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.