Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Crying over Kol Nidre: NYPD Blue Edition

Last night was Erev Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and I spent most of it crying.  I wasn't in synagogue listening to the beautiful Kol Nidre service (although that had been the plan)  Instead I was at a different altar (the television set),  weeping over a fictional made up tragedy.   I'll tell you about it in a little bit.

As I have chronicled here before-- I have a difficult time with my Judaism/going to synagogue  I want to not go, but I feel guilty about not wanting to go, and feel like I should go.  On the other hand, I rarely have a spiritual moment when I'm there.  Yet, still on another hand, if I want my son to have a chance at a Jewish life, I should suck it up.  Yet, I feel like I'm doing it out of obligation to my dead mother.  I've got so many hands on this, I'm clearly a Jewish octopus.

[SIDENOTE : OMG!  I had no idea when I googled Jewish Octopus that it is a major anti-semite theme!  It makes perfect sense.  Here's an image of a Jewish Octopus from 1891
F.T. Richards, “Our Old Friend to the Octopus,” from Life, December 9, 1891. via Haaretz

and here's a Nazi version of the Jewish Octopus

I had no idea.

Back to the story:  My wife was unequivocal.  She wanted to go.  So we made reservations and paid for our High Holiday tickets.  We split our ticket this year-- Rosh Hashanah at Mishkan, Yom Kippur at Tzedek.  Both of them are progressive Jewish congregations in our area.

Except, come last night, and my wife has a headache and we end up not going.  I feel slightly off the hook about going, but also slightly guilty, and kind of relieved (see Jewish octopus comment above)  I make dinner, and my wife didn't like what I made, so I made her something else, and she didn't like that either, but that's grist for a different mill.

After dinner, and after the bear goes to bed, we retreat to our different corners of the house to watch television.

I start watching my latest binge watch show.  I'm watching NYPD Blue, which was the show that first got me hooked on television.  In the 90's I didn't own a television at all, and then I bought one so that I could watch videos, and it got some stations.  One of them had NYPD Blue on reruns.  I was sick one day, and tired of reading, so I watched a dumb cop show on TV, and lo and behold it wasn't dumb, it was so good, and the acting was great.  I started watching them all, and then used that VCR to tape NYPD Blue twice a day.  When TIVO came around, it was a godsend for my worn out videotape.

The three hours of NYPD Blue I watched were pretty momentous, and I started weeping in the first hour and wept pretty continuously throughout all three.

WARNING:  THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.  But since this show premiered 20+ years ago, get over your own self.

The first hour was Season 3, Episode 19, "Auntie Maimed." 

S3, E19, "Auntie Maimed." 

If you don't know the show at all, I am not going to explain the plot for you.  But basically, the protagonist is Andy Sipowicz, a former drunk/blue collar cop who manages to pull himself together after being shot in Season 1, and has married a D.A. He's a fantastic character, both bullheaded and mean and with the proverbial heart of gold, but it's hidden.)  It's now Season 3, and he's made a lot of progress.

In this episode, Andy's wife Sylvia is very pregnant, and he ends up getting beeped in the middle of a case that she's on the way to the hospital.  Andy drops everything and goes to meet her, along with his son Andy Jr..  He had been a terrible father to Andy Jr. his whole life, because of drinking, and it was only recently that he started having a relationship with him after ignoring him his whole life.  Andy Jr. is going to become a cop in Hackensack, and his dad has been showing him the ropes, finally able to contribute meaningfully.

Andy goes to the hospital to meet Sylvia, and she's on a stretcher, she has the baby, and there's a touch and go moment where it looks like she might bleed out, but she's okay.  Andy comes out to greet Andy Jr. and hugs him, telling him that this little guy is going to need his attention, but he doesn't love him any less.  It was a touching moment.
Andy, Sylvia, and the baby.  The moment before the tragedy starts going.  And the moment I started weeping.

But I was weeping once Sylvia is saved because I already know the story of this tragedy.

Andy Jr. gets killed in a bar shooting, trying to save somebody, and Sylvia will be killed a little while later, in another shooting at the courthouse.  Andy will lose his sobriety over both of these things. But right now, here is Andy at the top of his game, seeming like nothing is going to go wrong.  The happy hero at the start of his adventures.  And I started weeping for what is to come.

