Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Golfer's Gambit: The case of being too close to the case

The Golfer’s Gambit, from season 9, is very interesting and unique in several ways. We meet another of Hamilton’s oneshot friends, though certainly a repulsive one. And Hamilton has a disastrous day in court, possibly brought on by the fact that he is too close to the case.

It’s unlikely Hamilton was even aware of how nasty his friend Chick was, at least while the fellow was alive. Knowing that Hamilton was the district attorney, and a very honest one, Chick probably strove to keep his true nature hidden. They may not even be very close at all, perhaps little more than golfing/country club buddies. But Chick does have Hamilton’s home phone number. Considering Hamilton’s occupation, I’d doubt he’d give that out to just anyone.

The episode opens at a country club, where a golfing tournament is taking place. Chick bullies, threatens, and cheats his way to the top. He is arrogant, selfish, and wholly willing to use whomever he has to for his own means.

That evening Hamilton presents the tournament trophy to Chick, admitting at the same time that he himself is terrible at golfing. This is also the episode where Hamilton is apparently on a date with an unnamed and silent girl. They are shown dancing, and later on, observing a fight between Chick and another guy.

It bothered me that when Chick ends up knocking his opponent into a pool, everyone—including Hamilton and the girl—laughs. But in their defense, they never knew what the fight was about. All they saw was the fight itself, and perhaps they thought that the other guy was the one at fault, jealous of Chick winning the tournament or something like that. Hence, Chick making a fool of the guy would seem satisfying.

Later on, Chick calls Hamilton in the middle of the night, as Jefferson Pike did six seasons earlier. We see part of Hamilton’s house for only the second time, and his bedroom for the first time. Hamilton answers the phone, half-asleep, and tries to wake up while a panic-stricken Chick tells him that he is being threatened and needs to talk about it tonight and not tomorrow at the office. In the middle of the conversation Chick is clubbed over the head, which finally wakes Hamilton up the rest of the way. He immediately calls the police, but Chick is already dead. An unfortunate young man is taken into custody as the prime suspect and later charged with the murder.

The uncut episode has an interesting scene where Perry talks with Hamilton and Steve at Clay’s. Hamilton mentions how difficult the case is for him, as everyone likes the defendant. Nevertheless, he has to prosecute, and as Steve tells Perry after Hamilton leaves, no matter how much Burger likes the kid, when he gets him in front of the bar he’ll be a total stranger.

(Somehow this makes Hamilton’s visible regret at prosecuting Paul even more poignant.)

During the hearing Hamilton testifies about the phone call and how he is thoroughly convinced it proves the defendant’s involvement. Perry shows it does not, ripping the testimony to shreds in a cringe-worthy cross-examination. Hamilton is certainly left looking ridiculous—or at least as though the case is, perhaps, just hitting far too close to home and he isn’t thinking clearly because of it. Maybe, with the murder victim being a friend of his, he should not have been prosecuting. Even the assistant D.A. who he has question him on the phone call looks uncertain and perhaps worried, maybe suspecting how badly it will go. (Or maybe he was simply nervous to be examining the D.A., something he probably never did before.)

That, I believe, is the last truly noteworthy thing happening in the episode, save for an interesting sub-plot with one of the important witnesses wanting to teach Paul how to golf. It’s brought up again in the epilogue.

Overall I’m not sure what to make of the episode. We get some very unusual elements—the golf setting in general, Hamilton on a date, Hamilton being friends with the murder victim—but it, like The Shapely Shadow, really makes me cringe and feel embarrassed and sorry for Hamilton.

I definitely like it better in its uncut format, but something still seems to be missing. With Hamilton friendly with the victim, and Perry defending the murder suspect, it made for a very sticky situation all around. The writers didn’t fully milk this unique scenario for all it was worth. They mainly focused on the negative and then let it drop. I would have liked a scene with Perry going to Hamilton and apologizing for having to tear into his testimony, then saying he knows how much Hamilton wants to see the murderer convicted and would Hamilton help him with a plan of his to expose the killer? I even would have been pleased with something in the epilogue with Perry and company discussing what happened in the hearing and how it must have been a particularly difficult case for Hamilton to prosecute. Some acknowledgement that Perry (or Della or Paul) realized how hard it must have been and how Hamilton had likely felt. Without any acknowledgement of that at all, it felt unfair to Hamilton.

I kind of thought Hamilton might even turn up in the epilogue, since they were at the country club (I think) and he’s a member. But he is not seen. In both of the other episodes featuring his oneshot friends, he appears in the epilogues. (Also in both of them, he and Perry work closely together. Interesting.) Here, the writers kept him around until that disaster during the hearing and then seemed to lose interest in him.

I’m reminded of The Sausalito Sunrise again, and how Perry ripped into Steve Drumm’s testimony on the stand. But in that case, Perry was trying to help Steve see that he had allowed his view of the case to become colored. They acknowledged as much in the episode and it was important to the plot. Hence, it came across far better. Why couldn’t they have done that for The Golfer’s Gambit too?

I suppose in the end I see The Golfer’s Gambit as a very interesting and watchable episode, but one that still manages to fall short. It could have and should have gone farther. It would have been better for it.

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