Taye Diggs

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The West Wing: An Oasis From Political Madness

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

The worst kept secret with my affection of television is that I believe The West Wing is the greatest achievement in television history. I would gladly debate that point with anyone brave enough to try. That line in and of itself seems to be a microcosm for the political landscape we find ourselves in. Let’s be clear, the notion that I am right and you are wrong if you disagree with me in the slightest, is not a new idea when applied to political dialogue. For at least the last 50 years (maybe even longer) the two-party system has created a divisiveness among its electorate, suggesting that there is an absolute right and absolute wrong way to see things, depending on which side of the aisle you sit.

At some point the narrative changed. From the ‘I believe this and give me a moment so I can explain that and see if you feel the same way’ that eventually gave way to the ‘I’m right, you’re wrong and until you agree with my stance, you’re an idiot’. We are going to try to use The West Wing as a vehicle to explore what the problem really is at its core while still maintaining some sense that we can always get better. And secondly, that the gold standard of modern scripted fictional television can provide the ideals of government that we should continue to strive for.

The nature of democracy, specifically our democracy is that we are never going to get there. We will never wake up with 100% of the country completely in agreement about everything. So the next most logical goal to reach for is to create a political landscape where we keep talking. Not to slam the other side. Not to create further division. Not to widen the gap but instead, to narrow it. When it comes to politics and the practical sense of the governing of a nation’s people, we should act like intellectuals, not school yard bullies. As articulated by Jeff Breckinridge (a Black Civil Rights Lawyer from Georgia) debating reparations with Josh Lyman (a White jewish man from New England) in the episode, “Six Meetings Before Lunch”.

Jeff Breckinridge: You got a dollar? Take it out. Look at the back. The seal, the pyramid, it’s unfinished. With the eye of God looking over it. And the words Annuit Coeptis. He, God, Favors our Undertaking. The seal is meant to be unfinished, because this country’s meant to be unfinished. We’re meant to keep doing better. We’re meant to keep discussing and debating and we’re meant to read books by great historical scholars and then talk about them.

Sadly, it seems, this 2016 Presidential Election campaigns have been worse than I’ve ever seen. I’ve been following the political process and Presidential Elections specifically since the first George Bush. Every year it seems the popular cliché is that this election is a “lesser of two evils” situation. It’s always been popular to say, but this year I’m afraid the sentiment is more accurate than in past years. For the first time I can remember, there are more people wishing there were other options than those set on who they will vote for. While choosing who to vote for is every American’s right, there is a great deal of vitriol being tossed around from both sides. When the very nature of our system is to keep talking, keep evolving the debate. As opposed to spewing hatred for ‘the other side’.

Disclaimer: If you are waiting for the portion of this article where I divulge my political allegiance. Explain why my candidate is better than the other side. You are misunderstanding the point of this exercise. I have no intention of getting into the meat and potatoes of the political debate. The point to be had here is that neither side is right or wrong, but that the process was never intended to be this angry or combative. Something to consider the next time you get into a political discussion with someone who doesn’t share your view. In the “Game On” episode when President Bartlet faces off against Governor Ritchie of Florida many things are said, but one thing rings out stronger than all the others. A quote I think of every time I hear a politician or pundit drop the “partisan politics” line as a means to create animosity for the other side.

Jed Bartlet: I don’t think Americans are tired of partisan politics; I think they’re tired of hearing career politicians diss partisan politics to get a gig. Partisan politics is good. Partisan politics is what the founders had in mind. It guarantees that the minority opinion is heard, and as a lifelong possessor of minority opinions, I appreciate it.

Politicians will be politicians. In order to be one, the individual has to engage in a game of sorts. This plays out in every election cycle. One elected official cannot possible appeal to all voters. So, they play a numbers game. Using whatever resources at their disposal they will identify trends, tipping points, hot button issues and hopefully present themselves to fall on the winning side of those issues. For the politician, it’s about serving their best interest which generally means doing what is required to get re-elected. The day we discover a politician that is willing to fall on the grenade, throw away his lifestyle, security and career away for standing up for an issue they believe in is the day that politician decided to stop being a politician. My more pressing concern is that of the electorate. The people need not adopt the attitude and persona of the politicians they vote for. And that my friends is the crux of my issue.

I am sure it hasn’t always been this way. I remember watching my grandparents around election time. My Grandmother was a blind democrat. Put simply, she grew up the daughter of farmers and believed Democrats were for farmers. She really needed no other criteria. My Grandfather who did lean Democratic at times was much more open. He took the approach of “Show me what you’ve got, you have to earn my vote” and he would have no problem voting the other way. So by the time I was 10, they would not even speak to each other about politics. If the conversation had the potential of going south, they’d prefer not to talk about it, then vote however they were going to vote. That sense seems to be gone now. They both paid attention, both took in the debates of the issues of the day, but never dug in their heels to belittle or attack someone who disagreed.

Take a step back from the details. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Trump supporter, Clinton supporter, or even a steadfast Sanders or Johnson fan . Maybe it’s the 24 hour news cycle. Maybe it has something to do with how social media and technology have made the world smaller. I think the clear takeaway is that no matter who you think you’re going to vote for, it is a lesser situation. Despite popular belief, I do not think Trump’s attack on political correctness would fly 50 years ago. Similarly, I can’t imagine anyone 50 years ago voting for a candidate with real trustworthiness issues. I’m not going to so far as to call this a lesser of two evils, but it is less. Less than we should expect. Less than what came before them. We are not raising our expectations for our future President we are diminishing it. We are so used to looking at the landscape and thinking, “That’s the least crappy candidate. That’s my pick. The one I hate the least.” When did we decide this was good enough. Both parties want to believe they are rolling out Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. It may not be a choice of lesser of two evils, but there is no doubt the expectation has become lesser.

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Idealistic as it may seem, we should expect more. For the moment, forget the issues. Forget the economy, forget foreign policy, forget education reform, forget national defense. We should expect more from the candidates. College educated shouldn’t be enough. Serving two terms as a Senator who took a vulnerable seat shouldn’t be enough. To be completely transparent about it, this aspect of the conversation isn’t left to Trump or Hilary. I’m sorry to be so harsh, but no President I’ve been legally of age to vote for fits that bill. Not Trump or Hillary. Not Obama, not George W, not Bill Clinton. Maybe George Herbert Walker Bush, maybe. Ask yourself if any President in the last 25 years even comes close to measuring up to what you once believed a President should be. The one thing that Herbert Walker on back had (Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Kennedy, etc not even talking about the Lincolns, Roosevelts, and Washingtons of our history) was gravitas. The moment they spoke there was a reverence. The idea that issues aside, we are in good hands. Intelligent hands. Hands of a leader in control. We can debate the subtle merits until we’re blue in the face, but the bottom line is that these candidates in today’s politics lack most of that. The sensibility of intelligence, leadership and gravitas.

Sam: Before I look for anything, I look for a mind at work. No one’s saying a President has to have a tenured share in symbiotics, but you have to have

Ainsley: What

Sam: Gravitas.

Ainsley: And how do you measure that?

Sam: You don’t. But you know it when you see it.

Political correctness made its way back into this discussion.  Again, with no intention of pumping up one or discrediting the other, this needs to be addressed.  When did we decide treating all people with the same level of reverence or respect was a bad thing?  Political Correctness is necessary.  It sets a guideline for acceptable language in scenarios that call for it.  Am I going to request political correctness when I’m watching Monday Night Football with the fellas? No, but I do think it has a place in dialogue by governmental leaders.  And when did we decide telling it like it is was anything other than excusable bad behavior?  To take that further, when did we decide we wanted average Joe’s in positions of power and leadership?  Despite what some said years ago, Joe the Plumber would make the worst public servant imaginable. To quote a completely different Sorkin show, “I’m a fan of credentials”.  I want my leaders to at the very least create the illusion that they are more educated than me, more cultured than me, more aware than me, more adjusted than me, and better at working with people and solving problems than me.  We all really, should want the best the country has to offer.  And being just another guy/girl, ‘being just like the rest of us’, or being plain-spoken are not good things to look for in the leader of the free world.  At the end of the day, if our leaders are just like the rest of us, then get everyone in the mix and work off shear numbers.  If the sample size was larger, maybe the cream would rise to the top.  Barring an asinine theory like that, give me the smartest, most qualified, engaged people this country has.  Or in other words, I want a heavyweight.

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

I know that it flies in the face of what we’ve been programmed to believe, politically. We now live in a very divided America. Granted, I could suggest any number of topics from Black Lives Matter to the 2nd Amendment to Military Funding to the Economy. Chances are pretty good that anyone chosen is likely to fall any number of ways on those issues. As if we use the issues to define us. To say, I am different from you because of this. Why has that become the approach we take? Why is our default position to be combative? Black Lives Matter ALONE seems to have divided the nation in half. There is no middle ground. At least 20 years ago, two adults could discuss the issue of Abortion or Gay rights or Government spending and they could have that conversation with it never getting anywhere near the verbal violence such debates incite now. The fact of the matter is and has always been that what we are arguing about are slight. We all support free elections. We all believe that all of our citizens deserve certain rights. We all want our children to grow up in safe schools where education is a priority. We all want a strong America. We just disagree on some of the nuances of how to get there. A sentiment that is beautifully articulated by Sitting President Walken (played wonderfully by John Goodman).

