Lawrence Russell

Cracker (Granada Television in association with A&E Network) 1993--96

star. Robbie Coltrane (Dr. Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald), with Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald), Geraldine Somerville (D.S. Jane Penhaligan), Lorcan Cranitch (D.S. Jimmy Beck), Christopher Eccleston (D.C.I. David Bilborough), et. al.

The Mad Woman in the Attic writ. Jimmy McGovern dir. Michael Winterbottom
To Say I Love You writ. Jimmy McGovern dir. Andy Wilson
One Day A Lemming Will Fly writ. Jimmy McGovern dir. Simon Cellan Jones
To Be A Somebody writ. Jimmy McGovern dir. Tim Fywell
The Big Crunch writ. Jimmy McGovern & Ted Whitehead dir. Julian Jarrold
Men Should Weep writ. Jimmy McGovern dir. Jean Stewart
Brotherly Love writ. Jimmy McGovern dir. Roy Battersby

20th Century Schizoid Man

"Cracker" is a dangerous beast, no matter what side of the law you view him from. While he despises the Church and organized religion, he conducts his criminal investigations with the vicious intuition of a renegade priest from the Inquisition. Indeed, as one priest says to him, "I take it you're a lapsed Catholic...." Why? "Because you're so serious in your mockery."

If the forensic psychologist is the new secular confessor of our era, then "Cracker" is the epitome of the self-love and loathing our civilization is constructed to conceal. "I smoke too much, I drink too much, I gamble too much... I am too much," he admits to another priest he is investigating in relation to a sex killing. With his street savvy and bloated body, he denies being a victim of his self-abuse while berating his suspects and colleagues with an endless list of psychological illnesses: penis envy, Oedipus complex, religious psychosis, libido dysfunction, neuroses gratification, guilt transference, etc etc. While giving a university lecture, he tosses copies of Spinoza, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Freud, Jung, Adler and others at the students in an iconoclastic display of theatrical cool, although we never see him jettison his first primary reference, the Bible he claims to have walked away from thirty years ago. As he knows, "it's all in the head."

"Cracker" is Dr. Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald (Robbie Coltrane), another in a long line of Scottish thug geniuses from Deacon Brodie to Alexander Trocchi. He's middle-aged, badly overweight, an oral compulsive who supports his chain-smoking and drinking with frequent trips to the dog track, the slot-machine arcade and the casino. He embraces one-arm bandits more frequently than the suffering wife and children he claims to love. His role loyalties are split between playing the legitimate husband and professional counsellor versus the illegitimate masquerade of the gambler and working class hustler. For this fat coal-miner's son from the hard streets of outer Glasgow is also in the grips of the hidden deviant persona of the male menopause. If, as Colin Wilson continually asserts, the sex-killer is the true hero of the twentieth century, then Fitz is the perfect bourgeois embodiment of 20th Century Schizoid Man.

Fitz is a reinvention of a cliche, whether it's the eccentric detective of the Anglo-French tradition, or the outlaw P.I. of the Hollywood hard-boiled genre. He's an outsider, a savant with a flexible code and dossier of criminal fantasies. He's pleasantly familiar with the fix of instant gratification and the role this infantile reflex plays in the modus operandi of the contemporary criminal. Still, it takes more than a Ph.d in the art of needling and gifted innuendo to become a stringer for the Manchester police force. So how does he gain access to the homicide unit and move from being adjunct player to being the primary means of solving the crime? When one of his pretty female students gets murdered is how....

The Mad Woman In The Attic

It's summer in the city, 1993, and Fitz (Robbie Coltrane) is on a losing streak. He's losing at the track, he's losing in the arcade, and he's kiting cheques to pay cabbies. His wife Judith (Barbara Flynn) is approaching ground-zero in their marriage and his son is a listless voyeur to the disintegration. As he performs for his class of university students ("I rehearsed the death of my father for years"), an absentee has her throat slashed and her body mutilated by an unknown assailant in a train carriage approaching Manchester.

