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TV Review: Lie To Me – “The Core Of It”

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Lie To Me roared back for its second season with “The Core Of It,” and the presence of new show runner Shawn Ryan is already palpable. Lie To Me was always a solid show, but despite liking the premise and especially the star, Tim Roth, I had my doubts last season on whether the show was going to find the right balance between science and story. The show showed signs of being just a tad too high concept, which wasn’t a good sign for its longevity. Fortunately, original show runner and creator, Sam Baum, recognised the show needed some tweaking and brought The Shield show runner Ryan on board late last season after he showed what he had to offer with the “Blinded” episode.

In an interview with Alan Sepinwall, Ryan said, “I could tell that the science was driving the stories more than the characters driving the stories. I thought that the science was cool, but I didn’t know if it was enough to hang an entire series on. While we haven’t diminished the science, I would say that science isn’t the first thing we approach this season."

Star Tim Roth (Cal Lightman) immediately appreciated what the new show runner brought to the series, noting in an interview that he was “desperate to get some character stuff to play and some drama to play and not just be doing procedural work.” “The Core Of It” shows Roth got his wish. If the premiere is any indication, season two of Lie To Me will deliver on the drama as well as the science, as we learn more about what makes Cal Lightman tick.

As the name suggests, “The Core Of It” examines how we can take up and cast off different aspects of personality, but we need a sense of who we are at the core. The episode opens with a disturbing dreamlike sequence showing what appears to be a murder, though exactly what happened is not clear. The vision belongs to a young woman named Trish, who has tracked Lightman down at a book signing to find out if he believes she’s telling the truth about the vision, as the police have already dismissed her.

The plot is an interesting twist on Lightman’s usual focus, which he explains to his book store audience: “I’ll know if you’re lying, but what I don’t know is why. That’s still your secret.” With Trish, he knows she’s telling the truth, but not how it could possibly be true. Cal is intrigued enough to bring his new discovery back to the office, only to find Foster is less than intrigued because they already have a full caseload. Cal slides the case he’s supposed to work on over to Torres, only to find Trish slipped through his fingers while he was gone.

Cal Lightman meets Trish (Tim Roth and Erika Christensen)Trish is played by Erika Christensen and she delivers a fantastic performance. One of the changes Ryan made to the show, beginning with “Blinded,” was to concentrate the storytelling a little more so the audience could get to know the guest star. It’s a move that really pays off in an episode like this. Christensen makes the most of a demanding part as Cal realises her character is really several characters in one: she has dissociative identity disorder (DID) and Trish is just one of the personalities Cal has to deal with. She soon shifts to Jessie, a tough-talking prostitute who has no idea about any murder.

Cal was sure Trish/Jessie was going to be worth his time as soon as he met Trish, but Foster is a little more resistant — until she realises she’s looking at an actual case of DID. Gillian is in the midst of divorcing her husband due to his drug issues and Cal is sure she’s happy about it — so sure he says the DID case is her divorce present. Foster insists she’s actually suffering from the divorce, but she’s hooked on the case nonetheless. She uses hypnosis to elicit information from Trish about her brother Gavin and another personality called R.J. who doesn’t talk to people because he’s the strong one. The surprises do not end there, though; Foster brings Trish out of the hypnosis by telling she will wake up as herself and it turns out that self is named Sophie.

Sophie is the core personality, aware of all the other personalities and terrified one of them will take over, making her disappear forever. The theme of how to define one’s core despite all the many and sometimes conflicting faces we don in different situations is very poignantly played out with this young woman who has no choices about the shifts she makes and now finds herself investigating her own psyche to save her life.

Cal and Foster take Sophie to Gavin, who hasn’t seen this side of his sister in years, though Jessie crashes in his garage from time to time. Cal recognises Gavin is very tense and searches until he finds a bloodstained wallet hidden under the floorboards. Gavin was trying to protect Sophie, because the wallet indicates something terrible did happen. Cal also presses Sophie’s brother to reveal what trauma Sophie experienced as a child to lead to her disorder, and he admits she was cruelly abused by their grandfather.

Kyle, the married owner of the wallet, turns out to be very much alive and harbouring his own secrets. Cal shows his tough side as he threatens to reveal all to the man’s wife unless he gives the details of how he lost the wallet. Kyle admits he was rolled by two hookers, only to have Lightman tell his wife anyway that Kyle’s fond of unprotected sex with working girls.

The tough side of Lightman gets a lot more troubling when the trio get back to the office. In a nice contrast to what’s to come, Lightman is kind to Sophie as he responds to her desire to just be herself with “You’ll get there, love.” But he realises time is running out for him to find out what happened when the police find a body and start to take the case seriously. With officers downstairs to take Sophie down to the station, Cal decides he has to talk to R.J. the protector, as Foster thinks R.J. is actually the personality who witnessed the murder and let Trish have glimpses of it.

Unfortunately, R.J. only comes out when Sophie is threatened, so Cal uses the information he learned from Gavin about Sophie’s abuse and threatens her — and Tim Roth is very very good at showing the dark side of characters. The scene is chilling, even though we know he has her best interests at heart. R.J. does indeed emerge and gets the jump on Lightman, which is perhaps for the best as the police break into the interview room at that point, saving Lightman from having to explain the specifics of his attack on the girl.

However, the gamble does not pay off the way Cal hoped. Foster realises R.J. actually cannot talk, as his job is only to protect. He cannot tell what he saw. Cal is forced to play nice with his FBI agent on staff, Ben Reynolds, and promise to look in on Torres’ judge case in exchange for one more talk to the girl. In a fascinating series of communication links, he asks R.J. to show Trish all that he saw, so that Trish can tell him and he can tell Sophie. The blind spots we all have in our psyche as well as the role of the unconscious in driving our conscious thoughts are graphically illustrated in this fractured young woman.