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

This brings me to a point that is bound to rub some people the wrong way. The fact that any subject is given the distinction of being an ‘issue’ generally means it is important to enough people who it is worthy of the discussion. However, I have always seen ‘issues’ as rankable and not just some grocery list absent of order. Towards the top, we are always going to have ‘issues’ like the economy, education, taxes, citizen’s rights, foreign policy, right to choose, and military issues. Those and some others have always inhabited the top. In sports rankings we tend to refer to that as the top tier. Grouping certain things of like importance together.

It may not be an important first step, but it seems logical that certain issues should take a back seat. To cite specific instances from The West Wing (just for the fun of it), changing the name of North Dakota to just “Dakota”, Topography Equality, Legal protection against the burning of the American Flag, campaign finance reform, a ‘wolves-only’ highway, all should not be the thing that derails your opinion of a would be public servant. Now yes, some of that is done to make light of the point I’m trying to make. But I have run into many of the “Amy Gardner’s” or “Lt. Commander Jack Reese’s” of the world. Those who will weigh one thing that is particular or special to them allowing them to rationalize the derailing of bigger issues.

Yes, the amount of money set aside for Military spending would be important to someone like Lt. Commander Reese. But should that really be the deal breaker? Reese in the show cites military spending as the end all be all for why he planned to vote for Ritchie (Bartlet’s opponent in the re-elect). Similarly, Amy Gardner. Amy is actually one of only a handful of characters among the 250 some recurring characters on this show I admittedly ‘hate’. Mary Louise Parker is a very attractive woman, but politically speaking, I have a problem with anyone who has that one ‘deal breaker’ issue. In Gardner’s case the ONLY issue that existed was that of a pro-women’s issue agenda. Now that is an important and worthwhile issue to support. However, any deal breaker issue becomes a problem when it derails other positive legislation.

Referencing the show. Gardner does her level best to sink a bill that would provide revenue to the education system along with a few other very important causes because the language of the bill did not advance Gardner’s women’s issue enough. To some degree these deal breakers become weighted just as much as issues like the economy, education and foreign policy. Now I’m sure one could argue they are just as important. I would just politely argue that cannot possibly be true from an objective logical perspective.

Not all issues are equal in weight. That’s factual. How Donald Trump feels about Daylight Savings Time or how Hillary Clinton feels about Congressional Term Limits should not in any way come close to say the economic state of this country. Yet there are people who seem to put too much value in smaller issues. Maybe even issues that aren’t an urgent concern. We should be able to focus on the bigger issues and find ways to seek common ground there before tackling some smaller issues or even issues that really might not be urgent issues to begin with. A notion that was addressed shortly in an episode called, “20 Hours in LA”.

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

 

Let’s be perfectly clear, issues are and should be the driving determining factor for any voter. By no means am I suggesting that the issues important to me should overshadow what is important to you. What I am proposing is that we all accept that there are some macro issues that should always take priority. Consider your own financial/bills situation. There’s no one reading this I’m sure that is going to consider their Netflix bill as being more important than their mortgage. Yes after a long and stressful day at work, maybe knowing you can unwind and binge watch a little West Wing is monumentally important. But if you don’t have a home to watch it in, how important really is the Netflix subscription. Yes, I may be underselling the importance of secondary issues with that analogy, but the bigger point should be obvious.

While we’re considering the difference between big universally important issues and those that have a particular significance to an individual, can we also look to shed the combative nature of American Democratic politics? As has been mentioned previously in this article, “the things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us”. Using that idea, it’s high time we take a step back and see the bigger picture. Like an artist painting from six inches away, sometimes taking a step back can re-calibrate our perspective.

At times, the electorate are divided among issues like foreign aid, military involvement, economic bailouts for suffering countries, base closings, support of allies and potential military presence in countries that may or may not appreciate our presence. These issues and questions can often be just as divisive as social issues like a woman’s right to choose or gay rights. At the end of each of those conversations, one very obvious question needs to be asked. Are we for Freedom or are we not? Because if we are for freedom, it can’t be limited to…well anything really. The very nature of the concept of freedom is devoid of limitations.

To say that we’re for freedom within our borders or as long as it doesn’t cost us anything is contradictory to the very notion of what freedom represents. So if you think pulling out of conflicting nations is strategically recommended, don’t think we should put troops in harm’s way, or take the approach that we need to completely fix 100% of our own problems before we put even a single resource on someone else’s soil, then you have a fundamental conflict with being the democracy we are. That is perfectly fine by the way, but call it what it is. When you can realistically identify that a person is against those things just mentioned, then that person needs to come to grips with the reality that they are not for an American Democracy.

The fact of the matter is that if America is the leader of the free world. If America represents what it is supposed to represent, then every one of its citizens has to be in support of Freedom. And not just conceptually. You have to be for Freedom everywhere and for everyone. Now that same Freedom that allows us to choose our own religion, where our kids go to school, what we do for a living, also has to extend to less admired Freedoms. Burning of the flag, saying whatever one wants, the freedom of assembly. Freedom only works if its free across the board. It must also extend to Freedom for all of its citizens even if you don’t agree with other citizen’s choices. It must extend to all religions, even those absent of any such a faith at all. It must extend do those who disagree with you. And yes, it must extend to those countries and peoples who are not quite there yet. Those countries that have yet to break free from the oppressive rule of a mightier and less Freedom loving power.

Never has such a sentiment been more adequately portrayed than in the episode “Inauguration Part II: Over There”. In this fictional masterpiece, one very obvious theme is that this particular President does not, will not put American lives in danger lightly. Often there have been points of conflict. The reluctance to put soldiers into the equation almost always is overshadowed by the greater good of the pursuit of Freedom. Which absolutely is a prime virtue of this American Democracy.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Television

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Television

As the episode progresses, it is clear that Jed Bartlet’s epiphany on whether the troops should be used to ensure those that want Freedom can pursue it, is not the end of this motif. While the President battles over to do it and risk lives vs not to and let tyranny prevail, his staff deals with a similar angle. Senior staff being what it is, is naturally concerned with the political fallout of the decision either way. Regardless of what side of the fence you may be on, Aaron Sorkin (as he does often in this series) provides a very simplistically beautiful way to see this issue. Sometimes, you just have to back up and see the whole picture. And sometimes that picture is very simple and lacks complexity.

C.J.: The guy across the street is beating up a pregnant woman. You don’t go over
and try and stop it?

TOBY: Guy across the street is beating up anybody, I like to think I go over and
try to stop it, but we’re not talking about the President going to Asia or the President
going to Rwanda or the President going to Qumar. We’re talking about the President
sending other people’s kids to do that.

C.J.: That’s always what we’re talking about, and in addition to being somebody’s
kids, they’re soldiers and sailors, and if we’re about freedom from tyranny,
then we’re about freedom from tyranny, and if we’re not, we should shut up.

TOBY: On Sunday, he’s taking an oath to ensure domestic tranquility.

C.J.: And to establish justice and promote the general welfare. Stand by while
atrocities are taking place, and you’re an accomplice.

TOBY: I’m not indifferent to that, but knuckleheaded self-destruction is never
going to burn itself out, you really want to send your kids across the street into the fire?

C.J.: Want to? No. Should I? Yes.

TOBY: Why? And don’t give me a lefty answer.

C.J.: A lefty answer is all I’ve got.

TOBY: Why are you sending your kids across the street?

C.J.: ‘Cause those are somebody’s kids, too.

Now while that may be a little lefty heavy, the sentiment remains. The very foundation of Freedom suggests that the pursuit is never over, especially when “Someone is getting beat up”. As a free nation of power and influence, we are inherently compelled to assist when Freedom or the pursuit of Freedom is threatened. An idea that is made clear yet again in the same episode. This time President Bartlet finds a way to promote Will Bailey to Deputy Communications Director and drive home the bigger point at the same time.

BARTLET: Will, I think some of these people don’t know who your dad is. Will’s the youngest son of Tom Bailey, who’s the only guy in the world with a better title than mine. He was Supreme Commander, NATO Allied Forces Europe. We didn’t know we were going
to do this. I would have asked you to invite him.

WILL: Well, you got quite a response from him watching on TV, sir. I think he’s going to reenlist.

BARTLET: Actually, I meant he could be here now when I tell you Toby’s asked me to
commission you as his deputy.

WILL: I’m sorry, sir?

BARTLET: Toby wants to make you deputy.

WILL: Pardon me?

BARTLET: I’m appointing you Deputy Communications Director. It covers a wide range
of areas of policy and execution and counsel to me.

WILL: To you… the President?

BARTLET: [to the gang] That’s what you want to hear from your new Communications–
WILL: I-I accept.

BARTLET: There’s a promise that I ask everyone who works here to make. Never doubt
that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. You know why?

WILL: It’s the only thing that ever has.

BARTLET: …and affixed with the Seal of the Unites States. And it is done so on this day and in this place. Congratulations.

BARTLET: [holding a piece of paper in his hand] You know, it’s easy to watch the news
and think of Khundunese as either hapless victims or crazed butchers, and it turns
out that’s not true. I got this intelligence summary this afternoon. “Mothers are standing
in front of tanks.” And we’re going to go get their backs. An hour ago, I ordered
Fitzwallace to have UCOMM deploy a brigade of the 82nd Airborne, the 101st Air Assault,
and a Marine Expeditionary Unit to Khundu to stop the violence. The 101st are the Screaming Eagles. The Marines are with the 22nd M.E.U., trained at Camp Lejuene, some of them
very recently. I’m sorry, everyone, but this is a work night.

