Due South: s02 e09 – The Edge

Due South

I like the comedy in Due South, but I also like it when the programme plays it straight and offers up a nearly pure drama, especially when it’s on a serious subject.

‘The Edge’ was an episode about Benton Fraser, and the question of whether or not he had lost, or was beginning to lose his ‘edge’, the intensity and the honed peak of all his faculties, mental and physical. The context for this was serious: Chicago was hosting a NAFTA (North American Free Trade Association: that’s going back) summit with representatives from the three parties, America, Canada and Mexico. Security is paramount, especially given the real-life opposition to NAFTA of the time, and the plenty of death threats the candidates were getting. As a result, all three countries had brought their game to the party, in the spirit of co-operation (ho ho) which meant that our duo became a more-or-less trio for the duration, their third angle being Anita Cortez (Marie Therese Rangel)

The seriousness of the situation was represented by a strong and out of character open. Armed men, in blue jumpsuits and peaked caps move stealthily through a snowy wood, converging on an isolated mansion. They force an entrance, spread out inside. They include Benton Fraser and Ray Vecchio. They surround a madman who has taken a woman hostage and who threatens to inject her with Lake Michigan water if they don’t let him go (the first indication that this might not be quite so superserious as it’s been played so far). Suddenly, she (who is Agent Cortez) bites the guy’s hand, shots are fired, Ray shoots Bennie (again) and the man in charge of this training exercise stops things and condemns it as a complete shambles.

After the theme music, and Daniel Kash’s name has now been removed from the credits, we do get a bit of mild comedy, not to mention foreshadowing. We’tre convened in Lt. Walsh’s office for some expository dialogue, plus the entrance of three FBI Special Agents, identikit knobheads, who will in short order decide that Fraser is past it and, eventually, kick him off the detail. But that comedy: as the meeting breaks up, Fraser still has tomato paste or whatever they use on his face from where Ray shot him. Cortez starts to clean it off. Inspector Thatcher hurriedly intervenes to wipe the rest of herself, giving the lame excuse, ‘we clean our own personnel’. Oh yes, we can see where this is going, especially when there’s a closing scene further expanding the confusion Fraser is start to cause for the comely Inspector (I tell you, Camilla Scott has got great legs).

But we’ll put that away because from here it’s straight drama. The would-be killer gets hold of the secret telephone codes and gets away from Fraser, to whom he’s directed his death threat letter, promising reprisals for the clearance of forests. This leads the FBI knobheads to two erroneous conclusions. One is that Fraser has blown it. The other, based on the psych profiles, is as to the nature of the killer.

The problem is that Fraser has made a couple of mistakes. This is the man who does not make mistakes. Assisted by his Dad’s ghost, talking blythely about how the bodily skills slowly start to break down as you age, Fraser starts to doubt himself. He has bizarre symbolic dreams about it (actually, there’s a nice and even sweet touch as Diefenbaker has a similar dream, about being removed as lead dog on a pack team and being replaced by a puppy!) His confidence is shaken. He makes another mistake at the airport, seeing a gun where no-one else does (another laugh here as the three co-operating security teams plan protective steps for their candidate without informing the other two).

But of course Fraser’s analysis of the threat is much more accurate than the FBI’s. Indeed, the woould-be killer, whose name we later learn is Macon Lacroix (Ken Foree), is a trained infantryman, a two-tour jungle veteran. His natural habitat is now the wild, the forests, the very forests that NAFTA’s plans are erasing. He’s out to save his home. He visits Fraser to enlist him, seeing the two of them as being the same. He’s right about that, but Fraser is sworn to the Law and cannot join Lacroix’s cause. He’s also immense, taller and broader than Fraser, very skillful. He’s Fraser’s match, ‘the player on the other side’ as Ellery Queen termed it, and he is very likely Fraser’s superior.

The FBI naturally don’t believe Fraser. They have their three suspects staked out 24/7. He’s thrown off the detail. By now Ray and Anita have bonded: saving her when she’s trodden on a home-made landmine can help that sort of thing. They’re prepated to quit in sympathy but Fraser won’t let them. Instead, he turns up at the lavish Reception as a waiter. The FBI don’t pay the proper concern to how if Fraser got through their security that easily…

And there’s Lacroix, Candidate’s hand in one hand, gun in the other. The trio converge. There’s a scuffle. Lacroix comes out of it with his arm round Fraser’s neck and his gun to his head: back to the open. Time now for Benton Fraser’s patented monologue-cum-reminiscence, which lulls Lacroix’s guard until Bennie can jump him and get him down. And save him from getting shot by the FBI…

This is what Inspector Thatcher boggles at. Fraser saves not just the candidate but the assassin. She should be getting used to this by now, also to Fraser not wanting a commendation. When she asks what he does want, it’s a coffee. With her. Cool, calm, collected she is not, flip-flopping over which of them shall drive. And she’s got great legs.

Oh, there was comedy in it along the way, moreso as we neared the dramatic conclusion than early on, which reversed the usual process, but in dealing with Fraser’s fears as to his prowess we were on a serious plane throughout. Of course he proved himself: we’re still four episodes short of the midpoint of the entire run. Much more fun to follow.

Due South: s02 e08 – One Good Man, or, Thank You, Kindly, Mr Capra

Due South

The episode’s sub-title tells you all you need to know about where this week’s episode is going to spend it’s time. Frank Capra directed great American feelgood films, and not in the way the term’s usually used today. Feelgood was the little man, the pure, idealistic common man, standing up for what is right, in the face of the overwhelming force of the rich, the powerful and the indifferent to what is right, and fair, and just. If you’re not thinking of It’s a Wonderful Life by now, whyever not?

But it’s not that classic that the episode is mentally streaming this week, but Capra’s Mr Smith Goes To Washington, also starring Jimmy Stewart, and if you know that film you know what to expect as the episode’s climax. But, as I have often made this point when discussing the difference between Forties films and those of later years, don’t expect to be taken in the way Capra took us in, and takes us in still.

Let me set out the situation. Firstly, despite his character’s death last week, Daniel Kash’s name remains in the credits, but all the supporting Cast are offscreen this weelk, and the only link to last week is Ray Vecchio on the lookout for another green 1972 Buick and mentioning that the last one got blown up. Benton Fraser is leading a clean out at his slum of an apartment building: the Landlord, Mr Potter (and if you know It’s a Wonderful Life…) is selling it to John Taylor, a rich developer, and Fraser, who thinks Taylor will be a better, kinder, more caring landlord, is leading his neighbours in some very vigorous sprucing up.

