“Black Friday” continues Lie To Me’s strong performance this year, with another tightly written and moving episode. One of the changes show-runner Shawn Ryan brings to the show is to shift this procedural’s format from week to week, keeping it fresh. I’ve always felt the episodes that feature the Lightman Group splitting in two to follow separate cases have an issue with the B case not being as strong as the A case. Roth’s performance is the key to the success of this show, and where he is not, the audience would generally also rather it was not . But this week shows the writers are getting a handle on this issue. Both cases are interesting and Lightman pops in and out of the B case just enough to tie the two stories together. Between the two, we are treated to a topical exploration of crowd dynamics and a moving look at family and identity.
Lightman’s case begins, appropriately enough for a case focused on family, at home. To his daughter’s wry amusement, Zoe and Foster are joining them at Cal’s for what she calls a make believe family holiday, in this case, Thanksgiving. Emily’s misgivings about her family structure set the stage for a knock on the door introducing Max, a teenage boy desperate to find out who he is. The lad is certain his parents are not his real parents and he was abducted as a baby. Incredible as the tale sounds, he does have a scar that matches that of James Knox, a well known abduction case. Max is desperate to know who he is and tells Lightman, “I have to know the truth!”
Lightman takes the case, but he knows searching for truth can be dangerous. He sets the scene for Max to confront his parents, and Max lets them know he secretly did a paternity test using the internet. The result is, he bitterly tells them, “I’m not related to either of you.” This raises the issue of what exactly constitutes a relationship. Is it sharing DNA or a life? Foster also raises the issue of the cost of the questions Max is asking. Although she and Cal now know the people who raised Max are not his biological parents, she insists they cannot call the cops and instead have to protect Max. Cal isn’t arguing—he is delighted that Foster is learning to think like a criminal (and like him!)—but exposing lies can be very dangerous. Will they be able to protect Max?
Cal begins to untangle the knot of lies surrounding Max’s birth and the first thread leads to James Knox’s family. Lightman and Foster visit the couple, only to discover the husband is overjoyed at the idea of finding James, but his wife is afraid. She has good reason, as in fact James drowned in the bathtub years ago when she briefly left the room. She’s been living with her lie for years, trying to protect her life with her husband. The cost of Max’s search for his parents begins its climb, as the husband looks in horror at his wife.
Max is rocked to the core when Cal tells him what he learned, asking “If I’m not James Knox, who am I?” Foster tries to steady him, but Max is determined to find another identity than the one he’s rejected. Cal is sympathetic to the boy’s drive to know the truth, but he insists the boy think about the potential cost before agreeing to dig further. Grimly, he says, “If you do go down the rabbit hole, there’s no telling what will bite you.” Max is adamant, so Foster and Lightman tackle his parents again. Foster gets the name of the woman who gave them Max by asserting they are not protecting the boy by hiding the truth. They are hurting him. Whether Cal will hurt him less by exposing the truth remains to be seen.
The two partners track down Cheyenne, the birth mother, and Max is delighted to meet the pretty if a bit down at heels woman. Cal reassures Cheyenne she should not be ashamed as she did the right thing by her son—only to immediately realise that isn’t true. Doing right by Max appears to be a problem for everyone involved with him. The story gets ever more complicated and dark the further down the hole they fall. Cheyenne is a drug addict and years ago she snatched a baby from her dealer, Romeo, because he was going to smother the boy. To Max’s despair, she has no idea who he is.
Cal is hot on the trail and not about to let any legalities get in the way of his pursuit. He sneaks Reynolds’ FBI ID to break into the FBI database in order to find Romeo, the drug dealer, who is, in fact, Ray Blake the drug dealer. Identities are very fluid on this hunt for a final truth. Reynolds’ entrance into the case is a welcome bit of comic relief, as he confronts an unrepentant Cal about breaking into the FBI database. Reynolds is well able to stare down Cal, though he is still drawn into the case. Unfortunately, he has no choice but to arrest Max’s first family.
Cal feels that “a hard truth in the long run is far better for you than a soft lie,” but Max is horrified at having his parents taken from him, despite his earlier rejection. Emily bonds with him by telling him her own family is just about as screwed up and they can be friends, “one freak to another.” Her father takes advantage of their relationship when Max disappears, getting Foster to lie to Emily about finding Max’s real parents. Emily brings Max back, only to find she was set up. There are lies upon lies in everyone’s relationships, and they always come with a cost. Foster tries to tell Emily the lie was worth it because “he’ll be safe here. “ “Yeah,” Emily replies bitterly, “Until you send him off to foster care.”