The final point I’d like to drive home and reinforce with context from the West Wing is the nature of how we view politics in this country. The founding fathers of this country and the framers of the Constitution had a few things at the forefront of the construction of this country’s government. 1) Most decisions structurally were made in a reactionary manner to reject anything adopted from the British model (let that marinate for a moment-might alter the way you see ‘how this country was made) 2) Freedom of its citizen’s will be paramount to almost anything else. 3) The party system wasn’t instituted to divide the country but to allow the electorate the opportunity to be heard, view or debate the minority idea. Yet in 2016 within this American Democracy, we have grown not only divisive but almost angry and combative. The divisions are stark and clear. With the addition of the 24 hour news cycle and social media making the world smaller, we have taken a structure meant to encourage debate and the sharing of ideas and have replaced it with emotion filled, borderline verbally abusive tactics to convey that I am right and you are wrong.

Cable news might be the worst contributor to this notion. Any number of networks claiming to be fair and balanced or always in pursuit of the truth, when in fact, those ideas are conceptually false. Fox News is not fair and balanced as they admittedly support a strict adherence to the Conservative agenda. CNN is not the most trusted name in news either as they can’t be completely trusted if they are slanting left consistently. Ever want to have a great bit of fun during an election? Watch the cable news coverage of that election based on who is losing. Watching those anchors and analysts fidgeting in their chairs as if they are actually watching the end of the world is entertaining no matter who you are. So instead of shaping our news coverage based on a model that would more likely mirror the sense of the founding fathers encouraging debate and the explanation of perspective…our news media takes sides.

Now the influence of news media may not mean a great deal to each individual’s decision. It is fair to assume that most of the electorate can read between the lines. However, the presentation of this ‘sharing of ideas’ (if we can even call it that anymore) has illustrated just how far we’ve fallen. For me it started with the McLaughlin Group back in the 1980s and it continued from there from everything from Meet the Press to Face the Nation to each and every hosted program on cable news. Go watch Anderson Cooper or Bill O’Reilly (no spin zone, that’s funny) without noticing one person disrespectfully talking over the other. From a tv production standpoint, what we see now unconditionally assists more than anything else into this condition we find ourselves in. My beliefs are what’s right in the world while your beliefs (if they differ at all from mine) are stupid and therefore what’s wrong with the world. The day I hear a cable news anchor/host say, “That is a fair point, no allow me to counter.” is the day I will get off this news soapbox.

The 24-hour news cycle, social media, advances in technology and a society that is often fearful that the world is getting progressively worse and worse with each passing year all contribute to an angrier electorate. Now while I’ve heard “worst election ever” each and every election I’ve witnessed since George Herbert Walker Bush, I do believe that this 2016 election is actually the worst. Now, again, I am not referring to the candidates themselves. Granted, I could make that argument as well, but that isn’t the focus of this piece. The shear vitriol that the voters seem to be throwing at each other is the bigger issue. I am a dog person. However, I can absolutely understand and grant the notion that there are people who would prefer to be cat people. Not my choice, but cat people are not lesser people. They are not heathens for preferring cats. They are not sub-human for not wanting to choose dogs over cats. While the analogy is simplistic is it really that unrealistic? Of course not. It only seems ridiculous because of how we approach political conversations amongst ourselves. We have conditioned ourselves somewhere in the last 25-50 years that those that disagree with us are stupid and a detriment to this country as opposed to viewing the conversation as an opportunity to evaluate all perspectives.

The perspective extends further than conversations at the work coffee machine or the danish cart. It is apparent that the voters are not the only ones taking an adversarial view. The very leaders we elect also subscribe to this idea of Party over Country. At every step we should be asking “is this best for the country” and the sad thing is that question is never asked in all honesty. The question generally comes down to “is this best for the party”? The two-party system has become a contact sport. Democrat vs Republican and there needs to be one clear winner and one clear loser. Thus, is our problem.

I will give one very hot bed example. Apologies in advance, this is not the political portion of this piece either just a random issue that is very divisive and should identify the point. The slight alteration to the second amendment to hopefully decrease the number of mass shootings and violent crimes or refusing to even talk about the second amendment because no one wants to make any sort of legislative compromise even if it means saving American lives. Now I’m not saying that gun control will eliminate violent crimes. I am also not saying that to fix the problem we must remove 100% of guns. However, the bigger point to be made is that even an issue such as gun control that has very clearly drawn lines of support vs opposition should still create some level of compromising discussion. However, I dare you to bring that up in a public forum and count the seconds that pass before people resort to name calling and profanity.

We have become angry and party-centric. The two-party system wasn’t created to inspire adversaries. It was created to appropriate all perspectives into the dialogue. Yet, the government and the people who vote them in all seem to be on the same page. It’s almost brand loyalty at this point. If party A is not the winner, then they must be the loser. That’s where the concept needs to change. We all, from voters to The President need to all get on board with the idea that we collectively should be making decisions that benefit all and not just those that belong to one party over the other. The West Wing has been a beacon for what we should strive for, not what we currently are. And yes, I know, some of what is seen in this series is unrealistic and ideological. However, a great deal of it is not that far-fetched and should be the inspiration for what we hope to be.

Both sides should see ways to identify with the other. We should be able to shed the party-centric mentality and give credit where credit is due. Not everything needs to be an opportunity to advance one party past the other. Never should ‘beating the other side’ be a motivating factor, but it often is. We should in every way, every conversation be trying to advance the country not the party. Anything less than that is irresponsible.

AINSLEY: Well, it President Bartlet, I’m on the government payroll. And I believe that politics should stop at the water’s edge. To be honest with you, I think it should stop well before that but it turns out there’s no Santa Claus and Elvis isn’t cutting records anymore. See, I don’t think you think the treaty’s bad, I don’t think you think it’s good, I think you want to beat the White House.

KEENE: Yeah.

AINSLEY: You’re a schmuck, Peter. Today, tomorrow, next year, next term, these guys’ll  have the treaty ratified and they’ll do it without the reservations he just offered to discuss
with you.

Every now and then, there is a moment where the above is not the sentiment shared. Go to any travesty, any devastation that befalls this country because it befalls all of it equally. 9/11, mass shootings (at least before they became so frequent that we are almost desensitized to it), or any natural disaster. Americans come together. Without hesitation or qualification. Why does it take tragedy to bring out the inner American in most Americans? Well, the artistry in some of what Sorkin creates is Art imitating Life almost literally. We won’t even mention how the young, engaging minority democrat wins in a Presidential election over the old white republican Congressional stalwart and go straight to a story line commonly referred to “The 25th”.

In “the 25th” we discover the President’s youngest daughter has been kidnapped. The President is so beside himself over the issue at hand that he acknowledges that he is unable to preside over the country objectively. He does what he must and invokes the 25th Amendment turning over the office of the President to the next person in the line of succession. In this case, that would involve turning over his office to the highest ranking official on the other team. Yet, Sorkin again finds another way to articulate the approach we should have and not the current approach we cling to.

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

The West Wing on its own, in a vacuum is the greatest achievement in television history. Beyond that simple idea it continues to breed more than that. New information presents itself with each viewing. It may have you question your convictions or maybe it will solidify them. It is more than a show. I could go on and on about the genius of Aaron Sorkin, but that’s not what this is about. Ask me later, I have no hesitation in discussing the West Wing on any level relating it to any topic, but for another time I guess. Beyond the obvious form of entertainment which it swings for the fences at every turn, it is the ideology of what we as Americans engaged in the political process should constantly strive for. Even the show is not perfect. It is not a documentary about political utopia. But it does consistently show how people of differing perspectives can come together for the greater good. Or put in other words, “The West Wing can serve as an oasis from our own political madness” or at least the current level of political madness of the 2016 Presidential Election seems to be.

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy Of TNT Network

Photo Courtesy Of TNT Network

Warning: Spoiler Alert

There was just one burning question at the outset of the season finale for the TNT Original Series “Murder In The First,” would tech wunderkind Erich Blunt, walk away from committing two murders, or could SFPD detectives Hildy Mulligan and Terry English, outsmart their suspect and put him behind bars where he belonged. Although Blunt’s attorney Warren Daniels, got his client exonerated of the murder of his lover Cindy Strauss, evidence putting the tech genius behind the murder of his biological father Kevin Neyers, starts pointing directly to him.

The episode opened with Betty Harbach, arriving via limousine to the office building where Blunt’s company’s located, met by her grandson’s assistant, who tells her she will take her to her meeting with Erich and his attorney David Hertzberg. Blunt expresses sorrow over the suicide of his grandfather, Betty’s late husband James, who shot himself in the head in the previous episode, leaving behind a handwritten confession that he had killed Neyers. However, he soon reveals the reason he had asked for them to meet, telling her that he and her husband had bonded although they had met for the first time just months earlier and that James and Hertzberg setup a financial package for Betty’s welfare after James had passed. She’s quite surprised when she realizes that she now has a financial portfolio valued at half a million dollars.

