Monday, May 4, 2015

21 Jump Street Tackles Homelessness ("Blinded by the Thousand Points of Light"; Season 3, Episode 17)

For a show that could be really cheesy, 21 Jump Street tackled some heavy issues: AIDS, teen pregnancy, date rape, crack use in the inner city, and suicide. One of the strongest episodes of the series is "Blinded By the Thousand Points of Light". The plot centers around the beating and disappearance of a teenage hustler named Aaron; to investigate the case, the Jump Street crew goes undercover as runaways. In the process, they all get a taste of what life on the streets is like. Below is the recap from my sister blog.

Open in a rough section of town at night. Someone is spray painting a wall with the slogan: "WE SOLD OUR LOVE HERE." Several unkempt teens are fishing through a trashcan. One boy is smoking a cigarette. Another boy wearing a dirty white parka is standing on the corner like he's waiting for someone. A black BMW with limo-tinted windows pulls next to the curb. From inside, a man says, "I haven't seen you before." White Parka explains, "I'm kinda new." Beemer Guy asks about the rate for a "kinda new boy".

Aaron, the boy who'd been smoking, shoulders White Parka and tells the man, "You haven't got it." He asks White Parka to go help his friends. Beemer Guy asks how old Aaron is. Aaron says, "I'm a baby." Beemer Guy ratchets up the perv factor: "You'll do. You look just like my son." Aaron sets a price of $100, which Beemer Guy thinks is a bit expensive. Aaron tilts his head toward the group of kids by the trashcan and explains, "I got a lotta mouths to feed." Beemer Guy unlocks the doors and Aaron gets in. The BMW stops in an alley; the driver pushes Aaron out. His face is bloody and bruised. He can't stand up, can barely crawl.

Daylight. Outside the East Side Bank, two of the kids who saw Aaron get into the BMW are panhandling: a girl in a quilted black jacket (Bonzo) and a boy in a torn denim jacket (Joey). Joey asks a well-dressed woman for spare change. She ignores him. The boy and girl approach a guy who just left an ATM. "All I have are $20s," says the ATM guy. Joey assures him, "We accept those."

Doug, wearing his trenchcoat, approaches a middle-aged guy in a suit. "I've been tryin' to change my life," he says, "I only need 2 more bucks to buy the Donald Trump book." The man smiles and says, "Here's a buck for the effort." Doug calls, "Thank you very much, sir! Won't forget you when I'm at the top." Bonzo tells Doug that's Aaron's line. Joey didn't think anyone else could pull it off. Please, kid, you can pull off just about anything with a New York accent.

White Parka (Skid) joins the group as they head down the sidewalk. Doug explains that a guy named Kevin from a shelter told him about Aaron. Bonzo asks if Doug has seen Aaron. Doug hasn't. He asks the kids if they've seen him.

At a rundown diner, a teenage girl in an old blazer drinks the last few drops from her Coke cup. She goes up to the counter and asks for a free refill. The worker ignores her. "Come on, man, I need the sugar," Blazer Girl pleads. "If you wanna say no, say no. You don't have to ignore me." Judy, in a Red Sox cap and varsity-style jacket, lays some money on the counter. Blazer Girl tells Judy she doesn't have to. Judy says it's no problem and holds up a large wallet. "I always feel generous when I find money," says Blazer Girl. The cashier refills Blazer Girl's drink.

Breeze, a weasel-like boy in a do-rag and black leather jacket, approaches the girls. "MoHo," he greets. Blazer Girl tells Breeze to leave her alone. "I just scored me some China White and the clinic gave me a coupla rigs. Let's get it on and I'll share the wealth," Breeze invites. MoHo tells Breeze that Aaron would kick his ass if he was here. Breeze's tone becomes predatory. "Nobody's seen that dude for days, babe. You're on your own now." Judy throws a Coke in Breeze's face. She and MoHo run out of the diner.

"Bastard," MoHo pants when they're a safe distance away, "He knows I don't do that anymore." Judy asks MoHo if Breeze is her pimp. MoHo replies that she's not a whore: "Did it for drugs, never for money." Judy says she just ran away from her pimp and introduces herself. MoHo says she hates her real name, but she hates being called MoHo too. Judy asks who Aaron is. "He's a god," MoHo replies with a faraway look on her face, "I gotta find him."

