Deep Space Nine’s ‘Duet’: Cowardly Bugs, Opaque Lies and a Man In A Glass Box – Part 3

war, ds9, duet, khakgothic

Editor’s note: This 3-part blog series on war crime, with special attention to the representation of Nazis in prime-time American TV, was written before the events in August in Charlottesville, VA and are not reflective or responsive of contemporary events involving terror white supremacy, neo-Naziism groups, etc. As this 3-part blog series focuses on the fictional representations of war criminals in American television, thoughtful discussions are absolutely welcome on topic. I understand that these topics have become more relevant in current politics; however let me be clear about where I stand on this issue. I absolutely denounce racism and bigotry of all kinds, and consider this a safe place for open and thoughtful discussion. Any comments encouraging racism, white supremacy, anti-semitism, anti-social behaviour and violence will not be tolerated; comments will be reported and removed. 

This blog entry is part three of three: the purpose of which is to explore how survivors of war crimes are treated in various pointss of genre television. The other two blogs focus on the famous 1961 episode ‘Death’s Dead Revisited (DHR)’ from the anthology science fiction programme in the The Twilight Zone. Another entry will focus on Magnum P.I. 1981 episode ‘Never Again… Never Again (NANA)’. Click here if you missed the blog on ‘DHR‘ and here if you missed ‘NANA‘. 

This entry will explore a 1993 episode of ‘Duet’, from the first series of Deep Space Nine (also referred to here as DS9). As always, spoilers are included.

This particular episode does require background discussion on DS9. If you are intimately familiar with DS9, feel free to skip to the suggested post, but if you’re unfamiliar with the programme or could use a refresher (or just want to understand more about the angle I’m approaching DS9), please grab a cup of tea and some biscuits, read the background discussion blog first at the link above, and then return here for the discussion on the episode ‘Duet’.

Ready for ‘Duet’? Set the kettle, get another cup of tea and settle in, it’s time to talk war.

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Duet‘ – DS9 – 
Season 1, Episode 19
Aired: 13 June 1993
Story By: Lisa Rich, Jeanne Carrigan-Fauci
Teleplay by: Peter Allan Fields
Directed by: James L Conway

First, some context to the story. ‘Duet’ is clearly inspired by the plot of Robert Shaw’s 1967 novel/ stage play/1975 film The Man in the Glass Booth‘: Shaw’s story tells of a man accused of being a Nazi war criminal. The play is inspired by the factual events surrounding the kidnap and the trial of the German Nazi SS Oversturmbannführer, Adolf Eichmann, a major organiser of the Holocaust, and the question of whether he is Arthur Goldman, a Jewish Nazi death camp survivor.

As discussed in the first blog in this series on the treatment of war criminals in fictional television, the Eichmann trial also inspired the episode ‘Deaths-Head Revisited’ in The Twilight Zone (and had a brief mention and similar plot in Magnum P.I.’s ‘NANA’). Kidnapped by the Israeli Secret Service, Goldman is extradited from Manhattan to Israel for trial. The title of the play, ‘Man in the Glass Booth’ references the fact that Goldman is placed in a bullet-proof glass box during the trial as he gives his testimony. The film adaptation, stars Maximillian Schell  and was nominated for several awards, including an Academy Award for Best Actor.

‘Duet’:

In ‘Duet’, the setting is far more intimate: the kangaroo court is absent, the politicians kept largely at bay – in fact, the politicians (in this case, Sisko (Avery Brooks) and Dukat (Marc Alaimo) are never in the same room during the interrogations. It could be argued that their discussions have so little bearing on the dramatic action of the story that they could have been deleted all together with little to no real impact on the story itself.

But the core of Shaw’s story – an interrogator versus an accused war criminal in a cell – remains. One of, if not the best episode of DS9, and arguably one of the best episodes of any Star Trek television ever, ‘Duet’ lives up to the title: focusing on an interrogation and verbal sparring — a dance– between a former soldier (as interrogator) and an accused war criminal.  There are no typical ‘sci-fi’ events with alien incursions or an unknown cosmic event; no emergency situations that showcase how clever or capable the Starfleet characters are. If it weren’t for the fact that through prosthetics and costume, the characters intentionally look a bit alien, this could quite easily be an adaptation of Shaw’s play or a one-act play.

This 45-minute episode is what one might call a ‘bottle‘ episode: there are few other sets utilised, there are only a handful of characters who appear. The general mis-en-scene for this episode complies to DS9‘s general gothic aesthetic: dark lighting, muted grey tones, and generally on the colder scales for lighting. One key way this episode is aesthetically different from other DS9 episodes is that it is generally visually quiet and static: the station is quite often a busy and somewhat loud station with a lot going on in the background – something that certainly distances itself from the other Trek series.

Minimalism is highly effective within this episode, and the pace of the show is dependent entirely upon the intensity of the interrogation sequences. For the majority of the episode, it is just about a soldier trying to understand the identity and truth about the man who is locked in the booth in front of her. Actress Nana Visitor as Kira and actor Harris Yulin as the accused, Marritza, are expected to hold the attention of the audience for the the majority of the episode – to both continue to force the story to simmer to a slow, rising boil without letting it blow over. And they do. Incredibly, they do. Both Visitor and Yulin give a outstanding and yet subtle performances – it would have been very easy to have over-acted in this episode, and both actors manage to give an absolutely stunning and heartbreaking performance. 

