In case anyone is in doubt about this, "the blue line" is often used to describe the police community. It is also painted on the surface of a hockey rink.
Okay. Let's get the jokes out of the way. You have any doubt Flashpoint is an openly Canadian show? Here's an episode in which the subject is trying to save charismatic guest star, Maple Leaf Gardens (playing fictional Godwin Coliseum.) We spend most of the episode in the heralded guts of the grand old rink, and even in the middle of the situation the whole team is aware that they are prowling around in Godwin Coliseum, and they are suitably awed.
(I once walked past The Forum in Montreal and although I couldn't go inside, I did stop and touch an outer wall.)
Okay, here's another joke for you: What do Leafs fans have that Habs fans don't?
Black and white pictures of their last Stanley Cup win.
(Sorry. Habs fan. And, as I keep reminding you, I grew up in the seventies.)
And that, my friends, will be all the levity in this entry, because we begin at SRU headquarters, with Team One charging in shouting at each other. Greg is yelling at Winnie for being absent from her post (she was at the photocopier), and turfing Team Three out of the briefing room because they need it urgently. The rest of the team comes in--Wordy yelling at Spike about someone getting the drop on him, Spike defending himself, Ed trying to talk to Sam, someone in a suit telling Ed not to talk to "witness officers" until he's given his statement, and Jules telling Winnie they need a particular set of files now.
Sam seems to be the focus of concern, and he's not being cooperative. For some reason he's not wearing his uniform shirt under his protective vest, he's down to his t-shirt, and he's agitated. He tries to break away from the group and Greg heads him off. Sam stops short and holds up his hands, palms inward, like a surgeon who's scrubbed in.
His arms are bloody to the elbows.
"I want to have a shower," Sam announces in a tone of desperation and rage. "And I want to go home."
"You can't do either right now," Greg tells him, and the sympathy in his tone does nothing to mediate the firmness. In fact, Greg send him into the briefing room by the scruff of the neck.
And here we are, outside the hockey shrine, watching some weasel in an expensive suit direct the contractor who is supposed to be demolishing it to make way for condos. There is an issue about the stands--apparently they're weight-bearing, so they can't come out before demolition and blasting with them in place is going to be awkward and dangerous. The weasel is unsympathetic to the technical details or the sentimental objections of the crew, distancing himself, as they walk down what looks like the ramp the players would have skated on to the ice surface, with comments like, "When was the last time you were in the finals? Fifty years ago?"
"Forty-seven," admits the contractor, taking on the team as "us," and that's about when they step from the ramp, sheltered by the stands, onto what was once ice.
And the weasel is shot just above the knee.
When the SRU arrives, Greg and Ed are unable to get any details from the contractor, who is still in the throes of "Ohmygodsomeoneshotatme," and who can blame him? Not Ed and Greg, who confirm that he was too busy grabbing the weasel and fleeing to even register which direction the shot came from. Not to mention the way the old barn echoes, which would make it difficult even if you weren't in a panic. The contractor apologizes for being no help. Greg and Ed reassure him.
Meanwhile, Spike and Wordy are having a very similar conversation with the besuited weasel, only in their case the guy is doing that delightful thing where he refuses to answer any questions, instead using his time with the police to browbeat them about how they should just go do their job. Because naturally, when there is an active shooter somewhere in a large building, the police really want to wander in all "tra-la" with no idea where the guy is. Also, it is unreasonable for them to ask questions of people in a position to possibly know stuff.
Spike and Wordy do their best, they really do, but unlike the contractor this guy--an arrogant arsehole--won't even listen to their questions, let alone try to answer them. It's likely he wouldn't have been able to provide answers anyway, but I think it's safe to say his attitude protects Spike and Wordy from feeling too much remorse when they get the only information he can provide: they ask the EMT to please remove the dressing from the wound, confirm which direction the guy was facing when the bullet hit him, and then use the apparent entry angle to approximate the position of the rifle that fired it.
Wordy thanks the victim for his assistance, and Spike offers his best wishes for a speedy recovery. Wordy is definitely being sarcastic, and I figure there is about an eighty-five percent chance Spike is, too--although I am keeping in mind this is the same young man who, when a victim he rescued from a necklace bomb thanked him, replied with an instinctive and perfectly sincere, "You're welcome." But then, you know I love Spike.
So. The SRU know where the two men were standing when the shot was fired, and they know more or less where the shooter was. Question: is he still there?
