Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A moral dilemma

Friday night MeTV showed The Illicit Illusion. It still isn’t one of my favorite episodes, but it’s certainly unique, in any case.

Of course, the biggest issue with that episode is concerning the question Were Hamilton and Andy justified in what they did? I’ve struggled with that since the first time I saw the episode. At least it couldn’t technically be branded entrapment, but was it right to turn the woman’s husband loose while knowing that the supposed suicide of his partner was murder and hoping that the husband and wife would try (or seem to try) to make a break for it?

Mom has seen the episode with me several times and has said nothing. This time, however, she was very vocal and exclaimed, “Talk about tricks!”

I still don’t know what to make of it. The episode itself appears to cast an ill light on their actions, albeit nothing is actually said as to whether it’s right or wrong after the point when Andy says that they never suggested flight and Hamilton admits he knew about the murder at the time of release. Part of me says that they were justified since they didn’t actually suggest the idea of flight and were just watching to see how it would play out. The other part says that what they did relies too much on circumstantial evidence and could easily get an innocent person arrested (which is exactly what happened).

But one thing I certainly say is that while it may not have been right, I do not think for one moment that it comes close to comparing with some of the stunts Perry had pulled, as Mom seemed to feel it did.

Take what happened just the other day, for instance. Perry lures a witness in The Garrulous Go-Between by sending her a message that leads her to believe the man she loves is dying. Paul even lies down and gets under the covers to pretend to be the guy when she arrives. That is all very cruel. At least Perry acknowledges that he’s sorry for doing it, but that seriously appalled me. I’d forgotten he did that. It appalls me every time I see the episode.

And then of course there’s the mess in The Mystified Miner, where Perry deliberately sets up a scenario to obliterate his client’s fingerprints from her car because he knows her prints on it would help to build a case against her.

Actually, while that may be perfectly in line with what the book Perry would do, it seems out-of-character for television Perry. In general, television Perry insists on giving the police guns, pictures, and other evidence when he knows they’re needed, even if having those items will help them build stronger cases against the clients. To deliberately ruin evidence is not like him.

Of course, every now and then he does highly eyebrow-raising things, such as his destruction of the book in season 1’s The Screaming Woman. And The Mystified Miner was also from a season that was more book-influenced than some. But it still seemed a shocking thing to do, especially since by season 5 he wasn’t often engaging in such book-influenced behavior.

I’ve never been fully sure of what to think of his antics of “testing the witnesses’ memories”, either. He’ll use that as his excuse when he renders a witness unreliable after tricking them, but as one of the judges said, there’s a fine line between testing memories and throwing dust in the prosecution’s case. I rather liked that they let the judge say that, instead of just completely letting Perry get away with it without acknowledging that while he may be technically within his rights, it’s still a trick.

I’ve often thought that I would not want to be a defense attorney, since that would require me to take cases and do things and make arguments to get people off who probably really shouldn’t get off. With Perry, of course, almost all the defendants are innocent, but in real-life it’s more likely to be the opposite. And either way, it’s not always easy for me to root for the defense attorneys when they’re pulling shenanigans I don’t agree with.

Naturally it isn’t right for the prosecution to pull tricks either. I don’t agree with that or with the conditions of many of the plea bargains that unfortunately exist and that prosecutors feel forced to propose. But there are degrees, and as I said, I don’t think Hamilton and Andy’s actions could ever be lumped in the same category with some of Perry’s most appalling stunts.

I’m still a little surprised that incident happened in one of Samuel Newman’s scripts, actually, since he usually tries to cast the prosecution in a better light. Even though it wasn’t technically entrapment, I’m sure it didn’t help the ill feelings that many viewers probably already had for the prosecution.

I wonder how the incident would have been portrayed had it happened in a series that focused more on the prosecution or the police. Would it have been depicted as justified? Or would it have been presented as not justified and everyone involved would be in trouble for doing it? I believe I’ve seen some series where similar incidents were portrayed as justified, or at least, that the characters involved did not suffer a penalty for doing it since it turned out that they were right in their suspicions. On the other hand, the private eye series Mannix also portrayed such antics in a highly derogatory light.

Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between. Or perhaps there are no real answers, as it may be a matter for each person’s individual moral code.

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