Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Dresden Files, Season 1, Episode 12: Second City

Well we have a dramatic beginning to the season finale – it’s night, a man is walking down the street when he is attacked by someone with what looks like a red hot poker – and then he drowns rather unpleasantly.

Harry and Murphy are in a bar, drinking and complaining about Herrick (a reporter) and Munzer (a policeman) much to Murphy’s annoyance. Murphy’s also concerned about how people are talking about her and Harry – and her habit of lying and falsifying reports because there’s too much fantastic in them. But ultimately, with much teasing they come down on the side of clearing cases – and then Murphy is called in to work.

She and Harry go to our murdered man (much to the annoyance of Detective Kirmani who wants to know why Harry is there – he does have a point) and the main point of confusion is how the man drowned in the middle of the street.

Harry is worried that he may be causing Murphy more harm than good by helping her, sure she clears cases but she’s also stuck with a large number of events she can’t explain but is obliged to do so. He is worried about Murphy being seen as a crackpot for working with him.

Murphy is trying to go through the case – and finding the brand mark on the body and that the victim had gang ties – when her dad appears in the police station. Murphy doesn’t seem best pleased by the whole conversation with him – and breaks off as soon as she can. Meanwhile her father decides to check up on Dresden. He talks to Kirmani about Harry who tells him he’s wizard but concedes that he gets results. We also get some backstory about Murphy saving her father’s life from a heart attack.

In the morgue, we have a happy fun party of Herric, Munzer, Harry and Murphy and Butters. They discover the brand is fresh and didn’t pass through clothes and that Reyes, the victim, drowned in sea-water. And they get some CCTV image of the murderer with his branding iron, but he’s cloaked and it’s fuzzy.

Munzer also finds a very tenuous connection between Reyes and a case Murphy’s father worked 9 years ago. Meanwhile Jo Murphy is trying to warn Harry off Murphy in a stunning display of paternalism. I am so very glad that Murphy arrives and treats this as exactly what it is – condescending and controlling. She demands Harry’s help while Jo tries to stare him down, until Murphy orders him to leave (all hail Murphy).

Some magic later and Harry has a tracking spell put in Murphy’s sunglasses (amusing magic at that). But the trail goes cold so he needs an emotional surge to boost the power – he asks her to slap him, she refuses, so he kisses her instead, much to her surprise – and caught on camera by Herric the journalist; then she slaps him. The trail is detectable again – and leads to an apartment which Murphy kicks open. Police procedure, yay?

Inside is full of candles with lots of papers stuck to the walls. And a magic circle with the branded circle on the floor. Murphy finds the branding iron while Harry finds a series of newspaper cuttings of people who changed their lives then later ended up in the obituaries. Then the man in the cloak appears in time for a sadly non-magic scuffle. Murphy shoots him several times but he still manages to escape.

Back in the police station they speak to the chief who questions them about how they got to the flat – and shows them a picture of Harry kissing Murphy. She argues but they’re taking her off the case – and her father, a retired man, actually tells her “that’s enough” when she argues – that would be the condescension again.

Kirmani now has the case – and searching the flat he finds heart medication tablets. And Harry puts together the clippings he saw and says the killer is punishing people – people who were “bad people” but got a second chance to turn things around. All of whom changed  their lives after a near death experience and then were found dead as if their near death experience had been rather nearer (Reyes nearly drowned). They also conclude that Herric was the one who took the photo to get them off the case.

Murphy ends up in a bar with her father where her father tries to bad mouth Dresden after performing an illegal background search. Murphy throws his family history at him in return. She chews him out, epically. One standing ovation for Murphy.

And then Kirmani arrives to arrest Jo. Wait… on the strength of an old connection and a heart pill? And then to find an air-tight alibi. Really? This is some ridiculously awful police work. No wonder Murphy gets away with such horrendous reports!

Meanwhile Harry breaks into Herric’s offices looking for the missing scrapbook pages. Herric arrives and Harry magics him down and questions him – Herric quickly blames it all on Munzer. And Harry finds out Munzer has survive a lot of near-death experiences. He’s stealing these survivor’s second chances – so he survives by stealing their miraculous escapes. Bob pieces together the symbol that Munzer has been using. But they also realise Murphy shot him – which means he’s used up his latest second chance so needs to get another one.

Tim to track Munzer phone to where he is killing his latest victim to recharge his insurance. They manage to get to him before he uses the brand on the unconscious woman (which means he was either next door or he decided to spend a fair while twiddling his thumbs). The victim lashes out at Harry in confusion and Munzer escapes – to be confronted by Jo Murphy (*sigh* redemption scene I guess. I hate pat redemption schemes). Munzer brands Jo who already had a second chance from a heart attack. Harry duels magically with Munzer – magic vs guns, brand vs staff while Murphy gives CPR to her father. Until her father dies and Murphy decides to beat Munzer down with Harry’s staff. Munzer protests that the criminals didn’t deserve their second chances and starts justifying himself while Harry re-brands the dead Jo Murphy – he comes back to life, his second chance restored for loving reunion scene and Harry talking her out of shooting Munzer.

Munzer ends in prison and Harry claims the brand – which he then destroys. Just in time for Jo Murphy to arrive to apologise and praise Harry and encourage him to keep working with Connie Murphy.

Series overview
I’m not sure why the series was cancelled, except maybe budget issues. I have to say I did enjoy it while at the same time I was rather disappointed because it wasn’t the books. And the main thing was it didn’t carry the epic the book did – glorious, amazing scenes that made your blood fizz were completely missing from the series – and they were a hallmark of the Harry Dresden novels. And it’s only in the last few episodes that Harry started breaking out some real magic.

There were also few meta-plot or meta-themes or world building. And, again these were all classic strengths of the book series. He and Murphy continually dance on the revelation of the magical but don’t cross it. We mention the High Council but don’t explore it. We don’t have the Nevernever, the fae, the vampire courts (a reference to the Red Court but nothing more), the Denarians – it’s all missing and a little hollow. Rather than the deep world, exciting revelations and fascinating, powerful meta that brought epic, world saving scenes, we just got monster of the week after monster of the week. It was fun but… it wasn’t amazing.

Maybe the problem is that the books set a high bar that the TV series failed to meet.

Like the books, the TV series is sorely lacking in meaningful inclusion of any kind. The closest it has is Murphy, who, even then, plays a much more minor role than she does in the books.