As they come down the ramp Spike is more or less in the lead, and he's the one who spots the boobytrap. Well, of course he is. The rifle that shot the developer is connected to what appears to be the kind of light beam that trips automatic timers like the ones barrel racers use.
As Ed points out, where there is one boobytrap, there are apt to be others. And they have no idea where the subject is.
Rather than do the kind of tiresome point-by-point summaries I often do, let's just say that the previews, which promised we would explore Maple Leaf Gardens, were truthful. The team sets up their incident room in the cool old club room where Harold Ballard--I mean Old Man Godwin--and his pals would drink whiskey and smoke cigars between periods. The team follows the subject up to the announcers' gondola, and when the subject uses the distraction to sneak into the incident room and steal Greg's phone, which he uses to call Ed and warn the team off, Team One discovers there are secret passages in the arena. Sam suspects the subject is military or ex-military, based on the fact his messages refer to the SRU as a "unit." One of the others points out that this might just mean the subject recognizes that they are the Strategic Response Unit, but Sam has a feeling.
The team finds the secret passage and Leah volunteers to accompany Sam to investigate. Well, of course she does, and Ed has no objections. When they reach the end of the passage, Sam uses the giant dental mirror to peek under the door at the end. There is, literally, writing on the wall. Sam starts to read it and Wordy finishes it over the radio, because it's the legendary motto painted on the wall of the home dressing room. (I don't remember what it was--it's not "To you from failing hands we throw the torch," because that was the home dressing room at The Forum. Sorry--Habs fan.)
"Wow," murmurs Sam.
"I have goosebumps and I'm not even a hockey fan," Leah agrees.
And that's when the subject throws a phosphorus bomb at them.
The thing I've always been told about phosphorus is, it doesn't stop burning. Leah and Sam beat it back up the passage to the incident room, where the others find that Sam is smoldering. As in, about to burst into flame. They get his vest and smoking uniform shirt off and douse Sam's scorched arm with water, and Spike assures everyone that since the skin isn't broken Sam should be fine.
Suppose the skin had been broken?
The phosphorus would have gotten into his bloodstream and damaged his internal organs, Spike explains, at which point Greg and Ed are both just about psychotic with rage for a second. Spike sounds a little furious himself, actually.
The bomb was white phosphorus, some sort of black market device, and Sam points out that the Russians used white phosphorus in Afghanistan. This supports his theory that the subject is military. Jules, gathering intel in the truck, tries to find arrest records on guys recently released from military service. Sam explains that sometimes these guys get in trouble because they're either trying to feel something again, or stop feeling something specific.
The rifle used in the boobytrap turns out to belong to a former hockey player and current coach, a man who has no criminal record but whose connection to the arena and tale of the rifle being stolen feel fishy at best. Jules gets him in the truck and interrogates him. (Incidentally--Jules has been out of the main part of the action this season. No explanation has been given, but since Jules doesn't seem resentful I continue to surmise it's a sergeant-track thing.)
Sam makes contact with the subject, texting to Greg's phone in an oddly friendly between-us-soldiers tone that works. The subject knew of Sam's dad, an officer apparently referred to behind his back as Colonel Badass. Sam allows as to how at home they called him "sir." Sam calls the subject and they get the conversation into the headset so Greg can help out.
In the meantime the hockey coach has cracked, realizing that his silence will not protect the young man. His name is Darren Kovacs, he was a star junior hockey player and just a great kid, responsible and hard-working. When his dad arrives he confirms the coach's assessment. I was kind of expecting either the dad or the coach to be abusive, or emotionally controlling, the kind of guy whose expectations could not be met.
They're not. They're kind, they're worried about Darren, they both obviously love him. And Darren has never been in any trouble before, he's one of those overly conscientious kids who hates to let anyone down or fail at a responsibility. I have a big sister like that. Darren had a bright future, probably would have made the NHL, but his grandfather served in the Forces and so did his dad, and Darren figured a person ought to serve his country before he focused on himself. So he joined up.
And he ended up in Kandahar.
The coach and his father agree that when he came home, Darren was a different kid, one they couldn't reach. The camera cuts back and forth between conversations, somewhat the same technique used in Planets Aligned, and it's equally effective here. Darren and Sam talk about their respective wars, while the coach and the father talk about the effects they observed. One artifact the team turned up in the rink is a photo of Darren and three friends from his unit, including a kid from his old hockey team who joined up with him. The word SYOTOS is written on the photo, which means nothing to the older men. The important thing is, all the other young men in the photo are dead, killed by an improvised explosive device on a patrol Darren thinks he should have been with them on.
