As we close the second season of Lie To Me, Cal Lightman is having a very bad day. First he discovers Emily and Rick are a little more than friends, and then he finds a friend of his own – old journalist pal Julie – has been murdered in a hotel room where she was meeting with a source investigating a high-profile councilman.
Smartly, Cal doesn’t poke around, just waits for the cops to arrive (preserving evidence on TV? what’s that?). However, he doesn’t get the cops, but the FBI. Ben turns up, along with his boss, played by Conor O’Farrell (who will always be the child molester from the “Suspect” episode of Without A Trace to me, unfortunately). The two FBI agents allow Cal to sit in on their interview of the congressman, played by another perpetual guest star, Brian Goodman (Day Break, Leverage, Lost, Criminal Minds). Cal says the councilman knows nothing about the murder, but is he bluffing? After the interview, Cal happens to catch sight of Julie’s source. It happens again back at the Lightman Group offices. Hello, creepy stalker!
The source (Giancarlo Esposito) turns up to tell Cal that he was the last person to see Julie alive, and that he murdered her, asking for Cal’s help to evade prison time. For whatever reason, Cal agrees to stall the detectives who have just turned up at his office, and pulls the man aside. They have a chat in the building stairwell, where he reveals his name is Hackman. Apparently he is the councilman’s hired hitman, and when he got a conscience about the murder he attemptped (but didn’t finish), he decided to give evidence of his hired misdeeds to Julie. Before Cal can question him further, he’s gone. The cops (one of whom is played by the always great to see Monique Gabriela Curnen, late of The Unusuals and Fast & Furious) turn up seconds later in a bad mood. Cal tells Detective Monique that he believes Hackman is innocent and it’s enough to get her off his back for the time being.
Ria was reading the cops, and she knows the cops aren’t working with the FBI. She thinks something is up, and says she doubts the cops’ motivations. In the middle of all this, Cal finds Emily and her new boyfriend in his office. He is not pleased, especially when they try to explain themselves. The expression on Tim Roth’s face is priceless, and Cal decides he wants to tell Foster his daughter has “misplaced” her virginity, because he has no idea how to deal with his daughter whatsoever.
Foster also has the job of going with Cal to a second interview with the councilman, who continues to insist that he is not a murderer, neither of Julie nor of the man he had hired Hackman to kill. He tells Cal not to take his grief out on him – odd considering we haven’t really seen Cal express much grief in this episode; granted, he hasn’t really had the time to, either.
That night, Cal is bringing Gillian home for dinner to defuse the Emily situation when his spider-sense goes off. He’s right: the two cops are in his house, having broken in looking for Hackman. He maces Detective Monique and snarks at her partner. It’s obvious they’re not clean. The dinner plans get thwarted. The next day, Reynolds’ boss tells Cal he doesn’t like him very much, and that he’s going with Ben to Fredericksburg whether he wants to or not. Cal elects not to go, and instead ends up at a train station where Hackman is waiting for him. Before the two can meet, someone else shoots Hackman dead. Reynolds is there to help, having followed Cal, and ends up shot himself. Knowing that Mekhi Phifer is leaving the show after this episode, the prognosis for Ben’s survival doesn’t look very good. Insult is added to injury when Ben’s boss tells Cal that Ben was voluntarily wearing a wire in order to prove that Cal’s beef with the FBI was scientific, so as to avoid a personal vendetta against Cal by his boss. Awkward.
Back at the office, Gillian gets to meet with the attempted murder victim, Cook (played by Oz‘s Lee Tergesen), coaxed out of hiding after Reynolds’ shooting. He tells everyone about his backstory with the councilman, and Cal begins to question him about other things, while Reynolds’ boss has to listen to the whole damn thing. They’re very clearly being played off each other. This is how Cal learns that the councilman has a condo in which he is hiding Something Big. He asks Ben’s boss about it, before we see Ben in a hospital bed, being watched over by Cal and Gillian. “I’ve been watching you grieve for your friend for the last 36 hours,” she tells him, just before he admits Julie was “a bit more than a friend.” In other words, he has a lot weighing on his shoulders now.
