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Lethal Weapon - Homebodies - Review: "Panic at the Disco"

Happy New Year! After a few weeks off for a festive break, Lethal Weapon is back for the second half of its freshman season. The show signed off for 2016 on an especially high note, with a Christmas episode that saw Lethal Weapon finally strike a compelling balance between fun police action and weighty character drama, proving just how great this show can be if everything clicks.

The winter premiere, Homebodies, was a confident episode that ticked plenty of the boxes you would expect from a solid Lethal Weapon episode, though it wasn't as lean and tightly-written as its predecessor.

Homebodies is an ambitious episode, packing a great deal of conflict, a sombre character study of a woman who's been completely alienated from the outside world and a comic car chase where an extremely high Riggs clings into a car roof, and that ambition is broadly admirable, and comes off well to create an episode that feels like a nice change of pace from the set formula. However, it's sometimes a little too overstuffed with plotlines that don't always complement each other, and as such some of the tonal inconsistency that plagued the early episodes crops up again.

The main narrative here focused on Riggs' reclusive, uncommunicative behaviour as a partner, and it was a story that was explored from a nice variety of perspectives, meaning that the episode manages to make a more nuanced point about their partnership than is usual.

Homebodies found the most success exploring Riggs' behaviour from his perspective in his story with the shut-in chemist, Owlsly. Generally speaking, Riggs' stories are usually more compelling because his character is so much more flawed and complicated than Murtaugh's, who fits the straight-laced veteran archetype to a tee. That was certainly the case here, as Homebodies eventually tipped its hand to reveal that it was telling a story about suicide, a topic that previous episodes have paid lip service to but mainly shied away from.

Riggs' story benefits from something rare - a foil to him who exhibits an even more extreme version of his personality in Owlsly. Putting aside the slightly implausible idea that Owlsly had shut herself in for three years, she functions well as a tragic reminder that some people just don't have the support in the form of friends and colleagues to pull themselves out of their own isolation. Homebodies commits to the bleakness of Owlsly's story well by never taking the obvious path of 'curing' her agoraphobia by the end, and instead illustrating just how broken her character is with the surprisingly strong reveal that she was actually the killer, driven to murder out of sheer despair.

While her death doesn't come off as powerfully as it could have due to the broader action with Riggs and Murtaugh that slightly spoils the poignancy of the moment, it's still a bold path for the show to take without shying away, and the episode is all the better for it. Owlsly is both a believable character and a means to add specificity to Riggs' loneliness, clarifying Riggs as someone redeemable who has the potential to be brought back into the world with a push from his support network, so this plotline absolutely works on all fronts.

As is usual for Lethal Weapon, Murtaugh's story is the lighter-hearted one, and it's not quite as compelling or as focused as Riggs'. Damon Wayons does some typically fun work communicating Murtaugh's growing exasperation at his partner's uncommunicative nature, and there's some strong development of the Murtaugh family as both a surrogate family for Riggs and a realistic family with its own inner life. The problem with the more comic nature of the story, though, is that Homebodies can't explore Murtaugh's frustrations with the same complexity as Riggs' story, and a lot of Murtaugh's scenes with his straight-laced 'perfect partner' Detective Cho end up making the same point again and again about Murtaugh's inability to comprehend Riggs and belief that he's a bad partner. It's dramatically interesting to explore Murtaugh's legitimate problems with Riggs, but Homebodies struggle to really make his complaints feel any more like petty gripes that can grate after a while.

Furthermore, the mix between serious drama and broadly-drawn comedy often leads to a bit of tonal unevenness. The death of Owlsly, for instance, is juxtaposed with Riggs' wacky chase while high, and immediately after the episode hops back to Murtaugh and Cho having lunch together and cracking jokes.

Furthermore, the more conventional threat of the Korean criminals taking down the stolen money doesn't fit all that well with an episode that works best as an intimate character story, showing how sometimes the action-movie formula can sometimes work against the show when it's attempting to experiment elsewhere.  Lethal Weapon is all the better for its light-hearted, over-the-top streak, but sometimes it can benefit from committing to the darkness in its stories instead of trying to play both sides and mix tones, as the result can sometimes end up a little unfocused.

Homebodies shows that there are still kinks in the formula that Lethal Weapon needs to iron out to become the best version of itself, but it also displays that the show is working hard to alleviate those problems. Furthermore, the ambitious scope of the story and bold nature of the themes that the episode explores shows that Lethal Weapon isn't just resting on its laurels and cranking out standard-issue cases of the week according to a staid formula - it's shying away from really experimenting, but there's definitely signs of the show really trying to push the storytelling boundaries that were established in the pilot, and that can only be encouraging.

Episode Grade: B

+ Ambitious narrative
+ A strong story for Riggs

- Slightly repetitive at times
- Tonally uneven

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