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TV Review: Lie To Me – “Smoked”

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“Smoked,” this week’s Lie To Me has a strong, if not stellar, “A” story exploring family relationships, but what really grabbed my interest were the relationships between Cal and the women in his life. I love it when the show picks up on past plot points and develops them further, and I also love that as much of a handful as Lightman is, the women he loves are also no pushovers. In fact, they sometimes have him on the run. In this episode, Cal spends quite a lot of time ducking and weaving, quite unsuccessfully, which makes for entertaining television, while Torres, in a small but intriguing “C” story, finds a new “natural” lie detector.

The main storyline revolves around the murder of a young girl, Kira, while she was at her family-owned restaurant. Wallowsky brings Cal the case because she is fond of the family patriarch, Big Jim (John Amos), who is dying from cancer and devastated about his daughter’s death. Cal takes the case, and he and Foster quickly decide the apparent robbery by two masked thugs was actually an execution of Kira.

Wallowsky and Lightman interview the other person at the killing, the restaurant manager and Jim’s best friend, Teddy (Frankie Faison). Teddy is heartbroken, but throws suspicion on Jim’s two estranged sons, Marcus and Rudy. Cal decides it’s time he met Jim, though Wallowsky throws up as many road blocks as she can think of. They don’t work, of course, and Cal pushes his way into the sick man’s room.

Tim Roth and John AmosLightman’s conversation with Jim reveals the theme for the A story. The cancer-riddled man tells Lightman he’s refusing morphine so he can be clear-headed for the investigation. With pride, he says, “When I go, it will be with my eyes wide open.” The words are a clear bit of foreshadowing that Jim will have some unpleasant surprises in store for him as he gets more clarity than he will perhaps want about his relationships. Cal, too, indicates he may not see the shape of this plot clearly, as he says about Marcus and Rudy, “I’ve been led to believe they killed your daughter.”

Cal rounds up the sons and to Wallowsky’s irritation, decides to break protocol and interview them both together in his interview room. Predictably, the two men end up at each other’s throats, quite literally, mostly because Cal, in full scorpion mode, stings first one and then the other, getting first a baseline and then confirmation that the boys do indeed hate each other and their dad, and that Marcus saw Kira shortly before she died.

Lightman is pleased with the new clues, but Wallowsky is sure the real killers are a meth head and his boyfriend, whom a prostitute has turned in—with a gun that matches the murder weapon’s ballistics. He and Wallowsky do some fencing back and forth about the trustworthiness of hookers, and Cal holds firm to his feeling that “it’s all about this messed up family.” Nonetheless, an interview with the suspects reveals one of them may have killed Kira — but not as a robbery gone awry. They were hired for the job, but not by either of the sons.

Wallowsky helps Cal bring Teddy in to see if he can identify the suspects, even though they were wearing masks. What the policewoman does not know is Cal is actually more interested in whether the suspects can identify Teddy. Over her protests, he drags Teddy into the line up room and reads on the two men’s faces they do indeed recognise the restaurant manager.

Cal decides it’s time for one of his staged scenes to see if he can rule Marcus and Rudy in or out of the crime. He, Gillian and Teddy go the restaurant and Cal arranges for Marcus to be invited as well. Pointing out that the two boys are still in Jim’s will despite their estrangement, Lightman jabs at Marcus, so Foster can come in as the good cop to his bad, one of their favourite moves. Gillian spins a convincing story about losing her brother to encourage the older son to tell her why he visited his sister. It works—as Cal later notes, Gillian is a scarily good liar—and Marcus confesses his sister wanted her brothers to reconcile with their dad before he died. And though this seems a benign reason, he also confesses he told his sister that Rudy was a lost cause.

Rudy, of course, hears this as he is waiting in the wings, courtesy of Cal. But this time, instead of a fight, the two men reach out to each other. Gillian notes they seem more interested in making up than finding out who the real killers are, the reason for which I found a little unclear. In one way, it does show they aren’t feeling guilty about murder, but even so, both sons did seem to love Kira. Lightman says Marcus’s grief is raw and consuming, so why would they not be focused on finding the real murderer? In any case, Teddy is focused on the investigation and he tells Lightman to be sure and tell Jim the boys are not guilty.

Despite Teddy’s care for Jim, Cal still has him in his sights, and he and Wallowsky interview the man. Cal looks at some footage taken the evening of the murder and says Teddy was grieving for Kira even before the “robbers” arrived, so he must have known she was going to die. Teddy stoutly denies any involvement and Wallowsky tells Lightman she can’t arrest the man based solely on Cal’s science. Given that Cal has already been led astray in the direction of the sons, that seems a reasonable stance, especially since Cal’s line up room stunt means both suspects have lawyered up and can’t be brought down for further questioning. I thought that was a trifle odd—even if the two men have lawyers, can the police not requestion the main suspects in a murder? They were caught with the murder weapon and there is a confession on record.

