Saturday, January 30, 2010

Steven Seagal: Lawman – Season 1 Episode 11 – "Street Justice"

Not a lot has been missing from season one of Steven Seagal: Lawman. Each episode has buzzed with a wholesome singularity, the rules of society gloriously upheld, wanton acts fought by an unstoppable force. Dastardly youths have been seized, drug pusher antics curtailed, burglars slammed by the boot of justice. Consistent victims of the onslaught of evil, the neighbourhoods of Jefferson Parish have seen their thoroughfares purged of debasing foes and truculent intruders. Gleeful mammons have had their greed stones battered to mush. The charge led by Seagal, erasing negativity in a callous world.

Away from bettering society – in a narrative locked safely far from the menace of time – Seagal has visited sick children, trained attack dogs, fed hungry alligators, performed acupuncture and played a gig with his band Thunderbox. Zen wisdom has saturated his every word. Mystical somatic control has typified his every kick. Seagal’s presence is tethered to a disregard, surely arcane in character, to the limitations of reality. A polymathic freedom floats humbly airborne in the wake of his full-throttle nature. His level of certainty, held close to the core of Seagal, can be unhinged by no man.

Such has been the essence of season one of Steven Seagal: Lawman.

Yet one absence has been both glaring and subtle. Its unavoidable obviousness has rendered it invisible, adding equivocation to a set of affairs otherwise clear. By a strange dialectical inversion Seagal has transcended the antithesis stage to conjure a synthesis that blinds the beholder, shielding from sight an acute gap upon the topography of Seagal. The cost is high: a partner lost in the transition from one stage to another. Like Sherlock Holmes without Watson, Han Solo without Chewbacca, Seagal’s integrity is lessened as a result of his partner being absent.

Amid kinetic displays of roundhouse kicks and vengeful fists, Seagal’s films are marked by one dependable continuity: his ponytail. Thousands of scenes have receded into the past leaving only a scorched outline of ponytail, an indelible fragment of asses kicked and evil destroyed. Seagal’s ponytail – unerring in its capacity to act as more than mere adornment: a pulsating symbol of Seagal’s omniscience – stole easefully through the plot containers of Under Siege and Out for Justice, incurring neither harm nor insult. It blasted holes in adversaries, advancing to holy zeniths of ninety-minute mountains. The ponytail struck down barricades, tracing an unhindered path onward. Glowing at the heart of Seagal, but resting upon his head, was this object of unreserved victory, a greasy slick of hair captured in ponytail form.

But Steven Seagal: Lawman has no ponytail of which to speak. Recent episode “Street Justice” is a case in point. Seagal and his minions raid two crack dens, seeking a mix of substances and abusers. They discover the tiniest of crack rocks, far from anything substantial, and the individuals involved are mostly let go. Now, had Seagal possessed his ponytail, the crew would have stumbled upon a major drug-dealing operation. The motel room would look like a laboratory, all Bunsen burners and pipettes. Mind-fried junkies would writhe on the floor as a dreadlocked devil adjusts the settings on his chemistry set. Giant crack rocks would be found in the bathroom alongside forty snakes and a leper. It would transpire that a series of tunnels underneath the motel leads to Columbia. After three minutes of sprinting, Seagal and his gang emerge in the blistering jungle. Soaked in sweat, they find that a local businessman is pumping drugs into the US via the tunnel. An epic showdown ensues that ends with Seagal battling the businessman (clad in a special mechanical suit) on the top of a volcano.

The ponytail makes everything better.

Another example: after the drug bust, Seagal visits a kids’ karate school. He talks to the sensei and imparts some pithy words of wisdom to the youngsters – the usual stuff. But had he possessed his ponytail, Seagal would have noticed something odd about the dojo. Monotone voices and steroid-lit eyes would have alerted him to a wicked scheme, a plan to build an army of ultra-strong pre-teens. The megalomaniacal sensei would use these diminutive warriors to take over a military base under the masquerade of a school trip. Once in charge, he would start selling arms to terrorists. Upon unravelling the details, Seagal would have to fight off all the kids, before ending up in a tense confrontation with the sensei (now wearing a special mechanical suit).

I repeat: the ponytail makes everything better.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Steven Seagal: Lawman – Season 1 Episode 10 – "A Parish Under Siege"

Steven Seagal is a line graph, an image disseminated not only through the wet dreams of statisticians, but also through the pulse of television. The graph consists of two lines, both ascending, cast against a backdrop of his defeated enemies. Visually represented are the innumerable victories Seagal renders real in a season of Steven Seagal: Lawman. Halted outbreaks of evil plotted here and there; hints of profanation decimated along the X axis; a beast missing eyes, stomped supine by the boot of justice. All this lathers an otherwise vacuous system of cells with shimmering content and a reason to keep on looking.

