Michael Hayes (1997) s01e04 – The Doctor’s Tale

I’d forgotten how once upon a time the evils of liberal Hollywood meant trying to warn how for-profit healthcare in the United States was a terrible thing and now we’re twenty years on and it’s even worse. It’s such a lovely combination of distressing and depressing.

This episode opens with governor’s goon Gregg Henry (who’s such a perfect sleaze ball) coming to David Caruso’s office to get him to sign off on a letter saying the corrupt healthcare company the state is going into business with isn’t corrupt. Caruso won’t sign it because he’s not corrupt, he’s the only good white guy, leading Henry to whine to Peter Outerbridge about it, which doesn’t end up giving Outerbridge anything to do in the episode because while Outerbridge isn’t a bad guy, he’s not a good guy.

Only Caruso’s a good guy; it’s a lot of weight to carry but Caruso’s really good at it. This episode’s the smoothest so far; I’d been worried about it because Peter Weller’s back directing and he tried very hard to be hip with his previous episode but seems to have figured out his 4:3 composition by this one. And Roger Neill’s music is better than it’s ever been, so much so it’s surprising. It’s delicate at times.

The Doctor in the title refers to guest star Patricia Kalember, who’s going to have to be Caruso’s star witness against the insurance company whether she or Caruso like it. Allen Garfield is the slime bag attorney for the insurance company—the difference between Henry’s sleaze ball and Garfield’s slime bag is Garfield’s got greasy hair and a ponytail you wish Caruso would’ve cut off after their showdown—and he’s going to ruin Kalember’s life and Caruso’s case. Kalember tried to get some tests done, the insurance company denied them, little boy is now dying faster from leukemia. There’s actually a lot of character development for Caruso in the episode as he finds further resolve—he thought he could just wing it on his Irish male pride (this episode’s the first time they mention the Irish… impressive patience)—but the show can’t quite address it.

Garfield’s media takedown of Kalember only works because of sexism and misogyny and it only works on Caruso because of sexism and misogyny, so when he gets through it—because “Hayes” is a show written by dudes in the nineties—it hinges on a revelation about Kalember’s character. Her character’s character. They emphasize it as a “eureka” moment—desperate even with the best acting—but do at least give Caruso a good solo contemplation scene to work his way through it. More problematic is probably Rebecca Rigg’s embrace of the takedown, though there’s nothing like realizing she couldn’t just be super smart, she also had to be super smart and wear short skirts.

Rigg is the best lawyer at the U.S. Attorney’s office, something Philip Baker Hall (who’s got one scene to manipulatively inspire Caruso against the blue bloods) didn’t appreciate. This episode is Caruso and Rigg trying to work out the case, Caruso and Kalember not bonding but being stuck in the life raft together, and everyone else is background. Hillary Danner helps with the case but not significantly, Ruben Santiago-Hudson interviews a witness and tells a couple jokes (somewhat problematically since it’s a demotion—Santiago-Hudson’s much better with this material), and Mary B. Ward shows up for a single scene—in an apartment instead of the established house they’d been living in—to pretend the family plot line is essential. They even rush the talk about Ward’s terrible marriage to Caruso’s good for nothing brother.

Yet, even with Kalember being good with a “good for a guest star on a primetime drama” asterisk, it’s the best episode yet. There’s a really good balance between the lawyer stuff and emphasizing the actors—Caruso, Rigg, and Kalember—and it works. Weller having a better handle on his composition helps immensely.

I can’t decide if it’d be better or worse if they finally just let Caruso punch out one of the blue blood crooks instead of just silently judging them. Again, Caruso’s good at the righteous judgement and “Michael Hayes” does have enough tone problems already so maybe it’s time to trust Paul Haggis.

Never thought I’d type those words again. But it’s getting to where—with the nineties primetime drama asterisk—“Michael Hayes” is good.

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