Trish reveals the victim – another young prostitute – was killed by the owner of the hotel she and Jessie frequented. However, the police need hard evidence to bring him in, so Sophie has to face her fears of abuse and confront the man, while wired so the cops can hear any incriminating statements. The plan hangs on Sophie being able to maintain her core identity without shifting if the man gets abusive. She needs to get her power back. With Cal’s help on a hidden mike, she successfully leads the man to admit he killed the prostitute because she and Jessie were rolling clients and it was bad for business.

The themes of identifying our core identity in the face of conflicting roles, abuse of power and regaining control are picked up in the supporting stories. Torres is charged with determining whether a Supreme Court candidate is suitable for the job, and she finds it very challenging to stand up to the judge’s clearly expressed doubt in her abilities. He expects to deal with the top man, not a young girl, and Torres’s issues with her troubled background and lack of experience affect her confidence — until she picks up that the judge’s contempt for the follies of youth has a basis in his own past.

Torres pushes through her own insecurities to pinpoint a case from the judge’s early years which troubles him. He opens up to Cal, as he would not to Torres, to reveal he was inappropriately involved with a young woman associated with the trial—and assumes the information will shape The Lightman Group’s view of his personality. He offers to withdraw his nomination, but both Lightman and Torres do not see the event as shaping either the results of the trial or his career. He had competing interests but his core values did not lead to an abuse of power.

Torres takes a beating on the case not only from the judge, but also from Agent Reynolds, who thinks she’s too inexperienced for such an important decision. She confronts Cal on why he gave her the case when she wasn’t ready for it. Cal simply replies, “As far as I can tell, you nailed it.” He points out to Torres that mentally, she is still the lowly baggage screener rather than a top expert in lie detection and only she can change that. Torres tells him that coming from her background, baggage screener was a big step up. Cal’s reply? “Well, keep steppin’ then.” It’s a welcome reminder of how often he uses his abilities to support the people he cares about, because the episode shows so well the dark side of what he is capable of doing.

Cal’s relationships with Zoe and Emily pick up the same thematic threads as Zoe tells Cal she’s moving to Chicago to run a branch of a private law firm. The rocky shoals where their relationship ran aground are clearly visible as Zoe snaps at Cal not to read her face as she’s talking to him and later admits that she’s being selfish, but the move is good for both her and Emily. In a moving scene, Cal admits his own selfishness and offers to buy Zoe out of his business so she can start her own law firm in town. In fact, he’s come armed with the cheque. He admits he’s put on a lot of suits lately (boss, pal — he’s honest enough to add “bastard” to the list) and Zoe asks him if “dad” is his favourite suit. That identity, Cal answers, is the only one that is not a suit. That is his core identity and he’ll risk his business to keep Emily close.

Zoe is happy to see this side of Cal, but Foster is less delighted with what she sees as a selfish focus on his own concerns to her detriment. Nevertheless, the final scene has a wonderful comedic edge as Foster reaches out and drags Cal back as he attempts to scuttle away from her. With a steely glint in her eye, she barks that he was quite right when he saw through her suffering act — she is in fact delighted to be divorced and he will not, repeat not, jeopardise her happiness by putting the business at risk with large loans. She relaxes for a moment as Cal solemnly swears he will not endanger Gillian’s desire to wear pink — only to go into high alert again as Cal tosses over his shoulder that he can always make the money back in Vegas. His partner’s shudder of horror at the thought lets us know there is a lot yet to learn about what makes up Cal Lightman.

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About Gerry Weaver

  • Jair

    I didn’t find anyone out of character, myself. Foster had been in a failing marriage for years, living with an addict and bound together by the heartbreak of a lost baby. I believe she’s ready for a new start. Torres and Lightman have a really interesting relationship, with both tensions and attractions–and I think the attraction part is mentorly. I’m pretty sure Zoe’s relationship was history when she slept with Cal last season.

    I had no issue with Cal being able to tell the brother was very tense about something and when he was most tense. That’s his business. I think we’re going to find out a lot about Cal this season and not all of it is going to be positive. Tim Roth should rock that.

  • Laura

    I was disappointed with this episode. People were out of character (Foster is happy about the divorce? And she lies about that to Cal? Cal is fatherly to Torres? Torres apparently forgot her feelings at the end of the last episode. And did Zoe break up with the guy she’s supposed to marry?)

    The science was worse than missing, it was outright wrong: HORRIBLE treatment of multiple personality disorder; Cal can find a wallet under a loose board by one look from the person who hid it? And Torres was ‘reading’ emotions that the actor she was working with was NOT showing – have they lost all interest in the science altogether? If this is what they’re going to do I might as well watch The Mentalist instead.

    Yes, I’d like to see more character driven shows – but the characters should show some consistency or growth. And the story lines shouldn’t go so deep into melodrama – Cal attacking the fragile girl to get her to change identity – leave that junk to the daytime soaps!

    I loved season 1, and the characters and relationships that were being built there. But, truth be told, it’s the science that drew me, and I won’t be watching for very long if they don’t get that back. The drama was good last season, but I can get that in any of a dozen shows.

  • Jair

    I agree, I think Cal and Zoe really work well off each other. It’s a wonderful portrait of a crashed relationship.

  • lisa

    great episode,

    especially cal & zoe interaction (good acting)

  • I agree, this was a great episode. I really enjoyed their handling of the multiple personality patient, and I’m glad to see the characters coming out into their own other than just Lightman. I’m so excited for this season.