The première of Copper showed promise as well as a number of potential red flags. Unfortunately, “Husbands and Fathers”—in which Detective Corcoran discovers little orphan Annie had a husband she was forced to marry before running away, endures a beat-down for her benefit, and goes on a mission of revenge unaware of the political intrigue swirling around him—only emphasizes those flaws. Clumsily repetitive writing continues to be a problem. Multiple scenes featuring the “upstairs” characters, for example, involved pontification about the same topics; the future of Five Points, intimating the racial upset that will come with the end of the war, and who owns what or is about to own what. Morehouse’s references to his father are so frequent they have gone beyond proving a point about the simpering leader’s need for paternal approval, moving into preposterous territory. A scene in which he hands over ownership of a desirable piece of land to his father at the cost of his friendship with crony Haverford is a much subtler yet still highly effective indication of his oily character than the tiresome drawl of “father says this,” and “father thinks that.”
Meanwhile, all characters great and small suffer from inconsistencies that seem more sloppy than purposeful. On a walk with Morehouse, the mysterious Mrs. Haverford, wife of the wealthy pedophile, descries the faithlessness of Irish men in New York City, to which her companion pointedly mentions that some members of their own class are far worse than the Irish. In responding “My husband, for example?” Mrs. Haverford smiles fondly, as if he were a li’l scamp who stole pies off a window sill, as opposed to a man who murdered a child and raped her dead body. This line reading is completely fucked morally, and makes no sense narratively. A woman who made a dangerous visit to Corcoran to ensure his exacting revenge on her husband would hardly be so casual—amused, even—in referring to the crimes of Mr. Haverford with whom she still lives and shares a bed. She may be limited in what she can say and do in front of the bastard, given the gender restrictions of the time, but privately, would she speak of her husband’s “transgressions” with such complacency?
It’s a thrill to see Corcoran’s black surgeon friend Freeman wasn’t taken out of the mix after his move from Five Points, because that would have left us bereft of his early medicine hijinks when Corky is roughed up by the Pinkertons hired by Haverford, who knows the detective is hot on his trail. Freeman sets Corky’s bones, wraps a splint around his broken leg, then jabs him with an opiate. (I’m no doctor here, but he probably should have considered administering the drugs before all the shin-grinding fun began.)
Unfortunately, Freeman’s presence feels contrived. The neighborhood he moved to was previously referred to as very far away, yet Freeman just appears in Corky’s doorway whenever a mild-mannered medical expert who can nevertheless sling a good “no shit” retort around is needed. Does this copper have the power to magically collapse New York space and time, Gossip Girl style? It’s surprising that Freeman is even willing to participate in the murder caper in the episode’s climax. How good and willing a getaway driver would a nice surgeon be, really?
As for our hero, everyone is always referring to what a smart guy Corky is, but his plan for Annie’s liberation consists of more brawn than brain, and puts the young girl, his fellow detectives, and Freeman at great risk. If Corky is so protective of Annie, how does he use her as bait with such a cavalier attitude, then insist she be the one to stab Haverford? Isn’t it enough that she’s been whored out to him? He wants to “help” this broken 13-year-old girl by forcing her to kill a man, too? The look of horror on Annie’s face when he then dispenses with her kidnapper, Madam Pompidou, suggests that if years of sexual slavery haven’t scarred her for life, this night of violence taking place might. Perhaps most perplexingly, Corcoran allows Molly to manhandle his junk immediately after hearing Annie’s horrific story of being abandoned, pimped out, or sexually abused by one adult after another since the age of 10. Why on earth would Molly think this an acceptable time to enact her little-explained lust for the guy? If Corcoran is so loyal to his friend Maguire, who has hopes of making Molly his wife, and so focussed on Annie's welfare, why is he ready to roll with just the merest hint of a grope? The idea that a sad tale of rape and abuse left his soul deeply saddened but also aroused is either disingenuous or deeply disturbing.
While individual actions do not always make sense in this episode, the plot is still engaging overall, full of tawdry surprises, and tripping into much darker territory than expected. And while the story leading to the action sequences wasn’t well thought out, the content of those scenes is satisfying; raw, tense, and well choreographed, the grotesquerie of the killings contrasting sharply with the brothel’s rich, luxurious surroundings.
Another pleasant discovery is the show’s ability to use humor, despite living primarily in the un-funny world of child prostitution thus far. It would be so easy for Copper to sink into mopey self-seriousness, or manage little more than a queasy bit of corpse humor à la the crime scene wisecracks of the Law & Order set. Early on in “Husbands And Fathers,” the incredibly sad sight of Corcoran visiting the ambiguously purposed underground hovel from “Surviving Death” in order to repeat his description of his dead daughter’s locket sets up an unexpected laugh as the leprous-looking townsfolk, subjected to the speech daily, roll their eyes with all the impatience of a snide teenager. It is fascinating to see a vision of Corky as an obsessive loon as opposed to one giant man-sac of heroism, if only for a moment. Later, when Morehouse’s driver, Julius, drops by to summon Corcoran for his employer, an offer the detective knows he can’t easily refuse due to their difference in class, he says “Ah, Julius! Seeing you, my morning is complete.” with enough dry sarcasm to evoke Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess (on an off day though, obviously), with just a pinch of sass to boot.
All flaws aside, it’s still possible that these actors will warm to the slightly archaic dialogue they occasionally struggle with, that character decisions that currently seem inexplicable will be start to make sense in the wake of later revelations, and that once the exposition and setup portion of the lesson is over, we can move on to dialogue less consistently designed for those with poor short-term memory. While the current storytelling approach has been uneven at best and “Husbands And Fathers” is a romp over familiar territory in this regard, the groundwork for potentially bigger, more exciting things to come has been laid. In the final scenes of tonight’s episode, when Morehouse refers to a world full of shining opportunity when the war is over, and declares with confidence that New York will lead the way, it sounds like a prophecy. Hopefully not just for a brighter tomorrow for the inhabitants of this show, but for its viewers as well.
- Were women living in the Western world during this era either wives or prostitutes? Seriously, those are the only two options? Or does mid-19th century costuming just lend itself well to frilly brothel wear? It would be nice to break beyond this stereotype once in a while.
- Why do the other two detectives automatically do whatever Corky says outside of their police force duties? He has no authority over them in the private arena and O’Brien expresses reticence-bordering-on-apathy about helping Annie.