Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Help I'm slipping into the Twilight Zone...

Place is a mad house, feels like being cloned
My beacon's been moved under moon and stars - 
Where am I to go, now that I've gone too far?
And you will come to know -
When the bullet hits the bone...

The following rant contains spoilers for Psych season 6, Castle season 4, and Firefly, episode 1. Reader discretion is advised.

Here's another one of those gun related media cliches that annoys the bejesus out of me. Our hero (or one of our heroes) has his weapon drawn; facing him is a villain, also with their weapon drawn. Villain may have a hostage at which they are pointing their weapon, or they may be pointing it at the hero; either way, we have a Mexican Standoff, that great dramatic cliche. Except these particular scenes are inevitably examples of both "Fridge Logic" and "The Idiot Ball," and often times require out of character behavior as our hero inevitably surrenders to the villain, or allows them to escape, thus increasing the dramatic stakes of the story. This is cheap, and smacks of creative and intellectual laziness; more bad messages from Hollywood storytellers.

The first example to pop up here is the recent Psych episode, "Neil Simon's Lover's Retreat". Carlton Lassiter, ace detective and semi-psychotic gunbunny, walks into the hotel room of a suspect to find said suspect holding two of his ("friends" is a mighty strong word to use involving Lassie, so we'll merely say "more than casual acquaintances") at gunpoint. Lassie has his weapon drawn and on the aggressor rapidly, and orders him to drop the gun. The suspect instead instructs Lassie to drop his gun, and to show he's serious, cocks the hammer on his weapon - which looks to be a 1911 or Hi-Power, both of which are single action firearms (it's also possible it's a Dan Koonan - the gun was explicitly mentioned to be .38 Special, which is an incredibly rare caliber to find in a semiautomatic. The Koonan, a 1911 derivative, is the only one I know. It's far more likely that a writer botched his research when he tried to be special, and the gun in question is a 1911 in .38 Super. In all of these cases, though, it's a single action firearm and cannot be fired unless - tada! - the hammer is cocked.) Lassiter lives to shoot people - it's perhaps the defining aspect of his character, save perhaps for the fact that he will always be upstaged by Shawn - and yet, one scene break later, we find Shawn and Juliet freeing their two friends (and Lassie) from a steam room, having surrendered to the enemy.

When I point out that the weapon is single action, and therefore must be cocked, and therefore was not ready to fire without a gross movement of the thumb that requires breaking the proper firing grip (and also, on most 1911s, will result in disengaging the grip safety while you do so), I both refer to my earlier entry where I waxed eloquent on how hammers and slides are not "drama switches," and I also point out that Lassie would have recognized this - probably on sight, as he's more gun obsessed than I am - and should have taken appropriate action.

And at the risk of contradicting an earlier comment I made to a friend, where I remarked on the extreme difficulty of aiming for non-vital points as opposed to the often lethal center of mass, and how more people should visit a range and actually shoot a gun rather than demanding cops perform ridiculously difficult, nigh on impossible, trick shots to the weapon or arm rather than shooting to stop and winding up with dead offenders - Lassie was all of five feet from the guy. He could easily have put a slug in his shoulder before he cocked the hammer, thus ending the episode quickly. Which, of course, is why he didn't.

A second example, the season four episode of Castle, "Cuffed". Detectives Ryan and Esposito have discovered their friends and partners, main characters Beckett and Castle, imprisoned beneath the floor in a suspect facility. As they go to rescue their friends, who are in danger of being immediately eaten (it makes sense in context), the criminal foe throw down on them. Words are exchanged, including the dramatic pump of a shotgun. This situation has a little more leeway than the last; the risk of getting shot in a confrontation is higher, the reward of immediate capture of the criminals that much less. There are three bad guys, and only two police detectives, and the cops are armed with handguns whereas at least one criminal has a shotgun. Letting them go makes a little more sense in context, especially since they can be caught later - which, of course, they are. Except...

Reactions under stress are variable; different people react differently, and the same person will react differently to two different situations, even when they're outwardly the same. There was a police officer murdered during a traffic stop whose name I sadly forget, who could only scream "drop the gun! Drop the gun!" as the perp retrieved a rifle from his vehicle, loaded it, and began shooting. It wasn't until the murderer actually began to fire that the officer took steps to return fire and defend himself, and by that time he was quickly overwhelmed - all of this caught on tape. Similarly, one of the four victims of the 1970 Newhall Massacre was found with spent shells in his pocket - when he reloaded, rather than dumping the empties he'd caught them and pocketed them, a habit learned in training, which may have cost him precious seconds - and his life.

With all of this caveated, it still raises the question of why Detectives Ryan and, most especially, former Special Forces combat veteran Esposito - both of whom have been in numerous shootouts in the past, just over the course of the four previous seasons - would stand idly by and allow themselves to be threatened; more to the point, would move their weapons to allow the criminals to flee, blindly trusting that they wouldn't simply be gunned down by the desperate to flee villains who had already murdered at least one person. It defies belief - except, of course, that it doesn't move the story along, or allow the next scene to play out.

That most notorious gun writer, researcher, and advocate Colonel Jeff Cooper said, in his book Principles of Personal Defense, "Speed is the absolute essence of any form of combat... on the very instant that we know that our assailant intends us serious physical harm, we must work just as fast as we can. If he has shot at us, we must hit him before he can shoot again. If he is holding us by threat of force, we have the edge of reaction time over him... the perfect fight is one that is over before the loser really understands what is going on."

A great example of this is the pilot episode of Firefly, and one of the reasons that I adore the show. Federal agent Dobson, who has already demonstrated his ruthlessness, lack of professionalism, and ineptitude by shooting adorable engineer Kaylee, is attempting to escape the Serenity and has taken crazy girl River hostage. As he stands there, gun on the girl, monologuing about how anyone who attempts to stop him will have the girl's death on his head, returning captain Malcolm Reynolds shoots him. No hesitation, no speech, he simply draws and plugs the man on his way up the cargo ramp; immediate reaction, immediate result. One can argue that this scene is a demonstration of Mal's recklessness, and that's entirely possible. Had he missed, had he failed to stop Dobson with that one shot, River might have been killed, or another crewmember; on the other hand, had Dobson escaped, the whole crew would have been imperiled, River might have been killed anyway, and by the by, there's a ship full of cannibalistic rapacious and rapist Reivers about to descend, and can we get this ship in the sky now?

This is probably one of the reasons Firefly was cancelled so quickly; as with so many things Joss Whedon, it delighted in turning the cliches upon their heads. And it is for this reason that it is so gravely missed and needed on today's television.


newturn said...

This has nothing to do with the above post, but being as this is the first time I've actually tried to read your blog, I thought I'd share a general observation. Notice how I said, "tried" up there? Yeah... the white type on black background BURNS THE EYES. Worst of all, I continue to see your words when I look away from the screen, and every time I blink thereafter. So from a pure aesthetic standpoint, please consider a redesign if you would like my continued readership.

And now that bit of business is out of the way, on to the topic at hand: I thought a Mexican Standoff required three parties with guns, all facing off against one another. Remember that scene in Inglourious Basterds when Lt. Aldo Raine has to explain to "Willie" that they are in a Mexican Standoff? Raine is upstairs with grenades, Willie is behind the bar with a machine gun, and Bridget Von Hammersmark is downstairs as well, with a gun trained on Willie. THAT is a Mexican Standoff.

And lastly... FIREFLY SUCKS.

newturn said...

Yay!!! My voice was heard! I like the look much better now.