Home / TV Review: Lie To Me‘s “Do No Harm” Looks at Motherhood and the Lies That Bind

TV Review: Lie To Me‘s “Do No Harm” Looks at Motherhood and the Lies That Bind

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Lie To Me made its 8:00 pm (ET) time period debut on Wednesday with "Do No Harm," an emotional episode that hit all the right notes. Moving the new drama to anchor the night shows a lot of belief in the show by FOX execs and despite my reservations about running two cases an episode, I think the show justifies the confidence. Lie To Me is getting better and better as we get more character development among the team, and last night gave us lots of juicy morsels to chew over — once we were done sniffling over the well done A story.

This week, Lightman is paired with Foster on the main story as the two try to determine what happened to missing 11-year-old Samantha Burch (Madeline Carroll).  Last week Foster intimated Lightman had an issue with avoiding feelings; in "Do No Harm", we get early confirmation that Foster’s own feelings will be under the spotlight. The two characters have been hired by the missing girl’s parents (Megan Follows and Bradford Tatum) to help sort through the many tips being phoned into police.

Lightman and FosterIn their first meeting, to the parents’ horror, Lightman asks them if they killed their daughter. Angrily, they tell him that isn’t why they hired him, but in a situation like this, the family dynamics are always relevant, and of course, they are never straightforward. This case is going to highlight that people’s reasons for lying may be very complex and it’s not so easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

The parents pass Lightman’s first test of whether they killed their daughter, but their shock at the question shows how little control they feel in this nightmare surrounding their daughter. Lack of control is brought up again by Lightman as he and Foster exit the house. In a nicely done reveal, Lightman asks Foster whether she wants off the case in case it upsets her. Foster denies any need to back away, but is clearly affected by the suffering parents. As she has just denied to the parents that she is a mother, it’s not yet clear why she’s so upset. We do soon realise that the nature of good mothering is going to be a strong theme in the episode.

Lightman and Foster then meet with the very skeptical and faintly hostile detective in charge of the case. Detective Hughes (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) is sure he is looking at a murder and possibly by the parents. Lightman and Foster are not sure a traffic photo ostensibly showing Samantha should be dismissed and neither are they sure Samantha is a murder victim. Foster points out that the girl was adopted and may have attachment issues. She may well have run away. Lightman turns his attention to a host of tipsters, most of whom walk out the door when Lightman lies to them about the reward money having been withdrawn, but one of whom leads Lightman and Foster to a schoolmate of Samantha’s.

Introducing the aspect of blocked communication into the picture, the boy shocks his parents by knowing more than he let on. The clue he offers is that he has a runaway kit backpack given to him by Samantha two months before in case she decided to run. Lightman’s quick turning up of a clue helps soften Detective Hughes’ attitude, as everyone agrees they may be looking at a runaway instead of an abduction. Lightman also realises that Samantha was talking to a psychiatrist about her feelings toward her parents. The focus shifts back to the Burch’s family dynamics, now with attachment issues and family secrets in the mix.

A brief talk with psychiatrist Dr. Knowlton (Stacy Edwards) confirms that Samantha had attachment issues, but Knowlton refuses to divulge any details, though her body language indicates discomfort. Lightman and Foster head back to the Burch family home ready to probe for lies, and of course, they find some. Peter Burch is honestly bewildered at the suggestion that Samantha would run away, but wife Lorraine subtly gives herself away by shaking her head slightly as she says she and her daughter were very close. She admits that she and her daughter had a tension-filled relationship and that they had a fight which ended in Samantha accidentally being burned by the stove. The two concealed the injury from the husband out of guilt, and guilt still haunts Lorraine, as she again shakes her head while denying she was the cause of her daughter running away.

Foster very empathetically reassures this mother that attachment issues are common in adoptive families and their struggles are not unique. Lightman emphasizes his colleague’s personal connection as he compliments her nurturing ability and wonders if she would like a dog. The conversation is funny, as Lightman offers to phone up Obama’s people and counters Foster’s objection based on her husband’s allergy by insisting that poodles have hair, not fur, so a poodle would work. But we sense that the undercurrents of the conversation are very serious and most likely related to the issues in Foster’s troubled marriage. More family secrets are going to emerge this episode.

This scene reassured me about one of the possible issues I’ve seen for the drama. The first couple of episodes stopped the action frequently to highlight a micro-expression and explain what it meant. To my surprise, the writers gave us the whole gamut of expressions right off the bat. I thought they’d string out what we learned about reading faces, because once we know what to look for, stopping the action to frame and explain expressions will get very old very fast. From this episode, it seems the writers have another plan — they’re going to expect that we now know what to look for and keep the action going. In neither scene involving Lorraine Burch giving herself away by shaking her head did anyone specifically highlight she was doing this. The camera shows us as it shows Lightman and we have to keep up with him as he makes his deductions. I like this very much — I have to pay attention, but the show has prepared me to that. I’m not sure whether new viewers will feel frustrated at following the logic of a conversation, but it sure works for the dedicated folks.

