Veg*nism & Pop Culture: The Green Scare Comes to Life

November 12th, 2008 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

Major spoiler warning, people!


I’ve been meaning to blog about a recent episode of Life for weeks now. If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s a kind of cop drama, in which individual cases are presented against the backdrop of a conspiracy-theory story arc which spans the series. Think The X-Files, Alias, Lost or The Mentalist – if you enjoy any of these, you’ll probably *heart* Life, too.

Season 2, Episode 3 of Life, “The Business of Miracles,” involves the murder of a cancer researcher. The main suspects, naturally, are a group of SHAC-like animal rights activists of the anti-vivisection variety. It’s been a few weeks since I watched this ep, so rather than try to offer a plot summary, here’s TV Recap with their recap:

Dr. Auerbach was a scientist who was testing cancer drugs on animals. So his death naturally occurs in the lab and on the window is written, “animal testing is murder.” Something not so natural about his death: He was frozen to death because some one switched his oxygen tank with a liquid nitrogen tank. But who could have done it? Maybe it was the group, BAT [Ban Animal Torture], that has sent Dr. Auerbach death threats?

[The group’s moniker, “BAT,” was also graffitied on the wall of Hurback’s lab. About as subtle as leaving an ELF calling card at the scene of a torched, insured, unsold McMansion, no?]

According to the group’s leader, Betsy, they wouldn’t hurt any soul, even one like Dr. Auerbach’s. She seems sweet enough. She even tells the other member to be quiet when he says it’s good the doctor is dead. So if it wasn’t her, maybe it was the assistant who seems too concerned with the results of the test. Or maybe the janitor? Or the company’s owner? Hmm. I can’t decide, and neither can Crews [Damian Lewis] and Reese [Sarah Shahi] so they do a little more digging and come up with…Betsy, the leader of Ban and the good doctor’s former assistant who left because they were having an affair. Say what?

I know, it’s a crazy little twist but it turns out that Betsy’s real name is Deborah and she and Dr. Auerbach never stopped their affair. And while it seems she has the perfect motive of conflicted emotions, she also has a videotaped alibi. So then Crews and Reese move on to the janitor, who originally said he saw Betsy at the lab that day. Turns out the janitor is stealing pills from the study and selling them. Or so it looks when he gives the box of pills to a woman on a park bench in return for an envelope full of…pictures? When Crews and Reese dig a little deeper they find the janitor’s son has cancer and the pills have been working for him and the woman is his ex-wife. I guess he has a good motive, too. And more importantly, he confesses to the murder. But something isn’t right. Along with the dead doctor, there were lots of dead lab rats. The only dead rats, though, were rats with red tags so why would only those rats be dead and who would want to kill them?

With the help of then now cleared ex-assistant, Crews and Reese learn that the red tagged rats were the control rats and you would want those to be gone if you didn’t want other people to know the experiment was a failure. And who would want that? Yup, the new assistant. Turns out she knew the janitor was stealing pills and blackmailed him. But he wasn’t such a moron that he didn’t have evidence damning her. He had a formula she wrote computing how much liquid nitrogen it would take to kill a man the doctor’s size. So the dedicated assistant killed the doctor after all. She had spent seven years working with him and now her career would be over because the drug was a failure. It was only helping the janitor’s son because he had an extremely rare form of cancer. It wouldn’t work on the mainstream cases. Guess that liar is busted.

Unlike many other cop dramas (the Law & Order franchise, if I recall, has featured its fair share of guilty, stereotyped animal rights extremists), Life doesn’t simply pin the crime on the “obvious suspects” and move on. Rather than get swept up in the Green Scare, Detectives Crews and Reese follow the evidence…which leads them away from the “bad”/”misanthropic” animal rights activists and toward the “good”/”altruistic” cancer researchers.

In the end, the members of BAT prove to be the only suspects whose hands are actually free of blood: the cancer researcher, his assistant, the janitor and the financier of the research – all are guilty of murder. In particular, the show’s portrayal of the lead cancer researcher and his pharmaceutical company employer are damning: neither the individuals nor the business care about an anti-cancer drug that may save lives… just, not enough lives to make manufacturing and marketing the drug a profitable endeavor. In the end, the “bad” activists prove more ethical than the “good” scientists.

Also, I was absolutely tickled by the detectives’ initial meeting with Betsy/Deborah, the “leader” of BAT (scare quotes because leader sounds so patriarchal, yecht). She mentions her veganism, at which point Crews attempts to call her on the hypocrisy of wearing leather shoes:

Crews: If you love animals so much, why are you wearing leather shoes?

Betsy: They’re Jim shoes. They’re made of Jim, our founder. When he died he willed his body for industrial use as a way to raise people’s consciousness about what it means to butcher animals for food and clothing.

(Shades of Ingrid Newkirk, anyone?)

As Elaine notes,

Some people feel threatened by veganism and try to find loopholes. They look for anything. They’re the same people who point to recycled rubber shoes and say, “You’re not a vegan because you’re wearing leather!” and then walk away before you can explain that it’s NOT leather.

I love that Life purposefully jumped into that loophole – and then let Crews choke himself with it.

Of course, the more mainstream Reese is less than impressed by BAT’s consistent ethics:

Reese: They’re wearing people.

Crews: Just dead people!

Reese: It’s the Texas chainsaw massacre, it’s enough for a warrant.

Crews: For a search maybe, not for an arrest. Does it seem weird to you that they’d leave their slogans on the wall?

Reese: They put dead people on their feet, putting slogans on the wall seems pretty normal compared to that.

So there’s a little ribbing on animal rights advocates there, but for the most part the show does a good job of humanizing the activists, treating them as complex, three-dimensional beings instead of silly/scary cliches, and ultimately clearing them of the crimes of which they’re suspected.

The Green Scare came to Life…and failed to scare the life out of anyone. Bravo, NBC, bravo!

Just one thing, though, NBC: please to stop Crews from stalking his ex-wife’s new husband? It’s not cute or quirky; it’s obsessive, controlling and creepy. And asking the new hubby for “permission” to sleep with his wife? Bleh! Way to reduce a woman to a piece of property. Srsly, no want.

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