The Clare Spark Blog

February 4, 2012

Blue Bloods, Freud, trauma, 9/11

Poster for Blue Bloods

I have seen every episode of the CBS drama Blue Bloods, starring Tom Selleck as a Catholic family patriarch. Selleck plays Frank Reagan, New York City ex-cop who has risen to police commissioner, where he is an avatar of civic resolve, duty, self-control, piety, and rectitude. The episode of 2-3-12 was of special interest, because it showed Reagan dissatisfied with his psychiatrist, played by F. Murray Abraham. The psychiatrist is not dwelling on sexual history (as the stereotype would have it), but rather on his client’s response to recent multiple traumas, which turn out to include 9/11, but before that, the loss of Reagan’s wife, the dirty-cop murder of one of his three sons, and possibly the shock of his youngest son, a graduate of Harvard Law School, abandoning his profession for the family business, where he is reduced to being a rookie cop on the beat. It is only in this episode that we learn that Reagan was in the North Tower on 9/11, and that his ex-partner is dying from a lung disease caught while breathing the noxious air that followed the bombing of the Twin Towers. (Viewers will easily identify “survivor’s guilt” as did Reagan himself.)

The [Jewish?] psychiatrist’s questions anger Reagan, who walks out of his (secret) session, his inner feelings unexamined and undisclosed. His assistant guesses that he has disappeared because of an affair. When queried as to why the affair has ended,  Reagan replies that “she asked too many questions.” (I.e., the focus in therapy is on this world, not the next one.) The rest of the episode deals with an incident in which a neighbor of Danny Reagan, angered by the presence of a half-way house in his neighborhood, causes a former child-molester to run out in the street, to be hit by Danny’s car, containing his wife and two sons.  The neighbor then shoots into Reagan’s car, traumatizing his wife and one of the sons. Linda Reagan, the wife, is horrified by the close call, and is in a snit for most of the episode. She is not used to “bullets flying around” as her husband explains to his partner. But Danny, though sometimes a loose cannon, wants above all to preserve his marriage, so he offers his badge to the now mollified Linda. She refuses it, for Danny has caught and handcuffed the shooter,  obviously a bigot who, with his loudmouth wife, resents the airs put on by this blue blooded police family, and unlike the Reagan family, lacks compassion for the fallen.

But it is the climax that prompted this blog. At the funeral of Reagan’s partner (another “Irish-American”), Reagan gives the eulogy, and expresses a central tenet of Catholic theology. We can’t know why he, Frank Reagan, survived 9/11, while his colleague did not. It is beyond human ken. The implication is that 9/11 and its tragic toll in human life is incomprehensible, but, like other difficult questions related to human suffering, must be “part of God’s plan.” He actually used those words. We question, but there are no answers to be had in this world.

When I first started my dissertation research, I noticed that the most influential Melville scholars (including both Protestants and Catholics) had thrown up their hands at the “mystery” of Melville, who takes his place with the Holy Trinity that is yet one God, and, like 9/11, with its victims and survivors, unknowable, no matter how carefully we read him (Melville) and his biography. So it is with millions of others who resist psychiatry and various forms of psychoanalysis, social work, and counseling. For these stoics, human suffering is unfathomable in its causes. Taking a family history and digging inside our own responses to traumas possibly inflicted by even the most well-meaning of parents, is tantamount to parricide and deicide. And Frank Reagan’s father, a former cop and police commissioner, is off limits, as is Reagan’s mother. Honor, family, and justice are transmitted in the blood. Just look at the poster for the show.

Can we survive as a representative republic when vast segments of our population resist those critical processes that would make us independent and appropriately curious and critical of the persons and events that help shape our lives? Must our politics be seen only “through a glass, darkly?” For a related blog see (The episode in question was repeated 6-17-12.)

Note: I have seen this episode twice and have corrected the error that Reagan might be grieving for a competitor, not his former partner.


  1. PC Reagan was asked to face his shame by his shrink. That’s the nexus you are searching for: being unable to make a connection between an event(s) and a rational explanation for it. That shame, pointedly asked by the shrink was to ask if he ever felt glad it wasn’t him. That is the Q that ended the session. He knew the shrink could not take it away. That his only tool would be to try to get Reagan to accept the unknowable.
    So Reagan carries the burden of a shame connected to no fault of his own. He cannot assuage it. He cannot bear a punishment justly meted. There is none. He has survivor’s guilt and must simply accept his fate: Except that he can blame God. God, by nature being blameless, is asked to bear the blame, nevertheless. But God by accepting that blame, according to Catholic cathecism, lets Reagan begin to find absolution for his guilt.

    Do you think there is a critical process that would substitute? Even Forrest Gump knows Shit Happens. Forrest either has an intuitive grasp of that or he is blithy cluless. Reagan, OTOH, has to know the unknowable. The logical cop, the enlightened man of reason has to know; can know. It tears him apart till he begins to plumb the depths of the knower of the unknowable. Whereby he says, upon that shelf must I set the story of my grief.

    Comment by Mike Mahoney — February 7, 2012 @ 10:16 pm | Reply

  2. Typing too quickly!!!- rather meant to say:- ‘I wonder if one could across a few genres, that meditating on Melville led to a lot of the Beat & then New age modes.’ I also wonder if Weaver’s homosexuality & his performance of that style had a subtle but powerful effect on the public perception of that style- certainly as a springboard for his students Kerouac & Ginsberg, via his war w/ Lionel Trilling, and was there any influence on Albert Goldman, the fellow Columbia professor who became a cultural critic of all things polymorphous but began his public career arguing against homosexuality in a segment for “60 Minutes” (opposing Gore Vidal). AND how much of Weaver’s personality became an internalization of Melvillian themes- Weaver who “set great store by anger” (Trilling) became a monster himself.

    Comment by urpower — February 5, 2012 @ 1:59 am | Reply

  3. I wonder if one could argue across that meditating on Melville mystery, the spur toward facing the Blackness/ Mystery, led to a lot of the Beat consciousness & later to the New Age movement. Raymond Weaver seems to have an important role to Kerouac & Ginsberg, diverting them from the usual classics to eastern texts, gnostics, etc. I do think a determination not to question can be a mature poetic response, sublime acceptance, cf. Keats’ Negative capability & with spiritual emphasis, David in Psalm 131 (“neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me”)- a mode he connects to weaning from the mother. Freud didn’t make anybody better.

    Comment by urpower — February 5, 2012 @ 12:56 am | Reply

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