The atmosphere between Wallowsky and Cal is tense, made even tenser when Gillian walks in. I’ll deal with the interesting personal dynamics of this scene later. Plotwise, Foster has come to tell Lightman Teddy doesn’t fit the profile of a murderer. Cal is not put off. In his opinion, they just don’t have all the facts yet. He confronts Big Jim again, telling him Teddy killed Kira, but Jim will have none of it. He tells Lightman he and Teddy grew up together, so there’s no way he would do something like kill a young girl to whom he was like an uncle. Cal simply asks him if Teddy asked to be put in charge of the restaurant until the murder is solved. The man’s face shows Cal has scored a hit and that’s enough for Cal to ask, “So, what’s it going to be, Jim? Do you swallow the lies and go quietly or do you die with your eyes wide open?”

The story picks up with Wallowsky apologising to Teddy, saying he is no longer a suspect. I didn’t believe her for a minute, but the man is apparently unfamiliar with Lightman’s penchant for sting operations. He takes the bait as he gets a call that Big Jim has had a crisis and is on life support. Wallowsky, Lightman and Teddy race to the dying man’s bedside, where Cal takes the gloves off and says, “It’s Kira’s death that’s killing him. You, of all people, should know that.”

Teddy fiercely tells Cal he loved Kira and he is devoted to his lifelong friend, just as Wallowsky informs him Jim changed his will, giving his friend power of attorney and apparently also medical proxy, because it’s now Teddy’s decision on whether to pull the plug on Jim’s life support. Cal finally realises why he’s had trouble reading the man. He says, “You don’t hate Kira, do you. Her death is killing you. Which is why I couldn’t spot your lies, first off.” He realises that Teddy is equally loyal and jealous, which made filtering out the lies very difficult. I like the way this season, we see the limitations of Lightman’s science. Having an all-knowing protagonist dilutes the tension once we’re familiar with his tactics, so I think it’s a good move to look at how Lightman can miss clues or misread situations.

John Amos and Frankie FaisonHe hasn’t really misread this one, of course. His nose has been twitching all along that the case would hinge on family dynamics and he’s set up this sting to trap Teddy. As Teddy firmly says he’s going to stop life support because that’s what Jim would have wanted, Jim roars to life to deny anything of the sort. The set up was so obvious, I can’t think too many viewers were really surprised, but watching Jim realize that Teddy killed a girl he loved as much as Jim did is still moving. The set up gets a welcome twist as Cal reminds Jim he had his own part to play in how the relationship got so screwed up. Jim and Teddy grew up like family, but Jim treated his friend as just an employee. Cal tells him, “You can’t ignore your brother any more than you can fire your sons.” Or at least, you can’t without growing the kind of resentment that may lead to murder.

Despite a couple of plot quibbles, the “A” story is solid, though I didn’t get invested enough about the guest stars to feel it was a stellar story line. But the “B” story more than made up for any weaknesses, as it focused on the fallout from Cal’s involvement with Wallowsky and lies to Foster. From the moment Cal brings the case to her, Foster suspects Wallowsky’s presence. Cal is determined to take the case, but equally determined to keep Foster and Wallowsky apart. He even gives Torres his credit card so she can take Foster to lunch, for reasons that do not escape Torres, though she has too much on her mind to take advantage of the information.

Foster, of course, isn’t fooled for a minute by Cal’s sudden generosity, especially since, in a nice call back to the firm’s financial woes, the card was declined. Cal’s defence as to why he doesn’t want to the two women to know each other is that he had to lie already for Wallowsky to Foster and he doesn’t want to do it again. He challenges his partner on whether she’s really alright with the cop and she admits she’s not sure yet. But when Cal insists Wallowsky is a good cop, she pointedly says she wouldn’t know, letting Cal know she’s not going to drop the matter. He gives in and says they’ll have a threesome—for a dinner date.

I love the way the writers are picking up the strands of Cal’s willingness to push Foster to lie, and to lie himself to protect Wallowsky, for whom he clearly still cares and with whom he may still be in a relationship. Lightman knows he’s on shaky ground with Foster over the cop and she seems to enjoy playing with the situation and making him squirm. Wallowsky appears to be trying to keep some distance from Cal, though she still responds to his flirty comments, and she also appears to be very wary of Foster, or at least, Cal’s relationship with Foster. No one’s motives are clear yet, which is a good thing, because at the moment it almost looks like the fallout from the lie will be a catfight between Foster and Wallowsky over Cal and I really hope that’s not the way the writers go.

I think it should bother Cal that he knows he most likely will have to lie again to Foster if he stays with Wallowsky. It should bother him that he has done so already. It is a huge breach of professional ethics, never mind their personal relationship. And it should bother Foster on more than levels than jealousy that Cal is willing to push her to breach her own ethics and acknowledges that he may do so again. These partners are close on so many levels that a lie should rock their relationship to the foundations. Hopefully, we’ll see more than just the jealousy angle explored in a future episode.

