At the start of the premiere of The Code, the opening explanation is that there are Marine lawyers who enforce the US Military Code of Justice i.e., the Code, and that these lawyers are full Marines, and can be deployed as prosecutors or defense counsel or into combat. It all sounds very serious, very “new”. Except it’s not.
Ever since A Few Good Men showed us Tom Cruise as a lawyer representing PFC Downey and Lance Corporal Dawson in their trial of the murder of Private First Class William Santiago, everyone knows there are lawyers in the military. Good ones who demand the truth at whatever cost to themselves or their careers. So much so that following the movie, actual enlistment numbers jumped in the US Military. The year was 1992.
Three years later, J.A.G. premiered. It starred David James Elliott as Lieutenant Commander Harmon Rabb, ex-Navy pilot grounded due to night blindness, turned lawyer. His partner in crime and occasional adversary (the lawyers take turns both defending and prosecuting, depending on the case) was Catherine Bell as Sarah Mackenzie, lawyer and one squared-away Marine. Rabb and Mackenzie will put in appearance on NCIS in the not-too-distant future, so we’ll see them again, some 14 years after they went off the air.
The Code? It’s the same ground. Lawyers, or Judge Advocates as they are called in the military, are searching for the truth. The pilot episode even contains the exact same moment as A Few Good Men. Going after someone big, a more senior officer who has crossed the line, someone who is responsible in the command structure for the criminal behaviour of those below them who committed the actual act. The big moment is that all seems lost, it’s do or die time for the lawyer, commit to the attack knowing there is no net beneath them, and that they NEED the person to confess because they have no evidence in front of them. They need Colonel Jessop to admit he ordered the Code Red in A Few Good Men — they need Tom Cruise to get him to admit it. And the scene shows him on the precipice of deciding whether or not to go full hog on him with no evidence and get him to admit it, but in doing so, totally risking his career. You see Tom Cruise pause at the defense table, pour himself a glass of water while his hands shake, and decide to go for it.
In this pilot, you see the lawyer do the same thing. He’s got the guy on the stand, he’s cross-examining, he knows what happened, but he doesn’t have the video evidence yet. He’s waiting on an email to get it. But he proceeds anyway. To save the day. And then, the moment of truth. The video arrives. Game over.
The lead character is Captain John Abraham, played by Luke Mitchell. He’s practically a poster child for a marine lawyer, having been a Marine himself who got shot and can’t do infantry anymore (sound like a Navy pilot who couldn’t fly planes anymore?). I have almost always loved every role Mitchell has inhabited. Roman on Blindspot, Lincoln on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., John on the Tomorrow People. He almost makes me willing to watch Home and Away, just for his involvement. Almost. My only concern is that he has this “tragic” feeling to him, that he’s damaged somehow, and it isn’t clear if that will fit well with the “recovered Marine who has found his new home” vibe that he’s selling in the pilot episode or enough to be the main lead. He’s always been a bit of an ensemble player.
Ato Essandoh plays his immediate supervisor, Major Trey Ferry, and I was having a lot of trouble placing him while I watched. His roles have been so different, I’m not surprised. He played Sherlock’s sponsor Alfredo on Sherlock; Vernon in Altered Carbon; and Reverend Potter on Blue Bloods. Three roles I’ve seen him in during the last three years, and I didn’t figure him out at all. Moving on though, he’s pretty good here. He doesn’t have a lot to do, coming off more as a buddy of Abraham than his boss, but maybe there will be some conflict there in the future.
Abe’s opposing counsel in the first episode, and potentially a love interest for the show, is Captain Maya Dobbins, played by Anna Wood. She does a decent job, albeit a bit formal with a hint that she wasn’t always so in the past. They have a history but it isn’t revealed in the pilot what it is. Trailers show a more relaxed version in the future, which would be welcome. She makes a good foil for Abraham, not sure a good romantic foil though.
For the smaller parts, they have Raffi Barsoumian as a warrant officer who works with the lawyers who is really good at his job of arranging logistics or finding things. Almost like Tiner on JAG? Stop that, I know. Anyway, small role in the pilot, but okay. And then there’s Dana Delany as the head of the unit, Colonel Turnbull. She only has a scene or two, but of course she nails both of them. Odd to see her in such a small role though. Or to realize she’s 63 years old now. Wowzers, she looks awesome. Or as she says in the episode, she cleans up well. I haven’t seen her since Body of Proof (I only watched the pilot, didn’t really like the show much), and also hard to believe it is 30 years since China Beach. However, I have to say, she will always seem like FBI profiler/special agent Jordan Shaw from a measly two episodes on Castle. If there was ever a character on Castle that deserved her own spin-off, it was her. Sigh.
So the show rips off A Few Good Men. And J.A.G. And a few other shows. But not in a bad way. Maybe they meant it as an homage? Okay, so no, it’s a ripoff, but it’s a good ripoff at least.
When I saw the initial description for the show last fall, it seemed like JAG + CSI, and I went with RENEWAL as my prediction. I’m a little less confident in that prediction now that I’ve seen the premiere, but heck, why not…I’ll stick with that prediction.