Television review

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The Investigator (C4) began by thumbing its nose at the authorities: "This film", read an introductory title, "was made without the co-operation of the Ministry of Defence". "Without" was underlined, just in case you hadn't noted the adversarial sting in this somewhat redundant explanation (since the film depicted the army's Special Investigations Branch as a crew of misogynistic paranoiacs, you would have to have been fairly dimwitted to assume the cheerful involvement of a media liaison officer). Barbara Machin's script told the story of Caroline Meagher, a devoted SIB detective who discovered that her duties included detection of "lesbian rings" within the army. She discovered that she was a lesbian herself and that the grotesque ordeals which she helped administer to suspects might be turned upon herself.

As a fictional device, such a dilemma would almost certainly be employed as the occasion for a fable of awakened consciousness... and, indeed, conscience. The conclusion would be the proud moment when the heroine came clean about her true self, and walked off base into a truer life. This being a true story, it was nothing like as satisfying - when Meagher finally fell victim to the sexual panic which seems to afflict the armed forces, she denied everything and was eventually discharged on a technicality. So the drama had a reliable villain - the military police who compile the dossiers of gossip and insinuation which lead to investigation, but the image of its heroine was slightly smudged. She never got the chance to repudiate her doubled life as predator and prey. In one telling moment, she is asked whether she loves the woman whose tender and intimate letters have been discovered in her quarters: "No... no, I don't," she replies, and the enforced betrayal registers with the viewer as a far more baleful breach of regulations than that being investigated - on television, we are suspicious of those who disobey the orders of love.

Genre expectations had also done something a little strange to the drama's sexual politics. Machin's script was alert to the ambiguity of this world: Meagher calls her female inferiors "you guys" and is seen engaging in boisterous drinking competitions with her male colleagues, part of becoming "one of the boys", as her future lover observes. At the same time, her femininity is employed as a tool of interrogation - coaxing confessions out of recruits who have been softened up by the ugly sexual contempt of a male policeman. The drama was alert to the paradoxes too - that the military suppression of homosexuality creates precisely the secretive world that it most fears, and that brutality and abuse are deployed to fight against the largely imaginary enemy of "harrassment and bullying". But it couldn't quite shake off the prejudices of television itself - in particular the medium's preference for beautiful faces and bankable eroticism. If it is wrong to persecute lesbians, then it should be wrong to persecute them whatever they look like and whatever they do, but from the look of it, The Investigator was never going to take any such chances with our sympathies.

Missing in Action (BBC1), a 999 special about the rescue of the American airforce pilot shot down in Bosnia, was made with the support of the armed forces involved - and you hardly needed a title card to tell you that either, given that it was a perfect reflection of the ticker-tape hoopla unleashed by his recovery. At the time, there was some speculation about mistakes made by the pilot, as well as reflections on the way the event had obscured the failure of Western intervention, but not a whisper of such doubts survived in this animated war-comic. Heroes can now cry, it seems, and admit to fear, but they cannot be seen as foolish. Last week, the BBC announced that it was close to signing a major co-production deal with the Discovery Channel (who were also involved in this dubious enterprise). If this sort of jingoistic nonsense is going to be the result of such arrangements, then the corporation won't need to worry about competition from its British rivals - the real enemy will be inside the gates already.

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