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 e11 – Hunting Season

Due South

And this close to the end, after all the things I’ve justifiably said in the past few weeks, they can pull off an episode like this.

‘Hunting Season’ guest-starred Jessica Steen as RCMP Constable Maggie McKenzie. I don’t know what else Ms Steen has done but she was perfect in the role of a female Benton Fraser, not stepping out of line once, not striking a false emotional note in all the range she was called upon to deliver. In view of the revelation the episode delivered, she had to be top notch, and she was.

Maggie and Bennie are cut from the same cloth as Mounties and Canadians. At first it’s a modestly comic riff, Ray having to deal with two of them whilst seriously fancying Maggie (as would anyone) and appearing to have to contend with Fraser, who feels an immediate kinship with her. Why shouldn’t he? She’s only come to Chicago on the trail of the killers of her… husband. Not father but husband.

Actually, they know each other already, a little. Maggie’s mother, a resourceful woman in the mould of Bob Fraser, brought her up on her own in the Territories. Maggie’s mother and Fraser’s father were good friends. All these things and his natural instinct to take people on trust lead Fraser to assist Maggie’s hunt, even though she’s on an unofficial mission to chase the two Torelli brothers, who are bank robbers. It takes Inspector Thatcher’s jealousy of the attractive newcomer – who she first meets hiding in the closet of Fraser’s office in the Consulate, with him – to have her background checked out and determine that Constable McKenzie is actually suspended, because of her erratic behaviour and unjustifiable suspicion of the Torellis, who have ironclad alibis, a fact she’s concealed from Benton and Ray, and which makes her prime suspect when the Torellis’ only known associate is found shot dead after she visited him. Alone. And when Fraser refuses a direct order from Thatcher to pursue Maggie, after she sneaks back into the Consulate to retrieve her things, he too is suspended.

Wait. Maggie was in the closet with Fraser? Yes, because this is where it all goes wierd. Remember that Fraser’s dead Dad, Bob, has set up his ‘office’ in a cabin in the Territories, accessed only through Fraser’s closet? Well, firstly, when he’s talking to Bennie, pushing Maggie as the ideal woman for him, she can actually hear him, as a background voice. And then we discover that she can see him too, and they can all swap stories in the cabin.

Why the hell Maggie can see Fraser Sr when only Bennie (and Buck Frobisher) can is left unexplained to begin with. Things become more complicated. Maggie’s husband wasn’t killed for some caprice but because he was the Torellis accomplice. Their drver. Maggie refuses to listen to this but has eventually to acknowledge it. A cop married to a bank robber. And to understand, whether this makes things easier or not, that they killed her man because he had decided to shop them to her, because he had been influenced by her. A bank robber married to a cop.

But the revelation, which Fraser worked out from the fact of the dates of Maggie’s mother’ husband’s death and her birth being too far apart, was who was the real father of Maggie. It could only be one person, who never knew he was a father twice over and who deeply regretted that he had failed as an absent father twice instead of just once. It was Bob Fraser. Bennie has a sister. Maggie has a brother. And that made all the difference to both of them.

I had some mixed opinions about the episode. Not about the story, or any of the performances, which were faultless. But I wavered from seeing this as better served by having been made much earlier, perhaps in the first part of the third season, when the surrounding quality was so much higher. And I regretted that it came so very late, leaving no prospect of a return visit by Maggie. But at this same time, if you can understand this, it was also better for coming so late. It felt like the sort of thing that could only be properly done so late, and not merely because there was then no fear of it being devalued by an inferior follow-up, lacking in an idea as well-concieved and well-handled as this.

Nobody could bugger this up.

Other than that, my only complaints were that the show had to throw in some of its comic turns, though these were strictly limited. This was an episode that didn’t need comic deflation or exaggeration (so the omission of Detectives Huey and Dewey was the best choice). I was so glad to see that the show could still do it, in the eleventh hour and fortieth minute, because I remember some bits of the two-part series finale, and I am already preparing my bunker. Hopefully, I will be wrong. Very wrong.

