This week’s Lie To Me, “Pied Piper,” is one that came with a bit of advance fanfare: It reunites show runner emeritus Shawn Ryan with six members of his Shield cast. Despite the solid reputation of all these actors, the move could have read as stunt casting and overshadowed the show. Ryan and writer (and show creator) Samuel Baum avoided the trap by wisely concentrating on Cal’s relationships with the regular cast, perhaps almost a shade too much, and firmly squashing any inclination to in jokes or meta commentary. The episode emerges as a taut drama that explores what happens when the people around him begin to doubt Cal’s lie detection ability.
The show opens with Cal and Zoe attending the execution of the murderer of eight year old Rex Sheridan. They are there because Zoe convicted Jason Wilkie (David Marciano) seventeen years earlier, drawing mainly on Cal’s science. It was the first case for Cal that resulted in the death penalty and the case which drew young prosecutor Zoe and Cal together. The grim occasion gets even grimmer when the condemned Jason says, “I didn’t take little Rex. The Pied Piper did.” Cal recognises the truth of these words and tries to stop the execution. He is too late.
The events are set in motion for everyone around Cal to begin to suspect he screwed up a case that resulted in an execution. At first, only Cal is disturbed about Jason’s last words, but that quickly changes when Charlie and Faye Sheridan (Benito Martinez and Catherine Dent), the aunt and uncle of the murdered Rex, get a phone call that exactly mirrors the calls Rex’s parents received when he was kidnapped and murdered three days later.
Before Cal and Gillian visit the Sheridans, Cal asks Gillian, “You think I got the wrong person years ago, don’t you?” She is straight with Cal when she answers, “Yes. So do you.” Gillian thinks Cal was so interested in helping Zoe, he may have lost his objectivity. As soon as Zoe is introduced into the discussion, Cal deflects, but tells Foster he was not wrong years ago and not wrong in what he heard in Jason’s voice at the execution. He just can’t reconcile both of these facts yet.
His first attempt is a failure as he accuses Charlie of faking the phone call to keep the media’s attention. Charlie’s outraged denials pass Cal’s test, but the incident sows some doubts about Cal’s objectivity about the current situation, which gets even more dire when the Sheridan’s oldest son, Oliver, is reported missing from university. The case goes from bad to worse when Jason’s brother, Kevin (David Rees Snell), arrives at the firm threatening to sue Cal for wrongful death. As Cal’s professional competence is questioned, his firm’s viability hangs on the question of his colleagues’ loyalty to him.
Loker reacts to the news by polishing up his resume for a position at rival Rader’s firm, while Torres decides to try and manipulate Kevin into dropping the lawsuit. Foster makes her position clear when she chastises both Loker and Torres for their disloyalty to Cal, since in her opinion, they both owe him. In the midst of all these roiling emotions, Loker notes that Cal is pretty well business as usual. He wonders whether Cal is quite mentally healthy. Torres’ take is Cal is wearing a mask. The exploration of both of these positions dominates the rest of the episode.
Reynolds is so doubtful about Cal’s work on the case, he refuses to follow up Cal’s hunch that an old girlfriend of Jason’s may hold a clue. After a visit to a sleazy photographer (Kenny Johnson) turns out to be a red herring, he insists Cal back away from the case or lose the firm’s FBI account. I found Reynolds’ position a bit odd, given they have no clues and a missing boy. Cal’s contention that Jason Wilkie had been deliberately trying to sound insane when he talked about Beth is reasonable, especially given that Beth (Cathy Cahlin Ryan) checked herself into a psychiatric hospital the day her old boyfriend was executed. But I forgive the writers, because Cal’s infiltration of the hospital is worth the set up.
Roth’s physical style of acting makes the hospital scenes a hoot to watch, especially as one can’t help but notice for the most part he just has to intensify his usual behaviour. And though the situation allows Roth to take a big performance even bigger, the actor always maintains control, modulating the levels so we follow Cal’s process as he convinces the staff he is mentally ill while showing Beth that not only is he playing a game, he knows she is, too. His gambit pays off with another clue, as Beth admits she got a threatening call from someone she knows only as the Pied Piper, a guy Jason knew from the time he was a child.
