Reviews, Screen, TV

DVD review: The shadows lengthen as life and crime roll on in Bosch season 3

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‘Old sins cast long shadows’ is a saying repeated throughout Agatha Christie’s fiction. Battered and brooding LA homicide detective Harry Bosch (Titus Welliver) of the LAPD, Hollywood Division, may well have the phrase tattooed in amongst the youth gang and military insignia that festoon his middle-aged arms.

It comes as no surprise to see that when Bosch is ordered by a superior officer to roll down his sleeves and cover them up, he refuses. Bosch is marked for life as much as any haunted film noir protagonist of the 1940s – and the character could have been teleported from that era to now.

The notion that the past is never over but has only just begun – to paraphrase William Faulkner – is a given in season three of Bosch, which has just been released on DVD in Australia and New Zealand.

This season of Bosch powerfully dramatises the Weinstein effect.

The shadows not only keep getting longer, but seem to multiply. The repetition of “Got a feeling that I can’t let go” in the lyrics of the opening title music is emphatic to the point, it must be said, of obviousness.

By the end of season two, Bosch thought he had solved the decades’ old mystery of his mother’s murder. That semblance of a resolution proves chimeric, and what he thought was the truth about the crime is turning out to be just another lie hiding a deeper injustice.

One of the plot strands added in season three speaks to the impact of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the American psyche; a theme also explored in the feature film Sicario. The introduction of a gang of ex-soldiers involved in a money laundering scheme designed to repatriate corruptly obtained funds suggests the price America has paid in moral terms in entering those conflicts, not to mention the cost in lives and resources.

Damaged veterans who aren’tconvinced that they were fighting for a just cause don’t just kill themselves at a higher rate than the general population. The more capable ones may have no compunction in preying on folks back home using the military-grade weapons they can legally obtain as civilians. Among the combat veteran characters depicted in the show, Bosch is the only one who hasn’t been crippled or criminalised by military service in Iraq or Afghanistan.

As well as gesturing towards the moral malaise of a nation perpetually at war abroad and with itself at home, this season of Bosch powerfully dramatises the Weinstein effect. One of the main plotlines involves a narcissistic, male Hollywood movie director with a taste for sexual assault. He utilises a paid network of enablers to smear the reputation and manipulate the careers of his exploited female accusers. Sound familiar?

Shows such as The Wire and Bosch are the full scale mainstream social realist novels of our time, just as pop songs in popular culture are now the poems.

A signature feature of binge-worthy television dramas is their attenuation. A good example of this phenomenon is Justified. It managed to generate no fewer than 78 episodes based on one brief, and rather elliptical, story by Elmore Leonard. With such long trajectories, it is no wonder that sometimes the story arcs seem in danger of missing their targets over the far narrative horizon. The result is that endings sometimes seem to have been contrived in haste for all that they were long in coming.

In Bosch, coincidence does seem a little neat at times, while in other respects the show is getting better at dangling loose ends that may never be tied up. It is almost as though the creators of the series, like the characters on the screen, are making it up as they go along and aren’t able to control everything that happens. The best fictions are driven by character as well as plot.

The early TV crime shows typically would begin with a fresh page every episode, with past events and characters, except for the core cast, making way for the next adventure. In Bosch, as in other shows – most notably The Wire, which remains the gold standard in immersive, insomnia-inducing TV drama – nothing is more pervasive in the here and now than what we saw happen previously. There’s no telling when a character from the past, however insignificant, may reappear.

Now that Bosch has run to 30 episodes we are used to seeing Harry, and to a lesser extent the other regular characters, being beset by the endless consequences of their choices as well as buffeted by forces both seen and unseen. As with Agatha Christie’s stories about Hercule Poirot which became bestsellers in real life, Bosch has reached the point of reflexivity – Harry Bosch is now not just a media celebrity, but also the unwitting subject of a movie, a film within the film.

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Hitherto righteous in his pursuit of justice to a degree that alienates many of his less engaged colleagues, Harry seems more open than ever before to the idea that maybe the ends justify the means.

The characters’ experience of their daily lives approximates to an appreciable extent that of the viewer, who can watch on demand as many consecutive hours of TV as time and physical endurance allows just as they would read a long novel. Indeed, shows such as The Wire and Bosch are the full scale mainstream social realist novels of our time just as pop songs in popular culture are now the poems.

Once, popular fiction novelists such as Dickens and Zola anatomised large cities such as London and Paris in their novels that ran to many hundreds of pages. Likewise now shows such The Wire and Bosch allow us to imagine we inhabit places like Baltimore and LA.

After a long session watching the show, as with reading a three volume novel, you can feel as though somehow you have become part of that world. The sense of feeling emotionally drained after a TV binge goes with the territory, along with physical symptoms such as sleep deprivation and eye strain.

