CBS ‘Flashpoint’ Takes on Maternal Kidnapping

On the pop culture beat, on Friday, June 25th, the CBS series Flashpoint featured “Custody.” It was a 41-minute episode that seems to have been inspired by the David Goldman case. It was a story about a young Irish woman, married to an American. They have two kids and live in this country. She has an affair, they get divorced and after a bitter, acrimonious custody battle, he gets custody. She then hatches a plot to kidnap the children and flee to Ireland.

Flashpoint follows the adventures of the “SRU” (Strategic Response Unit) police team. Needless to say, the SRU steps in and saves the day, stopping the abduction of the children with an efficiency that would make James Bond go back to spy school.

But beyond the bare bones of the plot, the piece is worth viewing for its take on fathers, mothers and children. To the extent that pop culture at once shapes and reflects attitudes about its various topics, it’s important to understand. Flashpoint is a prime time series by one of the networks. Therefore, “Custody” should be understood.

The show is at considerable pains to be balanced. It wants us to understand the motivations of both the father and the mother, and sometimes goes against character to do so.

The piece begins outside the courtroom with the angry dad who’s become a fixture in the popular imagination. The next thing we know, the father’s pulled a gun on his ex’s attorney and taken him hostage. But the show is setting us up. He’s not the bad guy after all; she is. (Or at least he’s less of a bad guy than the piece suggests at first and that we’ve come to expect.) He keeps claiming that she’s going to kidnap the children, and after a good many plot twists, that’s what she does.

There’s even a flash-back scene in which we see him griping at her for repeatedly interfering with visitation. The terms “parental alienation” and “malicious mother” are used.

“Custody” ends with both father and mother arrested – him for taking the hostage, her for kidnapping. As I say, everything is nicely balanced.

Exactly what most viewers will take away from “Custody,” I don’t know. But, even though the father has a pistol, threatens people, takes a hostage and breaks the law, he’s not the black-hatted evil-doer we see so much of. He was afraid his children were being taken, he loves them very much and will do anything to keep them with him. When he tells the police that his wife is kidnapping the children, he’s not delusional, he’s right.

At the end, she too holds a pistol in the stand-off with the police, and that serves as a counterpoint for his earlier use of a firearm.

Now, the show also lets us know that, during her stay in the United States, the mother “was isolated” because the father worked long hours. That constitutes a standard sort of apology for her behavior. That is, he’s in some way to be considered at fault for her not getting out more, for sticking her at home with the kids all day every day. So when he gets custody, we’re supposed to believe, he’s taking her whole world, or some such thing.

“Custody” is a TV drama. That means it’s aimed at about a 12-year-old level. Given that, there’s a lot that’s not explained, like, how it is that the man who works all day gets primary custody instead of the stay-at-home mom. But the point of the piece is to refrain from branding either mothers or fathers as either good or evil. For dads, that has to be considered a step in the right direction.

One of the last lines of the show is something like “when kids are involved, it’s hard to see straight.” Neither parent in the show has “seen straight;” both have behaved badly. At the end, both mom and dad are handcuffed in the backs of separate police cars and the children stare, somewhat accusingly, at the mother. The message: it’s the kids who are important and you, Mom, lost sight of that.

In its silly, adolescent way, “Custody” paints a picture of parents and children after divorce and, to its credit, spatters a bit of black on both Mom and Dad.

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