Hildy and Terry discuss the weapon that Harbach used on himself and to kill Kevin Neyers and they’re informed that the weapon doesn’t have a paper-trail, although it was originally issued to an officer from the department. When the pistol’s disassembled there’s a number; 1970 written on the inside of the handle. The three of them realize that the number came from the officer who got assigned the weapon and that number now belongs to their fellow detective Edgar Navarro. Navarro, tells him that the weapon was never in his possession, but he recalls the officer that had the number before him was Howard Toomey, an officer fired from the department for drinking excessively.

Toomey now runs a half-way house and readily admits his drinking should have gotten him fired 18-years-earlier, however after the detectives show him pictures of the weapon, he tells them it was never his. Toomey then tells the detectives, that the reason he had wanted the number 1970, was his father had held it before him and he had to trade numbers with another officer to acquire it. The officer was Jimmy Salter, English’s former captain on the force, now head of security for Erich Blunt.

Mulligan and English meet with Salter at an Italian deli in the city and the former captain, admits that the gun was his rookie service revolver, but that he never gave the weapon to James Harbach. Hildy, asks Salter if he believes that Harbach got possession of the gun by coincidence and the former cop tells her, coincidence is not a factor in the equation and he ‘s pretty sure he knows how the old man got the gun.

Salter heads to Blunt’s office and asks him how Harbach got the pistol that the former police officer had given to his employer four years earlier for protection. Blunt looks Salter directly in the eyes and tells his head of security that he never gave him a weapon and with that statement loses another valuable employee. The former officer tells Blunt it’s been an adventure and wishes him good luck as he resigns on the spot.

Hildy and Terry travel to Betty Harbach’s home, where a security company’s installing a state of the art alarm system in the rather dilapidated house. Hildy remarks that it’s probably expensive and the old woman replies, that the company’s giving her a deal. The detectives then start asking Betty about her grandson and she responds that her lawyer advised her not to talk with the police about Erich. When she’s asked if the attorney’s David Hertzberg, she tells them she has to close the door and Mulligan responds that’s fine, the officers will soon return with a warrant and the detectives get invited into the house.

She then shows the officers the portfolio that her grandson had given her and they look at the withdrawals from the bank account; one that she had made to pay for the new security system, but she has no knowledge about the other, a withdrawal of $1300 shortly before Neyers got shot. Hildy asks Harbach if she ever heard of Fentanyl and the old woman replies that the drug was the only thing that gave her late husband any relief from the pain the cancer caused him. As she looks through her calendar, the detectives notice an entry about an insurance agent who wanted to meet with James but her husband wasn’t home. She told the officers that she didn’t really trust him as James had already been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. When she told the man her husband was out he got into his fancy red sports car and drove away.

English has a pretty good idea what the withdrawal was for and drives over to Chris Walton’s house, the man originally convicted of murdering Neyers, to confirm his suspicion. Walton’s repairing a motorcycle when English arrives and tells the detective that helped free him from prison that he may move to Sacramento, get a job and start a new life. Terry tells Chris he’s proud of him and then asks if he remembers how much Neyers paid him for the delivery of Fentanyl the day he got shot to death and Walton confirms that it was $1300 cash up front.

Blunt’s starting to have sex with an attractive young woman in his home, when his security alarm informs him that someone’s at the front door, it’s his pilot Bill Wilkerson and Blunt was not expecting the visit. He tells the young woman to wait for him and heads downstairs to talk with his guest. The detectives quickly surmised that the fancy red sports car belonged to the pilot and they had already questioned Wilkerson whether he had any involvement in Harbach acquiring the gun. Bill tells his boss that they’ll soon be behind bars, but Blunt counters that the detectives are just guessing and that Erich never gave the pilot any gun. He then asks Wilkerson if he’s wearing a wire and makes him strip naked, but then realizes that the transmitter is in Wilkerson’s wristwatch which he soon smashes.

He asks how the pilot could betray him in such a manner and Wilkerson loses it, screaming to Blunt that he stole Cindy away from him then destroyed the pilot’s marriage. He then asks how he could kill a woman who carried his child and Blunt starts justifying all the heinous acts he committed by explaining that he’s just more evolved than normal humans, it’s time to cull the herd and he’s just a step ahead of everyone else.

The tech genius decides to go on the offensive the following morning and heads to the police station to talk with Mulligan and English. He then tells the pair that he’s recently become aware that Salter and Wilkerson were the men behind the murder of Neyers, they were due huge paydays if the IPO of Blunt’s company went through and that they murdered Neyers to make sure the sale went through without any problems. Hildy tells Blunt she doesn’t believe a word he’s saying and he offers to undergo a polygraph.

English then asks Blunt if he can convince Wilkerson to wear a wire so they can entrap Salter, but Blunt tells the cops Wilkerson wouldn’t after already being caught wearing one. He then hands Erich a copy of a magazine, which has an article stating that the NSA can use a person’s cellphone as a recording device, even when not in use. Blunt responds that something like that would be simple and English asks if he could accomplish that with a court order and then hands Blunt a copy of the order they obtained to bug Blunt’s phone. Hildy then plays back the conversation he had with Wilkerson the previous night admitting all his crimes and place him under arrest.

Hertzberg goes to Warren Daniels’ office and tells the attorney that Blunt wants him to represent him in the upcoming trial and Daniels refuses without hesitation, then asks his old friend why he’s still working for that sociopath. David replies that every criminal deserves an attorney and then says the only difference between a CEO and a criminal is venture capital. He goes on to tell Daniels that he truly believed Blunt’s innocence before this revelation and the other attorney admits he knew Blunt was guilty from the start. Hertzberg says that Blunt passed a polygraph, but Daniels informs him that his client did not pass the test.

David heads to prison to meet with Blunt and asks him point-blank if he admitted what the District Attorney claims they recorded him saying and Blunt denies it and tells him to have Daniels file to make the tape non-admissible at the trial. Hertzberg then tells him that Daniels refused to take the case and that he’s resigning as of that moment and sticks out his hand to shake Blunt’s hand before he leaves. The tech genius instead spits on the attorney’s hand and Hertzberg glares at him then silently walks out.

Mulligan and English are walking the streets of San Francisco splitting a six-pack of beer as they walk, throughout the afternoon and into the evening. The two start talking about how somebody like Blunt could exist, when Terry’s phone rings and we can see by his reaction what the call was about. Erich Blunt had hung himself in his prison cell, as we hear his words about his grandfather going out on his own terms rather than waiting for death repeat over and over.

 

Photo Credit: twitter.com/MurderFirstTNT

Photo Credit: twitter.com/MurderFirstTNT

Warning: Spoiler Alert

After last week’s reveal, we find the free Erich Blunt doing Larry King Live. And if that was all that I said, you could fill in the rest. Blunt seamlessly bounces from one cliché to another. Meanwhile each and every person from SFPD who had any part in the trial looks like they are one bad metaphor away from throwing up. As the camera moves from person to person while Erich speaks, one image sticks out. While he goes on about the importance that he run his company while the trial went on, Ivana West looks pissed.

English pauses the TV. And declares, Blunt killed Niers. Mulligan tries to get him to drop it, but English can’t allow Blunt to go free knowing what he told them last week. For a few reasons she mentions, Mulligan cannot get involved. At least not at this stage. Just after she leaves and just before the fade out, English stares at the TV screen. You can almost see the steam billowing out of his ears.

Koto escorts DA Perez to her car in a parking garage. He uses a metaphor to describe how they need to move on. Perez’ reply is so cheesy I will not repeat it. They begin making out. Simultaneously, Mulligan is riding in an elevator for the same parking garage. The door opens and she sees what she sees. She immediately hits a few buttons to get the door to close. The sound of which, is noticed by Koto and Perez. Could be problematic.

English shows up at a park. Conveniently the park where he finds ‘D-Hop’, the witness that pegged Chris Walton as the man who killed Kevin Niers. English questions the kids about them not actually seeing Walton there that night. D-Hop breaks first and his friend resists and tries to quiet D-Hop. The actual killer not only is not Walton, but is a little off. The kids told English of how the killer took them into the building, put a gun to their heads and forced them to watch as the blood left Niers’ head.

English and Mulligan walk down the street while English tries to convince her that his theory is real. English’ impression is that the actual killer was skilled. The kids said he was old but couldn’t discern if he was older than English. Blunt has motive based on his blaming Niers for the death of his mother. Am I crazy or does this not sound like they are building toward Jimmy Salter (former chief to English, current head of security for Blunt) as a potential suspect? I’ll be honest, if that’s the end game, I’ll be disappointed. They went on to question Salter, which was short. The result of which was not fruitful, as of yet.

Back at the precinct, Koto rips English and Mulligan a new one. Essentially giving them a verbal cease a desist order. At this point Mulligan is just taking everything in to see if there is anything to pursue. English on the other hand, is holding on tight with white knuckles on both hands. Mulligan enters the room English relocated to. Some small talk about dropping it passes and English has a theoretical breakthrough. “What if the killer had a motive of their own”. James Harbach, Erich Blunt’s grandfather and Blunt’s mother’s father.

It appears that his illness (that presumably is killing him) is getting worse. This we have all seen before. You find someone with a motive they otherwise would not act on. Share with them their own mortality. Offer some ridiculous reward for doing the deed that will exceed anything the dying person can do with the time that’s left. My only skepticism is that 24 minutes into a finale, and this feels to soon to be true.