When the police fail to arrest a suspect, the parents enlist Fitz's aid, requesting that he be part of the autopsy and subsequent investigation. The cop in charge of the investigation -- Detective Chief Inspector Bilborough -- reluctantly engages his services. Some children then find an unconscious man lying in the bushes by the tracks in the general vicinity of the murder. The man has no identification and when he regains consciousness, he's suffering from amnesia.... Is it real, or is it feigned? With this clever move, the premier script writer for the Cracker series Jimmy McGovern creates the number one suspect -- and a clean, symbolic interface for Fitz to fabulize into existence the real killer.

One is reminded of the Borges story, The Circular Ruins, wherein the dreamer in the mysterious ruins dreams into existence a man only to realize that his creation is merely a part in an infinite series of dreams. The amnesiac is a contradiction: he has the coarse hands of a manual worker and the vocabulary of an intellectual. For Fitz, the man is a blank page, a scenario waiting to be written. It's not long before you realize that he is Fitz's alter-ego, a sort of spiritual garbage dump of his own tormented past and evolving present. "Prove to me I did this and I'll confess," says the man.

Fitz tries -- his signature monologues are brilliant extemporizations in the art of creative psychopathology. The male predator finds the young woman alone in the carriage. She moves slightly, shows a bit of thigh, touches the crucifix around her neck... but: "She's dismissed you the way every woman has... you'll show the bitch." Fitz's monologue climaxes with the incantation "Kill the bitch/ kill the bitch/ kill the bitch" in a rhythmic fugue with the repetitive clatter of the train wheels hitting the expansion joints. The moment is cathartic -- yet the suspect does not confess, does not recover his memory from the bog of silence or the mask of cunning. "It's you that needs the psychologist," says the man.

Who could this invisible man be? He doesn't know who the Prime Minister of England is or who wrote Catch 22. He missed the Falklands War, he missed the World Cup. He's like a UFO abductee reinserted into this world without his memories but retaining the curse of Christian guilt. When it turns out that he's an Irishman by the name of Kelly (Adrian Dunbar) and that he's a hard-time monk who just recently left the monastery in a sudden fit of curiosity, his purity stands in dramatic contrast to the atheist cynicism of the lapsed Catholic, Fitz.

The police publish the amnesiac's photo in the media under the code name "Sweeny", appealing for the public's help.

Other victims are linked to the killer. In a typical McGovern move, an anonymous caller claiming to be a "priest" tells the police he knows who "Sweeny" is and that the body of an earlier victim is lying at the bottom of the canal... and sure enough, when police divers check, they find a young woman near Clayton Wharf, dead two months.

"Better to kill than to penetrate"

D.C.I. Bilborough -- never a fan of the arrogant buffoon Dr. Fitzgerald -- dismisses him from the case and he's forced to appeal to Detective Sergeant Penhaligan (Geraldine Somerville), a young redhead whose slim figure and cultivated silence makes her an odd match for the obese motor-mouthing Fitz and unlikely successor to his alienated wife. Penhaligan is often the third person in the room during the "interviews", a silent witness who becomes the ghost of the dead girls as Fitz goes about his psychic reconstructions.

A farm woman claims she recognizes Kelly as her husband... but her claim turns out to be false, this being another example of the well-known fascination of women for violent criminals, masochists finding their natural sadists to complete their identities. Frustrated by this blind lead, Fitz takes a swig of scotch, fantasizes about a soap opera with a cast of murderers, "fifteen million viewers, all women, no problem". It's this sort of raw commentary devoid of social engineering propaganda that makes Cracker a drama of character rather than facile spectacle and vicarious gratification.

Yes, Fitz solves the crime -- but loses his wife. The Mad Woman in the Attic (a metaphor that Fitz tosses at Kelly when challenging his amnesia and his "crime": "You lock it away like the mad woman in the attic") is the first episode in the series and perhaps the best because it so powerfully introduces the protagonist and his milieu, so skilfully establishes the boundaries of the psychodrama. And -- what is more Freudian than sex and death on a speeding train?

Excellent direction by Michael Winterbottom, great cine by Ivan Strasburg, and (as they say) "seamless" editing by Trevor White.

