Saturday, September 7, 2013

It's About Time! (My Thoughts on Motive 1x11, Brute Force, and Disability on television.)

Back in mid July, I went to the doctor for the ongoing problems with my arms. She said I had tendinitis in both of them and that I should not type or do anything hobby related that required the use of my arms or hands. It was only supposed to have lasted for about three or four days, but I'm still having problems, and at this point, I am going to assume that RSI is going to be a problem for a while.

Unlike the last time something happened to an arm, this affects both of them and makes it really hard to do any graphic work or to write. I decided to start using a text to speech program, and I've been working with it for a little over a month now. I'm getting pretty good at dictation, so I thought it was time to try a blog post.  Took all night and most of the day, but here it is.

(If there are more typos than usual, you can blame the text-to-speech software.)

I've been following ABC's Motive since it began airing in February.  I was intrigued by the premise: focusing a procedural drama on the connection between the killer and the victim and the events that led up to the murder instead of the police investigation/whodunit.  I was also drawn to the idea of a female protagonist (Detective Angie Flynn) who was also a single mother and a small team of co-investigators, as opposed to a whole unit like in some of the larger ensembles that are still airing.  Up until last night, I found the show interesting enough to keep watching, sometimes intriguing, but not really as exciting as I thought it had the potential to be.

I'm behind on the show.  I have a habit of letting episodes build up.  So last night I watched episode 1x11, Brute Force, and I was not only excited, but I was impressed.  I wish I could say that I was excited about what the show was doing with a recurring cast member, but I am really impressed with Detective Flynn for the first time.  I was excited about the episode's killer-of-the-week.

Spoilers after the jump.

The killer in Brute Force turned out to be the victim's brother.  That's not particularly unusual, but what is unusual is the fact that this brother was a paraplegic.  I think it's pretty cool that the writers of the show felt it was okay and plausible to portray a person with adisability as being capable of murder.  What's beyond cool, what's really, really exciting, is the fact that this character was multidimensional and not a stereotype in any way.  He was cold, calculating, greedy, manipulative, and arrogant, but I don't think he was without sympathy, and I believe he had a conscience, although it may have been warped and very small.  By the end of the episode, I felt the same way about this character that I usually feel about Anakin Skywalker.  I can understand why he did what he did.  I could see his anger building in the flashbacks, and I could feel for him, because I could see places where he was genuinely wronged by the victim, but in the end, I am disgusted by him, and I think he absolutely needs to be in jail for the rest of his life.

It's very strange for me to be so disgusted by a character and yet so thrilled and excited that I was practically doing a chair dance when I realized that they weren't going to go the route of "accidental death/frightened-but-basically-good killer/let's let the poor, disabled guy off with a suspended sentence and community service."  I actually said, out loud, "It's about time!"

I have a disability.  I was born with it.  I've also had unrelated, life changing health problems over the last five years, so I understand (to an extent) what it's like to have an acquired disability and have to learn to adjust to a whole new way of life.  I don't talk about it on this blog, because it's never been relevant, but I'm mentioning it now because that might help you understand why I was so excited to see a character with a disability in an unsympathetic role that didn't center specifically on the fact that the guy used a wheelchair.

The guy had an acquired injury as a result of the gym accident, and the gym was owned by his brother (the victim).  I almost groaned and turned the episode off when I realized that the wheelchair user was the killer, because I get really tired of seeing stories about paraplegics either harboring resentment or overcoming adversity or both.

There's nothing wrong with those stories. I have nothing against them, but they seem to be just about the only kind of story that gets any serious screen time when you have a main character with a disability.  If there is a character with the congenital illness or something else that they were born with, the story usually revolves around how that character became an inspiration to everyone else.  While I do know people who have lived through both of those realities, there are a lot of people like me who didn't have an "adjustment period" because we were born with our disabilities.  Most of us are neither angry about that, embarrassed by our differences, feel inferior because of them, nor feel that our lives resemble an inspirational TV movie.  I usually get fed up in 10 minutes and turn the show off anytime there is a character with a disability.  I kept watching mostly because I was bored last night, but boy am I glad I did.

Joey, the killer, did harbor resentment over his injury, but it wasn't the main point of focus in the episode, and the problems between him and his brother Mark seemed to go back a lot further than that.  It's implied that, if Joey hadn't broken his back, the tension between them would never have become as extreme as it did.  The writers did a good job of making that believable, rather than maudlin or over-the-top in its level of angst.  Joey is intelligent, physically capable, and a deeply tragic figure, but the way he tries to play a grieving victim and then throw his sister-in-law to the dogs makes him truly an asshole, rather than a misunderstood bad boy with a heart of gold.

He fools the investigating officers at first because he's very good at playing a grieving brother, and because they aren't inclined to suspect a paraplegic to be capable of overpowering a former Olympic boxer.  Eventually, the trail of evidence begins to lead back to him, and Detective Flynn is initially the only person who takes him seriously as a suspect.  I have a new kind of respect for her as a police officer not because she was willing to accept the idea that Joey could have done it, but because she was able to treat him just like any other suspect and didn't bat an eyelash when she realized where the evidence was leading.  Disability was completely irrelevant to her.

The murder scene itself was plausible, and looks like it was carefully staged.  My only two nitpicks are:

(1) I think it was too easy for Joey to remove the wheelchair's armrest from the position he was in on the floor.  The heavy titanium ones like that wheelchair had usually have release buttons on both ends that have to be held down at the same time.  The whole armrest has to be either twisted or pulled upward, and while I'm sure that's possible from outside the chair, that wouldn't have been the position that Joey was used to doing it from.  As angry as he was in that scene, it should've taken even longer.  Have you ever tried to open a childproof cap when you're pissed off?  It takes even more effort because your emotions are short-circuiting your problem-solving skills and your manual dexterity.  I think Mark should've had enough time to try to fight or get away.

(2) I don't understand why there wasn't more physical evidence that would've pointed to Joey at the beginning.  There's a scene early on where Detective Vega comes into the gym and sees Joey cleaning up the blood on the floor after the CSI teams leave the area.  With the amount of blood that I saw, I think there really should have been more hard evidence that pointed to Joey.  It would've taken him time to get his wheelchair off its side and transfer back in from the floor.  The floor was wood, and would've been slippery near the body.  It's certainly possible that Joey could've gotten back into his chair and cleaned up before calling the police, but I think it should've taken a lot longer and been a lot more messy than it seems to have been.

In context, those are minor problems.  Most crime procedurals probably don't worry too much about whether their murders are going to hold up to a lot of critical examination.  The important — awesome — thing is that I just saw a TV show say something I've been saying for years: people with disabilities are individuals capable of the same range of emotions and behaviors, good and bad, as anyone else.  There are assholes who have disabilities, and there are decent, ordinary people who have disabilities.  Our lives are not all fit for INSP network dramas.  We can do anything we want. We should never be counted out because we don't look like we're physically capable, and if we do something wrong, we should get the same punishment as anyone else.

No comments:

Post a Comment