The plot of ‘Duet’ is brilliant in its simplicity, consisting primarily of a verbal sparring between Kira and a man in custody, Marritza, that she believes is a war criminal. There is the question of his identity: who is this man?

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How it starts: a ship passing through informs DS9 that a man on board suffers from a condition known as Kalla-Nohra Syndrome. Kira is eager to meet the man – the only people who have this condition were residents of the Gallitep labour camp during the war. Kira helped liberate the camp; believing the man to be a Bajoran war survivor, Kira discovers that the man is a Cardassian – one who must have been at Gallitep himself.

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The man claims to be Aamin Marritza, a file clerk – what Magnum’s Higgins would call a ‘little fish’ during the war. Marritza’s story changes several times: he initially claims he does not have Kalla-Nohra, but a similar condition known as Pottrik’s Syndrome. A medical examination proves that this is a lie: he has Kalla-Nohra, and he was, indeed, present when the mining accident occurs at Gallitep. He then admits that he was at Gallitep, but claims he was merely a simple administrator.

Whether he claims to be a ‘little fish’ or not, Marritza was with the men who committed war atrocities – something Kira is quick to point out. This idea of the ‘little fish’ is something that is relevant both in this discussion, as well as the discussions for the next blogs on Twilight Zone and Magnum, P.I. – as these episodes often centre on the question of just how culpable are the ‘little fish’ – are they war criminals for doing what they were told, or are they, as their superiors, responsible for war atrocities that occur? More on this later.

Initially, Marritza is impudent when Kira tries to interrogate him. He compliments the food he is eating, but adds it might have been better with sauce. He smiles as he chats – he could be talking about the weather. Is this a performance because he’s frightened? Because he is proud of his time at Gallitep? Because he wants to torment her?

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As he says this, he playfully lifts his cloth napkin over his face as if awaiting a death squad. It is a gallows humour – a form of humour DS9 often engages with, and yet another element that separates it from other Trek series. For more on humour, Gothic and war – what I call ‘Khaki Gothic‘, see the link. More to come on DS9 and ‘Khaki Gothic’ in future blogs.

Kira is not amused at Marritza’s attempts at humour. The interrogation continues: she demands to know his role at Gallitep:

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Politics then circle in the background: the Cardassians demand he be returned, as he is a Cardassian citizen who has committed no crime on the station. Bajor wants to put the man on trial for war crimes. The Federation, playing ‘peace keeper’, is caught between the two.

If he is this war criminal that Kira believes him to be, there is no direct evidence he has committed any crime. As a Cardassian citizen with no official record of a war crime, to whom does he belong: the Cardassians who committed the war atrocities in the first place? The Federation peace-keepers, who need to keep both the Cardassians and Bajor at peace? Bajor, ravaged by war and needing closure? The episode thoroughly interrogates a very difficult question: after a war, what is necessary to allow a culture – both of those who committed the atrocities, as well as those who suffered from them — to move on? What is the difference between justice and vengeance when it comes to punishment? Is everyone involved guilty? Are there the ‘little fish’ who were ‘just following orders’, or was Higgins right in Magnum in declaring ‘there were no little fish’? None of these questions have easy answers – in fact, they might not have answers at all. DS9 allows these questions to be asked, but leaves them hanging – they don’t attempt to answer these questions, nor are they foolish enough to proclaim there are answers to be had.

war, ds9, duet, khakgothicThe politics are, however, primarily kept contained and to the background, and have no real bearing on what is happening between Kira and Marritza. The main focus of the episode depends on the interrogation scenes between Kira and Marritza.

They play, primarily, with an invisible wall between them: Marritza in his cell, and Kira at a distance. Highly unusual, there is no subplot for the episode, meaning there is no escape from the dour and intense energy that builds and builds and builds, waiting to pop. The directing in this episode is intense and intimate. The camera is used effectively in the interrogation scenes: starting at a longer two-shot, the distance between the two characters is framed carefully:

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war, ds9, duet, khakgothic

The characters remain static: it is the camera that moves with the intensity of the dialogue. As each character becomes more affected from the conversations, the shots change: focusing on faces and body language, the space between the two becomes more contained:

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And then, as the dialogue becomes more intense, the camera moves even closer, pulling in to tight shots that remove the space around each character, creating an emotionally charged and intimate scene visual:

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Kira, as a character, often struggles to maintain control of herself in intense situations: she has a temper and must often work to control herself. Here, she leaves the interrogation, probably to avoid killing Marritza.

During one of these breaks, Kira and her friend Dax (Terry Farrell) have a brief discussion regarding whether Kira is after justice or vengeance.

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war, ds9, duet, khakgothic

Again, there is an active question for culpability: if Marritza is ‘just a file clerk’, does this make him a war criminal? Is he just a ‘little fish’ following orders and therefore not responsible? Kira’s concern that he could be ‘just a file clerk’ suggests a manoeuvrability in his culpability – that some people, like Dukat, were more guilty than others.

In trying to confirm Marritza’s identity, Kira gets her wish: new photographic evidence shows Marritza is not ‘just a file clerk’, but the commander of the labour camp, Gul Darhe’el, known as ‘Butcher of Gallitep’.

Marritza:

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Darhe’el (the man in the cell):

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Kira once again goes to interrogate the man in the cell. She informs him that they have discovered his true identity, and that Bajor is preparing for his war crimes tribunal.

His impudence seems to flourish, declaring,

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Marritza/Darhe’el’s impudence turns to a sort of mad pride, however, when Kira tells him that she’s had enough of his lies:

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war, ds9, duet, khakgothic

The delighted tone of his voice and the horror of his words are too much, even for someone like Kira who witnessed these very atrocities first hand.