To Say I Love You

The second episode reveals script writer McGovern's obsessions and influences more clearly, while extending Cracker's study of the dark side of human nature and the contemporary expression of social and spiritual alienation. To Say I Love You is an accelerated version of Sid and Nancy wherein a couple of young losers express their disillusionment by murdering their enemies instead of murdering themselves with heroin. Tina (Susan Lynch) the murdering vixen has a poster of the spree-kill classic Badlands on the wall of her flat. While the Fugate-Starkweather m.o. has been an inspiration for a number of wannabes, you wonder if Fitz's appreciation of American movies is really Jimmy McGovern's.

Yet who can deny the generational imprinting of popular culture in today's secular society? You first see Sean (Andrew Tiernan) at a karioke pub fervently singing the sappy ballad "To Say I Love You" -- but when he is joined by Tina afterwards, you realize that he is the victim of some inner trauma that renders him dumb -- at best a stuttering freak -- unless inspired to sing.

In film noir the female manipulates her male patsy into committing her murders on the promise of sex and big money. This is how it goes in Double Indemnity and in Body Heat -- just to name a couple. The squalid, government-welfare-driven world of Tina and Sean is no different, although the relationship is bonded in love, no matter how twisted. Tina's resentment is towards her bourgeois parents and their enshrinement of her blind, beautiful sister. That Sean is a surrogate for her sister is as obvious as their respective afflictions -- but one she can manipulate in her quest to humiliate her parents for their big mistake in loving Sammy more than her.

They steal a car, they steal a bus, they murder a loan-shark. The murder of the loan-shark is a raw sex/death sandwich, where Tina lures the man into a back alley for sex and Sean materializes from the shadows to smash his head in with a brick. Sean then takes the man's place for a frenzied act of intercourse against the wall (a "knee-trembler") as the body of their victim bears silent witness. All in all, this scene is a thing of beauty when viewed in terms of psychopathological behaviour -- one which forensic Fitz immediately and clairvoyantly describes during his subsequent interview with Tina.

Yet despite his battering interviews, Fitz elicits no confession and the police are forced to let her go. It's now that Evil becomes the true mother of invention: on the promise of a friendly romantic evening, Tina lures D.C. Cormack to her grotty flat which has been converted into a murder chamber by cladding the walls and floor with black plastic. Together Tina and Sean dump the naive cop's body down an embankment... but instead of dropping into the canal, it's found the next morning on the tow-path wrapped tightly in a white shroud....

This is the episode in which the separation between Fitz and his wife Judith is clearly established. Fitz arrives at a restaurant with Jane Penhaligan to find Judith dining with her new lover, another psychotherapist. Judith views Fitz's appearance as a crude attempt to make her jealous while he swears it's a coincidence. After a bitter exchange between husband and wife which Penhaligan is forced to endure like a mistress in a Strindberg play, she gets up and dumps a jug of iced water over the big control freak's head. Fitz takes it well, considering his ubiquitous cigarette is extinguished.

You wonder what the attraction is between Penhaligan and Fitzgerald, considering that he plays on her insecurities with a certain unprofessional candor. But he does have that confidence that goes with genius. Oedipus and Lord Byron might have Achilles tendon problems, but Fitz has his large Ubu body, a romantic affliction as dramatic as any. If Fatty Arbuckle could dazzle the ladies, why not Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald?

Again, Fitz solves the crime, he's there at the big moment. Sean has made his Hollywood move, taken the beautiful blind sister hostage and is intending to burn her alive. Fitz arrives, goes alone into the house, makes his pitch....

It's a good episode, even if you pause when Tina tries to set up Fitz for the kill by asking him back to her place to read her thesis. What would a 20 year old drop-out know about post-graduate theses on any subject? It's a funny scene, though... and the rapid editing helps secure our belief when disbelief turns to laughter.

The Big Crunch

The camera is tracking through the bushes of a light forest like an animal closing in on its kill. You hear the small cries of a woman in apparent distress. A well-dressed man, his trousers down around his ankles, is having sex with a young girl whom he has perched on the crooked bough of a convenient tree. The POV is that of a middle-aged woman who has a concealed camera in her handbag. You see her eyes glisten with the ambiguous intensity of indignation and lust as she begins photographing the rapturous event....

