Monday, May 14, 2012

The Dresden Files, Season 1, Episode 7: Walls

This episode begins with limits – specifically Harry’s inability to use technology because he’s a wizard and, above that, Bob’s intangibility making him unable to physically interact with the world. Something that’s especially poignant after last episode when we learned Bob was cursed into his skull after being punished for trying to resurrect his dead lover. He’s even more depressed when a prospective client arrives and refuses his help because she wants Harry

Harry runs into her walking home – asks if she needs help and she gets hit by a car (with a fuzzy faced magic man driving).

Time to report it to Detective Murphy (who covers every crime everywhere in Chicago ever). The deceased is Raychelle Banton and she had cut out Harry’s newspaper advert. Murphy has a bit of a snit because any case she has involving harry comes with a whole lot of randomness and lots of lies – now Harry says they also close the cases but I have to question that. Sure they’re resolved to Harry’s satisfaction, but I can’t imagine the paperwork would list the cases as closed at the police station. Murphy still invites him along to play (at least Detective Kirmani questions why they’re letting harry all over their crime scene but Murphy shuts him down) and examine the car that ran Raychelle over.

Harry finds tallow in the car and takes this to the very angsty Bob (thankfully Bob is both an actor who can pull off melodrama and he snaps out of it relatively quickly) and an answer machine message from Raychelle saying she had been seeing things.  Time for investigation at the college and to meet someone whose picture was in Raychelle’s date book, Dante. He claims to know nothing. Time to follow up the investigation with some magic and entering in Raychelle’s apartment, leaving his finger prints everywhere and finding an extremely expensive piece of jewellery– and been attacked by a man in a hood who magically disappears in a closet. Confirmation of magic!

The jewellery is part of a series of very expensive burglaries that Dresden reports to Morgan – which seems awfully precipitous. As Morgan points out – it doesn’t take magic to steal and make things disappear. They have their usual argument – Morgan makes it clear he’s a busy man with a war to fight and little time for Harry’s problems – but Harry makes it more personal and asks where the Council and their war against Dark Magic was when his father died. It was a good, heavy scene with a lot of issues touched on – including why Harry is doing what he does.

Harry does some magical spying on Dante and his two rich, connected friends – and they’re together with a lot of expensive purloined goods, referring to a Caleb and that Dante is working to clear his family’s medical bills. He follows them on their little bank robbing job where they magically dive through the banks walls to steal money. The problem is that one of them, Carson, only gets part way through and is ripped in half.

To the pathologist! And Waldo Butters is geeky and fun (but needs Polka music) declares that the body was killed by a large blunt instrument – and he was dying, rotting from the inside. Murphy confronts harry who knew both where the other half of the body would be (inside a locked bank vault) and that Carson was dying.

On to Bob (Murphy seems oddly placated by random platitudes) and some research. A tallow covered severed hand is, of course the Hand of Glory (it says a lot for my reading choices that I knew this from the beginning when they found tallow in the car). The severed hand of a dead thief covered in wax – it draws the energy from the boys (who all have emotional issues which makes them vulnerable) to power up super thief talents – like the ability to walk through walls – courtesy of the thief spirit bound in the hand candle. And that spirit is taking them over.

Time for awkward parent interviews! Mrs. Whitfield, the mother of one of the surviving rich kids who has an interesting collection of artefacts – and when he asks about a Hand of Glory she kicks him out. I suppose this is supposed to be suspicious, but if a strange man came to my house asking after severed human hands I’d show them the door as well. Some more action and confrontation before Mrs. Whitfield comes to Harry to tell him that they did have a Hand of Glory, that it’s missing and that her husband used to be obsessed with it. And that he died with it in his hands.

Which is what happens to Brady as well – leaving only Dante to carry the Hand, and Caleb’s spirit which is getting stronger. Time for the final confrontation and some magic fire to save Dante and finally destroy and banish the manifested Caleb. And a wonderful finale wrap up with Morgan - I liked it, i did.

I am glad that both Detective Kirmani finally questioned allowing a rather eccentric civilian all over the crime scene and we had overt acknowledgement that Dresden is requisition the police force for his services. And I’m glad that Murphy makes it clear that while he should share information with the police, this isn’t a reciprocal agreement and the police don’t have to give him information. Too often Urban Fantasy detectives are given extreme police access for no reason. As well as them just having money without any real explanation how they earn their living

We have a nod to class with Dante’s family – his mother trying to recover from a stroke but the family not having enough money to pay the medical bills. We further see when the college kids harry spoke to have powerful connections and that causes Murphy to chide him for bothering them.

I like the confrontation between Morgan and Harry about how the council lets so much slip through the cracks with their war on dark magic, how many victims fall through. But I’d like to see more from the High Council’s side – if they are at war with Dark Magic every second of every day, as Morgan points out, I’d like to see these epic battles that take up the Council’s time. It would make the Council more sympathetic, introduce, perhaps, a little epic into the plot line and explain why the Council can’t investigate these issues.

Inclusionwise it was pretty good on a racial standpoint - while Dante is stealing, his motives are as pure as can be - compared to his rich, white privileged companions.Raychelle was still very expendable though - and then became the motivation for the whole episode. Too many women's deaths are just thrown in to give menfolk the motivation to act.

I’m actually pretty impressed with how the Dresden Files manages to include a moderate amount of magic with a relatively small special effect’s budget (and smaller props budget. Did I mention the hockey stick wizard staff?). It’s subtle and well done – though, again, it’s really important to step back from the books and treat the show as an entity in its own right.

This episode had a lot of very powerful scenes that examined a lot of issues. We had class, neglected children, lots of talk about Bob and his situation and exactly how innocent is someone when their bad choices lead them to hurt others – even if that specific hurt is unintended? The discussion with Morgan, why harry cares, why he should care and why the High Council can’t care. It was a really rich episode and really upped the quality of the series, showing it’s happy to bring some depth to the series and take it beyond the monster of the week.