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Blue Bloods: The Best of Enemies

In Recaps on February 20, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) visited dying gangster Whitey Brennan (Mark Margolis) in “Dedication,” Friday night’s “Blue Bloods” episode. (Screen cap)

Sometimes appreciating a television series requires tolerating its clichés.

You know the red-shirted Enterprise crewman is doomed as soon as he steps behind the Styrofoam rock, or that Chloe’s computer wizardry will bail Jack out of his latest jam, or that the reality show villain will justify their betrayal by declaring they aren’t “here to make friends.”

But you’re willing to overlook these too-predictable moments because, well, this is television, and sometimes clichés are just the price of admission.

So it is with Blue Bloods.

The CBS crime/family drama debuted a mere six months ago, but already the show has found a plot device it can’t seem to resist: The Return of the Old Enemy from the Reagan Family’s Past.

So far this season, CBS has aired fifteen Blue Bloods episodes, and at least four of them have focused on the re-emergence of some mobster/thug/lowlife who tangled with one of the Reagans long ago.

A Blue Bloods fan could allow the over reliance on this narrative crutch to annoy them – or they could recognize that these often turn out to be some of Blue Bloods’ better episodes and just go along for the ride.

In Dedication, the installment that aired two nights ago, New York City police commissioner Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) was gunned down outside a Manhattan steakhouse after an evening dining with his buddies, including Monsignor Walter Donahue (Kevin O’Rourke).

(Because why wouldn’t someone as saintly as Frank pal around with priests?)

The commissioner was struck in the chest and arm but his injuries weren’t serious and he was released from the hospital within two days.

For this, Blue Bloods delivers a tip of the old rabbit ears: At least the show didn’t leave Frank’s life hanging in the balance while his children maintained tearful bedside vigils – that may have proven one cliché too many.

Instead, the focus was on learning who shot Frank – and since his injuries were relatively minor, the old man was able to help solve the mystery.

That’s good, because Selleck is Blue Bloods’ best actor; to confine him to a hospital bed for an episode would have been wasteful.

Initially, Vincenzo (John Bedford Lloyd), the police department’s second-in-command, suspected Frank’s shooting was linked to the forthcoming trial of a Mexican drug kingpin whose cartel has a history of “revenge killings.”

But Frank’s dad and predecessor as police commissioner, Henry (Len Cariou), knew better: He suspected the shooting was personal.

Grandpa was right: Frank had been shot by the son of Whitey Brennan (Mark Margolis), a gangster – now dying in a nursing home – whose wife and infant grandson were killed in a shootout at the child’s christening some three decades earlier.

Frank led that operation, which occurred under Henry’s watch as police commissioner.

“It was the only time your father asked me for a professional favor,” Henry explained while filling in grandson Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) on the history.

“There was a movement for commendations for the [officers] involved. Your dad asked me to squash it.”

“Two innocents died. It wasn’t our fault but it was hardly our finest hour,” Frank added.

The episode climaxed as Frank was speaking at ceremony at John Jay College, which named its atrium in memory of Frank’s dead son Joe.

Whitey’s son Kevin (Jack Gwaltney), having failed to kill Frank the first time, showed up at the event dressed as a priest and tried to finish the job – but he was collared by Danny and younger brother Jamie (Will Estes) as Frank spoke on stage.

In Dedication’s final scene, Frank visited Whitey in the nursing home.

“Thirty years ago, you lost your wife and a grandson during an arrest that was carried out under my command. There wasn’t a time then to express regret – or if there was, I didn’t take it,” Frank said.

“You’ve got some nerve,” Whitey responded.

“I’ve lost my wife. I’ve lost a son. I have some feeling for what you went through. I’m sorry for your loss.”

“You came all the way here for that?”

“I did.”

“You think that matters to me?”

“I hope so. I know it matters to me.”

This nicely written and performed scene was not unlike the moment in last month’s episode Family Ties, when Frank visited a grieving Russian gangster he had battled years earlier.

More importantly, the moment humanized Frank, who is too often portrayed as flawless (the paling-around-with-priests thing being but one example).

The scene with Whitey demonstrated that Frank is capable of making mistakes – or at least he once was.

Three other observations about Dedication:

• When I saw guest actress Patricia Kalember – she played Dr. Keller, the physician who treated Frank – wearing those blue scrubs, I was reminded of Kalember’s starring role as Kay O’Brien 25 years ago.

The CBS hospital drama lasted nine weeks; how cool would it have been if her Blue Bloods doctor had also been Kay O’Brien?

• Did any other nerds notice the similarities between the second attempt on Frank’s life and the foiled assassination in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country?

In both scenes, a character is giving an eloquent speech (Frank reciting John Donne in Dedication, Kurtwood Smith’s Federation president pleading for galactic peace in Star Trek) while in the crosshairs of an assassin-in-disguise (Gwaltney’s faux priest, Rene Auberjonois’ Colonwel West, dressed as a Klingon).

Was Blue Bloods paying homage to the most under-appreciated Star Trek film?

• How nice was it to have Blue Bloods back on Friday nights last week?

After a four-week trial run on Wednesdays, CBS restored the show to its usual Friday-nights-at-10 slot.

This is where Blue Bloods works best, as the ratings seem to indicate.

The show isn’t perfect – in my book, it has yet to realize its potential – but it deserves time to find its voice, and a less-competitive Friday slot seems to be the ideal setting for that to happen.

Besides, if CBS keeps bouncing Blue Bloods around its schedule, how will the Reagans’ old enemies know where to find them?

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  1. Star Trek also digs up a lot of people from Kirk’s past, not necessarily adversaries, although sometimes. There have been old girlfriends, his brother (who died) and his nephew, and people from his academy days–both students and teachers. It’s interesting how these choices, probably a bit off-hand at the time, have served to shape Trek lore, which no doubt used these characters for its “expanded universe” in some shape or form.

  2. […] to discuss her proposal to capitalize on the publicity Frank has received since recovering from a mob family’s assassination attempt in the previous […]

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