Is this a good hook scene or what?

"All flesh is grass"

The villain in this piece comes complete with his own school and his own church -- the ultimate establishment disguise. Well, almost. His church is a little less than orthodox, even if its members look like the usual assembly of suspects. A large man, going a little round at the shoulders, his black hair and piercing eyes mark him in the mould of Rasputin, although he is really another English fraud in the tradition of the occultist Aleister Crowley. Meet Kenneth Trant (Jim Carter), by day a successful school principal, by night (and on the weekends) the leader of a cult which is like a parody of Christian Science or Scientology. God has been replaced by the Big Bang (hence the title, "The Big Crunch") and the usual mumbo of occult symbols and candle mysticism.

Each Cracker episode is a de facto attack on organized religion. Whenever Fitz faces off with a priest, he becomes the secular successor confronting his past. Trant is the perfect whipping post for this assault, because his fundamentalism is really just a psychosexual pathology in disguise -- something we suspect is the archetype of all religion. His recruits are nearly all damaged goods, peer paranoids and daddy girls. Joann(a)(Samantha Morton) is his favorite of the moment, but when he is confronted by a friend of his wife's with the photographs of his infidelity, he evokes the Devil. Joann is unwilling to fade into the back pews -- she's pregnant, believes "Kenneth" will divorce his wife, marry her. The inner cabal decide to dispatch this silly little schoolgirl in a ritual murder....

Things go wrong, of course. When Dean Saunders (Darren Tighe), the young mental defective who is assigned the task of feeding Joann into the industrial shredder at the packing plant where he works (at the discretion of a church elder), has second thoughts (because, well, he fancies her) and opens the box before it hits the blades, Joann escapes and the Trant empire unravels. It's an interesting scene: Joann -- traumatized, her naked body decorated with the cult's cryptology -- staggers off into the night like a zombie, wandering through the traffic until she finds a bank of TVs in a mall. "All flesh is grass," mutters Dean.

This episode allows Fitz one of his finest monologues in a Western-type showdown between him and Trant during a service. "Your religion is a sham," snarls Fitz as the photos of Trant impaled in Joann are circulated to the stunned congregation. "A theatre for your dreams of power... a hopeless shag in a godless universe!"

Clearly, Trant is no match for a boogie blues shouter like Fitz, and "The Fellowship of Souls" is another New Age cult whose leader is doomed by his dick.

This one was written by Jimmy McGovern and Ted Whitehead.

Detective Sergeant Jimmy Beck

There are always two storylines in Cracker: the crime of the moment, and Fitz's struggle with his personal and family life. Sometime during the third episode -- One Day A Lemming Will Fly -- a third storyline starts, and is partly responsible for its diversionary, elliptic ending.

A mob of enraged parents is hungering to kill a suspected homosexual school teacher who is under suspicion for the murder of a student he admits to corrupting, so he's given into the custody of Dr. Fitzgerald. Fitz, the teacher and D.S. Beck hole up in a hotel room, which becomes a Pinteresque Theatre of Innuendo as Fitz and Beck attack one another. Ego and homophobia become the crime and the punishment.

"This is posh," says Jimmy (Lorcan Cranitch) looking around the room, waving the TV remote. "Shall I tell you why I can't stand lesbians?" Fitz rolls his eyes, the Teacher suspect remains stoic. "Queers are o.k. -- s'long as I don't turn me back on you, that's o.k. Two queers doin' it, that's two women goin' spare... but two women doin' it, that's two men goin' short."

When Fitz suggests that a moustache is a homosexual affectation, Jimmy shaves his off the next day. But he also takes credit for the Teacher's confession (which turns out to be false) and even when Fitz tells their boss the confession is false, the man is charged with murder anyway... the implication being that because they think the Teacher is queer, he deserves to be charged regardless. Ergo, guilt is a question of agenda.

So sexual neurosis is alive and well within the police force. Genital Man will sacrifice Rectal Man.