Things take an interesting turn, however, when a leader of Cardassia, Gul Dukat, informs the station that the man in the cell cannot possibly be Gul Darhe’el as they claim: Darhe’el died several years ago. After further research, the conclusion is inevitable:  Darhe’el could not have contracted Kalla-Nohra because he was not on the planet at the time. Doctor Bashir also discovers that the man in the cell had been taking medication after reconstructive surgery.

Once again, Kira goes in to interrogate the man in the cell. There is only one conclusion to make:

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The brazen swagger breaks: Marritza breaks down in tears – and the façade of the vicious warrior crumbles. He continues:

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war, ds9, duet, khakgothic

The war between Cardassia and Bajor have been explained in previous episodes of the programme; the reputation of Kira as a freedom fighter against oppression has been well established within the programme by this point.  Yes, ‘Duet’ takes care to remind the audience of the war, remind us that Kira was a soldier — that as far as the Cardassians are concerned, it is Kira who is the war criminal; and to remind us that the Cardassian in the cell might be a war criminal. But the elegance in the script is the silence: the astonished expression on Kira’s face as he brazenly brags about destruction; the apparent hungry ravishing expression on his face as he relives the war in his mind… the delicacy as his voice, so audacious and excited, as it breaks – as he breaks – into tears, revealing that he was, truly Marritza all along, pretending to be Darhe’el in hopes of being put to death.

His pleading words, half drown in sobs, echo Kira’s own: ‘he’s guilty. They’re all guilty.’ And, like Kira, his concern is for his people: both Kira and Marritza declare that his death is necessary for each of their people to move forward. Facing death as ‘just a file clerk’ – that ‘little fish’, a ‘bug’ – is not enough to heal both Bajor and Cardassia. A leader – the Butcher of Gallitep – must shed blood. To heal blood from the lost, blood must be given: Darhe’el was already dead – Marritza was willing to die as Darhe’el to do this. And as he pleads with Kira to allow him to face the trial, Kira is visibly affected.

Kira refuses to hand him over as Darhe’el. As the forcefield turns off, she walks toward him. He cowers in the corner: he’s not afraid of her injuring him, he’s afraid of her showing compassion to him.

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But where Twilight Zone and Magnum P.I. focus solely on the damage done to the prisoners held in the labour camps, DS9 opens this up to also examine the possibility of damage done to those inside the camps who were not actually prisoners, questioning whether everyone who was present is completely accountable for all the atrocities within the camp. What is the place for a man like Marritza, the ‘little fish’ or the ‘bug’? Villain? Victim? Coward? A cowardly ‘bug’ who hates himself so much for standing by the atrocities that he literally transforms himself into his own enemy, hoping to be put to death? 

In the end, Kira decides that whatever he might be, Marritza cannot not be held accountable for the atrocities of war. Marritza himself tells her that she is making a mistake in letting him go:

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Kira escorts him to the shuttle to return back to Cardassian space where he can get some psychological help.

As they walk, a Bajoran on the promenade stabs Marritza, who falls quickly.

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When the Bajoran stabs Marritza, it is Kira who catches him. As Marritza dies, it is Kira who holds him, tears in her eyes. The man she so willingly would have killed only a short while ago, she now mourns:

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The episode fades to black on an obviously distraught Kira. The credits roll.

Like both the Twilight Zone and Magnum episodes discussed in other posts,Duet’ focuses specifically on the after effects of war. In each of these episodes, the present, post-war world is forced to examine how to treat a war criminal, questioning the difference between justice and vengeance. And, in each of these episodes, the question of justice for those associated with the atrocities is front and centre. And, like these shows, DS9 allows the question of the ‘little fish who was just following orders’ to be asked. Here, however, there seems to be a bit of manoeuvrability: for Higgins, ‘there were no little fish’. The question of whether Marritza was ‘just a file clerk’ is forefront: Initially, like Higgins, Kira suggests that even just being there during the atrocities is a crime in and of itself. But even Kira questions this: she tells Dax, ‘they’re all guilty’, and yet she wants Marritza to be ‘something worse’ in order to justify a trial against him.

Twilight Zone’s Lutze, unrepentant, goes mad in the end of ‘Deaths-Head Revisited’; Lena and Saul, unrepentant, are killed in ‘Never Again… Never Again’ in Magnum.  In DS9‘s  ‘Duet’, however, Marritza, obviously repentant, still faces destruction in the end (both madness and death). Perhaps there is no peace for anyone involved in war on any side. He spent five years turning himself into Darhe’el (a man he hated) just so that he could pay for Darhe’el’s crimes because Darhe’el never did. It is a noble, sad and specific form of madness. Honourable or not, his attempt to sacrifice himself, however, is refused, and his ultimate death will not even serve to offer the shred of restoration he sought. It is, in the end, yet another senseless death that shouldn’t have happened.

And this is one of the biggest differences between the three episodes: TZ and Magnum  declare that ‘there were no little fish’: that everyone involved on the side of the occupation was guilty. ‘Duet’ is a bit more nuanced. Kira may start out in a world of stark absolutes of right and wrong, but she ends up in the grey in between. In short, Kira comes to believe that there were, indeed, ‘little fish’ like Marritza who not only should not be held responsible for the war atrocities committed by his people, because he could not possibly have stopped them. He had, as so many had, suffered.

