The A-Team is hired by a retiring LAPD Detective to stop a team of corrupt cops…who happen to be a highly trained SWAT team.
This episode is emblematic of the A-Team series. It wallows within the fantasies of its own creation, and manages to sear itself into the minds of Americans that such a team would actually exist – and operate the way that it does. On top of this, it plays into the misconceptions of how the police operate – and how corruption exists within the department. It is also really bad on how corruption scandals are resolved.
The A-Team Takes On:
In the 1980s, it is not uncommon for “rival shows” to take potshots at each other. In this case, the A-Team takes a potshot at SWAT. However, it should be pointed out that most ersatz versions of products contain “just enough” to recognize the product but not enough as to be able to trigger copyright or trademark infringement suits. SWAT, the series, had 5 members, whereas this one has 4. Both have the no-nonsense commander of the team (this one is a Captain as opposed to Lt. Hondo).
Both have the token Black man as the second-in-command.
The van used by the Evil SWAT Team is of the same type as the one used in the iconic show.
Adding to the A-Team Backstory:
We learn that Templeton Peck was raised in an orphanage and wanted to become a Police Officer when he was younger.
Borrowed from Glen Larson:
Templeton Peck’s origin story is rather…familiar. And, in Season 5 of this series, it is followed to the same conclusion, full tilt.
The Ex-Military Connection:
There is no obvious connection in this episode.
The Corruption Was Started By:
Captain Stark. It is clear that he is supposed to be the Ringleader of this group of hired killers. Maloney states that Stark dug into the closets of the members and found something to hold against them. Stark then had the officers transferred into his SWAT team. Now, they use their SWAT-honed skills to perform contract hits for the political and financial gain of Stark’s benefactors.
The System of Law and Order Abets the Corruption By:
Doing nothing. But this should tell you all about the full capability of the LAPD. A lone detective finds “evidence” of the LAPD SWAT being involved in contract killings for money – and often for well-connected political figures within the city. But he can’t find evidence that he could “broadcast” – and the corrupt SWAT team has already threatened him with the lives of his wife and daughter.
Sidebar – On Police Corruption:
Action Shows often loved the idea of Corrupt Local Police. Most of the corrupt local police departments were usually out-of-way small towns, where the Sheriff or local Captain of Police were running the actual county or township like a fiefdom. Usually, a local Magistrate Judge was in the pocket of the police, or openly colluding for their own reasons.
However, where things go horribly wrong is when the show tries to deal with the Corrupt Police plotline. Here’s how it all goes to sludge:
Plot: Corruption is often limited to the few “bad apples” that are actively working against both the weekly victim and the heroes of the show. The plausibility of the villain and their ability to evade police investigation is supposed to be aided by the fact that they are, indeed, the very police that would investigate.
What is overlooked, however, is that the majority of police corruption cases across the United States involved more than the direct bad apples. In almost all cases, the corruption is aided a Blue Wall of Silence; a culture by which police actions that rise to criminal activity are covered up and buried by other police officers who choose not to “rat” out their fellow officers, even where otherwise innocent persons are assaulted, hospitalized, falsely arrested/charged/convicted, and/or harassed. Detective Maloney’s assertion that the LAPD has 8,000 good officers is not all that credible, when you consider the scandals that come to light in Los Angeles, such as the LAPD Rampart Division scandal.
Plot Conflict: One must never forget that while the police corruption is very real, the means to root out said corruption is fantasy for shows like this. In real life, there is no benevolent benefactor who will hire crack soldiers-of-fortune to get said corrupt police officers to confess their crimes to an Internal Affairs review board or the Chief of Police. Watching an A-Team take on corrupt police is cathartic on some levels, but means very little in the end.
Those who blow the whistle on corruption often have to do it alone. Detective Maloney would have been more like Frank Serpico – targeted for harassment and worse. The web of those who protect corrupt officials often extends all the way to the top; Higher-level officials will often make statements insinuating that the whistleblower was – and is – the bad guy. Others will often go as far as to press chargers against said whistleblowers, ranging of things like Violation of Trust, Disorderly Conduct, and even Espionage. Take note that these charges are only means to an end – they are not meant to dispense justice or vengeance; they are used only to bring silence to the actual issues surrounding corruption.
Plot Resolution: Action shows often invoke the “Higher Authority” rules when resolving the story as a means of a fast cleanup. If the Sheriff of South Podunk is involved in the corruption, then oftentimes the hero will mention that the State Police has been called in to arrest and arraign them for corruption charges. Interestingly, in rare cases, a Chief of (Regional) Police is used. Such is the case in this episode, as the LAPD Chief of Police Metcalf is mentioned by both Captain Stark and Detective Maloney.
Extremely rare is the use of Federal Authority, even though the majority of cases concerning corruption and police authority overreach are prosecuted on the Federal level. Cases that are tried on the State and local levels rarely result in convictions to the officers in question.
