The best thing about crime shows–and crime books–is that the bad guy is gonna get punished. You know from the first that he’s going to go to prison for life or face the death penalty. You know his end is going to be ugly. That’s why you tune into the show or pick up the book. In fiction, at least, the good guys win, and the bad guys suffer to the extreme. Which is why I loved The Closer. I knew Brenda Leigh Johnson would outwit the criminal, catch him, drill him like a hot oil rig, and remind him of the evils he’ll face during his long, miserable prison sentence. It was satisfying.
But plea bargains aren’t satisfying. They’re realistic. Everyday, some criminal somewhere is getting his sentence reduced because of the realities of the system. It’s not fair. It’s not fair to the victim or the victim’s family that someone who deserves a severe punishment doesn’t get it. It’s not fair to the community that someone like him will be released upon them sooner than he should be. He’ll get a slap on the hand compared to what he ought to get. It’s certainly not justice. But, like “Lt. Flynn” in Major Crimes says, “Dirt bags get deals. It happens every day.”
Yes, but not in fiction. That’s not the point of crime fiction. In fictional crime stories, almost everything is in black and white. We know who ought to fry and who ought to receive mercy–and in fiction, more often than not, the end of the story fulfills what we expect, and we walk away satisfied with the experience. On occasion, what is deserved isn’t received, but there are reasons beyond the detectives’ control. Whenever we watch crime shows, we see the shaky relationship between the detectives and the DA’s office, the pure enmity between the detectives and defense attorneys–all because the detectives work hard to bring to justice bad guys who don’t always get what they deserve thanks to plea bargains and technicalities.
What we never see is a group of detectives going into a case with the deliberate intent of bringing it to a plea bargain.
Where’s the satisfaction in that?
But this is what Major Crimes is trying to push as acceptable. Assistant Chief Taylor glows as he talks about how much money the city saves by skipping the courts and offering a lesser sentence. Captain Sharon Raydor is giddy over the idea of by-passing the risks in the court system and walking a criminal straight to his cell.
Yeah, courts are iffy, juries are unpredictable–all this is true in real life. But in fiction, we are supposed to walk away with the satisfaction of knowing the bad guy who committed first degree murder and deserves life in prison is going to get life in prison. He’s not going to get eleven years on a plea bargain to manslaughter. Even though he commits murder, he’ll be eligible for parole in five to seven years. Where’s the justice in that?
What kills me is that detectives in the show develop a case that would stand up in court with the intent of offering the defendant a lesser charge. Good grief. Where’s the satisfaction in that? It’s like running a grueling race, then stopping an inch from the finish line saying, “that’s good. That’s close enough.”
I don’t know that I’m going to watch the show again, but if I do, it’ll be to see if my hunch is right. The way I see it, either the creators of Major Crimes are going to have to soften their crimes so plea bargains do become a satisfactory ending, or they’re going to have to make us more sympathetic and understanding toward criminals. Either way, they’re missing the appeal crime shows have to those of us who watch them: In fiction, at least, the bad guy gets punished to the fullest extent of the law.
Don’t forget: The Canopy Bookstore is having a close-out sale!
We’re having to close the little traveling store for the rest of the year, so I’m giving everyone one more chance to buy the books before I have to send them back to the authors.
The book featured this week is I Called Him Dancer by Eddie Snipes. Find out more about it here!