I saw an interesting thing last night. “Combat Hospital” — a Shaw Media-produced show about life at KAF in the middle part of the decade, with a multinational health care team at its centre — featured the death of a Canadian Forces officer. It made me think about Nichola Goddard (the analogy having been pounded home thanks to the presence of The Trews and their song about Captain Goddard and highway 401), but it also made me think about the last time I saw any military death on television that didn’t feature an American.
What I’ve been thinking about, though, is how this played out down south. “Combat Hospital” is, like I said, a Canadian production; Shaw owns it and produces it, and it’s filmed in Etobicoke. But it also runs on ABC. And as has been a trend over the past few years, it’s one of these shows produced by Canadians that explicitly features Canadians, or is set in Canada, yet it runs in the United States with absolutely pretentions of being anywhere or anything else. This is the “Rookie Blue”/”Flashpoint”/”The Bridge” phenomenon; “The Bridge” flopped because it was awful, but “Flashpoint” and “Rookie Blue” seem to be doing OK by whatever standards are used to judge television these days. (I watch exactly zero of these shows so I can’t even begin to comment on their quality or how their Canadian-ness is displayed or handled.) Still, you don’t have to be very old, or very sheltered from a media perspective, to remember a time where setting a show, destined for any market south of the border, in Canada was absurd. You just wouldn’t try it. I can’t think of a single time that was done up until a few years ago.
So it was nice to see, acknowledged on TV on both sides of the border, that people not carrying US passports get killed in Afghanistan, and it’s not all stars-and-stripes draped coffins and dead bodies coming home to Dover. The inclusion of The Trews was a nice touch (and one that thoroughly screwed me up) though I wonder how many people watching in the US really understood what it was talking about: that hundred-ish mile stretch of the 401 from CFB Trenton to the Forensic Institute in Toronto, and the bridge guards and the bizarre and yet uniquely Canadian thing that happened without any prompting or poking by anyone in any position of authority at all. I hesitate to call it sublime, but it might have been the most moving and perfect moment of dramatic TV I’ve seen in years. Not necessarily because of what it showed, but what it left out, what every Canadian knew would be next for this fictional officer — and I don’t know a single person in this country who doesn’t get hugely weepy when they think about what process.
Did American viewers get it? I dunno. But I also know I don’t care, because that scene wasn’t for them — it was for us, for the memory of our dead, in recognition of their sacrifices. The returning soldier is something of a cliche, but I think this was different, and more meaningful for the difference.