I just re-watched the classic season two ep "Juliet is Bleeding" and I thought we dS fans could put our noggins together and figure out why this episode works (because...well, duh, it's one of the best RayV episodes ever) and why it doesn't (because...I don't think it does.)
To begin, I think it's important to point out that JIB comes as a matched set with season one episode "The Deal". Both episodes focus on Ray Vecchio's relationship with childhood acquaintance Frank Zuko, and both episodes have important things to say about Ray's life and the way he interacts with people from his Italian-American neighbourhood. "The Deal" is about Ray overcoming his fear of Frank Zuko (and, by extension, his fear of the power and influence of organized crime in his community) and JIB looks at the way hatred poisons and destroys everything, even love. I suggest viewing these two episodes back-to-back to fully appreciate the scope of the storytelling here; "The Deal" and JIB are two sides of the same coin, and one features transcendence, the other tragedy. So...go watch.
Okay? We're good? On with the show!
So, "Juliet is Bleeding". Not a happy episode in a series that was mainly all about the happy. In fact, aside from obvious choices like "Victoria's Secret", I think JIB is the bleakest episode due South ever produced (and I can sound so certain because, wait for it, I haven't even seen season 3 or 4). JIB shows us a very ugly side of Ray, a vengeful, angry, and pig-headed side where Ray seems willing to do anything, no matter how blind or illegal or unjust, to bring Guardino's murderer to justice and put Zuko behind bars. We have see hints of this by-all-means-necessary aspect of Ray's character before, but it was mainly cast in a humorous light in order to contrast against Fraser's uncompromising by-the-book moral code. One of the most heartbreaking elements in this episode (aside from Irene Zuko's life and death, but more on that in a minute) is the division that grows between Ray and Fraser as Fraser works to clear Zuko of Guardino's murder. Fraser is on the outs not only with Ray but the entire 2-7, as everyone comes to believe that the upright Mountie is attempting to help free a cop-killer. I don't think there's another episode in the series that places Fraser in such isolation from everyone; Ray even threatens to dissolve their partnership and friendship over the clash in their investigations of Guardino's murder and Zuko's role in the crime.
This is fertile ground to explore: in Ray and Fraser we get two very different approaches to solving the crime. Fraser puts in the legwork, builds a case, and does it all in the face of massive resistance from the Chicago PD. Ray is simply happy that Zuko is going down, and it doesn't really bother him that Zuko might not have ordered the hit on Ray and accidentally killed Guardino instead. Despite Fraser's noble pursuit of the truth, we're made to see Ray's perspective on things and we hate Zuko as much as anyone, so this episode does the neat trick of dividing viewer loyalties between Fraser (who's right) and Ray (who should be right). That's good stuff, and it was interesting to see what happens when Fraser and Ray really clash over an investigation. I think the conflict between the two male leads is one of the central reasons why this episode succeeds.
Where it isn't so successful, I'd argue, is when it comes to the handling of Irene Zuko. Now, don't get me wrong - I loved Irene. Carrie-Anne Moss, in a pre-Matrix role, really shone as Ray's illicit childhood sweetheart who just happens to be Frank Zuko's sister. The past history between these two was established as a mature and complex problem about torn family loyalties and the way in which the world conspires to tear people apart. It's tragic stuff, like something Shakespeare might have...um, yeah. The scene that firmly establishes Irene as a gal with moxie was particularly well-done. In the plays-both-sides neighbourhood restaurant, Irene and Ray dance and Irene asks pointedly if Ray is dancing with her or dancing with her brother. This is a tough, smart cookie who is also presented as a compassionate character. Female guest stars never really came off that well on dS - they're usually divided into the camp of Ice Queen (Victoria Metcalf, Mackenzie King, Margaret Thatcher (less a guest star, but still), and chilly lawyers/ex-wives, dirty cops, corrupt government officials, etc) or Fraught Victims (strippers, innocent teens, helpless mothers).
Irene Zuko doesn't fit these categories, which is one of the reasons I liked her character so much and why I think this episode didn't do her justice. If she is the Juliet of the title, and Ray is the unlikely Romeo, then why is she not given a proper death scene? I think this may be a problem with the way the episode was structured - Irene shows up, she and Ray pick up their romance where they left off in high school, things come to a boil between Ray and Frankie, and then Irene is caught in the literal crossfire and dies. Except we never really see her death - the last thing we see is Ray carrying her out of Zuko's house. Later, we see a stunned-looking Ray emerge from the OR and say, "She didn't make it", after which Ray and Frankie put aside their differences and agree to live and let live. A short death scene between Ray and Irene would have convinced me that her death would have such a tremendous impact on Ray, who was willing to throw away everything, even his badge and his friendship with Fraser, if it meant bringing Frankie down.
Had some of the funeral sequence been trimmed (I know, I know, it's a lovely sequence, but it's a little too long and the ending of the episode is way too rushed) more room could have been found to explore the significance of Irene's death and its impact on both Frankie and Ray. As it is, we're left with the lingering impression that Irene's death didn't mean much because it happened off-camera. I'm writing a story right now in which Irene struck a deal to go into Witness Protection and testify against Frankie; her "death" was used as a smokescreen to get her away from her brother and Ray helped out by convincing Zuko that she died at the hospital. I'm troubled that the episode left this sort of possibility open; do we believe in Irene's death? Was Irene, the Juliet of this episode, even supposed to matter at all? I suspect JIB was conceived as a way to let Ray reconcile with his past and with Zuko, and a way for Fraser to overcome the trauma he suffered when Zuko's goons almost beat him to death in "The Deal". That the relationship between Ray and Irene was so poignant, so well-performed by Moss and David Marciano, was perhaps an unexpected byproduct of a script that didn't really care what happened to Irene as long as the boys get to play nice with each other at the end. I hate to sound cynical, but on a show as concerned with male social dynamics as due South, it's troubling that Juliet didn't get her final send-off. Throws everything out of wack, if you know what I mean.
So, those are my thoughts on this episode. What do you guys think? Am I totally off-based in my analysis? Did you have some of the same problems, or did you love this ep to pieces? Anyone? Anyone?