Over the last few weeks of TV viewing, one has become familiar with the rueful entertainment to be had when watching shows filmed before Covid-19 took over our lives. It’s never not startling: they’re talking to each other! Without masks! Face to face! In bars and restaurants! Touching!
But a different, and more sinister, form of cognitive dissonance manifested itself this week as I watched, and then started to write my review of, The Rookie – a show which, like most other procedurals, is told from the standpoint of the police – while the ramifications of the death of George Floyd played out in America and elsewhere. (I was going to post it on Tuesday, but didn’t.) I don’t know what the hell we do about all this, but for privileged white men like me, we should – even more than normal – be listening and learning; we should act; we should be allies; we should take sides, if necessary; we should remember that we’re the problem; and we should reiterate that black lives matter.
What I think I can say a little about, though, is the way in which these stories are told, and the effect that has in the real world. As more than one writer has already pointed out, if you put the police at the centre of your narrative, and reduce everyone else to a walk-on-and-walk-off part in the Case of the Week, there are consequences: the cops are the characters we care about, and everyone else is disposable. This phenomenon will also be recognisable to readers of crime fiction (among whom I enthusiastically number myself): many of my favourite British novelists, and I won’t name names because I’m a complicit part of the deal under which they write the books and I buy them, are startlingly deferential to the Job and everything that goes with it.
Incidentally, if anyone’s interested in the issue of “copaganda” from a slightly different perspective, I recommend episode 94 of the Citations Needed podcast, which examines how American TV and film narratives shifted away from the perspective of defence attorneys throughout the 70s and 80s, putting the police at the centre; turning prosecutors into heroes (except, I would add as a viewer, when their pesky requirements for properly-obtained evidence get in the way of justice); and giving “experts” the status of unchallengeable truth-tellers, even when their expertise is in pseudoscience or out-and-out bullshit (bite marks, blood spatter, body language).
This isn’t as simple as saying that, in these various forms of art, the police, prosecutors, or scientists never do anything wrong: of course they do. (The episode of The Rookie I’m about to review has a police officer, perhaps unfortunately an African American one, up to his neck in corruption.) But they’re very much the exception; the “one rotten apple”, getting in the way of decent, almost infallible, people doing a difficult job to the best of their ability. And all of this – TV, films, novels, then news coverage – spills over into the real world, by advancing a narrative in which the forces of the state are good actors, protecting society from a tidal wave of evil. This leads to an increased fear of crime, which in turn leads to ever more punitive sentencing and enhanced powers for the police and others, all of which will inevitably be deployed in accordance with the power structures of society, and therefore against those who are otherwise the victims of marginalisation or discrimination.
Anyway. To The Rookie. “Out of all the unimportant things, football is the most important”, said Pope (as he then was) John Paul II. While I agree with St (as he now is) John Paul about that, I’m putting TV in second place; and so, although the season 2 finale of The Rookie might seem – indeed, is – somewhat trivial, that’s precisely why I watch it. And review it. Here goes.
There’s a really smart beginning to the episode: rather than just pick up where we left off, with Nolan realising that Armstrong is dirty, we’re given a bit more Armstrong backstory: specifically, how he made the murder weapon disappear, how he dragged Erin into it, and why he shot her. Poor Erin.
While everyone else is trying to solve Rios’s murder Nolan takes his case to Harper, who is visibly sceptical at first but agrees to help, which involves taking Armstrong out to a house in the middle of nowhere, ostensibly so that Harper can speak to a contact, but in reality so that Armstrong’s burner phone can be traced. Nolan and Armstrong share a car, and Nolan is warned by Harper not to give anything away during idle chit-chat. Needless to say, Nolan is, of course, appalling at not giving anything away; and Armstrong has a new burner anyway.
Which means that Nolan has to visit Rosalind Dyer (Annie Wersching) in prison, to try to get her to spill the Armstrong tea she claimed to have a few episodes ago; and given that she is both hot and evil I’m entirely down with that. Before doing so, though, she names her price: she wants details of Nolan’s relationship problems with Grace, and on finding out that it’s going badly insists on Nolan calling Grace in front of her. He does so. It’s a queasy little scene, particularly as Nolan is going through the process of being dumped, so that Grace can go back to her stupid husband. But a deal’s a deal, and Rosalind reveals that Armstrong has a hidden compartment in his house full of cash, guns, and generally incriminating shit.
And here’s where the episode starts to go off the rails a little: Nolan, in the best traditions of procedurals and vampire movies, goes to Armstrong’s house on his own without telling everyone. This means that when he gets interrupted by Armstrong returning home unexpectedly, and is then seen as he drives away, Armstrong has the advantage. Which he presses home: he invites Nolan back to his house for a man-to-man chat, confesses, but then reveals that he’s planted evidence in Nolan’s house in order to incriminate him as the Derians’ inside man. There’s an exchange of gunfire, during which Armstrong takes a bullet, but his plan is in play: Serj Derian is arrested and tells the arresting cops that Nolan is his contact; Nolan dashes home and starts to rip his newly-refurbished house apart looking for the stash; and, just as he finds a ton of cash and guns behind a wall, he hears police sirens.
This, then is the cliffhanger. But two questions: didn’t Nolan record, or otherwise transmit, his conversation with Armstrong? If he didn’t, he’s an idiot. And if he was dirty, he’d know where the stash was, and would hardly need to tear a few walls down to find it. It’s a good episode, and it’s been a good plot, but I’m not sure I want it lingering much beyond the first episode of the third season. The third season, I should say, that we now know we’re getting: The Rookie is a solid performer in America, and it has the advantage of a big name and bankable lead, so there’s no surprise there. Over and above that it’s a really good show.
What we really need in season 3, though, is MOAR #CHENFORD. That particular plot fizzles a little this week: Rachel is, of course, going to New York, which leaves open the question of where Tim stands on long distance relationships. “Are you really going to visit Rachel in New York?” asks Lucy. “No”, Tim replies. “Good”, says at least one viewer. But later on he pulls off an impressive variation on the rushing-to-the-airport trope in order to let Rachel know that he might, after all, be open to the idea. Huh. God knows where we’ll all be when The Rookie returns, and it may be that Chenford will be the only thing standing between us and oblivion.