When it come to spotting a liar, Cal Lightman's the best there is. But, as we learn on this week's Lie to Me, there's no liar quite as talented as the teenage girl variety — particularly when it comes to parties, trouble, or, you know, murder.
Asymmetrical spoilers, coming up…
Tonight's episode was just rife with teenage girls. First, there's Cal's 15-year-old daughter, Emily — a typical 15-year-old who tries to put one over on her father once in a while, and who takes full advantage of the fact that her mom's out of town to throw a party. Which ends up getting her escorted to her father's office by the police. What's most interesting about the initial exchange between Cal and his daughter, however, is that it's on the phone, and he can hear the deception in her voice. Yet for someone with a finely honed sense of justice, he doesn't bust her. And props to Gillian for sticking up for Emily, arguing that just because she's a teenager who needs to find her own way and have her own secrets, it doesn't make her a liar. Cal insists that Emily come to the office after school as a penance, and organize a file room that happens to be populated with a lot of his old research materials.
Emily haunts Cal on the main case this week — 17-year-old Danielle Stark, who went missing and whose body was found in Rock Creek Park, the cause of death being a blow to the head. Her mother is a federal judge on the DC Circuit Court, and she's a possible short-lister for a Supreme Court nomination. But the FBI wants to know if she lied when she offered her uncorroborated story about being at work when her daughter disappeared. When Cal and Ria go to interview her, Cal notices an odd disconnect between her words and expressions. Her forehead and her eyes don't move. And it takes Cal a gross experiment with chewing gum and a lightbulb at the memorial service to figure out what I guessed the first time he looked at her forehead: botox. There's really only so much expression the woman's capable of.
As a fan of Heathers, Danielle's memorial service seems a tad over the top, with the testimonials from her "best friends." He and Ria zero in on Riley, the Queen Bee, who in her speech makes a point of saying that she and Danielle had planned to apply to Princeton together — and that she owes it to Danielle to follow her dreams. Cal notes her asymmetrical facial expression of sadness while she spoke, and mentions a study to Ria about the most popular kids being the best liars. Riley keeps her cool when they talk to her outside, though, letting slip that Danielle was using drugs that she bought from some burnout on the school paper. We also learn that Riley's dad is on the board of directors of their prestigious magnet school — put a pin in that; it'll come back.
Cal gets the school headmistress to announce to Danielle's journalism class that their lockers will be searched, and he smokes out the sneering punk who's dealing — ADD medicine. The school is so grade-obsessed that the kids take ADD meds to help them study better. When she started three years ago, the headmistress began limiting the number of Ivy League recommendations only to the top students in each class. She also keeps doing this gesture with her hand that both Cal and Ria pick up on, indicating that she's trying to keep herself calm while not believing what she's saying. The best part is that the famous-person-pictures that they flash as examples of the universality of the gesture include a photo of Michelle Obama at an inaugural ball.
While this is going on, Emily's hard at work back at the office, doing a really good job of cleaning up a disastrous room and getting it organized. She shows Eli a photo of her dad in Morocco with a big hookah, looking stoned as all get out, and complains about his hypocrisy when it comes to her and partying. Eli does a spectacular job of explaining to her where her dad's coming from — how statistically she's at the prime age for abusing alcohol, expermenting with drugs or contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Which understandably scares the bejeezus out of pops. Again, though, I need to note how great Eli is with her too, talking to her like a human, which makes all the difference in terms of her response and how what he's saying sinks in. Later on when she confronts her father about saying one thing and doing another, he leans on her a bit about her desire to be popular fueling the party, and warns that it's a slippery slope for girls her age. "Where's this coming from?" Emily asks him. "Some case you're working on?" Boom. Like father like daughter — she's so good she doesn't even realize how much like him she is.
Danielle's mother's alibi cheks out just as we learn that while her grades are great, her SAT scores were barely average both times she took the test. But the third time, they went up nearly 30 percent — and that third test took place the day after Danielle was killed. One quick look at the ID photos of the students who tested that day reveals the (very young-looking) journalism teacher taking the test for Danielle. When confronted, she tries to lie her way out of it, but admits she's cheated for students — including Queen Bee Riley — to help make ends meet. But when she talked to Danielle about the score she wanted to get, Danielle knew nothing about the scheme. Danielle's mother, afraid that her daughter would never get the kind of scores that would get her into a good school, set up an e-mail account in Danielle's name and contacted the teacher without Danielle knowing about it. And a furious Danielle started threatening to expose the cheating plot.
Riley admits nothing under questioning, but in the observation room her father breaks down and confesses that he's the one who killed Danielle. Except that he didn't, and Cal knows it. And despite the father's willingness to take the rap to keep his daughter out of prison, Riley's arrested and led away in handcuffs. Emily watches, understanding even more that while she feels bad about having lied to her father, he's got justifiable cause for worrying about her.
In this week's B story, Gillian's investigating whether a NASA pilot is lying about what happened when his experimental jet crashed. The guy, an excellent pilot, describes fuzziness before having to eject, even though conditions had been perfect. He's suspected of crashing the plane on purpose, possibly because of sympathies for the Russian space program (his father defected in 1972) — Eli's line about loving the '80s is great, as is the would-you-please-shut-up look Gillian shoots him. The other possible reason is that he's suicidal. He's been under a lot of pressure, and tapes of his flights from a couple months ago show a dejected, quiet guy, compared to recent weeks in which he's spouting off like a member of the Mercury 7 in The Right Stuff. They re-run his tox screen and find an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety drug in his bloodstream, even though he swears he's not taking any meds. Turns out his wife, seeing his distress, was dosing him without his knowledge, thinking she was helping. Bad situation all around.
Not a ton of overlap between storylines, but they both share one thing: a fairly simple plotline made infinitely more interesting by the pathways they took to get to the conclusion you'd seen coming. In fact, both conclusions strike me as about three degrees off of what I was expecting, which both kept me interested and delivered on what I was expecting. Neat trick.
What did you think? Was the Emily tie-in a little too heavy handed? Is Cal right that Ria's program to learn the science behind their work is just sucking up? Do you think that having Cal and Gillian work on separate cases makes the show more or less interesting?