So our subject turns out to be a young guy in terrible pain, suffering from PSTD and survivor guilt. He and his hockey friend talked about coming home and playing at Godwin Coliseum again, and to him the arena is the last place on earth where things were fair and made sense. He can't just sit back and let someone make condos out of it.
Sam understands Darren better than the younger man thinks: very early in the series, we learned that Sam was involved in a friendly-fire incident that killed his close friend Ben. He tells Darren about it, about killing his best friend from two kilometres away, and about how hard it was to keep on after that. But it's not too late, Sam argues. Darren can find... some other guy to be. He can find a way to make his life matter, and make sense again.
And--yeah. Negotiators make contact with the subject, and they use their own lives to do so if necessary. You may recall Ed, in Never Kissed A Girl, doing the same thing with Michael--talking about the shooting from Scorpio to help Michael see that Ed really did understand how someone can be haunted. In this case Greg can see Sam getting maybe a little too invested in this subject--but then again, Ed went back into the courtroom to talk Michael out of killing himself. And in Planets Aligned, Jules was held at gunpoint, talking to Penny until she came to her senses and put down her shotgun.
And, of course, Greg stood in the street facing George, outside the bank, and was perfectly confident George would not shoot him.
Of course Sam is taking Darren's fate personally. It's what they do. And there are things about the team members that they use for this type of work--and the presence of those parts are the reason they do the job at all. Greg is probably right that Sam is too invested for his own emotional safety, but that might be what Darren needs.
It seems Sam is correct: Darren is tired, too tired to keep this up. He agrees to put his gun down. He agrees to surrender. He wants to do it at centre ice, and he wants Sam to be there.
This looks like a win, but you don't take chances, so Ed takes up a sniper post to cover Sam, with Leah covering Ed while he's concentrating, Greg with Sam, Wordy with them and Spike covering the group from the ramp.
A young man comes out, head down, with a baseball cap pulled down so we can't see his face--which naturally makes the viewer smell a rat. I was afraid of a suicide bomb or something like that. I had forgotten that when the SRU arrived they tried to confirm the building was clear, and there was one security guard unaccounted for. He was getting off shift, so the uniforms were checking for him at home, and we never heard from him again.
Until now. Sam and Greg move toward the man at centre ice, and that's when Darren calls to them from the end of the arena, where he's holding a gun to Spike's head. Apparently there was one last secret passage. And yeah, Spike probably should have been more alert to the possibility of trouble behind him--but he could see the subject at centre ice, and Darren didn't have an accomplice. There was no obvious reason to anticipate the impossible.
Except, of course, this isn't impossible: it's the security guard at centre ice, a kid really, who's been tied up in a closet all this time and is now too scared to do anything except exactly what Darren told him to do. I'm assuming Darren started him out with the warning he was being watched--I certainly would have taken his word for it.
Here's the thing: Darren doesn't seem to have any intention of using Spike as a shield to escape. He doesn't even suggest the possibility. He's disoriented and weepy--as he said a minute ago, he looks exhausted--and he keeps telling Sam that he's a good soldier, getting progressively more agitated.
It's clear what he's about to do, and it's clear Sam knows it: he tries to reconnect with Darren but can't get through to him--Sam's own alarm can't be helping. Greg tells Sam to keep still, Ed tells Sam to make Darren come to him, and because Sam knows darned well why it's important to get Darren into the open, he keeps moving forward. Darren finally does the thing Sam was trying to stop: he shoves Spike out of the way and steps forward, pointing his gun at Sam and Greg.
Suicide by cop--but what can Ed do, when someone overtly threatens his team mates?
Darren goes down and Sam goes to pieces, insisting that Darren wasn't going to shoot at him. Greg and Ed have both talked before about losing perspective--it was already obvious Sam was identifying a little too closely with this particular subject, and his reaction at losing him is pretty close to despair.
So we return to the briefing room. Ed has apparently given his statement and the team is together. Well, for a given value of "together," considering Jules, Leah, and Wordy are on one side of the table, Ed and Spike on the other, with Greg standing behind Ed and at least one empty chair between Spike and everybody else.