A talent for waging dual wars spins two lines into the web of vertices and dots, two simultaneous campaigns captured by a graphically-intense suction, each line powered by a force labelled Seagal. One signals an ongoing mission, a mandated drive to prevent societal cataclysm; it purges the young and old of vice, eradicating a virus set to kill all that is moral and right. The other signals a need to shoot big rats.

The skill involved in balancing two such wars is rarely endowed upon a human. Seagal, however, has no difficulty maintaining two distinct fronts of attack. He battles one, he battles the other, united in a single instant of time. Of course we can only experience one of these at a time, hence Seagal’s staggered exhibition, his insistence upon unfolding the acts of each across an episode of Lawman. Seagal is always two lines etched on a line graph. This is only a metaphor, but metaphor is our only recourse, our sole route to comprehending the phenomenon of timelessness in which Seagal flutters.

One crusade has a band of hardened warriors stripping society of liquor-fuelled ills. A Friday night, damp miasmic dimension of revelry, suffocating in its raw stench of alcohol. Pavements are made slippery by the wash of vomit; quietude is shattered by the screams of grannies. A wasteland yields loutish satyrs, a parading troupe seeking lager highs amidst a cacophony of echoing rap beats. Battered miscreants hide behind half empty whiskey bottles, scattering when hit by the beam of a flashlight. A dirty scene straight out of pulp dystopia.

Charged with quelling this turpitudinous Friday excess is Seagal and his warriors. They admonish drunk drivers, kick vodka from the hands of the obnoxious, punch sober impoverished bench-kippers. Society’s brutalised alcoholics, slaves to the paroxysm of immoderate alcohol abuse, are dealt a heavy dose of judgemental advice and urged to reduce their beer drinking. Yet Seagal’s righteousness is justified. Whilst in Japan, he learned to relax through meditation, not intoxication. Alcohol clouds the mind and inhibits one’s ability to kick ass. Seagal can administer his wise Zen words of reproof by dint of his alcohol-free head, a cloudless mind that sees danger flood the dry pastures of the parish every Friday night.

The other crusade sees a separate spread of rodents fought against. This time the rodents are not the figurative nonsense of hitherto, but real rodents. The bothersome bastards are eating away the banks of our rivers and the ground upon which we build our homes. These sinister fiends, these nutria, are wrecking livelihoods and erecting dens all over the city. Someone must tackle the problem and quickly. Enter Seagal. At last we will get a glimpse of how Seagal squeezes the world free of pests like the nutria. But no: exit Seagal. A zany ethical trance usurps Seagal’s good sense and he recedes into the background. Enter the local SWAT team. They and some of Seagal’s colleagues enjoy a mad time shooting rodents and swigging jars of ale. Meanwhile, Seagal sits with the SWAT boss discussing humane alternatives to the mass slaughter going on elsewhere. That no grand plans are devised is quite obvious when we see the episode end with Seagal thrusting a nutria corpse into the jaws of an alligator. Circle of life and all that.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Steven Seagal: Lawman – Season 1 Episode 9 – "Crack War"

The story of Steven Seagal is scarred by the imposition of limits. It’s a recurring phenomenon, manifested across the totality of his output. The world cannot apprehend the amorphous quality of Seagal; so, like a fluid that kicks your ass, Seagal is squeezed into predefined boundaries, packed into finite space, incarcerated within solid walls of formal convention. His natural home lies outside the realm of common understanding, a site of absolute alterity. But certain routines have become necessary, foisting upon the illimitable obligatory barriers of shape and circumscription. Out of sheer compassion, utter pity for our paltry cognitive capacity, Seagal chooses to step into a constructed web of meaning, a matrix through which his majesty becomes comprehendible.

Seagal’s transmogrification from mysterious immaterial essence to corporeal fixture – an esoteric process too complicated for dissection at present – is itself obviously beyond our grasp. Our only recourse is to infer the nature of this rebirth through its allegorical manifestation, i.e. Seagal’s artworks.

In Under Siege, Seagal is forced to have a knife fight with Tommy Lee Jones. This involves forty seconds of rapid back and forth knife swiping as grimacing protagonists attack each other, cutting fresh scarlet upon the skin, the stark soundtrack one of clinking steel. Eventually Seagal stabs Lee Jones in the head and thrusts him into a monitor. The balletic interplay of the scene is apparent to us: the speed of the bodies, men tethered to an ill-begotten violence, fury captured in an endless series of cuts. But these are obstructions to Seagal’s true state. Had convention been abandoned, Seagal may have defeated Lee Jones by transforming the latter’s character William Stranix into Samuel Gerard from The Fugitive, in turn averting the impending fisticuffs.