As polite as English tries to be with his probing questions, James Harbach sees right through it from the jump. Betty Harbach seems more than willing to be as forthcoming as she possibly can be in her elder state. James is far less accommodating. After a series of questions, James first response on any importance is, “Why don’t you get off my property *******?” James does a decent job selling the idea that his morality wouldn’t allow him to kill anyone, even Niers.

Nice comedic break. English, while in Mulligan’s house gets the call that they need to report in, Mulligan goes to wake up her daughter. They need to get her overnight bag together because she has to go to work. To which the daughter replies still dead very sleepy, “Really…? These murders have got to stop.”

This new murder in question is at least from Koto’s view, a slump buster. A new thing to focus on to deviate their attention away from anything Blunt related. We have a woman allegedly drowned in the bathtub. The problem with that is Burnside tells Mulligan that since her body’s been submerged for a matter of days, it will look like she drowned even if she didn’t.

English slips away to pursue other leads in the Niers case that more directly have his attention. Koto, upon figuring this out, gets a little snippy with Mulligan. Mulligan asks to speak freely to Koto. When she almost drops the anvil that she saw Koto and Perez in the garage, but instead asks, “Are you a politician now or are you still a cop?”

English went to visit Walton in prison to try to find some clarity with what Walton may or may not know. He asked about Walton’s relationship with Niers, which we find out is your typical dealer to junkie relationship. The drug Walton delivered was not Niers’ drug of choice, which is curious. And even when English showed a picture of James Harbach, Walton had nothing.

Mulligan drives out to intercept D-Hop leaving school. She shows him the picture of James Harbach. He immediately resists saying he’s never seen the man before. After Mulligan adjusts her vantage point so she is eye to eye to D-Hop, he reluctantly and timidly admits that James Harbach is the man who held a gun to his head.

Back in the SFPD break room, Burnside breaks down the autopsy results on the woman in the tub with English and Mulligan. Long and short of it is that the woman died of a heroin overdose and just happened to be found in the tub. Also there are two punctures near her shoulder blades that she could not have possibly given herself.

English and Mulligan bounce their theory about Harbach back and forth to see if it seems workable. As Koto arrives, they quickly spit out at him everything they have on the overdose case. He is not there to talk about the overdose case. He asks, “when was the last time either of you spoke to James Harbach?” English avoids answering the question with another question, “why?” Koto says, “Because he just killed himself, bullet to the head”.

At the scene, the weapon of choice was an antique 357. English has a note sealed in an evidence bag that asserts that Harbach acted alone in the murder of Kevin Niers. Upon further investigation, Betty Harbach confirms that the letter is in her late husband’s handwriting.

Back at APPLSN, Herzberg interrupts Blunt wooing a young lady with his VR toys by saying, “We have a situation”. Clearly Blunt is tired of having situations. Ivana West and Jeremy Leonard have been working to create a new company. Ivana is very much the woman scorned by not getting the credit for running the company while Erich focused on the trial. And Blunt, in typical form, is showing just how maniacal he can be.

Wilkerson drives Blunt home. Upon their arrival, Wilkerson in a pathetic way, creates a need to go back to the office. Then Erich notices a gate was left open. If this was a mob movie, this would be the part where I’d say Erich Blunt is about to get wacked. Close, but instead of Vinny with a sawed off shotgun, its Detective English. This was a simple warning. English outlined that Erich had his grandfather kill his father.

Warren Daniels appears at the precinct and says one very conniving thing. “My client wishes to turn himself in.” Yeah, I gasped for air too, but pump the breaks. Erich Blunt is not Daniels’ only client. Daniels presented the husband of the overdosed woman. Hand delivered for no other reason than to establish the man’s alibi.

Ballistics came back from the James Harbach suicide. Confirms that it was the same gun used to kill Kevin Niers. Which should be enough to move this thing forward. Instead, Koto gives them the ‘order’ to take the Walton release as a victory and move on.

English went to meet Walton for his release and offer a ride home. A very anti climactic last few minutes. With or without the promo for next week’s finale, you had to know the wheels would fall off. Looking forward to it.

Photo Credit: FeltBeats.com

Photo Credit: FeltBeats.com

Warning: Spoiler Alert

This week’s episode starts off with English going to visit Chris Walton (the guy who confessed to the Niers murder weeks ago) in prison. Very cryptic in nature. English seems to want to find some new wrinkle, but his attitude as an investigator is making that difficult.

Preparing for another court appearance, Blunt simply cannot help himself from trying to control the situation. Daniels, essentially, is the best criminal lawyer money can buy. Yet despite Daniels’ repeated claims that putting Blunt on the stand is a bad idea, Blunt insists. It’s his life after all.

During the actual trial scene at hand, one thing is becoming increasingly clear. It should have been earlier, but as a viewer I am by nature biased. Siletti is in over his head. He keeps trying to get something to stick but he keeps coming off as petty and over matched. Ivana West was a clever witness, but Siletti is in over his head.

“Your Honor, the defense calls Erich Blunt”. This somehow feels like a colossal mistake. Well. Either he’s better at selling his own story than I gave this character credit for, or there is a serious problem with the suspect list. Blunt came off sincere and not at all the arrogant S.O.B. that the has a reputation for. However, there is still a part of me that remembers seeing how he has been candidly in previous episodes. Something is missing one way or the other. A small something or a huge something.

During the cross-examination, Siletti did what Siletti does and tried to force something (many somethings) to stick. And for my money was highly unsuccessful. Blunt was not what I had expected. Granted, it goes back to his character make up and is not outside the realm of possibility. Well played Bochco. With that said, it probably will not go over exceedingly well. The standoff between Blunt and Siletti at the end will not endear Blunt to the jurors. It was a nice moment for Blunt personally but might not have been the best play.

I do not like Hannah Harkins. The fact of her rape aside. I just don’t like her. I’m worried there is something on her end that will come back around.

Closing arguments should prove to be something. As I watch Siletti I am more and more concerned that this will not go the State’s way. He’s throwing around buzz words as opposed to facts. Hoping that the sound of what he is saying will justify what he is saying. I’ve got to say, just from an etiquette standpoint, I am really opposed to Siletti’s tactics. He is all but lying in an effort to connect dots that aren’t there while doing so two feet from Blunt. I imagine to illicit a response from Blunt.

To be clear, neither side has an iron clad case. However, Daniels does not come across as a hack. I may just be one real solid detail away from rooting for Daniels and Blunt. Almost, let’s not get carried away.

Outside English’ place, sounds of love can be heard from outside. Pretty obvious, what is happening. And then the woman in question said, “I love you”. Now personal feelings aside, English just buried his wife not that long ago. He is clearly conflicted on a few levels. Dropping the magic 3 little words to a man this lost in his own head on the night of the first official date is a bit much. The woman’s tantrum was a little bit her own fault.

Outside a different law office, Bill and Mrs Wilkerson have a civil conversation (by comparison). It is revealed that the video of Bill and Cindy was sent by an anonymous email account. Hmm, curious. Considering Blunt has the technology to do such a thing with moderate ease. And that Blunt to Bill to his face, “we have each other’s backs, right?”

At Blunt’s residence Erich and Herzberg watch a news discussion on the impact of Blunt’s testimony. There is a nice but not important back and forth with Blunt and Herzberg when Bill Wilkerson shows up. Blunt instructs Herzberg to go home, Bill’s here to babysit. As I have the TV paused, Wilkerson’s expression suggests that sending Herzberg home might not have been the best idea.

Bill in his frustration and reacting to the conversation with his wife, asks Blunt about how a deleted video could resurface. Blunt is what he is and indulges that conversation on the tech side explaining how the data could be moved to the cloud and accessed anywhere. And then Blunt suggests that Bill owes someone a thank you for this because he wouldn’t have cheated on his wife if he loved his wife. Then Bill comes out and asks, to which Blunt immediately denies it. And in that moment or two. In the time between breaths, I actually thought, “come on Erich, just come out with it. This has your finger prints all over it.” And he did. And to my utter surprise, Wilkerson did not attempt to assault Blunt.

Back at the precinct the next day, Chief Koto gets word that the jury is back and English and Mulligan decide to go with him for what must be the verdict. This is seriously stressful. I actually feel invested enough that I don’t know that I’m prepared for what is to follow.

In an artistic approach, they decided to fade out the voice of the court reporter reading the verdict. Almost in an effort for we the viewer to experience the verdict in real-time as we witness the responses from the various characters in the court room. And that reaction is NOT GUILTY. Regardless of what happens going forward, this result is the fault of the DA’s office. They were not prepared and jumped the gun. They were not ready, and the prosecution’s case appeared to be built on hearsay and wishes.

Pardon me while I run around my living room shouting obscenities.

So with most of the court room cleared, English and Mulligan decide to leave. On their way out Erich Blunt decides to stop them on the other side of the door.

Blunt: Hey…(looks at both of them separately) You still think I did it.
Mulligan: Yeah, we do.
Blunt: Luckily the double jeopardy rule means there’s only one bite at the apple.
English: A woman’s dead. A child, your child is dead. (English advanced to violate Blunt’s personal space) So don’t get up in my face and gloat.
Blunt: Why not? You’re right. I did kill that dumb b****

To be honest, I really don’t know what’s what going forward. I may need for this to marinate for a bit. However, I will say this. The double jeopardy rule only works on trying the exact same case a second time. The Niers murder is still in the wind. They can still attempt to put Blunt away on Murder. And throwing it in their face as he just did is not going to get the police to slow down. If anything, they are just going to ramp it up after that stunt. Stay tuned, next week could be insane.

