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Lethal Weapon - Lawmen - Review: "Frontier Justice"

12 Jan 2017

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Lethal Weapon is the story of Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh. It's right there on the poster above - for all the show's exploration of LA's varied criminals and law enforcement officers, everything so far has come back to the archetypal loose cannon and rugged veteran's partnership, and their own individual worlds.

With that in mind, Lawmen was a surprising episode. Not because it deviated from the usual formula in any major way, but because, for the first time for Lethal Weapon, it wasn't really about Riggs or Murtaugh, who are supporting characters in their own story tonight. Instead, it was really all about Captain Avery, which made for a refreshing change as Lawmen tackled a new kind of story with a different focus that delved deep into issues Lethal Weapon hasn't really touched thus far. Lawmen might be made up of old nuts and bolts from other cop shows, but it's fun to see the show begin to really flesh out the characters that inhabit the wider world of this show.

Lawmen was preoccupied with a whole host of issues, from the consequences of our actions to the timeless dichotomy between by-the-book police work and reckless rule breaking that gets the job done. Not all of these themes clicked - Lethal Weapon tends to excel when it concentrates on one burning issue and really works to provide an interesting new perspective on it instead of juggling several - but it certainly spoke to the more complex, morally ambiguous feel of the episode in which the usual simplicity was replaced with a story that each viewer might perceive a little differently.

The best example of when Lawmen's shot at moral ambiguity really hit the target was with Avery's story, which was the most detailed and compelling character story of the hour. Kevin Rahm has been a solid team player thus far, ably providing a deadpan foil to Riggs and Murtaugh's reckless police work, and he delivers a strong performance here as he's given a whole lot more shades of gray to play with as Avery reckons with his past.

The issue that Avery's story pivoted around, about the ethics of manipulating evidence to nail a crook who was able to slip through a legal loophole, was a genuinely intriguing one as it hit the delicate sweet spot of being impossible to definitively judge - it's satisfyingly uncertain as to whether Avery really should be condemned, as Riggs and Murtaugh's opposing cases are both reasonable ones.

Lawmen also builds upon Avery's fleshed-out backstory by finishing on an enlightening statement of who Avery is in the present day - someone who may have been in the wrong, but who possesses the moral fibre to regret his actions and use them to be a better cop in the future. It's a strong story all around, and an impressive showcase of complexity for a character who played a very one-note role in the previous episodes.

As for the wider story of the corrupt cops who squared off against Riggs and Murtaugh, things were a whole lot more loyal to the Lethal Weapon formula. The choice to have the corrupt cops revealed early as such was a smart one, allowing for a story that attacked the formula from a different angle as Riggs and Murtaugh struggled to figure out the cops' agenda and to provide unimpeachable evidence of their impropriety. And Murtaugh had a strong storyline this week, with his past as Avery's partner exploited to craft him into a compelling opponent to the Captain's rule-bending as the very embodiment of the by-the-book cop, which allowed him to be defined as a little more than just the long-suffering partner of Riggs.

Riggs, however, is mostly left by the wayside in a thin storyline that is really just summed up with "we're not so different, you and I" - a clash with a rival renegade cop that's predictable and undercooked from start to finish. And despite the fun visuals of Riggs and Murtaugh crashing their car into the house to begin a gunfight, it is a bit of a shame that such a potentially complex storyline ends in another shoot-em-up.

It's sometimes two steps forward, one step back with Lethal Weapon - it's moving further away from the formula with every episode, but there's always an attached reminder that this is a rigid procedural that's sometimes afraid to wholeheartedly commit to experiments. Lawmen is a good episode, but it's somewhat squashed into the traditional template by the end, which blunts the impact of the issues it explores somewhat.

Eleven episodes in, Lethal Weapon has proven itself to be a success, both creatively and commercially, and it's shown that it's capable of fantastic things within its constraints. While an episode that sees the show mostly just tick over, with the exception of the choice to give a supporting character, Captain Avery, some welcome focus, is still a successful one, here's hoping that Lethal Weapon goes a little bolder as it heads further into the back half of the season.

Episode Grade: B

+ Focus on Captain Avery
+ A variety of interesting themes
+ A good stab at moral ambiguity

- Formulaic where experimentation would have fit the episode better
- A by-the-numbers story for Riggs