The atrocities were not inflicted on him personally, so is he a victim? He was not the one who ordered or carried out the atrocities, so is he a good man? Was Marritza a victim for being conscripted into a military service he never wanted to be in?  Was he guilty just by being in the camp itself? Was he a villain for cowering under his bed with his hands over his ears to block out the screams — for not standing up against the atrocities and facing death himself? Was he a bad man for intentionally trying to deceive the Bajoran people into thinking they had killed Darhe’el, the Butcher of Gallitep? Or was he a good man for going through such an elaborate charade to try to help Bajor and Cardassia? Will Kira be seen by her people as a traitor in attempting to protect a war criminal from the trial?Although Kira comes to see a scale of grey between the two, it is also made quite clear that others will never see it that way. Clearly, the Bajoran who murders Marritza believes there are no ‘little fish’ or ‘bugs’:  If there are no ‘little fish’ or ‘bugs’ in wars like this, isn’t the death of ‘just a file clerk’ – better than nothing if it helps both Cardassia and Bajor heal?

The beauty of this episode is that it prompts these questions without forcing an answer. The point, it seems, for ‘Duet’ is not to answer any of these questions, but to encourage the audience to ask them – and to encourage the audience to realise that there may be no real answers.

Rod Serling warns in Twilight Zone‘s ‘Deaths-Head Revisited’ that ‘a place like Dachau cannot exist only in Bavaria.’ I think Serling would agree — and despair —  the horrific truth that even in a utopian society like that in Star Trek, there is another Dachau because people will always find a way to kill each other in the name of an idealised ‘purity’. Serling warns:

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Twilight Zone warns that Dachau must continue stand as a reminder to the events that occurred there so they will not happen again; similarly, Magnum, P.I. warns against this repetition of events in the very title of ‘Never Again… Never Again’.

In ‘Deaths-Head Revisited’ Captain Lutze, gleefully trying to relive what he saw as the glory days, dissolves into madness. In ‘Never Again… Never Again’, Saul and Lena, refusing to see the horrors they themselves created, are hunted down by their own pasts, killed by the ghosts they themselves create. And what of Marritza? Out of all three episodes, DS9 simultaneously presents both the most forgiving attitude toward war criminals, offering the question that maybe the ‘bugs’ like Marritza can also be seen as victims of the war as well as the villains, but also the most pessimistic view of war in general: and that is, there will always be another Holocaust. Deep Space Nine fulfils the promise that Serling made: ‘the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers’. Kira, so hell-bent on making Marritza pay, would happily murder him — until she sees the shades of grey between villain and victim. Her realisations mean nothing: someone else becomes the gravedigger, and in killing Marritza, the graveyard grows. No one heals, no justice is served: there is only death.

The very idea of the Star Trek series is built upon the idea that people will learn from their mistakes, stop the cycle of destruction and war, and move beyond this. That in recognising and remembering places like Dachau, we can avoid the mistakes that were made, that we can become better than we are and evolve. But ‘Duet’ intentionally works against this: hate and war is presented as a never-ending cycle: one side is attacked, and the other returns the attack. For Twilight Zone and Magnum, awareness of the atrocities can try to stop them from happening again somewhere else. But awareness saves no one in ‘Duet’.

So rarely does the optimistic Trek franchise face the possibility that, despite all advancements to become more evolved, people will still ultimately destroy. But Deep Space Nine proves that the horrors of war are not a distant memory confined to the past, but something that is real, present, and repeated. Remembering makes no difference – hate and prejudice will survive. The fact that Deep Space Nine‘s final series (and, to a lesser extent, the last series in The Next Generation ends with an approaching war proves this.

By displacing many of the events and situations of WWII onto a distant planet or a space station in the future, with aliens, there is an interesting development: despite all attempts to ensure there is never another Dachau, there is clearly another, although it goes by a different name, in this case, Gallitep. There will always be those leaders, fictionally represented in Captain Lutze and Gul Darhe’el who seek to destroy. There will always be the ‘little fish,’ the ‘bugs’ like Marritza, Lena and Saul – people who take orders and do what they’re told. The names change, as do the locations; whether set in space on a distant planet, or somewhere a bit closer to earth, there is never going to just be one Holocaust.

Cultures being exterminated by another, labour camps filled with screams and bodies, and someone to excuse those events is unconscionable. There will always be another war, another occupation, another interrogation of a war criminal, another murder, and again, another war. A new war with a new name starts just as the last war to end all wars ends. 

Making no attempts to justify or excuse the war atrocities, ‘Duet’ ends with a sour reminder: There might be room for a grey scale in villainy, and even forgiveness for those who stood by and did nothing (the ‘little fish’ and the ‘bugs’). However, it is clear about one thing: even through awareness and an attempt at avoidance, war is something that will never end, and hate can only ever breed hate.  The war between Bajor and Cardassia has ended: and yet, the death continues. Bajorans died by the hands of Cardassians; now Cardassians die at the hands of the Bajorans. Hate and death can only ever lead to more hate and death.

For DS9, there will always be another Dachau, another Captain Lutze, another Lena and Saul running the death camps. There will always be another Alfred Becker, dying in the camps. There will always be another Kira, fighting to liberate victims, another Marritza who cries under his camp bed and does nothing. There will always be a duet between the interrogator and the accused. Only the players have changed: the dance of death never will.

