The Lectio Divina of the Murder Monks

In F. Scott FitzGerald’s The Great Gatsby, the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg overlook the Valley of Ashes on a billboard. It is often argued that this symbolizes God and perhaps even His judgment on America’s moral decay. In Season 6 of Amazon’s Bosch, the Hollywood Sign plays a similar role: nestled above Los Angeles, the sign looks down upon our West Coast version of the Valley of Ashes. Unlike in FitzGerald’s opus, Bosch’s Hollywood Sign has angels, the ever-present helicopters roaming above the City. And the Hollywood Sign also has priests: the homicide detectives of the Los Angeles Police Department. While they cannot save the souls of those who have prematurely returned to ashes and dust by violence, the detectives can capture those who should be judged for their crimes. These priests have their own version of the Hollywood Sign as well, which hangs like a noose over their desks: “Hollywood Homicide: Our Day Begins When Your Day Ends.”

The Sixth Season is not bereft of interesting stories and they all hold together nicely. It is certainly bingeable, and some of the plots are resolved along the way rather than neatly coming together at the end, which marks the realism of the show. This new story opens 11 months after the conclusion of the previous season with the eponymous character, Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch of the Hollywood Division of the LAPD, ruminating over a “Murder Book.” This investigative record is that of the cold case of Daisy Clayton, a 14-year old that was murdered a decade earlier and is the daughter of a junkie that he befriended when he was undercover in Season 5.

It is striking that among the handful of soundless or near-soundless moments in the season are when Bosch is ruminating over a murder investigation at the Hollywood Division. Bosch approaches the Murder Book the way a monk will approach Sacred Scripture through Lectio Divina, viz. meditation, silence, and contemplation. Bosch’s seemingly only interest outside the job is jazz (which he listens to at home on vinyl) and he doesn’t even let jazz intrude as he silently prays the Lectio Divina on Daisy’s Murder Book.

Murder in La-La Land

Bosch’s reading of the Murder Book is interrupted; there is the “fresh” murder of Dr. Stanley Kent (a medical physicist) that sets the season’s central plot into motion. As Bosch approaches the body of Kent, first by car and then by foot, the imposing block letters of the Hollywood Sign loom above. And again, the Sign is there when Bosch meets the FBI agents that are involved in the case due to the fact Kent stole radioactive material (cesium) from his work in exchange for his wife’s life. The murderers are unknown and the cesium is lost. The law enforcement bureaucracies agree that the LAPD will investigate the murder of Kent, and the FBI will focus on finding the cesium before it is turned into a dirty bomb that could turn the City of Angels into a City of Ashes. This armistice between the LAPD and the Feds is not without its conflicts, for example, when a Special Agent tells Bosch to stay in his lane and not to interfere with the anti-terrorism investigation into the missing cesium. Bosch’s laconic response to the agent, which exemplifies who he is qua detective: “And my lane has no lines.” For Bosch, then, a murder investigation is the highest calling for a law enforcement officer, and thus there are no lines when one is pursing justice for the murdered.

Early evidence, however, points to the fictional “308 Squadron” as the culprits (where 308 refers to Uniform Commercial Code Section 308). These so-called sovereign citizens (of which there are actual groups like this) reject non-English common law, that is described in the show as “no taxes and no business licenses.” The beliefs of the 308 Squadron are met with contempt by the officers of the LAPD and the agents of the FBI. Yet when the serving of a warrant on a member of the 308 Squadron goes sideways, the paranoia of these sovereign citizens seems more justified. The portrayal of the 308 Squadron is nuanced and exemplifies Bosch’s strength in portraying complex motives for all of its characters realistically.

As the story unfolds over the season, the Law of Unintended Consequences tragically gives the sovereigns excuse to act on their distrust of the government. While the 308 Squadron is certainly set-up as a small group of true believers in a ridiculous fringe-libertarianism, the producers of the show resist the urge to make the group into a racist organization. It would have been the natural “Hollywood production” move to make, and one must appreciate the producers’ restraint. This choice allows the focus to be on the political beliefs of the sovereigns, which makes them much more sympathetic as an assemblage than they would be if they were a White Power group (that is to say, not at all). It is always dangerous when heartbreak and the demand for revenge are combined with extreme ideological commitment, which comes through the actions of some of the members of 308 Squadron. But the key here is some; not all of its members are led down a path of vengeance and wanton violence. Again, Bosch, gives authentic subtlety even to the antagonists.

Bosch and the other detectives beat on, against the current, to give some sort of justice to those that have been murdered under the unwavering gaze of the Hollywood Sign.

