My feelings on this week’s Lie To Me episode, “Beyond Belief,” are mixed. On one hand, the character building moments among the cast are excellent, the dialogue is snappy and funny and the guest star is believable. On the other hand, after watching the show twice, I’m still not sure what the point of the case is. I guess that averages out to a B episode, despite the many goodies the show delivered.
After the first viewing left me vaguely unsatisfied despite chuckling at Cal’s zingers, cheering Emily’s defense of her boyfriend, and raising my eyebrows at Foster’s willingness to wade into office politics, I watched again with an eye to pinning down what didn’t work for me. It wasn’t an easy task, because so much did. The self help Scientific Repatterning movement is appropriately cultish, with a charismatic front man (played by David Sutcliffe) promising relief from the world’s ills. The teaser nicely juxtaposes John Stafford’s sweeping promises of happiness against a woman setting the stage for suicide, including a plaintive call to her daughter apologising for past hurts. Clearly, all is not well in the land of Scientific Repatterning.
The woman, Carol, does not succeed in her suicide bid, and her daughter, Danielle, enlists Cal’s help to get her mother to leave the cult. Cal jumps on the case, despite knowing the daughter is not disclosing her full motivation, and Gillian points out the reason for us: Danielle had him at “suicide.” The death of his mother at her own hands still haunts Lightman and he springs at the chance to prevent another mother from killing herself.
The problem is, Carol has already returned to the Repatterning institute. In the first unsatisfying plot development, Torres and Loker track down her doctor and get him to admit he released her before the standard three days were up. It’s clear the doctor has ties to Stafford’s group and his involvement seems pretty sinister—but this is actually the only scene we see him in. This line of investigation stops here and what we learn doesn’t really need the weight of a scene dedicated to the doctor’s interrogation.
Lightman and Foster head straight to the Scientific RePatterning centre (SRP), where Cal loses no time in giving his opinion that the dogma is “a load of ol’ bollocks.” Bollocks or not, Stafford poses an unusual challenge for Cal: his face doesn’t reveal anything. Lightman cannot see any lies or any truth in the man’s expressions, which is a problem, since Carol, accompanied everywhere by a member of SRP, denies being unhappy and refuses to leave. It’s a line she sticks to, even when Lightman reads shame in her face.
For his part, Stafford denies being a con artist or a cult leader, saying his movement is not about money, it’s about helping people. Cal is less than convinced, given how opulent the leader’s surroundings are. Stafford points out the institute is a not for profit organization and accuses Cal of being a bully, a charge that resonates in the other story threads of the episode.
With Carol being uncooperative, Loker and Torres look for an ex-member who hopefully will dish the dirt. They come up with Jane Prescott, but she doesn’t completely blacken Stafford’s name. She admits he’s now focused on making money from SRP, but says in the beginning it was genuinely about helping people. She floats a disturbing little story about her boyfriend dying in a mysterious fire after he left SRP, but the point ends up being her own involvement with Stafford, not a legitimate suspicion that her boyfriend was murdered. She’s angry at being dumped for a younger woman and, to Cal’s disgust, would return to Stafford in a flash. She also says anyone can leave SRP at any time, so at this point in the story, it’s still not clear exactly what Stafford is doing that is so terrible, even if his self help program helps himself most of all.
He gets a little more sinister when Cal finds an SRP brochure in his house, left despite locked doors and while Emily was home. It’s obviously a threat, implying Cal’s family will suffer if he doesn’t leave Stafford’s SRP family alone. The stakes increase even more when Cal discovers Carol has disappeared. He interviews Danielle again and discovers she too was a member of SRP and in fact was a favourite sex partner/slave for Stafford. Although she entered into the relationship voluntarily, Danielle ended up feeling so ashamed she started cutting herself and eventually left the SRP “family.” There’s an implication Carol too was sexually involved with Stafford and upset because she was both ashamed of the relationship and jealous at the leader moving on to other younger women (Stafford is shown flirting several times with young women in the audience to his talks).
At this point, I was intrigued at the implications of both women being involved with the same man and expecting to see the dark and violent underside of Stafford’s leadership. Torres has doggedly been searching to find out more about him and eventually realises the reason Stafford is so difficult to read. He’s had extensive plastic surgery which damaged his facial muscles. And the reason for the surgery is that he changed his identity several years ago. The man is really Carl Webberly, a Canadian who abandoned his wife and daughter when he fled a vehicular manslaughter charge. He literally transformed himself, but very differently from the way he preaches to his new SRP family.
