A Nice Safe Place
ABC claims that Line of Fire offers a view of what happens when “the underground soldiers of organized crime and the FBI agents who try to stay one step ahead of them cross paths.” Judging from the premiere episode’s first sequence, a frenetic on-foot chase scene (with the usual rapid cutting of handheld camera shots) along the back alleys of a James River harbor, what happens is mutual extinction.
Caught at the archetypal chain link fence (do crooks ever climb these things well?), Carl (David Bridgewater), low-life mobster, lies amongst a pile of torn, black plastic garbage bags, which signify you’ve wandered onto the wrong side of the tracks. FBI agent Bert Somers (Andy Boothby) looks down at him, breathing hard and pleading with Carl to give himself up. But Carl’s having none of it; he’s got a family and he knows if he squeals, then it’s the end of all of them. It’s a tense, brief standoff—two men, two guns, followed soon after by two shots, and two dead bodies. Bert and Carl, we hardly knew you.
Faster than you can hit the remote button, you’re smack in the middle of a whole lot of plot. In Line of Fire, created by Rod Lurie (who directed The Contender in 2000), the dual deaths of fed and mobster offer an immediate opportunity to mobilize the two primary storylines that will structure each and every episode of the series: those of the “underground soldiers of organized crime” and the “FBI agents who try to stay one step ahead of them.”
Using split screens to transition between plotlines, Line of Fire efficiently captures both the mob’s and FBI’s reactions to their respective agents’ deaths. But since this is an ensemble vehicle, much of the first episode’s plot is given over to introducing the various (and numerous) characters. Line of Fire trots out an entire season’s worth of supporting cast in its initial 60 minutes, each with his or her own thumbnail typology.
Thus we meet Agent Paige Van Doren (Leslie Bibb), a 9/11 widow who has problems with authority and sublimates grief through work; Jennifer Sampson (Julie Ann Emery), “law enforcement officer by day, a wife and mother by night”; and Amiel MacArthur (Michael Irby), an introspective caring type, in a tailspin having witnessed Somers’ death, et. al. Add water and simmer.
The mix yields a basic, develop-able storyline. As mob head Jonah Malloy (David Paymer) says after being informed of his henchman’s death, “Assemble the men. We may be at war here!” Unfortunately, at a time when the U.S. appears to be at war with everything (terrorism, drugs, weight, aging), such assessment is decidedly banal. But this seems Line of Fire‘s point. Unlike The X-Files, for instance, an FBI drama that specifically lacked moral certitude, Line of Fire offers a stable opposition in the feds versus the mob.
This war is regular. Even Van Doren, the show’s resident 9/11 survivor, can take a break from her persistent distrust and focus on a foe with understandable criminal aims. For the feds, it’s being “right,” not to say righteous. For Jonah, it’s “business,” as he tells a football player who’s crossed him before he breaks the guy’s hands; his motivation is capitalism, the American way, not the some new “caliphate” in Arabia.
The threat this too familiar sort of “war” poses is made visible in the first episode’s closing images. Each character engages in a morning ritual: Sampson drinks coffee with the husband and kids, wiseguys beat up deadbeats, Van Doren counts down the minutes to her first full day at work. Metaphorically, it’s a new day, full of possibility, but it’s also an expression of absolute typicality and routine. And so, it’s a fitting end for Line of Fire‘s own beginning. Tune in next week: same time, same station, same everything.