A Tarnished Tinseltown

While Bosch and his partner, Jerry Edgar, continue to investigate the murder of Kent and at the same time seeking the cesium, one of the smaller subplots of the season appears. Two senior detectives in the Hollywood Division (aptly and hilariously nicknamed Crate and Barrel) are called to deal with a homeless man who has walked naked for a few blocks in Hollywood. Rather than arrest him, with completely accurate cynicism, they let him go since the homeless man will “be back on the street before we finish the paperwork.” The terrible epidemic of homelessness is weaved in and out throughout the season, which gives this particular season a regrettable realism of contemporary life in Los Angeles: the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame being covered by the tents of the indigent. No sooner than the scene transitions from the homeless man, to the Hollywood sign and a helicopter, yet another man is found dead; this one an undocumented homeless man from El Salvador, whose death appears connected to the terrorists’ plot.

In addition to the homeless subplot, there are investigations of other detectives from various LAPD Divisions in the City, there is the mayoral run by the Chief of Police Irvin Irving that was announced last season, there is a same-sex sexual harassment investigation launched against a female lieutenant within Bosch’s station—an investigation premised on a misunderstanding and pursued only because of zero tolerance, automatic reporting requirements, turf wars between the LAPD and the FBI, and Bosch’s defense lawyer, Honey “Money” Chandler from Season 5 working on some new cases herself involving Bosch’s formally estranged college-aged daughter Maddie, who spends most of the season interning in Chandler’s office.

Throughout the series, Bosch’s character is written as a bit of a Luddite, and in one instance they took this too far. Given that Bosch is an Army Special Forces veteran (both the Persian Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom), his portrayal as being willfully ignorant about the dangers of cesium is not believable; as a former Special Operations Soldier, he would have been well aware of its uses and measures he ought to take to protect himself.

Another admirable point in the series is the continuity across seasons, which accurately portrays that, sadly, murder investigations can continue for a number of years and they do not stop merely because a television season ends. Just as Bosch has his side investigation into the cold case of the murder of Daisy Clayton, which Bosch methodically progresses on little more than true grit, Edgar devotes his spare time to the demise of one of his confidential informants, who was murdered at the end of Season 5. While in reference to another investigation, a suspect exclaims in exasperation to Bosch and Edgar, “You people don’t know when to stop.” And they don’t. In fact, they know nothing else but stoic persistence in the face of all opposition.

Edgar believes a fellow Haitian-American named Jacques Avril to be the culprit. Avril is a gangster who uses his legitimate businesses and a charity for Haiti as a front for his criminal activities. Edgar brings another motive to this investigation as well: he believes that Avril murdered his uncle in Haiti as part of the Secret Police (and perhaps, with the tacit support of the CIA). As Edgar delves deeper into Avril’s dark past, Edgar is faced with a choice: when the system fails, does a righteous man rise up? Can he settle for some incomplete measure of justice?

A City of Angels in an Abyss

There are the dead bodies that the detectives deal with along with all of the other crime and decay in the City of Angels, but knowing that murderers get reduced sentences and convicted felons exploit the system to get multi-million dollar payouts from the taxpayers grinds on them. For Bosch, Edgar, and all of the rest, for them it is personal. For the detectives of Bosch, everybody counts or nobody does: this means that the victims, the destruction to the victim’s families, and the partial justice the victims receive at best, lays upon their backs like a cross. It brings them into the darkness, as Edgar says to his ex-wife: “Maybe someday they’ll invent a robot detective that can solve murders and not get pulled down into the abyss.” Part of the abyss is the strain that life as a police officer has on his or her family members which is a motif of the season as well as it has been in previous ones. While a robot detective may be a nice dream, a detective is a confessor and for that one must be human. Bosch exemplifies the role of inquisitor when he interrogates murder suspects: he demands their confession and prays that their penance will be as severe as it can be.

Best suited for life in this abyss is Bosch himself. Twice in the season, Edgar refers to Bosch as a monk, both times the latter responds with jokes. Being jovial is rare for Bosch and he only seems to make them when someone close to him such as Edgar or Maddie say something that hits home. Otherwise, he remains in monkish silence; he turns the other cheek, for example, when Bosch is told that he doesn’t understand what it is like in the foster care system, even though he is a product of it himself. But Edgar is right about Bosch being a monastic. Other than Bosch’s touching and centering relationship with Maddie, all Bosch has is what he calls “my murders.” Both his waking and sleeping moments are haunted by the victims whose murders have not been solved. Bosch is Gatsby reaching for that green light, but even if he solves one murder and grasps the light, there will be another; and so Bosch and the other detectives beat on, against the current, to give some sort of justice to those that have been murdered under the unwavering gaze of the Hollywood Sign.