Monday, January 10th, FOX brought back Lie To Me for two back-to-back episodes, almost completing the third season, as the show, to many fans’ dismay, was not given the order for a back nine. “Funhouse” and “Rebound” showcase what’s been working for the show and what has not, with “Funhouse” being the stronger episode.
“Funhouse” was obviously meant to be the Christmas offering, as Christmas carols and Christmas trees unobtrusively appear in the background. As a mystery, the writing is strong, but not stellar, as I guessed the guilty party very soon after she was introduced into the story. However, the exploration of Cal’s character, picking up on many of the strands weaving their way through this season, was beautifully handled.
The plot centers around the plight of a man in a private mental hospital whose daughter fears he may be getting overmedicated on purpose by the staff to keep him there instead of getting better. Emily brings the case to Cal, because she is friends with Amanda, the man’s daughter. That in itself is enough to get Cal’s attention, but he’s also shown a special interest in helping kids in trouble several times in previous episodes, possibly due to his own troubled past. When Amanda looks at him and says, “I just want my dad back, Dr. Lightman,” Cal decides to help the girl.
This scene with Cal, Emily and Amanda illustrates a central theme of “Funhouse”: what exactly is being passed down, either through genetics or environment, the Lightman family tree? Emily shows just how much of Cal’s ability to manipulate she’s picked up, as she gets her friend to talk by making mistakes as she tells her friend’s story. Cal points this out to Amanda (and the audience) when he says, “She’s slippery like that.” Emily shoots right back, “That I get from him”—and the stage is set for the audience to wonder to what traits are being passed down and whether they are positive or negative.
The plot concerning Amanda’s father unfolds nicely, as Cal finds himself committed to the hospital for 48 hours observation after he punches an orderly and collapses. Between hallucinations of his mother and father, Cal tries to determine how Wayne and he are being fed hallucinogens, but comes up empty when he searches the head psychiatrist’s office for something illicit. Fortunately, a talk with Loker leads him to remember he gobbled a muffin at Amanda’s house and it was just after eating the treat that he began to feel ill and unbalanced. Sure enough, Wayne gets the homemade muffins every day, specially made by his daughter.
The daughter is not the culprit, though. The real guilty party was introduced earlier when Cal and Gillian met Wayne’s sister, Gina. Besides lying about Amanda’s whereabouts, she also voluntarily gives Cal some rambling letters Wayne wrote her, which I felt tipped the writer’s hand about who is drugging Wayne. I was mostly trying to figure out how and why Gina had it in for her brother, not whether she did. It turns out she wants to continue to run the family horse farm herself, as she is the horse crazy one, not Wayne.
This motive felt a bit weak, but the reveal that Gina was lacing the muffins with ergot, the same hallucinogenic fungus historians suspect fuelled the Salem witch trials, was interesting. Unfortunately, I’d seen the same plot device used on House already, but it’s hard to avoid duplicating curious and unusual plot bunnies, so I don’t fault the writers for that. I do think it is perhaps a bit soon to be reusing the series’ own plot bunnies, as we saw Lightman get himself admitted to a mental hospital already in “Pied Piper.” For this reason, I give the mystery a B plus—solid, but a little predictable.
The real meat to the story is what is revealed about Cal. As Cal yanks Dr. Granden’s (the hospital psychiatrist) chain, Gillian is a little uncomfortable with his motives and his stability. She points out to her partner he wants to find some dirt on Granden and his lack of impartiality is worrying, given that his science is not exact. This lack of precision and the space for Cal’s own feelings to impact his conclusions have been a continuing theme this year. Granden articulates the issue as he challenges Cal’s reading of Wayne’s emotions with a sarcastic, “His eyebrows tell you that?” Cal holds firm, telling Foster he won’t back off because “everyone needs their dad.”
But Gillian is worried about more than the margin for error and Cal’s personal investment. She can feel Cal is wound tight about something and this case is touching a nerve. She takes note when Cal forms a bond with Amanda by telling her he’s always been afraid he’ll turn out like his mother (mentally ill). Emily, wise beyond her years, tells her Cal’s usual stress about his upcoming birthday has been exacerbated this year because for the first time, he’ll be older than his mother’s age when she died. And indeed, we see Cal hallucinate a talk with his mother, who tells him to stop feeling guilty about her death. The scene introduces a new note to the series, though, when the two discuss Cal’s father.
