Written by Ray Jenkins. Directed by Peter Duguid
The opening of If He Can, So Could I has a deliberate echo of the season three opener, Where Else Could I Go?. Then it was Callan who was deemed to be unfit for duty, but now it’s Cross. In both cases we see a rigorous physiological evaluation undertaken by Snell (Clifford Rose).
Rose, later to play Kessler in the classic series Secret Army, was always a little underused in Callan, but this episode does give him a little more exposure than normal. Snell is convinced that Cross should be replaced (he likens him to a tightly wound watch spring – which has to give eventually) but Callan is less sure.
Snell certainly plays all the tricks he can, such as asking Cross to fire at the target of a woman and then revealing that behind the target was a female dummy. This recalls a similar moment in Where Else Could I Go? – Callan was perfectly fine when asked to shoot circular targets, but missed every time he was presented with a target in the form of a human body.
Interestingly though, Cross has no such qualms and when Snell questions him afterwards he maintains that he feels perfectly fine. Although his actions in Rules of the Game were responsible for paralyzing a fourteen-year old girl he’s adamant that it’s left no lasting scar. He tells Snell that he’s trained to not feel remorse – it was an unfortunate accident, but nothing more.
Another fascinating moment occurs when Snell asks him what he feels when he kills. Cross says that it gives him a sense of security, which makes Callan (watching events from the close-circuit television in his office) shake his head ironically. Although he may not share Cross’ opinion about killing, Callan is very much on the side on his colleague and reinstates him.
He’s sent right back into the thick of things as he’s assigned to guard a Russian dissident poet called Trofimchuk (Peter Blythe). Probably best known for playing Soapy Sam Ballard in Rumpole of the Bailey, he’s almost unrecognisable here, thanks to a moustache and a strong Russian accent. Trofimchuk’s interaction with Cross is key to the episode – especially the part which sees Trofimchuk speak in favour of suicide.
Do his words maybe hit home? Shortly after, Cross spies an intruder on the roof and leaves to investigate. A single shot is fired and Cross is dead before he hits the ground. When Callan later catches up with Cross’ killer (and Trofimchuk’s would-be killer) Burov (played by Morris Perry) his dying words are “he let me kill him”. And Snell later finds a number of books in Cross’ flat which have passages dealing with suicide highlighted.
It’s all circumstantial evidence, but together it adds up to a compelling case that Cross did have suicide on his mind, although there isn’t any real evidence of this from the film sequence that covers his death. We see Cross looking for Burov, he’s distracted by a shout from below and a split second later he’s shot. But we’ve already seen Callan and Snell debate that life and death can be a matter of split seconds, so it could be that this infinitesimal hesitation was key. Or did Cross just forget his training? This is Callan’s opinion, but it could be just what he wants to believe.
The death of Cross hits both Callan and Liz hard, but for different reasons. Although he treated her badly during their brief relationship, it’s probable that Liz still had a certain amount of affection for him, whilst Callan’s feelings are much more complex. Towards the end there’s a spell-binding scene with Callan and Lonely (Russell Hunter’s only appearance in this episode). A very drunk Callan tells an uncomprehending Lonely how difficult it is to control the darkness that exists inside. Edward Woodward was always so good, but this scene is something special even by his high standards.
Callan’s decision to leave the office after Cross’ death (something that Hunter is strictly forbidden to do) and his murder of Burov (the first time he’s killed someone he’s not been authorised to) brings his brief stint as Hunter to an end. Whilst it could have lasted a few more episodes, largely confining Woodward to the office has been a bit of a problem so it’s not surprising that he’ll now be back in the field.
No matter how many times I rewatch these episodes they never lose their impact. If He Can, So Could I is yet another exceptional installment from one of the true classics of British television.