Loker is going all A Beautiful Mind on Julie’s old files. He does that while Cal and Gillian interview the councilman again, post-search of his offices, house and condo. He interrupts to reveal the Something Big that was in the condo: it’s a paper shredder with lots of paper still in it. Into this walks Cook (who’s been hanging around the office for how long now?). Cal drags him and the councilman into the cube as if he’s about to referee a boxing match, and everything starts to come out. We find out the shredder didn’t belong to the councilman after all. Cal begins to unspool the narrative: it’s Cook who hired the two cops, who had Hackman kill Julie, and who planted the shredder. She was just a piece of his grand plan. As usual, it all comes down to a woman: Cook’s then-fiancee, whom the councilman arrested on false charges and sexually harassed in the process. He wasn’t happy when she left him for the councilman, either. (I can only shake my head and wonder, what kind of a woman dates the guy who arrested you and groped you?) Fisticuffs break out briefly, but it’s all just one sad, pathetic mess.
The councilman sees Loker’s handiwork, and Cal informs him that he’s not going to let any of Julie’s work go to waste. “You and I, we’re going to get to know each other very well,” he promises before walking away.
At home, he’s very awkwardly trying to talk to Emily about her dating situation. He’s off the hook somewhat when she reveals they didn’t actually have sex; she just said that to make him angry. However, she did actually do it two boyfriends ago. He has no choice but to admit that she’s growing up. From there, we…fade to black. That’s the end of season two. Really. I wish I was kidding, but I’m not.
It’s surprising that the show gives us no clear resolution of Ben’s fate, opting instead to leave it as a cliffhanger, though there’s not much of one considering the news of Phifer’s departure was leaked awhile back. This makes me wonder if they’d already written this episode when they decided to let him go and couldn’t go back and change it, or if they did and left it this frustratingly vague on purpose. It will be interesting to see how they deal with his presumed death, unless he somehow heals and departs (though it would seem strange to have him shot if that’s not his planned exit story). I’m concerned that Mekhi Phifer’s absence might impact the show, as he’s always been a good, solid actor in everything I’ve seen him in, starting with his turn as Junior Bunk Mahoney, the thug who shot up the squadroom on Homicide: Life on the Street, and later on ER. However, that’s something we won’t be able to judge until season three.
That aside, this is a compelling episode, if only because it’s loaded with capable guest actors that make it engaging. Conor O’Farrell, Brian Goodman and Lee Tergesen might not be household names, but they’ve all been around the block a lot of times and give good performances both together and apart. Monique Gabriela Curnen doesn’t get to do much, sadly. At least Noah Hawley recognized she was leading-woman material on The Unusuals and I wish another showrunner would do the same, but it’s good to see her at least. Tim Roth gives another reliable, understated performance. I’m surprised we didn’t see a scene or a note where he got to really display Cal’s grief over the loss of someone he apparently loved; I’m not expecting Lightman to bawl or start throwing chairs, but to give him that space or that moment amongst all the usual flippancy and the casework would have been nice. I’m sure that he would have hit it out of the park, but I never quite felt the personal conflict the show wants to tell us that he’s going through. Maybe they were avoiding going into melodrama. There’s not much of Loker and Torres here, so one can only guess how their characters will continue to evolve, especially post-their affair.
The one thing that irks me is how Cal does the Adrian Monk-esque “here’s what happened” in the final minutes and explains everything to the perps (and to the audience by extension). I’ve never liked that device in television. It always seems like “we spent too much of the episode on other things, so we’re wrapping it up quickly in a monologue and we hope you follow it.” That, however, could be just me.
With the possible exception of Ben’s fate, or a callback to the congressman’s storyline at a later date (was that foreshadowing or just a throwaway line, I wonder?) Lie To Me essentially wraps things up in a nice bow for its second season. It’s an interesting enough hour, but a season finale? I’m not sure it fits the high expectations TV viewers tend to have for such episodes. I feel like we could have aired this one at any time during the second season, not that it really clicked as an exciting last note. It leaves little to jump off from, and doesn’t really stick in the memory much when it’s over. At least we know that the show will be back for a third season, so we can enjoy another couple of hours of Tim Roth out-acting almost anyone they put him up against. I’ll be there when it comes back, and hopefully, so will you.