Fraser, who shows himself to be very insightful in terms of analysing crime situations, is otherwise almost impossibly naive – and interesting combination – and has got it completely wrong. Via the sleazy, rat-like Building Supervisor Dennis (Dominic Cuzzocrea), Taylor serves notice to increase the rent by $1,000 per month. All above board and legal. The fact that no-one can afford this is immaterial. Taylor has bought four tenements on this block. He intends to buy up six blocks, raze them and build condominums. Social gentrification. Very Nineties.

Of course, you can’t raze buildings if there are people living in them so first there are the eviction notices then those wonderful little tricks landlords play, like shutting off the heat, the water, the electric and moving in a trio of thugs to terrorise anyone who hasn’t yet left. It’s all legal. I mean, it isn’t, obviously, especially the last bit but whilst it’s not a legal principle, Might makes Right is way too often a legal fact.

Fraser’s in the middle of this. He’s gotten his neighbours into this and he sees it as his obligation on that all-important moral level to get them out of it. Just because the odds are insuperable…

This is where the story goes slightly off the rails. In order to garner publicity, Fraser turns to journalist McKenzie King (Maria Bello, later to star in both E.R. and NCIS). Both he and Ray refer to her as if they have had previous dealings with her that have, what else, prejudiced her against Fraser, and besides the character is named after the Canadian Prime Minister during the Second World War (though that one was a bloke). Except that imdb reveals this to be her only appearance in the series, so it confused for a long time over why she was put forward as having appeared previously in an episode that I temporarily couldn’t recall.

Anyway. Things come to a double head when the three thugs cut the elevator cable whilst a woman and her young daughter are in the car. It’s a brilliant sequence, as the ancient machinery breaks down bit by bit in a convincing matter, ratchetting up the danger, whilst Fraser struggles to get both the girl and her mother – and finally himself – out before the car drops to the basement and the death of anyone still in it.

It’s a turning point, though we don’t have that telegraphed. The next stage is the Mr Smith Goes To Wahington bit, where Fraser, as a last resort, pleads for justice and fairness before a clearly indifferent City Council who have been greased by Taylor and, when refused so much as an answer, starts a filibuster. Thank you, kindly, indeed, Mr Capra.

Of course he wins. We haven’t watched 30 episodes of Due South by now without knowing that’s what will happen. And Fraser does indeed win over the Council to his side, implausible as that is, by telling the story of how his grandmother saved the children of an Inuitvillage from death in a fire, and sustained serious burns herself, because she insisted upon holding to the idea of doing what was right. But this is 1995, not 1940, and no-one believes such things can ever happen, not any more.

No, the real saving grace is Dennis, the sleazebag. Who saw the lift incident and experienced a Road to Damascus moment. Who comes before the City Council having ‘found’ a Lease, his Lease, granted him by Mr Potter, 10 years, no rent increases, four years unexpired. It provides the City Council with grounds, other than the goodness of their hearts, to revoke all Taylor’s permits, until further notice, thus enabling the tenants to return. Awww!

Ms King goes on her way, for no easily discernible reason except perhaps for the fact that Taylor owns her newspaper, telling Fraser not to come near her again, which he didn’t, which was a shame because, although her part wasn’t that well defined, she brought enough vigour to it for me to like her. Fraser’s neighbours rally round to help clear up his apartment which got smashed during the fight with the thugs.

But we ended on something that had absolutely no connection to the story, and which stood out like the proverbial sore thumb for having nothing to do with anything. Ray’s looking at replacing the Buick and goes to his cousin Al’s motor shop. A dark-haired woman called Angie pops in, needing her car fixing. She and Ray seem awkward with each other, though she’s the more relaxed. Ray doesn’t want to talk about her but, when she’s seen again, fleetingly, tells Fraser that she’s his ex-wife (and she’s played by Katayoun Amini, better known as Katayoun Marciano, David Marciano’s real life wife).

The episode ends on a flashback to Ray and Angie sitting in Ray’s first Buick, not-arguing about his blowing their savings on it. What it’s all about is impossible to tell. It’s true to life in that odd encounters with old fruends and lovers do occasionally happen and they usually have no bearing on what you’re doing at the time, but it’s not true to professional primetime television series. Katayoun Amini does appear once more, in this series, but not for several weeks so it’s not as if this is a case of foreshadowing – which is not one of Due South‘s bag of tricks to begin with.

Nevertheless, and having due regard to the sugariness with which any tribute to Capra is necessarily invested, I did enjoy the episode without considering it great in any way, except the elevator sequence. And I did like Ms McKenzie King.

Due South: s02 e07 – Juliet is Bleeding

Due South

There was a lot to be said about this episode, enough that it isn’t an easy task to put them into some sort of coherent order, so I apologise in advance if this post ends up being shapeless. If it does, it would at least appropriate to the episode which, despite being dark, serious, intense and tragic, was shapeless in terms of an episode of network television. It was good, don’t mistake that, and in one sequence very moving, but it took a long time to develop what appeared to be a point.

The open seemed to promise one thing: balaclavaed thugs enter a bar and smash it up despite being protected. But this was an irrelevance to the story, even though the protection comes from the organisation of Frank Zuko (Jim Bracchitta), previousky seen in the first season episode, ‘The Deal’. Zuko, if you remember, grew up alongside Ray Vecchio and the two hate each other.

Now we’re going to find out why. Ray’s been promoted to Detective 1st Class, with a raise, and to celebrate has booked a table at Pat’s restaurant for himself, Fraser and Detectives Huey and Guardino (but not Diefenbaker). Pat’s is a neutral place: cops and mobsters eat there in peace, neither side is favoured. But it’s Frank Zuko’s birthday and he’s booked the entire place out for his party. Ray’s not having this, he insists on his reservation, and it’s given him by Frank, in a side-room with crappy service.

