Sunday, February 20, 2011

Weekend TV: Life 2.4

Crews and Reese investigate a murder that took place in a recreation of the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment. Meanwhile, Captains past and present meet when Davis's new partner discharges his weapon and is brought to Tidwell for questioning.

This is one of the most important episodes in the series, as it explicitly underlines Charlie's situation, and his noir standing. There is a certain subset of noir that explores heroes who are forced to act like criminals, and the darkness they find within themselves as a result. DEAD RECKONING and DESPERATE, both 1947, are probably the best examples, but there are others. Some of the "bad cop" noirs of the 50s might be included. LIFE takes this concept and merges it with the ideas behind the Stanford Prison Experiment and a conspiracy storyline to create its meta-narrative

There are several scenes I want to point out in this episode. It starts out with this conversation between Charlie and Ted explicitly stating that despite his standing as a policeman, there are things Charlie does that are not legal:

This next clip not only demonstrates the mind-set of someone fully invested in the experiment, which mirrors Charlie's real-life experience, but it also shows the violence Charlie is still capable of:

This next line reflects what Kyle Hollis said in the first episode of the season:

So, if the perception is that all people who are in jail must have done something, whether or not it was the thing they were convicted for, how does one adapt to this new perception? They become the other:

And when one has successfully become the other, is there any road back? If you are offered a life-line, will you take it? This scene that immediately precedes the last suggests that the transition to becoming yourself is not so easy.

There is a lot of very noir-ish doubling in this episode, as students become guards and prisoners, and as the guards themselves become prisoners of the system:

Charlie, of course, is the ultimate double, as a cop who becomes a con who becomes a cop. And in this analogy, the professor becomes the warden, whether he likes it or not. This scene shows Charlie confronting him with the idea, as well as giving insight not only into what Charlie's worst fear is, but reflecting, through the entire episode, what his worst fear was, as a cop going into prison, and how he managed to survive for 14 years, not to mention another look at the violence that lives within him.

This last scene provides us with not only a glimpse into the lengths Charlie had to go to survive in prison (or was it just intimidation tactics he and Ted learned there) as well as giving us a final doubling, as the warden becomes the prisoner in his own jail.

And here's the philosophical coda:

In the end, the student became a killer because he "accepted that he was a convict," according to Reese, and killing was within his definition of a convict, in order to survive. Here, we see Charlie passing on advice, another clue to how he survived and, through his own doubling, a ray of hope that he may ultimately be able to find his way back to who he was.

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