As promised, I want to talk about this episode of Cold Case I said had done a similar plot line from Robert Sean Leonard’s character in Dead Poet’s Society, but better.
Now, before I really get into this I’m just gonna say that I have two big top lists planned coming up that will take me some time to prepare for, that is my list of musical films and a list of favorite Disney animations. I thought to myself last night “hmm… about 90% of musical films I like are Disney animations” and then I decided to challenge myself into finding non-animated musicals that I actually enjoy to make that list. Since I was a kid the first time I watched most of them… I’m going to re-watch some musicals in the next few days in order to properly write about them.
And then I realized that I need to re-watch some Disney animations and make them a list as well, because Disney! I mean, even bad Disney movies are still freaking amazing in one aspect or another. You can’t deny their brilliance. Now, unlike the musical film list, the Disney animations I need to re-watch not because my tastes have changed over the years; I mean they have, but that has no influence on my enjoyment in this case, but because I was so young when I watched some of the more classic Disney animated films that I couldn’t keep up with subtitled movies. I watched most of them dubbed into Portuguese. While that’s not a bad thing, I feel that I need to re-watch those movies with the original voice work and original songs in order to get the full experience. So yeah, these are two things I plan to do in a near future.
That out of the way, let’s talk a little bit about Cold Case and why this show was so great in my opinion.
If you’re not familiar with Cold Case, on the surface it was your typical police drama: it was pretty obvious who the killer was a lot of the time, they had a team of detectives, the medical examiner, the father figure captain, the obsessed protagonist with no personal life and a possible crush on her partner… The usual formula. BUT the two things that made this show for me were the stories and the music.
Every episode took you back to different decade. Some cases went as far back as the prohibition era. And the music in each episode fit in so perfectly with the story and the time period being portrayed that it was impossible, just impossible, to not get an emotion from watching this show. It was brilliant in how simple of a formula it was.
The ending was usually the same, they showed the culprit being arrested, or whatever resolution the case got, while playing an ending song. And if it hadn’t by then, that was usually the point where some episodes got a good cry out of me.
Even after the novelty of the show started to wear of for me, I still watched every episode for the ending song. All the songs in that show were always good. Always.
I’ve rambled on for long enough though, time to get into this episode. Now, spoiler alert if you haven’t watched this and plans to check it out… I’m gonna tell who the killer is. There’s really no way around it.
Episode 17 of the fourth season of Cold Case introduces us to sixteen year old Maurice Hall; our murder victim, in a flashback dated 1984. The scene doesn’t focus on Maurice though, it focuses on his older brother Grant. Grant is a jock, a wrestling star, and the episode begins on the family grocery store with his father and some friends/customers celebrating Grant’s chances of making the olympics. Now and again we see this scrawny little teenager wearing an apron and holding a broom, watching from behind the crowd; that’s Maurice. When dad finishes his big speech and people start to wonder off, he and Maurice have a conversation about where his life is going, all the while Dad is all praises on Grant.
When asked what he plans to do with his life, Grant says he doesn’t know what he wants to be, but over his father’s shoulder his looking at this girl in one of the aisles, wearing dancing clothes.
We cut to the scene of Maurice’s dead body in a dumpster. And then his remains in the M.E’s table, found in a landfill 20 years later. Our team goes on to investigate.
Now, I’m not going to narrate the whole investigation, but the important bits of the story are the following:
Maurice dies by his brother Grant’s hands. In the first scene is painfully obvious that’s what happens. At least it was for me. I don’t care. I never watched this show to play detective.
There’s this big scene when Grant discovers Maurice practicing for an audition and they fight about it. Maurice shoves Grant and he falls on his knee. It supposedly ruins his wrestling career. Dad comes around and Maurice tells him what the fight is about. Dad says he’s not going to any audition.