Cut to an alley the teens seem to be living in. Skid suggests they go to the police. Bonzo says, "They don't care. They'll just lecture us to go home." Joey thinks Aaron will be back the next day. Skid worries that the john who picked Aaron up was a cop. MoHo scoffs, "Like a cop could really afford a bitchin' black Beemer with tinted windows." Doug asks if anyone saw the license plate because undercover cars have a special mark on them. Joey wonders how Doug knows that. Doug shrugs, "Live and learn, man."

Bonzo asks softly, "You think that shelter guy Kevin was right? Aaron got beat up?" MoHo says, "Aaron can take care of himself." Joey thinks Kevin is trying to scare them into getting off the streets. Judy suggests that Aaron went home. MoHo says, "No freakin' way." Bonzo reminds her that Aaron has before. "But he always told us," says MoHo, "made sure none of us turned tricks." 

Judy asks if Aaron was mad at them. "He was always mad, but not at us," Bonzo says. Joey speculates, "He's in tight with that BMW guy." His tone is confident as he goes on. "Aaron's up in some house in the hills, kickin' back a couple cool ones. Big TV, hot tub. He's just milkin' the dude." Aaron always comes back. "Man, I'm starvin'," Skid gripes. Bonzo says, "Let's go hang behind the pizza place and wait for them to trash some."

The kids head out of the alley with the Jump Street cops trailing behind. Doug hopes they find Aaron soon; he still hasn't found a new apartment. "If I don't, I'm gonna be out here livin' for real," Doug worries. Judy knows he'll find a place. "I don't want a place. I want a home," he says. "Fireplace, Jacuzzi, nice little alcove where I can sit and count my blessings." Judy just wants a hot bath and her loofah.

Nightfall. We see Tom hanging out in front of a store advertising adult videos. Harry is further down the block. On a different street, Booker is approached by Fuller and a middle-aged white man who introduces himself as Kevin Jordan from a place called Second Home. Both are wearing sweatshirts with the shelter's logo on it. They walk away with Booker. Fuller asks how it's going.

Booker reports, "These kids don't wanna talk. The only ones ready to make friends are the johns." Kevin isn't surprised: "Hustlers barely acknowledge AIDS, let alone some psycho who's gonna bring police sweeps in the area." Fuller tells Booker that Aaron was last seen getting into a black BMW with tinted windows. Kevin adds that he got the same description from the other 7 assault victims. Booker asks why nobody has identified the driver.

Kevin explains that the hustlers have no ties and a circuit of cities they use if "something goes wrong at a place or they lose their appeal." Aaron is currently the only person they know of who could pick the driver out of a lineup. Nobody's seen Aaron in at least 2 days. Booker suggests, "Maybe he took off on this circuit like the others." Kevin doesn't think so because Aaron is a father figure to a group of fellow runaways; he wouldn't skip town without them. Fuller wants Harry, Tom, and Booker to keep working this end of town in case the black BMW shows up.

Elsewhere, it's pouring rain. Kevin holds open a door while teens run into the Second Home Youth Shelter. They take a freight elevator up to a lounge area. Kevin's arms are loaded with grocery bags. Aaron's friends are already upstairs. Joey asks if Kevin has seen Aaron; Kevin says no. 

Kevin sets down the bags. Joey goes through them while Judy plays with an Etch-A-Sketch. MoHo says, "This is our friend Judy, only I'm calling her Sodapop 'cause she's so bubbly. There's another guy we're hanging out with too." Skid looks around and asks, "Where's Trump?" Doug comes down the hall. He accidentally bumps into a long-haired resident, who gives him an evil look. He goes over to Kevin and shakes his hand. Bonzo asks Doug to go to the bathroom with her. "I just went," he says. MoHo warns her to be careful.

Bonzo walks down the hallway. Some male residents watch her pass. The one Doug bumped into nudges his friend; they follow Bonzo. A volunteer offers a tray of sandwiches to the kids in the lounge. Judy asks if they have tuna on sourdough. "PBJs or bologna," says the volunteer. Doug asks, "Any PBJs on bologna?" 

