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TV Recap: Lie To Me’s “Life Is Priceless”

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This week’s Lie To Me focused on the price we pay for lies, and as part of the exploration, we also got a good look at how difficult it may be to define truth or lies, especially as oppositional terms. The episode was solid, if perhaps a bit heavy handed, and we learned a little more about Cal and Foster’s relationship.

"Life Is Priceless" opens on a shot of Lightman’s face as blue and red light washes over him. The lights are revealed to be from emergency vehicles, as Cal walks across a construction site enveloped in panic, eventually ending up at a group of people shouting accusations and defenses at each other. This rather surrealistic opening is a wonderful contrast to the gritty nature of the story itself, which concerns three men trapped underground when a building under construction exploded. The missing men cannot be located, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has called in Cal to figure out who may be lying about what happened. Everyone involved, of course, is horrified at the idea he or she may not want the men rescued. Cal and later Foster as well have to try to identify what each of the key players really wants, and their case is not helped by the fact that it seems everyone really does want the men rescued.

Lightman and Foster sift through the evidence as they build possible scenarios on who may not want a successful rescue. They find a worker who lied about when he last saw the men because he had left to sneakily take drugs. This revelation leads to the location of the trapped men, but the co-worker clearly has no ill will to the men and didn’t cause the explosion. Once the trapped men are located and can be talked to via a camera, Lightman realizes one of the them is frightened of being rescued. He suspects the man (Blunt) may be frightened of being found to be the cause of the blast, and sure enough, further investigation reveals that Blunt’s wife had an affair with the company owner. But the episode never allows a simple equation of guilt to stand.

Blunt does indeed feel guilt about causing the blast, as he dropped his blowtorch due to tremors from the Multiple Sclerosis he has been hiding from the company. He is certain the torch caused a tank to blow up and is wracked with guilt. Lightman notes, however, that the city engineer seems less certain about the cause of the blast. It turns out the man is hiding not what he knows, but rather what he does not know. He did not do a safety survey of the site as he should have because an unknown person paid him not to. Foster forces him to admit that he has a suspicion why: the site used to be a landfill and there’s a good chance there is trapped methane gas. If so, the dropped torch set off the methane gas, and the drill bit digging through debris to find the trapped men may do the same.

Lightman and Foster interview the mayor in "Life Is Priceless"Lightman and Foster take a last look at all the possible scenarios they have set up and discarded, as more information reveals that guilt about one thing does not necessarily mean guilt about the blast. The co-worker lied to save his job, but wants the men found. The mayor helped the construction company get permits issued on the fast track to help bring jobs to town, but is devastated the blast happened. The company owner disliked Blunt and covets his wife, but wants his men safe first and foremost. Blunt’s wife was willing to cheat but went back to her husband when she found out he was sick and has been devoted ever since. The city engineer did not do his inspection but also did not set the plan in motion and wants the perpetrator found. Everyone is guilty , but everyone is also innocent—where you draw the line depends on how large a picture you draw of the events. Eventually, however, Cal finds the one person whose guilt remains, no matter how she tries to spin it.

Lightman and Foster accuse the company owner of causing the blast to get revenge on Blunt. However, he is really observing everyone for signs of surprise or relief at the accusation. Everyone passes—except the mayor. Earlier, she deflected Lightman and Foster from reaching the truth by freely offering her lesser guilt over permits. What she did not mention is she knew of the possible methane issue because her father, the previous mayor, had been refused the right to bring industry to the site for exactly that reason. The mayor tries to defend her guilt by appealing to the area’s need for jobs. But the faces around her clearly reveal her price was too high.

The B case also deals with shifting definitions of guilt and innocence, and the price we pay to get what we want. To their dismay, Torres and Loker have to help a wealthy man figure out if his fiancée knew he was wealthy before she met him. He feels it’s the only way to know if she truly loves him for himself. Loker very cynically feels that the money will turn out to be the draw. Torres is not so sure love will be so easy to dissect.

Torres interviews the fiancée, who is charming, but, alas, lying that she did not know her boyfriend was rich when she met him. Loker breaks the news to their client, who angrily walks out—but Torres knows guilt and innocence are not that easily established. She insists the client come back to hear everything they learned.

