“The All-American” serves up oodles of sentimentality in the case of a college football star diagnosed with ALS.
This recap of Bluff City Law Season 1, Episode 6, “The All-American”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Bluff City Law Episode 6 was easily the most Bluff City Law episode of Bluff City Law so far — if you know what I mean. You don’t? Well, look, “The All-American” divides itself between the case of a college football star diagnosed with sudden-onset ALS, fighting for the right to die with dignity, and the preparation for an LGBTQ award ceremony. Della (Jayne Atkinson) might deliver a great speech at the end about living an authentic life, but with this much cheap sentimentality, her award is the highlight of an inauthentic show.
This week’s client is Marcus Wright (Clifton Duncan), a sporting standout who wants to enlist Elijah (Jimmy Smits) and Sydney (Caitlin McGee) to help him die. He has ALS, and Tennessee isn’t a right to die state, and even if it were the disease he has wouldn’t qualify him for the privilege of being allowed to die with dignity. To make matters a bit more complex, Elijah is unsure how he feels about such cases, ethically-speaking.
The staff of Strait and Associates all gather to weigh in. Della is for; Jake (Barry Sloane) is against, on uncomplicated “life is sacred” grounds. Briana (MaameYaa Boafo) is worried about too much power being concentrated in the hands of doctors, who presumably have too much of it as it is? Either way, Marcus’s mounting medical bills are such that last week he started to have a seizure at the dinner table and told his wife, Britney, not to call an ambulance because it would be too expensive. And if that sits well with anyone watching, might I recommend Prodigal Son for your network TV viewing, since you’re clearly a serial killer.
Anyway, Elijah takes the matter to Father Charles (Danny Johnson), who throws him a curveball by suggesting he lets the needs of their family inform his decision, rather than simply laying down the Lord’s verdict then and there. Elijah is apparently not on good terms with God at the minute, which is how “The All-American” chooses to remind us of his complicated philandering past, even though every week we see him going out of his way to selflessly crusade for everyone he encounters.
Sydney wants to help Marcus in some way, so she takes everyone out to dinner to discuss how and then bails halfway through the meal when something comes up — an on-sight mutual combat offense, in my book, but apparently Strait and Associates are more tolerant than I am of dining and dashing. Nonetheless, a plan is concocted: Sydney wants to sue the Conference of Collegiate Athletes on the grounds that Marcus was treated like an employee, and thus his injuries occurred on the job. He should be entitled to compensation that will keep his family cushty when he inevitably snuffs it; it’s not what he wanted, but it’ll give him some peace of mind.
This is pitched to Marcus and Britney, who agree since it won’t affect his other case. “The All-American” elegantly portrays the pain of this family by having Marcus play football with his sons and Britney explicitly say that every time he does so she wonders if it might be the last time. Just, you know, in case we didn’t notice he was dying.
Della, meanwhile, goes to visit her son Eric and asks if he’ll be attending the Gala, which he says he won’t be since it’ll remind him of the worst years of his life. While he supports her lifestyle — the all-time MVP of “I’m totally okay with you being gay, just don’t be gay where I can see you” excuses — there’s no way he’s going to chill with her wife. He clearly still hasn’t forgiven her for coming out when he was 15. And while we’re on the subject, is this the first time there has been any mention of Della’s sexuality, or do I just glaze over when I’m watching this show and somehow missed it?
Marcus’s state of mind is discussed with Dr. Miranda Gase (Amanda Jaros) and Elijah in Bluff City Law Episode 6, and the latter has to go and splash his face with cold water because he’s just so morally conflicted about whether this man of sound mind should be allowed to die without having to become a withered, paralyzed husk in full view of his wife and children. Maybe it’s just me, but I have an incredibly difficult time accepting that someone as liberal and free-thinking as Elijah would be in this much of a tizzy about Marcus’s case. As Marcus himself explains to him in the bathroom, it isn’t about him choosing to die, it’s about him choosing how to spend what remains of his life, and what memories of him will remain for his family.
Elijah takes his indecision to Della, who is still torn up about not being able to accept her award in front of the person she loves more than anyone. They’re interrupted by the arrival of Sydney’s divorce papers, finalizing her separation from Robert (Josh Kelly). In true Sydney fashion, the idea of their entire relationship between reduced to a piece of paper upsets her, because Bluff City Law mandates that she be terribly upset at least once per episode. Elijah finally agrees to take the case since he reckons it’s what his late wife would have wanted, which is what seems to inform all his decisions and which he probably should have realized somewhere closer to the top of the episode.
At this point “The All-American” branches out into the two separate cases. Syd and Jake agree to an arbitration on the financial side, accepting that the judge’s verdict will be binding, which is just as well since Jane Gordon (Sarah Hudson) won’t offer a settlement and is confident of the win. Elijah, meanwhile, argues the medical side in court against US Attorney Jenkins (Matt Lewis). Marcus gives a powerful speech about how he doesn’t want to terrify his sons by suffering for months, having watched cancer ravage his mother in much the same way. He makes a very good point.
His point is undermined somewhat when he has a seizure and is taken to hospital, at which point it emerges that he does not have a do-not-resuscitate instruction, which a man who truly wants to die would consider pretty essential. This, it turns out, is the fault of Britney, who in her denial never got around to signing the DNR six months prior. When asked by Elijah if she supports her husband’s desire to die, she says she does, definitely.
Both cases develop in Bluff City Law Episode 6. Sydney thinks she’s hit the jackpot when she brings up that the wages of the top college football coaches amount to almost double what it would cost to medically insure students for a decade. The institutions are profiting from these players and leaving them without cover for the injuries they accrue during their employment — and the judge determines that it is, essentially, employment, even though the judgement goes against Marcus.
Elijah, after another chat with Father Charles, figures out his next move. Under the Eighth Amendment, Marcus is covered against “cruel and unusual punishment”. Being forced to endure a prolonged and degrading death qualifies as such. Marcus is granted his right to die as a human being, not a specter of one kept alive with tubes.
Since “The All-American” just can’t help itself, Marcus’s family still gets their mortgage and medical expenses paid off — without a spoonful of sugar, the medicine doesn’t go down, after all. Bluff City Law Season 1, Episode 6 concludes with Della, looking glamorous, being presented her award at the Peabody. She gives a speech about authenticity, equality, and bravery that is well-written enough to feel like a transplant from a different show while gazing mournfully at the chair which Eric would have occupied had he not been parked outside sulking. He leaves without seeing her. Someone should tell him he missed the best part of the episode.