It's no surprise that the homicide investigation cadre resent the insertion of Fitz into their unit and have general contempt for his psycho-mystical approach. The most vocal in his contempt is Jimmy Beck, a Belfast migrant who has assumed the cop persona so incompletely it never occurs to him that rape is a crime and violence prohibited. To him, Mike Tyson was railed-roaded, another patsy for the system. During interrogations, he zealously plays "bad cop" -- something you ascribe to simple role-playing -- and appears to be an unquestioned loyalist to the code. When D.C.I. Bilborough is murdered by the skinhead Albie Kinsella in To Be A Somebody, Jimmy becomes guilt-ridden and dedicates his down-time to looking out for Bilborough's widow and daughter. His distress affects his judgement.

It's Jimmy Beck's inability to recognize Albie (Robert Caryle) as the killer that greases the skids for his own decline and fall. As the marginalized white male who finds himself socially and culturally redundant in the new secular morality, Albie's hatred and cunning is too much for the conventional cop-thought of Jimmy. Albie has a system, a mathematical paradigm based on the 96 victims of the infamous Hillsborough soccer riot in 1989, and his mystical identification with the persona of his old man, the recently deceased war vet, Albert Kinsella. Father and son -- the name is the same, but the generation is different. "We're not queers, we're not not black," Albie later tells Fitz. "We're gettin' treated like animals... and some of us are gonna start actin' like animals when the cages go up."

The Pakistani shop-keeper, the psychology Prof with his social engineering cliches... Jimmy Beck should've been the third victim, not his boss and pal, D.C.I. Bilborough.

When Beck eventually catches up to Albie in an alley and beats him unconscious, he suffers the New Age indignity -- he's sent for "sensitivity" training by Bilborough's replacement, D.C.I. Wise (Ricky Tomlinson). If he didn't know it before, he knows it now: he's in the same "cage" as Albie.

To Be A Somebody is a brilliant social commentary, one which ends on a disturbing apocalyptic prophecy: "You're lookin' at me," says the shaven-headed Albie, "and you're lookin' at the future."

In Men Should Weep the wife of a taxi-dispatcher is raped, a humiliation directed at her husband. You know who the rapist is: a young black called Floyd Malcolm (Graham Aggrey), a part-time cabbie with a huge grudge against white society, women, and life itself. Like many of the criminals Fitz and Jimmy Beck hunt, Floyd's mental wound has a concealed, physical symbolism -- his body is scarred from childhood when he immersed himself in a bath of bleach in order to become like his white mother. This macabre baptism becomes part of his m.o. After he rapes the dispatcher's wife, he immerses her in the bleach blue night of a public swimming pool, which -- symbolism aside -- is an expedient means of destroying evidence.

Jimmy immediately accuses the caretaker of the pool, an old loser with a criminal record of petty crime. Even when Fitz pushes the caretaker into the pool and Jimmy is forced to jump in and save him, Jimmy still believes the caretaker is the guilty man. When the dispatcher pays the caretaker a visit and almost beats him to death in the elevator, Jimmy is sent to arrest the demented husband. Jimmy says to him, "If it was up to me, I'd give you a medal."

Floyd is also an early suspect, and is interviewed by Fitz. What you know and Fitz doesn't is that Floyd has phoned Fitz on his open-line radio show, claiming to be the rapist. Masking his voice in a Jamaican accent, Floyd asks what should he do -- should he kill his next victim?

Fitz and his police colleague (and "mistress") Jane Penhaligan join the other members of the squad in a local pub. The subject of the rape crimes quickly passes into a discussion of the sex war and rape as a natural condition of existence. Jimmy says, "Subconsciously (women) want it." Later "Panhandle" tells Fitz that Jimmy asked her, "Do you fantasize about rape?"

The irrational zones of human motivation with their contradictory semaphores of sex and death are Fitz's forte. Yet, when D.S. Penhaligan becomes the next rape victim, neither she nor you suspect the work of a second rapist... although the canny Fitz is quick to deduce it. While the exposure and arrest of Floyd Malcolm continues to drive the action, this becomes secondary to Jane Penhaligan's trauma. When she accuses Jimmy with her rape (on the basis of smell), no one is willing to take her seriously, and even Fitz is inclined to be skeptical.