 

‘When you’re wearing a green tuxedo, you dance where they tell you’.  ~Colonel Potter,  ‘Too Many Cooks, M*A*S*H

 

 

Magnum P.I.’s ‘Never Again… Never Again’: “Little Fish”, Surprise Nazis and the Question of the War Criminal – Part 2/3

Editor’s note: This 3-part blog series on war crime, with special attention to the representation of Nazis in prime-time American TV, was written before the events in August in Charlottesville, VA and are not reflective or responsive of contemporary events involving terror white supremacy, neo-Naziism groups, etc. As this 3-part blog series focuses on the fictional representations of war criminals in American television, thoughtful discussions are absolutely welcome on topic. I understand that these topics have become more relevant in current politics; however let me be clear about where I stand on this issue. I absolutely denounce racism and bigotry of all kinds, and consider this a safe place for open and thoughtful discussion. Any comments encouraging racism, white supremacy, anti-semitism, anti-social behaviour and violence will not be tolerated; comments will be reported and removed. 

This blog entry is part two of three: the purpose of this series is to explore how perpertrators of war crimes are treated after the war in various points of genre television. Part one of this blog explores an episode of The Twilight Zone (referred to in this blog as TZ) episode ‘Deaths-Head Revisited’, and contextualises the attitudes of Rod Serling, post-war attitudes in the 1960s, as well as some historical background of the programme.  If you missed Part one and wish to read it now, please click here. Below, this second blog will focus on the 1981 episode of Magnum, P.I., ‘Never Again… Never Again’. The final entry in this 3-part blog series focuses on a 1993 episode, ‘Duet’, in the science fiction programme Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Each blog will examine how those who committed crimes of war are treated within these television episodes. As always, spoilers are ahead.

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‘Never Again… Never Again’ – Magnum, P.I.
Season 1, Episode 7
Aired: 22 January 1981
Story by: Jim CarlsonTerrence McDonnell Teleplay by: Babs Greyhosky
Directed by: Robert Loggia

Magnum, as an hour-long programme (45 minutes without adverts) is afforded more time for a more complex narrative – as well as cast. It is an interesting idea, but unlike ‘DHR’ and ‘Duet’, Magnum is an action-adventure programme. The opening credits show you exactly what to expect: helicopter chases, Hawaiian beaches, guns, Tom Selleck without a shirt, flashbacks to ‘Nam, Navy uniforms, explosions, beautiful bikini-clad women, car chases, Higgins with a cannon, random tomfoolery with his friends Rick and T.C., more fights, more beaches — all done with a flirtatious and knowing wink from Tom Selleck as he smiles at the camera.

 

As always, some context in this programme and this era is important. DHR in TZ was less than two decades away from the end of WWII – and as such, the appearance of Nazis in TZ made a bit more sense. Even Magnum is a bit incredulous at the idea of fighting Nazis in 1981 Hawaii – and Rick shows more than a little concern, saying ‘Thomas, I don’t know if I’m ready for Nazis!’

Let’s get this out of the way: ‘Never Again… Never Again (NANA)’ is not a great episode – certainly not one of Magnum‘s best (and definitely no ‘Did you See the Sunrise!’). But this blog isn’t concerned with whether or not this is a good episode: my main concern in this blog post is how Magnum deals with the idea of the escaped/unpunished war criminal. 

In ‘DHR’, a former SS Captain, Lutze, tours Dachau, the concentration camp he was formerly in charge of during the war. Lutze has escaped any formal punishment, and in the end of the episode, Lutze descends into madness. Twilight Zone takes a very harsh attitude toward those who, like Lutze, look at war through a lens of nostalgia and fail to appreciate the gravity and horror of the Holocaust.  A mere 14 years after the war ended, Jewish veteran Serling is understandably resolutely unsympathetic to those who, like Lutze, ‘decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard.’ His message is clear: those who romanticise or fail to recognise the horrors of the Holocaust will be punished – either in this life, or the next. 

Magnum, P.I. (1980-1988) approaches the Nazi war criminal 36 years after the end of WWII. In ‘NANA’, the focus on escaped Nazis of WWII can seem somewhat out of character for a programme that focuses so strongly on the Vietnam War. Like both Twilight Zone (TZ) and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9)Magnum is a show very much preoccupied with war – in fact, it would be fair to say that out of these three programmes, Magnum focuses the most consistently on war, repercussions of war, and cultural memory of conflict. TZ and DS9 are science fiction programmes that frequently make direct commentary on war – sometimes in terms of historical wars, and sometimes in terms of fictional wars based upon historical conflict. 

Magnum is different: the four principle characters are all veterans of war. Thomas Magnum (Tom Selleck) and his friends Rick Wright (Larry Manetti) and T.C. Calvin (Roger E. Mosley) each served together during the Vietnam War. John Jonathan Higgins (Magnum’s best friend/most hated adversary depending on the day, played by John Hillerman) is retired British Sergeant Major who served in both WWII and Korea, and is, as Elizabeth Hirschman describes, representative of ‘the pomposity, elitism, and stuffiness of the Old Guard (literally and figuratively)’. Moreover, as discussed in the Part 1 blog on TZ, Rod Serling created TZ as a safe place to both discuss and analyse war from his own experiences in the US Army. Magnum, P.I. was similarly informed from first-hand experience, as Selleck served in the National Guard, and Hillerman served in the US Air Force. 