But there’s a striking dark-haired woman sat next to Frank, and she and Ray can’t help looking at each other. She’s Carrie-Anne Moss and she’s playing Irene Zuko, Frank’s sister. She was at school with Ray as well, and they both remember. It’s not love at first sight, not here in 1996, but maybe it was, once. Ray’s in love with Irene, the only woman he has loved, but there’s one massive obstacle to any relationship and it’s Frankie. So, when Ray gets tired of the way they’re being treated, he decides to provoke things by asking Irene to dance. This naturally angers the self-obsessed Frank, who can’t let his sister dance with a cop because it would weaken his position as kingpin. The outcome is a mellee, head-busting, windmilling fists – and suspension for Vecchio, and Reports for Huey and Guardino.

All of this has taken nearly fifteen minutes without any real plot-point becoming visible, deliberately so it would seem. Where are we going?

Let me break off here to discuss something that might appear to be a digression. According to its credits, repeated every week, Due South has a cast of six, Fraser and Vecchio, plus Lieutenant Walsh, Detectives Huey and Guardino, and Civilian Aide Elaine Bessbriss. That made perfect sense when starting the series, setting up a group of characters who would give ample room for interactions. Huey and Louis were antagonists, fellow detectives taking snide potshots at Ray, supposedly more efficient thsn him, pre- his partnership wth Fraser that is.

But if you’ve read all these posts to date, you’ll have noticed that I hardly, if ever, mention them. Walsh, yes, increasingly over the last couple of months, but the others hardly ever. That’s because they are basically redundant. In fact, though I haven’t counted, and don’t intend to go back and do so, I sam convinced that there are more episodes where they are only credited than there are those in which they actually appear, mostly briefly.

That, to me, says that the production team very quickly realised that in Fraser and Vecchio, they had all that they needed, and that the show worked best as a two-hander. And they were right. Huey, Guardino, Elaine, are no more than background characters, occasional functionaries.

Why have I devoted so much time to making this point? Because Frank Zuko hasn’t taken kindly to his humiliation. Because someone’s planted a bomb in Ray’s beloved Buick. And that bomb goes off, destroying the car, and killing Louis Guardino.

Suddenly, it gets very serious indeed. Huey is distraught and wants revenge, in bringing Zuko down. Ray’s foursquare with him. A cop is dead, one of their own. A line is drawn and everyone hews to it. Zuko’s home is searched under warrant, the right kind of detonators are found, Frank is arrested without an alibi. Huey is satisfied and so is Ray. But not Fraser. There are things that concern him. Things that are too easy. And one unanswerable absence: would a man like Frank Zuko arrange to have someone killed and not provide himdself with an alibi?

Fraser’s pursuit of truth is going to set himself against Huey, against Ray, against the entire Division.

But first we have the funeral. A Cop’s Funeral, in all its solemness and dignity. The pall bearers – Ray, Huey, Walsh and Fraser – all in dress uniform. The stately movements. The respectful folding of the flag. The rifle shots over the coffin. Guardino’s parents huddled together. The utter solemnity of a silent sequence, given time and space, the honours paid in due fashion, the whole thing carried out to a soundtrack song that flasshed by too quickly in the end-credits for me to identify it. It moved me to tears, not for the quality of Detective Guardino, nor the loss of the character for the remainder of the series because, speaking as the audience, he was too insubstantial to be a loss, but because of the very clear depiction of the feelings of the Police at losing one of their own. If he didn’t matter to us he mattered to them and that came over in quiet, dignified spades.

What followed couldn’t really match up. To be honesr, it was sloppy in comparison. Fraser pursues his investigations, convinced it wasn’t Zuko, determined that the true killer see justice, even if that means Frank being released (final appearances for Lee Purcell and Sherry Miller in that scene). Fraser is not popular. His friendship with Ray is stretched to breaking point. Ray, meanwhile, has climbed the ivy to get into the Zuko house and talk to Irene, like he used to when they were teenagers. For once his conversation is open, no cynicism, no flip remarks, just a guy talking to the woman he loves, without needing to impress her or be anything but himself because that’s all she needs of him. Irene’s a Zuko. She’s of her family, even if she’s not involved, and indeed hates it. The episode title is ‘Juliet is Bleeding’. Unfortunately, it’s a foreshadowing. Ray is a Montagu who loves a Capulet, who loves him back.

What happens follows fast and furious. There’s a wiretap on the Zuko house, Huey and Ray outside in the van. Frank’s furious. Fraser has pointed him to the real killer, his closest associate. Irene sees the bloodshed and violence that’s coming. On top of that, the sheer hatred between her brother and the man she loves, cutting both ways, only means it will go on forever. She wants out, to get away. Frank won’t let her, she can’t go to his enemy, which will diminish him. When she slaps his face he hits her back. That’s too much for Ray, who goes in to get her out, calling for back-up. Frank’s raging. He won’t let Irene go, not least with Ray, he’ll kill him first. When back-up arrives, there’s a struggle to get the gun off him. A shot is fired. It hits Irene. Ray rushes her to the hospital. She doesn’t make it.

Irene is the sacrifice for Ray to see clearly again. If he hadn’t hated Frank Zuko so much. It would be easy to nail him for murder, of his own sister. Jack Huey wants it to go down that way, but Ray’s having none of it. It was an accident, a goddam accident.

All I can say is that, despite the episode’s manifest flaws (which will include next week when, inevitably, Fraser and Ray will be best buddies again as if this never happened) and its failure to put a shape in the story, this was a bloody good story, of aserious kind that demonstrated that Due South, a comedy drama that leans heavily on the comedy, can do industrial strength serious with no more than negligible humour and bring you to the edge of your seats and keep you there. Such flexibility is rare, and deserves recognition.

Due South: s02 e06 – Mask

Due South

An intriguing episode that doesn’t seem to have attracted too much attention, possibly due to a slightly over-complicated plot that was comprehensible more in terms of what you expected it to be rather than in the resolution of its own machinations.

‘Mask’ started in serious vein. Two masks, a pair designed to fit inside one another, the outer eyeless, have been reunited for the first time in over a century. One is owned by the Canadian Government, the other by the French. Properly they belong to the Shenshen tribe of Canadian Indians, from whom they were ‘confiscated’, a polite word for stolen, by the Christian Missionary sent to convert them from their ‘primitive’ religion with the usual tact, sensitivity and diplomacy displayed by such superior My-God-is-better-than-your-God beings.

