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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

June 24, 2020: BoschStudying: Grace Billetts

[Like most of us, my lockdown has offered the opportunity to check some TV shows off of my list. One of the best I’ve seen is Amazon Prime’s original show Bosch, based on the longstanding series of police procedural detective novels by Michael Connelly (who is part of the show as well). The best part of Bosch is its characters, so this week I’ll AmericanStudy the five most important!]
On a comparison that can help us analyze a compelling character beyond the “begrudgingly supportive captain” stereotype.
If you’ve watched, well, any cop shows or movies ever, you likely get instinctively what I mean by the “begrudgingly supportive captain” character type. There are of course variations within that type, particularly when it comes to how supportive they ultimately are: sometimes the captain is more a partner of sorts to the main characters, publicly expressing unhappiness with their actions but privately having their back against more antagonistic powers that be; sometimes he or she is more aggressively or genuinely unhappy with the main characters, who thus have to hide more from their superior as they pursue justice and the bad guys. Amy Aquino’s Hollywood Homicide Lieutenant Grace Billetts generally falls more into the former category, which is why she’s so beloved by her detectives (like Harry Bosch and Jerry Edgar); but she certainly plays the frustrated superior officer role with some regularity, particularly when Bosch refuses to follow the rules that seem consistently to get in his way. So Billetts fits both sides of the begrudgingly supportive dynamic nicely, and with a warmth and humor that are all Aquino’s doing.
But as I’ve argued about Bosch and Edgar over the first two posts in this series, Billetts also has other sides and layers to her character that go beyond this familiar and stereotypical role, and in her case we can better analyze those layers by comparing her to another compelling TV character. Billetts is gay, which allows for a comparison with Laura Innes’s Dr. Kerry Weaver from ER, another strong female leader (Weaver was over the course of her arc Chief Resident, Chief of Emergency Medicine, and Hospital Chief of Staff) whose personal life offers potential conflicts with her professional roles. The time gap between the 90s (ER aired from 1994 to 2009, with Weaver joining in Season 2) and the 2010s (Bosch has aired from 2014 to the present) is telling here—the moment when Weaver was outed at work by her romantic partner was portrayed as a big deal (and since it was from the same era as the Ellen controversy, clearly was one), while it seems clear that Billetts’s coworkers know and don’t care about her sexuality. But nonetheless, a prior workplace relationship is depicted as what is holding Billetts back from further professional advancement—she has tried unsuccessfully to make captain for years—which reminds us that society has perhaps not evolved as much in these two decades as we would hope.
Without spoiling all the details, it’s interesting to note that the most recent (6th) season of Bosch added another layer to those personal and professional issues for Billetts, as she was accused of harassment (of a relatively mild variety, but nevertheless) by one of the department’s detectives. Moreover, the situation was made more complicated because of her fraught relationship to her own superior officer (who occupies the captain position she hasn’t been able to attain). That dynamic likewise parallels one of Dr. Kerry Weaver’s enduring challenges, her navigation of her relationship with her boss (and one of TV’s most toxic male characters), Paul McCrane’s Dr. Robert “Rocket” Romano. But while roughly half of Romano’s interactions with Weaver (and everyone else, perhaps especially Eriq La Salle’s Dr. Peter Benton) could be described as harassment of one kind or another, in that era they were (to my recollection) never overtly portrayed as such. The far greater awareness of those workplace challenges in Bosch makes it one of many shows dealing well with the era of #MeToo, and adds another compelling layer to the character and story of Grace Billetts.
Next BoschStudying tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Takes on this show or others you’d call especially lockdown-binge-worthy?

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