Case #2.20: "The Best Years of Your Life"

Back in the day, this was probably billed as "a very special episode of 21 Jump Street" for reasons that will soon become obvious. 

On a suburban street after dark, Tom and Doug are sitting in some bushes. Tom watches a house through a pair of binoculars. Doug is tired of hiding in the bushes. Tom says they're staying because their burglar likes to rob empty houses and no one is home across the street. The kid has robbed 20 houses in 3 weeks. The last cops to get close lost the suspect after chasing him through 6 blocks' worth of backyards.

A station wagon pulls up to the house. Its driver mows down the garbage cans and parks on the sidewalk. Walker Stevenson, a mulleted teenage boy, gets out. Doug recognizes Walker from his bio class. Walker breaks through one of the windows on the front door with what looks like a fencepost. He goes inside and starts flipping on lights. We can hear him smashing things.

Doug declares that Walker is the worst burglar he's ever seen and realizes the kid is drunk. Walker turns on the stereo in the house and begins blasting music. Tom and Doug are pretty sure this isn't their cat burglar and their suspect won't show up now anyway.

Tom radios for Harry to take down Walker. Squad cars surround the house within seconds. The officers nab Walker as he steps onto the front porch. "Lemme go!" Walker yells, "You're gonna ruin everything!" He kicks one of the officers for good measure. Harry tells Walker that he's under arrest. Walker attempts to go after Harry before he's put in a police car.

In the Taft High School cafeteria the next day, Walker is sporting a black eye and a fat lip from his tussle with the cops. A young Brad Pitt with long hair asks why Walker didn't inviting his friends to his little burglary party. Walker tells him to stuff it. "Diana," whines Brad Pitt, "your brother's being mean to me." Diana takes her brother's side because Walker had to spend the night in jail.

A guy with a black mullet and ugly shirt taunts that prison changes a man. Walker glares and says, "You can all drop dead." Including the sister who stuck up for you? Nice. 

At another table, Tom and Doug discuss the case. Doug repeats that he doesn't think Walker is their cat burglar. Tom goes to try and console Walker: "I've been to jail 3 times. It's no big deal....The worst you're gonna get is 6 months probation and maybe some family counseling. It's nothing." Walker disagrees and adds, "I'm screwed no matter what I do." Walker leaves the table.

Tom takes his spot. Diana says things are really bad for Walker; he won't even talk to her. Brad Pitt asks if Tom's really been to jail. Tom says, "Maybe next time I go to jail, you guys can go with me." Brad Pitt looks all too excited about this prospect.

At the Chapel, Cap'n Rufus calls Doug and Tom from Walker's house with bad news: Walker is dead. Furthermore, "He was found with a hunting rifle between his knees and a note on the table." Doug sits up a little straighter, looking disturbed. Theme song.

The next morning at Taft, Brad Pitt angrily confronts a teacher or principal; he wants the flag lowered to half-mast because of Walker's death. "That's for heroes," the authority figure icily informs him. 

A large group of students have crammed into what looks like the school's band/choir room; most are seated on the risers but some are on the floor. A bald grief counselor, tells the kids they can't hold themselves responsible for Walker's suicide. Doug whispers to Tom that Walker is, however, responsible for making him sit through this assembly. The grief counselor shares some statistics about suicide. He makes the case that most people who attempt suicide are not trying to die; they're crying out for help.

The grief counselor then shares a bizarre, morbid, historically questionable story about suicide laws. In England, the body of a person who committed suicide would be dragged naked through the street and buried at a crossroads with a stake through the heart. To me, that sounds like a cross between vampire lore and A Christmas Carol. 

"It's okay to talk about it. It's okay to be PISSED OFF! It's okay to be MAD!" says the grief counselor. I'm pretty convinced he's not actually licensed to do this, but rather someone on a day pass from the local mental hospital. He wraps up the session by saying he'll be around for a few days if any of the kids want to talk to him.