Usually, exposition of this kind, delivered in a lump, is poor writing yet in Due South, and delivered by Paul Gross as RCMP Constable Benton Fraser, we accept it, especially as directed to Ray Vecchio, interjecting with disdain from his lack of concern, we not only accept it, we enjoy it. It’s Bennie’s nature to be polite and informative about everything, even in the face of Inspector Thatcher’s dislike for his thoroughness, especually when she’s engaged in providing the Museum Curator with a route map tp her knickers.

Of course the masks are going to be stolen. It’s an ingenious and hi-tech approach, dangling from the skylight and operating entirely inside the motion detectors and lasers, until the dangler, a Shenshen kid named David, panics, drops the cutter that’s got him into the glass cabinet, sets off the alarms and is grabbed by Ray. Meanwhile, Fraser goes after the guy on the roof, who knocks him down fifty feet to break his fall in a dumpster. But not before Fraser recognises him. It’s Eric.

Now I freely admit I didn’t realise who this was, not even when Eric (Rodney A Grant) mentioned shooting a caribou who turned into a man. This was during a sweat lodge session with Bennie, in the latter’s crummy little flat, into which Eric had moved, with his entire family. But ‘Eric’ shot the caribou to save Fraser’s life in the Pilot, where the character was credited as ‘Inuit Tracker’, and was now named Eric after the actor from the Pilot. A nice use of continuity if too esoteric for me.

Now Eric denied being the man on the roof and Fraser didn’t pursue it. He was there to help, as a Shenshen leader, balanced and mature, to help find the young David, an activist who was impatient. And with Eric’s help in tracking, David’s hotel was found and the masks recovered and reinstalled at the museum. To Fraser it was too easy, but no-one shared his reservations, not Ray, of course, and certainly not Inspector Thatcher.

It’s the one drawback with serialised fiction. Each episode has to return, to one degree or another, to its original state of grace, meaning here that no matter how many times Fraser is proved to be right to dig deeper, everyone ignores him afresh when he says its not over. The thing is, the rescued masks are not the real ones but forgeries. Who’s behind all this? Is it Michelle Duchamps (Denise Virieux), the tall, sexy, French-accented representative of one Government, caught with a gun in the studios of the murdered forger? No, she’s only guilty of an over-assiduous attention to her Government’s interests. Actually, it’s Daphne Kelly (Deborah Tennent), the small, mousy, pinched representative of the other Government, who’s conspiring with the Curator to steal the originals and get rich off them.

This leads to the confrontation scene in the Museum, with Bennie, Ray, Ms Kelly, the Curator, a gun-toting David (the Canadian lady is also armed) that ends with Eric and David stealing off into the shadows leaving behind both carrying cases, one with the real masks, one with the fakes. Only, one case is empty.

By now it was impossible to tell but story-logic, supported by a Shenshen celebration somewhere that wasn’t Fraser’s apartment, dictated that the tribe had the real deal and no-one in Chicago had sussed they only had fakes. Except Conatable Fraser, of course, and he wasn’t saying anying.

The show closed on two points not germane to the episode but which were evident developments. The one was that Ray, utterly improbably, had scored a dinner date with States Attorney St Laurent: after much thought, he took her to Bennie’s sweat lodge! We only saw things from the outside but she sounded impressed…

The other was the ongoing relationship between Constable Fraser and Inspector Thatcher. By which I don’t mean to suggest that there is an acrtual relationship other than that between irascible Inspector who wants to sack impossibly perfect but irritating Constable. But the good lady Inspector, who was looking seriously good in civilian clothes throughout, did try to ensure that her Constable’s report would not concern itself with extraneous matter, such as a certain dark-haired lady’s serious flirting with the Curator. However, the Inspector was reassured, in a roundabout way, by the discovery that her Consatable was the one person in both the episode and the audience who hadn’t registered her trying to get off with a criminal…

So, a serious episode, or so it seems. But there was still the usual crosstalk between Bennie and Ray, not to mention Ray and Louise St Laurent, so the comedic element of the series was maintained, though unlike the ‘Please shoot other leg’ gag of a couple of weeks ago there was nothing quotable. I live in hope for next week.

Due South: s02 e05 – The Promise

Due South

Ooooh. Undercurrents.

This week’s Due South offered up an extra long open – just short of eight minutes – cross-cutting between three different stories that slowly converged into a single scenario that brought everything together into a confluence that the full episode would then have to navigate. It took skillful writing to maintain all the elements and not short-change any of the constituent pieces, but the episode made it. And it offered an undercurrent.

I’ll get to that at the end. For the moment, the open started as three strands. In the first, Constable Benton Fraser’s overly rigid attitude to lawfulness was again arousing the frustration of Inspector Thatcher (Camilla Scott, looking seriously lovely). The Inspector was late for some event and only half out of her uniform because Fraser was late picking her up at the Airport, and exacerbating matters by refusing to park and let her out, just because there was no legal parking available, despite her reminding him this was a Consular car, with Diplomatic Immunity. Fraser’s adherence to the minutiae of the Law caused the inspector’s temper to rise to the point that she left her bag in the car and had to run back for it, causing…

In a moment. Our second strand was a meeting in a car in the back alley. A woman named Sunny Barclay had a meeting with someone from the campaign for Senator Elliott Johnstone. She was a madame. She had an Electronic Organiser with names, addresses, dates etc on it. It was of some value to certain people, let’s say people not necessarily satisfied with attractive wives of their own. Sunny wanted to sell her information to someone, if not the Senator then the Press. Cobb emerged from the car, slipping the Organiser into his inside pocket and the garrotting wire down a drain. He was heading back to his car when…

Now’s the moment. Disregarding the irrelevant panhandler who was meant as a red herring, the open’s third strand was Sid (Shawn Mathieson) and Andy (Amy Stewart). This pair were brother and sister, a Dickensian pair translated into the mid-Nineties, living out of a battered old van, off scraps and bits, robberies and pickpocketing. Andy’s the dip, reluctantly and good at it. Sid’s pushing her to do two more jobs for tonight. So she bumps into an attractive woman in evening dress and relieves her of a unique and significant brooch. And into a hefty bloke in a suit, who has an Electronic Organiser in an inside pocket, but not for long. Run credits.

