Michael Hayes (1997) s01e12 – Mob Mentality

An episode after I list Anne Kenney as one of the show’s reliable writers, she turns in this whiff of an episode. Obviously it’s not all her fault—there are multi-episode stories and Helen Slater’s guest star arc in play—but even taking those elements out… there’s a lot of problems. Actually, the Slater stuff—while disappointing—isn’t even the big problem (with the episode, the series’s momentum is another thing).

The big problem is the A plot trial, which has Rebecca Rigg and Hillary Danner trying Black man Perry Moore for inciting a fellow rioter to kill a couple Jewish guys; there’s a riot because it’s that story about the rabbi running over a little Black girl and driving away. There was a “Law & Order” about it too.

It’s very weird and hopefully was just as weird at the time, because the episode’s all about how white people are justifiably scared of Black people—specifically Ruben Santiago-Hudson—and how it turns out they’re justified. Also Black people aren’t at all interested in being truthful, so there’s another of Kenney’s big flexes. It’s the two white women—Rigg and Danner—who get the moral authority here, because even though he’s only around to observe and call them “ladies” in a seemingly unintentional but actual patronizing way, Caruso’s in Santiago-Hudson’s court. He too cares more about the dead Black girl, which Rigg and Danner are completely indifferent about.

The acting’s all fine. Nice John Capodice cameo as the judge. Jason Blicker is good as the Hassidic guy who survived the attack (his friend did not). Rigg’s good. She’s playing a bigot and everyone seems fine with it but whatever. She’s very believable at it. Santiago-Hudson has to absolve her of her bigotry at one point, which is a heck of a shitty scene. Additionally, Kenney doesn’t even have Rigg and Danner pass Bechdel?

The episode pays lip service to trying to responsibility navigate the “controversy” in the first few scenes, but it ends up being a bunch of whataboutery and specious equivalences. It’s a bummer.

Also a bummer is the court scene, where Rigg is facing off against guest star George Wyner as the defense attorney. Wyner always seems like he should be better. He’s fine—the episode’s got a bunch of good guest stars, including Richard Foronjy and Walter Olkewicz—but doesn’t get enough to do.

The cliffhanger from last episode doesn’t get addressed either; Caruso is too busy being obsessed about something else from last episode. It seemed like the show was going to do character development. Only instead it throws the character development in reverse in order to gin up some sensationalism.

It’s a bummer. The episode is a definite bummer. Especially since it brings up unconscious bias in the narrative; it’s a profoundly unaware script and puts Kenney on the bottom of the list of regular writers. Usually when the show’s tepid, it’s because it’s trying too hard to be macho, not literally being a Karen.

Good performance from Peter Outerbridge, who’s got a short but relevant subplot this episode after being office scenery for most of the series so far.

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