Society's ethics, and our own sense of right or wrong, is constantly influenced by what we experience, and those with whom we interact. Each generation embraces its own values, and casts aside ones they believe no longer serve their needs. We always believe we're making the right choices, the necessary choices for us, but our decisions define us, and our evolving sense of morality.
In the recent episode "T.A.H.I.T.I." on "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," Agent Skye lays dying. So Agent May bursts into their plane's detention room and wails away at Quinn, the man who shot Skye.
Their superior agent Coulson calls her off, so she returns to the cockpit. Agent Ward, who witnessed her assault on their prisoner, says, "It was good to see you wail on Quinn like that."
Later, agent Garrett boards the plane mid-flight. He believes Quinn has information that might save Skye's life. So he tells Quinn that he'd better answer his questions now…or he'll rip out his tongue.
In case Quinn doesn't believe him, Garrett shows him how that might feel.
The way Batman wailed away at the Joker's face in "The Dark Knight," while in police custody, turned me off that movie franchise. In "Star Trek Into Darkness," the way Captain Kirk wailed away at Khan, after Khan surrendered to him, left me disgusted. I know our world is full of villains who would do us harm, and embracing reasonable measures of protection is prudent. But as for taking out our anger on others, and employing torture to get the information we need to secure our safety…when did that become okay?
In season four of "Castle," Captain Gates becomes Detective Beckett's commanding officer. As a former Internal Affairs officer, one of her overriding concerns is public officials who abuse their authority. In the episode "Dial M for Mayor," she asks Beckett, "As for the sergeant who abused my patrol partner under the mantle of authority, who holds him accountable?"
Last year, in the fifth season, boyish, nonviolent Richard Castle is thrown for a loop when his daughter Alexis is kidnapped in the two episodes "Target" and "Hunt." When the police can't find her fast enough, he asks Detective Beckett to leave him in a room, alone, and not come in, while he aggressively questions a man as to his daughter's whereabouts.
So, naturally, she agrees.
It's easy to love those who love you and show you kindness. It's more difficult to love those whose words and actions annoy or anger you. But isn't the highest test of our morality--both as individuals and as a society--defined how we treat those in our care, whether they be subordinates or prisoners, and whether we approve of their actions or not?
Or does our safety, and that of those we love, trump all other concerns?