Cal springs the abandoned family on Stafford at one of his lectures in a way that makes a mockery of the man’s claim to have transcended life’s difficulties. His “repatterning” for himself involved running away. Cal forces him to confront his bitter wife and daughter and they tell him in no uncertain terms how much he hurt them when he vanished with no word. And Stafford is genuinely affected by their words, telling them, “I was young and stupid. I thought you’d be better off without me.” Lightman knows he’s telling the truth, but he also knows Stafford is trying to find a way to spin the facts in his favour. The man is still not facing his responsibilities, he’s trying to find another way to run. But first, he throws another subtle threat Cal’s way, telling him to take care of his family, while Stafford takes care of his flock.
Cal immediately zooms back to his office to make sure Emily is fine. While she is physically alright, he is horrified to find her with Loker, listening to an SRP tape. Despite his dismissal of SRP, Cal tells Emily listening to the program is playing with fire—perhaps because of its roots in genuinely wanting to help people, the lectures can be very convincing. Cal shows he can be even more convincing when he goes from the office to his home and uses a tire iron to haul an SRP acolyte out of his car where he’s been waiting to break into Lightman’s home. Cal dispatches him with ease, sending the terrified man back to Stafford with his tail between his legs.
Stafford, meanwhile, has sneaked out to a hidden storage lock up. Cal’s even sneakier, though, and he’s already found the locker, rented under Stafford’s original name, and turned it over to the police. That’s a bad thing, as Stafford was hiding away private and apparently incriminating files. Lightman drives up to revel in his victory, telling the SRP leader, “We hold on to stuff, even when we shouldn’t.” He then asks, “What was this place for, then?” That is my question, too.
Unfortunately, exactly why the police show up to arrest Stafford is never made clear. There are a number of possibilities. Lightman’s investigations showed that Stafford’s sex practices are unsavory and his female acolytes find it difficult to leave because SRP is so isolating. However, we also learned Jane, Danielle and Carol entered into their relationships with Stafford voluntarily and could leave when they wanted to. Stafford had nothing to do with Carol’s disappearance. I can’t quite see why these facts would lead to Stafford’s arrest, though I do understand why Danielle and Carol feel abused and need counseling.
There’s also the possibility Stafford was fiddling the books to personally benefit from his not for profit corporation and that’s a big no no. But if so, the story could have used a line or two to make that point, because I didn’t catch anything in the story nailing down book cooking. We do find out for sure Stafford fled a vehicular manslaughter charge in Canada, but I can’t imagine the American authorities arresting him on that charge without an official request from the Mounties and mountains of paper work. I can’t even see how Cal convinced the police to apply for an order to be able to enter the lock up without permission. What American laws does he have convincing proof Stafford broke?
I ended up feeling that although the story suggests why self-help programs can be a scam or unhealthy, the writers didn’t strongly develop a story why SRP is in particular. It’s like I am supposed to accept as a given that Stafford is a criminal, rather than showing me through actions how he is a criminal. Adding in the facts that all the women could leave when they found the internal strength, Carol disappeared on her own volition and Cal easily handled the implied threat from Stafford, the story lacked believable tension.
It didn’t lack witty dialogue or interesting character development, fortunately. Picking up on the tension between Cal and Foster from Cal’s insistence in an earlier episode that his partner join him in a lie to police, this episode had an interesting scene where Cal bullies Loker and Torres into dropping an outside coffee run, only to have Foster turn around and insist they go, saying, “You can go out for coffee. You don’t have to do everything he says.” Neither Loker nor Torres look as though being caught between their two bosses is a comfortable place to be, but they go out for coffee. Season three has been exploring Cal’s flaws as well as his strengths and I think putting a spotlight on how easy it is for Cal to bully people resonates across many story lines.
We see it again in the subplot involving Emily and her latest boyfriend, Liam. When Cal discovers the young man in his home, studying with his daughter, he rudely tosses the young man out and then dubs him Willy, following in the vein of calling Emily’s last boyfriend, Dick. It’s funny to the audience, but not to Emily, who has her parents’ steel in her. She asks her father, “Does everything have to be a confrontation with you?” This is exactly the question we know Foster is asking him, but unlike with his partner, Cal doesn’t deflect when Emily confronts him. Instead, he admits he’s having trouble accepting his daughter is growing up and, in a funny scene, uses a discussion on semi-colons to semi-apologise to Liam.
I thoroughly enjoyed these explorations of the personal dynamics among the characters, especially keeping the tension as well as the chemistry between Cal and Gillian active. While the development of the case feels a little unfocused, the characters are still sharp and interesting, so I give “Beyond Belief” a B.