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H:LOTS – S5E04 – “Bad Medicine”

November 3, 2010

Det. Terri Stivers and Det. Meldrick Lewis face off for the first time.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about great television directors and I neglected to mention Kenneth Fink. Actually, it was more that someone mentioned I had neglected to acknowledge him. I really enjoy his directing work on CSI more than his work on H:LOTS, which is not necessarily a character driven cop show. I think his talent for precision in framing shots serves CSI well, but sometimes makes the episodes of H:LOTS a little too quiet. His work is never off; he’s a great director and I like him a lot. Fink makes H:LOTS look gorgeous and feel very expansive, which is why his talents serve CSI quite well. I LOVE when he helms CSI. Fink shuts it down. However, H:LOTS is a show about small rooms, insignificant lives (from a societal standpoint) and character intimacy. You know, the stuff that Alan Taylor can helm the shit out of! That said, Fink’s direction on “Every Mother’s Son” blew the doors of the barn. In the case of “Bad Medicine” his careful direction makes for a standout episode.

The episode’s cold open begins with chilling images of dead drug users set to Tom Waits’ “Cold, Cold Ground” and it’s brilliant.Then we jump into the action with Munch waxing about his partner deficit while he tries to determine whether or not the stiff he’s poking with his pencil is in fact an overdose or homicide. Then we move on to Meldrick Lewis who is investigating another drug related murder, except Sgt. Sally Rogers let another detective run off with Lewis’ witness. The detective turns out to be the gorgeous and bad ass Terri Stivers – Toni Lewis’ first appearance in the role – who Det. Meldrick Lewis has come to the medical examiner’s office to beat down.

“Take your best shot.” says the pocket sized, angel faced pistol packing mama. Det. Lewis (I know it’s confusing, Toni Lewis is the actor and Meldrick Lewis is Clark Johnson) backs down and the two have the first of many strategy meetings about the terminal pain in the ass, smug drug dealing Luther Mahoney – played with aplomb by Ivy League educated actor Erik Dellums, whom Wire fans will recognize as a medical examiner. Luther Mahoney is one of the most intriguing television drug dealers ever and much of the credit belongs to Dellums who always seems to find the right facial expression and intonation. Dellums plays the flamboyant Mahoney with nuance, infusing him with a cheekiness and eschewing tropes and cartoonishness. Mahoney is erudite, holding the camera’s attention with his perpetual half smile and droll delivery.

Det. Tim Bayliss – the Madonna of H:LOTS – has replaced his goatee and brush cut with a shaved head and face. He’s also sort of hanging around in limbo as his partner Frank Pembleton slowly recovers from his stroke. Frank struggles with disability and while I feel the portrayal is accurate and intriguing, I would have loved for more emphasis on the realities of his disability – the paperwork, the erasure of his personhood, etc – rather than his quest for reinstatement to investigation duties. That said, the writers have done a great job shedding light on the way Frank negotiates his sexuality in the aftermath of his stroke and the subsequent medical interventions, which have impotence as a side effect. H:LOTS’ examination of disability is thoughtful and complex, but suffers from its own self-imposed limitations (Frank is going to “recover”). Given that framework, I think the writers and producers have made the wisest choices in terms of depicting disability, striking a respectful balance which neither devalues those whose disabilities are “lifelong” and those who find themselves temporarily experiencing disability. What I found especially fantastic was the slow dissipation of the dismissive (but authentic) “Frank, you’ll get better, don’t worry!” statements from coworkers and loved ones to statements reaffirming Frank’s value as a person, cop, father, lover and intellectual. Frank himself might not share this perspective, but it’s clear the people in his life who matter do. I love you, Tom Fontana! Thank you for a wonderful and provocative exploration of the intersection of race, gender and disability.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 4, 2010 11:32 am

    I confess I got all “squeee!” when I saw the Tom Waits video embed. It’s one of my favorite songs of his. Definitely not a karaoke tune though, way too depressing. In fact I think the only way to score with Tom Waits songs would be to do ones other artists have covered, like The Eagles (“Ol’ 55”) or Rod Stewart (“Downtown Train”) or Springsteen (“Jersey Girl”).

    But I digress. I really admire the way you explore the treatment of disability in this show, particularly how it’s managed within the confines of the medium and the story.

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