Photo Credit: Serial.com

Photo Credit: Serial.com

Warning: Spoiler Alert

So our saga picks up after a less than stellar episode on the whole, while revealing some critical information. Last week we heard opening statements as well as some testimonies that could be interpreted in any number of ways. Mark Strauss (estranged husband to the deceased) did very little to come off as anything other than an optional second suspect. So naturally, he ends up dead from what looks on the surface like a suicidal overdose, I became very suspicious. It was too convenient and too clean. The note that was typed into the computer is a little much for an addict. The apartment was too clean. Something has to be awry, it’s too easy.

Tonight’s episode starts out with English reading the ‘suicide note’. As per my previous hesitation, its way too cohesive. Mark Strauss if nothing else, exhibited an habitual inability to convey steady thoughts. He thinks and speaks like an addict. Short and choppy. No way those are his words. Operating on the premise, the team including the DA decide to keep Siletti (ADA and lead prosecutor) in the dark about the details. This feels like thin ice though. If it gets out that there was a suicide note and SFPD intentionally kept it off the books, the whole case is done for.

In the judge’s chambers, the question at hand is, “should there be a postponement of the trial until such a time that SFPD can identify the death of Mark Strauss as whatever it is?” Smart move on Daniels’ part, but it won’t stand. Siletti makes the claim that Mark Strauss’ death is nothing more than a witness who completed his testimony has died. Daniels naturally disagrees. However, the judge agrees to move forward, allowing the state to finish its case. Which Siletti thinks should only take another three days. At which point, if they have not proven their case, allows for Daniels to file for a mistrial. Interesting little set up. Once again it seems, the state is all in.

Bill Wilkerson (Erich Blunt’s private pilot) takes the stand. The state runs through a basic line of questioning asking Wilkerson to recount the events he was involved in that lead to him and the landlady finding Cindy Strauss’ dead. All very straight forward until Siletti asked about Blunt’s reaction when Wilkerson gave him the news. This is peculiar because in an earlier episode when Wilkerson’s wife was flying off the handle, Blunt stepped up for Wilkerson. And there was an odd moment where Blunt insinuates that they have each others backs. Wilkerson didn’t do a great job selling his sincerity, but the testimony (to this point) looking like Wilkerson has no intention of ‘taking one for the team’ is intriguing.

Oh Warren Daniels…no pleasantries, no gentlemanly banter, just straight to the affair. After mentioning the affair with Wilkerson and Strauss, Daniels heads right into Blunt and Strauss. Then just that quickly moved to the physical nature of the meeting between Wilkerson and Hertzberg and Wilkerson’s wife and attorney. His wife repeatedly hit him. He repeatedly told her to stop. Then he hit her. Convenient that Herzberg was there to witness it. With that out-of-the-way, there appears to be a discrepancy between the time of death and the text message Wilkerson received from Strauss assuring him that all was OK. Her time of death was approx 8:15pm. The text came at 9:02. And as Daniels will do at every opportunity, suggests that Wilkerson may have killed her then sent himself the message after the fact from her phone. So much for having each others backs.

Almost immediately following Wilkerson’s testimony, English and Mulligan escort him upstairs to ask him some questions pertaining to the death of Mark Strauss. Regardless of Wilkerson’s involvement or lack of involvement, I get the impression that there’s only so much further he’s going to get pushed before he pushes back. The first question was “where were you last night”, which he replied, with Erich. Come to find out that the security system that runs 24 hours a day in Blunt’s house gets directly routed to SFPD. No intermediary. Which could prove to be helpful in more than one area.

Tonia Pyne speaks. Associate counsel for the defense. This is interesting because it’s the first time she has brought anything to the table. Daniels is not in the room. She cross examines Mrs. Wilkerson as to her whereabouts as well as her husband’s during the window of 7-9 pm. Pyne is a well-trained lackey. As she follows the same line of questioning that Daniels had earlier with Wilkerson. Suggesting that it were possible for her to leave her house and kill Cindy Strauss and get back without anyone noticing. Just as Daniels did before, their plan seems to be blame everyone else and aim for a mistrial.

Back at the precinct, English is grabbing some coffee while reading a document. A voice claims that there’s no work allowed in the break room. That voice belongs to former Capt Salter and current head of security for one Erich Blunt. He came to the precinct to drop off a copy of the security footage that allegedly shows Blunt and Wilkerson in Blunt’s home all night.

Salter: Blunt and Wilkerson were home all night playing Call of Duty.

English: Thanks. What about you?

Salter: What about me what?

English: Where were you the night Mark Strauss died Jimmy?

Salter: So now it’s Jimmy? (He pulls a paper out of his pocket) I was at the hospital with my mother. I slept there. Talk to nurse Roberts. Nurse Wynn. And nurse King. I’m there most every night, because she’s dying. And I know you can understand that. I’ve been in your shoes pal. I know what it’s like. You try to do good, you try to make a difference. Then you arrest a guy like this. Now you’re dealing with the press and the politics. Then the pressure builds and builds. All of a sudden, the whole world’s looking at you. God damn, you drop to your knees every night and pray that you got it right. Because now, it’s not just your ass on the line. It’s your partner’s, the lieutenant, the Chief, the DA, but what if the truth is he’s innocent? And you’re wrong? That’s scary. Take it from someone who’s been in your shoes Terry, you’re in a deep hole on this one. I strongly suggest you stop digging.

English: Well, I have to get to the bottom of this so, I gotta keep digging. Look at this kid. So close to two murders. Do you really think his hands are clean? I mean, you’re the one that taught me, there is no such thing as coincidences. And if you were in my shoes, you’d be all over this kid. All over him. But instead, you sold out and now you’re working for him. Guess you found that retirement gig. Here’s what worries me, what are you going to do when this kid goes down? What are you going to do when you realize you’ve been protecting a murderer? And that your hands have blood on them too? That you are the one who’s thinking was compromised by self-interest and not me. The door swings both ways Captain Salter, you can’t be on both sides of it.

Later at Blunt’s office, English and Mulligan look to question Ivana West (Blunt’s second in command and acting CEO) about her whereabouts during the window of Mark Strauss’ death. This becomes a series of question and answer about what can and cannot be manipulated by a computer savvy type. It all ends with West giving them her ‘root log’, apparently an incorruptible history of actions and locations that even a person of Blunt’s intelligence could not change.

Hannah Harkins is the next witness. Harkins, you’ll remember, was the former employee of Blunt’s who filed a lawsuit that was settled out of court as a part of her claim that she was drugged and raped by Erich Blunt. In steps Daniels to shoot down any relevance that Harkins could potentially provide with his (at this point) typical approach. Again, suggesting ‘reasonable doubt’. He paints a picture of the economic circumstances that were about to take place around her. Suggesting that she made up these allegations to prepare herself financially.

Back at the precinct, English and Mulligan preset the root log to Kami Keefer, the police tech expert (who still has a crush on Mulligan). She claims to fake this root log, it would take upwards of a week to fake. They are running out of time to nail down exactly what Mark Strauss’ death was. When Mulligan asks English for his advice when she takes the stand in the morning, he says “Talk very slowly”.

With Mulligan on the stand, Siletti takes her down the typical path. Asking leading questions about why they suspected Blunt and where he was arrested. The latter of which paints Blunt as a rich kid with the physical ability to break Strauss’ neck based on his status as a black belt in Krav Maga. Daniels goes in on Mulligan bringing up the forced temporary leave that caused her to miss the arrest of Erich Blunt. Daniels keeps digging and digging and in the end they are in a figurative standoff. Mulligan did not waver.

That night at the precinct over some Chinese takeout, English and Mulligan are pulling at straws. English finds the use of “shouldn’t’ve” to be suspect. People don’t generally type out that particular contraction. It also appears in the typed suicide note of Mark Strauss in almost the exact same usage. This is curious to say the least. This absolutely puts her in their cross-hairs. The question is, “does the second in command, someone who appreciates Blunt’s genius, and has on some level affection for him, have enough to gain by killing either or both Strauss’? Or would she actually have the stones to pull it off?”

The very next scene involves taking West in for questioning. At first she seemed drunk or worse. Upon further review, her look may have just been disguised disbelief that her alibi may not have worked. And to the previous latter question, I am quickly starting to believe she has the stones to pull it off. Now the previous question becomes more critical.

English: Where were you two nights ago?
West: I already answered that question.
English: That’s right, you were working.
West: Yes. I was working my ass off trying to save the company of the guy you are railroading.
English: So saving his ass meant taking out Mark Strauss?
West: I’m out of here (as she stands up to leave)
English (his hand to her shoulder sitting her back down): Nope. Not tonight. Maybe not ever. Sit down.