Seagal is locked into a set of standards, as exemplified in Under Siege. His innate urge for deviation can never assume the character of explicit action. Implicit inscription is our only key to this realm of possibility, interpretation our sole method for reaching Seagal’s metaphysical centre. Stranix represents the rigidity of form to which Seagal submits. Akin to how the ship is the container for all the action, offering definable spatial limits and an identifiable mise-en-scene, Stranix is a walking imposition that annuls Seagal’s greater imagination and turns it into a knife fight. Seagal’s subtle acquiescence must surely be the most selfless act in cinematic history.

Yet whilst cinema barricades Seagal into a corner of hyperbolic ninja kicks and cartoon gunfire, television eliminates from Seagal something else. Rather than drain his imaginative might, television establishes a new agenda for the ambulations of Seagal, new coercions that drive Seagal to assume the attributes specified by hardened televisual rules. Here the real world is attached to the body of the aikido master. Gone are the mad bullet-ridden battles and copious explosions; these replaced with cups of tea and trips to the toilet. Realism has saturated Seagal, expelling his most maniacal of revenge dreams, leaving him in a world of actual social problems, actual suffering, a place where actions have consequences. Reality imposes its own unique limits on Seagal and eliminates his fictional omnipotence. This is observable weekly in Steven Seagal: Lawman.

The latest episode has Seagal and his colleagues tackling drug abuse in Jefferson Parish. They scour the streets looking for crack pipes, bust ne’er-do-wells seeking unearned highs and delineate the ruses concocted to score weed. The cops know the tactics drug fiends use; they recognize the elaborate practices in place that allow the procurement of drugs to go undetected. Accurate intelligence enables the police to stay one step ahead of the dealers and the users. When Seagal visits a crack den, he delves through an endless array of tampons and lighters looking for a crack pipe. He finds nothing – lucky for the hookers that he forces to wait outside – but it’s this level of meticulousness that is required in Seagal’s war on drugs.

Later the gang drop by a rehabilitation centre. Seagal’s Hollywood experiences have toughened him to the perils of drug abuse, giving him first-hand knowledge of what drugs and alcohol can do to a person. He tells the patients that he’s proud of them and leaves.

These are the restrictions of real world social problems. In Seagal’s last domain, the filmic, he would have decapitated anyone insolent enough to even touch a crack pipe, cleansing society of illegal substance abuse in a neat ninety minutes. But in this realm the best he can do is organise a fundraiser for the rehab centre – a best legs contest – and nominate one of his colleagues to take part. Limiting the illimitable is a cruel sight to witness. Seagal’s face during the final scene, the burlesque performance in the foreground, is a visage ravaged by melancholy, a connotation of his disappointment at having to stage the fundraiser, sadness at his inability to simply punch the addiction out of the patients. “It’s a little risqué,” he whispers to someone. Yes, indeed, it’s an outright indecency to have Seagal languishing in a world of limits.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Steven Seagal: Lawman – Season 1 Episode 8 – "Medicine Man"

In the depths of night a strange vision occurs. Up flashes a hospital interior, lit neon white. A low electric hum is heard. Injured bodies lie propped against the walls, warbling a diminished sound. Medical instruments are scattered unused on tabletops. A few white coats rush around, taking aimless flight through the chaos. Vomit is splashed upon the floor. A hideous stench can be smelt.

A gong sounds from afar. A breeze hits the staid air. Anticipation shows on the faces of patients. Across the sterile concourse strides a man robed in black, a ponytail flicking in the slipstream. He reaches the first patient. His hand glides over the aching muscles, screams stifled by amazement, a diagnosis taking rapid form. Dulcet words leave his mouth. An exchange of mutual respect and up stands the man, cured of all his ailments. Forty seconds of rapturous applause. No seen source, just a spontaneous burst of sonic celebration, the sort that only one man can ignite.

This purveyor of medical miracles – a medicine man powered solely by energy expelled from Buddha’s bell end – is Steven Seagal. He harangues deadbeat doctors, smacks cancer out of an old woman and heals a gunshot wound. He mends broken limbs, donates sperm to an infertile couple and counsels a bereaved child. Hands act as mighty palliative machines, driving out disease and correcting bodily disorder. Words too are for him instruments of medical efficacy – watch as he persuades fungi to leave its host anus. Seagal is Hippocrates reincarnated as a badass. Not only does he soothe ills, but he kicks a man free of tuberculosis. Seagal lives to heal and does so unhindered by lack of qualifications, actual medical training, etc. A true medicine man needs none of these things, for they are the empty nonsense of egotists.

