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TV Review: Lie To Me – “The Canary’s Song”

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Lie To Me returned Monday night after a week’s break with a strong episode delving into some of the themes shaping season three. “The Canary’s Song” explores the nature of trust and the repercussions when it is broken. Both Cal and Loker in the A story and Foster and Gillian in the B story deal with the fallout from secrets, lies and poor choices, as Cal tries to figure out who holds the ultimate responsibility for the death of six miners and Gillian tries to fend off the FBI’s attempt to keep their hand in The Lightman Group by threatening Cal with past indiscretions.

“The Canary’s Song” returns to the dual case story structure, one that hasn’t worked all that well for the show in the past. It was hard to get as invested in a separate B case without Cal, especially as the team’s relationships were not as well developed as they are now. Late season two and season three, however, have pushed the members of the Lightman Group out of their comfort zones, setting up tensions that give much more zip to all the characters’ interactions. Those tensions help hook me into the B story, as does the decision to use that narrative to pick up some past story points and develop them further. Cutting between the two stories is still a little choppy, but overall, the two stories worked well together.

Cal Lightman and Brian Warner in "The Canary's Song."

Cal’s A story involves a methane explosion in a mine which kills six miners. The mine manager, Wallace, hires Cal to find out if human error rather than company failings led to the explosion. Cal takes the case, but he’s clear to Wallace he is no company man and is not in anyone’s pocket. He has no particular warm feelings for a corporate culture that values money over people’s lives. But the teaser opening the episode shows us the miners have tensions among themselves, so Cal will not find pulling apart the strands of who did what to whom easy. The divides separating the men are more complicated than company suit and miner.

The mine foreman is a man nicknamed Big Brother and he is a bully, deeply disliked by the crews under him. He takes his bullying a step too far when he unfairly docks the pay of Warner, a popular young miner trying to save enough money to get married. In Big Brother’s next shift down the mine, he enters a tool room and finds himself locked in. When his meter shows a dangerous level of methane gas in the mine, Big Brother panics and tries to bash open the locked door with a shovel. Unfortunately, he instead strikes a spark, killing himself, as a new shift of five miners descending to start their own shift.

Cal goes to the memorial with Wallace to try picking up any relevant tensions among the mourners. He is not disappointed. Warner is drunk, another miner, Sully, is not only racist, he despised Big Brother, as did almost every other miner in the room. The miners, as well as Warner’s girlfriend, Connie, hold Wallace responsible for the explosion, but also clearly are hiding secrets of their own. The situation is ready to boil over, so naturally Cal decides to stir the pot in his own inimitable style.

Walking into the local bar after the funeral, Cal spots Connie and some of the more interesting miners from the funeral. Warner is there, drinking heavily with a black miner named Darryl. There’s also Hoodak, described by Old Times, the assistant foreman, as angry when he’s drunk, angry when he’s sober. Connie is working the bar and the scene is set for Lightman to prod Warner. He tells the young man he’ll find out what happened down the mine that makes Warner so ashamed, saying, “I’m just a pain in the ass that way.”

Everyone in the bar agrees with the pain in the ass part, and the hostility level rises, getting a big bump when Wallace enters to pay his respects. Connie tries to throw him out, as she is sure it was company negligence that killed the miners, one of whom was her young cousin. Hoodak seizes the moment to try and intimidate Lightman, who responds by holding a broken bottle to his adversary’s neck. Just before the bar explodes into violence, to everyone’s astonishment, Loker steps forward with a baseball bat to break apart the fights. Illustrating where Loker’s character is moving this season, Lightman forgoes the usual needling of his employee and says, “He’s with me.” As Torres correctly surmised a couple of episodes ago, Lightman has been pushing Loker to join him in the field and fortunately for him, Loker picked the perfect moment to step up.

Loker’s character has never been utilized well by the writers, so I’m happy to see him pick up some of the slack left by Reynold’s absence. He has an interesting relationship with Lightman, as we’re not sure how loyal he is to the group nor how much he likes Cal, though he obviously wants to impress his boss. I also like that Loker may have far fewer street smarts than Lightman, but he does have a grounded common sense approach that contrasts well with Cal’s “jump first and ask questions later” nature. I think it will be intriguing to watch these two negotiate their way around the other.

Discussing the fight in the men’s room later, after first amusingly ordering Loker not to use the urinal next to him (Cal never misses an opportunity to establish his alpha male status), Lightman notes that the four men of interest to him are all part of one crew and judging by Warner’s unhappiness, it is a crew with a secret. Cal decides the only way to drag the secret out is to go down the mine and recreate some of the events so someone will crack. He decides to be the crew’s new canary for their next shift. He also plans with an unhappy Wallace to get the methane extraction fans shut off for an hour while they are down in the mine.

Interestingly, when the crew is assembled in the mine tunnel, Hoodak is not there. Cal quickly realises Warner must have told Connie the secret the men are hiding and Hoodak intends to shut her up. He sends Wallace up to help Connie, but not before extracting a confession from the manager that the company does periodically shut off the fans to save money, allowing methane to build up. That part of what happened to the dead men is the fault of the company and the men know about and resent it.

But the shut off fans are not whole story. Eli further proves his worth when he pickpockets Old Times, the assistant foreman, and discovers a broken off door handle marked with soot. Between Wallace and Loker pushing him, Old Times admits his crew decided to punish Big Brother for his bullying ways by locking him in the tool room. In an unfortunate coincidence, the company shut off the methane extraction fans at the same time, leading Big Brother to panic and strike the door with the shovel, igniting the fatal spark. Old Times focuses on his personal feelings about his crew and Big Brother, saying the company was responsible for the foreman’s death. Loker reminds him the loss of perspective on everyone’s part led to five other deaths as well.

