Cold Case: ‘Boy Crazy’



Warning: there are spoilers in this review.



Directed by Holly Dale

Written by Joanna Lovinger

Starring
Kathryn Morris, Danny Pino, John Finn, Jeremy Ratchford, Thom Barry and Tracie Thoms – With Linsey Godfrey, Elisabeth Harnois, David Selby, Jonathan Keltz, Michael Constantine and Michael Oberlander


It is 1963. Samantha Randall, or Sam as she likes to be known, dresses “like a boy”. It is her first day in a new high school, having already been kicked out of two other schools because of her “alternative” behaviour. She is immediately bullied by her classmates and accused by the School Principal of inciting trouble because of her “anti-social” behaviour. She is later found dead by a nearby lake, wearing a dress. The cause of death is determined to have been suicide. Lilly Rush (Kathryn Morris, who seems to get paler and thinner with each passing season of the show) reopens the case some 44 years later when an old man, a former alcoholic hobo, claims to have been a witness to the body being dumped into the lake.

‘Boy Crazy’, the ninth episode of the fifth season of ‘Cold Case’, plays as a kind of mix of ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ and ‘Rebel Without a Cause’.
It is not my intention to constantly review random episodes of ‘Cold Case’, but this one made me feel angry while I was watching it and I want to write down some of my thoughts about it.


It was not the episode itself that made me angry. That is a typical example of the long-established ‘Cold Case’ style, including tackling a “controversial” subject. It was the subject itself that caused my reaction. I did not know in advance what the subject matter was, although I did know it was set in the early 1960s and featured Elisabeth Harnois in a guest role. Harnois had the central role in what might just be my favourite television show, the short-lived ‘Point Pleasant’, and I like her very much in the handful of other things I have seen.

As the episode opens, Sam is seen nervously walking into a classroom and taking a seat. A group of teenage boys start to bully “him” and when one of them grabs at “him” and discovers, ooh-er missus, that “he” has breasts, the shock revelation is made that “he” is a “she”.

The problem here is that Sam looks like a tomboy, but is very obviously female. I guess what we need to remember is that we are looking back to a time that would commonly be described as more innocent. The other teenage girls in the classroom conform to a very specific mode of dress and look as if they have just walked off the set of ‘Grease’ or ‘Pleasantville’. However, throughout the remainder of the episode I wasn’t sure if there was enough of a focus to the message the story was obviously hoping to convey, although maybe that was deliberate because prejudice about gender is still a serious issue today.

Sam, we learn, has a gender identity disorder. She is described as a “boy” living inside the outer shell of a “girl”. Her classmates call her a “lesbo”. In fact, she has a crush on her one and only friend, Dom (Jonathan Keltz), another outsider, but he reacts badly when she tries to kiss him and the attitudes towards gender issues become further confused. Although every other character in the episode at one point or another gives the impression of believing Sam suffered from a genuine “disorder”, she makes the point in one scene that she is not ill, is not insane, and is, as should be obvious for all to see, “normal”. It is an important moment in the story.

When Sam is kicked out of her latest high school her father Archie Randall (Michael Oberlander) reluctantly agrees to send her to a psychiatric institution where she will be “cured” of her “sickness”. When she refuses to bend to the authoritarian regime in the hospital she is forcibly given electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to such a severe degree that it effectively turns her into a zombie.

It was at this point that I began to feel angry and enraged – and also somehow helpless in the knowledge that although such barbaric “treatments” would not be permitted now, in many other ways our attitudes have still not changed very much.

Linsey Godfrey, who had a recurring role in the short-lived ‘Surface’, another show I enjoyed very much, is excellent as Sam. I also liked David Selby and Michael Constantine, playing the older Dom Barron and Archie Randall. Elisabeth Harnois has a relatively small role, playing Janey Davis, the spiteful girlfriend of one of the bullies. She acts as the “normal girl” to Sam’s “abnormal” character. What is perhaps most interesting is that Janey now (as played by Leigh Rose) is completely different and puts down her radical personality change to having, “lived through and experienced the women’s movement.” It is perhaps slightly heavy handed that in the closing montage she is discussing Joan of Arc with a classroom of high school students, but the message is received.

‘Cold Case’ is a product of Jerry Bruckheimer and we should not expect anything too hard hitting. However, it does genuinely tackle subjects that many people would consider to be controversial and even though it barely scratches at the surface of these issues, it does so in a generally responsible way. The very fact that I came away from ‘Boy Crazy’ feeling a sense of anger means, I think, that the episode successfully made its point.