You rarely get this as a resolution:
Side Note on SWAT’s First Victim:
The A-Team ends up getting involved when they first intervene to stop a hit on this guy:
The SWAT team was hired by Delgado’s brother (wait, what?) to have him killed. Delgado’s brother wants to take over the Laundromat and can’t do that with the current owner in the way. When the A-Team arrives with a cover story of being an undercover police unit, Hannibal refers to him as being a “Brave Citizen” in Delgado wanting to confront the SWAT team directly.
Calling a man of Latino descent a Citizen? Modern screenwriters would never hear of such of thing. Instead, most shows which feature police justice would have Delgado be some kind of “Illegal Immigrant” (and yes, this term needs to burn in a fire) and he would have been hauled off to jail by the end of the episode. Failing that, he would have been killed by the SWAT team as the investigation into the corruption began. Then Delgado’s brother would have been arrested. And no lessons would have been learned.
Hannibal Blends In By:
Pretending to be a washed up Irish boxer, who managed to knock down Floyd Patterson in a fight. Of course, Patterson gets up and proceeds to curbstomp him (in this story). In a way, this is a callback to the Ali-Wepner fight.
Hannibal dresses up as Delgado – in order to become the target of the SWAT hit.
B.A. Baracus Builds in this Episode:
Miniature transmitting microphones. According to Baracus, the microphones have a one mile range for high-fidelity sound. He also retrofits flood lights on his van to obscure Hannibal’s face during the face-off with the SWAT team.
Templeton Peck scams:
The Drop Dead Pest Control Company.
From them, he gets:
2 Uniforms, a clipboard, and 2 fire extinguishers re-dressed as pesticide tanks.
Next, the LAPD:
From them, he gains access to the locker room of the LAPD SWAT team. Then, using is lock-picking skills, he opens the lockers so that the microphones can be planted on their clothes.
The local VA Hospital.
He gets Captain Murdock by having him pretend that he has tuberculosis, and sending the nurses on a hunt for wild fowl in the process.
Amy Allen Helps When She:
Joins Templeton Peck on the Pest Control Scam. While Peck opened the lockers, Amy sewed the microphones onto the jackets of the SWAT members – disguised as jacket buttons.
Also, she uses her feminine wiles to:
Seduce one of the members of the SWAT team to show up at a motel room. Within seconds of this frame, Peck snaps a photo, Murdock produces gun, Smith spills the beans, and Baracus provides the finishing move.
Murdock’s Personality Disorder Manifests Itself Into:
Nothing special or unique in this episode.
The Second Amendment Drum Solo:
This is a shootout that wasn’t really a shootout. Since the A-Team was facing off against a team of guys almost as good as they are, they had to set a devious trap. Realizing that the A-Team’s bugs had been discovered, the SWAT team decides to bug one of their own as a ploy. When that person was captured, the caught wind of what Hannibal Smith intended: to have Collins (the one who was captured by Amy’s smile) gather the evidence and deliver it to Maloney at an Amusement Park. Captain Stark sets off to kill the A-Team, Detective Maloney, and Officer Collins – never realizing that Colonel Smith set the whole thing up as trap.
The trap springs when the SWAT teams fires on an empty concession stand believing it to contain all of their targets. A fight and footchase ensues, with the A-Team punching their opposing number within SWAT unconscious.
The Assigned Roles for the Drum Solo:
Hannibal dresses as a cowboy. He fights Captain Stark.
Peck fights Collins.
Murdock fights Meadows.
Baracus faces off against…a car.
Mr. T’s Special Attacks:
No Competitive Thug Tossing in this episode. There was some Thug Menacing. Also, no Concussion Punch. He does, however, jump onto a car, throws a single punch, destroys the front windshield, and gets the car to flip over and destroy itself.
Was Outside Law Enforcement Called During the Drum Solo?
No. Since Law Enforcement was involved in the Drum Solo, no other units would have been called in. Also, the Drum Solo takes place in a closed Amusement Park (during the Park’s off-season, no doubt), so no nearby residential or commercial areas were in immediate danger.
The Townspeople, Upon Hearing the Gunfire:
No townspeople were involved in the mild destruction of the Amusement Park.
The A-Team was Paid:
$3,600. Detective Maloney offered $14,000 as collateral, but Colonel Smith refunded him over $10,000. This allows Maloney to have some savings other than the soon-to-be available pension in a few months.
Action shows step out of their comfort zones when they attempt to tackle corrupt law enforcement and political figures. In this case, the A-Team actually breaks from their usual pattern of finding out the power behind the muscle and focus directly on their assigned targets: the corrupt SWAT team. The token bystander of color turns out to be benign. And, this episode will only offend one’s sensibility in how corruption is handled and resolved when it is discovered.
A Small and Deadly War, overall, isn’t all bad. You just need to ignore the naivete about the police to enjoy it.