“Tell you somethin’ Vance, I know firsthand: become obsessed with beatin’ your enemy, it’s real easy to become ’em.”
– Elliot Spencer
Season 5, Episode 9, “The Rundown Job”
This particular pearl of wisdom is said by, well, a brute of a man, one who has done a number of unsavory things in his life. At the time, his goal was to protect others by defeating “the enemy,” whoever that was at the time. But now he’s been reformed, and for a few years, thanks to the influence of some unexpected friends. Now, while his skills in beating people up come in handy, he devotes his efforts to helping people, protecting actual, live people right in front of him from those who do them harm.
In this episode, Elliot and two of his newer friends were c̶o̶e̶r̶c̶e̶d̶ b̶l̶a̶c̶k̶m̶a̶i̶l̶e̶d̶ recruited by one of his old friends, Vance, an army officer, into stopping a biological terrorist attack. For most of the episode, they thought they were dealing with some sort of organization, but it turned out to just be one old man who had warned of such an attack for decades, who was tired of being ignored, who told himself that he was just waking people up to the true danger. It was “for the greater good.”
Also throughout this episode, Vance had his hands tied, several times, by the legislation of idiotic politicians. He’s really chomping at the bit, because all he’s trying to do is protect his country, yet his most effective tools are taken from him. After this particular crisis has passed, he gives a similar speech about how it’ll be too late by the time the bigwigs in Washington have come to their senses. That’s when Elliot tells him this, and it rings true.
It’s worth noting that the politician who is most antagonistic towards Vance crashed his little party and made sure all the paperwork was taken care of. This, coincidentally, gave Elliot just enough time to realize Vance was walking into a trap and warn him away. Vance may not like to admit it, but the being forced to follow procedure happened to save his life that day. Ignoring the rules and just rushing in may do the job sometimes, but it can backfire as surely as the other way.
Vance, like the audience, is left to contemplate Elliot’s words of caution. Fighting to protect your country, your loved ones, your way of life… these are good, noble things. But whether we are fighting with words or guns, we have to keep the true goal in focus. When it shifts, as it so easily does, from “protecting” to “defeating,” that way lies a quick route to Hell.