For a while it seemed like Mayberry’s relationship with the state police was on solid ground but it goes sour again in “The Inspector.” It begins when Andy interrupts Barney’s game of checkers (against himself) with a stack of mail. The first package contains gifts of leather from a friendly trio of brothers that were arrested and imprisoned by Andy and Barney. That is followed by a letter with less heartening news, it informs them of an upcoming inspection. The letter apparently got lost in the mail because the inspector is set to arrive that day. Barney quickly becomes anxious even though Andy has experience with the inspector and assures him that there is nothing to worry about. Fearing that the jail is too empty Barney goes out in search of a prisoner, quickly leading him to arrest Otis Campbell, but Andy refuses to lock him up seeing as how it’s his birthday. Instead, he goes out to get a cake after promising Otis that they will all celebrate the occasion with the inspector, who is also friendly with Otis.
While Andy is out the inspector arrives, but it isn’t the fishing buddy that Andy was expecting. It’s Ralph Case, a hard-nosed man with a penchant for jotting criticisms into a notepad. He quickly takes umbrage with the way Andy runs things, what with the luxurious decor in the cells, Barney’s gun lacking bullets, the lax treatment of prisoners, and Barney almost shooting him in the foot the second his gun his loaded. When Ralph leaves he warns that he will return with his superior behind him and Andy stands to lose his job.
Upon Ralph’s return he finds Andy and Barney trapped in a cell with Andy dressed in a polka-dot tie and a floppy-brimmed fishing hat that Opie brought him so he could dress up for the arrival of Ralph’s boss. After Andy and Barney are released a frightened man rushes in and informs them that a moonshiner named Luke Reiner is holed up in his house shooting at anyone who comes near. Andy, Barney, and Ralph head out to Luke’s place. Ralph is quick to cite procedure, insisting that Andy call for backup and suggesting the use of tear gas. Andy refuses and instead walks though the line of fire like Wonder Woman coming out of the trenches, trusting Luke’s aim and that the crazed shooter doesn’t actually want to hurt him. Ralph’s boss arrives just in time to witness Andy’s act of courage, after which he shows no interest in Ralph’s notepad full of infractions. The episode ends much like Andy’s last major encounter with the state police, with the Sheriff having proven his competence despite first impressions and with everyone leaving on good terms.
- It’s disappointing to see that Otis has fallen off the wagon so quickly but you can’t blame a guy for celebrating his birthday.
- Luke Reiner is the second moonshiner portrayed by Jack Prince on the show. The first was Ben Sewell in the episode “Alcohol and Old Lace.”
- The actor who plays Ralph’s boss is Willis Bouchey, who frequently worked with legendary Western film director John Ford and delivered the final line “Nothing’s too good for the man who shot Liberty Valence” in Ford’s classic The Man who Shot Liberty Valence.
The Moral of the Story
Once again we see Andy embroiled in a conflict between relativism and absolutism. Previously, we’ve seen Andy’s relaxed approach to his job and morality in general come into conflict with more structured people like Ellie or Barney, but they are usually portrayed more sympathetically than Ralph. The inspector is about as straightforwardly villainous as anyone we’ve ever seen on the show. His strict adherence to rule and policy psychologically tortures Barney and threatens Luke’s safety without need. In the end Andy proves that his more personal approach to peacekeeping is superior to Ralph’s system of policy.
Here we see Andy Taylor at his most Libertarian. This episode is a clear indictment of government overreach. The powerful bureaucracy of the State Police comes to Andy’s doorstep and pushes the Sheriff around, demanding that he follow procedure even at the risk of harming civilians. It’s pretty clear cut: more humanistic police work is preferable to top-down management.
However, Andy is no ordinary cop. His methods only work because of his close relationship with the people under his protection He knows everyone in town and everyone knows him. He is able to arrest Luke without incident only because he knows of the man’s skill with a gun and trusts him not to aim to kill. In order for an unregulated, personalized approach to work all police would have to live up to Andy’s example.
At least one town’s police force in North Carolina is making an effort to honor Andy Taylor’s legacy. Since Fuquay-Varina’s new police chief Laura Fahnestock arrived in April of 2015 the department has greatly increased it’s public outreach. Laura’s use of humor on the department’s Facebook page has become famous, especially the posts regarding the pursuit of a wild hog. A video series released earlier this year paired Fuquay officers with young people to discuss the challenges each face. Most notably, the department began taking place in the “Coffee with a Cop” program, in which police officers make themselves available in a local restaurant for anyone to approach for a conversation. The next such event will be November 8th, at The Corner Biergarten.
Coffee with a Cop began in California in 2011, shortly before the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement. Since 2013 the eyes of the nation have been on the relationship between police and the people they are charged with protecting. That relationship has grown increasingly tense as we’ve repeatedly seen police kill unarmed black people. Coffee with a Cop and Black Lives Matter have the same goal: humanization. One invites people to have a conversation with an officer and the other begs the police and everyone else to see that the value of a black person is the same as anyone else. Perhaps there is hope in these two forces to help police see citizens as humans rather than stereotypes, statistics, or even enemies, and to focus on people more often than procedure.