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 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: s03 e12/13 – Mountie on the Bountie (Parts 1 & 2)

Due South

At the start of this season I commented on the peculiarity of my Region 1 boxset in completely obliterating Callum Keith Rennie and proclaiming David Maricano, in both words and pictures, as Paul Gross’s co-star. That’s not its only gross inaccuracy. The other one is that it presents all 26 episodes on the discs to be season 3 when the truth was that these stories were divided into two seasons, each of 13 episodes. So this two-parter was the season finale, which teased heavily the breaking up of the odd couple partnership between Benton Fraser and Ray Kowalski (aka Vecchio for this season at least).

The show’s failure to succeed in America, coupled with its much higher popularity in Britain that led to BBC to contribute fubding that enabled the last two seasons (much as they had done earlier with Cagney and Lacey) was a direct cause of the series’ haphazard filming and odd season lengths. I have found nothing to suggest it was in danger of not being renewed for the eventual final season, so I can’t attribute the underlying storyline to the possibility it might have to act as a swansong, but the possibility is tantalising, and reminiscent of Homicide: Life in the Street‘s ploy over NBC’s then un-exercised option to extend season 3 from 13 to 22 episodes.

Basically, we start in media res, Fraser and Ray under fire, their only escape a Butch and Sundance leap into the harbour, forced by the Canadian on the can’t-swim-American that results in a bitter argument, Ray punching Bennie in the face in frustration and the two deciding to apply for transfers (Fraser’s potential for transfer to Ottawa puts Inspector Thatcher into an emontional panic). It’s all over, the partnership, until an eye-patched, hook-handed pirate with a knife in his back falls out of the sky onto the hood of Ray’s car. As they do.

One last case.

With eighty minutes to play with, the show had room to expand its cast into a plethora of character-rich situations. Dean McDermott as Constable Turnbull, straight-facedly out-frasering Fraser whilst maintaining a signal abilit to fail to get the point, had his first extended role. There was an hilarious extended interrogation scene in the second part where Francesca browbeats a suspect into confession by constantly talking at him and constantly getting every cliched Police interrogation term wrong, a modern day Mrs Malaprop (‘Listen to me, Hairbottle’).

But the spine of the story was piracy at sea, the retrieval from Lake Michigan (actually filmed on Lake Ontario but a Great Lake is a Great Lake when you’re out of sight of late) of millions of dollars of stolen gold bullion coupled with the intended devastating dump of toxic waste that could destroy the ecology of the entire Lakes system, and the attempt by the crooks to conceal their operations by creating their own mini-Bermuda Triangle, frightening off other vessels by means of a Ghost Ship.

The ship was the Robert McKenzie, for which a complete fictional history of its loss on its final voyage was concocted, together with a song, sung and co-written by Paul Gross. Originally, Gross, who co-authored the screenplay, wanted to refer to the Edmund Fitzgerald, the real-life disaster commemorated in song by Gordon Lightfoot. Lightfoot gave permission for the use of his song, provided that the show secured the agreement of the families of the lost sailors, an acknowledgement that it would not cause them pain. Instead, Gross and the show created a different wreckage, which was the better idea anyway.

The upshot was that Fraser and Ray, without reporting to either of their superiors, joined the crew of the Henry Allen, captained by an old friend and drinking buddy of Fraser’s Dad, which encountered the Ghost Ship. On Fraser’s urging, Captain Smithers refused to turn back from what he had been assured was no ghost at all. Instead, the villains holed the Henry Allen amidships, sending it to the bottom of the lake, with Bennie and Ray, the latter imprisoned in his own handcuffs, trapped below decks.

That was our cliffhanger. Unfortunately, the second part let the overall story down by several times taking its time over various scenarios instead of ratchetting up the tension with the pace demanded. Ray and Fraser’s escape from the doomed Henry Allen was extended over a dozen minutes and involved more phases than necessary, creating the impression, reinforced by later scenes, that the episode had more minutes than the actual plot could provide.

