As hopefully Lie To Me‘s fans were aware, the show came back last night a month early, due to Lone Star’s early demise. With last season’s finale having failed to impress and new show runners Cary and Graziano now completely in charge of the writers’ room, the premiere had a lot riding on it, signaling the tone and direction of the show as it heads into its third season. Series star Tim Roth feels the show has finally found itself and “In The Red” is indeed a solid episode, both for the bank heist plot and for the new character arcs now that The Lightman Group is on its own again.
The show has struggled with how to structure The Lightman Group’s involvement with cases. In the first season, Cal was called in by various agencies, with little continuity from episode to episode. Eventually, the writers introduced FBI agent Ben Reynolds (Mekhi Pfifer) into the mix, giving Cal a consistent conduit to cases and a consistent sparring partner. Over time, however, the easy access to cases and the need to respect the FBI’s rules hampered the writers’ interest in exploring Lightman’s grey areas. The solution this year is to cut Lightman’s ties to the FBI (goodbye Agent Ben Reynolds) and let Cal fly as a wild card with ties to a crooked cop. Judging from this episode, the new structure will serve the series well.
The bank heist plot holds the interest, in no small part because Lightman has to weasel his way into the caper so he can try to persuade the man (Shawn Doyle) he spotted casing out a bank not to follow through and rob it. The kind of personal interaction Cal has with his target was sometimes missing last season and it’s a crucial element for this series, as it relies so heavily on Roth’s charisma. If the result of Cal’s cutting of the FBI ties is that he must build a relationship with whomever is the guest star of the week, it will be well worth the loss of Reynolds, even though I enjoyed Pfifer very much.
That said, I did find the lack of closure on Reynold’s shooting a bit disturbing. I would have liked a chance as an audience member to say goodbye to the character, rather than have to guess what happened to him after we left him in the hospital with a bullet in his chest. It would have improved last year’s finale to have explored Lightman’s reaction to Ben’s shooting and now that this season’s premiere has simply moved on, I feel a little let down about the manner of writing Reynold’s out of the story. However, since the new set up gives Cal greater scope to reveal his unique sense of ethics and to ramp up the supporting characters’ complicated relationships with Lightman and each other, I can roll with it.
The episode opens with a little teaser as Cal rides an elevator with some tough looking men, letting us know that whatever situation he’s heading into, he would feel better if he had a gun. The story then shifts back in time to show us the lead up to the teaser, a writing tactic which successfully ratchets up the tension as we pick up with each member of The Lightman Group.
Cal is trying to wriggle out of a meeting with a steely eyed lawyer from his publishing company. Apparently, he pocketed a large advance for his next book but hasn’t gotten down to writing anything yet. The lawyer is unmoved by Lightman’s song and dance about how difficult it is to capture his science and tells him he either gets the book underway or he’ll be sued for fraud. Foster is equally unmoved by Cal’s excuses and tartly tells him, “You may not care for your responsibilities to the rest of us, but please stop acting like you’re not even aware of them.” The scene introduces a note of tension into Cal and Gillian’s relationship, which is interesting given Cal’s admission last season that he wants Foster very much.
Rather than this admission leading to a softening in their relationship, Gillian shows she’s prepared to play hard ball with Cal as she freezes the firm’s accounts to get him to pay attention to his book deal and sets up interviews for an assistant to help him. Poor Loker gets the dubious honour of winnowing through the candidates, and we quickly learn how much angst he has over working for Lightman. In a wonderful introduction to Sarah (Shoshanna Stern), who is deaf and soon to be Cal’s assistant, Loker warns her about Cal’s deficiencies as a boss and she, being able to read Cal’s lips as he talks to Foster, warns Loker he should be careful about his own relationship with Lightman. Clearly, Sarah has her own talents and is no pushover.
Cal has just come from the bank where he learned two things: 1) Foster is seriously annoyed at not being told about the book deal; and 2) a man is planning on robbing the bank because an employee’s mistake ruined his life. Lightman has already followed the man, Salinger, to find out more and tackled the branch manager to convince him he’s going to get robbed. Oddly, the manager isn’t interested in calling the cops, but that doesn’t put off Cal, who is very invested in getting his potential perpetrator to change his mind.
I wasn’t quite sure why Cal is so immediately drawn to Salinger, especially as he has to put himself in great danger to insert himself into the heist. I found myself willing to go with it, though, because the plot has so many pay offs. The stakes for Cal are sky high when he uses himself as bait for Salinger’s extremely dangerous partner, Miller, while setting up a sting with Detective Wallowski. As usual for this show, the guest stars are excellent and completely convincing as desperate men in their own different ways. I also like the relationship Cal is developing with the sardonic Wallowski. (Wallowski: “I feel used.” Lightman: “You mean dirty.”) The story is so interesting, I ended up shrugging off my initial questions and enjoying the ride.
Loker and Torres don’t have a lot to add to the narrative, which is sometimes a problem, but in this episode, they establish a lot in their short scenes. The two still feel some tension due to their one night stand last season and they seem to be taking opposite stances in their relationship to Lightman. Loker’s cynicism contrasts against Torres’ gung ho enthusiasm, just as Loker’s accusation to his colleague that she just wants to be like Lightman contrasts with her counterattack that Loker has been going through therapy to deal with his angry feelings about his boss. The writers do a good job of establishing their arcs this season in the short time available.
The main thrust of the story, though, is clearly Cal and the bank robbers and Cal and Gillian, which is fine, because both strands are very interesting. The final take down at the bank is wonderfully constructed, with Cal having to deal with the bank robbers on one level, Salinger on another and Wallowski and her undercover cops on yet another. The tension mounts as Cal counts off the arriving robbers on his fingers for Wallowski while trying to talk Salinger into walking away. The writing sparkles as Salinger almost takes Cal’s advice but is foiled by a random policeman walking in at just the wrong time, keeping Salinger in the action and forcing Cal to reassure Miller he can still rob the bank while at the same time letting the policeman know there’s an undercover sting in process. This kind of tense intricate narrative really suits Roth and he handles it all with aplomb.
The bank plot wraps up in a satisfying way, as Lightman is able to spring his trap for the robbers but not able to dissuade Salinger from trying for revenge when Cal reveals the branch manager is the man whose mistake ruined Salinger’s life. Not only is Cal far from ethically perfect, he doesn’t win every battle, either. And I suspect nowhere will we see that more than between Lightman and Foster. Cal gets tough with his partner as he grimly tells her, “You mess with my finances again, you and I are through.” While Foster doesn’t argue the point, she is a good deal less than cowed or apologetic and she successfully gets Cal to choose Sarah as his assistant. The episode ends with Loker baring his teeth at an intrigued Lightman and Foster showing her interest in Cal’s relationship with Wallowski, all of which interests me. Season three is off to a good start.