Character Studies 18: Five Heroic Moments

Despite Season Four’s foray into high society parties and fashion shoots, the series mostly takes place in Bay City, a fictional enclave somewhere near South Central Los Angles. With its dingy streets and chain link fences, dusty corner stores and dangerous streets, you wouldn’t expect to find too many shining examples of humanity. And yet there are moments when ordinary people rise to their best selves in a moment of crisis. The armour they have built to survive – tough, profane, aggressively stupid or just blandly uncaring – drops for a instant, and we see who they might have been under different circumstances. A hero is someone who performs a selfless action to aid another, and selflessness is at the heart of all these moments. They’re not exactly rescuing infants from raging infernos, but these five people act for the greater good, often at grave personal cost.

Notably, most of the names on this list are women. I’m going to make a major generalization here, but throughout history women have a special core of empathy enduring in some form or another through poverty, violence, addiction and loss. They are also more apt to be denigrated, enslaved and otherwise wounded by those in power, and so any gesture of defiance, no matter how small, is more momentous for it.

Carla Iverson in “Survival” (Katherine Charles). This is a small role, the smallest in this list, but that doesn’t negate its power. Both Paul Michael Glaser and Katherine Charles are more physical than verbal in their scene together, her pulling away and him drawing in close. Carla is at the lowest point in her life, and you can see the hallmarks of addiction and abuse wearying every move she makes. In the beginning she is reluctant to talk, nearly surly, and it takes Starsky’s unusual charisma – a mix of authority, intimacy, and calm – to break through. Yes, she gives up the name Starsky wants to save her own skin, but she does it more as a response to Starsky’s desperation than her own.

Theresa in “The Shootout” (Jess Walton). Theresa is in a double bind in this wonderful real-time episode from Season One. She is both the problem and the solution, a person disastrously deflected by a quest for reprisal yet still able to redeem herself by keeping calm and making rational choices. She is in the most immediate danger of any person on this list – not only are two guns are pointed at her the whole time, but two warring gangs will not forget her betrayal. She must also quiet the voice inside her screaming for bloody revenge, and instead act selflessly for the sake of everyone around her.

RC Turner in “Silence” (Jason Bernard). We don’t know much about Turner’s life, but he has spent serious time in prison, probably comes from nothing, has had bad luck his whole life. Head injuries while in prison result in his deafness, further isolating him from society. He’s a bitter, untrusting man who has a single friend in this world, his roommate, the mildly mentally disabled Larry Horvath. Like Carla Ivers, Turner must overcome a lifetime of suspicion and hatred of the police in order to help his friend. He also transforms into a better person because of it.

Nurse Bycroft in “Murder Ward” (Fran Ryan). Fran Ryan’s stony, hulking presence is used to good effect here as a nurse in a psychiatric institution who uses intimidation to rule the roost. Yet her cold exterior masks a woman in the process of silently reevaluating the events around her, and her role in those events. Obviously a conservative, by-the-book follower, with fascist tendencies to boot, she nevertheless breaks free of those bonds in a moment of compassion at the sight of a patient unfairly restrained.

Hannah Kanen in “Deck watch” (Susan French). Wheelchair-bound and elderly, Hannah’s bravery is especially poignant. Without any biographical information, we can imagine she comes from a cultured background, possibly a wealthy one, a tough survivor who has seen humanity at its lowest. A refugee from Europe of the 1930s, perhaps? However she came by them, those indestructible good manners save the day. Her refusal to either be afraid of Hector Salias or turn a blind eye to his suffering saves everybody’s lives.

Special mention goes to Joy in “Gillian” (Joanna DeVarona). Even though she never says a word on-camera, Joy shows great bravery when she spills the beans about the Grossmans.

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One Response to “Character Studies 18: Five Heroic Moments”

  1. Dianna Says:

    Those are beautiful vignettes, and powerful moments. RC’s heroism is the one that moved me the most, because of the huge amount of personal growth required to overcome his initial prejudice against the cops. It suggests that maybe his life can move in a more positive direction from now on.

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