alwaysalready: (david)
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This was originally posted to my tumblr, but in a kind of bitty way, and as tumblr is a bit of a nightmare for reading/commenting I want to post some of my stuff up here for ease of linking to elsewhere. So if you feel like you've seen this before... maybe you have. Anyway, this is still kind of bitty and not a coherent essay, but I am kind of proud of it & hope it's worth reading anyway.

First up: This is about the s4 episode The Ladies' Man, which is maybe my favourite episode of Due South. But it's not easy watching.

I watched The Ladies' Man the other day, and my god I am never getting over it.

I struggle with watching cop shows, as someone who does not exactly like cops. And here is an episode of a cop show (which in other episodes does seem to prize & build up cops, Due South is not the most propaganda-heavy cop show I've ever seen but it's not exactly free from it either) — suddenly showing us something totally different.

This episode is about how the justice system is built on shaky levels of bureaucracy that can be used to hide and falsify evidence by those with power.

It's about the way that cops can and will be just be out for blood, for revenge, how they will just go after an arrest, a conviction, without care for whether or not somebody actually did the crime. Without care for whether or not a crime was even committed. And once they've made the arrest, they're invested in seeing that person go down, in seeing that person suffer in retribution. They don't care about justice, or about the truth; they want a cop-killer to die, to reset some sort of skewed violent balance sheet.

So in the middle of all of this, as the focus of this episode, there’s Ray Kowalski, who is in some senses the "good cop". Like, in some ways you look at hime and you wonder if he's representing, here, the archetype of the supposed "good cop" that cop apologists will speak up about... when other people, especially activists, say that cops are bad in principle. Like, he's extremely upset at the idea that he arrested someone who's about to die because of his arrest. He fights to exonerate the woman he arrested, he fights to get her free. That's good, right?

But as this episode makes clear - it’s all about structure, not individuals. Ray can't be a good cop. This system doesn't allow it. And also, a key thing to remember here is that: the whole episode, the whole scenario only arises because of an error Ray Kowalski made. he’s complicit, even if it's unwittingly and unwillingly, in the injustice.

So in this episode, Ray Kowalski may save the person he accidentally condemned eight years earlier, both through the arrest and the error he made in not paying attention to a key piece of evidence. But there are no good cops here. There are no good cops here because they can’t exist. The system does not allow them to.

It’s notable that Fraser, who is often basically a superhuman embodiment of the idea of The Good Cop, takes more of a back seat in this episode. He exists as a moral support, or as a moral mirror to Ray, and not much else. It's also worth remembering that all of Fraser's goodness and righteousness in the show - and he is not infallible by any means - come about basically in spite of his status as a cop. His training, yes. But he is usually acting in an unofficial capacity. He comes up with extra-legal solutions; he does not use guns (unless he's on Canadian soil, which does happen sometimes); he will fight against systems when he sees that they're unjust.

This is a different point but it was worth mentioning. I actually think that some of this stuff makes the cop propaganda in regular episodes stronger, though. He's a Good Cop because he both is and is not an actual cop. So it's right that those shenanigans, the anti-realism that he brings, the heightened sense of nonsense and justice - does not take over this episode.

In the fight for justice, the whole precinct is against Kowalski. Kowalski, who knows that something is up and who feels in his gut that the person he arrested 8 years ago didn’t do the crime she’s about to be executed for. But more than that… the whole system is against him. From the top law enforcement officer in Chicago (or is it the whole state of Illinois?) down to his lousy colleagues in the precinct, and the local press too.

And we can't forget that Ray made a grave error eight years earlier. He is not absolved by making sure that she gets — Justice? Does she get justice in the end? How can she? Or at least she gets her life, her freedom. But it’s only by going rogue, literally breaking into an evidence locker, almost getting killed by those who are supposedly on his side, that Ray can in any way start to undo this wrong.

So, essentially The Ladies' Man illustrates how the death penalty operates, and how it can be used to execute innocent people for political ends. That is the literal plot that Ray has to uncover; it's what the episode is about on the basic level. but it’s wider… than that; the episode, too, shows how law enforcement as it exists is violent, illogical, a dangerous force that can be used by those with power to consolidate their power, to gain more of it, over the bodies of the people who are in their way.

And how does the episode end? Ray walks the woman he arrested and then fought to see freed through the apartment in which he found her husband’s body, and in which he found her traumatised past self, hiding from the dead body. He tells her what he saw, where the body was, where she was. He gives the scene, which had been taken for a crime scene but wasn’t one, back to her. She can’t remember the details of that day, of what he saw, but he can.

It’s a touching and horrible scene. And it's a crucial inversion of the standard way that detective plots work… earlier in the episode we see the characters picking over frames of videotape for any clues they can find, they are looking for the tiniest signs. It’s half of a coffee ring on a piece of paper that sees her exonerated, you know? It's down to these tiny obsessive things. This kind of clue is like something from Sherlock Holmes. It's like… cosy mystery novels. It's like an abstract puzzle. But it's not one.

And here the crime was committed by the system, by those in power, and not by the person who is about to be put to death for it. The clues are not clues to a murder, or an assault; they are clues that evidence that no crime was committed was destroyed, falsified.

Which makes these clues evidence of crimes committed by those in power. Crimes committed by the system.

And so in finding out that the evidence had been falsified, Ray finally closes the investigative loop. He does the detective work he failed to do eight years earlier, because he trusted that someone else would do it — he trusted in the system, and it failed him and the person he arrested badly. He had good faith in a bad system. He looks at all of the signs, he solves the puzzle. And what was a crime scene, is no longer any such thing. It’s a site of tragedy; it’s the last place these two bodies were together. And all he can do is give that back, back, out of the evidence locker and back into the stuff of life. There's no crime scene photo, no video tape. It's one body leading another.