War is certainly an ever-present character in Magnum, but not always one that is immediately commented upon. Most episodes are splintered with flashbacks to ‘Nam: some of the flashbacks are addressed within the future, but very often the stories are left hanging as character backstory within the present narrative. Magnum, T.C. and Rick generally do not discuss the Vietnam War, and Higgins is prone to telling war stories: this conforms to the American cultural attitudes of WWII as a ‘romanticised’ war with good stories of heroism and valour in contrast to ‘Nam as a sore wound held within this programme (though there is often an effort to subvert both attitudes frequently within the programme). In fact, Magnum frequently calls Higgins up on his tendency to romanticise his war stories, as seen in this exchange in ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’ (Season 4, episode 13):

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Magnum, P.I., has often been recognised as the first fictional media (film or television programme) that did not demonise veterans and show them as unstable killers, disabled, violent and suffering from debilitating PTSD  (see links  for examples). In general, I would agree with recognising Magnum as one of, if not the first, television programme that showed Vietnam veterans with sensitivity and respect, and that the programme actively tried to represent Vietnam Vets without demonising them.

In an interview with TV Legends, Creator Donald P. Bellasario comments that the portrayals of Vietnam Vets within the media 

 was very negative… [as seen in films like In the Valley of Elah, 2007] That everybody comes back so fucked up. Unable to function. Killers. I’m seeing it all over again. […] It leaves an image of people served that I don’t think is accurate. Because Vietnam was exactly the same way. And when I created Magnum, I got thousands of letters from Vietnam veterans thanking me for portraying Vietnam veterans who were something other than killers and drug addicts and crazy and unable to function in society…I never did the image of the guys that they had been in Vietnam and it had been a waltz, that they just loved it. I never did that. It had been a terrible experience. In fact, the key to Magnum was that after all the tours of duty he did, [when the Vietnam War] ended, he just didn’t know what to do. …The key to the whole show: he woke up one day and realized that he was 35 but he’d never been 25. He decided he was gonna be 25 and have a good time. So he was affected by [war]. And so was TC, and so was Rick. But it was quite a departure for television at that time, or for films. And the Village Voice did an article which said they thought it was a seminal moment in television, a changing to acceptance of Vietnam Veterans that had been a long time coming [.] That it was just time to do it.

This positive representation has been recognised by various mainstream press as well as cultural historians like Thomas Doherty, who argues that 

Magnum P.I. [sic] celebrated a rakish private investigator who was a veteran of naval intelligence in Vietnam, a man who oozed congeniality and psychic ability and who maintained a bond with his equally capable crew of war buddies – the kind of postwar bond that was common in 1940s cinema. [Through] the great wellspring of traumatic stress and residual shame, the Vietnam War was also the only credible back story for a mature action hero to have acquired skill in weaponry and certification of his courage on the field of battle Periodically tormented by flashbacks and night terrors, he was, by and large, a functioning human being whose Vietnam experience informed his police work and dexterity under fire.

Selleck is a driving force in continued recognition for Vietnam Veterans and the recognition of Magnum as a positive influence on culture and society in terms of Vietnam Veterans, and he serves as a spokesperson for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. In fact, as Selleck explains

Magnum was a show that was taken very seriously. I’m most proud of the fact that Magnum is in the Smithsonian. They recognized [sic] it as the first show that recognized  [sic] Vietnam veterans in a positive light, and that’s why my Detroit hat and my Hawaiian shirt is next to Archie Bunker’s chair. 

As a result of this more sensitive approach to recognise Vietnam veterans in a  more positive light, the programme inter-spliced flashbacks of ‘Nam into nearly every episode. Generally speaking, each of the four primary characters were shown as highly functional despite any lingering PTSD they may have had, though when the plot called for it, it was certainly Magnum who struggled the most in moving forward. The attitude toward Vietnam Vets and Magnum will certainly be an area of interest for future blogs, but for right now, I’m primarily concerned with the generally positive attitude Magnum held in regards to soldiers and veterans, as it influences how the episode ‘Never Again… Never Again’ approaches war and the idea of war crime. 

As argued in Part 1 of this series, Conflict, criminality and atrocities are never easy topics to tackle, especially in television, due to the limited framework of the medium such as time, network restrictions, expectations of the audience, and even budget. TZ, as a half-hour programme, packs a solid and decisive punch in the viewer’s face in ‘DHR’: the cast is minimal, as are the set designs and even dialogue. What sells the punch for ‘DHR’ is the duet between the war criminal, Lutze, and his victim, Alfred Becker.

‘NANA’ seems so concerned with twisting the end to surprise the audience that it fails to deliver a solid punch. In short, this is a programme that concerns itself with action, reaction, and aesthetics. ‘NANA’ is, therefore, primarily focused on these elements and, unlike ‘Duet’ and ‘DHR’, does not necessarily take the time to present a specific point or attitude about how we see war, war criminals and identity. As such, discussing what should happen to those perpetrators of war crimes — in particular, those who have faced no negative consequences for their involvement in war crimes — is a difficult task for any programme, but especially Magnum, P.I.

The plot of ‘NANA’ is simple, if not a bit contrived. Magnum and his friends attempt to help Lena and Saul Greenberg (played by (Hanna Hertelendy and Robert Ellenstein), two Holocaust survivors (pictured below), as they are targeted by a group of Nazi pursuers. 

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Magnum et. al become suspicious when their very dear friends (that we’ve never met), The Greenbergs, announce they’re going on holiday. When Magnum and Rick go to see the Greenbergs at their shop, they find the shop has closed down. Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 12.01.37.png

Worried, they decide to go to the Greenberg’s house to find Saul being taken away in an ambulance with a heart attack. Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 12.04.23.png

When the ambulance does not arrive to the hospital, however, they quickly realise, that Saul has been kidnapped. Rick and Magnum work to calm down Lena to figure out where he might have gone. Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 17.22.22.png 

Magnum asks Lena if she knows who took Saul. 