So we have our elements. On the one hand, the murder of a madame, a case assigned to the non-feather-ruffling Detectives Huey and Guardino, and definitely not assigned to the less-than-subtle Vecchio, upon the insistence of Commander O’Neill. On another, Lieutenant Walsh wants Fraser to distract Vecchio on some insignificant and unimportant case, which just so happens to revolve around our favourite Mountie’s promise to his Inspector to retrieve her brooch. And on the third and fourth hands we have Sid and Andy.

Sid and Andy are brother and sister, and she’s only fourteen. There’s a hinted at back story that Sid’s paying off a Child Welfare Agent to keep Andy out of a foster home whilst he ‘looks after her’, forcing her to steal, treating her like his slave, keeping her in the dark and basically ordering her around like any old overseer. They’re ‘saving up’ to go to Wyoming and their family, or so Andy believes and dreams. They sell the stuff Andy’s dipped at a local pawnbroker, but she doesn’t want the Organiser because she’s got ten of them already, and she turns down the brooch in a tiny moment of selflessness, recognising that Andy wants it for herself and that she has little or nothing of her own, a lovely touch.

But the fourth hand is Cobb, the bodyguard, who finds and attacks Andy, though interrupted by Fraser and Vecchio.

How is this to be resolved? The episode worked itself out patiently, complete with caustic rants from trhe inspector about Fraser’s inability to produce concrete evidence and even more caustic rants from the Commander about such things as Vecchio going to conffront Senator Johnstone over whether his staff have murdered a madame, especially without checking first if his Campaign Manager is his wife…

Meanwhile, the flagrantly unprepossessing Sid was demonstrating the eternal truth that street smarts are no substitute for genuine intelligence, threatening Cobb with exposure of the Organiser if he doesn’t get $10,000, and thereby precipitating Andy into a kidnapping with the inescapably foreseeable outcome of both of then getting piano wire twisted into their throats as soon as he had the Organisor in his hands. Sid goes to the Police who lay a trap that is blown by Louis Guardino’s incomptence and it’s all looking bad on the rooftops, as Cobb is about to throw Andy down.

But her brother redeems himself. Sid lays aside all the mean self-centredness and manipulation of his kid sister to throw himzself at Cobb out of the blue, and send both of them off the rooftop. It’s a cliche, but a welcome one at this moment.

So all will work itself out, if not all of it on screen. Both Cobb and Sid survive. Sid exonerates Andy for being his unwilling underling. Ray promises a sympathetic understanding from Louise at the State Attorney’s. And Inspector Thatcher gets her brooch back.

Did I mention undercurrents? Fraser is at work in his little Consulate cubbyhole when the Inspector enters, complete with brooch, which she has found on her desk in her office. You could cut the undercurrents with a knife as the stilted conversation eventually ends inb her saying a thank you that is evidently genuine and heartfelt whilst being equally reluctant.

Then she tells him never to go into her office unbidden again, this is her first and last warning…

Ooooh. Undercurrents.

Due South: s02 e04 – Bird in the Hand

Due South

Sometimes, especially with a show like Due South, by its nature, there isn’t really anything new to say about a specific episode. This is the case even with episodes that hover on the border between very good and excellent. They are great episodes, precisely because they so fully embody the things that make the show so watchable, but because they represent the show at its best, they offer little or nothing by way of insight.

‘Bird in the Hand’ was a perfect example of this. It ofered a serious story, as demonstrated in the open, showing the escape from an airport of a prisoner in chains who, after the whole thing was filmed with cameras at midsection, we were shown to be Gerard (Ken Pogue), the corrupt ex-RCMP Officer who had Benton Fraser’s father Bob shot and killed in the Pilot episode.

As I suspected, the continuity thread of the past few weeks has been allowed to lapse, at least temporarily. Camilla Scott is absent this week so Fraser’s status at the Canadian Consulate is slightly uplifted, especially as he now has to deal with Constable Turnbull (Dean McDermott, later husband of Tori Spelling), playing a junior Liaison Officer of startlingly limited intelligence, a new recurring character.

Gerard has been brought from Canada to give evidence before a Grand Jury, it is believed to be to testify against arms smuggler Lloyd P Nash (Philip Williams), who is the person most likely to want Gerard silenced. Though not necessarily in the eyes of Agent McFadden (Dick Anthony Williams) of the ATF and FBI Special Agent Borland (Stewart Arnott). Given that Gerard had Bob Fraser killed, they believe that the person most likely to want the escapee dead, preferably at this own hands, is our favourite Mountie.

They’re not alone. Even Chicago’s most cynical detective, Ray Vecchio, assumes Bennie wants Gerard dead and explains his consummate willingness to collude with his partner in certifying any termination as being either accidental or in self-defence, whichever suits the circumstances best. Only the audience gets it, which is that whatever his personal feelings, Fraser’s moral code, and his dedication to his duty – mirroring that of Captain Carrot in Terry Pratchett’s City Watch books – is absolute.

But that’s Fraser. Fraser is a paragon, a parfit gentil knight, the man who is himself not mean, to an even greater level than Philip Marlowe. He’s impossibly good, which is why we find him both admirable and funny, as he navigates daily contact with humanity in all its everyday, low-level meanness. Nobody except the audience – and, it turns out, the manipulative Gerard – expects him to so determinedly navigate the temptation. Certainly not his mentor, inspiration and first teacher, Bob Fraser himself, turning up with ever-increasing frequency as the ghost in Bennie’s head, pleading, urging and demanding that his son kill the man who had him killed.

I mean, this is a serious story. It will slowly be unravelled as a tale of corruption. Nash will tell a hypothertical story of a shipping of arms into Canada, where he had a deal with a high-ranking Mountie, that got hi-jacked, the guns stolen off him by either the ATF or the FBI: Gerard isn’t testifying against him. Agent McFadden brings his weary resignation to Bennie and Ray, determined, despoite the embarrassment, to clean up his own house, against the separate agenda of the FBI, but he turns out to be the villain.

But the Due South style is to lean into such things, and of course the seriousness of Fraser having to protect the man responsible for his father’s death, and to make you laugh, immoderately, in so doing. Fraser’s conversations with his father, especially the ones carried out in public where other people can hear his side of things, are hilarious. Fraser is the fish-out-of-water but Fraser Sr. is the fish-out-of-water to Bennie, especially in his ineffectual attempts to get his son to do what he can’t physically do, even if that’s only kick Gerard in the ribs.

