Saturday, February 13, 2010

Steven Seagal: Lawman – Season 1 Episode 12 – "Narc Force"

The routine is rarely interrupted. Steven Seagal: Lawman – as seen from a random snapshot – flows easefully through time, a mist of ass-kicking justice wafting onwards, upwards, chasing a premeditated motion across the still televisual air. The narrative unravels in harmony with the clock’s ticking hands. Plot points pass, smacking upon retinas the swelling sites of a law abided. Sudden illustrations of a thwarted danger are served via channels of simplified apprehension, difficulty and equivocation consigned to the bin of bad decisions. The show pursues its mandate without fear of the penetrating cut of interruption; no digressionary deluge spills upon Seagal’s tight knit charge of drug busts and parole violations.

This is how Steven Seagal: Lawman unfolds, mostly.

Sometimes, however, a spectre rises from the shadows. Scenes are suddenly altered: pace falls away, meanings are inverted, lights dim as harpies invade the screen carrying epithets from a distant terrain. A banal patrol through the neighbourhood, Seagal a passenger amongst men, then enter peril: without warning their trajectory is reconfigured, tweaked by the mottled hands of a foreign agent. Rather than righting wrongs undeterred by antithetical forces, they are pressed to halt and confront an enemy.

A desolate landscape stretches out behind the protagonists, mediocre nod to the imagery of an unavoidable dystopia. Charred tree branches hang loosely and lonely above the highway. Abandoned vehicles, ditched belongings, putrefying carcasses, all such drab signifiers dotted around a scene stolen from everywhere. Seagal stands flanked by his cronies. A prophecy of armed combat swarms around them, their noses atwitch at the deathly fiend nearing them. And then it explodes into sight: a fiery menace sweeping up the narrative and announcing its change, a tornado of renaming and bastard connotation. The nexus is thrown open, a matrix-rotten glitch in the edifice of Lawman. Up into the runtime it lunges, infecting the brainwork with antediluvian spite and resuscitating a past long dead.

Pulled over gothic misshapen forms – a grotesquery hanging in the air – the spectre shows its face. There floating, afloat time’s vacuity, a reference to Jean Claude Van Damme. Taken aback, Seagal on the ropes, a missile launches from a deputy, but gets deflected by the talk of Van Damme. “Arrest that fucker,” cries Seagal. Thus ignites a war against stardom, type-casting and sticky genre roots.

Throughout this season of Lawman, Seagal has attempted to create a schism between his police work and his film work. The latter does not exist. Dutiful patrols of the city proceed as though fame was entirely absent. There’s not a reek of Nico while he admonishes hookers; there are zero knife fights during a DWI pullover. The filmic ego is dormant. The celluloid pyrotechnics, captured and enclosed within DVD form, once held the essence of Seagal; now reality discloses a different figure, sharply defined by its contrast to the former.

Yet, occasionally the genre backdrop becomes visible. Seemingly not even Seagal can fully escape the gravitational pull of the action B movie dynamic. But strangely this tethering is not orchestrated by the remnants of Seagal’s ego, nor his weak willed yes-men. It actually comes from the wicked men and women being arrested by Seagal. With cuffs strangling the hands and a jail sentence on the horizon, could there ever be a better time to draw Seagal back into the genre of his birth?

Possibly the best example of this is in the mid-season episode, “Medicine Man.” Seagal thinks he’s pulling over a typical drunk driver, a fool fresh out of the pool hall, loaded on whiskey, billiards for eyes. The last thing he expects is an explosion of geek conversation as the door opens. The perp spits his references every direction with not a care in his video-infused mind. Names cling to Seagal’s skin, damnable boils of rival spirits: Van Damme, Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris. The conversation turns to hypothetical battles, what actor would bear the name victor when set against Seagal. Back and forth, the exchange rages on as Seagal retires to the van to meditate, leaving his comrades to pump the justice juice down the man’s maw. But they, feeble minded as they are, fail to escape the confrontation free of infection. In a later episode, “Street Justice”, they bust Seagal’s balls over the Van Damme connection. Only a blank face denial can protect against accusations such as Seagal was battered senseless by Van Damme, or Seagal wept when threatened by Van Damme’s boot. Nonsense requires stoicism for survival purposes.

This latest episode has a delinquent dealer call Seagal “Mr Stallone.” Amidst laughter and ridicule, Seagal quietly backs into the shadows, a tear hastily wiped away, cursing his forsaken past. The schism malfunctions, damaged by an onslaught of tiresome rhetoric. Worlds collide on the back of a dubious reference. The lesson is that genre status can only be expunged temporarily; Seagal’s place in the order is secure and unshakeable, and no amount of repudiation will change that.