[27 March 2006]
Dog is back and as growly as ever. See him in all his glory on seven of his favorite episodes on Dog the Bounty Hunter: The Best of Season 2. We get the same high speed chases mixed with redemption scenes we saw on the Season One DVD, as he stalks his prey in Hawaii (and sometimes in Colorado), then instructs his bail-bond jumpers to change their ways, get off drugs, stop beating up their wives, and find God. While he’s a season older, his long blond mullet with a pompadour (which defies gravity, really) is still raucous. Back too are his steel-toed cowboy boots and beloved family, headed by fourth wife Beth, who owns the bail bond company, and several of his kids. The action is zippy, the bonding is quippy, and the Dogisms are still trippy. And the ride is again worth it.
What distinguishes this season from the last is the increased focus on the family. Each episode follows Dog as he gets his bail jumper, with time for bonding, practical jokes, philosophical speeches about what family means, and how to think about the family business. Which just so happens to be a violent, adrenaline-rush, mace-fueled chaos. As in the first season, it is amusing and jarring to see Dog go from slamming a drug dealer against a car to teaching his daughter how to vacuum (he has an odd, OCD-style obsession with vacuum cleaners, which he used to sell before his bounty hunting days).
We get a better sense here of what it means to mix family and business. Beth, presiding over a blended brood that includes her two young kids with Dog (Bonnie and “Gary Boy”), as well as her tweenage daughter from a previous marriage, is always ready to take in Dog’s 12 adult children when they want to live there for a while, but they all have to be a part of the business in one way or another. As Beth says, “Everyone who lives at our house works, even the kids.” Their tasks, mostly gendered, range from being on the strike team to going through files to babysitting and keeping house.
Committed to “making a difference,” Dog holds it all together. “Dog II: Son of Dog” chronicles how his first-born, Duane Lee Chapman, Jr., came back to the fold to work; Duane Lee says, “I want to make a difference again.” In “Baby’s Back in Town,” Dog’s ninth child, “Baby Lyssa,” whom he has not seen in six years, comes to live with them, a teenaged single mother bringing her infant daughter. Dog explains, in a direct address to the camera, a technique that heightens the sense of emotional intimacy, that he raised her until she was eleven, and then she went to live with her mom in Alaska. Crying when speaking of his granddaughter, he says, “Another little bounty hunter has come to the Chapman family.” Lyssa, also weeping, says her father’s house has always been like this, full of people and kids. She says, “I kick myself for all the years I was away from this.”
Dog is not just a patriarch, he’s a franchise. There’s lots of Dog merchandise, and most relatives wear T-shirts or hats with the imposing logo. Toddler Gary already dresses like his Dad, sporting a blond mullet, boots, black jeans, black tank top with “Bad to the Bone” on it, and his very own handcuffs hooked to his belt. He cries when he doesn’t get to go on a hunt.
All this makes for a disconcerting lack of distinction between family time and work time. Adrenaline and aggression turn instantly into tears and domestic bliss. This whiplash is sometimes a bit much. In “Surprise! Surprise!,” Dog punks his son Leland (his “third son”) into thinking they’re after a bail jumper. As Leland rushes in with his mace, ponytail flying, storming a boat his dad told him to rush, becoming frantic, Dog finally yells, “Surprise” and everyone dissolves into laughter. It’s a surprise early morning marlin fishing trip for Leland’s birthday. Teary, he says, “I can’t remember a time I’ve spent on my birthday with my Dad.”
A vacation includes another bust, demonstrating again how the rhetoric of family rationalizes work, violence, and gender roles. On “This Dog Can Hunt,” Dog outperforms the police by tracking a fugitive for days on foot through the woods in Colorado Springs. During the pursuit, Dog and his crew also go on outdoor expeditions. While Duane Lee beats his father in a fishing contest, and the grandkids look on, Dog says he’s doing “a father’s job, to show love and build memories.”
As the episode intercuts fishing scenes with footage of Dog tracking his prey, Dog tells us, “This is the kind of hunting that my grandfather taught me. Instead of hunting for a deer today, we’re hunting for a man.” Specifically, they’re hunting Harry Whaley, a drug addict with a $25,000 bond he jumped for felony traffic violations. Beth tells us she loves his “ruthlessness,” saying, “As soon as they called off their dog, I sent in my dog, and he found him.” Dog’s reward for big captures is sex with Beth, which the crew jokes about each time.
Dog is angry with Harry because he is leeches off of his family materially, and manipulates them emotionally. Calling him Harry “love leech,” Dog castigates his failures of masculinity, his shortcomings as husband and father. This infraction is not only as bad as his felony, Dog sees it as the root of the criminal behavior. Putting a stop to his felons’ domestic violence would clearly be a major achievement. But Dog’s ideal depends on constrictive gender differences. While Beth is an assertive small business owner and spars verbally with Dog, they both want him to be the “man of the house.”
Indeed, Dog consistently fathers his charges, and in part, they try rehab or seek a job because they want to be a part of Dog’s sprawling, charismatic family/circus. In “Brother’s Keeper,” he instructs Clifford Charlie Kahumoku (charged with abuse and violation of probation) that he needs to learn how to be a “brother,” and that Dog and his boys will keep him on the straight and narrow. Beth argues that boys “have to have that really positive male influence to offset all the hormonal girls.” Dog adds, “I wonder if he had a brother, would he be all right. See that’s what a brother is for, when a little brother throws temper tantrums, the big brother is there to settle that down.” He tells Duane Lee to be younger brother Leland’s “keeper.” Decrying wife batterers, Dog teaches Charlie, “You cannot win the heart of the girl by being mean to her. Romeo and Juliet, you think he beat her ass all the time? No!” Beth and Dog decide to have mercy on him because he is the only person taking care of his wheelchair-bound mother. They tell him they will employ him and get him off of drugs. The sobbing man tells Dog he loves him.
Kinship bonds, especially a mother’s love and disappointment, can convince felons to turn themselves in. If they won’t, Dog and Beth will get the mother to give up her son, the wife her husband, or even kids their father. Most of the bail jumpers are addicts, and the Chapmans treat them with dignity (after the capture) and try to get them into rehab. The team depends on getting battered, longsuffering women to trust them. While getting the father to jail might help a family in the long run, Dog’s methods involve twisting the emotions of already-beleaguered women.
In “This Dog Can Hunt,” Dog convinces a man’s 16-year-old daughter to go to a drug house he might be. As she’s sending her father to jail, she sobs and trembles with fear. While Dog tells such women they are asserting their own agency, they clearly suffer as well. In spite of the regressive gender and family rhetorics, Dog offers gritty narratives in which the team’s dramatic intervention might save someone’s life.