And then there’s Ray, always along for the ride, backing up his buddie, confident that whilst Fraser is always getting everything wrong because of his Canadian demeanour, he nevertheless doesn’t get anything wrong wrong. Ray supplies the last and funniest joke, which is both insanely implausible yet utterly natural.

But to get there we have to go through the shoot-out. The bad guys have come out of the shadows, everybody’s going to get killed, Fraser will be the patsy, and that’s when he delivers one of those monologues that stops everything, wierding everyone out until he can get them off balance and then all hell breaks loose. Fraser stops a bullet in his leg, doing wvhat Fraser does, risking his life to save even a villain who is under his protection. And writer/creator Paul Haggis deliberately blurs lines, by having Bob Fraser first shout for everyone to clear out, and seemingly implant the idea in McFadden’s head, and then actually appear to Gerard, dangling from a window, offering him a hand that the man actually tries to grasp in his desperation, but which, thankfully, isn’t real. It still saves the day.

So everything works out. Right triumphs and the bad guys, including the corrupt ATF men fall into the lap of justice. Even States Attorney Louise St Laurent, a cameo return for Lee Purcell, smiles at Vecchio.

Who, in the spirit of enquiry, looks at his friend Fraser, in full red uniform with two crutches, and checks that that is, yes, the same leg Gerard shot Bennie in in the pilot. And the same leg in which he got stabbed? Yes. As they walk away, Vecchio pulls a piece of paper out of his coat and slaps in on Fraser’s chest, out of our sight. Fraser reads it: Please shoot other leg. That’s not funny, Ray, he complains, but of course it is. Which is why the serious stuff is so unimportant. You can’t make the show without it. But it would be pointless without the absurdity that it does so well. Please shoot other leg. There’s even a gloriously Milligan-esque quality just to imagine that.

Due South: s02 e03 – The Witness

Due South

We’re still teasing the threads of continuity as we move forward into season 2, but this week’s RCMP Constable Benton Fraser’s status at the Chicago Canadian Consulate moves into the backgriund to stay just that: a continuity of no relevance to this week’s story. Which sees both Bennie and Ray Vecchio sent to prison, only one of them deliberately.

To deal with continuity first, Fraser’s new commanding officer, Inspector Thatcher (who will eventually become Meg as opposed to Margaret) still wants him out. Firing him comes with bureaucratic complications, paperwork, much senior approvals so it will be so much easier, not to mention quicker, if he just requests a transfer: her (male) secretary hands Fraser the form as he leaves. Fraser’s father (whose ghost, for all newbies, is a regular revenant, approves: he’d like a change of scene). By the end, Fraser is, in his stilted fashion, explainging that he would prefer to stay. The sceptical Inspector, whose smile is very pleasant but should not necessarily be relied upon, simply says ‘Dismissed’, but it has the feel of acceptance to it, though that might just be my being beguiled, despite my warning, by the smile on Camilla Scott’s face.

Of more import is the trail, for armed robbery and first degree murder, of Robert Kruger (Aiden Devine), lead Detective giving very professional and calm testimony in Court being Vecchio, R. It’s all open and shut until the lead witness, Mrs Rosanna Torres (Pauline Abarca) not only recants the tesimony she gave voluntarily but accuses Ray of coercing her into giving it in the first place. Cue consternation.

Kruger’s Counsel, who could give the most saintly of lawyers (there are some) a bad name, demands dismissal, threatens the judge with misconduct and demands charges against Vecchio. DA Louise St. Laurent (Lee Purcell, who will recur a clearly insufficient number of times for a woman with such gloriously red hair as her) clearly doesn’t regard Vecchio as a whited sepulchre. It’s clear to all and sundry, except the three lawyers, that Mrs Torres’ recantation is down to her being threatened. In due order, the following things happen: Ray, with his customary calm and patience, gets himself committed to prison for contempt, Fraser, picking up the threads unofficially, discovers that Mrs Torres’ husband Eddie is actually in prison – alongside Kruger – and is thus the unseen but obvious lever, and lastly, in order to protect both Eddie and his buddy, gets himself arrested and committed to prison for shoplifting (the scene where Fraser, in front of Detectives Huey and Gardino, literally cannot force himself to steal a box of Milk Duds is absolutely hilarious).

The rest of the episode, more or less, is set inside. Time is telescoped: Fraser goes from arrest to conviction to arrival, a perfectly naive if slightly OTT self-introduction to his fellow inmates (Thank you, kindly) and appointment as book-monitor with the privilege of going anywhere in the prison faster than Frodo goes from Gandalf’s return to setting off for Bree in the film of The Fellowship of the Ring. Kruger has, of course, made him, just as he’s made Vecchio. From there to the climax, a near riot aimed solely at the two ‘pigs’ is just a matter of time, but the unexpected conclusion, revealing an improbable philosophical bent from the prison’s resident man-in-the-shape-of-a-grunting-mountain, undercuts the tension with another moment of delighted laughter.

After that, it’s just a brief coda, with Vecchio apologising for his contempt with overwhelming humility at having been right all along, Ms St. Laurent warning him that things don’t end here (oh I do so hope not!), the aforementioned ‘Dismissed’ and just enough space to mention that Lt Walsh gets to deliver a heartfelt soliloquy about halfway through that is spectacularly out of left-field until we get a brief explicatory but memorable glimpse of Sherry Miller, playing his boss, Commander Sherry O’Neill who, like Lee Purcell, will recur far too few times.

It’s going to be interesting to see what threads will still be playing out next week.

Due South: s02 e02 – Vault

Due South

After the multiple digressions and diversions of the past few weeks, Due South takes us back to Chicago and the normal parameters of the show, and immediately things zing and the show gets naturally funny again. That’s not entirely the case, because the series is continuing to build upon previous episodes, adding a well-realised background continuity that’s going to influence events for at least one more week, as the twist ending very clearly demonstrated.

We start with an open re-settling both Fraser and Vecchio in their normal environments only not so. There’s a new, red-coated, upright, unmoving Mountie outside the consulate, even more dedicated to ramrod stiffness than Fraser, a snotty and most unCanadianly sarcastic executive secretary and a new Commander who has summoned our favourite Constable to a review meeting that you get the sense is not going to be plain sailing. She is Inspector Thatcher – and yes, we will eventually learn that her first name is Margaret, and she’s played by Camilla Scott, though we don’t see her until the very last scene, and she will go on to be more than just supporting cast, but for now she is change, and unwelcome change at that.

