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TV Review: Lie To Me – “Teacher and Pupils”

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“Teacher and Pupils” showcases Lie To Me at its best.  The writing focuses on one case with Cal’s skills driving the action, which is a stronger format than having a secondary case to occupy half the team.  The episode also has some wonderful character exploration and nice turns from the guest stars.  Under Shawn Ryan’s steady hand, the show has found its groove and I hope the new writing team continues the fine balancing act between drama and science the show demands. 

The episode opens with a policeman entering a low rent apartment building in response to a call, even though he should already be off duty.  He walks into an unexpected situation we don’t actually get to see and gets shot.  It’s an excellent teaser setting up an intriguing premise:  can Cal Lightman read a paralyzed man’s face? 

The cop is left a quadriplegic who has only slight movement in his eyes, but Lightman is not only able to read the muscle movements around the eyes, he can track the way the pupils dilate and this gives him enough information to ID two boys as being on the scene, with one as the shooter, for Agent Reynolds and Captain James.  Of course, this is only the first step in the case, because the boys were only pawns.  The real question is:  who set up the shooting and why?  Cal has to peel back layer after layer of motivations to realise he’s really dealing with a case of police corruption, not a drug deal gone bad.  The tension of the plot is nicely maintained as the scene switches among the crime riddled apartment block, the hospital room with the dying cop and his family, and The Lightman Group’s interrogation room. 

Cal Lightman (Tim Roth) communicates with a paralyzed man  ©2010 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Isabella Vosmikova/FOXWith only his eyes to communicate, one might imagine the cop’s scenes would have trouble engaging the audience, but in fact they are very poignant.  Tim Roth shows what a well rounded actor he is as Lightman forms a sensitive conduit of emotion between the dying Nick and his wife.  I found myself tearing up as Cal helps the cop and his wife forgive each other for the quarrel they were in the midst of when Nick was shot.  The shot of Nick crying just before he dies is a very moving way to convey the mute man’s emotions.   There is a strong emotional core to this episode which kept me very engaged in Cal’s investigation. 

The investigation itself had enough twists and turns to keep me guessing.  The writers wisely keep it unclear who is allied with whom until the very end, when we realise there are no clear lines separating the good guys from the bad guys.  Bad cops Hollander and his squad killed an elderly tenant and a fellow officer to cover up their rent scam in a federal housing project, not to mention set Emily up for a drug bust to scare Cal, so they are pretty clear bad guys.  But I was still able to feel some sympathy for the cop who thought he was getting some easy money but had no idea he was heading into threatening children and murder.  Looking the other way has serious consequences in “Teacher and Pupils.” 

Captain James is the biggest example of how easily the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  He bent the law to allow his men to set a tough example in a tough district.  What he didn’t take into account was his men deciding they could bend the law even further for their own benefit.  They didn’t draw the line where he would have, and in the end, he has to be accountable for allowing the law to be bent at all.  I like that the episode allows me to feel some sympathy for the captain, while still feeling he needs to accept responsibility for his men’s actions.  Police work is an area where shades of grey come with the territory and Cal Lightman is a character who suits a nuanced exploration of that kind of landscape.

I also liked Melissa George in her role as Lightman’s possible love interest and business partner.  The actress is very believable as the attractive young widow with a flair for business and an eye for Cal.  It’s not an easy feat to pull off taking over The Lightman Group behind Cal’s back while still remaining an attractive enigma Cal would like to solve, but George does it.  Cal is not as in charge as he likes to be in his interactions with Clara, and that seems to amuse Gillian and Emily, so it also amuses me.  I am intrigued to see how this new partnership turns out.  Given that the episode ends with Cal and Gillian teasing each other, I doubt she’s going to supplant Gillian’s place in Cal’s life, but so far, Clara’s been an interesting addition to their dynamic.

I also liked the inclusion of Emily in the story.  Roth and McFarland have wonderful believable chemistry  and his daughter is clearly Cal’s vulnerable point, though not as vulnerable as Hollander hopes.  Cal’s rage doesn’t quite hide the fear he feels when his work endangers Emily.  He’s lost relationships before to his focus on work, but losing Emily is not an option he will accept.  The close bond between the two is a nice reminder of how Cal’s business got into financial trouble:  he was so unwilling for Emily to move away to Chicago he bought ex-wife Zoe out of his business so she could start her own firm.  Cal’s family relationships are a very tangled knot we haven’t quite unraveled, but  his love for Emily is very clear.

“Teacher and Pupils” is an excellent episode on all levels.  With this kind of writing,  the show is heading into season three firing on all cylinders.

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