Doug realizes that the guys from earlier are gone and so is Bonzo. He puts his sandwich back on the tray and sets off to find her, calling her name as he walks through the shelter. Doug hears something and pushes open a door. He sees a homeless boy, probably no older than 12, sitting in a bare room by himself and coughing violently. 

Doug calls for Bonzo again. He sees the two boys running out of the bathroom. "If you hurt her, I'll kill you!" he threatens. Doug goes into the bathroom and finds Bonzo sitting on the floor, hurriedly re-buttoning her jeans. "Oh no," he says softly. He drops to his knees near her, asking if she's hurt.

Bonzo lashes out, pushing Doug away and hitting him in the arms a few times. She says miserably, "I'm sick of this. I'm so sick of this crap. Why can't I just die?" Bonzo begins sobbing. Doug wraps his arms around her. Bonzo chokes out: "This never would've happened if Aaron was here." Doug gently rocks on the dirty bathroom floor as he hugs the scared teenager. Kevin, Judy, and the rest watch from the doorway.

Alleyway. Judy helps MoHo put the finishing touch on a graffiti message that reads "AARON, PLEASE COME BACK TO ME" and pats her on the shoulder. Joey mentions that they need to scrounge up some food. Skid offers to get a 5-finger discount at the A & P. From under a makeshift shelter, Doug says, "No, you'd never get enough for all of us." Through gritted teeth, he adds, "My stomach is constantly grumbling." "I know. Hearin' your stomach is makin' me hungry," Joey says, rubbing the front of his sweatshirt.

Skid says, "MoHo said she'd trick for some drugs, then we could sell 'em." Doug doesn't like that idea one bit: "It's up to us to get the money." ("Us" presumably means the menfolk). "No one's gonna hire us," Skid points out. Joey suggests breaking into apartments, which Doug dismisses as too risky. Joey's next plan involves stealing a roll of lottery tickets from a nearby liquor store: "That's 200 cards. We could easily hit $25 grand." Skid likes the sound of that; the kids could find a hotel and order room service.

Doug wants to know what Aaron would do to help his friends. There's a beat before Joey replies, "He'd do for us what he wouldn't let Skid do to himself." Skid shifts uncomfortably. Needing to further gain the kids' trust to solve the case, Doug says, "Tell me what it is. I'll do it."

Cut to a street corner after dark. Doug's expression shows he's realizing exactly what he's gotten himself into. He asks, "What am I supposed to say to the guy?" Skid says that the johns do the talking. Joey tells Doug he'll make $100 for 10 minutes of work, then they can get high so he can forget about it. Wait, I thought the point of this was getting food money. Doug sighs and leans into the window of a car that has parked at the curb. He's clearly dreading having to get in.

A middle-aged creep in glasses drives down the road, bragging to Doug about an important business deal he closed that day. Some guys celebrate with steak dinners, this one rewards himself by picking up who he thinks is an underage male prostitute. Patting Doug on the shoulder, he says in a greasy voice, "You're a very big boy...Trump." Doug looks ready to rip the guy's arm off and beat him with it.

"Where should we have our" asks the pervert. Doug starts giving him directions, then tells the man to pull over. Pervert looks at the sign overhead. In a confused tone, he says, "This is a police station." Doug pulls a Chris Hansen, flashing his badge and saying, "Yeah. I'm the police." The pervert sighs defeatedly.

Doug stops at an ATM so he won't go back to the kids empty-handed. The scene switches to Tom in front of the same video store, then to Harry and Booker. Harry talks about how Jack the Ripper is one of the most famous serial killers in history, but he only killed 7 people. "Yeah, I know, man," says Booker, "Today, that wouldn't even earn him a psychotic starter kit." Harry can't imagine what it'll be like in 50 years. 

"Beemer," Harry says. He and Booker rush over to the car. Booker pushes the teen aside. "Hey, man, you're messin' with my livelihood," says the teen. Booker says, "Hey, he gets two pros for the price of one, pal." They start shoving each other. When Harry and Booker turn around, the BMW is gone.

Alleyway. Judy huddles under a blanket that's full of holes. She steps carefully over a large form, presumably Doug, and out of the lean-to. MoHo is already awake, sitting against a nearby Dumpster. Judy gives MoHo the blanket. "I think Aaron went home," says MoHo. Judy asks if she can find out by calling his family. MoHo can get his number, but it means doing something hard: going home. Judy wants to help her. 

