Rewind Recap – Third Watch 1.15: “Officer Involved”

Original Air Date: February 21, 2000

It’s hard to believe that Third Watch was Coby Bell’s first major acting role. He carried the role of Officer Ty Davis, Jr. like he’d been acting for years. “Officer Involved,” the fifteenth episode of the first season, shines a light on Ty when he shoots an innocent man. Not only does it provide a showcase for Bell’s acting talent, it also forces the audience to ask a fundamental question: what would you do?

Things start out like business as usual for Ty and Sully – insulting Ty’s typical twentysomething love life, followed by insulting Sully’s age – when they spot a man being savagely beaten by three perps in an alley. While Ty stays with the victim, Sully takes off alone in pursuit. When he tries to clear a fence in the snow, he slips, falls and his gun discharges – his partner, hearing the shot, fears that his life is in danger. A helpful bystander comes to Sully’s aid, going to retrieve his weapon for him; however, from Ty’s angle, all he can see is his partner on the ground, and someone he doesn’t know picking up his partner’s gun. Davis makes a split-second decision, and shoots the man he thinks may be about to kill his partner. Needless to say, finding out the man was innocent opens up a whole crisis of conscience for the straight-laced rookie.

This is one of those situations that audiences love to nitpick. Especially in the age of over-saturated cop shows, everyone suddenly thinks they’re an expert once they’ve watched a few too many episodes of Law & Order or CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Even for me – someone with a criminal justice degree, a family history of public service and actual law enforcement experience – it’s hard to say what to do in a situation like that. It’s easy to think we could have made the right decision, but at least for me, I know I would have probably done the exact same thing that Ty did. Therefore, it’s easy to empathize with him and come along with him on the emotional and professional journey that follows as a consequence of his actions.

Sully, of course, is there to help his partner navigate the metaphorical rough waters that follow. He tries his best to keep Ty from going to pieces, but it’s not as if he can blame him – he admits to the captain (who is played by James Rebhorn, who’d go on to play FBI boss Hughes on USA’s White Collar) that he would have done the exact same thing had their roles been reversed. Bosco, ever the politically incorrect one, wonders if race factors into the fallout: “Davis is black. He shot a black guy. If this was me, I could start packing a bag for Attica.” Everyone has an opinion.

Ty struggles with his guilt and feelings that he’s not doing enough to help his victim, who may be paralyzed as a result of the shooting. On top of that, he’s about to go face-to-face with Internal Affairs. He’d rather go into his shell and brood over the situation than do anything to alleviate it. It’s up to Sully to get his partner’s head in the right place and save his job. I’d venture to say that this is almost as much Skipp Sudduth’s episode as it is Coby Bell’s. Can you believe that NBC disagreed with casting him? His portrayal of Sully may be the most authentic of the entire ensemble, and with an ensemble this good, that’s saying something.

Davis makes the unwise though completely understandable decision to visit his victim in the ICU. When he tries to explain and apologize to the victim’s family, it goes pretty much as wrong as it could possibly go. It’s a heartwrenching scene, because it’s possible to grasp both sides of the dialogue. We understand why Davis wants to be there and that he’s trying to do the right thing, yet it’s also understandable that these people would be furious at the person who paralyzed their loved one, regardless of the circumstances.

Eventually, Ty is collared by Sully in the episode’s most powerful scene. Sully tries desperately to convince Ty that he did the right thing, while Ty grapples with the full weight of his guilt and self-loathing. The acting between Coby Bell and Skipp Sudduth is first-rate here, as one partner falls apart and the other does everything in his power to put him back together and save his job, if not his life. Therein lies the brilliance of the partnership: these two were totally different people, and sometimes they didn’t always get along, but they always looked out for each other no matter what. If you don’t get choked up watching Ty nearly in tears, I question if you even have a heart. The scene is just that good.

Meanwhile, Faith has to deal with the fallout of her decision to tell husband Fred to get out of their house following another argument over his drinking problem. Bosco has an even bigger adverse reaction than either of her kids, and it creates tension in their partnership while they’re dispatched to deal with a missing ten-year-old. He accuses her of quitting on her marriage, while she points out his reputation as a womanizer. This could be another cliche in the making (how many young, good-looking, perpetually single cops have we seen on television?) but Third Watch spins it in another direction. It’s interesting to hear Bosco telling Faith she needs to fight for her marriage, and revealing that he’s not afraid of commitment. Obviously, he wants what he believes is best for his partner and his partner’s family, although he makes his argument in such a way that makes him look like a complete jerk. Then again, one of the charms of the character of Bosco is how politically and socially incorrect he often was. Gregory House and the subsequent generation of antiheroes could learn a thing or two about character depth from Maurice Boscorelli. The monologue he later gives Faith on his parents’ separation and how it affected his childhood is poignant and gives his character an emotional weight that those who came after him only wish they had. He helps Faith to realize the wide effects of her decision, and she meets Fred not to break the news to Charlie and Emily, but to make one last attempt to help him and in so doing, help their family.

It’s Bosco who also provides the sole comic relief in the episode, when the team finds the missing ten-year-old trapped between a wall and a neighbor’s shed. The B-story drama comes from everyone working to free the child before he freezes to death, but the more interesting part is Bosco’s banter with the German neighbor who’s more concerned with the destruction of his shed than the fate of the child. The Hitler references are incredibly un-PC, but they’re funny anyway, and only made better by the fact that Bosco and Faith uncover a “crapload of marijuana” on the premises. Every episode needs to have a little humor lest it end up becoming either depressing or complete melodrama, and there’s no denying that particular segment is funny.

Meanwhile, everyone continues to make a mess of their personal lives. Bobby is sucking the face off the rebound girl he met after Kim told him she wasn’t in love with him, Jimmy introduces Kim to his new girlfriend Brooke (who will play a part in the rest of this season and next), and Carlos has attracted himself a stalker in former patient Vangie (which, what kind of a name is that?).

Really, however, these are all inconsequential details to the story of Ty trying to struggle with his morals and professional responsibilities in the face of an accident with grave consequences. It’s an episode well put together so as to bring the audience along through his eyes, which is not at all surprising given that it was written by series co-creator Edward Allen Bernero and directed by co-exec producer Christopher Chulack. No one knows a show and its characters better than the people who helped create them. However, when you’re going to rest an episode on the shoulders of one actor, you had better make sure that actor can carry it for forty-four minutes. There’s no doubt that Coby Bell can do that; half the episode he’s acting without ever saying anything. His facial expressions and body language convey enough without a single line of dialogue.

Perhaps the most chilling moment of the episode comes at the end, where Ty gets his gun back from Internal Affairs, loads it, cocks it and puts it back in his locker. There’s no dialogue, and hardly anything happens, but Bell’s deliberate movement lends a chill to a routine action. He knows that tomorrow, he’s going to have to pick that gun up again, even as much as he despises it. There’s no avoiding it. The job goes on, no matter what, and he has to live with that. Thankfully for us, we get to go along for the journey with him, both in the good moments…and also in the hard times.

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