To speed things along, the struggling partners got out of the sinking ship, swam to and found the ‘ghost ship’, spent ages running around its hold, discovering the gold and the waste, before escaping in a two-man submersible, painted bright yellow. Yes, you got that, a Yellow Submarine.Meanwhile, back in Chicago, armed with four digits Ray has managed to convey before his walkie-talkie’s battery conks out, Thatcher finally susses that these are Latitude and Longtitude. She calls in Cavnadian reinforcements in the shape of a squad of rookie Constables led by the formidably eccentric Sergeant Sam Thorn (Janet Wright), who believes Canada needs a strong Naval presence to defend itself from, who else, the USA. She leads the rescue force out onto the Lake, including Thatcher, Turnbull and Lt. Walsh, in a replica of the Bounty.

Yes, at this point, the story overdoes itself in whimsical eccentricity, but the sailing ship is a beauty to behold. Of course, it is given its own space, during which story momentum is again becalmed, but it was a pleasure to watch and, if this had been the only slow sequence, could have fully justified its existence, especially as it was given a bit of romantic gloss, with Walsh and Thorn sparring romantically, Fraser kissing Thatcher, Ray snogging an uncredited seriously hot blonde rookie Mountie (female of course) and even the stupid Turnbull putting his own, mildly homoerotic spin on personal interest.

Anyway, this all led up to a climactic conclusion as the sailing ship fired its cannons, grappled its hooks, climbed the rigging, poured aboard and generally hammed itself up with decent restraint (Errol Flynn would have been proud of them) whilst Fraser and Ray save the day, retrieve the gold, prevent the ecology bomb going off and capture the villain. In a net, naturally. After, with Bob Fraser’s ghost encouraging his son to understand the give and take of partnership, both our heroes decided not to take up their transfers and to go with the status quo. As we all expected all along.

To be honest, despite the many things I did enjoy about it, the second part seriously let down the story. As well as its far too frequent slow spots, it ended up being sloppily plotted, with too many loose ends left loose, and with too much of an eagerness to be wilfully eccentric without regard to logical structure. To be further honest, from what little I can remember of the remaining episodes that constitute season 4, that is something we’ll all have to get used to, whether we like it or not. We start the final phase next week and next year. As long as there is more Camilla Scott every week, I may be able to bear up to it.

Due South: s03 e11 – Asylum

Due South

Yes. According to imdb, ‘Asylum’ is the ninth episode of Due South season 3, but according to the running order of my DVD boxset it’s the eleventh. The show not being a serial, most of the episodes could be viewed in random order without spoiling things so when it comes to internal evidence of their real order, there is almost nothing, and in this case, contradictory. By this I’m referring to haircuts. Callum Keith Rennie has his hair brushed forward, over his forehead, instead of brushed up, a surprisingly different appearance. In contrast, Camilla Scott’s hair is still shorter, tending back to the almost spiky, unlike last week’s softer appearance. It’s not quite as bad as trying to organise The Prisoner into a logical sequence but to a tidy mind…

Either way, this was an entertaining and cleverly conceived story whose major failing was that the ending was obvious a mile off, indeed cliched. The open set up two tracks. In one, Inspector Thatcher is packing for a few days spa break, leaving Constable Fraser as Acting-Liaison at the Canadian Consulate, with only Constable Turnbull to assist him. In the other, Vecchio is meeting a gangland figure in a deserted alley, to which both have been drawn in the belief the other wanted a meeting: it’s a set-up, Volpe is shot dead and Vecchio framed for the killing. He goes on the run and winds up at the Consulate, where Fraser arrests him on suspicion of murder.

This is the basis for the episode, As long as Ray is under arrest, and on Canadian soil, the legal fiction that protects Embassies and Consulates everywhere, the Chicago Police can’t arrest or remove him and Benton is free to carry out investigations, whilst Ray suffers the politeness and patience of Canada, its propensity for tea instead of coffee and the inexplicable fervour with which Turnbull (and Fraser) holds for the sport of curling.

