I’m not one to watch much television. Really, I’m not (I feel defensive considering what I’m about to write). I’m certainly not one to watch more than two episodes of anything in a night, and definitely not one to blow through a season of a program on Netflix in a week.
Seriously, I’m not.
So, here’s how this went down.
Just before moving into our new apartment, Karen and I sat down late one night too tired to do anything productive, and looking for something mindless to watch for a bit. She asked what I was in the mood for, and, being a sucker for police procedural dramas, I rattled off a couple of old standbys, none of which had anything available, or at least nothing current. So, Karen did some quick exploration, and asked about a program neither of us had ever heard of called Flashpoint.
Sure, I said, it looked good. It was only for an hour, after all, and then we were going to bed. Except we were on the edges of our seats for that hour. And the next hour. And the next.
And now, a few weeks later, I only have a few episodes left of the last season available for streaming, and I’ve lost way too much sleep to this show.
Why? Because, seriously, this is out of character for me.
It’s not just the realistic and excellently choreographed action sequences. There’s some deep character development going on here, as well. And, while I’ll be the first to point out that the screenwriters have been slacking on the dialogue quality in this most recent season, there’s explorations of things that we all consider, things with which we all struggle. In short, there’s a lot to be said about the human condition in this program.
I’ve written before about how police programs…realistic ones, at least…tend to present the nature of a hero in the most accessible way, the way in which we all desire to be the hero and the way in which we most realistically could reach this desire. These are the heroes that are not bound to the pages of fiction or graphic novels, but that run toward the real violence and danger that lurks near us to hold it at bay while the rest of us run away. As police programs go, SWAT teams are perhaps the most interesting choice for this type of exploration, because they are the heroes for the heroes, the best of the best who are called upon to handle the worst of the worst. When these teams arrive, the last resort has already been reached.
Flashpoint presents realistic heroes in this profession. They struggle with the ramifications of violent actions. They fight to push down their own instincts and desires to protect the lives that they are sworn to protect, and they don’t always win that fight. They are there, as the characters proclaim more than once, to “keep the peace,” but, moreover, to “respect, connect, protect.”
This isn’t a program where every episode ends with violent action (although there does seem to be more violent resolutions in the most recent season), but rather violent solutions occur only in a realistic number of situations. While a level of seemingly callous separation is seen in the characters (when one of the snipers has a clear shot at a suspect, the radio call is, “I have the solution”), this is balanced with the characters attempting to deal with the aftermath when they do take a life to protect someone innocent.
What’s most fascinating about this program, however, is played out in the premise. What makes the “Strategic Response Unit” upon which the show is based different from any other SWAT team is their training in psychology and negotiations. They don’t simply arrive and attempt to talk down a subject while waiting in the wings to respond with force. They dig into what’s happening in the individual’s life. The writers continuously do an excellent job of bringing out the perceived villain as an everyman character, someone who represents an extreme response to situations that would bring frustration or anger to any of us. At the end, the viewer finds themselves condemning the person’s response to the situation, but understanding how they feel.
This attempt to understand leads to not only many peaceful resolutions for the Strategic Response Unit, but discoveries of other victims that may not have otherwise been made (frequently, the perpetrator is a victim), as well as forcing them to make serious examinations of their own lives.
I think that Flashpoint exhibits yet another aspect of the nature of a hero, that of seeking to understand the villain. In short, empathy. Even those who perpetrate the most heinous of acts did not arrive at the point at which they were capable of those acts in a vacuum. We are who we are, and we do what we do, for a reason. The hero understands that there is a thin line separating them from the villain (think Batman and Catwoman), and that only the choice of how to handle a particular event marks which side of that line one is on. In short, the hero recognizes human fallibility, understands that we all make mistakes, and sees every person, both those that they protect and the villains that they fight, as worthy of mercy and redemption.