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Wrestling with 'The Beast'

“Take hope from the heart of man, and you make him a beast of prey.”
—a quote from novelist Marie Louise de la Ramee that opened the first episode of A&E's The Beast

“If you're not careful, the beast will eat it all, and you have nothing, and you are nothing.''
—Charles Barker
My husband and I are fans of some of Patrick Swayze’s work and so we’ve DVR’d his latest endeavor, The Beast, in which Swayze plays unorthodox and hard-edged FBI undercover agent Charles Barker. While it’s an average or okay series as far as television goes, Swayze is amazingly convincing even if the scripts and actors around him aren’t up to snuff. He plays Barker like an older and more jaded and deeply broken version of characters he’s played in the past—like Black Dog’s Jack Crews, Point Break’s Bodhi, Next of Kin’s Truman Gates, Roadhouse’s Walton and even Red Dawn’s Jed. There's an added depth to Barker because of Swayze's experience. It’s a bit like watching Clint Eastwood play the aging gunfighter William Munny in Unforgiven.

So, we’ve enjoyed the series for the most part. But as we watched a recent episode, I was somewhat irritated to find myself feeling increasingly uneasy and troubled by something I just couldn’t put my finger on.

It wasn’t the subject matter, as I am very supportive of storylines like these. “Nadia” has Barker and his newbie partner Ellis Dove trying to take down a Eastern European human trafficking and sex trade gang. Along the way, they befriend Nadia, a prostitute who’s been victimized by the gang and whose toddler son was sold by them. I’m all for storylines that bring these kinds of issues into our living rooms. It makes average folks aware of and even enraged by the existence of such evil. And for some, it will result in action to confront and fight against injustice and bring healing and right-ness. More power to the powers that be for episodes like this.

But as we sink deeper into that world and the horrors associated with it, I found myself feeling things I didn’t like so much—like vindication when Nadia finally has a chance to pistol whip the man who sold her son and kept her in prostitution and a brief surge of satisfaction watching Barker order the execution-like death of the man who headed up it all. Then it dawned on me why I was so troubled: This series not only explores but also seems to advocate the idea that to fight darkness we—or, at the very least, some of us—must become darkness itself.

Not that I won’t admit that becoming darkness to fight darkness is an effective method—for a time. But it is not the best way. In fact, it is the worst. As films like The Dark Knight and even the latest James Bond films reveal, taking on the ways of darkness to defeat it has severe costs. Not only do you find yourself becoming as bad as the ones you seek to defeat, but what you fought for to begin with also becomes warped. Justice becomes vengeance and heroes become vigilantes and villains. Death and destruction come not only to the hero but to those around them as well. This series is obviously not shying away from that kind of exploration in Barker. There is still light in Barker, but he is drowning in his own darkness. We see it swallowing him and whatever relationships he has left with those around him.

But in The Dark Knight and other such explorations, there are voices of integrity and alternatives whispering, if not forcefully speaking out, in the dark. In The Beast, however, any “good” in the series is portrayed as ineffective and cobbled by a myopic vision of the law. If Barker is too focused on the ends, these folks are all too blinded by the means. So far, there hasn’t been a viable or believable alternative, so our whole sympathy rests with Barker and his methods. And that makes me feel like the series is stacked, like it has no other effective answer to the evil in the world other than for some people to become darkness to protect the rest of us from it.

I find the question of how to fight evil one that we desperately need to explore—but if we’re going to explore it, let’s not stack the deck but put more than one viable option on the table. I haven’t given up on The Beast as giving us a way to do that. I’m hoping there’s redemption for Charles Barker. And I’m hoping there’s a voice or person who reveals another way, a way that calls for healing as well as justice, life as well as right-ness, love as well as judgment.

(Images: A&E) miscctgy