Timecode: 26:48 – 30:31
You don’t need to call me sir.
Is this your signature?
Sir, yes sir.
You certainly don’t have to do it twice in one sentence.
Considering his clients have been in a jail cell for almost 24 hours since their transfer up to D.C., it seems only right that Kaffee should finally pay them a visit. After all, there’s only so much Chocolate City sightseeing you can really do from behind bars, right, Louden? Plus, I mean, I’m no lawyer, but an attorney actually meeting his clients face-to-face seems like something he should probably do before striking a plea bargain or (god forbid) going to trial¹.
The scene marks a sharp tonal shift, which Reiner (and cinematographer Robert Richardson) tip us off to the moment we see the holding cell’s drab coloring and dim lighting (which is made all the more drab/dim by its contrast to the preceding scene: shot outdoors on a bright and colorful softball field). The suggestion seems to be simple: shit’s about to get serious.
And it is.
For the first time since we’ve met him, Kaffee has encountered an audience (Dawson & Downey), who not only don’t find him amusing, they don’t even seem capable of speaking the same language. As much as Jo has rolled her eyes at Danny’s sarcastic quips, it’s clear that (at the very least) she gets the joke. Dawson and Downey², on the other hand, greet Danny’s humor with all the understanding and appreciation that a cement wall greets a tennis ball. And aside from Galloway’s “You know what a Code Red is?” stumper, it’s the only thing that we’ve seen have the power to wipe the smirk off of Kaffee’s face.
[As a quick aside, this got me thinking: what would make Dawson and Downey laugh?
For Downey, the answer is easy: so long as a superior officer wasn’t breathing down his neck, he’d probably laugh at just about anything that didn’t involve clever wordplay or straight-faced sarcasm. This list would include Marmaduke comics, The Great Cornholio, fart noises, every second of Jackass and Tosh.0 ever put on film, and pretty much any inappropriate sex joke that you heard in middle school.
Dawson, of course, is a whole different animal. If memory serves, the guy doesn’t so much as crack a smile the entire movie (Markinson and Kendrick would also make this list). He’s the fucking bizarro-world version of Smilin’ Jack Ross: Hangdog Harry Dawson. That being said, he strikes me as the kind of guy who would laugh were he reminiscing with a friend or sibling about “the good old days”. In other words, if he’s going to slip out of super-serious Lance Corporal mode, he’d have to be with someone he felt incredibly close/safe with. And I don’t imagine that list of people would be very long.]
It takes all of a few seconds to learn that Kaffee and Dawson mix about as well as root beer and grapefruit juice³. And nowhere is that more evident that when Kaffee calls into question the code that Dawson lives his life by (not to be confused with the code that Danny lives his live by: Softball. Yoo-hoo. Babes. Steak knives.):
Kaffee certainly has no shortage of antagonists to contend with in this movie. He’s got Galloway up his ass basically non-stop. In just a matter of minutes, he’ll have Jessep, Kendrick and Markinson stonewalling him at every turn. And as much as Jack Ross may smile, he is — quite literally — the opposition (that’s how the whole prosecution-defense thing works, after all)⁴.
And yet, despite all those heavy-hitters⁵, no character will prove a bigger catalyst for Kaffee’s arc/change than Harold W. Dawson⁶. Their relationship will personify the central theme/conflict of the film. And if you don’t believe me, just look at where their first meeting is placed structurally: the last scene of the First Act (sometimes known as “Conflict Lock”). There’s no turning back from this moment for Danny, just like there’s a concept that Harold’s gonna have to start warming up to: Kaffee’s the only friend⁷ he’s got.