And Sam, pacing around behind Ed, still protesting that Darren wasn't going to shoot him. "I had a connection with him, and you killed him." Ed does not react to this beyond-dirty shot and doesn't let Sam fight with him, except to point out that Darren was an immediate threat to both Sam and Spike, and he couldn't take the chance Darren wasn't bluffing. It was a similar situation with George, if you recall: George probably didn't want to hurt Greg, but when George stepped forward and took aim, what were Sam and Ed supposed to do?
Sam, crying by this point, argues that Ed's risked his life over a subject before--and that's when Spike speaks up. You may recall that Spike used to be the conciliator on the team. That's not the role he's taking now.
"He's got a point." Spike is apparently addressing Ed at first. "You've done it. I've done it." Speaking to Sam again and ever-so-slightly wobbly himself, Spike goes on, "But the question is, why you did it--for Darren, or for Ben? Maybe you wanted a second chance to save your friend."
And--here's the thing I like about this show. There are frequent opportunities for someone to make a big showboat speech and the show almost never takes it. Spike doesn't say anything else and doesn't have to: everyone knows that Sam is thinking about Ben, and that Spike is thinking about Lewis, and even in the state he's in Sam realizes that Spike has a pretty good idea how he's feeling, and he's at least respectful of the fact.
The files Jules wanted in the opening finally show up: Jules has requested Darren's service record, because she learned from his father that Darren was sent home early after his friends died, and his application to return to combat was refused on the grounds he was not psychologically fit. Sam has already figured out that Darren's mission to save Godwin Coliseum was his way of returning to combat.
What Sam didn't get until now is, Darren never expected the mission to succeed--what they figure out about the motto on the photo tells the team that. What he wanted was to be killed in action. The connection he made with Sam, and the feeling that he'd left his story with someone who understood it, was probably comforting to Darren--maybe he felt a little less lonely at the end--but it didn't do anything to affect his determination to end his own life--or have it ended for him.
Would Darren really have shot at Sam? Would George really have shot at Greg? I don't know. If Darren was going to hurt a cop, he had Spike right there, and he was pretty careful to shove him out of the way. I can see where he wouldn't want to harm Sam, any more than George wanted to hurt Greg--but how far he'd have escalated if he'd had to is a question I don't want to answer any more than Ed did. Sometimes, "desperation" is another word for nothing left to lose.
Sam is too churned up to really take in the information at this point: he can't accept there was never anything he could do to change the outcome. This is the first time he's ever come right out and explained why he joined the SRU: he didn't want to be a long-range killer anymore. He wants to save people, up close and personal. (Yeah. He pretty much wants to be Ed. I dig that.) Sam has come a long way from the bumptious rookie who first joined the team. His cluelessness never felt malicious, but anyone who also suspected the cockiness rang a little hollow deserves a prize. He's a long way from the guy whose aggressiveness in First In Line induced Ed to send him for coffee as a way of illustrating that if he was going to talk foolish, nobody was even going to listen to him.
Sam gets it. He understands the job, and what they're all trying to do.
And if he can't even save this one guy he understood so well, what is he there for?
He doesn't come right out and quit, but after he goes off to the showers the rest of the guys find his locker completely cleared out. (There's a nice moment in the women's locker room when Jules and Leah are just sitting together, Jules clearly wondering what she can do for Sam and Leah making a point of also being there for Jules.)
In the meantime, we return to the coliseum to join Darren's coach and his father mourning, and the lights quietly going out in the rink.
When Sam emerges, calmer and maybe regretting any hasty action, Ed collars him. It doesn't get easier, Ed tells him, and you might need help to hang onto who you are. There's a group he goes to--cops and military guys--they get together and talk. He and Greg are going on Friday, and Sam is welcome to join them.
(I am encouraged to hear Ed talk like this--it reinforces the idea Ed is specifically trying not to lose his way. You'll forgive me if I assume this is Greg's first time in attendance, and he's going because Ed talked him into it, too?)
Sam doesn't say anything one way or another, but when he returns to his locker it looks exactly the way it did before any of this happened, and the whole team is waiting for him, a blue line of their own, just to let him know they won't let him lose himself without a fight. Nobody says anything, because right at this minute the action speaks far louder than any words, but Jules and Wordy pat Sam a little and everyone leaves together.
Greg and Ed bring up the rear. You know--just to make sure they don't lose anybody.
- Current Mood: hopeful