Of course Ray hasn’t done it, we know that, and we’ve seen it for ourselves, but as he was also knocked on the head and out cold until the over-aggressive and overwound Patrolwoman Tibbett found them, he has understandable moments of doubt. But notions of innocence and guilt and the discovery of truth are secondary matters to Daman Cahill (Wayne Robson) of the States Attorney’s office. Cahill is running for States Attorney as a hardline little bugger, banging on about Law and Order and nobody above the Law, corruption in public office especially the Police, doing the Politician’s thing of swinging from charm in front of the cameras to American aggression at the slightest interference wth his God-ordained path to his goal. Robson’s a small guy, conspicuously nearly a head shorter than everyone around him, perfect casting physically for the little man overcompensating.

He’s also the corrupt villain behind it all, which the story made obvious and necessary from the moment he first appeared, the least likely person who’s the most likely suspect.

One other thing the episode did was to allow new guy Tom Melissis, Detective Dewey, the first real opportunity to impress himself upon us as a character. He was a flop. I can’t blame Melissis, the writing just doesn’t give Dewey anything except a basic ignorance to work with. The writer, who I shall refrain from naming just for this one incident, did take the chance to belabour explicitly the Huey, Dewey and Louey joke for the benefit of anyone in the audience who hadn’t yet got the reference, though by this point anyone who hadn’t got the joke was never going to get the joke without maps, diagrams and illustrations, preferably by Carl Barks.

It reminded me of the moment I first lost faith in Heroes during season 1, when Christopher Eccleston’s character, who could turn invisible, was discovered to be named Claude Rains, after the actor who first brought the Invisible Man to the screen. Nice in-joke, but the dumb thing was that, instead of setting it up that Rains was actually a pseudonym adopted by way of sardonic reference to the character, Rains was actually the character’s real name. One tips a knowing wink to the audience that they can share in, assuming their intelligence, the other tells them they’re dumb and need things spelling out in chalk letters on a forty-foot high blackboard. The Huey, Dewey and Louey thing was the same ‘yoo hoo, dummy, look at this’ and unworthy of the series.

Due South: s03 e10 – Perfect Strangers

Due South

Though I’ll never hold Callum Keith Rennie in the same regard as I do David Marciano, as the weeks already spent on season 3 may have indicated, I have no hesitation in nominating this latest episode as the first of the season to rank with the excellent ones featuring the Real Ray Vecchio. It was cleverly written, deftly acted, posed an intriguing mystery, and delivered a high level of good humour, misunderstandings and plain fun that nowhere interfered with the drama and which complemented it perfectly. In short, this was one bloody good story in the best tradition of Due South.

As to the mystery, the episode gave away its solution in the title, not that I picked up the reference until it began to be laid out. True crime fiction aficianados are no doiubt constitutionally incapable of hearing the word ‘Strangers’ without reaching for their Patricia Highsmith, but though I know the book and its famous ‘gimmick’, I’ve never read it.

It began mundanely with an extended open. Ray meets an informant, a sleazabag in a sleazy bar, who rips off a pool player over a $10 bet only to end with a knife in his belly. Fraser chases the pool player, who denies killing Sonny: he was like that when I found him. Also, Fraser falls on Diefenbaker, hurting his leg (this was written in to account for Draco having a bandaged leg following his being slashed for having tried to steal food from a jaguar: 26 stitches. Draco’s play-acting over Fraser having hurt him was deftly woven in to the low-key comedy).

The sole unusual thing about the crime was the OTT Club badge found on Sonny’s body. This was identified, by Fraser naturally, as a private badge, awarded to members of Canadian airline crews who have flown over the North Pole 100 times (I don’t know if that’s real but if not it damned well ought to be). This was where the plot suddenly became worth watching. The badge belonged to Chantal Bowman, a Canadian Air Hostess, and daughter of one of Canada’s most honoured and respected military men, General Bowman (Scott Hylands). Thirty-six hours previously, Chantal was murdered in Toronto. The two murders are linked. But how?

