This review contains spoilers.
2.5 A Morning Song
Welcome to Assault on Precinct 13, circa 1863. Or pretty close to it.
In the fallout from last week’s episode, Corky is waking up in the bed of a newly hired prostitute and Annie is still missing after her disappearance from the precinct. But in the meantime, the Druids, led by Philomen Keating (Lee Turgesen), storm the precinct in the early morning hours when there are few coppers on duty. They quickly take over the place, release Maguire from lockup, and search top-to-bottom for the counterfeit plates Maguire had on him when he was arrested. When they fail to find them, they empty the cells and hold both criminals and cops alike as hostages, Keating himself killing an innocent bystander and shooting Captain Sullivan when the supervisor tries to pull a gun on him.
It’s only a matter of time, of course, before the rest of the Five Points force learns what the Druids have done and surround the place, most of them seemingly ready to storm the precinct. But Keating makes it clear he’s not about to let them just walk in by having his men toss the body of the man he killed out into the street. And Seamus, the cop who has been working with the Druids (without telling them his true profession) is also forced to shoot one of his brothers in blue, but not without the wounded man identifying him to his new friends. In a short matter of minutes, he finds himself hanging naked and upside down in the cell formerly inhabited by Maguire, awaiting punishment for his betrayal.
Oh, and Annie has, it turns out, made her way back to the precinct and is now hiding under one of the desks where she somehow escapes detection by the men tearing the joint up.
The situation quickly turns into a standard hostage crisis. Corky has his men set up barricades outside to ensure that the Druids cannot escape and then engages with Keating, asking him: “What’s driving ya? How can we help?” The first question elicits a philosophical answer from the counterfeiter who is clearly a psychopath who cloaks what he’s doing in intellectual meanderings on motives, economics, and power: “I cannot identify between the omnipotent and the ambitions of men. Can you, sir?”
The second question, however, seems very out of place. “How can we help?” is classic contemporary hostage negotiation verbiage, based on decades of psychological research and specialized practice, neither of which a late-nineteenth century police detective would have to call upon in such an instance. He follows this up with the next step in modern-day negotiation, asking after the hostages and seeing if medical care is needed. We almost expect him to next turn off the air-conditioning and try to empathize with the hostage-taker.
Keating agrees to let a physician in but only for fifteen minutes and promises to shoot him if he proves not to be a doctor. Freeman is sent for and agrees to go in to help, with Corky telling him that Annie is inside and asking him to check out the general situation – be his eyes on the inside. Once inside, Freeman determines that Sullivan will die without surgery and, evidently sharing in Corky’s knowledge of hostage negotiation and modern criminal psychology, appeals to Keating to allow him to use one of the hostages to help take the Captain out by playing to the man’s obsession with power.
Keating turns this into an object lesson by telling the assembled hostages that he will let the doctor leave with Sullivan if they vote to accept his condition: he will kill one of them at random in place of the Captain. He triumphs over the support of his own views of humanity when not a single soul votes to take the one-in-fifteen chance of being Sullivan’s replacement: “Such handsome selfishness.” Still, he agrees to let Freeman take Sullivan out anyway. “I love the irony of an Irish police captain’s life in the hands of a Ne-gro…” Keating insists that Corky come in to help carry the wounded man, giving Corky the chance to check out the lay of the land, and us the opportunity to watch Keating and the copper square off and really get into the question of what motivates this madman.
Corky acts quickly once back outside, arranging for a bomb which is thrown through the window and takes out some of the Druids, rushing the building and depleting Keating’s force to Maguire and one other man. Keating, cut off in an office, discovers Annie and tells Corky that he’ll trade her for him. Corky quickly agrees and Keating prepares to kill him, only to have Maguire, who says he’s looking to settle scores with his old friend, ask that he be allowed to kill the copper. Keating agrees and Maguire instead kills Keating. Turns out he’s been working undercover for General Donovan, who buys Maguire’s claim not to have killed Phinbar (or perhaps just doesn’t care). It seems that the Union was flooding the South with fake Confederate currency, destroying their economy, and Keating was planning to do the same in the North in retaliation. Donovan sets up what looks to be the essential tension for the rest of the season: Corky and Maguire (and all the history between them) forced to work together under the command of the general.
While action-packed, the episode is disappointing in some small ways: the pacing in places, especially the scenes of Freeman musing about the evil of men and his wife praying over a montage, is inconsistent and works against the fairly quick flow of the narrative. But the death of Keating is the real missed opportunity. Tergesen convincingly portrays what is certainly the most interesting bad guy we’ve seen on the show, and one who could have upped Corky’s game considerably as a recurring menace. Still, the uneasy and forced alliance between Corky and Maguire promises a great deal and plays to the series greatest strength: the murky morality of the denizens of Five Points.
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