This week's Lie To Me, "React To Contact," has so much going for it, I feel almost guilty pointing out the flaws. The highlight of the episode is the very strong guest performance from Enver Gjokaj. I'd read some glowing descriptions of this actor from his time on Dollhouse, but hadn't seen him myself in that show. He delivers an outstanding performance on Lie To Me and is clearly an actor on the rise who deserves a lot more exposure. Hayley McFarland, as Cal's daughter Emily, is another delight and overall the performances overcome the sometimes convoluted plotting and over-reliance on gadgetry.
The case involves the military calling Cal in to find out why Sgt. Jeff Turley, six months back from Iraq and about to get the Silver Star, is convinced someone is trying to kill him, to the point he almost shot his nine-year-old son while scouring his house for the enemy. It's an odd case for The Lightman Group, as it's more a psychological excavation of Turley's psyche than hunting for a lie and therefore more in Foster's court than Lightman's. It's nice to see the writers expanding the scope for interesting cases, but Cal's lack of reason to be centrally involved does end up being an issue.
The team use an fMRI to determine Jeff has PTSD, and the reason given as to why it takes Cal to do this is the military system is bogged down with potential PTSD cases, so Jeff hasn't been looked at yet. I would have thought Jeff's breakdown, which involved the unlawful use of a fireman and the near killing of a child, would have expedited his case—which I suppose it did, but why right to Cal? Even if it made it to The Lightman Group, Gillian seems the best choice to handle Jeff's case, since the issue is the man's mental health. It's a bit odd to see Cal diagnosing PTSD and at least the script does have Cal questioning why he's been brought the case.
The issue of Cal's importance to figuring out Jeff shows up again when the team decide the only way to help Turley integrate his buried memories from Iraq is to hook him up to Foster's experimental virtual reality system. The system is cool and Gjokaj is simply superb at making the scenarios he's describing seem real and tense. But Cal is reduced to sitting beside him and reacting to Turley's fear. The focus is on the equipment and with a guest star of Gjokaj's calibre, that is a shame. I would have liked the two men to face off against each other, with Cal using all his skills to extract what happened behind the red door. The video game lacks the emotional centre the men would have provided if more of the information had been uncovered by Cal.
That is not to say the virtual reality scenario does not work at all. It does. Gjokaj infuses his memories with real terror and the special effects look real enough to draw the viewer in. The plot thickens as Turley remembers more and more disturbing information, most of which leads to dead ends. While all of this is very well acted, there are so many plot bunnies we don't get to spend very long with each one. The possibility of Jeff's friend Ronnie having an affair with Jeff's wife and perhaps abusing nine-year-old Jake is enough for a show in itself, but the episode throws up these issues and swiftly moves past them to make room for another re-enactment. The final reveal of a cover-up of friendly fire by Jeff's captain is well done and a surprise, if not as emotionally powerful as it would have been if I was more invested in Cal's part of the case. The series occasionally still struggles with the balance between science and character study and this one was a little heavy on the science.
The juicy character exploration comes from the subplot with Emily. McFarland and Roth have great chemistry, creating a very believable father/daughter dynamic. I love the scene where Cal shoos his daughter down the hall step by step, knowing she's curious about his work with Jeff's son, Jake. The audience is very curious, too, as Jake's combination of fear and love for his soldier dad seems to resonate with Cal. The case means enough to Lightman that he uses the fMRI to take pictures of his own brain looking at photos of people in his life so he can show Emily. It's an odd way of communicating about relationships, but fits Cal to a T.
Cal's relationship with ex-wife Zoe gets nicely summed up when he shows Emily the sight of her mother provokes the flight or fight response in him—and Emily is relieved. She clearly has no fond memories of her parents' marriage, no matter what sparks Cal and Zoe strike with each other. Cal even shows Emily his brain while contemplating Foster, not hiding that it's lit up like a Christmas tree—love, fight, flight, and who knows what else all mixed together. But it's the photograph of a young Cal with his soldier father that catches most of Emily's attention.
It seems Cal never mentioned his father was a soldier to Emily, who has never met him. And to my surprise, it also seems Cal's father is alive. The possibility of meeting Cal's dad is very intriguing, but right now my sense of back story on Cal is very confused. We've already learned Cal's mother killed herself when Cal was in university and he blames himself for not catching the signs. We also know Cal was taken in when young by his friend Terry's family and that he described himself as an orphan to Gillian. Yet in fact his father is still alive and he worked to put Cal through university. I'm sure this can all tie to together and I'm very interested to find out why Cal ended up with Terry's family instead of his parents.
Despite a bit too much emphasis on the technology, I still give this episode a solid B+, due to the excellent guest performances and the intriguing questions about Cal's relationship with his dad.