Over the past two weeks, Common Law has come to display an odd (and awesome) affinity for somehow transforming story concepts that sound like they should be awful into something kind of entertaining. The idea of Wes and Travis’s respective former bosses acting as surrogate in-laws in their weirdo professional partnership was inspired and accurate. While this is a series that generally fumbles anything that smacks of realism, Common Law took this concept, one that many working stiffs encounter in real life, and made it its own.
Have you ever had the “joyful” experience of working with a superior who at one time held your job? Did he or she take the time, often and often unnecessary, to wax nostalgic about “the good old days” when he or she had that job and how great it was, dropping thinly veiled jabs at your particular methodology the entire time? Fun, right? Now double the “better than you” bosses and make them hate each other. Welcome to “In-Laws and Outlaws.”
We got some new backstory this week: In the humble beginnings of their cop careers, before they were the dysfunctional partners we know and love today, Wes and Travis worked in separate departments: missing persons and narcotics, respectively. When a botched narcotics operation led to a pile of dead bodies and a missing informant, Wes and Travis found themselves working with their old departments again. It was a match made in hell.
Fred and Dan, mentors to Wes and Travis back before they were “Wes and Travis,” were a dying breed. Dan, the “cowboy cop,” was an outdated joke—hotheaded, impulsive, and clinging pathetically to his aging sports car (“Trudy”) as a signifier of his coolness. He rebelled against pressure to take a desk job. Fred was the head of the missing persons department, a department that had outlived its usefulness and was in the process of being combined with another one to increase efficiency. Despite being generally respected due to his rank, Fred was still kooky and behind his back he was widely regarded as a joke thanks to his new age-y methods and dog constantly in tow. He was being forced into retirement.
Both “parents” saw an opportunity to save themselves from their unfortunate fates, to live vicariously through their “children.” And like any child who only wants to make daddy proud, Wes and Travis were pretty loyal to their respective “fathers” for most of the episode. Neither one took kindly to the other belittling his mentor. It was sweet and it was understandable, even in a work setting, because here’s the thing about those annoying mentors who just won’t go away: More often than not, despite our occasional grumbles when they come back with their horror stories about their own time in the trenches, we appreciate the attention, the closeness, and the compliments that invariably come with those visits from the “parents.”
Wes and Travis were no different, though like most adults who find their space being crashed by the ‘rents, they eventually wanted nothing more than for Fred and Dan to go back to their respective offices and leave them alone. The case itself was fairly uninteresting, as most of Common Law's cases are, but the important part of the plot, the “breakthrough” potential of Wes and Travis being forced to play nice with their respective in-laws, picked up the slack. Travis referred to Fred as the “ghost of future Wes” but it’s easy to see how either partner might eventually grow to emulate his mentor—odd quirks and all. The fact that Dan was every bit the “ghost of future Travis” went without saying.
However, the real breakthrough came not between Wes and Travis, but between Fred and Dan, who spent most of the episode vying for the right to claim the solved case as a victory for his respective department in hopes of baking up some brownie points and avoiding a desk job/retirement. It was their pressure on their underlings to hand over the arrest that put Travis and Wes at odds throughout most of the episode and for the sake of progress in their relationship, it was clear that neither Fred nor Dan could have it. Travis and Wes just aren’t ready for that kind of compromise.
In the end, both “dads” accepted their new roles in the “family,” with both of them realizing that one more big arrest wouldn’t be able to save them from, well, getting old. The missing persons department simply wasn’t viable as its own department and according to Dan, “the era of the cowboy cop” was over. They eased up on their kids and let them be their own people or spread their wings and fly or, you know, whatever cliché you want to go with.
Next week: Hopefully Common Law continues is trend of taking concepts that should suck and surprising us by making them work, but I’m not holding out much hope for the apparent shoe-horned romance between Wes and Dr. Emma that appears to rely entirely on Wes being a creep. Okay, writers, so you forgot that Emma is here to date somebody, it’s cool. Give it a try next time, don’t shove it into the second-to-last episode of the season just because it should have happened four episodes ago by now. You’ve got everyone cheering for Wes and Alex to get back together anyway. How many love interests does Wes need? He’s not Travis, you know.