In this episode, Nash beats a wounded prisoner, Martin Brown, inside the SIU holding cell. I counted the sound of six blows as the camera panned offscreen to a uniformed officer standing with his back to the cell. This incident occurs after the squad has located a kidnap victim whom Brown has hidden and refused to reveal her whereabouts. Brown has cruelly taunted SIU member Michelle Chan, and dared Nash to hit him. Additionally, Brown is an escapee from prison, convicted for three murders. Brown has also been recently wounded in the shoulder, shot by Michelle in a previous encounter.
Shocking, but not a surprise? This is familiar territory to fans of the 1971 cop movie DIRTY HARRY. In DIRTY HARRY, Harry Callahan busts into the Scorpio killer's quarters, chases after him, shoots Scorpio in the leg with his .44 magnum gun, and then finally, Harry steps on the wound to get Scorpio to reveal the location of a kidnapped girl, buried alive with hours to live.
The NASH BRIDGES twist is that the killer is delivered to Nash on a silver platter. Harry loses the case (the capture of a vicious killer) because he has grossly violated the prisoner's civil rights; Nash has nothing to lose because the case has already been tried. Nash's prisoner is a convicted murderer who has escaped from prison. There is no loss if Nash's case is blown - the killer is simply sent back to prison. Does this wipe away Nash's conduct as a police officer?
The appeal of the rogue cop is that he metes out justice in a personal and satisfying way that we would all like to (in NASH BRIDGES, the "we" is victimized women such as Michelle). Nash is tied to Michelle via various ways. Michelle's bachelorette party is held at Nash's apartment, Nash accompanies her to the bridal shop, and in the end Nash returns her stolen bracelet. Nash relates to Michelle in a non-sexual way - he repeatedly refers to Michelle as "sister" in this and previous episodes.
Initially, it is Michelle that exhibits the rogue behavior - Michelle goes to meet Astrid and ends up shooting up a police car. She is reprimanded by Nash for her independent action - Nash reminds Michelle to be part of the team. It is made clear that Michelle is subordinate to Nash. In contrast, Nash's rogue action is taken on behalf of the SIU, and on a larger scale, on behalf of the SFPD. When Nash beats Brown, a uniformed officer locks the door to the holding cell, signifying his complicity. What does this say about the SFPD? Is Nash's behavior justified because the whole (we assume) police department stands behind him against this creep?
This kind of retro police theme (that of the rogue cop) dates back to the late 1960s and early 1970s. It's more fitting for an episode of 1970s KOJAK (when heroic police were put in the position of defending a political system engaged in a wrongful war) rather than the 1990s NASH BRIDGES. There is no longer a war to protest - the image of police today is more complex in light of the Rodney King beating and other law enforcement abuses (such as the FBI's Ruby Ridge incident). The image of police was momentarily shattered during the King incident, but shows such as NASH BRIDGES don't acknowledge that with episodes like "Most Wanted." Television responded by resurrecting the police once again in shows like NYPD BLUE. The officer is flawed, but for all his weaknesses (like beating a prisoner), his job and role is to help society - the police officer and all that he represents is fundamentally heroic and noble, just like the heroic soldiers who fought in that wrongful war known as Vietnam. After the beating, Nash actually laughs at Brown as he is being lead away in orange prison garb - it's a sad moment when rogue behavior under the guise of heroics is validated. Check out the film DIRTY HARRY - its cop angst is more genuine than the sewn up pat version in NASH BRIDGES. The Clint Eastwood film is regularly shown on TV at periodic intervals (especially during sweeps months because it's a high ratings grabber). In the end, it all ends upon TV.
For more, see synopsis for Episode 40