This week’s Lie To Me is so ripped-from-today’s-headlines-ariffic that it even includes a photo of Roman Polanski during one of the transition-blitzes. In the main story, college football stud Cabe McNeil (played by Chadwick Boseman) stands accused of statutory rape because a 16-year-old girl approached him at a frat party, he put his moves on her, and she succumbed. Worse, somebody at the party filmed them having sex and put it up on the internet, which means Cabe is facing charges of distributing child pornography. Is Cabe a mini-Polanski, sliding into decadence? Or is he just another dumb jock who let his prick lead him astray?
If Lie To Me were Law & Order, the episode likely would stayed at the level of poke-and-prod, along the lines of the scenes where our main man Dr. Lightman shows photos of underage girls in provocative poses to Cabe and tries to determine if he finds them arousing. (The trick? None of the girls are actually underaged; Lightman’s trying to prove how difficult it is to nullify the natural instinct of desire with a mere label.) Instead, in keeping with the show’s Season Two mandate to make the stories more personal, “Truth Or Consequences” gives Lightman a dog in the hunt. His daughter Emily goes to school with the girl Cabe diddled, and when Lightman asks his teenager to tell him what she knows about these kids today and their wild sexual escapades with college boys, he discovers that Emily’s been using a fake ID to hang out at college bars. And that she’s taking birth control pills. And that footage of her hanging out with some senior girls was recorded on the same video camera that caught Cabe’s illegal sex-act. Yikes.
Adding to the “this time it’s personal” vibe: Lightman’s ex-wife Zoe brings the case to him in the first place because it’s being prosecuted by an old law school rival (played by James Marsters, looking and sounding unrecognizable to me in his normal clothes and normal accent). whom she’s convinced is more inclined to go after black suspects than white ones. And as a bi-racial woman herself, that offends her.
Even the B-story in “Truth Or Consequences” resolves into something personal—and needlessly so, in my opinion. Dr. Foster has been asked by the IRS to investigate possible tax fraud at a religious compound, headed up by a charismatic leader who claims to communicate with God, and who commands a harem of young ladies who produce offspring that work in his sweatshops. The Prophet accuses Foster of being jealous of him because she has no kids of her own. She responds by working behind the scenes to get his frustrated legal wife and kids into a safe house. And, subsequently, getting herself trouble with the IRS, for screwing up their investigation.
I was disappointed that the two plots in tonight’s episode weren’t more tightly linked thematically, especially given how easy it would’ve been to make something of the religious leader’s just-this-side-of-legal exploitation of youngsters versus Cabe’s just-that-side-of-illegal sex. Turning the subplot into a potentially career-damaging save-the-children crusade struck me as the wrong way to go. I was also disappointed with the pointlessly lurid wrap-up of the A-story, which had the teenage girl confessing that she initiated the sex—and the videotaping—in order to complete a lose-your-virginity-to-a-college-boy pact with her school chums, and then had the girl’s father freaking out and murdering James Marsters. I know dramas like Lie To Me prefer a little punch at the end, but these seemed like a weak punch to me, leaving little lasting impact.
But I remain enthusiastic about the potential of this second season, because until the stock, potboiler-y conclusion, I thought the drama was, to put it simply, well-dramatized. When Lightman confronted Emily’s bratty senior friends—the ones who came up with the whole virginity pact idea—their dismissal of his questions with a glib “whatever” didn’t seem like just stereotypical Annoying Rich Bitch posturing. The scene had real tension, born from Lightman’s frustration, his anxiety over his own daughter’s association with these girls, and his need to keep applying his skill at reading people in order to get at the truth.
More scenes like this, please. Less scenes where interesting potential recurring characters get shot just to give an episode an epilogue.
-I like how Lightman asks his clients to lie so he can pick up some of their tells.
-The teenage girl’s vengeful father—played by veteran character actor John Carroll Lynch—has a terrible speech late in the episode where he tells Lightman that his wife recently died because of health insurance troubles and that he recently lost his job because of outsourcing and the recession. Is there any modern social ill that his life story doesn’t embody?
-And yet, despite shoehorning-in the health care debate and the bad economy, “Truth Or Consequences” doesn’t do enough with the racial element of the story. In essence, this is a case of a young man having sex with a girl only about five years younger than him, and while there are plenty of real-life cases of men being tossed into the pokey for that, this episode originally set out to explore the idea that our social discomfort is more due to the accused’s race than his age. Then that exploration petered out. A squandered opportunity.
-So the usually forthright Eli breaks his code of honesty in order to lie to the IRS for Foster. Seems a strange time for him to do it, especially since Foster didn’t really do anything wrong (and ended up irritating the IRS anyway). Also, I don’t really understand why the IRS can’t question and/or use the statement of the wife now that she’s out of the compound. But then I’m dense sometimes.
-And speaking of my density: After the scene where Emily’s birth control pills and fake ID are found, why did the transition-blitz show Condi Rice?
-I’ll be out of town next week and don’t know yet whether I’ll be able to get to a TV to watch and cover Lie To Me. If I don’t, I’ll try to find someone to cover. Or, alternately, I’ll just miss a week and fold the coverage of next week’s episode into my write-up of the one that follows. Apologies in advance for any potential inconvenience.