If I had cared any less about the Kid Rock plotline, I think I would have physically injured myself.
This is, I think, one of the instances in which having a B-case, particularly one that's so clearly designed as sweeps bait, genuinely hurts the main storyline. We should have all our focus on Stella and on finding out what happened between her and Frankie, but instead we keep getting pulled away to this case that it's impossible to give a good goddamn about. It ends up damaging the structure of the episode, too: the B-case concludes about fifteen minutes before the show ends, and is neither referenced again nor in any way germane to the real story, save for the double meaning of the episode's title, which I'll get to.
The attention on this case also makes Lindsay's freakout over Stella feel forced and...it's natural for her to be upset about a case involving a fellow officer, but in addition to the Kid Rock focus making this feel out of place, we also haven't seen enough of a relationship developing between her and Stella for this to be genuinely moving. I suspect it might have played better if she and Danny had actually been working the case along with the rest of the team.
95% of the time, the procedural set-up dictates that we have A-cases and B-cases, and I don't object to this, because 95% of the time, it works just fine; storytelling calls for subplots. However, there are certain times at which B-cases are, at best, distracting and/or of no interest, and, at worst, become offensively distracting and lurid. A sweeps-bait storyline involving a real-life music performer strikes me as falling into the latter category, particularly when contrasted against a very serious, very brutal storyline (one which, even though no sexual assault was involved, carries those very unmistakable overtones) involving one of the lead characters of the show. A plot structure that's a mild annoyance in "On the Job" or "Run Silent, Run Deep" -- two episodes that I also don't think should have had B-cases -- becomes truly frustrating here because of a whiplash-inducing difference in tone and intent.
Sometimes, they just need to stick with one plotline, and I'd point to "Blink" and "What You See Is What You See" as examples of episodes where this having only one story worked to their advantage.
That said, Stella's storyline:
This was, again, a brutal, and brutally difficult to watch, sequence of events. When I first read spoilers for this plotline, I cringed, not so much because Stella is probably my favorite character on the show, but because we've seen this done before, many times, and it has enormous potential to be either offensive or clichéd or both: a character who has previously been portrayed as a strong, resourceful woman is reduced to the role of Woman in Jeopardy and needs to be saved. It's a very, very tricky line to walk: we don't want to never put characters into danger, because then we lose any dramatic sense that anything is truly at stake, but we don't want to put them into danger at the expense of character.
I think that this episode manages to stay the right side of that line; Stella is put into danger and we see her far, far more vulnerable than we ever have before, but she also manages to save herself through her own brains and resourcefulness. We never know what we can do until we're pushed to an extreme, but I can't even conceive of the guts it must take to slice your own fingers to ribbons with a razor in order to free yourself, to keep going in the face of that pain. Even through tremendous fear on Stella's part, there's also never a point at which she wavers; one thing we don't get is the scene where the female character in question has the drop on her attacker, but is suddenly unable to pull the trigger out of some bullshit notion of second thoughts -- or, practically speaking, of the writer/producers/whoever not wanting to "sully" their female lead by suggesting that she's capable of killing, even when that killing is in the name of self-defense. Stella has no such hesitation.
Stella's reactions after it's all over are likewise in character. She's still upset and freaked out, but she's also all but crying with embarrassment over having her colleagues see her in this vulnerable state. She's just barely holding herself together through most of the show, which is clear, but she does hold herself together, and insists that they continue even when she's very close to the end of her rope. She tells the nurse doing the exam to "Just be thorough" after the nurse promises to be gentle, and that's also perfectly Stella.
We also see a gentler side of Flack than we have before, and one of the things I like about him is that he manages to be very kind and concerned without condescending to her, or making her feel like the object of pity. He's patient and quiet about questioning her, but is also methodical and business-like in a way that, I think, helps her stay focused and calms her down. It's also appropriate that, while Flack helps in this, Mac helps in the way he knows best, by gathering evidence -- and by giving her the space she needs. I don't think she could have held it together as well if Mac had been the one questioning her, and I suspect he wouldn't have been dealing with it well, either.
(Of course, realistically, neither of them should have been working her case, but we'll ignore that for the sake of dramatic license.)