Such is essentially the plot of the latest
Steven Seagal: Lawman. Getting somewhat tired of crushing criminals, Seagal decides to explore his medical skills. Cue an opening sequence where Seagal slowly removes his sheriff’s jacket, revealing underneath a glistening doctor’s smock. But this switching of professions isn’t just due to the usual ennui of life on the job. No, as always there’s a pretext. This week one of his colleagues has been experiencing a pain in his knee. A cop’s beat is hazardous, it often consists of sudden chases, unpredictable breakneck sprints through backyards, difficult leaps over fences. All of which are hard to achieve if one has a dodgy knee. Luckily, Seagal the medicine man is here with a solution.

“A lot of people don’t realise that Steven knows a lot about Asian medicine,” says the colleague. Yes, it’s true. I tried to tell somebody down at the bus stop five minutes ago but they didn’t believe me. They chose to hide behind a veil of scepticism and are foolish for it. Incredulity has no place when it comes to Seagal. But we know the truth: in the sixties Seagal travelled to Asia to study the martial arts, Buddhism, oriental medicine and herbology, and has been studying and practising ever since. This is obviously true.

Seagal escorts his pal to the Chinese medicine shop, where they discuss alternative medicine and the proprietor suggests acupuncture for the knee problem. Naturally this arouses fear in the inexperienced mind of Seagal’s colleague. So Seagal steps forward, needles in hand, ready for the big finale. He slaps twenty needles into the faulty knee, takes a bow, and strides out of the shop doing a victory dance.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Steven Seagal: Lawman – Season 1 Episode 7 – "To Live or Die"

Defining the object should always be the first task of analysis. Narrow your eyes, focus on the object, trace the contours, ready the scalpel held clenched in the hand. It’s simple good practice. But Steven Seagal makes this difficult. His character – as we have witnessed it, a throbbing figure enclosed within the show Steven Seagal: Lawman – is in possession of many diverse attributes. Multifaceted Seagal oscillates at a rate of knots, switching hats with nary a thought for continuity. One moment he’s the pinnacle of Zen calm, the next he’s a furious implement of the law. Within minutes he goes from lecturing on the dangers of guns to playing real life Time Crisis in a tornado of grinning joviality.

Episode seven problematises our definition of Seagal even more. For some time Seagal and his comrades have been visiting victims of Hurricane Katrina, the poor people whose homes were wrecked in the storm. We see a couple having to rebuild their house from scratch. They are forced to live in a trailer by the side of the lawn, dedicating every spare minute to laying floorboards and putting in fresh windows. Misfortune has hampered their very existence. Luckily for them Seagal is coming round for tea. Not only does he sup down the tea with the finest Darjeeling swallow I’ve ever seen, but he also deigns to showcase a new skill. Enter Seagal the painter.

The maestro is seemingly a composition of innumerable tints. Cast across Seagal’s pupils are a thousand stelae, each one of which is inscribed with a long inventory of his skills. Alas we’ll never see them, never read their words, never study their meaning. All we have are the pronouncements given form in

Seagal, paintbrush in hand, splashes white upon the house walls, warmed by countless loving looks thrust at him by the couple. They appreciate his good deeds. Seagal eases into a Michelangelo trance, colours twenty Adams and seven Noahs, then leaves to join his boys on the street beat. The artist has many drains upon his time.

Intercut with this dazzling display of aesthetic elegance are scenes of brutal criminality. These two threads are generated to underscore the antithetical relationship between artisanal creation and criminal iniquity. What can be more the obscene opposite of art than the dirty murderers that Seagal and co spend half the episode chasing? Homicide has no place in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. We see the officers don sober faces and bemoan the attack on two men. Seagal, angst-ridden and approaching a stage of despair, takes a moment to quote from Madame Bovary apropos their position: “our duty is to feel what is sublime and cherish what is beautiful.” Clearly the murderers hinder this mission. He goes on to poetically render his feelings further: “that really pisses me off bad.”

The episode ends with a final turn on the carousel of wildly burgeoning Seagalian talents. Seagal arrives back at the house-building couple. They have successfully rebuilt their home and are having a party to celebrate. Naturally they are jubilant at the arrival of Seagal. Not only has he brought upon them his presence, but he also comes bearing gifts. Enter Seagal the botanist. From the rear of his vehicle, now a makeshift greenhouse, come ferns and daffodils, roses and orchids, thick bushes of wholesomely verdant bamboo. The happy couple accept Seagal’s plants before Seagal rushes off to deliver a sycamore tree to another housewarming.