Tom asks his boss what could possibly make a 16-year-old kid kill himself. Cap'n Rufus doesn't have an easy answer. Tom doesn't want to spend his career worrying that the next kid he arrests will commit suicide and feels like he helped kill Walker. Tom describes the school as "All-American High", where the kids "aren't too rich, aren't too poor, aren't too anything." Sure, some kids drink or do drugs, but nobody seems to have serious addiction problems.

Tom, in a dress shirt and sport coat, knocks on Doug's door and Dorothy answers. "He's all yours," she says, referring to Doug. Doug is in the living room whaling on a punching bag, wearing sweatpants and his JUST SAY NO T-shirt. Tom remarks that Doug isn't dressed. "What am I, boxing in the nude?" Doug snarks. 

Tom reminds him about Walker's funeral. "School's out for the day, I'm off," says Doug. He takes a flower out of one of Dorothy's flowerpots, telling his partner to toss it on Walker's grave. Tom leaves. Doug gives the punching bag another solid hit, causing it to swing into a floor lamp.

The funeral procession arrives in the graveyard. Doug narrates the cold facts of the police report, describing the exact time and date that Walker's body was discovered by the family's maid. The crime scene itself is also described in vivid detail. Paramedics were called even though the responding officer was fairly certain that Walker was dead.

The scene changes back to Casa de Penhall. Doug sits on his couch with Walker's file on his lap. He closes the report and flops against the back of the couch with a sigh.

The grief counselor/possible mental patient from school sits at the squadroom table. He describes Walker's suicide note as "pretty standard." Even though this is an undercover investigation, Tom called the counselor in for an expert opinion. It seems to the counselor that part of Walker wanted to live, part of him didn't. "Except the part of him that wanted to die used a hunting rifle," Doug points out. The counselor explains that some people want to make sure they die, while others want to make sure they're found in time.

Tom still wants to know why Walker killed himself. Doug sums it up as "because he was a loser." The counselor lists off a myriad of other problems Walker could've had the made him feel suicide was the only way out. He tells them that one of his patients recently died of an antidepressant overdose. "What did she do, chuckle herself to death?" Doug wants to know. His remark is greeted with blank stares. 

Doug offers another theory: "Maybe she was so happy she exploded." Tom asks, "Are you done?" Doug laughs maniacally. Tom barks at him to shut up. Doug leaves. Cap'n Rufus apologizes for Doug. 

Doug is now upstairs in the locker room, where he runs into Judy. He asks if she's ever thought of committing suicide, "not think about it seriously, but seriously ever think about it." Judy thinks everybody thinks about it at some point. "Not me," Doug says, slamming his locker. 

Later that night at Casa de Penhall, Dorothy is in the kitchen wearing a who-shot-the-couch bathrobe. Doug tells her the following joke: 

"This guy, he's been goin' to this psychiatrist for years, right? And one day, he walks in, he says, 'Doc, I've been givin' it a lotta thought and it's not your fault, but I'm gonna kill myself. I don't want you to try to stop me. I just wanted you to know.' So the doc says, 'I can respect that, but there's just one thing I want you to do for me. The circus is in town and there's this clown Grimaldi who's gonna be there. He's funny. He's amazing. All I want you to do is go to the circus. And if you still wanna kill yourself, even after seeing Grimaldi, then...okay. I won't try to stop you.' The guy says, 'But, Doc, I'm Grimaldi.'"

Not surprisingly, Dorothy doesn't laugh. "I thought it was gonna be a joke," she says. Doug can't believe she doesn't get it. Dorothy repeats that it wasn't funny. "You never get any of my jokes. You don't think I'm funny," Doug says. He takes it further: Dorothy has no sense of humor because having one requires intelligence. Dorothy tells him to take it back. Doug won't. Dorothy lets him know he's been a real pain in the ass and storms out, slamming the apartment door behind her. "It was just a joke!" he calls to the empty room.