This is where an earlier recollection of Strangers on a Train would have been useful. Both victims had someone with a very clear motive for killing them but, simultaneously, an ironclad alibi. Sonny had been blackmailing TV Sports Personality Chad Percy (Shawn Thompson) over his still being technically wanted for a liquor store robbery seventeen years previously, and wanted to increase the weekly payments one hundred and fifty fold. Chantal had been conducting an affair with an older Chicago businessman, Nick Evers (Kenneth McGregor), married (to a wife who held the purse strings) with three children, and had been going to tell Mrs Evers if he didn’t.

Whilst we were waiting to see how this mystery would be resolved, there were several other strands mixing comedy and drama. Francesca Vecchio is reading psychology at college and applying it to everyone around her. General Bowman has arrived in Chicago, determined to deal out his own brand of justice to his daughter’s killer. And Inspector Meg Thatcher has her hands full between him and her most unintentionally awkward subordinate.

Yes, you know how much I enjoy seeing Camilla Scott, who’s been missing too many times this season for someone who’s fourth credit in the cast list. And her hair is starting to grow out a bit, making the sight much more pleasant. This was just a visual treat though, compared to the episode’s handling of the relationship between her and Fraser. Oh, it’s very much your standard will they/won’t they, but the awkwardness between the two makes it funny, not to mention rather touching. They both quite obviously fancy the pants off each other without ever seriously admitting it to themselves, and have their own reasons not to give way, not least the difference in their ranks, but Scott has a beautifully expressed way of drifting off into pure hormonal attraction.

This was amplified by Thatcher’s sudden urge to consider having a baby and her wish to enlist Fraser as her discreet partner in this enterprise. He, you and me all jumped to what we knew was going to be the wrong conclusion, since what she was thinking of was adoption, but the close, in which Fraser very awkwardly began the quickly-aborted process of asking her out on a date, and Thatcher’s look after he had left, embedded the humour in a solid bank of wistfulness that had me smiling ruefully. Not of recognition, thankfully.

But enough of these distractions. Of course the murders were linked and the connection was a thrown away line from Percy about being convicted three months previously on a common assault charge arising out of a road rage incident. It resulted in an Anger Management Course, where he had met Nick Evers… Strangers on a Train. You murder mine and I’ll murder yours. All that remained was the confrontation scene and Fraser talking the General back from shooting both the perpetrators dead, which conformed to all the standard expectations and, by being predictable, did let the episode down a bit, but what more did we expect?

An excellent episode, for all that imdb down-rated it considerably. Given my comments above, the fact that New Ray was given a mainly serious role and slightly sidelined (Rennie excelled in a sequence set in Canada that played up the contrast from America) may have contributed to my overall enjoyment. Overall, as far as the third season is concerned, I am really enjoying the greater involvement each week of Beau Starr as Lt. Walsh, and adding Ramona Milano as a cast member to replace Catherine Bruhier was a stroke of genius. And I don’t mean to disrespect Ms Bruhier by that, far from it: both she and Walsh were seriously underused in the first two series and her part in particularly was very flatly written: Francesca Vecchio is being written far more broadly, as a character on her own rather than a plot function, and the show is better for it.

One last thing which doesn’t fit anywhere in the episode but which I have to mention. Dean McDermott has a very small and silent cameo as Constable Turnbull, on duty outside the Consulate, stood to attention. Thatcher and Fraser emerge. She locks the front door and, in order to keep the keys safely available, lifts Turnbull’s hat, deposits them on his head and restores the hat to its proper uniform position. Turnbull lifts his eyes. It’s all he has to do except stand still and, in its way, it is a minor surreal gem. I hope there’s more like this over the remainder of the series.