S3, E20, "A Death In The Family."

And then very next episode (S3, Episode 20) is a Death In the Family.  It's the episode where Andy Jr. dies!  It's directly after the baby gets born!  Once I realize that,  I am bawling throughout the episode.  There's a genius moment when Andy goes on a hospital run and he realizes that the victim's effects are his son's effects, and he can't quite put it together.  He spends the rest of the episode desperately trying to hold it together, and failing, and you are watching him fail, and I am sobbing uncontrollably.  He also asks his partner Bobby Simone (the infallible Jimmy Smits) to kill the guys who did this, and he almost does, except he doesn't and thank God, because it's not the right guys.)

The episode ends with Andy drinking, and the squad hasn't solved the case, and it is doom and gloom.  And I am still sobbing.
End of episode, Andy is about to succumb to drinking.  I am yelling at the screen, and sobbing "Don't Do It."

But I can't not watch the next episode, (S3, E21, "Closing Time") and Andy is drinking and gets kicked out of the house.

S3, E21, "Closing Time"

There are a number of genius moments in this episode:

Sylvia kicks Andy out of the house until he stops drinking and lying and acknowledging his actions, and he's drunk, and he says "Do you mind if I touch the baby."  And she says no, and then yes, sure.  And he touches the baby's crib, just a little, and that's enough, because he knows he's wrong, he just can't admit it.

Later he goes to his job, and he's cracking wise, and falls asleep during an interview, and nearly gets himself fired.  He gets sent home to deal with it by his boss Arthur Fancy (James McDaniel), who tells him "I haven't canned you yet out of respect for what you've gone through and what you can do, but next time I see you you are sober or you are out of a job."  Andy's anger and his sarcasm in this scene are intense.

Bobby shoots the skells who killed Andy Junior in a slow motion shootout.
 Later in the episode, Bobby and Diane (Kim Delaney) manage to meet a prostitute that leads them to the two guys.  In a street shoot out, Bobby kills them both.  (But it's a clean shoot, they were gunning for him. So ethics crisis averted.  The squad trys to tell Andy, but he's in a bar when he finds out.  He's drunk off his gourd, and tries to move three young black men off their stoop where they are hanging out.  (He had told Andy about how to do that when he was giving lessons, and Andy has been blaming himself for Andy Jr.'s do-gooder streak that got him killed) The three boys challenge him, and then beat him, taking his gun and breaking his ribs.  This was in 1996, and obviously still resonates today.

Now Bobby and Greg and Officer Shannon and Lt. Fancy manage to find the gun with some brilliant police work.  They find the guy whose name is Knowledge Islam, and Lt. Fancy tells him if he brings him to the gun he can walk away from the five years for assaulting a police officer.  Knowledge says, how do I know you won't kill me once you have what you want?  Fancy says, "You know where your mom is at?  You, me, and your mom go get the gun, and you walk home with her."   Genius moment and keeps me bawling.

Andy, beat up.
Fancy finds the gun, and asks Andy, "What's left on this job for you?"  And Andy, bullheaded, says, I can help people.  I can do good if I can stop drinking.  Fancy says "Next time this happens, and you are drinking, you could get killed, and your wife won't have a husband, and your baby won't have a father, and some guys will go to jail for something that didn't have to be."  Andy accepts that , and Fancy believes in him and lets him keep his job! He says, "Don't make me sorry."  and Andy, says "I won't boss.  Thanks."  Pedestrian, but the way he does it kills me.

But what kills me is Andy, in the hospital.  He's all beat up, he's sobered up some and he's realized how much jeopardy his future is in. He thanks Bobby for putting up with his crap, and Bobby sticks it to him.  He says, Partner, do you want our help?  Andy says yes, help me.

It's the moment where he truly recognizes that he is powerless.  At the end of the episode, he knocks on Sylvia's door and asks her to please take him back.  "The key for me is I can not drink" The acting is so powerful, and she says "we love you" and takes him back.

By the end of this, I have been weeping for a good two hours, thinking about how when you screw up you have to ask for forgiveness, and start with a clean slate.  That your tragedy unfolds before you, but you still have to go on.  Which is exactly what Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur are all about.  So I didn't go to services, but I was right there in the thick of it, at least emotionally.

If services were more like NYPD Blue, maybe I'd go more often!

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