Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Case of the Missing Morality

My favorite thing to do in the summer is visit the library and borrow all of the mystery and crime series DVDs that I can find.

Agatha Christie’s Poirot ranks at the top followed by Miss Marple, Foyle’s War, Inspector Morse and Prime Suspect. The murder and mystery is great and sometimes I get lucky and get a good peek at a dead body in the show, but morality of the main characters glares amidst the mystery.

This summer I decided to branch out and go beyond Christie’s timeless approach. Inspector Morse was supposed to be educated and smart, but he seemed somewhat crass and flirty toward anything that resembled a female. I couldn’t even finish Inspector Lynley Mysteries, not enough murder and too much soap opera ‘life’ happening.

Today I was finishing up my borrowed Prime Suspect series 3 and 5. I saw the last series when it came on television. The murder and degradation interwoven between societal classes is compelling and Helen Mirren is magnificent, but her character…

Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison is a lesson on how NOT to seek happiness in life. Throughout the series she says ‘she loves her job’ and ‘she’s doing what she always wanted’, but she goes about it in the worst ways.

In her search for meaning and happiness in life she chooses abortion of a fetus conceived with a married man. This happens after she is dealing with a pedophile case. Understandably the case is affecting her decision, but not in a way that might complement what her character says about every person deserving justice.

What is revealed (spoiler alert) in the last series is that she became a police woman to please her father and make him proud. While this is noble, it is made less so by the character’s portrayal of a woman who avoids intimacy and trust with other people. The detectives she has on her teams are almost always immediately put off by this character’s idealized superiority.

The balance of the show I think must be the ferocious fight for justice in public while the vulnerable woman makes poor, poor decisions in her private life. This must make good television, but it does little for me other than to help me try to understand motives for sin and practicing mercy.

This is the only other series I have seen, next to Law and Order, where bad guys get off the hook. But I think that is another article for another summer. In the mean time, I am fascinated by the criminal mystery stuff and will continue watching it.

Fiction reflects that there are many evil things in the real world. Discovering the truth doesn’t always happen in so poignantly a way in real life, but morality in the form of modesty, prudence, charity and justice will always shine forth from the page, screen and present actions of people who chose to practice it.