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TV Snapshot: Evil and life

You know why people shoot people in my neighborhood? Because it’s Tuesday. Because it’s too hot. ‘Cause you look at them funny.

--Puppet, a former gang member during an interrogation with Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson during the “Sudden Death” episode of The Closer.
My husband and I recently started watching TNT’s The Closer, a television series about Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) who heads up a group of detectives in the LAPD’s Priority Homicide Division. “Sudden Death” was a moving episode (incidently, an episode directed by Kevin Bacon, Sedgwick’s husband) that follows the investigation into the shooting death of Detective Julio Sanchez’s younger brother, who was headed to college in the fall. The shooting occurred in a gang-laden area of Los Angeles where they lived, and underscored the complexity of living in those areas—and the awful arbitrariness of evil.

As I watched the episode, I couldn’t help but think of The Dark Knight and the evil that saturated and dripped from The Joker, who just wanted “to watch the world burn.” He had no other goal than to incarnate destruction, anarchy and depravity so as to eviscerate every living existence of goodness and hope.

Puppet’s words above provide an image of what that looks like in this world.

Later, we watch Puppet’s words take on flesh and blood as we observe the shooter (who’s about the same age as Sanchez’s brother) defiantly and even proudly declare that he and his brother were searching out rival gang members to terrorize when he accosted Sanchez’s brother because he thought Sanchez possibly could be wearing a gang symbol under the rim of his baseball hat. When Sanchez’s brother refused to give him his hat, he was shot. But when Chief Johnson questions the young man about his reasons for assuming Sanchez’s brother was a gang member, we realize that the shooter and his brother didn’t really care who they shot. The hat Sanchez’s brother was wearing was not gang-related in any way. Essentially, Sanchez’s brother was shot and killed “because it was Tuesday.”

At the end of the episode, Detective Sanchez seems to intuitively understand that. In a profoundly moving ending to the episode, Sanchez holds his dead brother’s baseball cap and breaks down in sobs, blaming himself for the death because he’d given his brother that particular baseball cap. Dying “because it’s Tuesday” doesn’t make sense, and we intuitively grasp for a more logical cause and effect relationship. For Sanchez, it actually makes more sense to blame himself than try to deal with the arbitrariness of evil.

The episode left me drained. The world isn’t supposed to operate like that, I told my husband. People shouldn’t have to live like that—ever. I couldn’t help but think of the psalmist who cries out in one of the darkest psalms of all:

. . . my eyes are dim with grief.
I call to you, O LORD, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do those who are dead rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, O LORD;
in the morning my prayer comes before you. . . .

--from Psalms 88
In such darkness, it’s hard to see God. Sometimes, all we can do is cry out at the wrongness and suffering.

Later, as I ruminated on this episode some more, I thought of Mark Scandrette, who lives with his family in a poverty stricken area of San Francisco. In Soul Graffiti, he writes about his own struggles with coming to terms with his community:
Walking past the housing projects and the corner liquor store, I’m reminded of the way I used to tell the story of our neighborhood. For years I have taken visitors on guided walks through various San Francisco neighborhoods. Many of the people who came on these walks saw the city as a dangerous, exotic, or evil place—usually in sharp contrast to the safe and clean suburbs or small towns where they lived. Regretfully, I played the role of the sensationalist tour guide, tantalizing and shocking them with sordid tales of aberrance, indecency, drugs, guns, gang violence, and homicide. Not surprisingly, on our walk they noticed the things that confirmed these themes—and ignored all the signs of health, safety, beauty, and vitality.

Eventually I learned to tell the story of our neighborhood and city more evenly. I talked about amazing cultural diversity, cooperation, creativity, and a dedicated and heroic citizenry. I invited people to look for signs of God’s glory, goodness, and beauty in the things that they could hear, taste, touch, see and small—even if it was only a blade of grass growing out of a crack in the sidewalk. They still noticed differences, but they also found reasons to love and embrace the place where we live.
Learning how to hear or tell a story is important. A story like Sanchez’s is all-to-real. But even one like that (or especially one like that) fits in a larger Story, one where evil is being overcome. To include Sanchez’s story in that larger one doesn’t take away the horror and pain—in fact, it drives even deeper the wretched wrongness of such moments. But it also offers hope. It offers a larger scope in which to see the awfulness and death. It offers life in the midst of death.

(Image: TNT) miscctgy