It seems that Cal is unsure his contention that everyone needs their father applies to him. His father, who appears a bit of a charming rascal in Cal’s second hallucination, is revealed to be an abusive alcoholic and Cal finds this chat with his subconscious very frightening. Sadly, he asks his father/himself, “It’s not mum I need to worry about taking after, it’s you, right?” Given how often this season we’ve seen Cal approach or cross a line with his bullying, Cal’s anxiety carries a fair amount of weight.
Emily and Gillian don’t know about this deeper worry, but they do know they are unsure whether Cal is in control of his plot or whether he’s been caught in his own rat trap (nicely illustrated in a scene where Cal tries not to get his fingers caught in traps he’s setting at the office). About getting committed, Emily asks Gillian, “Did he do this deliberately?” She’s scared, understandably since Cal did not inform her he wouldn’t be coming home and she was left to put the pieces together herself. It’s not an example of Cal’s best parenting and Emily needs to know what was in his mind when he punched the orderly.
The final scene, as so many of the best scenes are, is between Cal and his daughter. Emily accuses her father, ” You deliberately got yourself admitted, didn’t you?” Cal replies that if he did, then he’s really bonkers and is Emily really afraid of that? The question hangs in the air as the two break the mood when Emily jokingly says, “My father’s a lunatic, ground me.” Cal seizes the moment to deflect Emily from any more questions about what or who he hallucinated and the two relax into their usual teasing relationship. The audience is left knowing how afraid Cal really is of what he may have in common with his dad.
The less successful “Rebound” also gets its kick start from Cal’s desire to help a child, in this case, Noah, who found some incriminating money hidden in his mom’s boyfriend’s briefcase. Mom brings the case to Cal, because she wants to protect her son from getting hurt from her bad relationship, if indeed George the boyfriend is bad relationship material. Cal is hooked because he likes the intelligent and sensitive son.
It’s a good thing the writers make a point of showing why Cal is attracted to the son, because the mystery seems a little lightweight. The show runners made the decision to jettison the FBI this season as a device for getting cases because they wanted more latitude on how Cal could act as he investigates. However, they’ve struggled a bit with finding cases with enough weight to either justify the latitude Cal takes or hold the audience’s interest or both. “Rebound” is a little light on interest, as one) there is little science and two) there is more talking about the villain’s true colours than evidence of it onscreen.
Lightman has a chat with Noah and realises he’s got the makings of a natural face reader, which probably is why he’s suspicious of George. He’s trying to protect his mom from getting hurt, which immediately pulls Cal into the case. Besides the money, Noah also found a mysterious notebook in code in the briefcase, so there does seem to be something shady about the charming George.
Lightman follows George and sees him get slipped an envelope of money from a man who turns out to be a prominent divorce attorney named Dobson. Lightman learns this though a nifty little trick involving lots of mustard, ketchup and well placed clumsiness as he passes Dobson on the street. As Cal triumphantly enters the office with Dobson’s business card in hand so he can pay for the man’s dry-cleaning, Loker tells him someone very interesting is waiting for him in the office. George’s current wife, Paula, has shown up.
Lightman naturally brings in Lily to meet Paula to see what any fireworks will reveal. He’s disappointed in the fireworks, because Lily already knows about Paula. George is not easily trapped. The two women do describe George totally differently, however, which is unusual given that Paula has only been married to him for six months. Paula spells out the central mystery for us as she sadly says, “I just find it difficult to believe someone can change that quickly and that much.”
There’s nothing wrong with this as a premise for a show like Lie To Me, where reading people is key. The problem is we don’t see enough of George actually shifting personalities. It’s not that I didn’t believe he was capable of being the social chameleon he was painted, just that I didn’t see enough of it to find George a frightening antagonist. When Cal, through Noah, unearths an ex-wife of George’s to join the current and future ones, she describes him differently again and reveals she was the fifth wife in two and a half years. Clearly, this man is up to no good, but I didn’t see enough of the shifts in character to be fascinated by him.
