I’m going to openly predict that the creators of Bosch (the American detective series, not the German manufacturers of power tools) were fans of Michael Mann’s sweeping and architectural crime story-telling. The detective’s first night frolicking with a police officer is right out of Heat as McCauley begins to be tamed by Eady. Even the framing of the night lit city through huge open glass windows and soft ambient music. There’s also a whiff of Lt. Hanna in the character of Bosch – not to mention Mann’s earlier Manhunter, Will Graham took comfort in pondering alone as his unique detective brain clicks into gear. And let’s not forget the beat-driven title sequence that almost screams Miami Vice. Not a bad first impression at all.
There is a distinct noir feel here too. Night time blackness and various building and vehicle lighting. Sitting in the dark, two detectives cracking short sentences with croaky voices. They seem both deflated and driven by their place on the justice-seeking map. Especially Harry Bosch, our protagonist played by Titus Welliver. We soon discover he was a military man, now tightly entangled in detective work while keeping his personal life at arm’s length. Who wants a young, well-rounded, hot-shot rookie anyway?
There’s a moment following the opening, plot-thrusting shooting, where a look from Bosch – a realization in the rain – shows the immediate toll of taking a life. Even in the moment, and though we’ve seen criminals shot a thousand times on TV and film, we acknowledge this is a huge deal. He has been in trouble before: “How many people have you killed?” he is later asked in court as flippantly as inquiring about what he had for breakfast. It’s a refreshingly satisfying angle for the homicide detective to be the focus of a killing, and an investigation against Bosch ensues.
Rather than settle for the shitty end of the stick, which is to prepare for his court case, Bosch assigns himself like glue to investigate the site of a human bone. He has his haters in the force. He’s a loner, not quite renegade, refusing to crawl up anyone’s ass – but an intriguing presence. The Hollywood Division of the LAPD here seem to be a little unorthodox and cock-sure, so Bosch should fit right in. He has his supporters in some quarters too, including his lieutenant who still rides him a little, and those that have worked with him and know his dedication never stop him sniffing around.
What ultimately shines a torch on his human side is the chemistry that immediately prevails between him and the female officer. His inability to detach from the job though soon pushes her away somewhat. Family-wise too, as Bosch steers towards making up lost time with his own teenage daughter he just can’t pull himself away long enough from his police work to put in the family hours.
Bosch takes the lead with the buried body case. It soon links to a man, Waits, who is brought in and arrested – one male adult body and the DNA of several others found in his van. One scene is reminiscent of the movie Se7en, as the crook tries to antagonize the detective while driving to secret location. Touches like these are handily utilized here, and bring us closer to the familiar thriller genre we all love. It also turns out to be a cock-and-bull story, that goes extremely tits-up, a detective is wounded, and Waits makes his escape. I saw that coming a mile off – why didn’t the LAPD?
The show thankfully wastes little time dragging the action or over-embracing the main plots strands. Even after a couple of surprisingly premature confessions, the dead body case is pretty much nailed midway through, if not quite wrapped up. And with those unresolved elements of the case comes further fall-out, including a paradoxical decision by Bosch that favors the potential progress of the case and police ethics over the support of his new woman. In this business you get by without rules, whereas integrity and honesty only damage relations it seems. The drama juggles all social, criminal, personal activity nicely, not allowing a shred of tediousness.
There are some truly painful to watch moments too, prolonging the agony of justice getting it’s rightful place. But the bad guys, primarily here the deeply disturbed Waits, are prepared to make unbelievable sacrifices and perform despicable actions to clear the path for their freedom. This is a killer you love to hate, and long for his downfall.
Titus Welliver begs the question as to whether or not he has what it takes to be a leading man. He was terrific in support in Gone Baby Gone, but was lazily under-used in Sons of Anarchy. His hound-dog exterior here, accompanied by the odd disapproving gnarl or pondering smugness, suits a protagonist with such a calm, brooding demeanor. Welliver’s casting is not about star appeal or bringing in the ladies (though that is not for me to say), but rather showcasing the gritty charisma of a wise old owl and a wily bruised wolf in Bosch. It’s a solid, compelling performance throughout, his hard-edged personal perfect for a crime drama of this discourse and caliber.
Bosch is captivating in its bleak moments. There’s a frank discussion on the state of the world, yet the commanding tone somehow shows the characters craving for hope that there is a better place, a better world than this. Even Bosch at one point actually says he wants to have faith and make things right. The burden and weight of family guilt and dissatisfaction of unresolved crimes are on his shoulders – “It must be hard being you” he is told. But we are invested. His deceivingly lackluster, casual exterior suggests a lack of passion with Bosch, but that is definitely not the case. His actions are subtle, he is a thinker, he’s a clever, calculating detective . “Too old a cat to be fucked by a kitten,” he tells a crook.
It is inevitable that with the vast array of detective shows available on TV that they, no matter the quality of the show, can blend into one another. Sometimes a formula works fine. Some for decades. Sometimes we, and the harsh American ratings system, require something fresh, a different angle – if just to shake the hornet’s nest. Bosch provides us with a healthily paced detective tale, one that never runs out of juice. A little rough around the edges not being one of its flaws. By the final episode (there are just 10 to the season) quite a bit of air has been deflated from the balloon, but it never near bursts. Having energetically dragged us through the mud of horrible crimes and unflattering police work, it is reassuring to have many of the loose ends tied up so richly, while we take a well-earned breather.