Back to the A story, Hughes turns up another suspect — a registered pedophile working as a nurse at a free clinic. Now regarding Lightman and Foster as valuable allies, the detective asks Lightman to interview the man. Lightman soon exposes that the man saw Samantha — but not because he took her. The guy has been chemically castrating himself to stop his sexual urges. He’s only been treating Samantha for her burns once a week for a couple of months, letting the police know they can wait for her outside the clinic. Here I have to say that as much as I loved this story, I found the idea that Samantha had a burn bad enough to need treatment at a clinic for two months but which her dad was completely unaware of, very far-fetched. She’d have been in a lot of pain, and in the long term, she’d have a scar. Did Lorraine not realise that she’d have to explain that the next time the family went swimming? I was willing to suspend disbelief because the incident fit into the themes of family secrets, broken communication and good mothering, but I wish the injury had been something that could more believably have been hidden.

It’s a small quibble, though, when you get scenes like the ones that follow locating Samantha. To everyone’s surprise, Samantha not only is not happy to have been found, she denies being Samantha, hurting her parents and particularly her mother, as she says she’s Jessica and needs to be back before her curfew. Lightman and Foster counsel Lorraine to go back in the room and tell Samantha she loves her, but Lorraine feels defeated in her attempts to bond with her daughter. With a glisten in her eye that shows how personal this situation is for her, Foster tells Lorraine that she too adopted a daughter. Last year, she and her husband brought a new born baby home and were parents for three days short of the 60 days the birth mother had to reclaim her baby. On day 57, the birth mother regained her daughter, while Foster lost hers. Having caught Lorraine’s attention, Foster tells her that she has not lost her daughter and the best way to keep her is to let her know that nothing will stop her mother love, not even Samantha’s denial of attachment. She has to risk rejection so her daughter will risk opening up. Lorraine takes the advice and connects with Samantha — who then stuns everyone by revealing that another girl was also abducted. The girl is too terrified for the other girl’s safety to say who took them or where, but Lightman is able to read her fear and pinpoint her psychiatrist Dr. Knowlton as the abductor.

At this point, my heart was in my mouth, as I hoped the team got to Knowlton in time to save Heather, the other child. I was fully prepared to despise the psychiatrist, but this show presents a complicated picture of human behaviour. Knowlton has lost a daughter herself and is mired in a land of grief where taking a girl from a situation of what she regards as bad mothering so she can be a good mother to the child seems logical and loving. As she collapses over the prone body of the child she has drugged, she’s a much more sympathetic figure than I thought she would be when I first saw her with a gun facing off police over the girl. And it’s clear that Foster too can identify with this woman’s inability to detach herself from motherhood.

In a moving scene, Lightman refuses to step away from Foster’s grief as she opens up about her own difficulties in moving on. She tells her colleague that she mistakes small children as her own lost Sophie all the time and has to restrain herself from running up and hugging them. The scene is a beautiful counterpoint to the one in "Unchained" where Foster snapped at Lightman for avoiding his feelings.  He doesn’t avoid hers and instead steps up as a caring friend as she explains that the failed adoption is a unhealed injury in her marriage. It’s become a secret they cannot tell, breeding other secrets, as Lightman knows Foster’s husband is currently cheating on her. The episode ends on a melancholy note very appropriate to the exploration of the difficulties of attachment and detachment in families marked by broken communication and loss.

The A story was so compelling that I resented the time spent away from it on the B story, despite the second case being very well done and giving us some much needed characterization for Loker. It’s a shame, because the question of whether the ends justifies the means for a lie that exposes truth is very worthy and the plot was well done. Loker and Torres are called in to decide whether an Ugandan activist author lied about denying she participated in massacres perpetrated by her rebel abductors. Her publisher needs to know whether she should pull the book before a massive book tour potentially embarrasses the company.

Loker so far has been notable mostly for his refusal to participate in social lies of any kind, always saying what’s on his mind. However, he is very drawn to author Farida (Christine Adams) and soon shows that he has an emotional investment in the case. The two investigators decide that Farida is telling the truth about not participating in the killing, but Torres thinks that something still doesn’t feel right. Loker, who has a date with Farida, rejects his colleague’s suspicions in a way that calls up Lightman’s discomfort with the natural’s abilities, though Loker goes much further in his anger. He sneers at Torres’ deductions, calling her a neophyte in the field and suggests she study up further before challenging him.

Torres doesn’t back down, but it turns out she doesn’t have to, as the seed has been planted. Loker realises that he does indeed understand what Torres is talking about and confronts Farida. It turns out the activist not only didn’t participate in the killing, she didn’t participate in anything else, either. She made the entire story up and she’s unapologetic. Farida tells Loker that she may have lied about this particular story but the details are true for many people nonetheless. Their stories are not listened to because they do not have the kind of face and voice acceptable to western media, while she does. She feels her lie exposes truth and is justifiable. Loker tells her a lie like this can have unintended consequences, and in any case, he feels let down that their relationship was based on a lie. Torres, who continues to show a less abrasive side to her personality, offers him the consolation that Farida liked him enough to date him even when she discovered he detected lies for a living. Loker says he doesn’t care—the first lie we’ve seen him tell.

The B story was so well done I felt guilty for thinking “oh no!” every time we switched to it. But I wanted to stay with Samantha’s case. My emotions were thoroughly engaged and I couldn’t detach enough to get involved with the second team, though its case was much more compelling this week. I still think the writers have to find a way to involve the entire team in one case in at least most of the episodes. But I’m very impressed with the way the show is developing, both in the way it involves the audience in picking up “tells” and In the character development for the team. I now know enough about each character to be very sympathetic to and curious about their story. I can’t wait for next week’s episode, so reservations aside, this show is right on track.

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About Gerry Weaver