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S3x03: Extreme Unction

April 2, 2010

Air Date: 10/28/1994
TELEPLAY BY: D. Keith Mano
STORY BY: Tom Fontana & James Yoshimura
DIRECTED BY: Keith Gordon

Another episode, another victim found in a dumpster wearing white cotton gloves. It’s all good, even when a witness walks in off the street with a song in her heart and a whole lot of crazy in her head. Crazy is in the air and fortunately Keith Gordon is at the lens! Cause when he isn’t playing crazy, he’s playing someone surrounded by it. Now, I am the last person to make light of mental illness, but this is merely to keep from launching into a blistering critique of the way in which Dissociative Identity Disorder is framed and pathologized in this episode. I have real problems with the use of any flavor of Mental Illness as a plot device, particularly when it seeks to present individuals afflicted by the condition as monsters who cover the bad meat of their actions with the lumpy gravy of their diagnosis. Absent is the care and nuance often afforded other -isms on the show instead replaced with confabulation and tired Sybilicious tropes. Moreover it’s just a terrible cop out from folks experienced in exploring the everyday-ness of people who commit murder. To fall back on a problematic trope in flamboyant way is reductive, making this by far one of the least satisfying episodes in the series.

There was some good stuff happening in the beginning of this episode, which finds Frank wondering where the hell God is in all of this and why can’t brother catch a break in this damn case. Victim three is found – wait, actually it’s really victim eleventy billion, since the killer is all about marketplace saturation – in the same manner as the others. Bayliss tries to support Pembleton, but finds his attempts rebuffed and diminished. Pembleton gets way more than he bargained for in the box when he tries to go a couple of rounds with the killer who has a few surprises in store for the lapsed Catholic and seasoned detective. Despite all my storm trooping over the plot device used in this episode, I did like what was happening between Frank and God. Pembleton and God have a complicated relationship and the beginnings of his religious crisis of conscience are seen in this episode as he constantly looks for answers in all the familiar places and instead finds way more questions. It’s like Neo and shit. Maybe someone ought to tell Pembleton there is no spoon so he can go about his business and quit frowning so damn much before his face freezes that way.

Gee and Russert keep a watchful eye as Frank works over the suspect, using his A material in the box. Unfortunately, Gee and Russert butt heads over his methods, but you’ll find no mention of cannons – loose or other wise – or justification for sketchy methods, which yield impressive results. Just two shift commanders standing their ground. Unfortunately this will later prove to be no comfort to either.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2010 8:38 am

    Kirk Douglas taught young Keith well it seems.

  2. April 3, 2010 5:49 pm

    Absolutely. He did a great job directing this episode.


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