Meredith Stiehm, who created ‘Cold Case’, was previously a writer and producer on ‘ER’, ‘NYPD Blues’ and ‘Beverly Hills 90210’. Joanna Lovinger, the writer of this episode, was the script co-ordinator on ‘Rome’ and ‘Six Feet Under’. Holly Dale, the director, has a long track record dating back into the mid 1970s, mostly on Canadian television.



Screencaps from cold-case.net
Elisabeth Harnois screencap from e-harnois.com



13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I cried thru this episode and I am a man of 53! Very moving what was done to that poor girl in 1963.

Anonymous said...

This is old so I don't know if you will see this...

I'm not sure what you meant when you said:

" Although every other character in the episode at one point or another gives the impression of believing Sam suffered from a genuine “disorder”, she makes the point in one scene that she is not ill, is not insane, and is, as should be obvious for all to see, “normal”. It is an important moment in the story. "

From my point of view she was saying who is, is not a sickness even though she is not like everyone else so thee is nothing to cure ...

Even if she was a transsexual, saw or felt herself to be a boy AND was attracted to boys.

Of course I many be biased... I am someone who has changed sex.

I never felt i was sick or irrational in any sense because i needed to do that.

The real "twist" in the story was ALSO having "her" attracted to a boy... many people can not understand that that fact that someone who identifies as the other sex is NOT necessarily linked to sexual orientation ... that it's NOT about "homosexuality" at all.

alienlanes said...

Thanks for your message.

I agree with you. What you say is also what I say in my review. There is nothing at all wrong with Sam; it is the reaction of those around her that is wrong. She is not sick or any other accusation that might be thrown at her.

She might feel uncomfortable in her own skin, but that is it – and that is hardly a crime; we all feel that way to some degree. The problem is the prejudice and ignorance of other people, who do terrible things to her.

damien said...

You review is good but i don't understand something. This poor young woman died although she was not sick.

She just wanted to be happy and live free.

But I would like to know something. Is she actually a tomboy ?

Thanks you, I hope you'll answer

alienlanes said...

Thank you for your message. It is quite a long time now since I watched this episode, so I am replying from memory.

Sam conforms to some of the characteristics that would perhaps lead us to describe her as a tomboy – she has a preference for clothes more usually associated with boys or men and her one friend is male (in itself not conclusive, but, as a generalisation, tomboys tend to gravitate towards male company rather than female company).

Being a tomboy is perfectly normal, but the way in which society generally perceives and reacts to “gender issues” is often shameful and while there have been steps forward in my lifetime, it remains a serious issue.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I just randomly saw the episode today and was angry as well after viewing it. I was enraged at the way she was treated in the mental institution and I cried at the end when they (society) finally "won"...reminded me of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Thank you again.

alienlanes said...

Thank you for your message. This episode of ‘Cold Case’ certainly seems to have had an impact on people who have watched it, which is great. As you say, it is difficult not to come away feeling enraged at the way the character Sam was treated, especially knowing that this was not at all unusual at that time and even much more recently. It has been a while now since I last watched ‘Cold Case’, but this is an episode I thought was very good.

Anonymous said...

The guy who played Don was HOTTTT. Just saying. really hot.

Anonymous said...

Dom**

Anonymous said...

That was the weakest episode of that entire rather idiotic show. I am sorry, but how completely stupid would someone have to be in order to chose electroshock over lipstick. Who you are on the inside is up to you. But society does have the right to dictate how you act in public. You can be a nudist, but you can not walk naked down the street, even though it hurts no one.
I guarantee that most men would put on lipstick in that instance. Or a corset. Heck if someone said act like a guy or I will fry your brain; I would be acting like a truck driver until I could get to a more secure situation. Anyone that has so little self preservation is a useless mess.
Besides, I do not see why your appearance is so important. Its a rather shallow reason to rebel.

In the end she made her choice. It was a stupid choice, but it was a choice. You do NOT have the right to act like yourself if it is deemed harmful to others. If we all just decided that whatever rules we did not like were unfair, we could not all live together in a city

Anonymous said...

You have some balls man! I and I respect that!

Unknown said...

also the way the call it a 'disorder' sickens me. There's nothing wrong with him. This episode and the one where Lil was shot stick with me

Anonymous said...

Quite clearly a tomboy. Don't call her a "him" pls.