About the only feature of LA life the characters in Bosch commune over is the traffic.

The LA of Bosch is bathed in light during the daytime and similarly well-lit at night, though there is nothing about the city that is idyllic, much less permanent. Outwardly quiet for the most part, the streets and buildings are distinguishable by degrees of blandness. Bosch’s box-like hilltop eyrie is a view with a room.

Not once does it rain during this season of Bosch, and a character at one point refers to the absence of water flow in the Los Angeles River. The ubiquitous palm trees grow tall and provide no real protection from the elements. The Creative City appears to be a place where dreams are manufactured because otherwise they might never exist in such a featureless landscapt.

In some cities, at least there is plenty of weather to talk about. About the only feature of LA life the characters in Bosch commune over is the traffic;  a constant source of complaint and seems to ensure that no meeting in a lawyer’s office ever starts on time.

LA is a great big freeway, as the old song says, with endemic traffic jams that have metastasised throughout the vast road network thanks to the decisions that in the last century privileged the car, and the powerful oil industry, over public transport.

As portrayed in Bosch, LA’s richly diverse communities seem to cohabit rather than overlap. The urban sprawl allows people to distance themselves from each other, not just in physical terms but also in allowing them to socially disconnect. The police only meet people from different backgrounds because that is their job.

In Bosch, life itself, and not just the routine of policework, is procedural.

The impersonality of the work milieu makes the irrepressible humanity of sympathetic characters such as Lieutenant Grace Billetts (Amy Aquino), Detective Jerry Edgar (Jamie Hactor) and Chief Irvin Irving (Lance Reddick) inordinately moving. The longer we spend in the company of decent people, the more we care about them.

One excellent addition to the regular cast in season three is Detective Santiago Robertson (Paul Calderón). He is a vastly experienced old school detective who is a match for Bosch in street knowledge, tenacity and barely contained moral outrage. One senses that the world of the show is expanding, and that Bosch will become part of it more, rather than its centre.

The relationships in Bosch tend to be transactional when they are not provisional. People in law enforcement mostly prefer to sleep with colleagues, their personal relationships a practical extension of the work ones. Although such relationships are never likely to last, everyone goes through the motions during, and after, office hours.

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In Bosch, life itself, and not just the routine of policework, is procedural. The operations of the LAPD are subject to so many rules and so much legal and media scrutiny, that working the system is as much a test of knowledge and ingenuity as it is solving the crime.

It is that strong impression of an all-encompassing quotidian that makes a series like Bosch, as compelling as much as the action and suspense is.

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2 responses to “DVD review: The shadows lengthen as life and crime roll on in Bosch season 3

  1. Good review, and years past the time when this show should have been reviewed.

    Season 3 of Bosch was broadcast last year on SBS at about the same time as The Good Fight (sequel to The Good Wife) and The Handmaid’s Tale. The only seriously irritating thing about the former two: they both ended far too early. While Handmaid went on and on …. and then on some more. Well, the other irritating thing was that the first two were ignored by the critics and the latter was over-rated, very considerably. Sure, the story and themes etc were compelling etc but the show itself, not nearly so much. The comparison of Bosch to The Wire is appropriate, and it carries over one of the latter’s most languid characters, the smooth Lance Reddick. Overall casting is excellent, and I agree about the addition of Paul Calderón. The show has improved each season, and it didn’t begin in any shoddy way. So good, one wonders if they can keep it up.

    One curious thing shared by Bosch and Handmaid, is that Bosch too has an apparent languid pace–fitting into the sun-scorched LA or any desert where to move too fast is not bio-efficient–yet fits in more than plenty in every episode and every season. That is quite a trick (which I wish Australian directors of drama would learn.) As the critic here said, the hypnotic intro music perfectly fits. Some of this was prefigured in Michael Mann’s Collateral starring Tom Cruise (in a much better movie than the more-hyped Heat, another LA-set crime caper), which captured the ethereal quality that Cruise’s character talked of: the vast impersonal mass of a gigantic urban mass that has “no there there” and where individual lives don’t seem to count for much.

    Oh, and re the absence of rain: true to life (and as the song says “it never rains in southern California …”). All those old noir and even modern shows that seem to have interminable tropical downpours (often at night) for effect: utterly ridiculous. The city is sun-scorched (more than any major Australian city except perhaps Perth), dusty and with its dry river/concrete water-collector ditch being so emblematic. The city’s water is transported from 100s to 1000s of kilometres away (as Chinatown portrayed) and the only reason why a city of such size can survive here).

  2. Having spent a bit of time in LA, Bosch really takes you there. Great location work, as in the books. Great show and the vicarious pleasure from watching Harry having a martini in Musso and Frank’s can’t be beaten.

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