"Just as every cop is a criminal / and every sinner is a saint"

It's this disintegration of the unit integrity that forces us to consider the absolutely brutal way that sex makes civilization a mere mask for animal instinct and animal action. As Jimmy's depression deepens, you wonder if it's the office politics he can't stand or the misery of Bilborough's death.

Because of the D.S. Jimmy Beck storyline, you have to view Men Should Weep in tandem with the next story, Brotherly Love. Here prostitutes end up murdered by an avenging Irish housewife -- a plot that has similarities to the The Lady Killer by the Japanese novelist Masako Togawa (perhaps taken indirectly via Presumed Innocent, itself indebted to Togawa). In order to spare her husband from a charge of murder, the good Catholic wife kills another prostitute, then inserts her husband's sperm with a chisel into the prostitute's vagina while he is being held by the police....

This "impossibility" means nothing to D.S. Jimmy Beck, who insists that the husband did it. By now Beck is a mess. He is shocked to find that his dead friend and colleague's wife, Catriona Bilborough, has shacked up with another man. He suffers panic attacks, hyperventilates. Fitz head-butts him in the face, frustrated that he won't confess to raping Jane Penhaligan... when he eventually does confess, he makes Fitz swear an oath of secrecy. "Women need rage," Jimmy tells Fitz. "It's their weapon."

McGovern wrote this script -- again the scenes and dialogue are swift and brutal, the action following the maxim, drama is the juxtaposition of the expected against the unexpected. Jimmy snaps, abducts the husband -- a pathetic creature addicted to sex with prostitutes who will dress up as little girls (a "Shirley Temple") -- and heads for the roof of Manchester's Ramada Inn. You could say this is a classic Hollywood move, as countless crime features see their criminals head for the roof... but in this context, in this locale, the cliche is unexpected. Before he jumps with his hostage, he shouts to Penhaligan: "I raped you."

On the bleak, uncompromising image of both men falling down the face of the hotel to their deaths on the street thirteen floors below, this episode ends.

When we fall in our dreams and awake hyperventilating, are we rehearsing our deaths or escaping the infantile self? The vigilantism is upstaged by its own theatricality, and spectacle becomes the only meaning in an existential universe. When Beck takes "Shirley Temple" with him on their plunge into Hell, they become the complete Freudian package.

Beck's act of murder-suicide is clear proof of the lunatic within us, the illegitimate masquerading as the legitimate. A female Catholic killer is completed by a male Catholic killer -- could McGovern's displeasure with religion be any clearer? This act of contrition is also an act of megalomania. Perhaps the writer can ironically disguise his world view in his protagonist. Jimmy Beck isn't the complete story, and neither is Jane Penhaligan. You have to watch big Fitz.

resistance, rebellion, and death

If murder, rape and mutilation can't stop Dr. Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald, then what can? The death of his bingo gambling mother maybe.

Just as the birth of Bilborough's son opens the door for his death, we expect the birth of Fitz's child to open yet another door in this temple of life and death. Sure enough, his brother appears with the news that their mother is dead, struck down that morning by a heart attack. Fitz is mortified. He has been negligent of late, preoccupied with his own middle-age binge. His brother doesn't help minimize the guilt -- together they bury their mother, bickering and fighting all the way as they resurrect the imperfect past and nearly bury the perfect future. They get drunk at the wake, and later reconcile when they get into a fight with some sober people on a tram.

This occurs in Brotherly Love as a cutaway to the Madonna-whore action of "Shirley Temple" and the disintegration of D.S. Jimmy Beck. Poor old Fitz -- he takes down the newspaper clippings of his successes his mother has pined on the wall, a simple shrine for an absent son. When he speaks at the service, his recollections are personal, the history that shaped the man in the spirit of his mother. Ah, we all want to weep with him....

This death also marks the true moment of resurrection in his marriage. Judith encounters Jane Penhaligan, who congratulates her on the birth of her child. Judith asks Penhaligan if she is finished with Fitz:

Penhaligan: I was only ever interested in his body.

Judith: (stung) There's a certain poetic justice to it... your rape, I mean.