Later, Tom and Doug are at a party. Doug cracks a beer while a girl asks Tom if Walker told him that he was planning to commit suicide. Tom says no. He learns that another kid who knew Walker committed suicide recently. This one was hit by a train and it was declared an accident, but who accidentally lies down on railroad tracks? Someone else heard the kid was in his car when it happened. "I love these rumors," Doug slurs, "I heard he was carried off by a giant vulture." 

Over by the pool table, a girl practices her prison inking skills on her friend. Both are dressed like lost members of Vixen. Tom notices the girl getting the skull tattoo has scars on her wrist, most likely from cutting herself. The girl doing the inking lists off kids they know who've attempted suicide or contemplated it. Tom still doesn't get why. 

"It's like giving your folks notice," Skull Tattoo explains. "'I'm not kidding. I'm not taking any more of this crap.'" The amateur tattoo artist couldn't kill herself but she likes to get really drunk and drive crazy, "let fate decide."

At a different pool table, Doug expresses his opinion that Walker killed himself because "he just wimped out." Brad Pitt gets upset, somehow overcomes the difference in weight class, and shoves Doug against the wall. He delivers an ultimatum: "If you don't have anything decent to say, you shut your mouth, drink your beer...or you leave." Doug doesn't want to be there anyway.

At Casa de Penhall, Doug takes off his shoes and puts on some workout music. He starts hitting the punching bag again, this time with his bare knuckles. After wearing himself out, he sits at the coffee table and cleans his service revolver. He stares at it for a long moment, then rests his forehead in one hand.

Tom informs his boss about the other suicide at Taft High and how it was reported as an accident. The grief counselor says there's a stigma about suicide, so people lie. Cap'n Rufus remembers there was a time in his career when the police would've written off Walker's death as a hunting accident, even though he died in his living room. Tom describes the kids at the party who had scars and death tattoos, which were looked at as badges of honor. He worries that more suicides could happen soon.

Tom asks the grief counselor about warning signs to look for. The counselor lists hostile behavior, mood swings, promiscuity, drug/alcohol abuse, and alienation from friends. Some of those describe Doug pretty well right now. The most important thing Tom can do if he thinks someone is at risk is to be a friend and listen.

Doug enters the office and Tom says it was nice of him to come to work. Doug's wearing the same thing he had on at the party the night before. "Suicide High ain't no case and I ain't workin' on it no more," Doug declares. The student cat burglar has been caught; he and Tom couldn't find him because the kid had just transferred out of Taft. Doug is caught up on his paperwork and asks to take a personal day. 

Walker's sister Diana walks down the sidewalk with a younger boy, presumably their brother. "I hate him for leaving us," the kid, Mitchell, says. He thinks Walker committed suicide because he hated them.

In the Taft High cafeteria, Brad Pitt informs Tom that he missed another seminar on suicide prevention. They were given the "homework" of staying alive until the next day. Skull Tattoo has nothing to look forward to because she's done every drug except heroin. She's also been drunk numerous times and had sex with various boys. Keith tells Skull Tattoo that his parents are going on vacation and he's having a party, "so it'd be a waste to kill yourself before then." 

Outside, Tom has a heart-to-heart with Skull Tattoo (Vicky). She repeats that she has nothing to look forward to and wants out, one way or another. Vicky thinks she's a loser and that everyone else think she's a loser, so she can't go to a friend or a counselor. Tom's been talking to the grief counselor and it makes him feel better. "How could he know anything?" Vicky asks. Tom takes Vicky up to the counselor's office. 

Doug turns off his rock music and fishes for another tape. He puts it in, cranks the volume, and Italian opera fills the room. Doug answers the door to find Tom, who can't believe his best friend is listening to opera. He lets Doug know that he's being a jerk. "Well, you shoulda phoned. I coulda hung up on ya 'stead of having to throw ya out," Doug says.

Tom thinks his partner is selfish; while Tom was helping Vicky, Doug was at home listening to opera. Doug counters, "I know more about suicide than you ever will." "You know more about making stupid jokes," Tom fires back. 

