The Sixth Commandment in Shetland

I’d like to share with you today a small exchange that has caused me to smile for murder 2several days now.  These four lines (below) are from a show that Bette and I have come to like a good deal.  It is a cop show set in the Shetland Islands of Scotland.  The chief cop (Detective Inspector) is Jimmy Perez.  Here is Douglas Henshall as Perez.

In this episode, called “Dead Water,” the last episode of season two, he had a conversation with a very religious man named John Henderson.  Henderson’s religious views are startling, but they are not insincere.  

Henderson’s setting for how he looks at the world is religious.  He actually has a Weltanschauung; Perez has a job.  This disjunction between how Henderson sees the world (and what things he presupposes) and the way Perez sees the world (and what things he presupposes) are what made this little exchange funny to me.

Jimmy Perez in investigating another murder and that is why he has come to talk to Henderson.Here is how that goes.

Henderson: I live Sola Scripture, detective.The Ten Commandments are my guide in life.  And “Thou shalt not kill” is…

Perez: It’s number six.

Henderson: You know the commandments then?

Perez: I know that one.

Henderson is extremely serious, as you can tell.  Even in a man who is cast as a religious stereotype “I live Sola Scriptura” sounds pompous. [1]  He follows with “the 10 Commandments” and then goes directly to “Thou shalt not kill…” because the plot of all the episodes of Shetland begin with someone finding a body.

murder 1So in Henderson’s world, the commandment about killing is just an instance of his commitment to all the commandments, including the one about stealing, which is what gets him killed in the next turn of the plot.  That’s not the way it is with Perez.  Henderson with the woman he had just married.

In a show where all the plots start with a murder, Perez is a man who has every reason to know the sixth commandment, whether he knows any others or not.  The sixth commandment is an instance of fidelity to God for Henderson.  It is a way of being good at his job for Perez.

So when Perez fills in the right number and says, in effect, that he might not know all the other commandments, but as a man who spends his life investigating homicides, he does know that one, the discrepancy in perspectives is extreme and delicious.

I got the humor in this exchange the first time I saw it.  Barely.  I saw that there was a discrepancy there but I didn’t appreciate just how stark it was.  That started to get clearer for me at the second viewing and at every viewing since.

[1]  They did capitalize “Sola Scriptura” in the captions.  That seemed odd to me.

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About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. My wife, Bette, is the First Reader (FR) of the posts. I have arranged that partly because she helps me write better posts than I would otherwise and partly because I can hold her responsible for the mistakes that I would, otherwise, have to own up to myself.. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsey. I'm a dilettante.
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