Ever since The Sopranos premiered over 20 years ago on TV, we have been living in what many call a golden age of television. The advent of cable shows like Oz, Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Game Of Thrones have provided a creative outlet for filmmakers to offer a fully realised artistic vision.
There is however a certain two hours of television which I personally say must not be ignored. Two hours of television that broke through the tropes of the medium to take audiences to a new and unexpected place. And that was a two-part story in the first season of Due South.
So… What Was Due South?
For those who do not remember Due South chronicled the adventures of Constable Benton Fraser (Paul Gross). An officer of the Canadian Royal Mounted Police. It began as a television movie where Fraser finds himself in Chicago investigating the murder of his father who himself was a legendary RCMP officer. His investigation leads him to cross paths with Ray Vecchio (David Marciano) a Chicago Police Detective. Together they crack the case.
The TV movie was a huge ratings success – and a weekly ongoing TV series followed.
Fraser is now stationed permanently in Chicago’s Canadian Embassy and works as a liaison officer with the CPD. He and Vecchio form an unofficial partnership. His unorthodox approach (learned from working in the wilds of the Northwest Territory) combined with Vecchio’s more streetwise approach make them a formidable crime-fighting team. Along for the ride is Diefenbaker, Fraser’s deaf pet wolf.
The show was essentially a fish out of water comedy-drama. Whilst Fraser is a skilled detective – his Canadian good cheer, forthright attitude and naivety with women often cause confusion to both him and those around him. At the heart of the show is his friendship with Vecchio. The two become truly inseparable – and soon can hardly exist without each other.
It aired on the CBS Network in the US from April 1994 to March 1999 over four seasons. It garnered critical acclaim and a huge fan base.
The first season was ticking along quite nicely and nearing its end – offering refreshingly offbeat adventures for our mismatched heroes. Then in the 20th and 21st episodes… it did something incredible. Something so utterly unexpected, so brilliant and something that those who watched it would never, EVER forget.
See – it turns out that there is a reason that Fraser is so nervous and awkward around women. Cause there was a woman in his past called Victoria Metcalfe. A woman who for him no one else could ever match up to.
Long before he was stationed in Chicago – Victoria was a criminal whom he tracked down and apprehended. They found themselves caught in a brutal snowstorm and worked together to survive. Thanks to each other they survived the ordeal and fell deeply in love. But when the storm passed Fraser had a decision to make. Turn her in, or let her go? Ultimately, he picks duty over love and breaks his own heart in the process.
One day in Chicago – he thinks he sees Victoria in the street. And gives chase – absolutely confusing the hell out of Vecchio. Thinking of it as a trick of the eye he tries to dismiss it. But the incident causes him to relive all the painful memories of this woman who he loved – and then betrayed.
Turns out it was not his imagination. And whilst eating in a diner he sees Victoria again. It is not a dream. She really IS there. Eventually, they find themselves back at his apartment and they both give in to passion. There is no doubt about it. Fraser loves this woman with every part of his soul. He loves her more than he has ever loved anyone.
But why is she in Chicago? What is really going on? And is it an accident that she and Fraser’s paths have crossed? Vecchio is at first delighted for his friend but soon becomes to suspect Victoria’s motives.
She is just as in love with Fraser as he is in love with her. But as good and virtuous a person he is – she is just as dark and evil. And she has no qualms about using Fraser’s love for her to manipulate him. Using her dead sister’s identity as an alias she draws Fraser into a deadly scheme involving stolen diamonds. Her plan is to get away and start a new life and take Fraser with her.
Fraser once again finds himself stuck in between duty and love. What decision will he end up making?
The show’s creator Paul Haggis wrote and directed this story and brought a filmic sensibility to the proceedings. There are no flashbacks to the incident where Fraser and Victoria first met – but there are certain metaphorical allusions. Visions of snow falling in Fraser’s apartment – him putting her fingers in his mouth to keep them warm – just as he did a long time before when they were stuck in the storm.
Flashbacks can be a somewhat overused trope in television – so to offer details on the untold history in such an abstract way was damn unique at the time.
The key to it all was Paul Gross’ performance. Up until this point, he was kind of portrayed as a bit of a dork – but this story is about his humanity and most of all his desires. A man who lives to help others. It is a surprise to us when he’s willing to throw it all out of the window when this woman shows up. Yet thanks to Gross’ inherent sympathy we never condemn him or lose sympathy for him. We have all wanted something, or someone at some point who’s bad for us.
After this two-parter, the character of Victoria was never seen again. But she makes a hell of an impression. She was portrayed by guest star Melina Kanakaredes in a miraculous masterstroke of casting. She possesses a dark beauty and a hint of danger that makes it very believable that a man could throw away all his morals in an instant to be with her. No matter what dark deeds she does.
Then there is the use of music. Mainly the song “Possession” by Sarah McLachlan which is used so effectively in the first part of the story. And show composer Jay Semko’s closing theme as the final moments of the second part play out touches the heart with a dark melancholy.
Victoria’s Secret is a stunning mix of romance and crime thriller. It is thrilling, entertaining, moving and puts us through an emotional wringer in a way that 90s TV did so rarely.
Track it down somehow and watch it with someone you love. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen on TV.