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Magnum and Lena meet with Dr Heller, Saul’s doctor who has been treating him for his heart – but Lena vehemently announces that Dr Heller is not Saul’s doctor. Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 19.14.37.png

Unlike TZ or DS9, there is no attempt to discuss the horrors of war: imagining an educated viewer who is intimately aware of the Holocaust and Nazis, Magnum instead focuses on Magnum’s efforts to figure out where Saul might be and how to keep Lena safe. Magnum takes Lena to stay on the estate he lives with Higgins on. 

Over a cup of tea, Higgins spots Lena’s Holocaust tattoo, apologises for staring, and remarking, ‘it’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything like that.’  Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 19.16.04.png

Higgins asks which camp she was at, and she replies ‘Jadwiga, Poland’. Fact check: there is no such camp, in fact: it is a fictional camp often used in fictional narratives referencing the Holocaust (such as Leon Uris’s QB VII), and is probably meant to reference Auschwitz, as that is the only camp that tattooed numbers on the prisoners. It is interesting to me that Twilight Zone uses real concentration camps but other shows use fictional ones. I might follow this up at some point in a future post. 

Magnum goes to Lena’s house to get her some clothes for her stay at the estate, and Higgins is attacked trying to save Lena from intruders. When Magnum comes home, he finds Higgins unconscious and calls his friend T.C. to take Higgins to the hospital. Lena is no where to be found. Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 19.18.26.png

Magnum leaves Higgins at the hospital to try to figure out who might have Lena and Saul. He narrates to the audience:

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 17.15.52.pngMagnum contacts Kessler, who asks him to come to his house to discuss the Greenbergs. When Magnum and Rick arrive, however, Kessler is dead. Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 19.20.20.png

It is at this point Magnum starts putting the pieces together. Kessler does have a number tattooed on his arm – he was in a concentration camp. This makes no sense to Magnum, who wonders if Kessler was a Nazi passing as a Jew. Magnum starts searching Kessler’s desk. He finds a picture of Saul and Lena in Kessler’s files:Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 19.17.47.png

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Surmising that Lena killed Kessler, Magnum realises that Saul and Lena are probably on Kessler’s boat. When he arrives, he discovers another member of the Israeli Secret Police dead – Lena has slashed the man’s throat with a scalpel. Lena is in the quarters of the boat sobbing over Saul’s dead body – his heart attack, untreated, has killed him. Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 19.29.00.png

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This exchange is literally the only point in the episode where direct reference is made to the horrors of the concentration camps and the mentality that lead to the camps. In comparison to ‘DHR’, (in which nearly every moment is spent considering the agonies experienced by the prisoners and the sadism of the Nazi officials), the minimal referencing of these in ‘NANA’ has four distinct possibilities for me:

  • Firstly, perhaps it is just a poorly written episode that fails to capture the subject it dares to bring up, or suffers from network limitations.
  • Secondly, it might be attempting to recognise old adage that the unseen/unspoken can often be more frightening than actually acknowledging it, as it forces the audience to fill in the blanks with their own imagination: whether this episode actually does this adequately is certainly up for debate. 
  • Thirdly, perhaps, in the dedication to portraying a more favourable attitude toward soldiers, especially Vietnam veterans who are so often represented within popular media as criminals, Magnum leaves the gravity of these crimes almost entirely unspoken as to avoid looking too harsh on the subject of war crime for fear of making inferences to these veterans.
  • Finally, perhaps because the programme is an action-adventure — one with a distinct comedic presence — Magnum felt it was too heavy a subject to address on only the seventh episode of the programme (though they certainly dealt with heavier topics within the show).

(Or a combination therein).

Regardless of whether the reasons for this minimalism is addressed here, I find it interesting that out of the three shows discussed in this series, the one that engages most consistently with war in this series is the one show that hides away from it so much. 

It is assumed that Magnum takes Lena into custody (though this is not shown to the audience) to pay for her crimes, but no resolution is even hinted at. An interesting take here for Magnum is in having Lena — an elderly woman — the villain of the episode, as this does seem an unusual approach. Magnum certainly tends to have it’s fair share of femme fatales — usually played by actresses like  Sharon Stone. In any case, ‘NANA’ seems more preoccupied with presenting an altogether serviceable but hardly original twist ending reveals that Lena and Saul are not, in fact, Jewish survivors being hunted by Nazis, but in fact Nazis being hunted by the Israeli Secret Police.

One thing I do want to unpick a bit here is Lena’s repeated attempts at justification, ‘it was war!’, as the denouement of the episode addresses this.

Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 19.30.40.pngMagnum drives Higgins home from the hospital, and as they walk along the beach, they have this very brief exchange:

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In some ways, this conversation seems to belong to a different episode — one that might have done more than barely flash through any question of the realities of the camps, nor of the excuses like ‘it was war’ from those who committed these atrocities. We never know how involved Saul and Lena were in the Holocaust – we do know that Lena has killed two people in this episode, however. Whether they were ‘little fish’ or not, the episode seems completely non-plussed in answering this question. Nevertheless, for all the minimalism and even avoidance of the very topic ‘Never Again… Never Again’ brings to the table, this idea of the ‘little fish’ and the insistence that there were no ‘little fish’ is the most straightforward.

