooked scheme.

The dam, and Quinn’s opposition, is an important element of the story, but not what it’s about, hence my calling it a McGuffin. What it does is to serve to put Fraser and Quinn in the same place as the latest jewel-heist, in which Fraser is almost killed by the leader, Tim Kelly (Phillip Granger, sporting no Eye of Zoltec), only to be saved by Quinn, who has stopped the other robber, the stooge Jeff Storey (Tyrone Benskin).

Quinn saving Fraser from falling from the roof crosses over into the flashback sequence interspersed as a parallel to the main story, which is capturing Kelly, rettrieving the diamonds and, along the way, a warming character-driven examination of Fraser’s relationship with his mentor. Basically, Kelly gets away, but doesn’t have the diamonds. These were stashed by Storey but before Fraser works out that this is the case and where they must be, Quinn has come to the same conclusions, much faster, and taken the swag for himself.

Whilst Ray Vecchio leads the Police operation to identify and track down Kelly, who is following Quinn, Fraser realises what has happened to the jewellery and assists Quinn towards its disposal – conversion into money for lawyers etc. to fight the dam scheme – as if he is completely unaware of Quinn’s intentions. At the same time, he’s utterly confident that Quinn will not do so, that he can’t do something like that, in which Bennie is completelky correct. But the very strand neatly and effectively foreshadows the episode’s conclusion.

So far as the action is concerned, the endsing is relatively unimportant. Kelly kidnaps Quinn and Fraser at gunpoint and tries to use them as hostages when the Police surround them, but between Ray’s desperate Steve McQueen-like jumping a police bike through a window, and Quinn and Fraser’s woodcraft and ability to undo knots, he’s taken and the jewels recovered.

But we had two other endings that were of much more importance to the story. One was very important and played perfectly, but the other was confusing and ineffective because it broke the continuity of the series at this point. This arose from the running gag that Ray’s parents were coming to Chicago to see him, which Ray dismissed every time it came up as a gag, and an unfunny one, although it was completely true. There was a set-up in a conversation in which Ray admitted to Fraser that he and his Dad had not spoken since Ray graduated from Police College, since when his parets had moved to Arizona.

It was a touch cliched but there was nothing intrinsically wrong with the introduction of this strand, except that everyone connected with the episode seems to have completely forgotten the basis on which the character ‘Ray Vecchio’ stood. RealRay, as played by David Marciano) is currently in deep undercover in the Mafia. The Ray we see here and ever since season 3 epiaode 1 is really Stanley Ray Kowalski, playing ‘Ray Vecchio’ to shield RealRay from discovery. The central characters know who is who but the general public only know this Ray as the Ray.

I admit that, having that knowledge in mind, I first assumed the parents coming to town were the Vecchios, expecting to see David Marciano, which would have been wrong as Ray’s Dad is dead, but no, they were the Kowalskis, they arrived as the Kowalskis, they treated NewRay as Kowalski, his mother even called him Stanley. All out in public. It was a complete WTF and a definitive black spot for episode and series.

thankfully, we had a better ending to come. This was young Fraser and younger Quinn, finally overlooking the herd of caribou. Constable Fraser had known Quinn would not fence the jewelley becaudse he knew him and knew he would not make that mistake. His confidence came from his lifetime understanding of the man. The man who, despite his opposition, expressed openly led him to where he could kill the caribou. We expected that, at the last, young Fraser would realise, and not take the shot. But Constable Fraser’s ultimate confidence in Quinn stemmed from him having let Fraser make one of the biggest mistakes of his life: young Fraser shot and killed the caribou.

So, a powerful, thoughtful, intelligent and excellent episode, marred somewhat but not not spoiled. If I gave ratings, I’d say the episode’s flaws reduced it from an A- to a B+. Whatever else follows in the remaining eleven episodes, I hope this will not turn out to be an outlier.