September 28, 2022

Over the Transom: The fork in the road


By Stephen Taylor

While most episodes of Ironside were routine, with some even being bad, every now and again the show would cast forth a pearl. It does so tonight with an episode from the Sixth Season called “Down Two Roads.”  

Mark Sanger has been going to night school for several seasons now; he wants a law degree. And he’s made it. The episode opens with Mark graduating. Now it’s time to clerk, and then the Bar Exam; but for now, he’s got his diploma, and a buddy from school is also graduating. On the day of the graduation, however, a beloved janitor at the college is arrested; he’s stolen $6,000 from the college. Mark knows the man, and doesn’t believe it. He sets out to solve the crime, and on the way finds that he has a decision to make.

Fran Belding and Ed Brown fade into the background, as this episode is all about Mark Sanger and Chief Ironside. They’ve worked together for five years now, and they care for each other a great deal.  Ironside is to Mark the surrogate for the father he never had, while Mark stands in for the son Chief Ironside never had. Their relationship is characterized in an early scene; Mark trips into the Chief, and a bowl of chili is dropped on the floor. The Chief snaps at Mark, and Mark snaps right back. The two began to yell at each other, but the disagreement is borne of the affection the two men have one for the other. And underlying all of Ironside’s bluster is the knowledge that he’s going to lose Mark; he’ll miss him, but he’ll also needs to learn to do more for himself. And there’s a nice touch; with Mark gone the Chief will need to learn to drive the van. And he does, but only after failing his first driving test. It’s funny, and a nice contrast to the serious tone of the episode.

Ironside has arranged for Mark to interview with the District Attorney's office, and the ADA (David Spielberg) invites him to tag along for the day, to see how things are done. And Mark gets an eyeful.  The ADA interrogates the janitor, and suggests that "you’re guilty, and we both know it. Why don’t you just go ahead and plead?" Mark is horrified. He questions the ADA, who tells him that guilt or innocence isn’t really the point; what matters is the conviction rate and saving money for the taxpayers.  Mark then spends a day with a public defender (Michael Lerner); he’s clever, and understands the problems Mark has with the case against the janitor, but he makes clear to Mark that there isn’t going to be a proper investigation, as they have far more work than resources. Mark then enlists the aid of Lt Reese (Johnny Seven), who brought the original case to the ADA. Mark begs Reese to re-open the case, but "Do you know how much paper crosses my desk every day?"  Mark is enormously frustrated. He’s gotten a first-hand look at the judicial system, and it’s nothing at all as he imagined. Ironside has little sympathy, and advises Mark to "investigate the case yourself!" And he does, finding evidence that points away from the janitor and directly toward his buddy from law school.

Of the entire cast, Mark Sanger had to be the easiest to write for; his character was dynamic and had a lot of room for growth. The characters of Ed Brown, Eve Whitfield and Fran Belding would remain static; they began and ended the series as cyphers, while Chief Ironside started the show with a fully developed character. But Mark Sanger? The Chief had plucked him out of jail; he saw something in Mark and took him under his wing. And Mark has come a long way. He’s no longer the fatherless young street rat from The Fillmore; he’s learned a great deal about police work, and now he’s an attorney. (Chief Ironside paid for Mark’s college.) And in the growing he’s stubbed his toe more than once, and there’s been conflict with the Chief. Yes, he was very easy to write for.

And this episode ends with a bang. Mark finds the trail of evidence leads straight back to his friend from school (Felton Perry) and confronts him in his apartment. Ironside and Ed Brown are with him And it’s sad. There’s bluster at first, but Mark’s friend finally admits he stole the money. He’s not really sure why, but he comes to realize that he’s thrown away three years of hard work, along with a promising career in law. And the disappointment; he’s let down everyone who had faith in him. It’s all very emotional, and Felton Perry is quite good. He asks Ironside for a little help, a little consideration, but the Chief just very quietly shakes his head, "I'm afraid I can’t do that, Mr. Stewart." 

With the case closed, Mark has a decision to make. Which sort of law? And Mark has found that he doesn’t think he cares to practice law, at least not for now. What he’s learned during the investigation is that he likes the work, and would probably be a good cop. And Ironside, to no one’s surprise, has already made arrangements for Mark to enter the police academy in "two weeks and four days! Now go to bed!"

Kudos to writers Collier Young and Sy Salkowitz for one of the best episodes of the series. Highly recommended. TV  

5 comments:

  1. For the record:
    Sy Salkowitz, a regular Ironside scriptwriter for the whole run of the series, wrote "Down Two Roads".
    Collier Young, who created the format and characters of Ironside, received a creator credit on every episode, per the standard Writer's Guild contract; in fact, he had no creative connection with the series, from early in the first season (check the credits; he didn't even write the pilot script - Don Mankiewicz did).
    Credit, where it's due ...

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    1. Thank you for the clarification. There are more of these little reviews in the pipeline, and I want to be accurate.

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    2. Thanks for the thanks.
      By way of acknowledgement:
      There's a book you should read: The Show Runner, by Cy Chermak - who held that position on Ironside for most of its run.
      The book covers Chermak's whole TV career, so Ironside occupies not all that much space; that said, what Chermak has to say about Ironside, in the context of the other shows he's done (and were there ever a bunch of those), will tell you a lot about what you've been watching over the years.
      I'll just leave it at that; Cy Chermak is quite the storyteller, and the book is worth whatever it will take you to get it.
      All the best!

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    3. Thanks for the tip!!!!! And I'd really be interested to find something written about the work of Quinn Martin. If you know of something, please let me know.

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    4. Excellent. It's at Amazon for about $15. I'm about to order it. And if you know of something similar that covers the career of Quinn Martin, I'd appreciate knowing about it. I've finished The FBI and The Fugitive, and have The Invaders and The Untouchables on the shelf, waiting to be watched.

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Thanks for writing! Drive safely!