I just finished watching the first two seasons of the excellent Bosch on Amazon Prime. I admit that I’ve only just started the books by Michael Connelly, which the show is based on, although I usually try to read originals before watching adaptations; but the series stands on its own.
Bosch follows a homicide detective in L.A. with all the usual police procedure and lingo, mystery, and suspense, but its real strength is depth of character, political intrigue, and ethical dilemmas. Detective Harry Bosch (Titus Welliver) chafes under the restrictions of his boss Irving, the deputy Chief of Police, when his work is handicapped by considerations of public image or the demands of Irving’s own ambition. Irving, in the meantime, played by the marvelously impassive Lance Reddick, is not completely corrupt, but his desire to take control of the department and reform it leads him to make some shady deals and throw some of his subordinates under the bus.
There are layers and layers of politics here: departmental politics, race politics, clashes between the D.A., the mayor, the FBI, and the police; the necessity for good public relations versus the frustration of covers blown by the media; and the struggle to balance personal feelings, justice, and law. Bosch and the other officers often find themselves in a Dirty Harry-like situation where their desire for justice is at odds with their responsibility to afford due process and obtain evidence legally. Like Dirty Harry, Detective Bosch struggles not to be overwhelmed by the perversion and horror of his work; but he is also formed by his youth in an abusive foster home and the unsolved murder of his prostitute mother.
The serial killer in the first season, played by Jason Gedrick, is likewise the best psycho since Dirty Harry. He’s equal parts manipulative, emotional, and terrifyingly charming. The first season was heart-stoppingly suspensful and intense; I had to take a break between episodes to emotionally recover, and the climax made me literally gasp and jump out of my seat. The second season’s villains are not so compelling, and its ending is not as satisfying; but it makes up for it with the way it continues to plumb the character’s depths and step up the intrigue, with the added complications of undercover policemen and FBI agents. The sideplot of Deputy Chief Irving’s regret for his compromises and the suffering of his family are especially compelling.
I especially like the way the series flirts with the struggle between idealism and realism, and the way it addresses the idea of “closure.” There are plenty of despicable, corrupt officials, but there are also many conflicted characters, both hardened veterans and new recruits who bear the scars of their internal struggles with duty and conscience. The viewer is forced to consider what crosses the line, from necessary cooperation with evil (plea bargains and informants) to understandable compromise (failure to expose illegally-gained evidence, because it would put a murderer back on the streets) to complete corruption.
Bosch also deals thoughtfully with the idea of closure. There are characters who use it like a buzzword to promote their agenda or downplay the lasting damage done by evil, prompting Detective Bosch to snap, “closure is a myth;” but in his own way he seeks closure as well, by trying to temper the evil of the city with some justice, even when it comes too late to save lives. The plot intertwines with memories of Bosch’s childhood traumas, which have obviously not healed beyond a certain point. I also felt the desire for closure as a viewer! Bosch’s conviction that he was put there to “set things right” give the show a powerful drive. I’m not fond of completely dark television, and this show provides just enough redemption to temper the darkness.* Here’s the trailer, which gives you a pretty good taste of the show; let me know what you think!
* Be warned: it is very dark. Not only R-rated but not for the sensitive. The visuals are not too graphic, aside from some nudity and disturbing images of dead bodies, but the subject matter is heart-wrenching: child abuse, prostitution, rape, and so on.