MoHo and Judy sitting in donation chairs at a blood bank. MoHo says she and Aaron have both gone home before, but called each other every night. "Our moms freaked out when they got the phone bill." She can't remember his phone number and didn't want to carry it with her on the streets. Judy wonders if $20 for their blood will be enough for a bus ticket. MoHo knows of a bus line that gives runaways free tickets home. Judy asks why they're donating blood. MoHo wants new clothes so her mom will recognize her. Judy doesn't think she can buy a whole new outfit for $20. The teen gives Judy a hard look and says, "Sodapop, there's a lot harder ways to lose your blood."

Thrift store. MoHo giggles at some of the items. "This is the kinda thing my brother wore in the disco days." MoHo gives Judy some background on her life. She has a lot of half-siblings. "My mom and dad were married and divorced to everyone on the planet." She's the only child they have together and "all their other kids hate them for who they married at one time or another." "Do you hate them?" asks Judy.

MoHo explains that she ran away because her parents weren't getting along and she felt she'd be doing them a favor by not being around to distract them. She asks Judy about her family. Judy doesn't think her mom knows she's even gone and asks MoHo when she took off. MoHo thinks it was a year ago: "I was on this cool drill team and we came down for a competition. I got off the bus and I never got back on." Stellar supervision on the part of the drill coach. Judy looks sad.

We see an express bus driving at night. The girls get off it; Judy is now in a pink sweater and hideous plaid pants and MoHo is in red pants, a denim sweater, and a dark colored cardigan. The girls walk up to MoHo's house, which is medium-sized and in a decent neighborhood. They go inside. MoHo hears someone moving around and almost bolts. A brunette woman comes out of the kitchen; she looks like she can't believe her eyes. MoHo introduces Judy and asks if she can use the phone. "Of course," the woman says. I'm surprised she hasn't fainted from relief that her daughter is alive.

MoHo's rifles through dresser drawers until she finds her address book. Judy asks what Aaron's last name is. MoHo just wrote his number under "Aaron." She dials the phone. A woman answers. MoHo says she's a friend of Aaron's and asks if he's home. "Aaron? As far as his family's concerned, Aaron is dead," the woman says coldly before hanging up. MoHo is on the verge of tears.

At the same diner seen earlier, Doug is using the payphone in back to call about an apartment ad. The landlord is going out of town and asks if Doug can come by in an hour. "That's gonna be a little tough for me," says Doug, chewing nervously on a straw and looking around the corner. He promises to put down a deposit on the spot if he likes the place. The landlord tells him that the key is under the mat and "if ya like it, call me before noon tomorrow." Doug thanks him and hangs up.

Doug goes over to a booth where Bonzo, Skid, and Joey are sitting with mostly-empty plates in front of them. "Trump, what you did for us, man--" Joey starts. Bonzo tells him to shut up: "Aaron never wanted to talk about it." Doug doesn't mind. Joey talks about the first time he went off with a john. "God, that's the last time I remember crying." He chuckles. Skid glumly admits he's the only virgin. Joey nods, "And Trump here's gonna make sure it stays that way." "Hustlin'," Doug says, the word clearly leaving a bad taste in his mouth. He asks if prostitution is really preferable to going home.

Bonzo hasn't had a home since the foundry where her dad used to work was shut down. The rest of her family is in Arizona "livin' in a tent behind some church. I thought I could make it better on my own." Skid's stepfather used to spank his bare backside with Christmas wrapping tubes. Doug stares at the tabletop. "Memories too painful, Trump?" asks Skid. Doug gnaws on the straw some more.

Joey says he'd love to go home because he misses his mom. Doug asks why he hasn't gone back. Joey hesitantly begins his story: "This one time--It was a buncha times, but this one..." When his aunt died, Joey's mom went out of town for the funeral. Joey was left at home with his mother's boyfriend. While Mom was away, the boyfriend put a knife to Joey's throat and told him to take his clothes off. Doug looks sick to his stomach.