It’s a different story down at the precinct. Vecchio, his arm still in a sling, is seeking advanced disability pension benefits over the damage wreaked by a bullet to the shoulder that supposedly then took so many twists and turns throughout his body it makes the ‘Magic Bullet’ fired by Lee Harvey Oswald look like a bullseye with a toy arrow. Lieutenant Walsh is sceptical. Huey and Guardino take the piss. And Elaine delivers the sting: they’re burying Ray on Thursday.

That’s the superb set-up that enables the story of the episode. On seeing Vecchio’s insurance claim, the adjuster decided, quite reasonably, that no-one with these injuries could survive and had him declared legally dead. Everything has been cancelled, including his Driving Licence, which is why Vecchio and Fraser are being driven to the Bank in Ray’s 1971 Buick by Francesca. As usual, brother and sister are squabbling. Meanwhile, Fraser sits in the back looking and feeling uncomfortable in the new dark blue uniform he’s been ordered to wear.

They arrive at the Bank just before closing time, Vecchio bulling his way in waving his badge, demanding $1,240 out of his account to pay for his Bulls season tickets, but being frustrated. He’s dead, and his account is frozen. But there’s another problem. We’ve already seen the Bank being cased by a familiar face, Christina Cox reprising her role as Caroline Morgan from the first episode of season 1. Her gang’s plan goes into execution, the remaining staff are held at gunpoint, Morgan recognises Fraser and wants to kill him and he and Ray end up diving into the Bank vault, which closes behind them. On a time lock. That won’t open until 8.00. Tomorrow.

There is a famous Golden Age Science Fiction short story called ‘The Cold Equations’ which is typical of the early days of the genre in being solely concerned about scientific calculations and the tragedies that can result from ignorance of them. Neither character has enough personality combined to fill the bottom of a thimble but that’s irrelevant to the story. Fraser and Vecchio are trapped in a completely sealed small room which they cannot get out of for twenty hours. There is a limited amount of oxygen on which to subsist. Calculating air capacity, rate of consumption, period of incarceration, the optimistic Fraser falls silent. Cold equations.

Not that Morgan is prepared to let them go out the natural way. She wants Fraser, she wants to kill him herself. She also wants the money. So, in proper professional safe-cracking manner, her crew set about drilling into the eight deadbolts, through over eight inches of steel, in order to pack the holes with plastic explosives and, you’ll pardon the obvious quote, ‘blow the bloody door off’.

This will obviously take some time so, in order to keep us amused, the show does two very good things. First of all, it shows us the endless banter and expected friction between our buddies in danger, the contrast in personalities, between optimism and pessimism, with six to five on the latter. And Fraser’s cunning plan, which is to set off the sprinkler, let the vault fill with water so that when the door comes off, a wall of water will hit the gang, with our two buddies surfing out on it to save the day. And the money. Fraser’s calculations as rto the rate the vault will be filled suggest that, when the door is blown, they’ll have an inch of air left. If the gang keep driling constantly.

Which is where the stroke of genius comes in. To date, Ramona Milano has been a very minor supporting character as Vecchio’s younger and exceedngly brash and sexy sister Francesca. Now she finally hets an extended chance to shine, and Milano grasps it with both hands and goes gloriously OTT with OTT material. Sick of waiting outside in the car, she demands to get inside the now-closed Bank, which gets her taken hostage too. But Francesca has no intention of sitting down quietly just because there’s guns on her. She talks non-stop, seeing herself as the heroine who saves the day with cunning plans that involve offering her body (and Ms Milano has truly great legs, encased in a very short skirt that is all Francesca).

It’s wonderfully nutty. You can hardly credit someone being so daffy in 1995, but, incredibly, even though she’s duct-taped to a chair, Francesca’s constant need to act does play a very important part in enabling Fraser’s plan to come off perfectly. The day is saved, the hostages are saved, the bad guys arrested, oh yes, and the money’s saved too. Less Vecchio’s $1,240, which he insisted on subtracting when he yhought he was going to die.

And there’s a consequence to all that chatter in the vault. Ray gets Bennie to admit that he does, from time to time, feel under-appreciated. And he urges him to stand up for himself once in a while. Which leads us to our coda, in which Fraser is back in the cinsulate, giving a noble and stirring sppech (that nevertheless falters) to an unseen figure, all about the uniform, ending with the hesitant declaration that, it still being regulation, he will not wear the new dark blue but will go back to the traditional brown one.

Which is the cue for Camilla Scott to make her first onscreen appearance and speak her first line. Which is, “You’re fired.” See what I mean about the serialisation?

Due South: s02 e01 – North

Due South

Back for a second season, despite CBS’s lack of faith in it, Due South rolled straight on from where season 1 left off, by sending RCMP Constable Benton Fraser (Paul Gross) and Chicasgo PD Detective Ray Vecchio (David Marciano) off on two week’s vacation and R’n’R, to be spent way up in the Territories, rebuilding Fraser’s Dad’s cabin, burned down in the double-length ‘Victoria’s Secret’.

So what we have, first off, is an inversion of the show’s basic fish-out-of-water situstion, only this time it’s going to be the streetwise, cynical Ray Vecchio who’s out of his depth. The obvious problem with such a scenario is that this particular fish happens to thrive out of water so, once he’s returned to his natural pond, to extend the metaphor, he has to be handicapped, severely.

Establishing this takes a rather extended open, ten minutes in length, featuring much frustration on Ray’s part at the less-than-hasty ways of Canada, his feeling that he is being persecuted as an American, and letting us but not them see that an escaped convict has shot and killed both his policeman escort and the charter pilot assigned to Ray and Bennie’s light aircraft. A fact Bennie works out from little clues involving dandruff and the fact they’re flying towards a completely different compass point. By which time they’re ready to tackle their illicit pilot he’s bailed out with a parachute, leaving them to crash land in the great big, wide-sprawling forest.

Never mind, Bennie’s in his element here, he’ll get the pair out, and he’ll get his man too. Except that it’s not going to be that easy. Bennie’s sustained a blow to the head that’s temporarily affected his optic nerves. Bennie is blind. Of course, he’s still got four other working senses left to him and Ray to lean on, literally so when he goes on to lose the use of his legs.

