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TV Review: Lie To Me – “In The Red”

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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.

Tim Roth as Lightman and Shawn Doyle as Salinger   ©2010 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Greg Gayne/FOXThe 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.

How Do You Feel About The Way Agent Reynolds Was Written Out?
Satisfied: I didn’t need to know more than we got.
Dissatisfied: I would have liked to see how Cal ended the relationship
Torn: I’d have liked to have seen what happened with Reynolds but I’m loving Cal as a wild card.
  
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About Gerry Weaver

  • Aly

    To be honest, I felt as if the episode was all over the place. It’s also become too Cal-centric as well. I would’ve liked to see more of Loker, Torres and Foster as main characters instead of having them pushed to the side doing the grunge work while Cal is off on his own stopping bank robberies.

  • Houseguest

    I’m so glad to see you reviewing Lie To Me, Barbara, and your review is spot on. Tim Roth is finally getting the writing he deserves, and he is going to run with it. I thought the episode was very well-written, with the exception of Reynolds being left out, and the character dynamics have shifted in all cases to create fresh tension and plot lines. Season 3 is going to be a doozy, just as S7 is proving to be with House. Monday night now has 2 hours of bliss.

  • Gerry

    Welcome and thank you for the comments!

    Aly, I agree that the series has had trouble using the supporting cast effectively. I’m happy, though, that the writers seem to have dropped the B story idea, as I didn’t think that way of involving Loker and Torres worked well. I suspect the series will remain Cal-centric, as Roth’s performance is a big draw, but I hope we get enough of everyone else to be able to invest in their stories. Foster I think we’ll see enough of, but there were times last season when Torres and Loker were really sidelined. Hopefully, we’ll see more integration this season. I did like the introduction of Sarah and can imagine how she’ll add something to the office politics.

    Hi Houseguest! It’s Gerry and it’s great to hear from you. I enjoyed the episode, too, though I wish we’d had more closure with Reynolds, especially since we didn’t get any in last season’s finale. But I am enjoying Wallowski and Sarah so far, so season three is looking very promising.

  • Houseguest

    Gerry, sorry! For some reason I thought this review was written by Barbara Barnett! I see now that you’re the regular BC reviewer for LTM, and I won’t make this mistake again! :)

  • Gerry

    Houseguest, no problem at all! (-: I’m delighted to see you here and look forward to reading any comments you have on the show. I’d love to get a dialogue going with anyone who would like to chat about what’s going on in the show. This season may be a wild ride.

  • Carol

    I have to say, Gerry, that I am becoming increasingly disappointed in this show. It had such potential, especially with the science being so interesting and unique, but it has squandered so much of my goodwill. I feel like there are no story arcs in this series, and you have to forget completely anything that happened in previous episodes to having a prayer of enjoying the one you are currently watching. I thought the writing was all over the place on this episode. Now Cal is furious that Gillian is “messing” with his finances and tells her they’ll be through if she does it again. What happened to “we’d be working out of a shoe box if it weren’t for you”? What happened to Ben? What happened to DuPree from the first season? Are they sharing a room at a rehab facility close by? Loker just got a promotion. What happened with that? And why does every woman who meets Dr. Lightman immediately want to go to bed with him? I’m trying to hang in there, but the show is not making it easy for me.

  • Gerry

    I’m sorry to hear you’re so disappointed. And I hear you on the issue of writing characters out–Dupree I cared about less, but we could have used a line or two about what happened to him. Reynolds I wish we’d actually had a scene where Cal showed what he thought of Reynolds’ torn loyalties resulting in his getting shot. He put Ben in an impossible position, as he often did, and I would think that would matter to Cal. I also think all that belonged in last season’s finale and would have improved it greatly. I adore Cal and Emily, but I thought their story was a little out of place in that episode, because I wanted to see the emotional fall out from the shooting, especially since that was the last we were going to see of Reynolds. It’s been such a short break between seasons, Ben’s shooting is still really fresh for me and I care about it.

    Cal and Gilian’s arc, though, I think is very much in play. I think the writers intend for that arc to last a long time and go through a lot of different nuances, so watching the two of them try and be tough with each other didn’t bother me. I believe Cal would be furious at Gillian freezing his bank account, because he’s very much an alpha male and he’s very much trying to avoid doing the book, enough to have hidden it from Foster. And I believe that Foster finds their financial situation very frustrating and that she has some resentment toward Cal about it, because they’re in this leaky boat because he bought out Zoe when they couldn’t afford it. I think she understands why, but not why Cal then avoids doing what he can to put the group on a firmer footing. I believed her frustration when she said it was fine for Cal to refuse to do his obligations to the rest of the group, but it infuriates her that he pretends that he’s not doing that.

    I think Loker was doing the interviews for the assistant because he got the promotion and I also think we were shown that he’s got some issues to work out with Cal and we’ll be seeing that in action. Loker right now is working for me much better than season one Loker.

    I think the emphasis on women’s attraction to Cal is part of his and Gillian’s arc, rather than a distraction from it. Last season, we had a big emphasis on how Cal felt when Gillian had a serious relationship. This season, I suspect we’ll get a look at how Gillian feels when Cal’s attention is on another woman. Since we know Cal is very attracted to Gillian, and in fact may consider himself in love with her, I don’t think that aspect will be lost in the story. But it makes sense to me neither is ready to just declare feelings and try and start something. They’re friends and business partners and that’s a lot to lose if a relationship blew up.

  • ruthy

    what’s the REAL reason they got rid of Ben’s character? They could have easily had him somehow quit or get fired from the FBI and work solely for the Lightman group