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We Build, We Fight

I rarely write about television, but I do want to mention this week's episode of NCIS, "We Build, We Fight," which I found pretty remarkable. I don't watch enough TV to know what's going on with gay characters in the broader TV world, but I've watched NCIS enough to think that this episode was unusual, even as it was completely typical as well. It opens as usual with a Marine being murdered. After some comedy shenanigans involving the main characters and the impending birth of a child to a couple of them, the usual crew goes out to the crime scene as they always do. Gibbs interviews the cop who found the body, and the cop is, strangely, in tears.

"Did you know the victim?" Gibbs asks.

"He was my husband," says the cop, who is male. (Also African-American, while the victim was white, which is something that's never commented on.)

From there the story explores the theme of gays in the military from a number of angles, including the fact that the surviving husband is an ex-Marine who was discharged dishonorably for being gay in the Don't Ask, Don't Tell era. The dead Marine, on the other hand, is being vetted by the Department of Defense for the first Medal of Honor awarded to an openly gay Marine. We meet the admiral who was over him and eventually learn that the admiral is a homophobe who has been giving gay servicemen poor performance evaluations simply for being gay. (We're told he'll be court-martialed for this.) We also meet a straight Marine who served with the victim and who was a homophobe until the victim saved his life by throwing himself on a grenade.

Now some of what happens in the show is pretty over-the-top, such as the presentation of the dead Marine as pretty much the perfect self-sacrificing hero in every respect. Gibbs' self-righteousness toward the bastard admiral felt a bit sledgehammery. But this is all typical of the show. As Denys remarked, every NCIS trope was there, right down the grieving spouse pleading, "You have to believe me, my husand was a good man who never would have done such a thing," in response to an accusation of wrong doing. It was a note perfect rendition of the NCIS formula, with gay characters in two leading roles and gay rights and experiences filling in the story structure.

What was remarkable was how mainstream it all seemed. We've come a long way, baby?

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