Just as all the markers for lying are in play when the fiancée talks about not knowing who her boyfriend was at first, all the markers for truth are there when she talks about loving him for himself. In this case, even more so than in Lightman’s, there is no simple equation for guilt. Torres suggests that this woman both loves her boyfriend’s money and loves her boyfriend. The two facts are not oppositional. Loker further suggests that just as the woman likes the client’s money, the client likes the woman’s beauty, and neither cancels out real love. Of course, he also adds that a pre-nup wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The episode also sheds a little more light on Lightman and Foster’s relationship, which has its own hard-to-define lies and truths wound up in it. Early in the show, Foster takes a call that obviously upsets her. Rather than look the other way, Cal asks her if she was talking to her husband. Realizing Cal could only know that from the negative emotions she revealed, she warns him to stop commenting on her situation. Cal backs away, but the conversation comes up obliquely again at the end of the show. Foster shares a drink with Lightman as the two unwind from the case. Wearily, she wonders why people act as though they are the only one with a secret , as disasters like the one they just witnessed happen when lies come together. Cal simply replies, “They always do,” with a meaningful look at Foster. The look is not lost on her, as she contemplates her own marriage full of secrets and lies. I suspect we’ll find out whether the price of maintaining her life with her husband is too high as the first season draws to a close.

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About Gerry Weaver

  • Clare

    Thanks, Gerry. You summed everything up well. I really enjoyed this episode. It had a fast but smooth pace, intertwined with micro-expressions, great atmosphere, sense of drama, urgency,(the explosion!). I’m glad the writers have us coming back for more, as they drop hints about Cal and Foster’s personal lives.

    I’m sure I’ll always watch Lie to Me as long as it’s on – I’ve always been intruiged by body language, and almost couldn’t believe my luck when I heard about the show! It’s a great learning experience show to watch, and I think all of the viewers have been picking up the science! But unless it’s a wild card episode, I usually find it slightly predictable. Has anyone else experienced this? I think it can be fun to be a step ahead of the plotline, able to spot and understand emotions/expressions, and go “It’s going to be the mayor. Just watch, they’re going to end up with her.” And sure enough!

    On the subject, I thought I’d share an experience of applying information learned from Lie to Me to other shows. I’m a fan of the Fox show Bones, in which murders are solved through foresic science. A few episodes back, “The Salt in the Wounds”, I solved the case in the first couple minutes: the chiropracter who is first interviewed. As he walkes away across the room, he keeps his head down, looking at the ground. It was so plain to me: guilt!! Of course at the end he’s convicted, but think how much time could have been saved. I’m often able to find the murderers on Bones if they are given enough screen time. It goes to show how body language/micro- expressions should be more greatly known and studied, especially in criminal investigations, in all areas of personell.

    Well, long comment today! Thanks again, Gerry.

  • Gerry

    Hi Clare! Thanks for reading and I think you bring up some very good points. I also find myself looking for micro-expressions now in other shows–I watch “House” and saw House do a wonderful “shame” and “Cameron” do a wonderful deflection last week. It’s addictive!

    I agree with your feeling that the show can be a little predictable. I’m very glad we’re getting more on the complicated relationships among the team, because that is not predicable. That’s the part that keeps me guessing. It’s also why I was worried at first the B case just wouldn’t hold interest, because we wouldn’t be invested enough in the secondary characters’ relationships with each other. But the recent development for all the characters has been good–I’m really wondering when Loker’s lie will be revealed. I also love the relationship between Torres and Lightman with the slight tension due to Torres being a natural. So, so far, so good, there.

    I’m not sure what the show can do about the predictability. If they hadn’t shown us the micro-expression and psychological clues so thoroughly, and instead repeated the explanations every episode, I have no doubt that would get boring. I’m feeling rather clever at picking up on the clues myself without the explanation. But there is that feeling of things being just a bit predictable perhaps because the clues do need to be obvious for us to pick up on them. Or maybe it’s just that Lightman only has so many avenues open to him to explore, unlike a policeman or private detective.

    It’s a problem. Some early critics felt this show was too high concept and the strict constraints of having to solve cases by micro-expressions would make the show predictable very quickly. However, I think the show has been getting more interesting lately, not less. I guess we’ll see if the complicated relationships among the team infuse the cases with interest consistently. I adore Tim Roth and think the whole cast is solid, so I hope so.