In thus fashion our two heroes have to press on through the forest, hindered by the absence of any advantages other than Ray’s grim determination to get his friend out of this alive. Hindred too by the ongoing presences of two ghostly fathers, Fraser Sr. urging his mountie son on to get his man, even if he was to abandon Ray to fulfil his duty, and Vecchio Sr., the self-centred louse, urging his unlistening son on to look after number one and run out on Bennie.

The problem with this episode was however a lack of balance. The situation was serious, but the blundering and inept way Fraser and Vecchio approached it wasn’t. Throughout the first season, Due South proved itself adept at keeping these two elements in proportion, but here the story toppled too far towards the comic, to its detriment. The closest it got to genuine seriousness were the minor moments, brief and sober scenes setting up next week’s story: Lt. Walsh hears from the airport commander that the plane has been lost, Elaine looks mournful, he brings the news to the Vecchio household and Francesca stares into the sky before hastening inside. A bigger dose of that would have been far better.

Of course our guys win. They reach a river and build a raft. The convict, who is armed, catches up to them and puts them under fire. Bennie can walk by now and his sight is in the verge of coming back. he’s constructed a bolas that he wants Ray to pass to him, even blind he reckons he can drop the guy. But Ray won’t let him expose himself. He whirls and flkings the bolas, way off target, high above the convict’s head. Who’s just taking aim when the bolas hits the cliff above him, causing an avalanche that buries and kills the guy.

Which sadly fell flat because instead of being an absurd ending it was only one more absurd moment.

All that was left was a brief coda. Bennie and Ray aren’t out of the woods yet, they’re poling their raft, complete with body, down the river, Ray enjoying himself, master of all he surveys until, ‘Is that a waterfall?’

I hope this isn’t going to set a trend…

Due South: s01 e22: Letting Go

Due South

Given the overall nature of the series, this week’s final episode of season 1, following directly on from last week’s movie-length story, was a surprising venture into the experimental. Once again, the serious tone established for Benton Fraser’s love affair with Victoria Metcalf (whose role was briefly repeated by Melina Kanakaredes) was allowed to dominate the season ending, though with a slowly increasing amount of the show’s absurdist humour creeping in as things neared the close.

Last week’s story ended on a cliffhanger as, thinking Victoria was about to shoot Bennie when all she was really doing was reaching out her hand for him to grab, Ray Vecchio fired his service weapon at her. Unfortunately, Bennie got in the way and was shot in the back. After an open combining an ongoing shot of the seriously wounded Bennie on a hospital gurney, being rushed into surgery, with flashbacks to last week, the main body of the episode featured our favourite Mountie, morose, brooding and touched with a degree of self-loathing, in his hospital room, confined to bed or a wheelchair, with nothing to do but stare out of the window. So far, so (deliberately) Rear Window.

All Fraser could do was endure the awkwardness of visits by Ray, prolonged by neither of them being able to discuss the elephant in the room, the cheerful and intelligent ministrations of his therapist, Jill Kennedy (Laurie Holden) and the office on the other side of the hospital, occupied by Dr Carter (Jennifer Dale). Thar’s when he isn’t being plagued by the visitations of his dead father, Bob Fraser (Gordon Pinsent), accompanied in turn by Bob’s mother (Frances Hyland, visible only to Bob), both of whom think he’s malingering. Fraser Sr’s appearances grow increasingly surreal and increasingly hilarious, a welcome disruption to the overall sombre tone of the story.

But you can’t have a Rear Window homage without a crime being seen to be committed through the window. We see Dr Carter having a late night tryst with a younger man, who Jill identifies as an intern – the Doctor is some twenty years older, and still incredibly hot, but has a husband and a child: she also looks superficially like Victoria – and then taking delivery of something that she injects into her right thigh, above the stocking top. Then Jill is present to see the Doctor receve an envelope containing photographs, which shock her, and which she burns.

Obviously she’s being blackmailed. Jill’s all gung-ho amateur eager, convinced of the crime, especially when Carter gives her intern lover an envelope containing hundreds of dollars, and he hands it over to the blackmailer, who he meets and greets like a brother: he’s in on it, betraying her.

Bennie’s resisted the idea of a crime throughout. He’s not just wounded physically but mentally and emotionally, planning a return to the Territories, rebuild his father’s cabin, with the no doubt invaluable help of Ray. He offers a perfectly innocent explanation of what’s been seen that equally fits the facts, the injection being insulin not morphine. But things having gotten this far, he brings in Ray who, despite the complete lack of anything resembling that vital element called Evidence, does question Dr Carter, who is indeed a diabetic. Everything’s legal and above board. Not to Jill, who takes Diefenbaker and goes to ransack Carter’s office.

Bennie’s stuck watching this, helpless. That is, until Ray phones him. A photographer has been found dead, shot. The photographer. The Police are on their way. But they’re not going to get there in time. The humiliated Carter intends to shoot her lover. She loved him, she really loved him. Maybe he did love her as well. He’d transformed her life. But now all she could see was betrayal. And for that he was going to die. And since they hadn’t got out of the office in time, that would go for Jill and Diefenbaker too. The only one near enough to intervene was wheelchair-bound Fraser who, despite his agonising pain, got across there and tried to talk her down.

Carter’s got the gun. Ray, Huey and Guardino are all there, with guns. Bennie’s on his feet, slowly approaching, playing things calm, getting her to stop of her own accord. But Carter is too far into her madness. She squeezes the trigger. And, with perfect symmetry, Ray hurls himself at Bennie, pushing him out of the way, and takes the bullet himself.

Not in the back but in the shoulder, and he makes far more noise about it that Bennie will ever do. But, in that stupidly male manner that has persisted through the ages, Ray taking a bullet had reset the whole friendship. Honours even. Even steven. Two cops in wheelchairs, staring out of a window.

Due South was the first made-in-Canada series to have a prime time slot on American television but, after the first series, it was cancelled by CBS. I don’t know when the notice of cancellation was given but given how the series ended, it seems probable that this was far enough in adance to let the show go out on this more serious note. However, the series had gone down far better in Canada and the UK, where it had been shown on the BBC and this enabled the production company to finance an eighteen episode second series, which CBS would eventually take, and which the BBC moved from Tuesday nights to Saturday early evening. Which is probably where I first saw it, and where we’ll pick up in a week’s time.