He goes anyway. Dad and Grant show just in time to see him on stage. It’s unclear if dad’s intention was to stop him or not, but he sees him dancing and looks really pleased with him. Grant doesn’t seem to like that very much. After the audition Dad calls out to Maurice, but since he thinks he’s in trouble Maurice runs away. That’s the last time they see each other.
Maurice actually goes home later and finds Grant staring at all his trophies and at the spot his dad reserved for his olympic medal. He tells Maurice how Dad was proud of him and reveals that he was actually faking his knee injury all along. He talks about how he showed up for pre-olympic training and didn’t have the courage to even go in. That he didn’t believe he’d ever be good enough. When Maurice tries to encourage him, Grant snaps and beats him with crutch. Maurice dies calling for his father, who’s presumably upstairs and doesn’t hear a thing.
The two things I love about this story the most:
The dance teacher; Dr. Leroy. I love that guy. He’s not there to nurture his dancer’s, or fuel their inspiration, he’s there to hit them over the head with the cruelest aspects of reality. The guy is a mean fucker because he knows the cold hard truth of any form of art is that inspiration means shit if you’re not willing to do the work, if you’re not willing to make some tough choices, some sacrifices. At the same time you see him gain respect and warm up to this kid and in turn you can’t help but warm up to him as a mentor.
Maurice himself. You see who he really is, how bad he wants to be a dancer, all the hard work he puts into pursuing that career and when those dreams are just within his grasp… They’re taken away. It feels painful to watch that happen, because you watched him get there. You know from the beginning he’s going to die, but you still somehow want to see him make it.
Now the bullet points of why I believe this is better than Neil (or whatever his name was) in Dead Poet’s Society:
- The death is just as tragic, if not more, without being over dramatized or beautified (more on that in a bit).
- It points the finger at the father and in some ways punishes him without making him unlikable and one dimensional. Even when he’s being an asshole to Maurice in the beginning you can see that he cares for his boys.
- Every character is sympathetic, even Grant. You look at him in the end and you can feel his father’s pressure slowly breaking him apart until the point where he explodes.
Okay, now the great white elephant in the room… It’s Cold Case, it’s a cop show, it’s a murder show; there’s no suicide.
How the kid dies is not relevant to why this is an improvement over DPS. It’s the leading up to it. DPS tells me how to feel about what’s his name, but doesn’t actually make me feel for him. I can barely even remember the character’s name without Googling it. The movie lingers on his death more than it lingers on his life. It’s the opposite of what it should be. If you want to have me feel for a character’s death, then show me the character. Linger on his life, and make his death sudden, brutal, and quick. Suicide or murder, it works the same.
A good example of this is a character in our RP, one of Doom’s characters; Hastings.
Hastings was an asshole. I mean he was the most unlikable of assholes throughout the entire run of that story and when he dies he’s plotting to murder his King, but here and there throughout there were hints of his past, of things that shaped his personality. Right before his death we see him on his way to murder the King and looking back on his friendship with the man… He gives up, decides to confess the whole thing, but when he reaches the king, the man’s already been murdered. Hastings is ambushed and killed. His death is disguised as a suicide and the King’s murder pinned on him. All of this happened in about 2000 words and I think it’s the one of most effective death scenes we’ve had so far. Because for me it took just that single post to make me cry over the death of this character I’d been wanting to see dead for months. And honest go God, I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive Doomed for doing that to me, but I can’t deny it was a brilliant twist.
The point of this ramble was that even within the confines of a larger plot, it’s more than possible to give a character enough depth to at least make his death memorable. I mean, that post was published four years ago, and I’m not over Hastings’ death yet. This Cold Case episode aired in 2007 and I still remember it now, it still gets to me every time I re-watch it. I was that emotionally invested that it stuck with me.
Anyway, I hope I at least made a strong enough case that people should check out Cold Case one of these days. It’s a pretty great show. And oh, I almost forgot! Here’s this episode’s ending scene:
Couldn’t possibly leave that out, now could I? 😉