Yesterday's Tatort (g), "Kidnapped", was a creepy psychosexual affair which dealt with someone who kept little girls locked away in a basement for years, but never touched them sexually (which makes his behavior even creepier). Instead, he created a bizarre subterranean concentration-camp scenario, where the girls were forced to constantly wash and clean their bare-metal chambers in return for water and food. There were a number of nice touches, including the fact that the perpetrator's house had framed 'family' photos on the wall which were, in fact, pictures of himself, and some pretty breathtaking dolly-style shots vertically downward into the earth, to show us how far underground the secret chamber was. I've never been a huge fan of the Saarbrücken investigators as personalities, but they were pretty good in this one. And, of course, one can't overlook the enchanting Lale Yavas as the coroner, Dr. Rhea Singh.
This Tatort also marked the re-appearance of a stock Tatort staple every bit as familiar as a commedia dell'arte character*: the Misunderstood Molester. After one of the abducted girls escapes, triggering a girlhunt for the remaining abductees, suspicion immediately focuses on a middle-aged man, living along, who was fired from his job as a lifeguard for exposing himself to some of his young charges. The police pay him a visit, naturally, and yell at him a bit. Whenever the plot flags, we get more indications of his guilt: he smokes heavily (like the perp), he buttons his polo shirts to the top button like any self-respecting child molester, he lives near the scene of the abduction, his apartment overlooks a playground (and he has a pair of binoculars), his pet ferrets seem suspiciously high-strung, he's stopped taking the anti-testosterone medication prescribed by his therapist, and he even has a dress worn by one of the abducted children in his underground storage space.
But, of course, he's not the perp. It turns out there's an innocent explanation for all these factors. He is, after all, the Misunderstood Molester. Shortly after police focus on him, his therapist visits the cops to lecture them: his client deserves a second chance, therapy can prevent him from acting on his impulses, being scapegoated harms his chances of re-entering society, etc. The well-established pattern is followed:
- After crime against child, suspicion focuses on the released molester.
- Some clues point in his direction.
- The outraged/anguished parents of one of the victims target the molester by picketing him or attacking him.
- Someone (a skeptical cop, therapist, family member, girlfriend) begins to cast doubt on the molester's guilt and deliver edifying lectures about how everyone deserves a second chance.
- The Misunderstood Molester is finally cleared of all guilt — often after being arrested, interrogated, and even attacked.
It's interesting how frequently the MM comes up in Tatort scripts. Recently, at a lecture about crime fiction in Germany, I met a man who had written some scripts for German TV, and who complained of the heavy interference by editors, who frequently returned scripts with suggestions intended to make them more politically-correct. Evidently, the German cultural elite believes that ordinary Germans have a dangerously low opinion of convicted child molesters, and that this is an important problem that must be remedied by public education. Why else would there be (seemingly) at least one Misunderstood Molester per every 5 Tatort episodes?
As far as changing Germans' opinions of child molesters, good luck with that! I'm not complaining, though. I find the constant recurrence of the Misunderstood Molester one of Tatort's most comforting qualities. You can spot him (and it's pretty much always him) coming a mile away, and then the suspenseful sub-plot begins: how much evidence of guilt can the script dump on the MM's head before the real killer is found?** Sometimes this sub-plot is lots more exciting than the main plot!
* America's favorite commedia dell'arte characters can be seen here.
** Now, I'm operating on the assumption that it's never the convicted molester. But there may be an exception to the rule! Can anyone point me to a Tatort in which the previously-convicted molester is identified early in the show, investigated, and at the end turns out to be the real killer/kidnapper?