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TV Review: Steven Seagal: Lawman – “To Live or Die”

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Defining the object should always be the first task of analysis. Narrow your eyes, focus on the object, trace the contours, ready the scalpel held clenched in the hand. It’s simple good practice. But Steven Seagal makes this difficult. His character – as we have witnessed it, a throbbing figure enclosed within the show Steven Seagal: Lawman – is in possession of many diverse attributes. Multifaceted Seagal oscillates at a rate of knots, switching hats with nary a thought for continuity. One moment he’s the pinnacle of Zen calm, the next he’s a furious implement of the law. Within minutes he goes from lecturing on the dangers of guns to playing real life Time Crisis in a tornado of grinning joviality.

Episode seven problematises our definition of Seagal even more. For some time Seagal and his comrades have been visiting victims of Hurricane Katrina, the poor people whose homes were wrecked in the storm. We see a couple having to rebuild their house from scratch. They are forced to live in a trailer by the side of the lawn, dedicating every spare minute to laying floorboards and putting in fresh windows. Misfortune has hampered their very existence. Luckily for them Seagal is coming round for tea. Not only does he sup down the tea with the finest Darjeeling swallow I’ve ever seen, but he also deigns to showcase a new skill. Enter Seagal the painter.

The maestro is seemingly a composition of innumerable tints. Cast across Seagal’s pupils are a thousand stelae, each one of which is inscribed with a long inventory of his skills. Alas we’ll never see them, never read their words, never study their meaning. All we have are the pronouncements given form in Lawman.

Seagal, paintbrush in hand, splashes white upon the house walls, warmed by countless loving looks thrust at him by the couple. They appreciate his good deeds. Seagal eases into a Michelangelo trance, colours twenty Adams and seven Noahs, then leaves to join his boys on the street beat. The artist has many drains upon his time.

Intercut with this dazzling display of aesthetic elegance are scenes of brutal criminality. These two threads are generated to underscore the antithetical relationship between artisanal creation and criminal iniquity. What can be more the obscene opposite of art than the dirty murderers that Seagal and co spend half the episode chasing? Homicide has no place in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. We see the officers don sober faces and bemoan the attack on two men. Seagal, angst-ridden and approaching a stage of despair, takes a moment to quote from Madame Bovary apropos their position: “our duty is to feel what is sublime and cherish what is beautiful.” Clearly the murderers hinder this mission. He goes on to poetically render his feelings further: “that really pisses me off bad.”

The episode ends with a final turn on the carousel of wildly burgeoning Seagalian talents. Seagal arrives back at the house-building couple. They have successfully rebuilt their home and are having a party to celebrate. Naturally they are jubilant at the arrival of Seagal. Not only has he brought upon them his presence, but he also comes bearing gifts. Enter Seagal the botanist. From the rear of his vehicle, now a makeshift greenhouse, come ferns and daffodils, roses and orchids, thick bushes of wholesomely verdant bamboo. The happy couple accept Seagal’s plants before Seagal rushes off to deliver a sycamore tree to another housewarming.

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