Tonight’s Lie To Me exemplified nearly equally what I enjoy about the show and what I find frustrating about it. On the plus side, I like the way Lie To Me keeps coming up with unusual ways to get Cal Lightman to use his magic lie-spotting powers. Last week Cal was called into action even while on vacation, and tonight a gun-wielding fugitive stormed The Lightman Group offices, with Ria Torres as his hostage, and demanded that Cal help prove that he didn’t kill his wife. Talk about a dilemma: A man dedicated to finding the truth is tasked, at gunpoint, with finding a truth that a trigger-happy desperado can live with.
The desperado in question is named Eric Matheson (and is played by the exceptional character actor Garret Dillahunt). He stands accused of murder, but Cal susses out quickly that he’s telling the truth when he says he’s innocent. The problem is that Eric’s own theory of the case proves faulty. He’s sure that his wife Connie was killed by her ex-boss, with whom Eric thought she was having an affair. In fact there was no affair, and the boss fired Connie because she kept asking for money to help pay back some people Eric owed. With further investigation, Ben and Gillian are able to track down a local thug named Michael Zancanelli, who helped facilitate Eric’s loan, and then came to Connie asking for sexual favors in lieu of interest. Instead, Connie taped their conversation about sex and planned to use the tape to blackmail the married Zancanelli.
Once Eric hears the truth, he’s still steamed. He doesn’t trust Cal to clear him with the cops, and he doesn’t trust the justice system to give Michael what he deserves. He wants to shoot somebody. And one of the major problems I had with “Honey” is that much of the tension hinged on whether Eric would shoot Cal.
Now why should I be expected to be nervous about that? When has Lie To Me been the kind of show that would let its main character get shot? Why do I have to sit through a scene as rote as the one where Eric almost lets Cal go and then changes his mind when the cops show up out of the blue? That’s bush-league TV drama stuff. For that matter, even some of the lie-detecting scenes in “Honey” seemed remedial. When Michael Zancanelli is being grilled and he changes nouns from “Connie” to “Eric’s wife”… well, even I caught that, and I'm not a professional.
That said, I dug watching Dillahunt, who does dim-to-the-point-of-psychotic really well. And I thought Kelli Williams was exceptionally strong this episode, whether she was fake-seducing Zancanelli or fretting over the fate of Cal. I also appreciated that there were a few nods to more long-term character and story arcs for the show. For example, the never-tell-a-lie Eli suddenly being willing to fake that he’s something he’s not (twice!) for the sake of the case. And the fact that the firm’s sudden lack of cashflow has led to Cal working degrading divorce cases.
For that matter, I thought the whole divorce case subplot was cleverly handled. The episode opens with Cal at a “Love Match” singles mixer, telling lies to women to pass the time before he meets the client’s ex-wife. He asks the ex for her opinions about fidelity, then reports back to the client, but at first we don’t know exactly what Cal’s up to, and it’s fun just to watch him tossing lies and lie-detection around just to kill time.
And the Love Match scenes pay off too, when one of the women he comes on to—asking her if she prefers chocolate cake, strawberries or warm honey when she calls room service—joins him for a date at the end of the episode. He’s got an open path to score, but Cal backs away from the seductive chat at the bar because he wants to check on Gillian, who’s been rattled by the whole experience of Cal being held at gunpoint. The two commiserate, more as dear old friends than potential romantic partners, and I appreciated that the episode took some time to deal with the aftermath of a traumatic experience rather than moving straight on to the next case.
I’ll know Lie To Me is on the right track for good when it has more scenes like this, and less trumped-up non-suspense.
-I’ll be honest: It’s coming down to the wire over whether we’re going to continue coverage of Lie To Me. It’s a solid show, but when Shawn Ryan came on-board, I was hoping for something a little deeper and more varied than we’ve gotten so far. This week’s episode was good, but it still didn’t offer much to write about. I’m giving Lie To Me a couple more episodes, but if it doesn’t become exceptional, I’m going to have to move on to other things.