BOSCH IN A BAD WAY

The brood­ing LA de­tec­tive is a man on the edge, adding to the ten­sion in this ex­cep­tional third sea­son

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Graeme Blun­dell Bosch,

This fine tele­vi­sion cop drama — based on Los An­ge­les crime writer Michael Connelly’s best­selling se­ries of nov­els fea­tur­ing the nighthawk and loner de­tec­tive Hierony­mus “Harry” Bosch — re­turned last week and al­ready has be­come must-see TV again, with the first two episodes avail­able on SBS’s ex­em­plary On De­mand stream­ing ser­vice.

While this third sea­son picks up on many of the events that be­gan 20 episodes ago, it is so well en­gi­neered by its for­mi­da­ble creative team that it is like a fe­ro­cious fresh start for any­one com­ing to it for the first time. In each 10-part sea­son — 60 hours were orig­i­nally en­vis­aged by Connelly when he even­tu­ally let go the rights to more than 22 nov­els for the se­ries that be­gan in 1992 with the leg­endary The Black Echo — Bosch takes on mul­ti­ple over­lap­ping cases adapted from the var­i­ous nov­els, giv­ing the se­ries an ex­cep­tional, epic feel.

Connelly, a for­mer re­porter work­ing big-city crime beats, de­vel­oped the se­ries with writer­pro­ducer Eric Overmyer, who had worked on David Si­mon’s Homi­cide: Life on the Street, The Wire and Treme, to­gether bring­ing the same level of grav­ity and cin­e­matic com­plex­ity to the new se­ries.

The nov­els have sold more than 58 mil­lion copies and been trans­lated into 39 lan­guages. The se­ries is di­rected in an at­mo­spheric LA noir style and, hap­pily for fans, is faith­ful to the books — Connelly is a writer on the show and one of its ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers — and not just in the way it presents the pro­ce­dural nar­ra­tive, the un­ex­pected generic twists, the moves and coun­ter­moves of dropped clues and sud­den in­sights.

The over­all nar­ra­tive is less closed than most cop pro­ce­du­rals, jug­gling many dif­fer­ent sto­ry­lines and hardly at any point val­i­dat­ing the ex­ist­ing so­cial or­der. The myth­i­cal tidi­ness of a job well done is here trans­formed into the more re­al­is­tic messi­ness of cases that are never solved; and moral cer­tainty fades in the light of Bosch’s com­pli­ca­tions. Truth is too of­ten a com­mod­ity of cor­rup­tion and no one’s au­thor­ity can be trusted in Bosch’s world.

“Harry’s a grinder, and there’s some­thing noble about that,” says Connelly. Bosch is con­stantly bat­tling the hi­er­ar­chy, has at­tacked com­mand­ing of­fi­cers and has been sus­pended in­def­i­nitely at times pend­ing psy­chi­atric eval­u­a­tion.

He also has a rep­u­ta­tion, not en­tirely un­earned, for plant­ing ev­i­dence and in­ter­fer­ing with crime scenes, a plot point un­der­pin­ning much of the new sea­son. (When asked by some­one on the show how he would en­cap­sul- ate the char­ac­ter of Harry Bosch, he printed Tshirts for the crew that said: “God help his tor­men­tors”.)

The tropes and lit­er­ary con­ven­tions may be fa­mil­iar by now — Connelly has been around for a long time — but he al­ways rises above them. In fact, tak­ing his con­ven­tions from LA crime greats Ray­mond Chan­dler, Ross Macdon­ald and Florida’s John D. MacDon­ald, au­thor of the in­flu­en­tial Travis McGee se­ries, he reimag­ined many of them.

The char­ac­ter was named, of course, af­ter the 15th-cen­tury Dutch artist whose fan­tas­tic paint­ings of the fallen in hell serve as a metaphor for the crim­i­nal cesspit that is Los An­ge­les for his cre­ator. “I’ve al­ways thought of LA as the mod­ern ver­sion of The Gar­den of Earthly De­lights,” he says. “So much of it is phys­i­cally beau­ti­ful — from the ocean to moun­tains to deserts. It’s all there — but it’s all messed up, you know? It’s a town that reaches for the brass ring but al­ways misses it.”

The city is Connelly’s other flawed char­ac­ter, just as it was for Chan­dler’s Mar­lowe, his early in­flu­ence. It’s a city that, while it may lead the world in TV pro­duc­tion, has rarely been rep­re­sented ap­peal­ingly in its own medium.

“I’m writ­ing about a guy who doesn’t ex­ist,” says Connelly. “Harry Bosch is imag­ined. If I’m go­ing to sell him as a re­al­is­tic char­ac­ter, whether it’s in a book or a TV show, I’ve got to an­chor him in some­thing that is real, that is solid and is ac­cu­rate.”

Bosch has al­lowed Connelly to chron­i­cle the evo­lu­tion of a city across 20 years, he says. “Be­cause it’s an en­ter­tain­ment mecca, this town breeds the cyn­i­cal hope­ful­ness that you see in Mar­lowe. I hate peo­ple think­ing their city is unique, but there is a cer­tain aura about Los An­ge­les; it’s not nec­es­sar­ily a beau­ti­ful thing, but it’s part of Harry Bosch.”

Bosch is played with moody as­sur­ance by the hith­erto non­de­script lead­ing-man type Ti­tus Wel­liver, who has a Humphrey Bog­art way of say­ing ev­ery­thing nec­es­sary by the way he lights a cig­a­rette or sim­ply gazes ahead at the deadly job that con­fronts him.

