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New York's most controversial columnist is dead, stabbed to death and left to rot in a subway car. Sam and the boys are on the case, although it's going to be a tough one; not only was Joel loathed by a good percentage of the city's loonies and Yankees fans (so, everybody then), he also had a hate-hate relationship with the 1-2-5's own Gene Hunt, the sort of relationship that means the press is going to be watching every move Gene and the rest of the cops make. Which means Gene will have to put his "the Bill of Rights is something that happens in someone else's police dept." style on hold, and for once, that's not good news for Sam. He's getting dispatches from 2008 that identify the murderer as up-and-comer Tony Crane, a guy with a fetish for female artists; a guy who Sam knows murdered his wife, three and a half decades into the future.

After the surprisingly solid character work of last week, we're back to coasting on cop drama cliches and flat stereotypes. There's something that happens when you watch a show often enough, even one you're not hugely fond of (and I go back and forth on Mars); it gets under your skin. You notice it more when you marathon a series in one sitting, but even seperated by weeks, TV has a numbing effect. Watching "The Simple Secret Of The Note In Us All," I wasn't all that entertained, for reasons I'll get to in a moment, but I also wasn't as frustrated as I have been in the past. I don't know if I've given up or what, but—I don't mind this that much. Even if I wasn't recapping it, I'd Tivo it; it makes a soothing noise, y'know?

The set-up here isn't bad. Watching Sam working against time, with a clear idea as to just how much is on the line in the case, should've made for some terrific, Cassandra-complex style tension; the cop who has a gut feeling about a suspect is nothing new, but here we have a hero who knows for a certainty that, if he fails, more people are going to die. We haven't had this kind of direct connection between our time and Sam's in a while, and this specific conflict harkens back to one we saw in the series' pilot—but that doesn't mean it's a bad concept to trot out again. After all, if we can't resolve the time travel plot immediately, at least we can wring more drama out of it than the endless "gosh, weren't the seventies weird?" punchlines.

But it doesn't really work that well here. Part of the problem is that our hero never plays it smart. He's been in 1973 for a couple months now, and he's still making barely an effort to fit in. His response on realizing who Tony Crane is, and what that information means, is to say Tony's name a bunch of times and then go all apeshit. Even worse, it's a process he repeats multiple times over the course of "Secret," in between busting into Tony's current girlfriend's apartment and handing her some dull psychological insight. I'll accept that he was overcome with by the rush of recognition initially, and that he wasn't thinking clearly, but the fact that he continues to use the same strategy over and over and over again makes him come off as kind of a moron. Yes, it's unjust that Tony's just wandering around being all evil and so such, but simply repeating that fact doesn't mean you win.

The shame here is that there is at least a germ of a smart idea buried under all the rubbish. Because of the press scrutiny, Gene is forced to play the murder case by the book, something Sam's been bugging him to do ever since he arrived at the station; only now Sam wants to rush in and start busting heads regardless of due process. Putting Sam in Gene's shoes, forcing him to see the sacrifices a good cop has to make if he wants to catch the bad guys and uphold the law, would've given this episode an impact. Clearly this was the intention, as multiple characters tell Sam he has to fly straight, reminding him that this is what he's wanted all along—but there was never any risk involved. You knew Tony would get arrested, you knew Sam wasn't going to lose his job, and you were pretty sure the pretty artist wasn't going to get found all pincushioned to death. So any thematic weight is lost. There was a brief threat that Sam might compromise his principles in his desperation, a move that would've at least surprised me, but then everything works out conveniently with no planting-of-evidence required.

More disappointing still is that the "messages from the future" moments were actually my least favorite parts of the ep. Having Sam see weird stuff on TV's been done to death at this point, and nothing he sees after the first vision or two ever gives us new information. It's not freaky, it's not clever, it's just being done because, hey, we're on Mars, and that's the sort of crap people expect to see. Just because I'm not as annoyed by this as I used to be doesn't mean I'm not annoyed at all; and just because the characters are growing on me (it's a little thing, but I love the outfits Gene wears to each new crime scene) doesn't mean I'm not bothered by all the junk surrounding them. Pleasant noise is about right—this show is fast becoming the televised equivalent of that version of "Sympathy For The Devil" you hear in the dentist's office.

Grade: C+

Stray Observations:

  • Gene Hunt is a "Rogue Lieutenant"—nice nod to Bad Lieutenant there.
  • Sam's "He's watching me like I'm the Zapruder film," wasn't bad.
  • The "+" is for the interrogation scene with Dimitri. Watching Chris have to rewind the tape over and over made me laugh.