The Magic Bullet
Mondays on Fox, 9 PM
Written by Eric Overmeyer
Directed by Jean DeSegonzac
Okay, there’s lazy writing, and then there’s sheer incompetence. When I’m told–repeatedly–that a character has developed leukemia from the lead in his system from a bullet lodged near his heart, and then see in flashbacks that when he was shot the bullet exited his chest in a spray of blood, I’m done with this show. Twice, we are told that John’s first partner on the force, Andy Gleason (Chris Bauer, Numb3rs) was shot in the back during an arrest that went bad. Twice we see it in flashbacks. Every time, we see the spray of blood from his chest that can only be from an exit wound. There is only one shot, so it can’t be from another bullet. Yet no one seems to question the ludicrous diagnosis that a bullet was left in his chest close to his heart long enough to cause cancer (if that’s even possible). Talk about your Magic Bullet theory. Kudos to the actors in this very lame episode, for playing it with straight faces.
The episode opens with a hostage standoff that has nothing to do with the rest of the episode, but allows us to contemplate the NYPD’s wisdom in making John Amsterdam a hostage negotiator. How likely is it, honestly, that any department is going to let a looney tune like John, who talks about seeing classic football games that took place before anyone in the room was born, get close to an armed hostage taker? John gets a visit from his old partner, Andy, who reveals that he’s dying of leukemia (and no cancer patient has ever looked more robust than Chris Bauer) and wants John to catch the guy who shot him. We are told that this event happened when Andy was trying to take down a couple of Russian gun dealers all on his own, after his then-current partner, Joe Williams (Isaiah Whitlock, Jr., The Wire) somehow was tied up elsewhere. Someone shot Andy in the back; he’s convinced it was the snitch who told him about the deal, one Nazir (Donnie Keshawarz, Damages).
By happy coincidence–and this episode is nothing if not long on coincidence–Nazir is out on parole and thus available for questioning. By browbeating Nazir’s overworked parole officer, John manages to find him and question him–and Nazir denies everything but gives them the name of the Russian godfather of gun running, Viktor Brodsky (why do these Russian mobsters always have names out of Dostoeyvsky?). Brodsky (Olek Krupa, Monk) does not react well to accusations of gun running, and threatens John and Eva.
John lets Nazir go, and naturally, he turns up dead on a Coney Island beach. When Eva and John arrive, the scene has not yet been cordoned off, but there are officers standing around guarding it. Nonetheless, a citizen with a metal detector wanders by, ignoring the dead body and the commotion surrounding it with a detachment worthy of the Buddha. Better yet, these highly trained members of New York’s finest have no trouble with him sweeping the sand no more than five feet away from the corpse! John borrows the metal detector to find the bullet, which, in a trajectory that only the Warren Commission could have explained, managed to travel only a few feet after exiting the body of the deceased. I’m not sure whether to blame that ludicrous Magic Bullet moment on the writing or the directing, but it made me blink in astonishment.
This lame and predictable storyline (I actually made a note, eleven minutes in, as to who the villain was, and I was right) is only minimally enhanced by John’s reflections on the learning curve in police work, as he flashes back to his training in 2002. Repeatedly we see him walking through scenes where we can’t tell if it’s 2002, 2008, or some time in between–neither John nor anyone around him has aged enough to tell. The effect is similar to a “flashback” in CSI or any other modern police procedural, except lamer. In other words, the producers of this episode took the one, single, solitary element in this show that made it special–John’s memories of Olde Nieuw Yorke–and trashed it. What was a charming idea for a show is completely discarded, and we are left with a sentimental, poorly conceived and overly simple plot in a procedural that cuts every corner it can.
The one bright spot in this mess comes at the end: John gets shot in the heart, presumably by one of Brodsky’s thugs. He lapses into delirium, in which he imagines his tender farewell to Sara and his happy, relieved exit from this world. It’s a lovely moment, peaceful and serene, and Nicolaj Coster-Waldau does an excellent job of convincing us he’s a man who longs to die. So when he wakes up in a hospital bed surrounded by friends and loved ones, we understand his profound disappointment. Not only is he not dead, it’s apparent that Sara is not The One, or else the gunshot would have killed him (what, another Magic Bullet?). There’s a weary, angry disappointment in his eyes as the scene closes, perfectly convincing. It’s the only truly real moment in the episode. And happily, it leaves the door open for The One to be someone more compatible with John–Eva, perhaps. Or his idiot sergeant. Whoever. It won’t matter, because next week the producers will continue to try to convince us that John’s happiness and future (and death) depend on his relationship with the lukewarm Sara Dillane. Since next week is the last episode filmed, and probably the last episode ever, there’s no time to introduce a new love interest/savior anyway.
“Reclassified” racked up a 4.6 rating, with a 7 share, coming in last in its time slot. Although this is marginally better than last week, which was also an uptick, it still puts the series dead last in its timeslot for the fourth week in a row. The next and last episode, “Love Hurts”, will likely be the last we’ll see of John Amsterdam. Too bad, because it was an interesting concept (especially when Pete Hamill thought it up, for his 2003 novel, Forever). But if tonight was any indication of where the show was going, it’s just as well it will be a short run.