by Greg Akers
Episode Named After: The American folk song "I Shall Not Be Moved," a Negro spiritual. The song was used in turn by the labor movement and the civil rights movement. Maya Angelou named a book after it. The song was one of the covers performed by the Million Dollar Quartet — Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis — in a session at Sun on December 4, 1956.
Rowdy Memphis (Plot synopsis): Lt. Rice (Alfre Woodard) discovers that her ex-husband transferred $20,000 out of the bank account she thought he had been removed from. Rice and a bank assistant tussle. Dwight (Jason Lee), Whitehead (Sam Hennings), and Sutton (DJ Qualls) are about to eat some barbecue when they get a call about a hostage situation. A black man has taken a white man hostage in his home. Dwight recognizes the black man as Sebastian LaGrange (Clarence Williams III), a notable session musician from years before. LaGrange is out of his mind and thinks the white man, an eviction process server, was actually there to take him back to Angola prison.
Dwight and the team determine that LaGrange is really Leroy Hitch, a man convicted of a 1958 murder who later escaped from Angola and was never heard from again. Dwight goes about clearing LaGrange/Hitch’s name, believing him to be innocent of the murder of his white girlfriend. The investigation leads to Louisiana, where Dwight talks to the dead girl’s sister (Veronica Cartwright), does some snooping, and figures out the present-day mayor (Marco St. John) did it.
The City (Truthy Memphis): An accomplished musician anonymously living in a rundown house in Memphis before being rediscovered? Believe that.
Here we've got another "living legend" in danger who Dwight has to protect. Tweet of the week goes to @catesta: "Watching #memphisbeat, I'm sure glad I'm not a local legend. Otherwise, I'd be kidnapped, stabbed, murdered, or elder abused."
Sebastian plays the song he wrote for his girlfriend, Emily, before she was killed. He plays it in his house, in the midst of a hostage situation, surrounded by cops, newsies, and onlookers. As he starts playing, everyone outside gets respectful and quiet and listens to this great musician.
Union Street (Unreal estate): The hostage situation takes place at Mosby and Manassas. Cool, that’s a real place. Of course, the show says it’s in Orange Mound. It’s actually just north of the Medical Center.
In the Memphis Beat universe, apparently Louisiana is fairly close Memphis. Whitehead and Sutton leave for there during what must be mid-afternoon and arrive there before the sun has set — and even before a 45-minute SWAT team deadline has apparently passed.
Ah, the iconic sight of the sun, rising over the Mississippi River, dewy morning light gracing that ole Hernando de Soto Bridge.
Rice gripes about the humidity in Louisiana. Not to get in a territorial pissing contest with Louisiana or anywhere else, but it's hard to believe a Memphian would go anywhere and complain about the humidity as worse than back home.
A key piece of evidence in the mystery is that it didn’t rain on Christmas Eve 1958 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Didn't rain in Fayetteville at all in December that year, we're told. They’re right.
Analysis: Marco St. John, who plays the mayor, is a New Orleans actor with a ton of credits. Good for him. I wonder, if the show were filming in Memphis, would Jon W. Sparks have gotten the part? Would be cool to see local actors turn up in roles.
LaGrange is one of the best session players ever, Dwight informs us. He played with Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, and Elvis. Dwight recognizes him from photos from old liner notes. My colleague Chris Herrington tells me that Elvis didn’t session with black musicians. But Chris, Dwight says Sebastian LaGrange “is a living legend!” Surely Elvis noted that and made an exception.
The show gets some credit for mentioning that Leadbelly served time at Angola Prison.
After my last review I promised commenter
Moatthelake Mike that I would accentuate the positive the next time around. I'm finding it hard to be cheery in the face of this week's show, though. This was the most lazily scripted hour of TV I've seen in a long time — though I generally stop watching things that aren't written well, and Memphis Beat has a hook in me I'm not willing to shake free of.
I can deal with geographical mistakes, though it's fun to point them out. And I can deal with historical inaccuracies, though it's fun to point them out too.
But a script absolutely has to abide by the facts that it introduces into the plot.
When the cops look into LaGrange's past, they determine they he's really Hitch, a man who was convicted to life without parole in 1963 at age 19. Hitch was convicted in 1963 and escaped six years later and was never re-apprehended, we are told. Let's assume that puts his escape circa 1969.
Hitch was convicted of a murder in 1958, and he was essentially railroaded through the courts on the basis of a confession. So he doesn't get convicted until 1963, five years after the crime? And let's assume that, in 1958, when he was 14 years old, it wasn't weird for him to be dating an 18-year-old white girl with a college-age jealous ex-boyfriend.
Okay, I can deal with all that, if I have to. But it gets so much worse.
Later in the episode, Lt. Rice says Hitch/LaGrange had "48 years of freedom he was not entitled to," referring to the amount of time since the fugitive had escaped. Of course, 48 years ago was 1962. Which, if we are to believe the dates the show told us, was one year before he was even convicted.
And then, since it apparently doesn't matter anymore, in a later conversation, we are told he escaped in 1965. Just coz.
A fictional world must at least abide by its own internal logic. And mathematics. Memphis Beat does not.
Finally: If all else fails, there's no reason Memphis Beat can't be a successful mystery drama. This episode was not. The 1958 murder victim was stabbed six times and also suffered blunt force trauma to the head. One piece of evidence that was saved in the police file cardboard box but apparently never considered a potential blunt weapon was a cracked snowglobe. Really? The idiotic rhetoric of the sequence is: "We found the knife but never did find what caused the head wounds. Weird. We do have this cracked snowglobe found next to the body and thought we'd hang on to it. You think it's important?" Thank god they kept it. Otherwise, how else would Dwight be able to prove the mayor did it because his tobacco juice was still on the felt on the bottom of the weaponized snowglobe.
Memphis-y Trope Central to Next Week's Mystery: Memphis City Council! Sam Anderson (Bernard from Lost) guest stars!