Cal finds being convincing is a double edged sword when the admitting psychiatrist (Erick Avari) refuses to discharge him before the observation period is up. Lightman is forced to call Zoe for help, who points out the irony of Cal trusting her enough to use his one phone call on her, but refusing to open up to her at all about how he is feeling about the possibility of having sent an innocent man to his death. Cal tries some trite sounding phrases, which Zoe dismisses with a snort, knowing that whatever he may be feeling, it would not be expressed in platitudes.
The issue of what exactly is under Cal’s mask is especially important to the exploration of Cal’s relationships with Zoe and Gillian. Zoe is angry as well as worried Cal will not open up to her. She feels rejected, as she so often did during their marriage. To Zoe, being married to a man who was able to trespass her personal boundaries at will while maintaining his own barriers was a challenge she had to either win or walk away from. Nothing has changed now they are separated and Zoe goes to Gillian to see if Foster can succeed where she sees herself as having failed.
It’s a big step, because these two women have had a frosty relationship for years, both feeling territorial about Cal. They have very different approaches to dealing with his barriers, Foster’s method in this episode being to tell Cal she is there for him and then giving him space. In what may be a first, Zoe and Gillian drop their defences and admit each thinks the other is the one who can always reach Cal no matter what. In fact, neither woman feels confident in being able to pierce Cal’s layers of defences around his emotions, but Foster points out there is one person he always lets in: Emily.
Cal’s relationship with Emily is one of the joys of this series. Roth and McFarland create a very believable father/daughter dynamic, one in which Cal struggles to be as open and honest as he can with his daughter, who in turn is, well, a teenager. Cal’s position of truth is tested as Emily not only wants to know how he is feeling, but also wants to know whether Zoe’s unplanned pregnancy trapped her father into a terrible marriage. Emily is a sensitive girl and she is afraid she ruined her father’s life. Cal shows how unique his dynamic is with his daughter as he opens up and answers all her questions, letting her know she was the best news he ever got, even if the marriage was not a success. The scene is a nice one and sets up the possible kidnapping of Emily beautifully.
After seeing Emily blithely off to get a ride to school with a friend, Cal gets a threatening phone call from the Pied Piper, asking if Emily can come out and play. He and Zoe immediately reach out to each other, giving each other support and confirming that whatever may have gone wrong in their marriage, they unite in adoring their daughter. As the two go through old evidence, Cal realises old family pictures of the Wilkies are very relevant, as they show three brothers, not two. The oldest brother, William, died young and even more suspiciously, youngest brother Kevin not only dominates the other two, he plays a clarinet like the Pied Piper.
Cal realises Kevin was the mastermind behind Rex’s murder and was the one who snatched him, though he made Jason do the killing. Cal is finally able to reconcile the seemingly contradictory truths of the case as he pieces together that the brothers blamed the Sheridans for William’s death from pneumonia. It seems the Wilkie father lost his job when the Sheridans closed the company he worked for in a business move.
While the case is successfully closed, with Cal’s reputation enhanced rather than damaged, the office politics still need to be sorted. Cal is very aware his colleagues all had a reaction to his possible professional failure. Foster tells him she never doubted him, which may not strictly be true, but she was staunchly in his corner. Torres quickly adds “Not for a moment,” as she slides past as quickly as possible, throwing doubt on where her thoughts wandered. She was more interested in damage control than believing Lightman was right. Loker, though, gets to be a deer in the headlights as Cal zooms in on him. The scene is tense as Loker weighs just how honest to be, leading with the assertion he had Cal’s back, but allowing that he had an exit plan. Cal knows exactly what that exit plan involved, but admits he would have an exit plan, himself. Cal is hard on his staff, but not a hypocrite.
Overall, I enjoyed the episode, but I have to admit to a vague feeling of dissatisfaction at the end. It took me a while to pinpoint it, because not only were the writing, direction and acting excellent, we learned a lot about Lightman’s personal relationships, which I always like. I finally pinpointed my issue, which is that while Cal had some great scenes with his colleagues, he didn’t solve the central mystery through any tense encounters requiring his special abilities with either of the bad guys. He had a physical fight with Kevin, but not the kind of cat and mouse hunting he does so well in episodes like “Beat The Devil.” I think Ryan was so worried about the guest stars taking over the show, he separated Marciano and Snell just a bit too much from Cal. “Pied Piper” is still a very good episode in a show that keeps getting better and better.