So -- just when you were getting sentimental about it all -- you realize there are no madonnas in Cracker.

non-adaptive cultural imperialism

A great deal of Cracker's success as a series has to be ascribed to its editing method. Instead of using the typical television compression format of the dominant "master" scene with cutaways to a sub-dominant "slave" scene, both actions are flattened into an alternating montage that moves the action with remarkable speed. It creates a shared psychology between cop and criminal, an essential feature of the overall Cracker persona.

Instead of the long, real-time sequencing with its live theatre feel typical of British television drama, you get a large screen action feature drive expressed in the the smaller 4:3 screen format. As this is "public television", it's also freed from the lock-step Act structure with commercials interrupting the narrative. The large screen drama with its origins in "silent cinema" always defers to photography, landscape and action; television drama with its origins in "live theatre" always defers to dialogue, close-up and stasis. The Cracker series is a hybrid, an inevitable narrative evolution at this point in history.

With Cracker's moldering documentary landscape and brilliant crypto-fascist characterizations, the question has to be asked: Has the television serial drama replaced the large screen film feature as the serious dramatic venue of our times? As Hollywood continues to pander to adolescents with its retinal strobing and fantasy imprinting, the lack of substance in its stories is obvious from the empty spaces between the propaganda and the thrill-kills. With its endless conscious and unconscious remakes, the corporate Hollywood tunnel-vision has compromised cinema narrative as you know it. It has become non-adaptive, a grandiose cultural imperialism. If violence exists without psychology, then the universe exists without Man.

Today culture is popular culture -- movies, rock music, television, sex and death -- the only subject of discussion and emulation among the rank and file. Spontaneous, reactive, fantasy and event merge in tabloid politics. Between the weather and the sports roundup, crime is the heart and soul of the daily News.


What is crime? The imposition of a personal fantasy in opposition to the group fantasy? The infantile reflex of quick gratification asserts itself in the Schizoid Man, a creature driven by invisible particles dedicated to his survival and sexual pleasure regardless of the status quo. The tired commandments of the Church fade into mere mysticism when measured against the new secular intensity of the scientific humanist who absolves us from Guilt by making new existential victims in the pew. Fitz says: "You lock it away like the mad woman in the attic."

If one animal kills another in a fixed -- yet natural -- cycle of predator and prey, then what is human sexual hunger but a homicide anticipated by Nature? As Fitz says to a suspect about sex: "Better to be the first... and the last."

To hell with the Pope, feminism and the right to clean air -- Fitz is a classic protestant rebel in a classic catholic body. Robbie Coltrane is so completely within his character, it's difficult to believe that he's fiction, another theatrical conceit. In a post-series interview, Coltrane says, "The original description of Fitz was a small wiry man who looked as if he'd spent a lot of time in the army. So, naturally they found me." (Fitz is apparently characterized after Prof. Ian Stephen, an expert in the psychological profiling of criminals) This was a good move by the producers, as a large man automatically becomes symbolism, especially when measured within the shallow depth-of-field of television photography.

Fitz alone in a tram... in a taxi, moving through the urban nightmare, considering the options, the odds, the shifting shadows of Fate. A line of divers moves slowly through the fouled waters of a canal... his wife sits with a therapist pretending to be a lover... his race dog fails on the home stretch... a masked man drags his victim into a darkened swimming pool... a man crouches in a cage as a woman circles with a whip... he shoulders his mother's casket towards the grave... two men fall from the roof of a high-rise. The death clock of the millennium?

We share his melancholy, crave his defiance.

It's not a happy world. Society is coming apart at the seams. Cop and criminal share Original Sin... or is it Original Freud? Kelly (The Mad Woman In The Attic) left the monastery because he had doubts about his vocation, wanted to see the world. "Now that I've seen it, you can keep it."

What is Guilt?

Penhaligan: "I've got evidence beneath my fingernails."

A good thing to remember... little men of the world. The Big Man remains undeterred.

© LR 1/2000

*Series concludes with these non-McGovern scripts:
Best Boys writ. Paul Abbot dir. Charles McDougal
True Romance writ. Paul Abbot dir. Tim Fywell
White Ghost (movie special, 96) writ. Paul Abbot dir. Richard Standeven


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