The unsafe nature of the foster family is picked up immediately as Reynolds finds out more of Blake’s story. It seems that while Blake was in jail, his young daughter died while in foster care. Reynolds also finds the name of Blake’s parole officer, and a visit to this angry crippled man reveals he was shot, his wife killed and his baby son abducted years ago. Max has finally found his father.
This father, Donnelly, does not match any picture Max had in mind. And despite their shared DNA, they do not share interests. The scene nicely echoes the confrontation Max had with his adoptive parents, where he rejected them because they did not share DNA. The boy is reeling as he realises he doesn’t know how to define a relationship and he may have rejected the one he values most. Cal shows the protective instincts he usually keeps well covered as he warns Max to be careful what he rejects now and pushes the boy to express his pain and frustration. It’s moments like these that keep Cal from alienating the audience with his abrasive ways. He may use tough love, but there is no doubt he cares.
Despite the rocky beginning, Donnelly welcomes his son back into his life, but before custody can be settled, the circumstances of the abduction have to be nailed down. Reynolds finds Blake, who admits he blamed Donnelly when his daughter died away from his care, because Donnelly did a drug test on him that resulted in Blake going back to jail. Blake has no regrets at all about taking away Donnelly’s family. He is not happy when Lightman tells him Max, who is actually Owen, has tracked his father down, but he’s sure their shared DNA will not compensate for the lack of family relationship. Cal hopes otherwise.
The story ends with the question raised back in the beginning: How does one do right by Max? The best solution seems to be shared custody with the adoptive parents and Donnelly. Max is doubtful but Cal tells him, “Two sets of parents are better than none.” To Foster, however, he is more doubtful, knowing they’ve been down a hell of a rabbit hole.
The second case is just as well done, holding my interest all the way through. Loker and Torres get a lot more development, as they square off on a case involving comparative negligence. A Black Friday shopping spree turns deadly when the crowd surges out of control outside of Digital Corner while waiting for the doors to open. Loker is desperate to impress Lightman with his knowledge of group dynamics and convinces the store to let him prove someone in the crowd set off the stampede, thereby reducing the store’s damages. If he does, the Lightman Group gets a percentage of the savings; if he doesn’t, the Group gets nothing. The store rep takes him up on his offer and Lightman praises him for the potential big pay day.
Torres is less happy and tells her partner, “Dress it up with science all you want, it’s still an agenda. You’re trying to impress Lightman.” She is determined to take a hard look at the store’s actions, while Loker is focused on the crowd dynamics. Torres finds out one of the security guards was bullying people in the crowd, while Loker determines a man set off the stampede by apparently trying to queue jump ten minutes before the doors opened.
The story is not as clear cut as Loker hopes, however. Far from being a queue jumper, the man was just trying to get to his injured young daughter. The crowd was a powder keg and not able to process that a child was in trouble. Loker is content to present his findings to Lightman, who praises him for the money they’ll get and offers him and Torres a free dinner out. Torres and Loker square off again, as Torres refuses to believe they know enough to recommend anything, because they don’t know how the young girl got injured. Loker stalks away, but his morality system, which we’ve already seen to be strict in "Depraved Heart," does not let him rest. At the restaurant, he notices someone slipping on a patch of ice and realises that is likely the clue he’s missed in the video coverage of the stampede.
Sure enough, when he and Torres look over the video again, they spot a patch of ice. Now in agreement, they meet with the store’s representatives, who are ready to give them a cheque for 1.8 million dollars and the path to Lightman’s approval. Loker faces down his temptation and tells the men his report will contain the ice and the security as factors in the store’s liability and they can use all the report or none of it. He watches the cheque disappear in front of his eyes as the men refuse to use his report.
Poor Loker then has to face Cal’s wrath as his boss demands to know what happened to the huge payday Loker promised to get. Downcast but determined, he tells Lightman, “Shifting blame from the guilty party—that wouldn’t have been the truth.” To his surprise and relief, he realises he chose the right answer. “That choice, that’s how you make your contribution to this firm,” says Cal in the closest he’s gotten yet to praising Loker. It’s particularly sweet, given that Loker lost his salaried position in the firm for telling the truth against Foster’s orders in a previous case. He may not have fully regained Cal’s regard yet, but Cal is letting him know he sees the value in Loker’s commitment to telling the truth. This path of exploring Loker’s character is much more potent than in the first season, when Loker’s no holds barred truth telling was played for laughs.
Lie To Me is one of the best procedurals on the air, as the writers use the science to support the story instead of the other way around and use the procedures to illuminate the characters. Tim Roth infuses the series with edge, angst, humour, intelligence and pathos. I hope FOX realises this series is worth supporting and gives it time to find its audience.Powered by Sidelines