If you knew me well in highschool, you knew I was ambitious and driven. Not unlike wanting to “suck the marrow out of life,” I wanted to be one of Jack Kerouac’s “yellow roman candles”—the kind that “never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn… exploding like spiders across the stars.” Needless to say, I thought that I was a brilliant roman candle and that I needed to make sure that everyone around me knew just how brilliant I was.

If you know me well now, you know my unadulterated penchant for BBC murder mysteries. I don’t recall precisely how I came to have such an ardent love for TV shows with thick accents, beautiful landscapes, and rampant death and deceit, but I think it really kicked off when my Jack Kerouac era was waning. A lot of the BBC content that makes its way over into the popular American mind is what I would describe as fairly rosy and sunshine-y (think The Great British Baking Show) or melodramatic and soap opera-esque (think Downton Abbey). But I want to talk about the darker side of the BBC filled with twisted murders, slow-burning character arcs, and thought-provoking conversations about God. 

Inspector Lewis features, unsurprisingly, a detective inspector named Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whately) and his detective sergeant, James Hathaway (Laurence Fox). Lewis is a working-class Geordie while Hathaway is an Oxford-bred, Cambridge-educated ex-seminarian—in other words, they are the equivalent of an aged corn farmer from Iowa paired with a Princeton graduate from Phillips Academy. Lewis and Hathaway’s partnership is a fascinating and complex exploration of interactions between two different worlds of place, class, and education, and it’s why their relationship is so compelling over nine seasons of the show. They discuss the justice of killing murderers, the sanctity of confession in a murder investigation, and if it’s possible to remain good in the face of so much evil.

Hathaway is an extremely clever and reserved fellow. Naturally, I feel a great affinity for him, something akin to my affinity with Ivan Karamazov. Lewis is more like my father if I’m honest—slower, more bumbling, less sophisticated, and kinder. Hathaway approaches everything with a tastefully cynical air while Lewis goes in with gusto like a bulldog. But the bumbling old bulldog Lewis knows something that Hathaway struggles to accept: it is faithfulness, not cleverness, that is the duty of people who are trying to protect and serve the greater good. While Hathaway makes clever remarks about abstruse Greek myths, Lewis cuts to the chase without academic sophistication. Hathaway has his head and Lewis has his heart, and together they make a force to be reckoned with.

But this balancing act between two people is damnably difficult between one’s self and one’s other selves. There’s this essay by Annie Dillard, “Living Like Weasels,” that I never much cared for (sorry, Professor Holberg). However, as our world becomes increasingly full of difficult quandaries and impossible dilemmas, “yielding at every moment to the perfect freedom of single necessity” becomes an increasingly attractive way out in its simplicity. All of this “for the greater good” business seems rather empty when there are raging ideological wars about what precisely defines “the greater good.”

How do I define “the greater good”? I’ve grown up a lot since my Jack Kerouac days, but one thing has remained a cornerstone: my inexorable hunger to be clever. I have softened some of the harder edges and learned to pad the corners with velvet, but I still fancy that cleverness is one of my greatest strengths. Therefore, it should be my primary way of interacting with the world—my primary weapon for tackling “the greater good.” If I were one of Annie Dillard’s weasels, my single necessity would be cleverness. 

So I thought that “the greater good” was being a dazzling yellow roman candle. But being clever does not seem to be doing much good for our hurt-filled world today. I’ve always been a start-and-stop person, throwing myself with unchecked passion into a project for a little while and then burning out, only to find yet another project a few weeks later. Faithfulness is frequently tedious, something I quickly grow bored of, but I also know that cleverness is fleeting and tiring and it doesn’t make me kinder or more loving. I cannot do extraordinary work if I am too busy disdaining ordinary work.

I remember, once again, that being simply faithful—even if it looks like yawning and saying commonplace things—is not something to be feared. Rather, I would do better to embrace the simple faithfulness that defines Lewis’s work than to only pursue the headiness of people like Hathaway. Maybe it’s my duty to God and the world to be faithful, not clever.

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