Sea­son three draws its var­i­ous plot lines from that first Bosch novel, The Black Echo, which in­tro­duced Bosch, his war-dam­aged psy­che and his to­tal dis­dain for au­thor­ity; and the sev­enth, A Dark­ness More Than Night, from 2001, by which time Bosch es­ti­mates he has in­ves­ti­gated sev­eral hun­dred homi­cides.

It picks up 16 months af­ter the sec­ond. Harry’s in a bad way, tru­cu­lent, de­pres­sive, not sleep­ing and un­der great emo­tional duress.

While he has fi­nally solved the mur­der of his mother, he is still left with the pain and re­sent­ment, the killer, “Big Wave Dave” or Dave Aron­son, hav­ing been some­what pro­tected by the po­lice. At the end of the fi­nal episode of sea­son two he vis­its Aron­son’s grave and tells him he won be­cause he “got away with it”.

He then spits on the grave and leaves, re­mem­ber­ing the last night that he saw his mother alive. (Bosch’s dark back­story was in­formed by yet an­other LA crime fic­tion mas­ter, James Ell­roy. Like Ell­roy, Bosch was reared by a sin­gle mother who was mur­dered when he was a child. For in­spi­ra­tion, Connelly seeks Ell­roy’s per­mis­sion to use his real ex­peri- ence — a mur­der that re­mains un­solved. There can be no spir­i­tual armistice.

“Peace? That’s a load of shit,” he snaps at his lieu­tenant, Grace Bil­lets (Amy Aquino), wor­ried about his state of mind as the third sea­son un­folds. Harry is way off the reser­va­tion.

The ma­jor case in­volves the discovery by a young black-hooded graf­fiti artist named Sharky (Bridger Zad­ina) on Novem­ber 8, 2016 — the night of the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump — who wit­nesses a shiny black SUV roll up on a parked mo­bile home on a de­serted street, hears gun­shots, and sees the car drive abruptly away. When he en­ters the ve­hi­cle, he sees the dead body of a white male.

Sharky is straight out of The Black Echo, the char­ac­ter that was the start­ing point for the novel writ­ten 25 years ago. “The street kid was the first fic­tional char­ac­ter on the page, drawn from run­away kids I knew while grow­ing up and work­ing in the kitchens of ho­tels in Fort Laud­erdale, Florida,” the writer has said.

“Harry came into the story af­ter — ob­vi­ously drawn from lit­er­ary and movie he­roes as well as de­tec­tives I met as a news re­porter.”

Bosch is called to the scene with his sharp­dress­ing part­ner Jerry Edgar (Jamie Hec­tor), the dis­in­te­grat­ing body “a haz­ard to hu­man health” ac­cord­ing to his fas­tid­i­ous off­sider, and iden­ti­fies Spe­cial Forces tat­toos on the corpse as be­long­ing to the elite Green Berets.

They quickly dis­cover he is Billy Mead­ows who, af­ter serv­ing in Iraq, re­turned home a bro­ken man and be­came a drug ad­dict and va­grant. While it looks like it is a “home­less-on-home­less” killing, his death hits close to home with Bosch, who served in Oper­a­tion Desert Storm.

Bosch also has un­der sur­veil­lance an al­leged se­rial killer, Ed Gunn (Frank Clem), who he has been track­ing for a long time and who avoided trial for the rape and mur­der of two women due to the district at­tor­ney’s re­fusal to pros­e­cute.

The de­tec­tive has set up cam­eras at a build­ing across from Gunn’s apart­ment. He is in­trigued by a wo­man in red who he sees on the tape one night push­ing the drunken Gunn through his door. Later, Gunn is mur­dered.

More im­me­di­ately there is the trial of slinky femme fatal Ron­nie Allen (Jeri Ryan), at the cen­tre of so much of the pre­vi­ous sea­son, which is com­pro­mised once more by Bosch’s per­ceived his­tory of plant­ing ev­i­dence.

There is also a high-pro­file in­ves­ti­ga­tion he has been work­ing on for 13 months, in­volv­ing a Hol­ly­wood di­rec­tor ac­cused of killing a wo­man dur­ing kinky sex; but there is no ev­i­dence, no wit­nesses and no phone records. The mur­der scene has been wiped clean. And Bosch’s teenage daugh­ter Mad­die (Made­line Linz) with for­mer FBI pro­filer Eleanor Wish has come to live with him; Bosch is some­what un­com­fort­able with the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of a sin­gle par­ent.

Harry, of course, is no con­ven­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tor. In most crime fic­tion, dra­matic progress is marked by the discovery of el­e­ments that un­lock the mys­tery (or mys­ter­ies in Connelly’s case) con­ceal­ing the truth. With Bosch, we fol­low a psy­cho­log­i­cal ap­proach where the cli­max is ser­vant to the anal­y­sis, the mys­tery giv­ing way to the an­guish of the in­ves­ti­ga­tor.

He is a man de­ter­mined to gain and main­tain con­trol in the midst of per­sonal and pro­fes­sional and po­lit­i­cal chaos: grace for Bosch is ac­tion tem­pered by hu­mil­ity.

“Ev­ery­body counts or no­body counts” is his mantra. In the se­ries, as in the books, he is of­ten to be found at night on the deck of his house in the Hol­ly­wood Hills look­ing out over the city be­fore re­treat­ing to his bed­room, the only sounds faintly in the dis­tance the bark­ing of coy­otes.

GRACE FOR BOSCH IS AC­TION TEM­PERED BY HU­MIL­ITY

Thurs­day, 8.35pm, SBS.

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