Sunday, January 29, 2012

Exploring the myths of cop-killer episodes and Andy in season 8

I’ve been pondering on this subject since seeing The Sausalito Sunrise several weeks ago, and more strongly since seeing the episode upon which it was based, The Moth-Eaten Mink, this past week. Both episodes are good, although I prefer the original, but I’m hesitant on what I think of how they presented a certain important angle.

Both episodes partially concern the unsolved mystery of a police officer who was killed. It’s almost mythical and legendary, or at least it was back then, to portray the other police bent on locating the murderer for killing a brother-in-arms. Perry notes this outright in The Sausalito Sunrise, to which Steve Drumm says, “Is there anything wrong with that?” Perry says No, not unless it starts to affect a police officer’s judgment.

I agree in general, except for this little problem. Usually when mentioned in media, this dogged determination is portrayed as a negative thing, an indication that the police care more about their own than about the citizens they’re trying to protect. And while I’m certain that some police do go after the killers feeling a certain need to avenge a fellow officer’s death, the actual reason that they seem to search more vigorously for a cop killer is that if someone is deranged or desperate enough to shoot down an armed police officer, they wouldn’t hesitate to gun down an unarmed citizen. So the police aren’t forgetting the people they protect by any means.

This was rarely brought out, except in police procedural shows such as Highway Patrol and Dragnet. Since Perry always strove for accuracy in their depiction of legal and police procedures (with the exception of the break-down confessions in court, of course), I don’t quite understand why they didn’t bring out the full truth about this matter. I suppose they just wanted to tell an intense story and the idea of having an officer be vengeful in both versions seemed a good twist to take. They could have still had that, but I wish they had made it feel less like the common mythical stereotype and more steeped in realism. The Sausalito Sunrise did have Perry concerned about Steve’s vengeful attitude, but I would have liked to have seen a scene in either that episode or The Moth-Eaten Mink where another police officer speaks in concern to the ones depicted as feeling vengeful.

No mention was made of the danger of such a villain as a cop killer being at large. Instead, it was more implied in both versions that all the police generally feel that vengeful determination and that is the driving force and the purpose behind such manhunts. And I really can’t think it’s a good idea to perpetuate such ideas. In the end, I feel it’s far more damaging to the police than anything else.

I suppose it could be argued that the show really didn’t care if it made the police look bad, since the formula is set up so that the audience is supposed to root for the defense and the police are seen in a more antagonistic light. But I believe they really did try to make the police come across as good people too. Tragg, Andy, Steve, and their comrades are all portrayed as three-dimensional characters. And the times Perry has talked of the efficiency of the police are countless. So I feel that they did not want to cast a bad reflection on the police. Considering that they were boxed in by Gardner’s formula, they probably did the best they could, for the most part. Any and all attempts to bring out well-rounded characters despite the formula is one reason why the show is so wonderful in spite of its flaws.

Perpetuating the myth of the police’s vengeance on cop killers, however, was not necessary. To most viewers, it was probably half-expected and did not bother at all. But it does concern me. I wouldn’t have expected it of Perry.

And continuing today’s police theme, I am also wondering more and more what’s going on with Andy in season 8. I thought his stressed behavior and Paul’s derogatory comment in The Careless Kitten was an isolated event. But in the earlier season 8 episode The Wooden Nickels it happens again. Andy behaves more like Tragg, particularly Tragg in season 1, as he tries to get information from Paul and threatens him with the loss of his license. It’s true that Andy was somewhat stern in a few earlier episodes, such as The Golden Oranges, but it was never to the extent it’s been in these season 8 ventures. He seems like a different person altogether. There’s no trace of the easy-going friendliness he’s so well-known for. Is it bad writing, changing the character’s personality for no real reason? Or could there have been a reason?

Season 8 was the first season without any appearances by Tragg at all. (Even though Ray Collins remained credited all through the season.) Could Andy’s new behavior be an indication that Tragg really is gone (and not simply unseen by the audience) and Andy has fully taken over all of Tragg’s duties? Perhaps he is stressed because of the extra workload and because of missing his friend (especially if Tragg died rather than retired).

That still would not explain Paul’s remark in The Careless Kitten, where he said “There’s nothing Andy would like better than to …” and then was cut off by Perry. Andy was always focused more on catching the crooks than on causing trouble for Perry and Paul, but Paul’s comment indicates the opposite, as it did when he said it (and finished it) concerning Tragg or Hamilton earlier on. Perhaps with Tragg gone the writers thought they should make Andy more like him. And maybe they were already taking steps to try to move the show back to its season 1 roots, as they did more vigorously the following season.

It’s a pity we’ll probably never know. It’s possible there’s no real explanation for it at all. But it’s also possible that there is.

I’m not sure what my posting schedule will be this coming week. I may only make the one post, on Saturday the 4th, or I may do my weekday post a day early, on Wednesday. I have a musing I want to do on The Negligent Nymph, so I may write that for the middle of the week.

No comments:

Post a Comment