We learn the extent of Crockett's difficulties reconciling his true self with his undercover identity, Sonny Burnett, in an early episode from the first season, "Heart of Darkness."19 Arthur Lawson (Ed O'Neill), an undercover FBI agent, has infiltrated the operation of a Miami porn dealer, Sam Kovics (Paul Hecht). Lawson has succeeded in penetrating the small, tight-knit outfit because he identifies so completely with his undercover persona, Artie Rollins, that he becomes indispensable to Kovics's criminal activities. He stops filing reports with the bureau and moves out of the apartment in which they had set him up and takes up residence in a luxury waterfront condo. This leads some in the bureau to suspect that Lawson may have gone over to the other side and provides the basis for the otherwise somber episode's running joke: the FBI agents checking up on Lawson are named Doyle and Russo, the surnames of the Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider characters in The French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971).
Lawson also breaks off contact with his wife. In the scene at a fancy restaurant where Crockett and Tubbs, posing as out-of-town porn-theater owners, break bread with Kovics, an attractive blond is at Lawson's side. He has indeed put his mundane married life on hold to embrace an existence of money, sex, and crime. The putative reason for this dramatic change, the one he gives Crockett and Tubbs when he discovers that they are vice cops, is his compelling undercover mission: "I'm on an investigation here! If I make a strategic decision to cut corners, to throw the book away, it's my decision, 'cause it's me out here and nobody else." But we begin to suspect that Lawson likes the life he has begun to live and that his extreme measures and undercover intrigues are attempts to create meaning in his life, a realization he confesses when, near the end of the episode, he tells the vice detectives: "I don't know if I can go back to my wife and that life. It's like I've been riding an adrenaline high, all that money and all those women. And after a while, all of the things that went before, it got like a . . . it's like a . . . I don't know."
The changes Lawson is undergoing and the way he now feels about his wife and that life can be explained by reference to his realization of existential freedom: Lawson has come to accept that he is condemned to be free and must take responsibility for his choices. This realization, in turn, is a source of anxiety. He seems unprepared to either wholly accept or totally reject the drives and desires he has kept suppressed as Arthur Lawson but expresses through the persona of Artie Rollins. In part, this is a reflection of the typical noir notion of the far-reaching effects of the past: the conventional norms of bourgeois morality by which Lawson has defined himself and guided his life are difficult to simply abandon, sustained as they are by the forces of habit and convention, even as they break up when he recognizes the dreadful freedom of existential choice.
There is, in fact, more than one such existential recognition going on in "Heart of Darkness," since Crockett's understanding of what the conflicted undercover agent is going through is based on a profound identification with him. His identification is a reflection of his own ambivalent attitude toward the masquerade that he, Crockett, must play out as Sonny Burnett. Crockett sees not only Artie but also himself, and he understands and empathizes with the estranged agent's anxiety, since he, too, is at war with himself.
A midnight drug deal between the vice detectives and Kovics goes awry, and the vice detectives' covers are blown. Kovics (who is unaware that he is an undercover agent) orders Artie to kill the pair, but instead Artie comes to their rescue and then proceeds to execute Kovics and his bodyguard. Motivated by a flawed commitment to the ideals of law enforcement, Law-son, the typical noir protagonist, knows that he is compromised beyond redemption. His masquerade, his casting off of the bourgeois life of the law enforcement officer and his embrace of a fantasy life, in fact has been a flight from authenticity. As he is taken into custody for debriefing, an overlapping sound track, George Benson's "This Masquerade," extends into the next scene, inside the Blue Dolphin Lounge, where Crockett and Tubbs are having a drink and trying to decompress after the evening's harrowing events. The ensuing dialogue complements the theme of the soundtrack lyrics: the need to perpetually choose one's identity and the risk of being trapped inside the roles dictated by one's multiple masquerades, which reflects the moral ambiguity of the noir universe.
Crockett: You know those mirrors at amusement parks, the ones that warp everything out of whack? I feel like I've been staring at myself in one for the past three days.
Tubbs: It's not a reflection of you, Sonny. It's the job. I don't see how you've been doing it as long as you've been doing it.
Crockett: Neither do I. You gotta be a little nuts.
While at the bar, the pair is informed that during a break from his three-hour debriefing, Lawson called his wife, then went into the men's room, where he hung himself. And so the episode ends as the haunting lyric of "This Masquerade" makes its ironic commentary on the overwhelming of the tormented FBI agent by his own masquerade. "Heart of Darkness" is thus an existentialist morality play about the challenge of living authentically and the costs of the failure to do so.
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