Down in the mine, Cal is determined to get the crew members to admit their own part of the tragedy. Turning off the fans raises the stakes for everyone, as one wrong move could kill them all. In situations like this, the men have to trust each other—but now that they have a secret to hide, they no longer have that trust. Big Brother’s bullying ways were difficult to handle, but it’s actually the breach of trust amongst themselves that tears the men apart. Warner confesses the plan to Lightman, including that he had no part in it. Darryl tries to kill Warner, only to have Cal get him to see he doesn’t want any more blood on his hands. Sully has no such compunction, especially if it’s Darryl’s blood, as he despises Darryl for his race. Darryl ends the confrontation with a solid punch to Sully’s nose—but the exposed divisions among the miners will take a lot longer to heal.

Back at the bar, Connie’s rage at the way the company cuts costs at the expense of safety focuses on Wallace and she grabs Hoodak’s gun to shoot the manager. Cal and Warner try to talk her out of killing Wallace, but not in the way Wallace would have preferred. Despite the shared culpability for the deaths, Cal’s sympathies are with the working folk, not the company big wigs. The company’s decision to shut off the fans periodically was not only unsafe on the fateful day Big Brother was locked in the tool room, it is unsafe in general. Lightman insists Wallace hide the men’s share of the liability, so the company has to assume it all and pay out the claims to the families.

However, the writers do not let the situation wrap up so tidily. Wallace is genuinely sorry about what happened to the miners—he has been a sympathetic character throughout the episode. He tells Cal the company may pay out the miners, but they will also fire him and fill both his job and Big Brother’s with men who will toe the company line. Nothing will change in the big picture as long as the mine makes money. It’s a sobering note on which to end the story.

The A story overall worked well, introducing Loker’s expanded role and exploring the nature of trust and guilt. I found the writing occasionally a little heavy handed, such as when Old Times pretends the broken door handle is a gun to back his crew away from Loker. It seems a bit over the top to have the old man so casually threaten to shoot his friends. I also found it a little unsatisfying at the end to have Connie focus only on the company’s guilt, when the knowledge of the miners’ guilt is tearing her boyfriend apart. We don’t get to know the company suits; we get to know the miners, and I would have liked a little more sense of how their relationships will be affected at the end. Nevertheless, the story is nuanced enough to fit in well with the issue of broken trust raised so firmly just two episodes ago.

The B story picks up past issues still floating around The Lightman Group, in the guise of FBI agent Dylan haunting the halls, insisting on getting Cal involved in a case he’s working on. His hook is that Cal is already involved—he’s got photos of Cal at an illegal gambling game and he’s willing to charge him with a felony if he doesn’t help the FBI figure out where the next game will be so they can arrest one of the participants.

Tim Roth as Lightman and Kelli Williams as FosterGillian is annoyed yet again to have someone point out to her Cal’s illegal activities she knows nothing about, and given that not so long ago, Cal forced her to join him in a lie to prevent his policewoman girlfriend from going down for corruption, one would think she’d be very irritated indeed with Cal. Instead, she goes into mama bear mode and decides to protect Cal from the FBI, getting the information herself as long as the FBI promise to burn The Lightman Group’s number and not bother them again. Knowing that Lightman is a formidable opponent, Dylan reluctantly agrees. Reluctantly, because he is still angry over Reynolds’ shooting and I can’t help but agree Ben’s former colleagues are a little cavalier about what happened to him. Apparently, they don’t even know how he’s doing. At least we now know he’s alive but didn’t recover enough to return to his old job. I think the show’s new direction is working well, but I am glad to finally get some closure about Reynolds.

As Foster foils Dylan’s attempts to arrest Cal or at least get him over a barrel, the issues she has with Lightman’s ethics and withholding information from her swirl around in sub currents. The writers keep Lightman’s actions sympathetic by making his partner in crime, Wheels, very likeable and Lightman’s motivation in helping the suicidal man, understandable. I do find it believable Foster is used to supporting Cal no matter what and doing so with little thanks. In “The Canary’s Song,” we see Gillian admitting to Torres she wants some thanks from Cal when she has to clean up his messes. The scene in which a drunken Gillian extracts that thanks from a smiling Cal is lovely—the writers have two very capable actors with chemistry to burn to work with. I’m pulling for them at the least to continue to have these kind of sexy, flirty scenes.

But the situation is uncomfortably familiar to when Internal Affairs came to Foster with Cal’s indiscretions with Wallowsky and Cal much less sympathetic in that scenario. “Dirty Loyal” was a game changer. I don’t find it as believable that all Gillian needs is an acknowledgement of what she does for Cal to put “Dirty Loyal” behind her. Cal put his care for Wallowsky above his care for her and basically told her if she wants to be with him, in any capacity, she has to lie when he tells her to lie.

It’s a betrayal of the trust between the two as partners and one that needs to have ramifications until the issue breaks the surface of their relationship and is dealt with. If that happens, Foster’s actions in this episode will sit comfortably with me. But if it doesn’t, she will begin to look like a poster child for “Women Who Love Too Much.” And that would be a shame, because it’s Foster’s strength of character that makes her such a great foil to Lightman.

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About Gerry Weaver