I love when Mulligan gets in her zone. When she believes she has what she needs, she really seems to enjoy it. I’d love to quote this one, but the text doesn’t do it justice. Mulligan walks in with a hair sample from Ms. West and a hair sample from Strauss’ apartment. Mulligan moves into the room with the confidence of a snake circling a mouse. “I really have to say, you did a nice job cleaning up the place. But that’s the funny thing about hairs. They’re so thin and easy to miss.” Matching hair samples. Fingerprint on Strauss’ laptop. And now a flash drive with surveillance footage of West accompanying Strauss into his apartment, then leaving later without him.

Staring at irrefutable evidence, and looking rather shocked, West responds in a way that again answers the second question from before. “I’m not saying another word without my lawyer”. The text on its own doesn’t quite say it. Her delivery and body language once again suggests that yes, she has the stones to do this. It’s not enough. The DA claims that short of a confession, they have to disclose the suicide note. At the eleventh hour, English gets an idea. They don’t need West to confess to murdering Strauss. They just need her to confess to writing the suicide note.

English lays out a couple of options that West is resistant to. And eventually he says enough to get here to talk. Namely suggesting that he doesn’t believe she killed Mark Strauss. And then like a person with controllable split personality, she spills the beans on the entire night. Her performance is different. It’s almost as if she experiences a sexual response to giving up this information. She even goes as far as saying that she was “prepared to kill him” but didn’t have to. This woman is evil. They get the confession they need as it pertains to the suicide note.

More importantly than the initial win here, is the response after the fact. It seemed almost too easy. West seemed to flip a switch and went from angry suspect demanding her lawyer to cool, calm and collected as if she were pulling the strings instead of English. English’ response seems equally strange. His demeanor changed about halfway through. Almost as if he realized he crossed some moral line in the sand. Even afterwards, while Mulligan struggles to erase the hard drive on Strauss’ laptop, he offers to do it. Quite violently I might add. As if to take the bulk of the burden of what’s happened.

I hope I’m wrong on this one. Some good shows will walk you right up to this sort of decision. Even less force you to actually make the decision. A great example of this is the Walter White/Jane Margolis situation on Breaking Bad. Some would agree that ‘situation’ (no Breaking Bad spoilers as of today) forces the viewer to either accept who he/she is going forward or reject who they are as a certain character. As if said character has crossed over the point of no return. I hope that is not the case here.

Photo Credit: TNTDrama.com

Photo Credit: TNTDrama.com

Last week, we saw the re-introduction of Warren Daniels as lead counsel for Erich Blunt. The case looks to be anything but iron clad. And in a unsatisfying scene, English makes a move involving a karaoke song, obvious meaning, and sustained eye contact that went unrequited. One has to believe that opening statements and actual cross examinations should be imminent.

One interesting yet unimportant observation before we get started. The first exchange from Blunt and Daniels in this episode…

Blunt: Is that the best suit you’ve got?
Daniels: Absolutely not.

I find it interesting. I like the tone. It sets up the idea that Blunt is in micromanage mode and this close to freaking out at every turn while Daniels is the smooth operator. Now I’m no fashion snob, but I know what I like and I know what looks good. The blue dress shirt with the buttons holding the collar down is a dead giveaway to either someone who has not ascended to the higher level of suits or is a hipster. This is the same shirt young boys wear to private school as part of a uniform. I’m sure it’s just the preference of the costume person or an oversight. But you don’t call out the attire of your lawyer when his suit game is clearly better than yours. Did you remember to bring your book bag too? More importantly Daniels conveys to Blunt the idea that this is a long process, relax.

In the courtroom, Siletti starts out with his opening statement to the jury. You may recognize Siletti from any number of shows from Law & Order to Fringe. I remember him from Raising the Bar (a show the Mrs and I refer to as “Zach Morris: Attorney at Law”). And that may be the last time Raising the Bar is ever mentioned here. I have to say, Siletti’s opening statement is calm, measured and friendly but when compared to that of Mr. Daniels seems almost juvenile. Now I hope as a television viewer that this is a device to set expectation in order for ‘the good guys’ to exceed it. Otherwise, our guys seem outmatched from the start.

An odd comparison if you’d like some clarity on the opening statement issue. Daniels comes off like a well-mannered under control father who has been challenged by his 8-year-old son in a game of horse. While his counterpart seems eager to do tons of things, Daniels is completely in control and not worried in the least. He does have a great, yet subtle thing. Siletti made it about what the state will prove. Daniels put the power of deciding into the minds of the jurors. It may not seem like a big thing, but it tends to put the majority subconsciously on Daniels side; at least to start.

Daniels: At the conclusion of this trial Mr. Siletti and I will have the opportunity to address you again. And at that time I’m going to ask you a few simple questions. First, did Mr. Siletti all that he said he was going to prove? Did he prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Blunt had a motive to commit murder? Did he prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was Erich Blunt that committed the murder? And finally, did he prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an actual murder was committed at all? I am confident that after you’ve answered all of those questions, you’re going to find that young man over there, Erich Blunt not guilty.

Elsewhere in a bar English and Mulligan engage in a typical role-playing exercise pinning Mulligan as the defense attorney grilling English over the details of his testimony. Not exactly the kind of scene that moves along my affection for these two ‘shipping’. However, never underestimate the mental/emotional temperament of a cop grieving over the loss of his wife. Just then the scene turns in a direction any guy’s man lobe of the brain is sure to like.

Two drunk guys playing pool decide to hit on a woman who is currently on a date (the date is sitting right there by the way). English takes the exception to this and indulges the drunk when confronted. English suggests the two guys leave the nice couple alone. After throwing out some lame drunk comments, and intentionally spilling his beer on English, they decide to position themselves in an assertive and ill-advised stance. One guy takes a shot. English takes care of them in about 4 moves. Mulligan shouts for him to stop.

The next day while English is getting ready to head into court, he is clearly getting the cold shoulder from Mulligan. I already don’t like where this is going. Apparently, Mulligan (in her new role as potential love interest at some point down the line) is having a tissy about English’s predisposition lately of punching first. You’re killing me Mulligan. When asked to give an example of being “quick to use your hands” Mulligan cites an incident from three years ago. Then Chris Walton, who is currently serving time, for beating him in the interrogation room. Then English does what every man sitting at home thinks he should do and wishes we could do (at times). Visually shows his disapproval for this conversation in general, says “I gotta go” and walks out.

English’ testimony was very solid. Again, there is a subtle nuance to the performance best experienced by watching. Even after going through the prosecutions questions and onto the defense’s cross-examination, English was strong. Daniels had no real choice but to hammer English in the hopes that English would hesitate or waiver. Casting a sliver of doubt to the jury. No luck to that end.

The examiner from the Coroner’s office is next in the witness chair. Predictably he goes through what he believes is what happened based on the physical signs from the body of the victim. Naturally, the explanations are fine for the prosecutor and not so for the defense. Daniels begins to attempt to cast a shadow of doubt. “Why not 8:18 or 9:07”? I hate to sound biased at this point, but the scales are tipped, I just don’t know for how long. The characters have been set up in a manner that has Daniels as the shark and Siletti as the guy who may need to step his game up. However, Daniels to this point has done little more than shoot holes in the processes used for decades, not in the prosecution’s case.

My apologies if this next bit sounds biased. Mulligan meets her ex for a walk. Come to find out the ex wanted to celebrate getting his 2 year clean chip from AA. Mulligan is happy for him but somehow detached from any connection. Clearly the ex has done something horrible during he pre Alcoholics Anonymous days. Everyone deserves a second chance. Make no mistake about it, that’s the particular heart string the show runners are tugging at. However, remember I’m a shipper by nature. I want to see the two main characters involved. I have no interest in one of the leads getting back together with their ex. So throughout this scene, I’m fighting any such feeling of sympathy for the ex. He does mention making amends with Terry (English, Mulligan’s partner).

Dr. Gibbs is quickly growing on me as a character that is barely recurring that I just love. Earlier in the series, Mulligan was unhappy that the test results weren’t coming as fast as she’d like. English offered to go down to the lab. Gibbs gave Mulligan the cold shoulder the entire time, while soaking in all of English’ charm. In this court room scene she just short of wittily brilliant. When asked about her interest in semen, she retorts back with not only a great answer but one that will endear her to the jury. Nothing she is asked shakes her or changes her ‘expert’ image.

I knew that when Mulligan’s first example of English’ temper was “my ex in the parking lot”, which he claimed was three years ago, I knew this was coming back. English agrees to meet with Mulligan’s ex as part of his 9th step. Initially, no big deal. English is there to accept an apology for behavior he probably doesn’t feel is necessary. As the story unfolds, the ‘fight’ Mulligan referenced was really the result of insecurity that English might eventually steal his wife. DING DING DING!!!

This introduces a world of hurt potentially. There is always going to be tension between these two. I doubt Mulligan ever gets back with him sincerely and long-term. If English and Mulligan do get together seriously, he’s going to find out. When he finds out, he will interpret it somehow as betrayal. Then how long has this been a thing. Was it a thing 3 years ago when the fight happened? And most importantly, what are the ramifications involving everyone if he falls off the wagon? A small seemingly unimportant scene may prove to be huge down the line.

Herzberg accompanied Wilkerson to his divorce lawyer meeting. A scene set up to pin Wilkerson against his soon to be ex-wife was very quickly stolen by Richard Schiff as Herzberg. I hope that this is a sign of more to come as this is the second time, Schiff has stolen a scene unexpectedly. After considering the silliness of fighting over literally nothing (the estate is worth next to nothing), he drops the bomb that Wilkerson’s wife has just as much motive as anyone else involved with the death of Strauss. Then after repeatedly hitting Wilkerson, he hits back. That’s probably going to come back at some point.