Doug shakes his head. Tom asks what's wrong with him. Doug lets a bombshell drop, angrily shouting, "My mother killed herself when I was 6!" Tom is stunned.

Up on the roof, Doug tells Tom about the day his mom died. All Doug knew at the time was something bad had happened to his mom, bad enough that the police were there. Doug had been worried that his mom might be going to jail. 

Doug spent her funeral with his shoes untied because his mom always tied them for him. Little Doug would stay at the playground until dark because he didn't want to go home and see his mom wasn't there. Doug's dad would have to go get him.

Tom notices his partner's raw knuckles. "My father," Doug goes on, "he had been a priest, so he couldn't kill himself. Instead, he just drank himself to death." Tom is sorry to hear that. Doug waves the remark off with another joke: "I tie my own shoes now. Every morning. Sometimes in the day too." Poignant piano music accompanies his declaration that he's never told anyone about his mom before.

Peter DeLuise played the whole rooftop scene beautifully. No melodrama or hysteria after the initial outburst, but just the right tone of voice to show that he's still deeply affected by not initially understanding where his mom was or what had happened to her.

Later that night, Doug sleeps restlessly on the couch. Suddenly, he sits up and grabs a bag off the coffee table, knocking everything else over in the process. The next thing we see is his motorcycle zooming down the street. 

In the squadroom, Tom sits quietly at his desk, staring off into space. Fuller asks if he's okay. Tom likens Walker to a slot machine with a 1 in 1 million shot that all the wrong things will line up. That's a troubling, not to mention incorrect, analogy. He's made peace with the fact that he'll never know why Walker committed suicide.

Dorothy comes in, asking if Cap'n Rufus or Tom have seen Doug. Neither of them has. Dorothy left because the apartment because she and Doug had a fight. She tried calling and no one answered; the police department said to look at the Chapel. "I know everywhere else he goes, but I went to those places already," says Dorothy, clearly worried. Tom glances up meaningfully.

It's after dark now and Tom's walking through the playground. He finds Doug leaning against his parked bike over by the jungle gym. Tom comments that Doug's a hard guy to find and that Dorothy is concerned about him. Doug wants to tell Tom something. Tom gets a deer-in-the-headlights look in his eyes, clearly thinking: "What now?"

Doug makes a confession to his partner: he tried to commit suicide when he was 8 years old by drinking a bottle of vanilla extract. Tom thinks that's kind of cute. Doug is rather calm as he says, "Well...I didn't mean for it to be cute. I meant to kill myself." Tom looks away, unsure of what to say or do next.

With tears in his eyes, Doug says his mom was an alcoholic and hard to live with. His Catholic guilt kicked in when he began to feel that life was easier without her. Being the tender age of 6, Doug believed that he caused his mother to kill herself by not loving her enough. To atone for that, he would eat vegetables to make her happy in heaven.

He tells Tom he made a deal with God to bring his mom back if he was a good boy, but it never happened. Doug didn't talk to his father for months after his mother's death, thinking it would bring her back. He admits that he was hard to handle for a while..."some 20-odd years" in total.

"Maybe that's my excuse for actin' like I'm 6 sometimes," Doug finishes. Tom apologizes for not noticing his best friend's pain. He asks if Doug has ever seen a psychiatrist or anything. "I don't need to see nobody about this," Doug scoffs, "I dealt with this a long time ago. I just thought it might help you." He asks if Tom's brave enough to take a motorcycle ride home with him: "Somebody's gotta help me eat Dorothy's terrible meatballs." Doug fires up the bike and Tom climbs on the back.

Brad Pitt, Mitchell, Diana, and friends visit Walker's grave. Tom joins them. We cut to some sort of grief support group, where Brad Pitt, et. al are present. The session is winding down and the therapist asks if anyone else has anything to say. "Yeah," says Doug's voice, "I wanna talk. My mother killed herself when I was 6..." End of episode.

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