At the end, too, both of them give her what she needs from them: Flack is a friend, and tells her she's a friend, along with a hug, while Mac again does what he can, by reassuring her that she can come back to work as soon as she's ready, and by offering to take her to a hotel in the meantime, and by respecting her choice when she says no. He's also clearly uncomfortable during this scene, trying to be lighthearted and calm with her while failing miserably, but the concern shines through even so. Though he stays very lowkey, both here and at the beginning when they're at the hospital together, the cracks show when he's alone and going through her apartment -- and, really, we get the whole story at the very beginning, in his silent reaction when her address is announced over the scanner, and the panic written across his face. Neither of them is capable of truly expressing everything they're feeling in front of the other, I think, and it's both easier and safer for Stella to be vulnerable in front of Flack, and to speak to him about friendship.
This all ties in with the vague theory I've been formulating about what they've been doing with the relationship between Mac and Stella this season, and where they're going with it; I need a little more time to think before I can put that into coherent words.
On a happier note, it also cements what I've said about Flack recently: that he makes a damn good friend. He's the kind of friend who'll tell you when you're being an asshole and smack you in the head when you need it, but he'll also be there for you, come hell or high water.
We've seen so little of Frankie this season that I do think his abrupt shift into psychotic and jealous comes entirely out of left field, which may be deliberate. Previously, we've seen him call Stella and send her flowers, but in no way that indicated he was anything more than a guy who was interested in her and willing to pursue a relationship. The only thing even approaching any hint that all was not right with him, prior to the website and to this week's events, was a comment he made to her in "Stuck on You" that came off as dismissive of her work. Still, there's a world of difference between Guy Who Doesn't Take You Seriously and Guy Who Is a Psychopathic Loon. So we don't know if Stella missed the signs, or if there were simply no signs to miss; unfortunately, life doesn't always come with foreshadowing. I can't say if Frankie was written out of character here for the sake of drama because we haven't seen enough of him; I can say that sometimes people can turn on you and/or abruptly reveal unexpected sides of themselves without warning. Though it's not often as dramatic as it is here, it's frequently unpleasant.
This turns then, ultimately, back to the show's running theme of identity and definition, of who people are, on the surface and in their private hearts. As much as Stella has to be questioning who Frankie really was, she also now has to be questioning who she is, and how or if this changes her -- if she can or should even allow it to do so; or if she has a choice in that matter. Some things, some events, change us irrevocably, whether we want them to or not, and she's not the first character on the show to have her life suddenly altered by an act of violence. Never mind the cases they work every day: Mac has been here before, too, and so has Danny.
Crucially, we do learn that Stella doesn't let people in easily or often, either literally, to her apartment, or into her private self. As she says to Flack, when telling him that Frankie didn't have a key to her place: "He'd never even been there. That's one of my rules -- no men in my apartment. That way I always have a safe place to go if things get bad." I've mentioned this before, that this is the reasoning behind always going to other people's places instead of letting them come to yours: because you can always leave. You always have an out, a safehouse. And you have that, too, if you try to control how far you let people into your life, into your heart and mind and soul. If you don't let them in, they don't get a chance to hurt you, at least in theory. Sometimes they do anyway. Granting people all access -- the real meaning of the episode's title, I think, setting aside the Kid Rock plotline -- is neither easy nor safe, nor always desirable. Because it makes you vulnerable, and because even people who have your best interests at heart can end up hurting you.
They can leave you.
In the end, Stella, after making a very brave effort to stay in her apartment and to tidy up the damage that's been done, ends up packing to leave anyway. She can't stay here now, and where do you go when the safe places have been violated? Defense of self has failed, and once that happens, you have to find some way to pick up the pieces and to move on.
The episode also stands as a stark contrast to "Run Silent, Run Deep." RSRD was a painful episode, but was ultimately all about catharsis, about taking steps toward the healing of old hurts, even as new ones continue to crop up. We see this played out in both Danny's relationship with his brother and in his relationship with Mac; the latter is considerably healed in contrast to where it was at the beginning of S2, and RSRD has every indication of marking a turning point for them. Danny and Louie also have hope now, although that's still very much up in the air as of where we last saw them, and they may never truly heal, but at least Danny now knows the truth.
"All Access," however, is about the inflicting of the hurt, not its healing, and as it ends Stella is nowhere near the point of finding that catharsis or moving on. Where she'll go from here remains to be seen.
You know? For once in my life, I'm actually not in the mood to talk about clothes. No Fashion Watch this week.