Now we come to the Law & Order: UK episode I didn't want to come to.
"Skeletons," the last episode for Ben Daniels and Bill Paterson (as series regulars, anyway), hits the ground running, with Matt and Ronnie on the hunt to rescue a missing child whom they find murdered. We're told that the crime matches the modus operandi of an incarcerated serial killer. The first death is followed in short order by a second murder; no wonder why Matt chooses now to have a relapse of Oppositional Defiance Disorder. There's one common thread between the two children - both had run-ins with a security guard named Marcus Wright, who has the boys' religious jewelry in his possession and when pushed, says that he was doing God's work. Not only that, but in confessing, he claims that the man behind bars is innocent.
That's where this gets thorny for James, who looks like someone killed his cat when confronted with this information. The idea of having put away the wrong person is heartbreaking to him, and to add insult to injury, he's accused of professional misconduct when a contradictory witness statement is uncovered. He ends up getting arrested - so you can't blame him for being nearly manic about the entire situation. He's built a long and proud career, he's not just going to surrender and take up basketweaving. At least he gets to present his own defense.
We all know James is a bulldog in court, but he's got guts to voluntarily bring up the affair he had with one of his colleagues. Despite how damaging it is, he's unafraid to use the information (even a little ruthlessly), and that makes him a stronger person than I would be in his position. (There are reasons the man has a 93% conviction rate.) He doesn't crack when he's cross-examined; in fact, he gets angry. You can even see the smirk on his face when he's nailed his now ex-girlfriend for what he stands accused of. When he's in court, he's always on his game.
Unfortunately, he has the same Achilles heel that I do: when you have such a fierce integrity, you often take things hard, even when you know that you're not personally responsible. I've been exactly where he is, and it's eviscerating; I've measured my self-worth against my victories and failures in the courtroom. I've taken the blame for things that I know aren't my fault personally, just because I was there. So James' resignation, while heartbreaking, is perfectly understandable because I can vouch for the authenticity of his decision-making process. It's so close to who I was back then that it's chilling.
That's what I'm going to miss most of all, I think. No offense to the writers, who will continue to do their same awesome job that they do every week, but no character is going to come as close as James Steel did to reminding me of who I was, and why I loved being a lawyer as much as I did. To be able to look into that character and see myself made the show touch me on a separate emotional level, and that can't be duplicated.
This is Ben Daniels' show, as it should be, and he makes the most of it. No one could blame him for playing it up so as to go out big, but he doesn't inflate his own ego; he just throws himself into the material and doesn't call attention to himself. I'm completely unsurprised at the conviction he brings to his final performance, because he always does. We can feel all the emotions that James goes through. Most importantly, though he lands in hot water, the show doesn't destroy his character on the way out the door. Even though he's not having his finest hour, we never doubt that he's still the same fundamentally good person we've always known him to be. We don't lose our faith in him. And luckily for us, the episode leaves him in a place where he could return someday (though please, let it not be with the same tired "turns defense attorney" schtick the original series fell back on). The idea that he's still the hero I embraced is some solace while I'm getting choked up writing this.
Bill Paterson doesn't really get a sendoff in this episode, which is unfortunate, but thinking on it I'm not sure George would want one. Besides, he'll still be around, presumably to snark with his own replacement.
I know I've talked in the past (in fact, just yesterday) about expectations getting higher than any program can reasonably deliver, but I'll be the first to admit I had very high expectations for this episode. Since it was sending off my favorite character - and furthermore, an actor whom I consider a personal friend of mine - I wanted it to be an episode that ended things on a high note while staying true to itself. I can say, without reservation, that my expectations were met. It was fierce and heartbreaking and I couldn't have asked for anything better.
I know I've said it earlier today, but I want to say thank you to Ben and to Bill Paterson for four series of hard work that was cherished by me and many others, and thank you to the LOUK writing team for sending them off in the best possible way. Now, if only I wasn't sitting here starting to cry.