After sitting through Mulligan’s ex’s ‘amends’ talk, English is compelled to do the same with Chris Walton. English goes to meet with Walton at San Quentin. It is a calm conversation that leads with English apologizing for his behavior. Then after a little back and forth, English asked the question. Why did you take the fall? Walton has no hesitation telling English that he in fact did not murder the man in question. But there is little that can be done until English finds who the real killer is.

Back in the courtroom, Mr. Strauss makes an appearance on the stand. Not all of our witnesses/suspects can have it all together. This man is a piece of work. His testimony is literally not helpful to either side. He clearly has the appearance of a junkie who’s sober for the first time in a long time. He gives no specifics and cannot lock down anything, aside from the fact that he is not a reliable witness. As Warren Daniels started to step on the gas. Making reaches and assuming that the details Mr. Strauss cannot account for, may just bring the spotlight down on Mr. Strauss. The judge adjourns for the day and Strauss asks the Judge if he needs a lawyer, the Judge responds with “You should seriously consider it.”

Just as the woman brought in to verify Mr. Strauss’ alibi enters the room (presumably the next day), a note is passed to the Judge and he immediately calls for the two lead counsel to join him in his chambers. The next scene is of English and Mulligan arriving on the scene of another crime, we assume. They are told it’s a Caucasian male overdose. Mulligan wonders why there are so many for a typical overdose. The other detective chuckles and says, “not when you see who it is”. The deceased? Mark Strauss…

English does find what seems to be a confession and a suicide note. Mulligan shuts the laptop screen. A couple of things here. That is absolutely a huge monkey wrench in the prosecutions approach. However, this is Bochco, and with that should come some sense of attention to detail. The scene looks like a set up. The first crime scene we saw in this series was a murder of a junkie. This crime scene is much less believable. It’s too clean. Strauss is laid out conveniently. His place is too clean for a junkie about to overdose. A functional drug addict maybe. There is just something off about the crime scene. Just food for thought for next week.

Photo Credit: Zap2It.com

Photo Credit: Zap2It.com

Warning: Spoiler Alert

Daniels has removed himself from the legal team, which may prove most damaging. The case against Blunt is less than rock solid. Mulligan has been reinstated. And English and Mulligan got intimate last week. That should about get us caught up.

Herzberg calls for a meeting with the Mayor. As the closest thing to a lead on the legal team, Herzberg knows he has to gain some momentum while they figure out the Daniels situation. This is prime Richard Schiff. After politely mentioning how he’s been waiting for an hour, drank a bottle of wine, and is greeted by two when he asked for the meeting in private he gets up to leave. When asked why he’s leaving he almost yells, “to go tell Erich Blunt that apparently bundling 1.6 million dollars in campaign contributions doesn’t buy you a private meeting with the Mayor!”.

Before entering the courtroom the next day, English and Mulligan have an awkward moment. Beating around the bush of whether or not they need to address the ‘intimate moments’ from before. Once in the courtroom, clearly the private meeting did take place. A new judge is introduced. The prosecution reiterates its desire to keep Blunt without bail. Herzberg plays the fumbling lawyer out of his league well. He then proceeds to lay out a number of holes or imperfections in the prosecutions assertions and even manages to make Blunt seem like a normal guy. Blunt is granted bail at twice the price plus has the privilege of wearing a tracker around his ankle.

Later that day, Herzberg and Blunt meet with Daniels. I’d love to say that we get to see Blunt grovel or even almost beg for Daniels to come back. But what I believe we saw was Blunt do and say what he feels he has to for the dominos to fall the way he wants them to. Money was never supposed to be the factor that brings Daniels in or sends him away. But 10 million makes just about anyone stay. And just like that, Daniels is back in the fold. Reluctant but in the fold.

Salter, who is not actually on the case has been poking around the canvas area. Upon further follow-up, English and Mulligan venture out to the warehouse of a tip intended for Salter. There they discover a comprehensive surveillance system and video with time stamp of the bar next door. The same bar that represents Strauss’ (the victim’s former/estranged husband) alibi. And sure enough, Strauss was able to leave the busy bar and return within the window of possibility. Placing a major hole in the middle of the state’s case against Blunt.

Previously as a condition of Daniels’ further involvement, Blunt agreed to a polygraph. The polygraph questions are intriguing. Up to and including “did you kill Cynthia Strauss”? The situation starts to fall apart, but Blunt is able to compose himself and continue on. Not that the scene was that convincing, but it did leave some doubt in the mind of this viewer as to whether or not he really is the killer. We’ve spent every moment until now under the premise of “how do they prove Blunt did it” as opposed to “how do they prove who the killer is”? Two decidedly different approaches.

English and Mulligan (with the aid of Keefer, the woman is still very much into Mulligan) narrow down Strauss’ movements and find him working a job on the docks. In a nice little moment rarely found in law enforcement dramas, English decides he doesn’t want to run today. He grabs a short metal pole. When he calls out for Mark Strauss, and Strauss recognizes him, he makes an effort to run out of the fenced cage he’s working in. English throws the pole through the door handles trapping Strauss. They then escort him off the premises.

Back at Daniels’ office, the polygraph is still underway. How it’s going is anyone’s guess at this point. I do get the impression though, that Blunt does not feel its going well at all. When they leave the man administering the exam and Mr. Daniels both exchange an odd look. Did he pass? Did he fail? Was this all a rouse to get Blunt to say that he killed Strauss on tape?

I cannot even begin to articulate the majesty of this next scene. There are good cop shows and bad cop shows. But rarely do you find a cop show (if that’s what we’re calling this) that captures a great chemistry. Normally this is the point where I’d drop in quoted lines from the episode to illustrate the quality of writing or capturing the moment. That, I think, would detract from what I’m trying to drive at. English and Mulligan have Strauss in the interrogation room. He says “lawyer” and they attempt to leave. Strauss in turn rejects the rules of Miranda and tells them his story anyway. Where the beauty comes in is just smooth the two detectives fire back. They’ve got him where they want him and their exchange in tandem with Strauss is lovely.

After chasing down what seems like a weak lead on Strauss’ alibi, English and Mulligan find themselves waiting in a doctor’s waiting room. What better use of time than to address the kissing? Again the chemistry comes out. She asks him why he did it, he accuses her of instigating. It’s not pivotal to the story as of now, but does make for an interesting scene.

This is painful. They have followed up a playfully fun scene with a painfully awkward scene. The woman in question is clearly lying to protect her own marriage and eventually her marriage counseling practice (yeah, the irony is dripping). However, our team does what it does. They play off of each other beautifully and she caves. So as of now, it seems that Mr. Strauss is in the clear.

Wilkerson shows up frantic at Blunt’s offices. His wife has left him (obviously) and needs help to find her. The last time we saw these two on-screen (Mr. and Mrs. Wilkerson) I didn’t get the impression that they had a healthy and prosperous marriage. So, I’ve got to think there is something else working here. Blunt seems way to eager to help. Tracking the wife is not going to be difficult. But its the eagerness followed by the claim that they are friends and can trust one another. Blunt is stacking assets, or at least that’s how it plays.

Wilkerson tracks down his wife at a cheap hotel. He implores her to open the door for the sake of the marriage. She opens the door and slaps him into next week. Over and over, nothing happened, where are you getting this. Then she plays a video on her phone showing him in the act. When she slams the door in his face, the sense of worry for his wife/marriage washes away. As if there is nothing left to fight for.

Back at the precinct, Strauss is released. There is word of a Karaoke Birthday bash for one of the detectives. English declines, then Mulligan insists that he attend. Forced date kind of? Then the DA cannot control herself. The polygraph from earlier was done so that Daniels could leak it to the press. So instead of letting that happen and playing it like the cool veterans with all the facts on their side, the DA throws back, putting the detectives in a more troubling position of locking down this case.

At the birthday bash, Mulligan brings up the kiss again.

Mulligan: So?
English: So.
Mulligan: We never really got a chance to finish our conversation about what happened.
English: We don’t have to.
Mulligan: No, I know. Gonna make sure that we both know it’s obviously never going to happen again.
English: Agreed.
Mulligan: So we’re good?
English: We’re always good.
Mulligan: So…you wanna kiss and make up?

Anyone who’s ever been to a karaoke event knows that the one guy that refuses to sing (I’m that guy in my circle) is the guy who will be ‘volunteered’. Not that I’m an expert on musical talent (I’ll defer that to my wife), but Taye Diggs could be a lot worse of a singer. The placement of the song “At Last” by Etta James was a nice, albeit high school-ish twist. And naturally, as English sings it with all that it implies, does so while transfixed on Mulligan. So, what does she do with this awkward moment? She removes herself from the situation. Only to place herself in a more awkward one.

Mulligan gets out of her car to find Erich Blunt sitting on her doorstep. Blunt acts like Blunt acts when he wants something. Since Mulligan’s behavior on their “date” was done so to obtain DNA, her behavior today makes more sense. “Get off my property and never come back”. She should’ve stayed at the bar. My fandom and shipper nature wanted her to stay at the bar. But then again, we have to create drama and this show does it extremely well.