Joey goes on to talk about something that happened a few months prior. He got high on crack and wanted to jump off a freeway overpass. Kevin from the youth shelter stopped him, talked to Joey for hours, and convinced him that he should go home. Joey gave Kevin his phone number: "So it was like 4:00 in the morning and he calls. I was so excited and so was Kevin...He says, 'Mrs. Taylor, this is Kevin from Second Home. I have your son Joey here and he'd like to come home.' She hung up."

Skid asks, "What about you, Trump? You ever wanna talk to your mom." Doug answers earnestly: "Yeah. I'd like that more than anything." He excuses himself and heads off to the men's room, most likely to have a private cry about the abuse the kids suffered at home and are still suffering on the streets. Breeze enters the diner and tells the kid he heard a rumor that Aaron's been "partying with the corner boys down on 5th and Madison." Bonzo says that Aaron wouldn't do that because he hates those guys. 

Breeze calls them 'tards. Bonzo spits at him. Breeze call her a whore. "Up yours," she says coolly. Breeze says the two of them "could do some parallel parking for a bag of crack." He takes a step toward Bonzo. Joey gets between them. Doug comes out of the bathroom and tells Breeze to leave them alone. 

Breeze shoves Joey, causing him to land in an unoccupied booth. He pulls a switchblade; Doug expertly dodges the knife, dumps a container of straws over Breeze's head, and bites Breeze's wrist to make him drop the blade. Doug bends the kid over the counter and hits him a couple of times with a metal napkin dispenser. Breeze collapses to the floor. Doug asks Joey if he's hurt and practically skips out the door with him, Skid, and Bonzo, who laughs at Breeze's misery.

Tom and Harry are on a different street. Tom informs his friend that an outfielder from Harry's least favorite team tried to pick him up for sex. "I knew he was a bum," says Harry. Booker apparently got the guy's autograph. Still no leads on the black BMW. The young hustlers know the guy has been prowling their neighborhood, but they go out anyway because they need money for food and/or their drug habits. "God, I hate this assignment," says Harry. Tom agrees, "I hate feeling like a piece of meat." Ironic coming from People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive 2003 and 2009.

In MoHo's backyard, the girls sit on a swingset. MoHo tells Judy you can see a lot more stars here than back in the city. Aaron would take the gang to an observatory and they'd sneak into the planetarium shows. They saw one about constellations. The names of them didn't mean anything to Aaron, so he made up his own. "He named star patterns after anything that kept him from killing himself." She points out a few--cheesecake, baseball, and Bruce Springsteen.

MoHo's mom comes out of the house. She says that she made a bed on the couch for Judy and reveals that MoHo's real name is Molly, which I will use for the rest of the recap. Molly's mom suggests they have a mother/daughter breakfast. "We can go to the bay and--" "Talk?" Molly says angrily. Molly's mom asks, "Is that so awful?" Judy leaves to give them privacy. Molly's mom wants her daughter to stay, but doesn't know how to say it. How about telling her how worried you've been for the last year? Molly agrees. Her mom goes back inside and tells Judy good night.

Doug, Bonzo, Skid, and Joey file into a darkened apartment. Bonzo practically skips through the living room, exclaiming, "Trump! This is so cool!" There's a fireplace in the living room. Joey asks how Doug found the apartment. "Keep your ear to the ground, man," says Doug, "Anybody wanna take a bath?" Skid and Doug look around the bathroom, but there's no soap. "I found some!" Bonzo calls. She tosses Doug a bottle of what looks like dish soap. Skid takes off his parka while Doug liberally pours soap in the tub.

Later, the kids dance around the living room to some loud music. Everyone's hair is wet. Doug sits next to the fireplace with a bucket of KFC, happy to see them free to act like normal teenagers. Cut to him polishing off the last of the chicken; there's bones all over the floor. "Well, I could get used to this. How 'bout you guys?" Doug asks. Joey would make it look "like something out of the homes section in the Sunday paper" and keep his door open. "No junkies, no johns, no damn cops, just a place to crash," says Bonzo.

Doug asks if they think Breeze was lying about where Aaron is. "We gotta go down there," says Skid. Joey has a feeling that Aaron is there. The door opens and everyone's heads whip around. "What the hell?" asks Mr. Landlord. He orders them to get out before he calls the cops. Doug hands over the key and inquires, "How much to move into this place?" "Your liver!" replies Mr. Landlord.