I have faith we will, as Wallowsky takes off like a scared rabbit when Gillian takes the bull by the horns and walks in on Cal and the cop during a tense moment. Cal is a little thrown himself, and Gillian enjoys watching him squirm. The possibility for more trouble is also hinted at when Cal finds out from Jim that Wallowsky was on the take when she saved his sons in the past from criminal charges—though the take was so small potatoes—free lunch at the restaurant—that Cal has to laugh. Still, she was on the take, which hopefully will come up again this season.

The home front is no easier on Cal. The episode opens with Emily, in a move reminiscent of Foster, firmly taking Cal’s laptop away from him and giving him a typewriter, so he can’t get distracted with poker. She then opens the door to Wallowsky, who has come to ask for Cal’s help on the case. Emily’s focus, though, is on exactly what her dad’s relationship to the cop is, quickly sussing out that “Shazzer,” as Cal calls Wallowsky, is possibly his new “you know.” Cal denies having any “you know,” being caught up in his book, but Emily simply asks him if it isn’t time he had a new “you know.”

Nobody’s fool, she also asks her dad if Foster approves of Wallowsky. Cal tries every denial he can think of, but Emily has already shown him she understands bluffing very well. She calls him on his lies and he admits, “Well alright, maybe not completely, totally, but she’ll come around.” Emily dryly ends the conversation with, “You hope,” and we are left to wonder exactly what Cal hopes—for Gillian to accept his new girlfriend? Or for Gillian to fight for him? If it’s the latter, he’d better figure out his ethical issues, so his partner can focus on her heart instead of his boundaries.

In the “C” story, Torres is also focused on fighting—in this case back at a mugger who sussed out she no longer belongs in her old ‘hood any more than white suburban Loker does. Torres’ pride is hurt, but she’s also really thrown by the mugging, feeling so vulnerable she needs to find her old army surplus jacket to wear as armour when she confronts the young black man again. But she soon realises masks are no use with this young man, who is a natural at lie detection just as Ria is. Instead of forcing him to give back the camera, she gives him her card for the Lightman Group. When he shows up—with her camera—she smiles and tells him reading people is what the Lightman Group does. The plot adds little to the main “A” story, so I wonder if we haven’t been introduced to the next recurring character on the show.

Overall, I give “Smoked” an A-, mostly for the excellent character development. I really hope FOX brings Lie To Me back when this string of episodes end, whether in the summer or next fall, as the third season has introduced a lot of intriguing elements which I want to see play out.

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About Gerry Weaver

  • Latitude24

    I think you’re right about Cal & Gillian, and I think they are headed for a huge confrontation. Probably in the season 3 finale, or half season finale.

    I found it amusing that Cal was trying to hide Wallowski from Gillian and Emily both, and that Gillian kept pressing him about her. (Of course, if my company were in trouble financially, I would also be very interested why my partner would take on a pro bono case, and for whom.).

    Especially amusing since Gillian hid her last “whatever” from Cal and everyone else, only ‘fessing up in one of their best scenes together when she thought Cal suspected. I also think that Wallowski prefers to be hidden, at least from Gillian. I’m sure she has many skeletons in her closet, and Cal must suspect.

    I found Gillian’s line very telling, after Cal says that Wallowski is very good at what she does: “You don’t treat her as if she is.” (or something like that.)

    It’s difficult to figure out whether Gillian is personally jealous, being platonically protective or is worried about how a crooked cop will affect their struggling company. As much as Cal likes to think that he’s inscrutable, it’s obvious how he feels about her. Not so obvious how Gillian feels about him. She flirts with him sometimes, but she doesn’t really give away much. We need to see a little more of her slip out.

    I really REALLY hope they bring this series back in the spring. There are so many unanswered questions and unexplored motives and emotions. And I’m very interested in finding out what Emily read in Cal’s mother’s diary.

  • Gerry

    Hi, Latitude, thanks for commenting! I found much about the cat and mouse relationship among Cal, Sharon and Gillian amusing–there was some nicely detailed writing and acting in the episode. I’m delighted Cal’s behaviour over Wallowsky hasn’t been forgotten by anyone, because I’d find it hard to swallow if it had been.

    I agree that Gillian is proving hard to read and I really hope there’s a lot more driving her than jealousy. Cal needs to look at what he gave up to save Wallowsky from the IA investigation–especially since he involved Foster in his scheme. I still have a bit of a hard time accepting he would push his partner to lie because he admires Wallowsky for supporting her partner, especially when Gillain let him know so clearly she didn’t want to. And from there, I have a hard believing he’s just carrying on with Wallowsky and wants Foster to pretend she doesn’t know. Mind you, I am still willing to go along with it all and wait to be shown how everyone is really feeling under the surface, so, well done writers.