Before I start, turns out the Avengers movies were very long and my schedule has been a bit messed up. So I do plan to get to Godzilla Vs. Kong in the future, just not this week. To get back on schedule for me, here’s an article series I haven’t been able to do in a while.
There’s one trope in crime stories that just really bothers me, and this isn’t just in cop shows and crime movies. Superheroes have done it, sitcoms have done it, science fiction has done it…anything that can involve some kind of law enforcement and some kind of poor sucker in the wrong place at the wrong time will find a way to do that. TV Tropes calls it “The Corpse Stops Here“. It’s a classic scenario. Some guy comes across a dead body. The janitor or the cops show up just at that moment and this guy gets blamed. Then he has to either escape to prove his innocence, hire the best lawyer on the show (hopefully the title character), or hope there’s at least one cop who actually goes to investigate something instead of saying “we got him” and calling it a day, either for his own advancement or the district attorney’s.
We’re not even talking about a frame up here. The sucker doesn’t even have to know the guy. He was there, so they assume he did it. Therein lies the whole problem. Even if they don’t intend to make the cops look bad…they make the cops look bad.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s easy for us, the near-omniscient audience, to know he’s clearly innocent. People jump to conclusions and it does make Sucker look bad. (Yes, we’re going to call him “Sucker” for convenience. Sucker Aldi. That’s his name.) It doesn’t help if he gets his fingerprints all over the murder weapon or is standing there with the clarinet that was used to bash Vic Timm’s skull in when he found it rolling out of the room long after Marty Dier (look, this gag isn’t easy…you do better!) went down to the party to make his alibi. Or maybe someone just saw him leave when he just wanted to get out of there to call the hotel security or throw up or something. I’m not saying that Sucker (Sucks to his friends) isn’t going to be the main suspect…at least at first.
However, a proper investigation should show that Sucker never knew Vic and didn’t have a reason to kill him. He’s just staying at the same hotel as the party. (Presume this is before auto-closing and locking hotel doors. At the hotels I’ve stayed at for conventions you have to prop the door open to get it to stay open.) Nothing was stolen, Sucker doesn’t have a criminal record, and Marty’s really the only one who had a beef with Vic because of the affair with his girlfriend, Adel Tress. (No, I probably won’t bring her up again. I came up with it and wanted to use it.) So when Dick Tective (you knew I had to) looks into Aldi’s history, finds nothing, he should at least begin wondering if they have the wrong guy. Unless that’s the story, he won’t, meaning the cops on Police Squad look more competent…and have better names than I’m coming up with.
No, Sucker’s only chance to clear his name is to get a great lawyer to prove his innocence, usually by learning Marty was the real culprit. Remember, Marty wasn’t looking to frame Sucker in this scenario and didn’t even bother–though there are episodes that do involve a frame-up where the murderer makes sure his target is there to be accused, but he ain’t fessing up until the last five minutes of the episode. No, it’s up to attorney Dee Fence and her investigator Wes Chan to do the police’s job by actually investigating to prove Sucker’s innocence. Dick looks like a dope, district attorney Ross E. Cute begrudgingly congratulates Dee (and won’t apologize to Sucker), and we all wasted the court’s time. Judge Mentt hates when that happens. Just wait until season two and the case of Gwen O’Cent. Yes, I’ll stop now.
My point is this is often how it goes, and the lawyer shows are the biggest abuser of this trope. There will be stories where the detective or the police officer will actually investigate, but usually it becomes his or her story. At least with a lawyer or private investigator the falsely accused still has a role in the story. Otherwise, it makes the police and DA look incompetent, lazy, or possibly both if we’re supposed to hate someone here or rally against “the system”. And sometimes the falsely accused has to break out of prison and despite his or her detective skills being “I solved a Scooby-Doo story once before the gang” levels of amateur will have to clear their own name, possibly with friends who will be arrested or killed before the credits roll. Is this what happens in real life situations where someone just happens to be by the body? And how often does that happen? Granted, how often do any of these murder stories happen? Half of Cabot Cove should be dead given the population of a small Maine town like Jessica Fletcher’s and if a series goes on long enough half of Los Angeles are in the cemetery because nobody’s having that many babies to replace the dead.
I’m not necessarily against “The Corpse Stops Here” as a storytelling tool. I just wish the police and even the DA weren’t willing to accept face value that Sucker is the killer for more than a few days (in-universe, like 10 minutes in story time) when clues they should be looking for don’t add up and start looking for the guilty party, or at least have Sucker as one suspect and maybe see if Marty, Redd Herring (yes, I saw A Pup Named Scooby-Doo), and Whit Ness (I looked, it’s a real first name; his cousin is a G-Man) have any issues with Vic. It’s rare when they do continue investigating and if that’s the case the actual accused has nothing to do with the story. Do something different with the trope. That’s all I’m asking for.
Dee Fence, not coming to NBC this fall.