TV: NCIS, S14E08: “Enemy Combatant”

ncis_-_enemy_combatant_-_08_35_26_pm#1 TV show, Tuesday, 11/22/16

14.86 million viewers

What it is: A CBS procedural about an agency tasked with investigating crimes related to the Navy and Marine Corps. In this episode they delve into the murder of a Muslim chaplain.

When I saw the title of this episode I figured I might be in for some real problematicness. The ep isn’t actually as bad as I feared it might be, but it’s still a good case study in the inherent pitfalls in the Deep Mainstream’s handling of controversial issues.

To its credit, “Enemy Combatant” doesn’t indulge in rank Islamophobia; instead, it goes the opposite way, framing its story around (spoiler alert) a Guantánamo Bay detainee who turns out to have been falsely imprisoned. But in doing so, it commits the relatively benign but still deceptive sin of presenting hideous injustices as outliers instead of as a routine and inevitable feature of the War on Terror. At one point an authority figure incredulously asks, “You’re telling me that an innocent man spent eleven years in a US military detention camp because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time?!” Yeah man. You read the papers?

Late in the episode, the show’s attitude towards Guantánamo is crystallized in a scene in which series regular Agent Ellie Bishop stands outside Gitmo with her Middle Eastern translator Qasim, waiting for the aforementioned detainee, Amir Hassan, to be released. “What if there’s another Amir in there and we just don’t know it?” she asks. Sorry to break it to you, lady, but there is (lots of them!), and we do, and we have for years. “Fear often makes us do things that we shouldn’t,” Qasim says reassuringly, “but that’s human.” Ah, OK, so all the lives ended or ruined by US foreign policy are forgivable because we were scaaared! NCIS tries to soothe our souls in this scene, but it offers more redemption than we’ve actually earned.

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