I’ll lead off by saying how delighted I am that FOX is giving Lie To Me a full season! Shawn Ryan’s tweaks to the format of the show have paid off hugely, if not yet in ratings, then in critical praise. The show deserves the support it’s getting and this week’s episode is a great example why. “Secret Santa” tosses away any expectations of a warm and fuzzy episode by sending Lightman to Afghanistan to figure out the loyalty of a captured American who may know the location of two missing marines. The show doesn’t hold back on showing the grittiness of war and it’s a superb backdrop for the exploration of loyalty on many levels.
The episode opens with a look at Cal’s relationships. His daughter Emily, possibly taking her cue from her parents’ insistence on a family Thanksgiving dinner in last week’s episode, is determined to throw a Christmas party for The Lightman Group. She is perhaps hoping all the good cheer will smooth her introduction of her boyfriend Rick to her dad. Cal refuses to indulge in Christmas sentimentality or politeness to Emily’s suitors, but it’s clear he’s enjoying Emily’s enthusiasm for celebration as he picks out a name for Secret Santa. Unfortunately, any attempt he wants to make to support his daughter’s plans is thwarted by a woman working for the president. The theme of divided loyalty raises its head as Cal realises he has to go to Afghanistan to help find the two missing marines and he can’t even tell Emily why.
Cal lies to his daughter and says he’s going to Florida for work, but Foster is in the know and she hints that Cal has some wartime experience as she tells him, “You can’t go back to that place again.” “That place” is not Afghanistan particularly, but rather an emotional place, and it sets the tone for the investigation Cal has to pursue once he gets to the Marine hideout in the war torn country. He must get inside the head and heart of the captured Franco, who looks far more Taliban than American military, in order to know if the marines can trust his information on where the two missing men are being held. The issue of trust is a thematic thread throughout the episode, as nothing is quite as it appears at first glance.
Lightman has to establish a sense of trust with Marine commanding officer Parks, and fortunately, the writers allow belief in Cal’s science to develop quickly, permitting the real focus to shift to everyone’s loyalties. As Franco talks to him about his aunt Wendy, Lightman quickly notes both a desire on Franco’s part to connect with him and a hatred of all things Uncle Sam. I liked the realistic touch as Cal tells Parks he’s 70% certain Franco’s location for the missing men is a lie, because “it’s not an exact science.”