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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Copper: “The Empty Locket”

Illustration for article titled Copper: “The Empty Locket”

The past just doesn’t want to stay buried in this week’s episode of Copper, with mixed results for detective Corcoran and company. On one hand, the search for his missing wife grows curiouser and curiouser with the discovery of Ellen’s locket, leading to a potential murder cover up—but there’s no resolution on that or Corcoran’s personal mystery. On the other hand, the fact that Corky’s tryst with Molly was overheard by Annie and O’Brien (the delivery of this revelation—“I was there. Upstairs, telling Annie a story? I head every groan”—is priceless, inducing a groan of its own), and Eva’s ensuing jealousy, is very much resolved, via the mechanics of Shakespearean tragedy. It had initially seems as though Corky’s breach of loyalty will go relatively unremarked upon, but when the truth bubbles up, the consequences are far more dire than expected. (On a side note, if O’Brien is generally in the habit of overhearing things, he may yet prove useful to this show as something other than the chubby butt of a joke; at the end of the episode he also proved himself to be an excellent bearer of bad news, the multitalented fellow.)

The unspooling of the many-headed plot here is typically convoluted, struggling to balance the case of the murdered back-alley abortionist with the characters’ personal dramas, even while the two are interrelated. However, some of the individual scenes are the best executed of the season; the opening sequence, for one, is perfectly choreographed. O’Brien discusses the awkward subject of Corky’s groans and is interrupted by a shattering window; the two discover the object that broke it is a prosthetic leg, then enter Eva’s brothel to realize the leg belongs to none other than Richie Rich Morehouse, slumming it now that the Countess Pompidou lies six feet under. The detectives promptly join the raucous, mid-brawl fray. This matryoshka doll of small, strange surprises elegantly proves the show’s aptitude for action if not always reflection, though it improves steadily on that score, too.

Further to the idea that the adults in Annie’s life are only just beginning to understand the depth of her damage, “The Empty Locket” spends a lot of time exploring the strained relationship between the child and her new guardian. Annie continues to have adjustment issues, wandering Five Points alone, begging to go back to Miss Eva’s, and singing dirty songs about lamb boners in the parlor. More subtly but most disturbingly, she continues to talk to Corcoran as she if she is an adult, even while throwing child-like tantrums in Mrs. Haverford’s home. Elizabeth, for her part, may have a rebellious streak, as seen in last week’s episode, but it’s usually ignited only by injustice, such as when she defends the equal rights of black men and women to the more bigoted members of her class. Her approach to Annie’s upbringing—tea time, frilly dresses, and curfews—reflects the still conservative cultural traditions of an Upper Class Brit. This is also reflected in her insistence on attending the church, a matter she brought up in “Husband And Fathers”.

Like Elizabeth, many of the characters are involved with the Christian church either out of genuine piety or under societal obligation. “The Empty Locket,” which investigates the possibility that a powerful member of the Episcopalian church killed Mrs. Grindle in order to keep the secret of his impregnating-then-aborting ways, is very much a rumination on the power of the church in 19th-century New York, and the complex hold of religious values over people in all walks of life at this time. Herr Schwartz, the Jewish pawn-shop owner, is repeatedly singled out for his otherness, such as when Maguire sensitively suggests to Corky that the shop is closed because of “some Jew holiday.” The cook in the house of the Bishop is reluctant to share the man’s secrets because she swore to God to keep them, and only ’fesses up when Corcoran uses Catholic guilt and a beefed-up Irish accent to push the Dubliner into considering what the true Christian action in this situation might be. As with most rich families of the day, the Morehouses are very high up on the social ladder of their church, thought it is clear that young Robert is not particularly devout, enjoying the comforts of prostitutes and needling the Bishop about church greed just for kicks. However, he quickly pipes down after his father’s scolding, eager to keep up appearances, as he would never be comfortable severing ties with the church entirely.

This indecision, a desire to have his cake and eat it too, is a hallmark of Morehouse’s character, making it intriguingly difficult to tell where he stands on any issue in particular and in the good guy/bad guy spectrum in general. The show is wisely building this kind of ambiguity or dual nature into a number of its characters, which keeps the mystery of who will do what to stay alive between scenes. Annie’s allegations that the seemingly saintly Elizabeth is a nasty woman could be nothing more than the result of envy and angst, but are repeated so often they are starting to become unnerving, and Mrs. Haverford’s calm exterior has always inspired a suspicion about what lies beneath. Annie herself is sometimes the sweet, child-like victim, sometimes foul-mouthed former prostitute. Is it simply the fluctuating temper of a teenager or the mark of a dangerously manipulative young woman? Miss Eva has always had a dark side, and quite openly so given the tough nature required of her vocation, but her cold blooded murder of Molly is truly shocking. In that moment Copper, too, shows a different side of itself: Something a little riskier and more unpredictable than heretofore seen.

Stray observations:

  • It is exciting to see a the addition of a character on Matthew’s side of town; it had seemed that the surgeon might fall into perpetual sidekick status, without much development of his own beyond his relationships to Corcoran and brooding wife Sarah.
  • Speaking of Sarah, will she forever be relegated to pouting in a corner, scolding, or asking people if they’re hungry? She’s like a wife-bot with three settings, despite having some heavy emotional baggage just begging to be developed.
  • While no one deserves to have their throat slit in a whorehouse (well, no one I know at least), asking that racist one-eyed puppy dog of a man Maguire to pawn his mother’s bracelet in order to get a more fashionable ring was a real dick move on Molly’s part.
  • Ellen only sold her locket through Mrs. Grindle in order to feed her child, a fact that is both a relief (she wasn’t getting an abortion) and source of anguish (he wasn’t able to support his family) to Kevin Corcoran.