Like ‘Deaths-Head Revisted’, Magnum, P.I. declares here that whether they were ‘little fish’ or running the camps themselves, those who might try to justify the Holocaust by arguing that they did what they did because ‘it was war’ might meet the same end as Twilight Zone‘s Lutze. I argued in Part 1 of this series that Twilight Zone takes the harshest view toward war criminals for a variety of reasons. The time between the Second World War and this episode of Magnum, P.I. is 36 years – the same number, funnily enough, between today and this episode of Magnum. This distance is certain to change perceptions one way or another. In Serling’s ‘Deaths-Head Revisited’, wounds still sore and open from war, the attitude toward people like Lutze — and, indeed, to people like Lena and Saul. Although Magnum, P.I. approaches the idea of the escaped war criminal differently than Twilight Zone, ultimately each refuse to accept any idea of a ‘little fish’, arguing that everyone involved must be held accountable for the crimes and atrocities they allowed to happen.

In the final blog in this series, I explore the episode ‘Duet’ in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In many ways, ‘Duet’ has far more in common with ‘Deaths-Head Revisted’, depite the amount of time between the two. Continuing this idea of what Higgins calls the ‘little fish’, ‘Duet’ explores fictional war criminals in a futuristic setting. As I will argue, however, the setting and details may change, but the question of what to do with someone who has taken part in an atrocity like the Holocaust after the war has ended still lingers. 

 

 

Dr. Harmon: Maybe it’s never over. Maybe we always carry the war around inside of us. Like a time bomb, ticking away, waiting to go off. – Magnum, P.I., Heal Thyself [3.12]

Intro Blog

cropped-image1.jpgWell, not sure how you found yourself here, but I’m happy you stopped by.

Why am I here? Well, I have a passion for exploring TV and culture. I’m an occasional academic, writing on masculinity, fashion, Irish literature, comedy and war (and a few other things). I’m here because I probably spend a bit too much time watching television and way too much time thinking about it.

One thing I find myself thinking quite often about is how television uses war for entertainment. I can’t think of anything less entertaining than war — it’s brutal, horrific and cruel. But it’s also everywhere – films, TV, video games… Jean Baudrillard refers to it as ‘war porn’.

And yet, there has been a distinct lack of exploration in how war  is conveyed to an audience through scripted television. This is surprising, as there are literally hundreds of television programmes that explore various war settings. Perhaps one of the most famous of these programmes is the programme M*A*S*H (1972-1983), set in an army hospital during the American involvement of the Korean War (1950-1953). Other programmes worth note include Hogan’s Heroes (1965- 1971); It Ain’ Half Hot, Mum (1974- 1981); ‘Allo ‘Allo (1982-1992); Dad’s Army (1968-1977), each set in World War II; China Beach (1988- 1991), Tour of Duty (1987- 1990), focusing on the American involvement of Vietnam War (1959-1975).

The representation of war is not limited to programmes specifically set during a war, however: several programmes also explore life after war for veterans who struggle to adjust to civilian life. Most noticeable for this is Magnum P.I., which regularly uses flashbacks of the Vietnam War focusing on Thomas Magnum, a veteran who lives in Hawaii, along with three friends who are also veterans.

Genre programmes, specifically science-fiction, tends to utilise the trope of the ‘shell-shocked veteran’ who proves somewhat unstable due to PTSD from war. There’s Firefly (2002-2003), (and the subsequent theatrical feature, Serenity, 2005), focusing on a soldier, Mal Reynolds, a veteran from a futuristic war; and Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009) shows both life during a futuristic war as well as those who suffer from PTSD from the war itself. In Doctor Who (revival- 2005-present), The Doctor, as the lone survivor of the Time War, occasionally shows PTSD and instability due to his war experiences. Specific episodes address this link between war, trauma and the veteran. Other programmes, such as Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) explore life in war, war survival and PTSD in a more limited capacity for specific episodes such as ‘The Hunted’, ‘Common Ground’, ‘Chain of Command 1& 2’, and ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, more than TNG, deals with war — ‘Duet’, for example, shows war veteran Kira trying to bring justice to a man she believes was responsible for war crimes. Although this is set in a fictional war in the future on a fictional planet, there are very intentional and specific links to be made with the prison camps and war criminals of World War II.

These are just a few areas of interest — but most striking is the fact that war, as entertainment, is such an under-researched field. Moreoever, as a Gothicist, I can’t help but notice that there are some very strong links in how many Gothic tropes are used within these programmes to represent war. It doesn’t seem to matter whether show is comedy or drama, portraying historical or fictional wars, or whether or past traumas resurfacing for veterans suffering from PTSD: Gothic tropes are used to display these experiences.

So, this blog aims to further explore how war, comedy and gothic are used together for entertainment within television, but to also give attention to how the experiences of soldiers and veterans are relayed through gothic tropes. Not every post will have such a specific focus, but generally I will try to keep it all related. Rarely, I might look at films like war films Duck Soup (1933) and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) — but television is definitely my preferred medium.

Due to my busy schedule, I intend to post a blog once a month – however, this may be a bit over-ambitious, so forgive me if there are long delays. I shall try!

If you’re still here after reading all of that, then welcome again to Khaki Gothic!

sunday

 

 

Nice war we had. Of course, every war has its cute things. World War II had nice songs. The War of the Roses had nice flowers. We’ve got booms, they had blooms. Actually, every war has its ‘ooms. You’ve got doom, gloom, everybody ends in a tomb, the planes go zoom, and they bomb your room.’ – Hawkeye Pierce, ‘Goodbye, Farewell, Amen’ (M*A*S*H)