Copper: “In The Hands Of An Angry God”
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Copper: “In The Hands Of An Angry God”

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Copper

“In The Hands Of An Angry God”

Season 1, Episode 3

The third episode of Copper begins with a fine and dandy dinner at the Haverford house, attended by Morehouse, various other richies, and a spiffed-up Kevin Corcoran, but as events unfold it becomes clear that not all is well in Five Points, simply because Winfred Haverford is dead. When Elizabeth toasts Kevin and the recently deceased Winnie by saying, “My husband and Mr. Corcoran, like all good Christian men, can see the true soul of a child,” her unsavory irony is a jarring reminder of just how disturbing this little dinner scene actually is. While little orphan Annie shares a name with the plucky children’s heroine, Elizabeth Haverford is no Daddy Warbucks. She is the wife of the man whom Annie was repeatedly raped by, and whom the young girl eventually stabbed to death, and now, old Liz is Annie’s new mommy. The idea that Elizabeth is taking moral responsibility for the wrongs of her husband seemed so movie-musical neat on paper that the Jerry Springer quality of the adoption took a moment to become apparent. Annie seems perfectly unperturbed at the dinner table, hardly the diamond in the rough that Elizabeth makes her out to be, but her composure is unsettling, and later in the episode, we discover why.

In many ways, “In The Hands Of An Angry God” shifts slightly away from the detectives to focus on the development of the show’s female characters, such as Elizabeth, whose personality seems to be transforming in the wake of her husband’s death. While she always seemed morally upstanding, she was also cautious, unwilling to compromise her social reputation, often doing the right thing only in secret. Now, she is emboldened by her independence, flirting shamelessly with Corky, 19th century style, via a nude painting of a woman who somewhat resembles her and passionate discussions about hand kissing. In all of their scenes together, the strains of a schmaltzy, sub-Titanic score can be heard, desperately trying to inject some romance into this elaborate booty call. More interestingly, Elizabeth is starting to show signs of against the social customs of the day, giving up on the widow’s black garb and abruptly ending a friendship with two old biddies of high standing who spout commonly held racist beliefs about the inherent violence of the “negro race.”

Meanwhile, Franke Potente’s Eva, returning from New Orleans flush with carnal knowledge attained from exotic Creole prostitutes, shows that she is not quite as tough as she seems and is developing a dangerous attachment to Corcoran. She is openly jealous of Elizabeth, despite knowing very little of the woman’s interactions with her fuck-buddy, as well as Molly, who finds the locket that Corky has been searching for, in the pawn shop of an old school Jewish caricature. Matthew’s wife, Sarah, starts to heal from the wound of losing her brothers, not by conceiving a child, as her husband suggests, but by taking on a mentally handicapped adult to care for instead. The parallel being drawn here is a bit distasteful, but at least the woman gets to move beyond her brooding ways. Finally, at the very end of the episode, Annie shows up at Kevin’s home in an attempt to seduce him, a smart, believable nod to the idea that truly rescuing an abused child is not so simple as killing her tormentors and finding her a good home. The depiction of Annie as a person with continuing emotional and psychological issues after her ordeal, particularly about men and craving protection, affection, and security, is a realistic one.

Meanwhile the show’s menfolk are caught up in a case revolving around the murder of an Irishman that initially appears to be suicide, then is later judged to be a homicide. When Reverend Garland, the man running the black children’s orphanage that Elizabeth helped support after it was burned down in the riots, is accused of murdering the rather bastardly stable owner, tensions mount in a Five Points already rocked by recent racial battles and preparing for more to come with the impending end of the Civil War. While Matthew’s input on a case is always a welcome counterpoint to the more impetuous, meat-headed Corcoran, it is his political astuteness rather than forensic abilities that bring a new dimension to the show this time. The idea of a black man on trial for the murder of an Irish one is so incendiary to this community it even draws out the issues between loyal and fair-minded Corcoran and his good friend Matthew. Firstly, we see that the surgeon is not quite as impassive as he seems, devolving into a shouting match with Corcoran regarding the nature of the Irish, and questioning how much he really believes in equality. Secondly, the situation also highlights the two characters’ differences in thinking about the world around them. Corky is more interested in discovering the truth and exacting justice, but the more far-sighted Matthew understands that though Garland is innocent, the negative ramifications of letting the public know that the real killer was also a black person could have dire consequences that far outweigh the value of transparency. Usually, it is Kevin who plays the rule breaker with a propensity for rash action, so the role reversal here is intriguing.

“In The Hands Of An Angry God” is a little more thoughtful, and more logically put-together than its predecessors, without losing the action elements, slightly soapy drama, and impressive set pieces, such as one scene where a young boy from the black orphanage breathlessly picks his way through a well-heeled crowd to Elizabeth’s house. Also, with the conclusion of the more limited child-prostitution storyline last week, Copper finally starts delving into larger historical issues of race and politics, while moving Corcoran’s search for his wife along, with the discovery that her locket was pawned by a Mrs. Grindle, a woman performing illegal abortions. As these issues are just starting to germinate and will take time to fully blossom, however, this episode has the feel of one big setup without a lot of payoff. Perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, “In The Hands of An Angry God,” will be viewed as a pivotal episode in the context of the show’s first season as a whole, even if it has flaws as a standalone. Regardless, expectations for next week’s episode to build on mounting tension and smarter choices are high.

Stray observations:

  • The actress playing the murder victim’s supposedly outraged daughter strikes me as a poor man’s Jena Malone.
  • Maguire is getting involved with Morehouse’s shady business deals, and, it seems, not entirely willingly. He seems a bit more dazed by wealth and power than Corcoran does. Considering also Maguire’s desire to wed Molly, who is clearly rather self-serving, he just may not be a very good judge of character.
  • Aha, a woman could have a profession other than prostitute or rich housewife in the mid 1800s! I wish we’d had the opportunity to meet this Mrs. Grindle before her untimely demise, because who doesn’t love a good early American back-alley abortionist?
  • The breakdown among Corky’s professional gang is developed just a little further; Maguire is more like Corcoran, loyal and relatively open-minded in matters of race and politics, but more naive and ripe for being taken advantage of, as evidenced by his deal with Morehouse. As soon as the big stacks of money come out, he is on board with a plan that had an unholy stench of sketch about it from the get go. O’Brien, meanwhile, is on the more traditional end of the spectrum, a married man (as the show reminds us ceaselessly) who has yet to be shown in a whorehouse, and obviously more politically and morally conservative. He is disgusted at the sight of Madame Grindle, an abortionist, and automatically starts bad mouthing the black community when a fellow Irishman turns up dead, despite scant evidence at that point in the episode.