That’s a shame, because when the wonderful Sarah the assistant translates the mysterious journal (it’s just written in shorthand) to show a list of names that includes not only Dobson, but also some very prominent names, like the chief of police and a judge, Cal decides it’s time for a sting operation. He tells Dobson he wants to divorce his wife without honouring his prenup and Dobson obligingly sets George to seduce the Mrs.—Gillian, of course. In a very funny scene, Gillian flirts with George and the listening Cal at the same time, throwing in some real details about Cal for the amusement of the also listening Torres and Loker. Cal and Gillian do a lot of flirting in this episode and it’s fun to watch. But I would have liked to have seen more of George noticeably changing his personality from the guy we saw with Lily. He does describe his interests differently, but I didn’t really get the sense a different George was sitting with Foster.
Nonetheless, when the team analyses the footage on George, they decide he’s such a good liar, he’s possibly a sociopath. Cal springs the trap by wearing a wire while George describes how he’ll entice Gillian into marrying him if Cal ponies up the cash. Wallowsky is waiting in the wings to drag George off to The Lightman Group, so they can lean on him hard to confess. He’s steady as a rock, though, knowing Dobson will come and rescue him because of all those well connected names in his journal. He’s a little less steady when Cal tells him and the now present Dobson he has that book—and George doesn’t like at all that Dobson is angry with him for letting the journal out of his hands. He’s less upset when Cal shows him all his ex-wives were listening to his confession; the conman apparently sincerely tells them he really loved each of them. George is a cipher Cal is determined to break.
Unfortunately, those pesky well connected names in George’s little book do not want Cal anywhere near George and Wallowsky comes to warn Cal off the case, as well as indulge in a bit of flirting. While I don’t dislike the character, at this point, she’s starting to seem a bit pointless, because I don’t believe the flirting will go anywhere—and it shouldn’t, since past events make it very unlikely Cal would be seriously pursuing both Foster and Wallowsky at the same time. Therefore, Wallowsky seems more like an obvious diversion from exploring Foster and Cal and that’s not interesting. Time to move on, I say.
Cal, of course, has no intention of dropping the case, which is a good thing, because it takes a turn for the worse when George’s house burns down with George in it. Cal gathers the ex-wives back for a chat about their feelings about George, in case one of them took matters in her own hands and got some pretty serious payback. Again, each of the wives describes George completely differently, telling us he could be whatever each woman wanted. But only one is extremely angry at George and that’s Lily, because George would have hurt her son.
Lily denies having killed George, but she is troubled about something, which Noah picks up on. He’s so scared his mom killed her boyfriend, he falsely confesses himself to save her. Cal easily gets Lily to admit she did visit George the previous night, but she didn’t kill him. Rather, he was furious with her and threatened her by putting his hands around her neck. Lily says she’s never seen George like that before, but Cal knows he’s seen a flash of that man.
Wallowsky gets word Dobson’s car is at the airport, so she and Cal run to intercept him—or intercept whoever is posing as Dobson. Cal spots George, chatting up an attractive woman, and knows he’s found killer George, as opposed to charming George. Killer George is hard to crack, until Cal shows him all of his ex-wives are prepared to lie and say they saw him running away from his condo the night of the fire, in which Dobson died. Helpful George immediately emerges, hoping to cut some kind of deal. Wallowsky tells him if he’ll testify against the prominent names in the book, like the judge and police chief, she’ll make sure the death penalty is off the table. George agrees, though Cal makes sure to point out he’ll have yet another role to play in prison.
For Cal, not all the ends are wrapped up. He takes a photo of Lily, George and Noah to the boy, telling him the photo’s composition shows George really did care about him. Foster, knowing it’s nonsense, still comes to tell Cal he was very sweet to care. Cal figures her body language is also telling him he’s a sexy guy and the season ends with the two partners ramping up their flirtation, despite the earlier unpleasantness with Wallowsky’s Internal Affairs investigation.
The episode ends with Emily returning from her trip to Chicago with the information her mother has a serious new boyfriend. She deftly handles her dad’s reaction and lets him know the new boyfriend seems nice, while giving Cal something they can both laugh at—the spelling of Rudi’s name. Emily is a force to be reckoned with, with traits from her dad and her mom. Cal looks adoringly at the emerging woman he’s bringing up and says simply, ” Don’t grow up too fast.”