And then — and then. Not for nothing does this episode end on a long shot of Ray Kowalski crying, unconsoled. There is no consolation to be had. One woman was saved from an atrocity that she should never have had to face. She knows that it’s not down to Ray— he was the first imperfect actor in a chain of malicious, corrupt actors. The audience knows this too. In a rotten system, your trust will be used as a weapon.

Knowing this, of course, doesn’t make it better. If Ray had been perfect, if he hadn’t trusted in the system… he could have saved her eight years earlier. And he wasn’t able to. It weighs heavily, those eight years, those constant threats of death. Ray almost killed somebody; that in itself is a violent act. In a system that has been comprehensively shown to be broken, in a system which frankly was created in this way, is broken by design… this will and does happen. It will happen again. Ray is one person; Ray and Fraser together can't fix this. Not next time, not every time.

And so we come to the crying. The lack of consolation. We have been shown, clearly, how these systems do not work for justice. We have been walked through them, on Ray Kowalski’s arm. Fraser can’t console him, because we and Fraser and Ray all know the truth.

It’s a fantastically bleak ending. We, and Fraser (who, yes, usually acts as the magical embodiment of some combination of both mercy and justice) just have to sit there and watch him cry. The image quality on my DVD is not great, so I have stared at that ending for a good while, wondering if Fraser places a hand on Ray’s arm in comfort. That’s all. Saying, I am here with you, and I have borne witness. Maybe he does? I think he does. One body, reaching out to another in understanding.

But there is no consolation to come.


Other angles from which to consider this episode and the crying scene, specifically:

1) Ray Kowalski reveals at the start of the episode that he’s never killed anyone, and the crying scene can then be read as horrified relief, a number of emotions all spilling over. I certainly think the relief is in there. And shame.

2) There is also a running theme about the performance of masculinity with Ray Kowalski… especially in this episode, I think. which ties in with the previous point… and yet it also ties in with the scenes with the other policemen, who are trying to turn the coming execution into a spectacle. The way the policemen calling for the execution are men; loud, angry men. And the way the suspect is a woman who was treated badly by her husband when he was alive... And there's that episode title: The Ladies' Man. It refers to the dead husband, who cheated on his wife and treated her badly, and who, in death, caused her even more pain and suffering. So, yes: in fighting to free her, there is something about gender and masculinity there, something about the necessary rejection of a kind of harmful, toxic male camaraderie.

3) It matters that Ray Kowalski didn’t want to kill anyone. In other episodes, and at the start of this one, Ray is constantly threatening violence which he doesn’t enact… and yet through threatening it he is still enacting the violence of the state. The threat is its own form of violence. There is a friction here. This is the kind of site of friction where meaning is made.

4) Ray believes that he is somehow fallen, irredeemable, as he will soon have caused somebody else’s death. This causes his outburst against the criminal he apprehended at the start of the episode, although in part it’s retaliation for having a knife held to his throat, a gun held to his head, etc. That flicker of vengeance, calmed down by Fraser - we see that echo throughout the episode, as Ray tries to escape from its pull.

5) So when i talk about “relief”, there is also a sense in which Ray has not only saved the person he wrongly arrested, but he has saved himself. He has not caused another person to die; and so he might now be able to believe that his soul is not irredeemably tarnished.

6) And of course, we return once more to the spectre of capital punishment; capital punishment which is narrowly avoided here, but which haunts every scene. It quickly becomes clear that Ray has serious doubts about the guilt of the convicted murderer that he feels responsible for. But even before we know that, Ray doesn't want to kill anyomne, doesn't want to be responsible for the death of anyone. He doesn’t talk about how this will be the first innocent death he will have caused. It’s the first death. Period. A death is a death is a death, and in a large sense we get the sense that causing any death would be an atrocity, an ill from which he might not know how to recover his sense of self.


I keep returning to this episode. It's full of so much stuff, it's so fruitful. And so here is what came of a night I spent discussing the ethics of archival practice in an evening class I attended earlier this year.

This episode is interesting to think about from the perspective of the archives, of information storage/technology, because of he unexpectedly large role that the police evidence archive plays. When Ray needs to re-examine the evidence, he’s told it’s in the archive, that it's been put into storage. This could be a mild inconvenience, but ultimately a sign that the evidence was being preserved, taken care of - if the archive was run on a totally different set of principles than we see here. Because the archive is not open during convenient hours — it's not open in a way which is at all accommodating or understanding of the sometimes fast-moving nature of crime, and policing. It’s impossible for Ray to access the archive legally in the time he has. The archive is not designed or built with easy access in mind; it is essentially just storage, and storage that has been made hard to access. It’s the opposite of what we think of as a good archive for most purposes; It’s not open, it’s been made to hide things away, rather than to allow people to learn from them.

And when Ray does break into the archive, the evidence has been purposefully mislabelled. The actual evidence he was looking for is nowhere to be found. The archive has been used to erase evidence; to erase actual history. And it doesn’t resist this usage — only Ray, an active outsider who broke in to the archive… is able to reveal this truth, this falsehood, the way the archive exists to crush those who it’s convenient for the state to crush.

The archive is not neutral, and its apparent neutrality makes it even more dangerous. It makes it a dangerous tool. Information, preservation... these things are not neutral goods. We must always think about our information systems and how they can be used against us, and against those who are more vulnerable than us.

There is a crack in the episode about how the other police officers at the precinct are behaving in a medieval way in the open braying for blood. Time and time again, this episode demonstrates how not just the justice system as a whole, but all of these systems inside it... crush people, and demand horrible sacrifices — it demonstrates how these systems are built to demand blood and not justice.
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