I know this may not get a lot of comments, but I felt like I had to write something about this Sunday's episode of the CBS crime drama "Cold Case".
In recent years on TV, I've seen shows that tell me gay men are asexual and vapid, that lesbians exist as the butt of jokes unless they can find a man to turn them straight, that bisexuals and transgenders are incestuous and/or serial killers, that gay teenagers are only gay because they're bad people and because they want to infuriate their parents. I've even seen an FX show that made a hero out of a man who beat a gay man so badly that he had to be put into a medical coma.
What I haven't seen on most TV shows, especially network TV shows, is a simple, moving love story between gay men.
Until this Sunday.
"Cold Case" is about cops who investigate old, unsolved cases. This particular case was from 1968. A young cop, Sean "Coop" Cooper (Shane Johnson) was shot to death in his police car. Was he a dirty cop, on the take from drug dealers and local thugs?
As it turns out, no. The lead detective on the show, Lily, finds this out as she interviews his father, co-workers, and key to the story, his partner Jimmy, and Jimmy's ex-wife.
Coop is a rigid, black-and-white cop who hates corruption and rails against cops who muddy the water by accepting money or letting criminals off the hook. One of those cops is his partner, Jimmy (Brian Hallisay). Jimmy isn't idealistic. He expects the worst out of life and just wants to get by. Jimmy's married with two kids and one more on the way.
Coop and Jimmy are inseparable. One night, they get into a drunken argument in Jimmy's backyard. Coop throws a few punches, as Jimmy tries to defend himself. The violence and alcohol and adrenaline took away any lingering inhibitions. Coop pulls Jimmy in for a rough kiss. After a few seconds, Jimmy pulls away, stunned by what has happened. He looks at Coop like he's never really known him. Then he looks at him like this is what he's been missing all his life. He pulls Coop back to him, a kiss of tenderness to make up for the brute force of the last one.
Needless to say, you don't see a lot of kisses between men on TV, especially network TV. This scene is a knockoff of Brokeback Mountain, especially with the wife watching from the window, but I thought it worked very well in this setting, and I never believed I was watching straight actors playing gay roles, as I did in parts of Brokeback.
Jimmy is torn between his family and his partner. In the parking lot of the station house, Coop tries to convince Jimmy to spend more time with him. Jimmy says that they're sick. Coop says no, they aren't sick. So many people in the world are stuck in loveless relationships. He tells Jimmy the two of them are the lucky ones. Then, in a subtle yet surprisingly erotic scene, the two of them (who can't exactly make out while on duty) graze the backs of their hands together. Both of these sequences have a mixture of anger, lust, and passion, and submission to long-repressed feelings, with a maturity that I have almost never seen presented in gay relationships on TV.
Unfortunately, a cop who hated Coop was spying on them, and tells Coop's father (a powerful officer). He confronts his son, who confirms that he's gay, and that he's in a relationship with Jimmy. Coop refuses the idea that he's sick or he's actually straight. The father disowns the son and works with the cop who hates his son to get Coop alone on a call. The father believes his son will get some sense beaten into him. He doesn't realize that the other cop plans to kill Coop.
Coop and Jimmy are about to go on the call when another cop makes a homophobic slur to Jimmy. This is done to keep Jimmy from going along, and it works. Jimmy tells Coop he wants a new partner. When Coop tries to change his mind, Jimmy spits that he's "no queer" and walks away. Coop, crushed, drives off. Jimmy goes out with a rookie. After Coop arrives at the call, he's shot, twice, at close range. Dying, he uses the radio to contact Jimmy. He can't quite bring himself to say that he loves Jimmy, but they both know that's what he's saying. His last words are to remind Jimmy that they're the lucky ones.
40 years later, and Coop's father has accepted, much too late, his son's homosexuality; he just wants him back. His father and the cop who pulled the trigger are arrested. Lily talks to Jimmy, who had kept this agonizing secret to himself for all those years. She tells him Coop was right. They were the lucky ones. Jimmy's eyes well up with tears and all he can say is, "I miss him."
The final scene is of Jimmy going back to the parking lot, the last place he saw Coop. He sees Coop, and a younger version of himself, in their cop uniforms. Coop is leaning against their police car, a slight smile on his face, waiting for Jimmy. Jimmy joins him, placing his hand on top of Coop's hand. They fade away. With this closure, the older Jimmy walks into the night.
This was really an incredible episode. Melodramatic, yes, but some of the most effective drama is melodrama. Previous cop shows have presented homosexuality as either a sickness you can't get away from ("The FBI", "Hill Street Blues"), or in more recent years, have focused the story on straight characters who show how noble they are by defending a homosexual or solving their murder ("Law & Order", "NYPD Blue"). Never on network television have we seen this storyline from the perspective of a gay cop. Never have we seen the perspective of a homosexual.
The episode takes great pains to tell us that even if Coop and Jimmy were not perfect men, their love for each other was true, and special. Coop is not presented as someone to pity. He is a strong and proud man whose murder shatters the lives of those who loved him. He's honest, and his honesty kills him, but it's those who lived lies like Jimmy or like Coop's father who paid the real price - decades of loneliness and misery.
This was the most subversive gay storyline I have ever seen on most network TV, or cable TV for that matter. One of the bogeymen Americans have in terms of gay rights is the mental image of gay sex. Two masculine men, two cops, not only kissing, but pining for each other, yearning for each other? It's unheard of. That hand-grazing scene, how palpable the forbidden aspect of their love for each other is - this is communicating an intimacy between men that is rarely even hinted at in the media. The final scene, of these two cops in uniform holding hands, finally able to openly show their love for each other, is overwhelming.
Best of all, there is no "very special episode" flavor quality to the storyline. This just happens to be a soapy, star-crossed romance between two men. There is no paralyzing awkwardness. This is the type of honest-to-god love story that gays have never been allowed to have on mainstream TV, right down to the big melodramatic death scene where Coop radios Jimmy in his final moments.
I can't really explain to any of you how this episode made me feel. I know it's silly to get so emotional about a TV show, but finally, finally seeing this type of passionate love story on my TV, between men, a small glimpse of myself, when I have rarely, if ever seen any representation of myself on TV, but I was incredibly moved at what happened between Coop and Jimmy. How many viewers out there were, like me, wiping away a few tears when these two men faded away? How many viewers out there, unlike me, have never accepted or understood the idea of love between members of the same sex, and now may change their prejudices?
This episode was broadcast to 14 million people. Men kissing. Men touching. Men being in love. And remarkably, there has been no real backlash, although the clips posted on Youtube were removed while clips from other "Cold Case" episodes remain. Still, there is a good chance that anti-gay organizations may be writing in angry letters, so if you have a chance, especially if you saw this episode, please write CBS and Cold Case via their website or regular mail:
COLD CASE Production Office
7800 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
or call 323-575-2345
If any clips from this episode show up, or when it repeats again on TNT sometime in the next few weeks, I'll let you know. This is a very, very special moment for TV, and like many groundbreaking programs, has been almost completely unheralded. I want you to get to see what I did and I want to hear your opinion, good or bad.