Molly, dressed in her old blazer again, creeps through her living room. She shakes Judy awake and tells her she's going back to the streets. Molly says she has to find Aaron. Judy thinks Molly is running away from talking to her mom. "It's better to deal with what you're running from than what you're running to," she advises, "You owe that not only to your mother, but to yourself." Judy promises to find Aaron and bring him to Molly's. Molly insists that she's leaving and Judy doesn't have to come. Judy gets up anyway.

Downtown by the adult video store, Tom is alone. A black BMW pulls up. Tom goes to the passenger window and guesses the driver is looking for more than directions. Beemer Guy unlocks the doors and drives off with Tom. He's now alone with a violent perp and no backup. What could go wrong?

The two go up to a room at a no-tell motel. For the first time, we get a good look at Beemer Guy: white, in his 40's or 50's, gray hair, decent suit, clean-cut. He's also wearing leather gloves. "You look just like my son," he says to Tom. He tells him to turn around. "I don't turn my back on nobody," says Tom. He then does just that to look out the window. In the tiny bathroom, Beemer Guy takes a small billyclub out of his waistband and kisses it lovingly.

Tom turns back around as Beemer Guy enters the room and cocks his revolver. "Drop the stick," Tom orders. He shows Beemer Guy his badge. "You're under arrest." The billyclub clatters to the floor as Beemer Guy mutters, "No. God, no." He handcuffs Beemer Guy and asks him where Aaron is. Beemer Guy tells Tom that he doesn't want to know their names "not before, not afterwards." 

On a downtown sidewalk, Fuller meets up with Harry, Booker, Doug, and Judy. He tells them that Tom arrested a suspect and Beemer Guy gave a full confession; they're all free to go home. Booker and Harry leave. Doug asks about Aaron. Fuller says that Beemer Guy dropped off a kid matching Aaron's description at 7th and 24th. He was still alive then, but who knows if he is now or if he's still in the area.

"The department says we've got greater priorities than a lost runaway," Fuller adds. Doug protests, "But, Captain, these kids, they need someone to pull 'em through." "These kids were here before this case. Unfortunately, they'll be here long after," says Fuller. They can't solve the problem themselves because it's too big. He knows the case has been tough on them and suggests Doug and Judy take a couple of days off. Of course, Doug doesn't exactly have a home to go back to. 

Doug and Judy find Skid and friends panhandling again. Bonzo demands to know where they've been all day. Judy asks if there are any hangouts for the homeless on 7th and 24th. "Hotel Hell," says Joey. They go to 7th and 24th. Doug slips through the chainlink fence, but the kids don't follow him. Aaron told them never to go there; it's just junkies and sick people. "Severely haunted," says Joey. Bonzo and Skid refuse to go in. "After all he did for you, that's all you got for him?" Doug asks. Molly goes through the fence, then Judy. Joey, Skid, and Bonzo somewhat reluctantly join them.

They walk around to the back of the building. Doug forces a door open. Hotel Hell is right; it's dark, full of rotting furniture and piles of garbage. Doug shines a flashlight around, asking if anyone has seen a kid named Aaron. Nobody responds; they all look unconscious or dead. Undaunted, Doug continues giving Aaron's physical description and says he disappeared last week. "Yeah, that dude got dragged in. He was hurt," says a homeless man. A homeless woman tells them, "By the honeymoon suite down the hall."

They walk further into the building. Molly calls Aaron's name. Doug kicks open another door and immediately says, "Oh, dammit." Aaron is lying motionless in an old bathtub. Molly gasps and whimpers. Skid tries to go in. Doug says gently, "He's dead." Molly clutches onto Judy, sobbing and wailing. Joey asks how long Aaron's been dead. Doug can't tell. Bonzo asks what they're supposed to do now. Doug is clearly affected by this case and stammers sadly, "Find a...find a home."

Molly's backyard at night. Her mom comes to sit on the swingset with her. Molly's eyes are fixed overhead. She asks what her daughter is looking at. "Baseball," Molly replies. Her mom doesn't seem to quite understand. Downtown, a city worker rolls black paint over Molly's graffiti message to Aaron. And so ends one of the strongest episodes of the series. 

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