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Rushing to a murder scene to assist in an official investigation, California Bureau of Investigation criminal consultant (and genius detective) Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) is stopped by a local deputy police officer in a speed trap. Jane identifies himself as a CBI investigator, but the deputy ignores that and treats him in the arrogant, highhanded manner most drivers have experienced from police officers who, after all, are supposed to be the taxpayers’ servants, not our superiors.
The deputy insists that Jane hand over his driver’s license and auto registration. Fulfilling every driver’s fantasy, Jane refuses, tells the deputy that he’s being an officious jerk, and drives off.
Arriving at the crime scene, Jane emerges from his car and is immediately pursued by the deputy, who insists Jane must now be taken to jail. Jane continues his resistance, and the two men’s bosses reach a deal: Jane will pay the ticket that day, and all will be forgiven. Jane, aside, tells his boss, Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney), that he’s not going to pay the ticket. She tells him he has to, and they leave it at that.
Later, Jane confronts the deputy and the local sheriff and pours undisguised contempt on them for operating a speed trap. The deputy says that he’s just trying to save people’s lives. Jane laughs contemptuously, noting that if the deputy really wanted to save lives he’d park out in the open where people can see his police car. Instead, Jane notes, the deputy hides in hopes of catching people and forcing them to pay fines. It’s all a scam, Jane says, and an ugly, slimy one.
It’s a really liberating moment, and something many citizens of the Land of the Once-Free would like to say. In addition, the main murder mystery plot concerns a person wrongly accused of a crime, the sleazy behavior of an arrogant small-town mayor with big-time political ambitions, and several instances of blatant government malfeasance. Another, disastrous abuse of authority is prevented when Lisbon cleverly uses the press to pit her boss against the small-town mayor so that she can take control over the scene of a hostage-taking before the local police rush in and cause numerous deaths.
Thus the entire episode takes a jaundiced look at overweening government authorities and serves as a splendid illustration of Lord Acton’s maxim that power corrupts.
Ultimately (not really a spoiler), Jane solves the case and ends up not having to pay the ticket — Lisbon tells him their boss will take care of it. It’s a happy ending, but also a quite revealing one: Jane succeeds only by using one part of the government against another, just as Lisbon did earlier. Power corrupts, and the only thing that can counter it is . . . greater power. A message to the Tea Parties?
(Cross-posted at The American Culture.)